Hustle for happiness, Mother hustle

Breastfeeding is hard work

📸Sandra Lee Photography

But isn’t it the most natural thing in the world? I mean, I heard it would be hard but I figured I’d just have to slap some Lanolin on cracked nipples and things would smooth themselves out (literally and figuratively). I was not prepared for just how hard it would become… because it started out so well.

After the c-section I was wheeled into recovery and given my baby for our first test as a new duo – breastfeeding. You know those mythical stories you hear about babies latching right away and they always seem like a lie? Well we got lucky because Eli latched right away and he had a great latch! My midwife was beaming and kept remarking about how amazing and uncommon it was. I was even producing a fair amount of colostrum, which doesn’t always happen right away after an induction or c-section. I was so damn proud. I felt like at least my body wasn’t letting me down in every possible way – I may not have been able to give birth the way I imagined but at least I could breastfeed!

We did have to supplement in the beginning; because Eli was such a big baby his sugars were low. We used something called a lactation aid, which is basically a tube you put in formula on one end and tape the other end to your nipple so your babe can get the formula while breastfeeding. I hated the aid. It was messy, I kept having to try and poke the tube into my small baby’s mouth every time he popped off and had to re-latch and it was such a long process to set up, especially since I couldn’t move very much after surgery. Every time Eli needed to eat Paul would have to run around the house setting up the aid and getting the formula ready – it was easily a five minute process. Which doesn’t seem that long until you’re listening to a newborn scream in hungry. Once Eli regained his birth weight we did away with the aid (yassss!) and were nursing like champs. We were told Eli had a minor tongue tie but it wasn’t an issue and he was still recovering from his bris so we opted not to “release” it. Eli was latching and eating well, gaining lots of weight and I was wondering if there would ever be a time when I didn’t routinely spray him in the face and soak through my nursing pads.

Truthfully, I didn’t love breastfeeding. But I knew I was giving my son “liquid gold” and it was going so well so I just powered through.

Then Eli started to get fussy during feeds.

At first it was just the evening feed. He’d gone through a pretty massive growth spurt during this time so that explained it. Then he got his two month shots and had two big welts on his legs. Well who likes lying on a sore bump? Then it was both evening feeds. Well duh, all babies have a witching hour and these fusses lined up nicely with that. Then it went from fussiness to low-key freak outs. That started happening at earlier and earlier feeds. Before I knew it we went from breastfeeding like a dream to full-blown freak outs during almost every. single. feed. Most of the times I would just have to call it because I couldn’t handle the screaming anymore and he wasn’t latching. I started to absolutely dread breastfeeding. This is something I was doing 7-9 times a day for upwards of 20-25 minutes, which meant I spent most of my days feeling an overwhelming amount of dread. When I wasn’t breastfeeding I was worrying about what the next feed would bring – would I have to console a crying baby on my breast or would I get lucky and have this be the one that actually worked? 🤞🏻It was exhausting emotionally and physically.

One day I was trying to battle through a feed with Eli when a friend of Paul’s asked how long I planned to breastfeed for – Paul nonchalantly said our standard “six months”, however at the same time, with a panicked look on my face I blurted out “if we make it to four months it will be a f*cking miracle.” The timing of this question was almost serendipitous – I had decided five minutes earlier I needed to tell Paul this. was. not. working. I felt desperate, overwhelmed and resentful. I couldn’t listen to my baby scream on my breast while I failed at the one thing I was supposed to be able to do – feed my child.

After we talked about what was going on I remembered hearing about a breastfeeding clinic at a hospital nearby so we made a plan to go and also scheduled an appointment with our doctor. The clinic did not go well. We were told Eli wasn’t gaining enough weight and was off his growth chart. But they offered zero solutions for what to do other than see our doctor. I left feeling hopeless and scared that I wasn’t giving my child what he needed… a feeling that would only be exacerbated that night.

During our “dream feed” that night Eli was inconsolable – he wouldn’t eat but he was so obviously hungry. Completely at a loss for what to do we remembered we had formula left over from those early weeks so we gave him a bottle. And he slept through the night. This was baby who had gone from getting 5 hour stretches of sleep down to 2-3 hour stretches over the previous two weeks. We could not believe it.

We’d also found a breastfeeding clinic that required a referral. When we saw our doctor the next day she recommended the same clinic, set up a referral and told us she wasn’t worried about Eli’s weight gain (insert the world’s largest sigh of relief here). We lucked out with an appointment that week and it felt like everything was lining up.

At the clinic I found out my milk supply had dropped significantly and Eli’s tongue tie was actually pretty severe. These two things came together to create a perfect storm – when my supply was abundant it was easy for him, but as my supply dropped he had to work more and more and he wasn’t able to suck as hard so he was getting increasingly frustrated. I was put on a drug called Domperidone (the less fun dom) right away to increase my supply and Eli was scheduled to have his tongue tie snipped the following week. In the meantime I was given a lactation aid and told to supplement at each feed until my supply started to improve. I was crushed – this meant doing the entire set up on my own multiple times a day and managing a now very alert baby who did not want a tube stuck in his mouth.

Before we headed to this clinic our Nurse Practitioner gave us some incredibly important advice – to take whatever recommendations they had for us and set a timeline for how long we’d try them, somewhere between ten days to two weeks. We were going to head to Victoria about two weeks from this appointment so we were using that as our benchmark for how to move forward.

The drugs didn’t work right away and while we kind of sorted out the lactation aid I was miserable. At Eli’s tongue tie release appointment they upped my dosage and encouraged us to keep using the aid and ultimately try to eliminate the one bottle a day Paul was giving him, which made me want to scream – that bottle was my one reprieve from this during the day.

