My Journey Into and Out of Breastfeeding
by: Becca W.
Breastfeeding. Nursing. Call it what you like. I tend to think of it as a nightmare I would like to forget. It sounds so benign, sweet even, to bring your child to your breast and nourish him from your own body. Sweet does not describe my experience. The process is astonishing, though; I will give it that. God’s design of our bodies is amazing. The process of nursing actually prompts your uterus to contract after delivery, starting the progression of healing. It burns an incredible number of calories, another fabulous side effect for the post-baby body. There’s no doubt that breast milk is the healthiest option for a baby as well. It has everything they need, not to mention the fact that it’s free. It all sounds so good.
My son, Will, was born on Christmas morning. The labor and delivery was uneventful and just what I had always dreamed. The following day as we were preparing to take him home, the bad news started coming. We realized that we would not be leaving the hospital for at least several days as the doctors ran tests on our tiny baby. They put a tube down his nose to feed him. Soon, the breasts I had shoved in his mouth the day before (with the help of several nurses, by the way) were being subjected to an industrial-sized double breast pump. Being only 24 hours out from delivery, I was still only producing colostrum. I would pump for 15 minutes and literally watch two to three drops fall into the plastic container. I gathered my drops and took them to the nursery for the nurses to put in Will’s tube. My husband, Matt, watched as I evolved into a cow, milking myself every three hours. After a couple of days, Will was able to nurse again, so we began the process together from the beginning. My breasts were in so much pain, but I longed for feeding time as that was the only time I got to see my new son. As my milk came in, I became engorged and the pain got worse. One nurse told me to take hot showers and express milk in the shower to alleviate the pain. Another nurse said not to express any milk as that would cause my body to produce even more, intensifying the problem and pain. Not knowing, I did a little of both. The engorgement did not subside for several days, but I made it through with the help of a lactation specialist, oddly-named nipple paraphernalia, and practice.
We came home from the hospital on the ninth day, and my son had gained a pound since birth. Most babies lose weight in the days after birth, but not mine. The nurses joked that I must have been serving cream. Everything seemed like it was going in the right direction, yet I was still in an extreme amount of pain. Will and I continued to do the dance every three hours day and night for seven weeks. In those weeks, my pain never went away. Every time he latched on, it took my breath away. Every time. I would pump occasionally and feed him from a bottle just to get some relief. I found myself in a hot shower several times in the middle of the night after nursing, attempting to dull the pain enough to sleep. Then Will got thrush, a yeast infection in his mouth, most likely caused by the huge doses of antibiotics he received in the hospital. He gave it to me, which caused my nipples to be hot pink and even more tender than before. We soaked all his pacifiers and bottle nipples in vinegar then sterilized them between each use. We forced nasty medicine in his mouth several times a day, and I had to clean and apply medicine to my breasts after each feeding—medicine which dried sticky and caused my nursing pads to stick to my already tender breasts. Our nursing experience was getting worse by the day.
Every time he cried, I would think to myself, “Oh, please don’t be hungry.” I eventually resorted to pumping enough for each feeding and only giving him the milk in bottles. I spent so much time stressed and in pain that I wasn’t even enjoying most of my day with him. I was miserable, and we couldn’t get his thrush under control. After seven weeks, I made the decision to stop nursing. We took his pacifier away as well, and in turn his thrush cleared up very quickly. I bound my breasts with an athletic wrap that had a cold pack on one end. I put on a pre-pregnancy bra that was too small and had my husband wrap the elastic around my breasts tightly with the cold pack in place. The pain was so severe for the first two days, I couldn’t hold Will against my chest. Eventually, the milk and the pain went away.
My emotions were unbelievable as the guilt crashed over me. I was consumed with feelings of disappointment and failure. I felt I was failing my son, failing my family, failing myself. I was not able to do what was best for my son. I knew breast milk was best, yet I was switching him to formula. Was I just selfish? I had friends who relished their nursing experiences and cried when they weaned their babies. What was wrong with me? I felt like a failure as a mother. With time and wisdom from my own mother, I realized that a happy mom and formula were better for Will than a stressed mom giving him breast milk. After my milk had dried up and my emotions leveled out, I felt like a new woman. People closest to me said I was myself for the first time since Will’s birth. I enjoyed Will so much more and soaked up every moment of motherhood. I was living my dream, even without breast milk.
If I had been able to give birth to another child after Will, I would have tried breast-feeding again. I would have given it my all once again, but I wouldn’t have beaten myself up if it had ended the same way. I know nursing is the best option for babies, but I also know that sometimes it just doesn’t work for reasons like mine and a million others. I am not an inferior mother because I didn’t nurse Will until his first birthday like all the books recommend, but no one actually told me that I was. I was the only one judging my value as a mother based on one decision, and I hope I never make that mistake again.
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