I knew before I had babies, breastfeeding was going to be the method I chose to feed them. I imagined myself to feed my babies until they were at least six months old, but ideally one year. That was the idea.
Everleigh was my first baby. She was born three days early, just as Hurricane Sandy, back in 2012, was about to make landfall. I was discharged from the hospital just over 24 hours after giving birth so we could get home, grab some things, and head to my parents. Our house didn’t have a fireplace, and we didn’t have a generator, and we were supposed to be hit pretty hard. My parents had all of the above, less the more severe impact.
As a first time mama, I had no clue what I was doing. Much like my choice to have an all-natural birth with her (which was traumatizing), I just assumed with breastfeeding, she’d latch on and go. Back then I feel like NO ONE talked about, or told you that breastfeeding is freaking hard, and complicated, and it’s ok to not be successful and to formula feed or whatever you need to do to nourish your baby.
I spent the first three days of her life crying every time she put her little hands in her mouth. My body was wreaked, I was exhausted, my nipples were sore, bleeding and raw and she just wasn’t latching properly. My mom knew a lactation consultant who was nice enough to get on the phone with me multiple times and try to talk me through it.
Finally my mom talked me into just pumping and bottle feeding her. Y’all. IT WAS SUCH A RELIEF. I much preferred the less frustrated, less painful method of pumping and then bottle feeding her. My mama also encouraged me to give her a formula supplement at bedtime to help her sleep through the night so I could get some more rest, and so she was getting enough calories. I was not producing a ton of milk. You’ll learn further in this post, I never did.
Anyway, that is how our journey went for seven months. I pumped and supplemented formula. First just at the bedtime bottle, and then more as my milk supply lessened and she needed more. We went on like that until my milk started to dry up. I didn’t try any teas, milks, lactation baked goods, etc. God was saying our time was up, and I was totally ok with that. I didn’t have any milk saved up because I was only producing about 8oz/day at that point, which I pumped while at work.
One week I noticed I was only pumping about 4oz over two pumping sessions and it was painful. It literally felt like the pump was sucking me dry. That’s when I decided to call it. I was sad, for sure, but also ready to close that chapter.
OK, so next comes baby number two- Adalyn. She was supposed to be our last so I was going to make it count. I was so excited to embark on a breastfeeding journey that would be easy and enjoyable. Her labor and birth were a dream– thank you Jesus for epidurals! She latched after birth beautifully and I was so excited.
While in the hospital, the nurses were supplementing overnight a feed or two so I could get more rest. We also used a pacifier with Evie fairly early, so I did the same with A to help soothe her. I remember there was one unkind lactation consultant who was very displeased and slinging judgements that we had given her a paci. At first I was annoyed, but in hindsight, I do think part of my struggle with A is that she had nipple confusion. I tried to nip it in the bud fairly quickly. I was even very cautious about giving her a bottle too early, etc. I feel like I did all of the “right” things this time around. I avoided the nipple confusion and stuck with only the pacifier and breast for the first few months, I took supplements and drank lots of water and did all of the things they suggest.
We saw the lactation consultant at the hospital for many visits after her birth to check weight, latch, etc. The lactation consultant noticed she had a tongue tie, which we got revised. That did help a bit with her latching issues she started to have as she grew. She also started to develop a pretty bad case of reflux and we had to keep her on a max dose of meds to keep her happy.
My period returned super quick this time around at three months postpartum. I continued to nurse her for about four months almost exclusively; we did still do a bedtime formula bottle. I started to really struggle with my supply shortly after my period started. I tried supplements and suggestions from the lactation consultant. I was devastated that we likely were not even going to make it to the six month mark of breastfeeding. To try and get there, I started to supplement more formula, so the little milk I was able to pump between nursing her, I could supplement with formula, to make it to six months. We made it just over that mark of her still getting about 50% breastmilk.
Apparently I wasn’t done mothering babies, because we decided to try again, and surprise! It was a boy. Again, I was so excited for this to be a peaceful, joyful breastfeeding experience. I started on supplements before Beckham was even born to help with supply. I was more educated, had done more research, had more friends who had walked through a successful breastfeeding journey to go to for support. I was ready! Let me just say to start, I should have known. You can read Beckham’s birth story, but it was not how I imagined it would be or wanted it to be.
They did let me put him to the breast right after they pulled him out. I did have to insist upon this a bit. They acted as if my request was odd, with having a c-section, but I was adamant I wanted to do it. He latched, but it didn’t feel right. Right away the pediatrician in the hospital pointed out that he had a tongue tie, but it “wasn’t bad”. Fast forward to about two months of struggling to nurse him. I had already been to a pediatric GI doc to treat his reflux. We then had a lactation consultant come to the house to help and assess him. She said he had about a 70% tongue tie and was shocked that the pediatrician hadn’t recommended it be cut. At just about three months we had his tongue tie snipped.
We continued to work with the lactation consultant. I had a quick let-down which was a disaster with this reflux. We tried almost every GI med, combos of meds, all-natural remedies. When one started working, it was about two weeks before it wasn’t working anymore. He had an Upper GI study done. Y’all, it was a disaster and so stressful. It got to the point where he WOULD NOT eat. The GI doctor said at three months the reason he refused to nurse is because he was starting to realize that nursing = pain, so he refused. We had to trick him with different nipples, pacifiers, distractions.
We tried different formulas, finally realizing at about four months that he had a dairy sensitivity. He even refused to be held to eat. He realized that being held in the “feeding position” = pain. We eventually had to put him in a bouncy seat to feed him. At one point we even had to syringe feed him, just to get SOME sort of hydration into his little body. This went on from about three months -five months. The hope was that when we started solids it would ease his reflux. It took about two months, but by the time he was six months, things got much better.
Through all of this, I continued to pump until almost six months. Again, I was not pumping a lot. I was taking all of the supplements, basically living off lactation cookies, power-pumping, you name it. I was lucky to get 8oz a day. But, if I could supplement 8oz a day, I was happy with that.
I ended up having a lot of pumped milk from the first four months of his life, when we didn’t know dairy was bothering him. I saved all of that. I ended up donating some. I tried to use it throughout his first year of life, but it usually ended in disaster because he would have side effects from the dairy. I eventually ended up throwing out almost 100 ounces. It was so sad, but it was freezer burnt and past the time to use it.
I’m sharing all of this because if you are a new mama, or a seasoned mama, with a new babe, KNOW THIS: Every baby is different. Every breastfeeding experience will be different. You may know more, but those little babes, they will throw you for loops. I was fortunate to never have mastitis. I maybe had one or two clogged ducts. I was fortunate in that sense.
Unfortunately, I was never a big milk producer, despite my trying. But you know what, I never felt guilt of shame for supplementing with formula. We do what we need to do to feed our babies, and that is enough. We do what’s best for them, and for us. Nursing can be extremely difficult, unless you’re one of the lucky ones. It is not an easy feat. It is worth it, but it is not easy.
I’m so glad there are so many resources about breastfeeding now and many mama’s are speaking up about their experiences and struggles. It nothing else, it helps others feel seen and known and validated in what they’re experiencing. Let’s keep supporting each other, in whatever way we choose to feed our littles.