For some reason, “Are you breastfeeding?” is one of the most common questions a new mom gets asked. I’m sure it’s just people making conversation or they are genuinely curious about how baby is being fed. Most of the time though, it doesn’t come from a place of judgment. However, there is a certain weight that comes with that question. There’s a back story, a complicated answer, or a hesitation around it. An invisible sign surrounds breastfeeding, cautioning people to tiptoe around the subject at the risk of offending one party or the other. Some moms are proud out loud, others are private. Some moms choose different paths to feed their babies while others try desperately to breastfeed. I’m no expert on this matter by any means, but I’d like to share my journey to feed my kid.
*Disclaimer* HOWEVER A MOTHER FEEDS HER BABY IS PERFECTLY WONDERFUL.
Winnie came out of me searching for the breast. She latched like a champ and immediately started eating. That was incredible. Looking down at my baby, who was minutes old, already knowing how to survive was astounding to me. I was in awe of the fact that our bodies knew what they needed to do without me having to do anything at all. It was truly a magical connection. The sudden release of Oxytocin didn’t suck either. The nurse came in and said “Wow, what a latch! She’s a pro already! You guys look great!”. That boosted my ego a little. I’d only been a mom for like 3 minutes and I was already killin it! *Self-High-Five*
Welp. The magic pretty much came to a screeching halt after that. The glimmer of peace was rudely interrupted by reality. The whole process became a messy wreck of a giant stress ball. Let me explain.
We were transported to the postpartum room and immediately greeted by a lovely lactation specialist who asked if we had any questions about breastfeeding. “No thanks,” I thought, “I’m actually already a beast at this thing”, but I smiled and said “I think we got it so far!” She dipped her head and left the room.
Winnie seemed to prefer one side, so I didn’t fix what wasn’t broke. I fed her from that side that night. Well, the obvious happened and my other breast got GINORMOUS and insanely painful. I tried to feed Winnie from the other side and she was having none of it. She didn’t like her head tilted that way and she just could not latch; it’s like my nipple was invisible. About an hour later, another lactation specialist came in and asked if she could help with anything. “Nope!, ” said me and my prideful self, “We’re good!”. “Show me,” she responded. That caught me off guard. Why didn’t she believe that I had it under control? I’m the mom, I got this (I in fact did not have this). I had Winnie drink from the good side to show her. “Now the other side,” she said. Part of me was pissed she was questioning me, part of me was prideful, but most of me was relieved because I knew I needed help. Thank goodness for pushy lactation consultants who can take one look at your engorged boob and call you on your crap lie.
All I had to do was undo my nursing tank on that side “Ope! Looks like we have ourselves a flat nipple!”. That’s a thing?? Apparently. My heart sank; I didn’t know what that meant for breastfeeding. Then, she whips out this handy dandy nipple shield, a nifty contraption that pulls the nipple out so the baby can latch. It’s a rubber cover that makes your nipple (how many times can I say the word nipple?) look and feel like a bottle. This thing was amazing; easy to put on, and allowed Winnie to nurse from that side. A wave of relief hit me. “Ok, that’s not too bad. I can do that!”. The following day, the lactation specialist continued to coach us on the different holding positions and reiterating how important it was for her to eat from both sides. She made me feel confident but, in the back of my mind, I was very scared about doing it by myself. Right now it took 4-6 hands to make it happened. One person to help prop me up (ow!), one person to hand me the baby, and one person to help adjust pillows as I put on the nipple shield. I mean this was an all out production. William and my mom were so helpful. That made me a little more comfortable. But what would happen when they left…..and it was just me? I pushed that to the back of my mind.
The weeks that followed were a milky mess. My milk came in with a vengeance, painfully and quickly. The heating pad was my best friend as I tried to massage out the hard pebble-like lumps forming in my breasts. Winnie wasn’t an eater, she was a grazer; only wanting to eat for a few minutes every hour on the hour. This meant I couldn’t pump until I was sure she was full. Which turned into a very painful day. It also didn’t make sense to clean up when she would want to eat all the time, so I hung out in a nursing bra 24/7. Once we got into a routine, I had to pump every two hours to keep from becoming engorged. I don’t know if you’ve ever lived your life in 2 hour increments, but it’s exhausting and hella inconvenient. Along with being a grazer, Winifred is a thrasher. She could not control her arms while feeding. This lead to the nipple shield being knocked off and milk going everywhere. I was overwhelmed and frustrated. Waking up to feed every hour was insane and I felt like a cow and a zombie at the same time.
The Dark Thoughts crept in when I was feeling overwhelmed. I didn’t want to do this anymore…..It was not even a little bit as magical as people promised me it would be. How do women do this for a whole year?? I wanted to bail after 2 weeks. What was wrong with me? “You can do this”, I thought. “Most women would kill to have the supply you have! Don’t be a baby. Just figure it out.” I argued with myself daily, feeling so ashamed. I thought it was going to be easier. I didn’t know how incredibly difficult it would be. Most of all, I felt guilty. Isn’t the breast best? Shouldn’t I want to do this? Why is this not magical? Am I the only one who just can’t figure this out?
When Winnie was 2 weeks old, I’d had it. I thought I was going to explode. Sitting on the couch with my mom, tears filling my eyes I asked “Mom, would it be the worst thing if I pumped and fed Winnie with a bottle?” She starred at me and said “Of course not, you can feed her how ever you want to. You don’t even have to pump if you don’t want to. She’s your baby!” I burst into tears from relief. “That what I want to do”. I felt like I could handle pumping. I was #blessed with an amazing supply and I wanted to use it. I just needed more control.
Giving Winnie that first bottle WAS magical. I finally felt what everyone was talking about. I got to sit belly to belly with my baby and look into her eyes as she fed. We connected. It was what I’d always dreamed of. I felt a sense of pride that I had made a decision that was best for me and my baby. Like I had earned my first mommy merit badge. I liked it. We found our magic differently, but it was there.
It’s hard to explain Exclusively Pumping to people; that you have a good supply but you just don’t feed from the breast, but that’s ok. It’s our normal and it’s what works for us. I applaud moms who do what is best for them and their babies. Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do?
Full disclosure: We are still exclusively pumping but my supply is diminishing. Right now, I have one working breast that supplies 5-7 oz., and one breast that has dried up (I call them Pancake and Boulder). It’s not ideal but it’s reality. We will probably supplement with formula and start solids when my freezer supply runs out. AND THAT’S OK! Winnie will eat, grow, and be happy. I’m so happy with my choice to exclusively pump. William can bond with Winnie while feeding her and my anxiety has been severely reduced. I’m thankful for my parents and William’s encouragement and support when I felt like quitting. They knew how important it was to me and they were a HUGE part in me getting over the “pump hump”.
So, moms, you’re going to be asked that question. “Are you breastfeeding?” Its inevitable. What if instead of being defensive, embarrassed, or offended, we answer with confidence! However your little love is being fed is right! WE ARE MOMS! WE know whats best for ourselves and our babies! WE are keeping the tiny human alive whatever way we can. Isn’t THAT all that matters?
In my humble opinion, I think you’re all killin it.