Breastfeeding is hard. No one warned me of that while I was pregnant. No one spoke about the process of breastfeeding at all. They'd say "get sleep now" or "make sure you rest." Everyone seemed to be focused on the pregnancy itself and how I was feeling and the sleepless nights ahead but no one uttered a word about the world of breastfeeding that I was about to enter. Thanks for that.
I had my son Asher at 35 weeks. I had never had a contraction prior to the morning of his delivery and was quite surprised when my husband wheeled me into L&D and within minutes we were told I was fully dilated and going to need to start pushing. We didn't own a diaper let alone a breast pump.
Since my little one was early, they took him to the NICU as a precaution so I needed to "get pumping right away to stimulate [my] supply" and then try to breastfeed once he was able to come out of the NICU, which amazingly turned out to be the next morning. However I was warned that since he was five weeks early it may not be easy right away as he was "a whimpy white boy" - a term I had never heard before but quickly realized was widely used in the premmie world to refer to premature Caucasian boys that had difficulty with breastfeeding, often times until they reached term.
Breastfeeding not easy?? How could that be? You have a baby and you breastfeed. It's best for the baby. It's great for the mom. Not easy? Seriously?
Well I learned fairly quickly that "not easy" was the understatement of the century. My whimpy white boy wouldn't latch at all. He would wail in hunger as I held him up to my chest. "Just keep trying to put him on your breast and keep pumping, he'll get it," they told me in the hospital.
We were so happy when we were able to go home with Asher after the usual 2 day post-partum stay. No oxygen. No extra needs. Amazing. He may have been a premmie but he was one strong little boy - whimpy white boy my ass.
At home I continued to try to breastfeed (with no success) and continued to pump. After a week or so my mother-in-law suggested I try a nipple shield, which she went out and got for me, to see if Asher would have an easier time latching if I used that. With my mom and mother-in-law helping me get situated with the nipple shield on and the baby in the right position, I tried again. And this time Asher started sucking. Success! Half naked with these women I love and my baby on my breast I felt great! Why didn't they recommend this in the hospital? I. Was. Breastfeeding.
This however was transient. Asher was very inconsistent and most of the time when he did latch and suck (solely with the nipple shield) he wasn't getting enough milk and I had to pump and then bottle feed breastmilk anyway. By this point I was pumping every three hours - each time after trying to get him to latch but instead he would cry inconsolably - and I was producing a ton of milk. It felt so unnatural though. Forced. But how could this be? Breastfeeding is one of the most natural things in the world, right?
During this time I did go to a lactation consultant (my husband even joined us for moral support). She was very nice and helpful but things didn't really change. Asher still was having a hard time eating from the breast and would get very worked up, and I just couldn't stomach my little one (sub 5 pounds when we got home from the hospital) not getting food when he needed it. So after a month or so I stopped trying to get him to latch because it was clearly very upsetting to both of us and I just continued to pump. Every 3 hours. I had great supply. Asher was eating a lot and gaining weight. I could do this. It didn't matter if I was attached to the pump most of the day and couldn't get anything else done or even hold my baby during that time. Asher was getting the breast milk he needed.
Until I broke down. Around 7 or 8 weeks of pumping every 3 hours around the clock (even with my husband helping out and feeding while I pumped overnight to be more time efficient) it was enough. It was hard enough being a first time mom with lots of questions, insecurities and emotions, not to mention the sleep deprivation, that adding this continuous pumping schedule to the mix was just too much for me, not sustainable. I talked it through with my husband and with tears running down my face I decided - and my husband totally supported - that I needed to wean off the pump. We would start formula when the bags of frozen breast milk we had were depleted. It was time.
I felt horrible that I would no longer give Asher breast milk - especially since I had no problems with milk production as I had learned many mothers struggle with that - but it was what I needed to do.
And as it turns out, this was almost certainly the best parenting decision I have made to date. Formula is not poison even though the lactation consultants may lead you to think that, unintentionally of course. I still cried through the first formula bottle we gave Asher. Did I make the right choice? Yes, yes, undoubtedly yes! Without pumping I was able to hold Asher more, take care of things around the house, sometimes even leave the house (!!!), and occasionally nap when he napped. I was less stressed and a better mother.
Asher, now 8 months, is a growing, healthy and very happy little boy. I have only good things to stay about formula (other than the cost!) and would make the same decision again and again but perhaps a little earlier next time.
I try to talk openly about breastfeeding to all of my friends who are pregnant with their first child as I wish I had been more informed before giving birth to Asher. Breastfeeding is work, hard work, and every mother needs to make the very individual decision about what is best for them and their child.