When I was pregnant for the first time, I was actually surprised when someone asked if I was planning to breastfeed. Somehow, it had never crossed my mind that this was a decision you could make. I just assumed that breastfeeding is what every mother does and so it would be what I’d be doing, too. Maybe that has something to do with my mother always telling me how I used to run to her boobs when I was already three years old ;-). Only when I started to read more about the subject I discovered what a heatedly discussed topic the choice for breastfeeding versus the alternative of using formula was…
When a baby is born, your tasks as a mom basically all evolve around them eating and sleeping, with the goal to make them grow and stay healthy. There’s not much more to it at the beginning, so feeding your baby is logically your biggest concern in the first phase of motherhood. No wonder that it has us worried how we feed our kids and if we’re doing a good job. If you decide you’ll breastfeed your baby, the feeding task all comes down to you, and it not working out can make you feel like you failed at your task. So I tried to prepare as well as possible, reading about it and attending a breastfeeding class. Once Henrik was born, I had the needed support from my husband, the nurse who helped us during the first week and I had enough milk and I guess that you could say that everything went quite smoothly. Nevertheless, I also had some had struggles with breastfeeding, and had them again with Stella.
I feel like most stories I you read or hear are quite black or white: you either have a great experience and everything goes perfectly fine or you struggle, suffer and stop breastfeeding. So here’s some of my experiences with breastfeeding, and my struggles with it. Because even though I breastfed Henrik and am planning to do so with Stella for (at least) six months, my journey has not been without ups and downs, doubts, tears and struggles that so often go hand in hand with most of the beautiful aspects of being a mom:
- Engorgement: I had been told that breast fullness was a normal process of lactation that starts a couple of days after your baby is born, and that it can take about two to three days until you and your baby have a good nursing rhythm so your milk production adjusts to your baby’s need for food. As it’s more common that you have too little than too much milk, you’re told to offer both breasts during each feeding in order to stimulate milk production. So I did for the whole first week, until I suffered engorgement and was in bad pain. And it didn’t pass after two days, it went on for almost five. Even when Henrik was peacefully sleeping, I couldn’t get to sleep because of the pain. It made me doubt if it was worth it, after giving birth and all the emotions that come with a new baby, I felt like the struggle with suffering from engorgement for so many days was too much. Finally, my midwife who paid me a visit after a couple of days after the birth suggested I’d use the breast pump to give me some relief and empty them at once, as Henrik would never manage to drink all that milk. That did the trick! With our second baby, I hoped that it wouldn’t be as bad again. Well it was! And even though I knew from the first time that this would pass, I felt again like it wouldn’t, and it was a process with pain and tears. With the difference that I used the pump much earlier. By now, my production has adjusted to Stella’s needs and I’m really happy I don’t have engorgement issues anymore.
- Nursing in public: Even though I think it was good to get informed about breastfeeding beforehand, I think that reading about the issues it can involve also led to more worries about it. I was really afraid I’d suffer from hurt nipples or even breast infection if Henrik didn’t latch on correctly. And even worse that if I didn’t do it all as it should be, he wouldn’t drink well and have issues gaining weight. So at first, I only fed on the sofa with the nursing pillow draped around me, and I felt like I was sitting there for such a big part of the day. Also, as a newborn, Henrik would wake up and be screaming for food right away. I felt ok with that on my well known sofa and pillow throne, but worried about nursing outside of my home. With all the worries on my mind, it totally stressed me out that he’d be screaming while I’d try to have him latch on correctly. With as a consequence that everyone would be watching this struggling mom, trying to get her baby to drink without publicly showing her boobs. Well I’m glad I had husband and my mom joining me for lots of walks during the first weeks. It helped to have someone just holding the baby for a minute while getting in a comfortable position in a café, park or wherever we’d be. Handing me a wrap or whatever else needed or even serving as a wall for more privacy. After the first month or so, Henrik didn’t scream for food anymore and got more patient, which also contributed to me getting more and more comfortable with feeding him in public. And once he grew bigger, he could also hold himself better and pillows and even two arms weren’t necessary anymore. By now, I feed wherever Stella she gets hungry. I still don’t feel comfortable showing my boobs in the process, and have gotten better at smoothly avoiding to do so :-).
- Bottle refusal: Following the advice of my midwife, I started to use a breast pump and bottle feed Henrik when he was three weeks old. I know that some people advice to start later as they’re concerned the baby might prefer the easy drinking of the bottle and refuse to latch on as a consequence. But Henrik and Stella both were good drinkers from day one and we didn’t worry about that. With the possibility of feeding Henrik a bottle, I could enjoy a date night every now and then and have a drink. However, we made the mistake of not giving him a bottle for a couple of weeks when he was about six months old and all of a sudden, Henrik wouldn’t accept to be bottle-fed anymore. I wasn’t working at that time but I was planning to do so soon, so his refusal worried me more and more. Being his only ressource for (liquid) food made me feel anxious and chained to home. It took us a lot of strength to not nurse him for hours one day, husband carrying him around and comforting him in the bouncer until he finally took a bottle again. By then, a big part of my pumped milk stash had gone to waste with our unsuccessful attempts of bottlefeeding. So we added formula to his diet. I was planning to nurse only in the mornings and evenings from then onwards, but that didn’t work out due to his bottle refusal.As soon as I’d breastfeed him, he’d refuse the bottle again the next day. He would not have one sip all day at daycare. So we decided to go through the pain of not nursing for hours again until he’d take the bottle. And then no more boob.. This is one of the experiences we both still talk about as being horrible. Henrik crying and me not nursing him because he just really needed to take that bottle. And once he did, stopping with breastfeeding because I didn’t want to go through all it again. So for Stella I really hope she’ll continue to take the bottle in combination with breastfeeding once she’s six months old and starts going to daycare.
So much about some struggles I had with feeding our babies. Something you’d think should go so naturally and worryfree as it’s what women have always done. But nope :-). Even now that I’m used to it all, I sometimes find myself attached to the breast pump thinking what the heck am I doing? The kids won’t even care about all this effort later! But I guess that goes for so many things we do for our children. And I’m just doing what feels best for me and us, even if it has cost me some pain, nerves and grey hair :-). And a nursing baby is still one of the most magical and endearing experiences of motherhood to me, one I know I’ll miss once this phase is over.