As a first time mom, any time someone would ask me if I was planning to breastfeed, my response was “well I’m going to try, it’s free food - we’ll see”. I read all the books (well, okay - maybe skimmed a few of the books), definitely watched YouTube videos, talked to other moms and tried to memorize all the different breastfeeding holds with the fake baby doll in child birthing class. I was as prepared as I could be! When my birth plan was thrown out the window at 37 weeks, I felt that I was at least prepared for breastfeeding. What I wasn’t prepared for was my son to not know how to do anything with breastfeeding.
He wouldn’t latch, he would fall asleep, it would be really painful when he did latch, he never wanted both boobs, we tried nipple shield, no nipple shield, he yanked on and off, crying because he was hungry and I cried with him just as frustrated. I thought it would come naturally to both of us, but it didn’t. The hospital had me start pumping a little to syringe feed him before I left the hospital. At his first pediatrician appointment, he had not gained weight back to his birth weight and so I was told to keep supplementing with pumping but to keep putting him on the breast.
My maternity leave was 6 weeks and instead of healing and getting to know this little human that I spent 10 months building, I was stressed and tired.
As a three week old mother, I turned to my husband, teary eyed and hormonal, and told him I couldn’t breastfeed anymore. I kept getting frustrated that we weren’t figuring it out and I was starting to not look forward to feeding him. My nipples were raw and bleeding from figuring out pumping (wrong pump flange size = death trap for your nips) and figuring out why we couldn’t have a beautiful, enjoyable breastfeeding journey together.
And my husband had the audacity to say to me... “ok, don’t”. I have never been more angry at my husband because he was so nonchalant in his response and because... he was right. My heart sank because I felt like a failure and felt that only pumping wasn’t “real breastfeeding”. But the instant I let his words soak in, I felt this wave of relief. Pumping allowed me to know how much milk I produced, how much milk he was eating so I was no longer stressed about him not eating both boobs.
I could finally enjoy holding my son and rocking him to sleep without worrying if this cuddle session would end with both of us in tears because he got hungry. I also got to sleep... because there was milk in the fridge that someone else could feed him.
Fast forward to being a nine week old mother, one lazy weekend afternoon, we were laying on the couch passing the sleeping baby, watching a movie. He woke up hungry and started to snuggle into my breast. I figured well maybe we’ll try it and see what happens because than neither of us have to get off the couch. And he latched. Perfectly with no shield. And he fed. And I cried. But instead of this time being tears of frustration and stress, it was joy. I even made my husband take a selfie of this moment because it was exactly how I wanted to remember our breastfeeding journey. I didn’t know adding him back to the breast was an option - I thought it either worked or it didn’t. No one told me I could do both or that months down the road, I could try again and be successful.
We started and ended our days with nursing sessions (sans tears from both of us) and I pumped at work. And then at eight months, he decided he liked bottles more and I was okay with it. I didn’t cry like I had at three weeks old, I didn’t feel like a failure. I felt proud and I kept pumping to reach my goal of one year breastfeeding.
So if there are any new moms reading this or moms who are dusting off their breastfeeding training wheels, know that breastfeeding doesn’t have to be ALL or NOTHING. Every breastfeeding journey looks different and sometimes it lasts three weeks and sometimes it lasts three years- both are okay. Both are beautiful journeys.