Our bundle of joy was here, and I couldn’t wait to feed her. I knew breastfeeding was difficult, but nothing could have prepared me for the challenges I would experience.
On April 2, 2016 at 5:11 p.m., my life was forever changed. After nine months of waiting, 12 hours of labor, and 45 minutes of pushing, I was finally able to cradle my sweet, delicious, little girl in my arms. We were immediately encouraged to cuddle and breastfeed. She didn’t hesitate to latch on, and was a voracious eater from the time she was born. My heart was full and so was her belly.
I made a conscious decision to nurse early on in my pregnancy, and after researching, reading, and even taking classes, I knew that we were ready to begin this long term journey. Although I felt tremendous joy, accomplishment, and closeness with my daughter, the first several weeks weren’t all sunshine and roses. After experiencing pain, oftentimes toe curling, a plugged duct, and what I eventually found out to be an incorrect latch thanks to Patty, a certified consultant from La Leche League, my little peanut and I were finally able to move forward.
My supply was great. Too great, in fact, as I had an overabundance of milk for quite some time which lead to engorgement. However, with research and trial and error, I found that block feeding did the trick. Relieved, I thought the worst of the issues were behind us. Little did I know they were just beginning.
As we were breezing into her third month of life – time really does pass too quickly – breastfeeding was going beautifully. The closeness I felt with my daughter was undeniable. Seeing her gaze into my eyes, knowing that her nourishment and well-being depended on me, was at once the greatest and scariest feeling I’d ever experienced. Yet, as I watched her sweet little hands knead and flutter every night while she slowly drifted off to sleep, everything felt right in the world.
About two weeks into month three I noticed my daughter becoming increasingly fussy at the breast. So much so that her crying was almost incessant if she wasn’t nursing. And within a few days, she would unlatch, toss her head back, and wail. She couldn’t even settle during a feeding session and I hadn’t noticed a letdown since the morning prior. Meanwhile, her father and I tried everything we could think of to soothe our baby girl.
I began to fear the worst – that despite all of the articles I had read telling me otherwise, I simply wasn’t producing enough milk.
Frantic, I thought back to what had changed. What I could have possibly done wrong. I loved my daughter, so why couldn’t I have a letdown while imagining all of the sweet things I adored about her, especially while she was right there in my arms. I pictured my ducts swelling up with milk, so full that they had no other choice but to empty out into her mouth, flowing like a stream of water. I tried massage, stimulation, compressions, deep breathing. Nothing worked. I began to feel like a horrible mother.
And then, it dawned on me. About three weeks prior, after much internal debate, I decided to take the mini pill, a form of progesterone-only birth control, that was given to me at the hospital.
Heartbroken, I knew that the pill, coupled with her reduced diaper output and distress, meant I would have to supplement with formula. But nothing could have prepared me for the emotions I felt. That first day I cried, nearly uncontrollably, for hours. And every time I saw her unhappiness at the breast between formula feedings, I felt more and more like a failure. “Stupid, stupid,” I thought to myself, “Why didn’t you trust your instincts and avoid the birth control?”
I continued down this path for the next several days. The only satisfaction I had was seeing my daughter full, content, and happy again. With many more months of milk-based nutrition still ahead, I worried about more than just our connection, but also her health.
After discontinuing the medication immediately, and eventually coming to terms over a few very sad days that one of the most meaningful experiences I’d ever had was probably over, it was time for me to put on my big girl pants, because the blubbering mess I had become was the last thing my daughter needed. Rather than give up, though, I decided to do everything in my power to bring back my milk supply, to at least prove to myself and to her that I won’t give up that easily.
Shortly thereafter, along with the unwavering support of her dad, I began feverishly taking supplements, drinking powders, eating oatmeal, upping my fluid intake, using an electric pump, using a manual pump, and when those didn’t work, learning to hand express. I would typically only extract a measly half ounce, and would rejoice at a full one. I began to feel defeated. This continued for several more days, until I was advised by the nurse and her pediatrician to rent a hospital-grade double breast pump.
Armed with this information, and never veering from my supplement taking course, I met with Mary, the owner and certified lactation consultant at Sweet Songs Breastfeeding, to pick up the only pump she had left in stock. Mary took her job seriously. I could tell it meant a lot to her, and after giving me some advice, I began to feel empowered. Hopeful. Like I could do this.
In the couple days that I had used the pump, I managed two and a half ounces in one sitting, which was the most I’d ever expressed at one time. You can imagine my elation over that. But, much to my dismay, the next session paled in comparison.
I knew it was only the beginning. That I would have highs and lows. Yet if I didn’t try, if I didn’t give it my all, how could I ever expect the same out of my daughter one day?
So for now, I’ll take the comfort nursing she requires in order to sleep for as long as she’ll allow it. I’ll continue to bask in the joy of every smile, every milestone, and every cuddle. I’ll drown in the intoxicating smell of her sweet scent, relish in her bath time excitement, and continue our early morning “talks.” With all of these beautiful moments and experiences, even if I never get my supply back, I feel like I’ve already won.
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Image of Mom Breastfeeding Baby via Shutterstock