This month Hendrix will be 19 months old, which also marks 19 months of our breastfeeding journey. I say journey, because it is exactly that. Breastfeeding is an amazing, beautiful bonding experience, but it is also challenging, painful, emotional, hard and so many other things I didn’t realize it would be.
I have debated writing this post for some time–the subject can be… touchy. However, after having a dream about this last night waking up today to see that it’s World Breastfeeding Week (and also not knowing how much longer I truly will continue this journey), what better a time.
Let’s jump in…
I definitely want to preface this post with the age old, ‘fed is best’, because truly, it is. However you’re choosing to feed your baby, that is what is best for your baby. Breastfeeding is hard, especially in the beginning months, and I never understood what that meant until it was my turn to try. Do what works for you, and don’t be pressured either way–easier said than done, but I get it, and many others do as well.
When I was pregnant, I remember quizzing mom friends how long they breastfed for, and hearing responses like 6 months, 8 months, a year, etc. Some friends never breastfed, some did. Really, the responses were varied, and while I hoped I would be able to do it, I knew that it may not be in the cards. Ultimately, I was trying to keep an open mind. I also felt like 8 months was quite the accomplishment and commitment, really unsure I’d even make it that far if I could make it happen. Fast forward a couple years, and we are still going strong, but that said, it hasn’t been a bump-less ride.
When Hendrix was born, I was ecstatic he latched on right away, without pain, post birth… only he wasn’t latched at all, and was not feeding. A few hours later when the Nurse came in to help me latch him, I experienced a real latch, and the incredible pain that went along with it! It was toe curling and just, well, awful. Now, I will say I’m extra sensitive in that area, but I always expected I would be able to breastfeed, so we kept trying, and each time, I would cry out in pain and tears would start streaming down my face. It was terrible. I could see this dream of breastfeeding just shattering before my eyes because I literally could not take the physical pain of my baby attaching himself to me to eat.
I felt like a failure.
The next day, the Nurses tried to help me more, I really wanted to make it work, certainly if we got the right latch it couldn’t be so bad… but it was. They brought me a hospital grade pump to try, saying that sometimes the pump is less painful as you can adjust the suction settings. It certainly wasn’t enjoyable, but it was easier and I was able to see the fruits of my labour as the mini bottles filled with a bit of milk that I could later, proudly, give to Hendrix. That second night in the hospital after giving birth, exhausted beyond belief, the Nurse came in again to wake us to try to feed. I was crying from the pain and finally said, ‘Please, just bring me some formula to feed him’. The Nurse obliged me (in fact, there was no push back at all), and a wave of relief washed over me as she helped me feed my brand new baby so we could all get some sleep.
The next morning, after several Nurses had tried to help me with no luck, they asked me if I wanted to see the Lactation Consultant. I was more than happy to see her and she came in shortly to assess us. She tried to help me latch the baby, and again, the pain was just awful. Eventually she told me that, ‘Some women just can’t breastfeed, and that’s okay’. I felt defeated, but wasn’t ready to give up. I wanted to give up, but I also didn’t want to give up. I used the hospital pump again that morning before we were discharged, and was uplifted by the amount I pumped (something like, 2mL — it wasn’t much, and my milk hadn’t fully come in anyway). I fed it to Hendrix, and Marco started researching pumps sitting in the hospital chair beside my bed.
We got the all clear to leave the hospital, and on our way home, we stopped and purchased this pump (an item I shared in my Newborn Essentials post). I got home and tried to pump, and while painful, it was less painful than the latch of the baby. However, in between pumping, I continued to try and latch Hendrix. My mom came over that evening, and her and Marco were my biggest cheerleaders. Every time Hendrix would cry out of hunger, I would cringe, knowing what pain awaited me in order to try and feed him. I felt hopeless, and we had some formula on hand, but part of me wasn’t ready to go there. I think having that support from my husband and Mom really made the difference to continue, them saying things like, ‘It’s okay. Breathe. You can do it.’ It wasn’t pressure to do something I didn’t want to do, it was support to keep trying to do something I wanted to make work. It’s definitely a fine line, and without them, I probably would have given up.
