I know about 10 moms ready to pop by the end of this year and now more than ever I get lots of questions on why I chose to breastfeed, how I went about it and what made me stop. Sooo here it is, y'all. Raw, open and honest.
First of all, it's a fallacy to believe that you actually get to choose whether you breastfeed or bottle feed. You get to choose your intended feeding method during your pregnancy and you get to choose how you will plan and prepare for the likelihood of success in that choice. Once the baby comes, you get to choose what advice and help you seek out, listen to, and apply to your own personal circumstances. When it comes to breastfeeding, you get to choose how hard you try make it work, how much pain you are able to endure, how much emotional trauma you can withstand.
You do not have a choice as to how much milk you will make. You do not have a choice as to what type of mouth or sucking habits your baby is born with. You do not have a choice as to whether or not you will experience pain. For some lucky ones, it's painless, easy and seamless. For others, it's brutal, exhausting and frustrating.
When I was pregnant, I had full intention of breastfeeding exclusively and assumed I would get a perfect latch for the first year. Why would it be tough? Women have been doing it since the beginning of time. That wasn't the case once Zidaan got here. The day Z was born, I had a flock of visitors in the hospital waiting to meet him. With all the family around, my new mom high and post delivery pains, I didn't focus on his latch or feeding (super important one they're born and sparkling new). When I did try, he wouldn't latch properly. The nurse gave me a nipple shield along with a hand pump. This made it easier. For the time being. He would latch onto the shield and feed easily. I could also hand pump some milk and feed him with a syringe. My milk came in 3rd day post delivery and as long as he was getting fed, I put off my worries. Little did I know, those first few days that I didn't focus on his latch and used all secondary methods to feed him would eventually become our norm.
Once I got home from the hospital, I continued using the shield. Yes, there was pain. For the first couple weeks, it was quite excruciating, but I pushed through it. I eventually got desperate for sleep and that's when I bought my Medela Sonata. I remember the first time I used an electric pump and I thought to myself: 20 mins, no pain and milk out. This is a lot easier than getting up every couple hours, him latching onto me, having to wait 30 mins for him to feed and dealing with the pain on top of all of it.
I knew I would eventually have to pump when I went back to work so I decided to keep working on feeding him directly from me. There were days I tried taking the shield off and see if he would nurse without it. I kept telling myself: persistence is key. I noticed that he would feed for a very long time, but not actively swallow the whole time or would fall asleep. He would also be hungry soon after breastfeeding, whereas with pumped milk he usually napped for an hour or two between feedings and I could tell he was satisfied after the feeding. I also noticed that oftentimes after breastfeeding his poop would be greenish. I read that this could be due to a foremilk and hindmilk imbalance, which made sense to me as he would nurse well at first and then slow down and so he probably wasn’t getting that rich, fatty hindmilk that he needed.
I continued this back and forth for about 2 months. Other moms kept telling me how important the closeness and bond nursing brings is/how important it is to exclusively breastfeed for at least a year/a lot of other comments that can pressure a young new mom. One night as I was feeding Z exhausted with no sleep as the shield kept falling off every few minutes, I realized it was okay for me to give him pumped milk. He thrived on it and I thrived, knowing exactly how much he was getting. Since then I've always said “I don’t care how he gets my milk, as long as he gets it.”
Is pumping more work? Most people would probably say that it is. You have to hook yourself up to the machine and constantly wash the parts. You can’t really stay out for more than 3-4 hours at a time unless you bring your pump with you. Even with all of this extra “work” I still enjoyed pumping because I knew I was doing what was best for my baby and for me. The one thing that was very difficult about pumping was waking up in the middle of the night to pump as well as staying up late to get one last session in before going to sleep.
Although I had an oversupply of milk which enabled me to freeze a lot the first few months, I decided to supplement one bottle of formula a day at 6 weeks. We wanted him to have a taste for it so if for any reason, I chose to stop breastfeeding we knew he would take it. At 3 months, I went back to work and continued pumping exclusively with a bottle of formula a day. I pumped every 3 hours religiously and froze one bottle a day (in exchange for the formula feed he took in each day).
Alas, Zidaan is now 7 months and I have finally stopped pumping and have him switched over to formula and semi solids. I made that decision once pumping exhausted me. With working full time and traveling, the pump had become an extension of me. It often felt like I had 3 arms. I am beyond proud of myself to have given him breastmilk for 7 months and to have frozen enough for another month that I plan on giving to him slowly till he turns a year old. This was my personal decision. Kudos to those working moms who breastfeed exclusively for a year or more. I wish I had that determination and drive. I take comfort in the fact that I did my best. Every mom is different. Every baby is different. And everyone's choices are personal and what's best for them.
To those moms struggling while breastfeeding the first few weeks, you aren't crazy. The early weeks of nursing are a special type of torturous purgatory. For the first time mom, there is no foreseeable end in sight. There is no appreciable rewarding end product. So many women who have birthed without drugs tell me that the pain and emotional turmoil of breastfeeding is worse than childbirth. Way worse. I agree. Childbirth is one day. There is a definitive end and you will have your baby out of you at the end of that day one way or another. Breastfeeding is another story.
My goal was a year and I made it to 7 months. My goal was nursing directly from myself and I ended up exclusively pumping. Not everything will go exactly the way you plan and as long as your child is fed and loved, it's all completely okay. I hope you will read my long winded story and find more space in your heart for compassion, empathy, and acceptance of all kinds moms: nursing exclusively, pumping exclusively, formula exclusively or a mix of any of those. I hope you will understand that many, many women who are no longer breastfeeding did not come to that place because they did not choose to start; they came to that place because they chose to stop.
Not every mom is a baby expert. But she's definitely an expert on her own child and knows what's best for her baby and herself.