We were scheduled to return the day before we flew to make sure Eli’s tongue tie hadn’t reattached. Around this time I began to feel hopeless for our breastfeeding journey – it completely overwhelmed me, I hated doing it and I was becoming resentful about everything. I felt like I was in a no-win situation. I wanted desperately to give up and switch to formula full time because every feed was a battle – either with a fussy baby or a messy, complicated set-up and I could not see a time when that would change. The feeds were also taking upwards of 45 minutes to complete. But I didn’t want to give up without putting in an earnest effort, because I felt this was the right decision for Eli. I wasn’t sleeping well, I was anxious and even the simplest decisions would completely overwhelm me. I felt so lost.

So I reached out to my midwife and asked her for a recommendation for someone to talk to about my mental health. She ended up calling me about 45 minutes before we were going to head back to the clinic to check on Eli’s tongue tie – I filled her in on what was going on and told her about using the lactation aid. She asked me questions that I hadn’t considered (like, “how do your breasts feel at the end of the day?” – my response, “sad and empty”) and proceeded to blow. my. mind. She told me she’s had clients who take longer to refill or are just low producers and suggested we try a combination of breastfeeding and bottle feeding. The clinic’s goal for me was to get rid of the one bottle a day Eli was getting so he wouldn’t “reject the breast”. Our midwife reassured me that breastfeeding was very well established and wasn’t concerned about this possibility… and then she added an important point, so what if he does? I know this isn’t going to be a very popular point but it was exactly what I needed to hear. I was doing everything I could to set us up on a positive breastfeeding journey but ultimately Eli would let me know how he preferred to be feed and, as she said to me many times, I just needed to feed my baby. It wouldn’t make me less of a mom if he preferred a bottle – in fact, doing everything I could to make sure Eli is getting what’s best for him and being responsive to his needs makes me exactly the kind of mom he needs.

After our call we headed to the lactation clinic for Eli’s follow-up appointment. They upped my dosage of domperidone one last time and pushed Eli’s tongue tie back (poor thing, it had reattached a little) and then we talked about how to proceed. Their recommendation was to keep supplementing using the lactation aid and if we were still using it in a month to just start him on solids. I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of starting Eli on solids so quickly, especially before he was showing readiness signs, simply as a solution for breastfeeding and the idea of continuing to use the lactation aid made me nauseous. If it hadn’t been for that phone call with my midwife I probably would have given up on breastfeeding in that moment. I had tried using the aid on the go and it did not go well – it made me feel completely tethered to being home and made our trip to Victoria feel overwhelming – how was I going to spend time with my family when I was either setting up to feed Eli, taking foooorever to feed him, or putting him down for a nap?

I had told our midwife at the end of our conversation that I was thinking I wouldn’t pack the lactation aid for our trip and she told me to leave it behind. So, we decided to give her recommendation of a boob and bottle combination a try and spend our trip seeing how it would go. After some trial and error around bottles we figured out Eli needed a slower flow bottle nipple to prevent him from getting milk too easily (and therefore getting frustrated during breastfeeding sessions) and we found the perfect solution in the Como Tomo bottle. We started a new routine of breastfeeding for the first two feeds and then switching between bottle and breast – with both expressed milk and formula – every other feed.

And guess what? Eli started thriving, meeting more milestones, I was happier – and therefore a better mom – and the world did not stop turning (pretty shocking, right?). We did continue to grapple with this decision while we were first sorting it out and some unhelpful comments from the woman we bought our bottles from sent us on a bit of a spiral (okay her suggestion to breastfeed Eli every 90 minutes instead of giving him a bottle sent me into a bit of a rage). During the week after our last clinic visit I felt so confused and wracked with guilt about our new system that I debated giving up entirely and heavily considered exclusively pumping because I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to a point where I didn’t hate breastfeeding.

But in an interesting twist of fate bottle feeding saved our breastfeeding journey for a while. With each day Eli became less and less fussy during feeds, both because my supply was finally on the upswing and he was getting enough to eat throughout the day, which meant I was calmer going into the feeds.

But I still didn’t love breastfeeding, I spent a lot of time being stressed about how much Eli was getting from those feeds and I was taking 21 pills a day to keep my supply up. Yes you read that right – 21 pills. Ultimately, I knew that continuing beyond six months was not something I wanted to do so the day before my birthday I breastfed Eli for the last time. In the moment I didn’t have all the feels that I expected to – heck Eli barely noticed (we were bottle feeding him after most breastfeeds for about a month as he wasn’t feeding long enough) but, despite knowing this was the best decision for myself and Eli, I do have some guilt about stoppping. I mean, I selfishly made this decision about something that impacts my child – what does that say about me? But considering everything we went through, the constant stress and worry every time he went through a growth spurt, or was fussy during a feed, just wasn’t worth the toll it was taking on my mental health.

I am a better, less stressed mother now that I feed my baby with formula and isn’t that the kind of mother he deserves?

I am grateful I persisted when it was hard because I learned so many lessons about being flexible, being responsive to my baby as well as my own mental health (more on that to come), how to collect helpful information and make my own choices with that data. I really struggled with drowning out the noise that comes with breastfeeding – there are some very strong opinions out there but over time I’ve come to realize that I made the very best choice for me and my baby and isn’t that what the #motherhustle is really all about?

Did you struggle with breastfeeding? Do you have any questions about the lessons I learned? Leave a comment below!

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1 Comment

  • Reply Kris August 6, 2019 at 11:21 am

    My mom struggled, and ultimately couldnt breastfeed my brother or I. Same with my grandmother. It was a milk production issue, and if I ever have kids, who knows? Sharing these stories are so important, so women don’t feel alone.

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