A week or so later, I was told about a prescription nipple cream (a compound) you can get if you’re having pain. I was using Medela and Lanolin ointments before and after feeds, which helped, but really paled in comparison. I got the prescription and that is when things really started to progress. Without that cream, I would not have been able to continue, it was a God send! Safe for mom and safe for baby, it really helps to heal your nipples between feeds and make it less painful. Ideally you don’t want to use it forever, but to get through the first ‘phase’ (we’ll call it) where your nipples are getting accustom to feeding, this was instrumental for me. (I know not everyone will agree with doing this, and that’s okay).
I know many people say you shouldn’t be experiencing pain when breastfeeding, and if you are, you’re doing it wrong. Well, I had several Nurses, the Lactation Consultant, our Doula, and a post-partum Nurse visit 10 days after birth tell me his latch was perfect. It was simply my pain threshold, and part of my journey. To be honest, I experienced pain for over two months–every. single. feed. That said, the initial latch was where the pain was, and a girlfriend who had recently given birth told me to count to 15 once he latched, and it should subside after that. It would. This, in turn, felt like progress, and gave me another push to keep going.
Three months in, the journey was starting to feel like we were getting into the swing of things. It wasn’t perfect, there was still some discomfort when latching, but overall, I had stopped using the nipple cream, I was doing it and we were making it happen! Hendrix and I were working and learning together, and my perseverance (through that support of my husband, especially), was starting to pay off. We went to Florida and I fed my baby in a restaurant for the first time (under my shirt), that in itself felt like a huge accomplishment (feeding in public, heyo!).
Around four months, I felt my supply dipping–it was confusing and stressful. I hadn’t changed anything but it felt (for some reason) like he wasn’t getting enough. I started to panic, thinking we would need to re-introduce formula, something we hadn’t done since the first few days at home, and a strong sense of not wanting to do that (silly, I know, but I felt I had worked so hard to make it this point). I ordered more Mother’s Milk tea and Fenugreek for next day delivery, and called my friend who was a long-time BF’ing Mom in search of some guidance. She asked a bunch of questions and offered various ideas and solutions, including putting me in touch with her Lactation Consultant, but we were right in the thick of lockdown and after my less-than-glowing LC experience in hospital, I just didn’t want to take that step yet. Ultimately, and I’ll never forget this, she said, ‘When you hand express, does milk come out?’ (yes), ‘Then your baby is being fed’. Cue mind blowing. What an incredibly simple tip, and yet, I was all worked up thinking I had next to no supply. I continued to feed Hendrix on a schedule/on demand and things improved over the coming days and my worries slipped away.
Aside from supply dips, ebbs and flows, clogged ducts (ouch!), tenderness for several days with the return of my period (and each month that followed) and recently, a milk blister/bleb (ugh!), breastfeeding seemingly got ‘easier’ around 11 months. I was still drinking water like it was my job, but there was less thought about it. Feeding in public or around friends didn’t feel like a big deal anymore. The comfort of knowing I could feed Hendrix anytime, anywhere was really great too; in the beginning, it felt a bit like a burden, and all so demanding, but now it felt like convenience. We were really, finally, getting into the swing of things. I was enjoying breastfeeding! Finally.
It’s funny because there seems to be a community of people that think you should stop breastfeeding at a year (if you make it that far)–which is sad because there are so many health benefits that your baby still gets beyond that one year mark. Regardless of that though, what I think the most sad is that around that time is when I really felt like we finally found our groove, it is sometimes met with pushback, questioning looks and odd comments. You’re in this zone of exceling at something you’ve been working so hard on for a year, and now you ‘should’ stop. Obviously, I haven’t let those comments get to me as we are still going strong at 19 months, but that’s also why I wanted to share my experience here. It hasn’t been easy, and I think seeing someone BF’ing their toddler, one may think, ‘Wow, it’s so easy for them,’ but there are always these challenges that I think every new Mom faces on their journey, but it’s not openly discussed or shared.
I hope this very personal post is helpful to someone, I am sharing my journey because BF’ing can be so isolating, challenging and lonely. There isn’t enough discussion around it and I am hoping sharing my experience will help break that stigma and help any new Mom’s out there struggling but wanting to keep trying. I hope you girls have a great weekend & Happy World Breastfeeding Week! xo
If you’re looking for BF’ing resources, KellyMom is an excellent site that I have referred to many times & highly recommend!