One of the things that most surprised me about breastfeeding was how entirely difficult, and alienating, it can be. From the moment I first found out I was pregnant I knew I wanted to breastfeed. Like most new moms, I prepared for the new baby by reading parenting and pregnancy books, and loading my pregnancy registry with all the latest baby items.
With almost no breastfeeding supplies and no preparation I was going into unfamiliar territory and naive to think. My naivety was to assume that since breastfeeding is “natural” it would come naturally and require almost no preparation. Looking back I realize how ridiculous it was to assume breastfeeding was easy – I cannot be the only one to make that mistake!
My Failed Journey
I am not embarrassed to say I failed with my first breastfeeding experience. It took a lot of self soothing to dig out of the darkness I put myself in because I felt like a terrible mom, or that my body had failed me. In the beginning it is easy to place blame on yourself because of the overwhelming feelings rushing through your body.
We lasted 4 horribly long and painful months. The only support I had for breastfeeding came from my husband and a few close friends. Everyone else tried to discourage me from attempting to exclusively breastfeed. I had people sneak formula into my home because “the baby is obviously hungry”, or complain that I offered my breast too often to appease a crying baby. Even my work life was against me when my boss refused to let me pump twice a day. Can you imagine going 8+ hours without pumping?! Talk about painful!
It seemed every obstacle was set and I wasn’t able to jump all the hurdles thrown at me. No matter what I was set for failure from the start. At some point I realized I was fighting an uphill battle and decided I just couldn’t do it any longer. Once I stopped breastfeeding I cried for days. There was a feeling of hopelessness that came over me, I felt like I was the worst mother in the world for giving up on him.
My Second Chance Journey
When I was pregnant with my second child a few years later I immediately started researching breastfeeding. I was determined not to fail, and even set a goal of breastfeeding for 2 years with him! For the entire 9 months before he arrived I reached out to all online resources, attended breastfeeding support groups, and read as much as I could.
Our breastfeeding journey was not a breeze and came with several hiccups – but we hit our goal of 2 years! When my youngest was born he had an extended stay in both NICU and PICU due to complications with being a preemie. Over the course of 3 months he was primarily bottle fed in the hospital. I spent time around the clock pumping just to keep my supply up. I never thought it would be possible for us to exclusively breastfeed after he became so dependent to the bottle. After reaching out to my local lactation consultant, and attending weekly Mother’s Milk meetings, we were able to ditch formula when he was 4.5 months old!
What I realized helped the most during this journey was my self-confidence and the support I surrounded myself with. I refused to let anyone discourage me. Being my own advocate and knowing when to reach out for help is what led to my succeeding for as long as I did.
If it wasn’t for my weekly Mother’s Milk groups I attended I don’t think I could have accomplished my goal. Because of my struggles I have become a breastfeeding advocate, supporter, and mentor. I try and encourage all new moms to write their own breastfeeding journey and let themselves be in charge of the direction they take. Some of the most helpful advice I can ever give a mom struggling with breastfeeding is:
- Find Support! Whether it is with a Lactation Consultant, your local breastfeeding group, an online forum, or a close friend reach out with your questions and pitfalls.
- Have a Good Pump! Sometimes the most expensive pump isn’t always the best. Everyone responds differently too a pump. I found it most helpful to have an electric, and a handheld pump.
- Never Be Afraid of Formula! Even though my second was primarily breastfed for 2 years, he did have formula from time to time in the first few months. For a mom battling through a long, sleepless night formula can be a life saver.
- Know Your Rights! In the workplace many working moms are not given adequate pumping breaks, or acceptable rooms to pump in.