I planned to breastfeed. I did the introductory breastfeeding class in my 3rd trimester, purchased a nursing bra and selected a lactation cookie recipe from thousands on Pinterest. Then the breastfeeding woes set in.
Breast was best, I had no doubt about it, and I was all-in.
“It’s like watching grass grow, isn’t it?” It was uttered by a tactless lactation consultant as she watched me struggle to pump a few pitiful drops.
Her sentiment sums up my long, strenuous, and ultimately fruitless foray into breastfeeding, and the breastfeeding woes had just begun.
My son was born via c-section, and after the standard short stint in hospital we were sent on our way. Nobody weighed him on discharge; if they had, we may have had an earlier clue that something wasn’t working. It was only the day after we came home – four days after his birth – that we learned he had dropped more than 10% of his birth weight. He was promptly prescribed formula top-ups, and I was equipped with a hospital-grade breast pump and instructed to take on 20-30 minute pumping sessions after every feed.
Newborns, especially those who have lost a lot of weight and have some catching up to do, are on a very strict 3-hourly feeding schedule in the beginning. So to be told that schedule would now incorporate a lengthy attempt at latching, a slow, inefficient breastfeed, a bottle of formula, a quick re-settle back to sleep (baby, not me), 20-30 minutes of pumping, and then an alarm to start the whole process again in an hour and a half, this did not thrill my majorly sleep-deprived self. There were no breaks, I didn’t clock off at night. Every three hours, all day and night, this was my life now.
“Has your milk come in yet?” became a standard question asked by the midwives and child health nurses that came by to check on things those first few days. It hadn’t. The question began to sting. My rigorous schedule aside, I was also taking medication and natural supplements to increase my milk supply, ploughing through lactation cookies, and chugging water by the bottle-full. I was committed, but my breasts apparently weren’t.
As the days turned into weeks, I saw marginal improvements and even managed a couple of night feeds that didn’t require formula top-ups and made me feel like a super hero. But my son was growing, and getting hungrier by the day, and I just couldn’t keep up. Never mind, I thought. Some breast milk is better than none, right? I was resolute – I would keep up the mixed feeds, no matter how hard it got. I could do this. I was in a routine.
The thing about routines is they don’t factor in changes to circumstance – silent reflux, a more alert baby who slept a little less, the fact that I was actually starting to live my life and leave the house again – and suddenly my pumping schedule was beginning to feel less like a worthy sacrifice, and more like a ball and chain, with little reward. At the mercy of my pump, I was missing out on precious time with my son, restorative down-time with my husband, and prized hours of sleep. So when he was a little over two months old, I breastfed my son for the last time, tears rolling down my cheeks, and called it a day.
Even after deciding to quit, it took a long time to accept that it was over. It wasn’t that I had any qualms with formula – I could see that my son was thriving on it – but I felt like a total failure. My Mum breastfed, my friends breastfed, and in my mother’s group, I was the only one who whipped out a bottle, and not a boob, for their hungry bub.
Every bottle of formula I prepared in public felt like a flashing neon sign above my head, pointing down and saying “Check out the Mum who doesn’t breastfeed.” I braced myself for the judgmental stares and scathing comments (neither of which ever happened, by the way).
It took a long time, but I did eventually accept, and even embrace, the way things worked out. I stopped grieving the journey that wasn’t to be, and instead began focusing on the joy of feeding my son a bottle, watching his eyes roll back blissfully as he drank.
Today my son is healthy and happy, and it’s hard to believe what a big deal it seemed to give up on breastfeeding all those months ago. I will still try breastfeeding any children I have in the future, but I will do so with the knowledge that it just might not work out – and that’s okay.
Are you struggling with low supply? Check out our tips for boosting your supply.