No matter how you feed your baby, the journey has ups and downs, as well as an often glossed over emotional component. Our feeding story has been a mix of many methods, but today I’m talking specifically about my experience breastfeeding.
At 10 weeks postpartum, I wrote an emotional post explaining the realities of breastfeeding during those first 10 weeks. I never released the post because it felt too raw and emotional at the time. Now at six months postpartum, I revisited it and added an update on where we are now. Being more removed from the trenches, per say, it feels like it’s time to share. Hopefully these truths help to either prepare you that struggle is normal or show you that there is a bright view from the other side. I wish at 10 weeks postpartum I would have read something like this and honestly that is part of the reason why I wrote this.
Breastfeeding is freaking hard. It is one of the most time consuming and thankless jobs you will ever have. I definitely feel like my expectations were skewed going into motherhood. From looking at Instagram and all of the mom bloggers posting their boob happily in their baby’s mouth, I was under the impression that breastfeeding was this super easy natural thing and my biggest issue would be the sad day I’d have to stop because he got too old. Wrong wrong wrong wrong. I am here to tell you that is not the norm although it may happen to some of the lucky ones, but do not let that expectation take over. I have grown a lot more comfortable with my journey and realized that a lot of other moms have these ups and downs in their breastfeeding story as well. I want to walk through my story and the stuff no one tells you because from my experience there is a lot of it. I am an avid researcher of situations before entering them and no class, book, or Google search prepared me for this. The only thing that made me feel like I wasn’t going crazy or the only one going through the breastfeeding rollercoaster was hearing the raw truth from other moms.
So let’s start with when I realized how underprepared I really was which was, well immediately after giving birth. I didn’t realize that I was going to be pumping from the beginning. I had this idea that my baby would be born, immediately latch to my boob, and that would be that. I thought the first time I’d have to even pull out my pump was when I’d eventually want a glass of wine so I could do the old pump and dump. That entire thought sequence is false on just about every level.
Your milk doesn’t “come in” for a few days so while you are in the hospital you are pumping to get things going. My hospital provided me with a breast pump to use which I believe most hospitals do, but at first there was little instruction so I was winging it and doing it totally wrong. Maddox was born via c-section and was in the Nicu for a bit before I got to feed him myself so I just hung out super drugged up trying to operate this pump while I waited for him. We didn’t really succeed with the whole breastfeeding thing the entire time we were in the hospital. I thought it was going to be a piece of cake since I was already leaking a little weeks before Maddox’s birth. That was not indicative in any way of what our breastfeeding experience would look like.
When Maddox was discharged from the Nicu to us, they let us know he had already been given formula and a pacifier. They told me as if I was going to lose my mind that they gave my child these taboo things instead of just being so damn grateful that got him well after our rough birth. The formula and pacifier were literally the last thing I was worried about. From this point out we got a lot of mixed messages about the whole breastfeeding vs formula thing. The nurses, especially his ones from the Nicu, said that he needed to eat and get his weight up and not to worry if we had to use formula because he was early, therefore probably not a strong feeder yet. Since I was producing next to nothing at this point I started filling him up on formula. I went into motherhood just assuming I would exclusively breastfeed, but I was never against formula at all. The nurses even gave him formula when he went for shots because he was getting cranky. They apologized when they returned him, but said they really thought he needed it. I did not think this warranted an apology at all. They knew what they were doing way more than I did so if they thought he needed formula, go for it! They also handed me back a calm baby when they left with an angry one so I really owed them a thank you.
Due to Covid, it was more difficult to see a lactation consultant, but eventually I was able to. Her opinion was to very much shy away from the formula. She said that my body knew what to do and so did Maddox. The notion sounded great, but I could not get Maddox to latch. We worked on this a lot and eventually compromised on a temporary solution. If he wasn’t able to latch, I would pump into tiny little cups and syringe feed him the little bit of breastmilk I had produced. We did this even when we got home. If he got really agitated and I was out of breastmilk, I would give him a bit of formula, but I was really leaning into the whole breastmilk only thing.
