“Breast is best.” As a pregnant woman you hear it all the time. I knew I wanted to breastfeed from the moment we started trying to conceive. But for some reason I always worried that I would have issues with breastfeeding. I also had a gut feeling that I wouldn’t be able to labor naturally and would need a c-section and we all know how that turned out.
The first thing I did when I was wheeled into the recovery room was stare at my husband in awe as he held our baby boy; it was beautiful. The second thing I did was ask for a nurse to come help us with latching since I was new to this whole breastfeeding thing. The nurse was able to get Zachary to latch for a brief moment but he kept falling asleep and wouldn’t stay latched. She said we’d have to work on it again in a little while when we were both more rested. This is the downside of having a c-section; it takes about 45 minutes for them to sew you up and get you into recovery to actually bond with your baby and by then the exhaustion of the whole birth thing catches up to the baby and you. After 30+ hours of active labor and a c-section I was exhausted and so was my baby.
When we finally did try to feed I struggled to get Z to hold a latch. I called for the lactation consultant a few times but by the time she would make it to our room Z would be asleep again. The few times she did work with us he would latch for a minute or so and then pop off. She didn’t seem concerned and brought me a pump so I could at least get some colostrum expressed to feed him. Within a few hours of our first failed attempt at feeding,the nurses checked Z’s blood sugar levels and they were too low. I was promptly brought formula and told I had to feed him to get his levels back up. So with that, I experienced my first feelings of failure as a mother. I knew my milk wasn’t supposed to be in yet and all the research says colostrum is sufficient for the first few days but, I still felt like it was my fault that his blood sugar levels were low and I was being forced to feed him formula.
When I got home from the hospital I was battling two problems with feeding; the fact that we were still supplementing with formula and the fact that I couldn’t get Z to latch. I was coming to terms with the fact that I couldn’t get my baby to latch properly but I was determined to ramp up my supply so I could pump exclusively. It took me two full weeks of round the clock pumping for me to pump enough milk to feed Z without supplementing with formula. There were many times when I was convinced I’d never catch up to his appetite, but it finally happened. I tried a few more times to get him to latch and even tried a nipple shield but the best I could get was about 5 minutes of crying and frantic suckling with not much feeding going on. I recently tried again and had the same result; though he seems to have less trouble latching he also has less interest thanks to 7 weeks of bottle feeding.
I think the worst part about it is the lack of support and resources out there in regards to exclusive pumping. My doctor and my pediatrician think I’m crazy and have offered no support and plenty of discouraging remarks regarding how insufficient pumping is for my supply. It took hours of scouring the internet to find some good resources and honestly the more I read the more depressed I became. I wasn’t pumping near what they said I should be 10 days post partum and I was convinced my milk would dry up and that would be the end of it.
We are 8 weeks post partum and I’m still pumping 8-10 times a day for a grand total of 3.5 to 4 hours a day. I’m not going to lie, it’s rough on both a physical and emotion level. I’m black and blue, I’ve suffered from one bout of mastitis, and I struggle with engorgement any time I go longer than 4 hours without pumping (this seems to be improving in the last couple of days, fingers crossed). I have to pump every 2 to 3 hours and wake up once in the middle of the night in order to keep my supply up. It’s long and tedious and I’ve spent many nights sobbing and considering just giving up. The guilt and the feeling of failure are also still so strong. I’ve drank more mother’s milk tea than I care to think about. I take 9 fenugreek pills a day and constantly smell like maple syrup. I eat oatmeal for breakfast as often as I can muster. I drink a beer a night while pumping (this one I can’t complain about too much). I obsess on a daily basis over the number of ounces I pump vs. the number of ounces Z has eaten. I’ll do anything to boost my supply and keep it going strong. I’ve pretty much conceded to the fact that my three month maternity leave is really a pump-cation.
In the end, breastfeeding was not the awesome bonding experience I thought it would be. It left one of us, if not both (usually both) of us in tears. I continue to try every once in awhile but to be completely honest with you, I dread it. The pure frustration and panic in Z’s eyes and the screaming as he tries so desperately to get milk from me is heartbreaking. And just when I think I’m completely ok with my decision not to continue trying to breastfeed and resort to exclusive pumping until my supply dries up, I break down and try again.
Thankfully, I’ve been able to freeze a little bit of milk every day and I’ve built up quite the freezer stock. However, as Z approaches 2 months old, his appetite seems to be catching up to my supply and I’m worried once again about not producing enough. I also worry about the logistics of exclusively pumping when I return to work. Ultimately, I’m coming to terms with the fact that he may not be exclusively fed breast milk for as long as I anticipated and I’m just thankful I’ve been able to go as long as I have. Also, I’m thankful I’ve been able to freeze some milk to supplement with formula once my supply does dip or dry up.
I know people think I’m nuts and I agree to a point. It is a lot of work and it takes away a lot of time I could be spending enjoying my baby. I still feel like I’m imprisoned by the pump but I’m hoping that my supply will regulate soon and I can ease off the frequency/length of my pumping sessions. It’s been a tough journey but I’m not quite ready to give up entirely on breastfeeding. When I see him happily growing and thriving I remember that its totally worth it and I remind myself that this is all that really matters.