Every Breastfeeding Journey is Different: And It’s All Okay

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I planned to share how wonderful and convenient breastfeeding is. I imagined sharing what a sweet bond it is, how you don’t have to tote bottles around or run out to the store to buy formula, how breastfed babies bowel movements usually don’t smell, but if they do, it smells like buttery popcorn. Then I remembered how hard it really can be and felt that needed to be shared. 

I’ve been there, done that, and with each child, breastfeeding got easier yet harder. Sometimes it was physical pain, sometimes emotional. I’m here to tell you, it may suck. 

I have five children and four of them were breastfed to some extent. In case you’re wondering why all weren’t breastfed, our oldest came to us through adoption and was in the NICU… breastfeeding wasn’t an option.

Child number two (attempt number one) was breastfed and we supplemented with formula.

I had previously had a breast reduction and knew that breastfeeding might be possible, but would be hard. I did a lot of research and was prepared with formula on standby, along with fenugreek. He was a chunky little boy that wanted to eat all the time.

I remember bloody and scabbed nipples and the nurse giving me a shield to use because he had such power and I was in such pain. He was losing too much weight during our week-long hospital stay, and formula started. It was a beautiful marriage of the two – it gave my body and breasts time to heal and gave my husband the chance to feed. He self-weaned to the bottle at 7.5 months old. 

Baby number two enjoying a bottle of formula.

Child number three came, and I knew from the previous experience to have a shield, nipple butter, fenugreek, and brewers yeast on hand. I took them all to the hospital with me. She slept for the first 24+ hours of her life…didn’t try to eat a single time and was hard to wake.

The medical team and I discussed it and gave her some calories with finger feeding to give her energy to wake and nurse. That seemed to do the trick, or so we thought. The nursing sessions with her would be an hour-long with a thirty-minute break; I knew it shouldn’t be like that.

I saw doctors and lactation consultants who all said different things. I was told to leave her on the breast until she pulled off herself. I was told to cut her nursing sessions to twenty minutes so she would learn to nurse more efficiently. I was told to block nurse. I was told to pump after each nursing session and bottle feed her what I pumped. I did all that and things weren’t getting better…she was losing weight.

I started supplementing with formula after her nursing sessions, and she was still losing weight. She was diagnosed as “Failure to thrive” and their were mentions of “Content to Starve”. We had weekly pediatrician appointments that consisted of weighing her before and after nursing sessions, and blood draws to find out what was going on. There were no answers.

She was eventually admitted to the hospital with a battery of tests, where we were given warnings of cystic fibrosis, possibly a heart condition, the chance that something is wrong with her brain. Suddenly, she was fine. She started gaining weight and thriving. The tests were all clear. She was easily weaned off of formula and did great breastfeeding until she was a year-and-a-half old.

Baby number three being topped off with formula to help her gain some weight.

We were surprised with child number four, and I knew it was going to be a great breastfeeding journey. I was right! I had the shield to start off with, some nipple butter, and fenugreek to help make sure we had a smooth start.

There was some pain from an awkward latch in the beginning, but we worked through it. I reached my stride. I was comfortable nursing in public without a cover while being masterfully discreet. I didn’t care about the stares from people, or questions from little kids asking what the baby was doing.

Then, when she was 9 months old, I was told I was sick and would need treatment away from my family for a few weeks…a few weeks away from my baby with the perfect breastfeeding journey. When she was eleven months old, I had to leave and nursed her for the last time outside of the security gates in the airport. It was horrible, and I was crying. She was happy and oblivious.

I pumped while I traveled to help keep some milk supply, in case she wanted to resume breastfeeding when I got home, but that didn’t happen. I still think about how this ideal nursing journey ended abruptly, and it pains me. This was a different kind of hard.

The end of the most amazing breastfeeding journey with number four.

Then there was number five. We were surprised with baby number four, and shocked at baby number five. We know how babies are made, but were told it would be highly unlikely to happen. But it did, and pregnancy went swimmingly well. She was born, and we were ecstatic…for the most part.

I believed she would be a healing balm to the ache I still felt from the sudden end of my breastfeeding journey. I had a hard time relaxing and enjoying this journey because we were in a season of transition. Over time, my outlook improved, and my youngest baby was awesome. Yet I still struggled with feeling alone, and even more isolated because I was breastfeeding a new baby.

When she was around 18 months old, I thought “I think I’m done breastfeeding. I’m going to wean her.” I wanted my body back, for someone else to be able to put her to bed, and to not have to look at the clock and calculate if time allowed me to have an adult beverage. She basically laughed in my face anytime I intentionally tried to wean. I can finally say that at 26 months old, she’s done and I’m able to enjoy a cocktail or two.

Once I hit my stride with number five.

In total, I’ve breastfed for five years of my life. Out of that time, I would say that I enjoyed half of it. Sometimes it felt like a chore, sometimes it was painful, stressful, tiring, or over-stimulating.  

It’s okay if it’s hard. It’s okay if you choose to persevere. It’s okay if you choose to bottle feed. It’s okay if you don’t even want to try breastfeeding. It’s okay if it’s not even possible to breastfeed. Please don’t let the voices that proclaim how awesome breastfeeding is make you think that there is something wrong if it’s not wonderful for you. How to feed your baby is your decision to make; don’t allow others to pressure you into something that makes you miserable. Fed is best.

 

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