Reflections on a Challenging Breastfeeding Year

Reflections on a Challenging Breastfeeding Year

A post caught my eye on the Huff today. It’s titled Mom’s Passionate Post Is For Every Mother Who Has Struggled To Breastfeed and at first look, a soft flood of compassionate tenderness welled up in my chest. I took a deep soft breath and remembered.

Most of my breastfeeding hardship happened in a rocking chair. It was a big, beautiful wooden rocker that my daughter’s father surprised me with just two weeks before her birth. I spotted it at an antique shop, but it was out of our budget. He worked something out with the guy a few days later and suddenly, it was in my living room. I was over the moon. Here I would sit, rock and coo over my little boy (who turned out to be a gorgeous girl). I would nurse “on demand” and revel in the amazingness of my body, of my baby, of breastmilk’s incredible magic and value. I looked at the rocker and I saw the bliss-to-be.

Six weeks later, that bliss was barely to be found. When my daughter was three weeks old, we came home from her second check up with her pediatrician (a homeopathic pediatrician, mind you), with a tub of baby formula and me, with tear-stained cheeks. The tears return even now as I remember that day. I had received the sad news that my baby had not been getting enough milk, was dangerously jaundiced, and flat out hungry. In a community of natural-minded mothers and breastfeeding advocates, it had never ever occurred to me that I might ever have problems with breastfeeding, worse yet that I would have no idea that my baby wasn’t being fed enough. The equation I had learned (nurse when the baby cries, basically) did not equate to success for us. 

Months later, and with much stubborn persistence, I was able to take my baby off of the formula, and continue nursing. She nursed until she was four-years-old. I had poured all of my strength and ingenuity into maintaining some semblance of a supply and always having my daughter at my breast when feeding. I supplemented with formula at the breast, and when my daughter was a little bigger, I made homemade formula that she could drink out of a sippy cup while offering the breast throughout the day, and for sleep. I pumped. I massaged. I supplemented with every herb and known support, outside of prescription drugs. It was revealed later that my daughter most likely had a lip tie, which the pediatrician was not adept at diagnosing (we live abroad and professional breastfeeding support did not appear to be readily available to us at the time). You can read a little more in my blog post Our Little Breastfeeding Miracle. 

Today, when I see that rocker, I see us sitting in the living room. There is a gorgeous bright-eyed baby in my arms. There is a Medela SNS hanging around my neck, with little hoses taped to my breast (so that when my girl was nursing at the breast, formula also flowed into her month). There is a gorgeous view out the window of a giant tree which was in full bloom that month, a magnificent contrast to the gray seaside winter sky. There are piles of sweaters and throws. There are tears in my eyes. There is fear and stress in my heart and mind. There is always a question of whether she is getting any milk at all from me, or if I should just give up and go for the bottle. There is guilt for the weeks she was hungry. There is stubborn resolution to get through this.

One thing I wish more than anything for that new mama self, is for more support requested, taken, offered and given. Also, more education before birth instead of naive assumption. I do agree with the post mentioned above from the mom in Nashville, that nursing can be very hard. I was there. I have also known moms for whom it is quite easy, luxurious, free. I think the more real we are about the range of experience, the better off we’ll all be, and the better off our babies. Let’s not scare away would-be nursers with our non-contextualized stories of hardship, please. However, let’s not set them up to feel like total failures because they were not made more aware of the true-to-life range of experience, signs to watch out for, and go-to resources for challenging or doubtful moments. If we’re all in this together, let’s be in this together with our eyes wide open, and our voices well heard.

Top 3 Breastfeeding Websites
Here are my favorite online breastfeeding resources, which I found after our trouble became clear. Each helped to support me through the tough times, and lead to our long-term nursing success. Please share them around more. We never know who is watching our Facebook feeds. for great articles and sound advice. International Breastfeeding Center is amazing, and has a library of videos demonstrating great technique and other topics. La Leche League International is the profesional, go-to source for support and finding a certified lactation consultant.