Breastfeeding Isn't Always Easy, My Journey
Updated: Sep 13, 2021
It’s OK to want to breastfeed. It’s OK to work hard at it. It’s OK to hate the process, but love and desire the outcome so much that you don’t want to quit.
My breastfeeding story, like ALL breastfeeding stories, is unique. It’s unique because every child and every Mother is different. We can all learn from each other's journeys. I had many mothers help me along the way and I hope sharing my story can do that same. Since this is not a novel, though, I will spoil it and tell you there’s a happy ending. Breastfeeding can be hard, but if you’re struggling, there’s always hope.
Breastfeeding my first child, Ethan, was a struggle for me. It didn’t come easy, or naturally. It was hard work and it took months to get it right. Along the way I had my pediatrician, midwife, husband, lactation consultant and friends all telling me, “it’s OK to give him formula.” Everyone was pushing me to stop trying. Partially I understood why. As a new, tired, sleep deprived Mom, the struggle of breastfeeding was wearing on me; and while I don’t disagree that it’s OK to give your infant formula, it wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t know much about breastfeeding, but I did know that it was important to me. Whether, or not, you choose to breastfeed is a personal decision and whatever choice you make should be respected.
Whether, or not, you choose to breastfeed is a personal decision and whatever choice you make should be respected.
I felt like my choice wasn’t being respected. While giving formula would have been a solution, it was not my solution.
I honestly did zero research into breastfeeding before my son Ethan was born because I figured it was natural - a baby needs to eat and the mother has milk. I figured human’s evolutionary desire to not starve would have figured out the rest. I was wrong. Ethan would have rather starved. Our first few days together, he just refused to latch. He would rather sleep than eat; which, with a newborn, was also how I felt at the time. In the hospital, it would look like he was latched and the nurses gave me the thumbs up that he was latching, but I later realized he wasn’t. By day 2, we realized he wasn’t really gaining weight so I started to try harder to wake him to feed and force him to latch. Eventually he did latch. I was so excited. I was still new to breastfeeding so I had no idea if he was taking in milk, or what to look for, or how long he should be feeding. I remember him latching for 45min the first “real” time and me and my husband had to google how to get a baby off the boob in order to remove him and get to the pediatrician appointment on time. The pediatrician confirmed that he wasn’t gaining weight and suggested we see a lactation consultant. We couldn’t get a consultant to come until Ethan was around 5 days old. At that point, he’d been latching for a few days, but it was so painful. I thought it was normal. I had no idea. The idea of a baby sucking on my nipple didn’t sound like it should feel pleasant per say. By the time we were able to get a lactation consultant to come, my nipples were raw, cracked and bleeding. The lactation consultant listened, she checked him for a tongue tie and said he didn’t have one. She worked with us for a couple of hours and gave me a nipple shield in order to protect my nipples from his death grip. She also mentioned that I’d have to pump for 4min after each feed in order to keep up supply because babies can’t fully empty breasts with a shield. I felt like we were in a good place when she left and I left hopeful...If only I knew then, what I know now…
What the lactation consultant didn’t mention is that babies can get addicted to nipple shields. Also, because Ethan hadn’t been feeding well for the first week of life, which is the most vital time in terms of building up supply, my supply was struggling. For a while I continued to nurse with the nipple shield, then pump, then feed Ethan the pumped milk with a bottle. It was a full time job and not a real fun one. Long story short, after a few weeks I tried to get Ethan off the nipple shield because I knew it was hurting my supply. At that point, though, he wouldn’t even try to latch without the shield. Another Mom had recommended to me a wonderful Cranial Sacral therapist who specializes in breastfeeding issues, so I went to see her. She seemed like an angel at the time. She was helpful, she listened, she understood and she actually got Ethan to latch. The problem was, he wouldn’t latch outside of sessions. After a few weeks, the Craniosacral therapist recommended I go see Dr. Seigel, a tongue tie specialist. She told me usually when she doesn’t see changes in a few weeks, she suspects tongue tie.
By the time we could get an appointment with Dr. Seigel, Ethan was 8 weeks old. We’d been through 2 months of struggling to feed and it felt like a lifetime. Dr. Seigel confirmed that not only did Ethan have a tongue tie, he had an upper lip and 2 cheek ties! We swiftly had the ties removed in a process that took 10 seconds and again, I was hopeful.
The recovery process for tongue tie surgery can be painful for babies, so it was expected that he may not want to latch right away. So I was patient. We let the procedure settle in and went back to Cranial Sacral therapy. Ethan still would not latch without the nipple shield. Mentally and physically I was drained. I felt like giving up and throwing in the towel. I cried so much. Breastfeeding meant everything to me and I felt like a failure that I couldn’t make it work. I was willing to do anything I could to make it work, but at this point it was out of my control. In retrospect, this was actually my first real lesson in parenting - giving up control.
I was willing to do anything I could to make it work, but at this point it was out of my control. In retrospect, this was actually my first real lesson in parenting - giving up control.
By about 3 months, I was tired of breastfeeding, pumping, bottle feeding, and repeat. I stopped trying to breastfeed and just pumped and bottle fed. It didn’t make me happy. It wasn’t easy to not just be able to feed Ethan on demand if we were out of the house. I was angry that I’d have to come home early from a walk with my new Mom friends just so I could pump on schedule. I was about to give up.
When Ethan was 4.5 months old, I took a trip away from him for 2 nights to attend a Pediatric Acupuncture training in Colorado. It was tough being away from him, but also nice to have some freedom back. During that trip, I only pumped a few times a day because I was ready to wean from the pump. I had given up my stubborn resolve and resigned to the fact that I couldn’t force my son to do something he didn’t want to (a fact that still holds true at 3.5yr old today). I took a red-eye flight back from Colorado to NYC. I got home around 9am and exhausted, laid on the couch with my son. I figured I'd give it one more try before I gave up. I pulled up my shirt and unlatched my nursing bra and half hazard, with no expectations of anything happening, put him on my breast. He latched! He latched and he sucked and he swallowed! He was doing it all on his own. From that day on, he breastfed on demand and fairly frequently. I honestly still have no idea what happened. Maybe absence makes the heart grow fonder; or maybe my letting go of any pressure made Ethan less stressed; or maybe just as he got older, his jaw got stronger and breastfeeding was easier for him. My guess is it’s a mixture of all three.
So what’s the point of my story? If breastfeeding is important to you, you don’t have to give up. I will tell you what most people won’t - It’s OK to want to breastfeed and it’s OK that it may take some work. Reach out, get help, get support, hang in there and expect happy endings.