When we took him to the pediatrician a couple days after we brought him home, our doctor let us know that he had dropped a significant amount of weight since he was born. She was awesome and walked through my whole feeding routine with me, which yielded the advice to add in some formula so he could get a consistent supply and get back up to his birth weight. The way she explained it made a lot of sense to me. He was early and small so it might take him until he gets older and bigger to become a stronger feeder. For now we supplement as much as we need to and that will only help us toward our endgame of exclusive breastfeeding.
We did this and my life got a whole lot easier. Before I was having to pump every few hours and then syringe feed him. Now I had the freedom to pump while Matt gave him a formula bottle and then I could give him the breastmilk at his next feeding. Of course he immediately gained weight and we were thrilled as was his pediatrician. We continued to do this for three weeks while I still tried to get him to latch. This whole process was excruciatingly painful for my breasts as we worked on getting a good latch. On top of that, I was growing more anxious as we approached the one month mark when Matt had to go back to work and I wouldn’t have the extra set of hands to give a bottle while I pumped. This whole feeding process was extremely time consuming, which after talking to other moms I’ve realized feels like the case no matter what your feeding scenario is.
I finally decided to take the pediatrician up on an offer to see their lactation consultant. I went into my appointment saying, “I just want to know if he will ever be able to latch or if I should give up and get my mind around the fact that I would be exclusively pumping.” After a few very simple and quick adjustments, Maddox was latched and eating very well and I had renewed hope. I started being able to breastfeed him a lot more. We still were supplementing with formula as my supply stabilized as I started to feed him more. Cue another round of extremely painful, I mean toe curling, breast pain that brought me to tears and made me dread the next feeding time. We got through the initial pain after a few weeks, but then came clogged ducts, mastitis, and bruising. It has never actually gotten easy like I thought it would. I spent a lot of time feeling uncertain about supplementing with formula, which my pediatrician helped me through with an explanation that resonated with me. She said that if I am giving him breast milk a bit in some way he is receiving the benefits and by having formula included too he is just getting those added benefits as well. She made it into a positive for my baby instead of a failure.
The whole breastfeeding process has caused me so much anxiety from the start. I was convinced if I didn’t pump exactly when I was supposed to my milk would just dry up. I obsessively calculated how long to wait to feed him after a glass of wine and then would end up pumping anyway and testing my milk with testing strips three times to confirm. I was so frustrated because I felt like every time I was with Maddox it was just to feed him, which wasn’t an awesome experience for me so it made me irritated. Then I hated feeling irritated every time I got to actually spend time with him. Then of course there is the guilt that I am not doing enough as a mom because I have to supplement with formula. I won’t even start on that whole anxiety blackhole, but I’ll tell you it sucks and it is hard to get out off. I mention all of this in the past tense because I like to think I am making progress on the anxiety. Actually, I know I am (thanks to my mom group and group therapy) and I have been able to finally enjoy some feeding sessions with my baby. I have not yet gotten to the point where I can exclusively give him breastmilk and I don’t really think I will get to that point. I am fine with continuing to supplement with formula if that is what will keep him healthy and keep my mental health in check.
Breastfeeding has not yet felt easy to me. It feels like a job. Or a never ending item on my to do list that as soon as I cross it off it reappears. In my 10 weeks with Maddox, I have suffered quite a few painful incidents with clogged ducts and bruised nipples and I would not wish that pain upon my worst enemy. I feel a guilty pit in my stomach saying that it feels like a painful obligation at times, but I know I am not alone in this. I’m not sure how long my breastfeeding journey will last, but I am grateful that I have gotten to the point where I have been able to find some enjoyment with it. In the early morning when it is just me and my son sitting in the dark and he so sweetly nestles his head into me,I think about how I love having him so close and I am incredibly thankful for our special time together. I am happy that I have been able to give him breastmilk in some way, shape or form for the first 10 weeks of his life and I am also glad I can share my experience thus far in hopes of tempering expectations and validating the feelings of other struggling moms who read this.
