What’s the first emotion that comes to mind when you think about breastfeeding? Joy? Pain? Anxiety? Inadequacy? Nostalgia?
Breastfeeding can conjure so many emotions, especially when you’re postpartum, hormonal, and sleep deprived. I would venture to guess that many breastfeeding mothers have felt a wide array of those emotions, likely all at once. After my daughter was born and she nursed for the first time, it was indescribable joy. The following weeks and months were a mixture of pure bliss and fervent charting. I loved bonding with my baby and I was determined to make sure she was eating enough.
The pain never came. I never experienced cracked nipples or unbearable engorgement. For the first 3 months, I felt so grateful for my positive experience, and it was hard for me to understand how others didn’t feel the same way. In my naive mind, it was a no-brainer: Bonding with baby? Free nourishment? Quick weight loss? Sign me up!
Then, my milk supply began to decrease and anxiety began to set in. My daughter began pulling away from me crying, nursing for no longer than a few minutes on each side. Admittedly, I was in denial for a while. I told myself she was just going through a phase. That it would get better. Unfortunately, breastfeeding continued to be stressful for both of us. She cried. I cried. Eventually, when she was about 4 months old, we visited her pediatrician to discuss our recent issues. Her doctor confirmed my fear that she wasn’t gaining weight at the pace he would like to see, and we met with a lactation consultant to troubleshoot. She watched me try to nurse while Madison screamed. She recommended an herbal vitamin for me and suggested that I pump after each feeding to help boost my supply. In the meantime, Madison needed additional nourishment from a supplemental formula.
I hated pumping. As a stay-at-home mother, I’d never had to worry with it before. I took the Fenugreek, attempted to nurse then bottle feed (and vice versa) and then pumped. I pumped and pumped and produced only drops. It was so discouraging. However, I could see an almost immediate positive change in Madison. She was finally getting enough to eat with the formula, she started sleeping better and was all around a much happier baby. I kicked myself for “starving” her during my denial period.
Eventually, the feeling of discouragement shifted to inadequacy. I hated not being able to provide milk for my baby. I worried about how the financial hit buying formula would impact our one-income family. I felt like a failure for being unable to provide the one thing I was supposed to be able to do. Wasn’t this what my body was made for?
I let myself cry, mourn the blissful days of rocking and nursing my baby to sleep, and admitted to myself what I never saw coming 4 months prior: our breastfeeding journey was over. And after I accepted that, I felt relieved. I wouldn’t have to stress anymore. I could wear dresses again! My husband could help with feedings. I could be sure how much nutrition she was getting. Goodbye, breast pump!
Now, at 12 months old, Madison is drinking 12-18 ounces of formula each day, along with whole milk and a whole lot of food. She’s growing, thriving, and couldn’t be happier. I still miss nursing her every day. I still feel a twinge of sadness when I hear someone talking about breastfeeding their child. Sometimes I look down at her with tears in my eyes and whisper how sorry I am. Usually, she just smiles at me. I remind myself how formula made her little tummy happy and full, and I did the only thing I could: try my best, and in the end, do what’s best for her.
I’m thankful for all the support I received during that time–my husband’s reassurance, my mom’s advice, my friends’ encouragement–and relieved that no one tried to shame me. Next go around, I’ll know what to expect. I’ll do things differently, like pump more frequently. Start off with Fenugreek. Maybe try other supply boosting remedies. Make friends with a lactation consultant. And if none of that works, I’ll gather my Enfamil coupons and head to Target for retail therapy.
Right now, if someone asked me what emotions comes to mind when I think about breastfeeding? Nostalgia. Hope. What about you?