I wrote this post with so much emotion at just 10 weeks postpartum. I wanted to revisit my breastfeeding journey because it has continued far longer than I had thought it would and I have come to enjoy it a lot more. I also went back to working at 12 weeks postpartum which added another layer to our breastfeeding journey.
About a week after I wrote my first update on breastfeeding, I had a breakthrough that if I was going to continue breastfeeding I needed to cut myself some slack. Breastfeeding isn’t an all or nothing game, or at least it wasn’t for me. This was so hard for me to wrap my head around, but somehow it happened. I stopped forcing feeds at my breast. If Maddox wanted a bottle of formula, then that’s what he got. If he wanted to breastfeed, then he got to. I let him decide what worked for him. He now regularly switches from breast to bottle depending on what he is in the mood for. I stopped worrying about my supply or producing “enough” and changed my view. Instead of breastfeeding to fully satiate him, I was breastfeeding him to provide nutrients and antibodies that I could provide and then the formula could handle his ever growing hunger. This took so much pressure off of feeding. Instead of obsessing over my supply, I actually enjoyed the time spent breastfeeding Maddox. It’s like as soon as I started to not stress about it, he sensed that and enjoyed breastfeeding a whole lot more.
For a while we were doing breastfeeding sessions about 4-6 times per day on average. My body got used to this and followed my little one’s cues on how much milk I needed to produce (it still blows my mind that the body does that!). The rest of Maddox’s feeds have been formula up until recently when we have started some foods. He absolutely loves trying new food so as we have explored that, our breastfeeding sessions have gotten to be a bit fewer.
I’ve grown to actually really enjoy breastfeeding and I think it’s because of the way we do it. Breastfeeding is a way for us to bond now instead of me feeling like an overtired milk production machine. I’m so happy and thankful I was able to get to this point. I truly didn’t think I would make it to six months still supplying him with any breastmilk. I’m definitely not saying everything is going off without a hitch now because we definitely have our speed bumps. We have days that we are just not in sync. We have days where I really need him to empty me out and he is set on having a bottle while watching Frozen. We have days that I wake up in puddles of milk. We have days where I am in pain (increasingly so as he is teething). I still don’t know how long our breastfeeding journey will last, but I am thankful for everything I’ve learned through it so far.
I do want to say I am lucky that I have had the flexibility to feed on demand due to working from home during Covid. I know this is a privilege and not everyone has that option. I also know that this journey is so different for everyone and we all deserve our situations and our stories to be honored. Whatever you choose to do for your baby is what is best for your baby. As I have progressed through my time breastfeeding I’ve done increasingly more research on the challenges women face trying to breastfeed their babies. There is a lack of support around breastfeeding and a lot of false information around what is “best”. I’ve become pretty passionate and look forward to sharing some feelings I have around our society and breastfeeding in the future.
It took me a long time to feel validated about the challenges I was facing both physically and emotionally around breastfeeding. When I finally opened up in one of my virtual mom groups, I finally heard other women share their stories and I felt seen. Especially during Covid, it is challenging to find moms to connect with who you feel safe to say “I’m not doing okay” around. One post can’t replace the beauty of speaking directly with other moms, but I hope if you are struggling my story can at least make you feel less alone and more comfortable reaching out if you need to.
Mental health advocate.
Sharing my raw and real journey through motherhood and navigating Crohn’s Disease. CrohnicallyBlonde is a place where I serve up my unfiltered commentary on chronic illness, mental health, pregnancy, and motherhood alongside lighter lifestyle content like beauty product reviews, travel tips, and book recommendations. My hope is that by authentically sharing my story I can help others going through similar situations not feel so alone and maybe even laugh along with me.