Confessions of a Nursing Mom

I don’t like breastfeeding.

There, I said it.

Alert the Bad-Mom Police if you must.

When I was pregnant, I imagined what breastfeeding would be like. Baby Charlie would nurse as we sat in a sunbeam in the warm afternoon sun. There’d be soft music in the air, most likely sung by angels. A warm glow would surround us as we oozed love for one another, and I’d be at peace knowing that I was giving my son the best nutrition that nature could produce.

Ha!

As cliche as this sounds, breastfeeding would be much more satisfying if it weren’t so damn difficult. And Charlie and I were beset with problems from the start.

My labor was loooong (see blog title), and painful, and the aftermath was pretty brutal, too. Like all moms, I fumbled the first few times nursing him. The hospital nurses told me different things. I asked twice to see a lactation consultant, but she never came.

Then I didn’t sleep for several days. And I don’t mean I barely slept, or only caught cat naps here and there. I DID NOT SLEEP AT ALL FOR SEVERAL DAYS. Zero. Zilch. The lack of sleep triggered crazy anxiety, which only exacerbated the insomnia.

Through all of this, Charlie was desperately hungry and constantly screaming. My milk hadn’t come in by his wellness check four days later, and he’d already lost more than a pound. We began supplementing at the breast. Charlie stopped screaming.

On day six (after I finally got some sleep) my milk came in dribbled in. I put him to the breast at every opportunity to increase my supply, but we were hit with the typical problems: It was painful. My nipples bled constantly. I couldn’t figure out how to hold him. He couldn’t figure out the latch. When he finally latched, he’d fall asleep instantly and nothing – not even touching his skin with an ice-cold glass of water  – could rouse him. I was angry and exasperated and deflated and stressed out of my mind. I wanted to strangle people who told me, “Just relax. The baby can feel your tension, you know.”

When I pumped, I’d only get about half an ounce – total. At this point, he was easily guzzling three ounces of formula/pumped milk every 2-3 hours. There was no way I could keep up. I felt guilty. I felt like a failure. I felt like a bad mother.

Things got better once I saw a lactation consultant. She showed me how to get Charlie to latch, and for the first time I thought, “I can do this!” When I saw the consultant a week later, we were both doing much better. To increase my shred of a supply, she recommended fenugreek and mother’s milk tea. She even lent me a hospital-grade pump!

And my milk did increase. Slightly. Instead of pumping half an ounce total every 2-3 hours, I now get something closer to one ounce per breast. At 10 weeks, Charlie is eating four (combo of formula/pumped milk).

Yet now he’s started to reject me when I try to nurse him. Sometimes he has complete meltdowns if I put him in ANY nursing position, even sitting up. Or he’ll latch, suck a few times, then scream, pull back, and pound his fists against me as if trying to get away. I’ve attempted all of the tips on all of the web sites: breast compressions, expressing before he latches, skin to skin, every position imaginable, dietary changes, breaks. I’ve bared it all in front of fellow mamas who’ve unsuccessfully tried to help. Suffice it to say, I have another call into the lactation consultant.

So, as you see, breastfeeding is not fun for me. There’s no sunbeam. There’s no oozing of love. I’m usually stressed, or fighting an angry baby, or fighting feelings of failure and rejection. During the good nursing sessions, I’m on edge, expecting the melt down. I cry occasionally. I want to quit constantly.

But every day I reaffirm my commitment to nursing Charlie. I don’t care if he only gets one ounce a day from me; he’s going to get that ounce, and he’s going to like it. I am deeply committed, despite how difficult it is for me. I believe too much in the importance of breast milk. I’m too damn stubborn.

Each day that I don’t quit is another victory for me and for Charlie. Each day I take the time to congratulate myself. Breastfeeding is by far the most challenging thing I’ve ever done in my life, but it’s also given me a great deal of pride.

And that’s something even the Bad-Mom Police can get behind.

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17 Responses to Confessions of a Nursing Mom

  1. Lisa says:

    you rock…!

  2. Kelly says:

    Find a breastfeeding support group. I NEVER would have made it otherwise with my (now 26 mo. old) daughter. Some weeks I cried, others I listened, sometimes it just helped me to know lots of people were experiencing similar issues. And for us, after a VERY rough first couple of months, it all clicked around 3 mo. I ended up exclusively BFing Nora to a year [although I hear ‘ya; I’m not sure I ever really “loved” it & was so ready to stop at 12 mo.; but I felt good about it; and when it finally works, you’ll be amazed at how your body is nourishing this little person!].

  3. I’m sorry that I didn’t realize you were still having problems with breastfeeding. But I think you’re an awesome mom for continuing when a lot of moms would just have stopped. If you need any support or need to talk, I’m there to listen!! And if you want me to call my godmom for a second opinion or help, she’s there to listen, too!

    *hugs*

  4. Sara says:

    First, you are NOT a bad mom. You are giving Charlie everything you have.

    I also had a long labor with my first and a really hard time nursing him (to give you hope, we’re still nursing at 2 years!).

    Have you heard of cranio-sacral therapy? It has helped with many of my friends’ babies. The reasoning is that oftentimes long labors are due to malpositioning of the baby, which also gives baby a crick in the neck or something equally uncomfortable. When baby gets into a nursing position, the discomfort is magnified.

    You can call a local pediatric chiropractor (or family chiro) and see if they do CST or know someone who does.

    You’re doing great, mama. Keep it up, and just look at this as a bump in the road.

  5. Ioana says:

    Hey Jess, I’m not sure if you’re tried this, but sometimes the best thing to do is to sneak up on baby while he/she is sleeping. You kind of put the boob in their mouth and usually, they’ll suckle just out of pure reflex. Having said that, please don’t make yourself crazy over this. There are plenty of babies, actually a majority, who are raised exclusively on formula and turn out just fine. (I was one of them, though I’ve nursed both my daughters.) Whatever you choose to do is fine. Don’t feel guilty about it. As our pediatrician said, the most important thing for baby is for you to be well and able to care for them.

  6. Stacy says:

    We went through the same thing at Kaiser. I was amazed that so many nurses could so many different sets of instructions. We went through two lactation consultants too. Finally, we discovered what the problem was and that it just wasn’t going to work – and I base this assessment on the recommendation of experts. So, I figured I would just pump, pump, pump. However Sophie lost a lot of weight the first week and the doctors were getting very concerned, so we went to formula and supplemented with pumped breast milk.

    However, I developed a very bad infection due to my tear. I tore just as badly as you did. They put me on antibiotics and due to my drug allergies and the antibiotics they put me on, I had to stop pumping too.

    Sophie has been formula fed since the 2nd week of her life. She’s almost 2 now and has never been sick, not even a cold. Would I have been more satisfied if I could have breastfed her? Yes. I felt bad initially because I allowed other people to impose their standards of motherhood on me. Once I realized that though – no more guilt. I have a VERY healthy, happy, intelligent and beautiful little two year old girl.

    You’ll do whatever works best for Charlie and you. If anyone passes judgment on whatever you choose, that’s their problem – not yours.

    And always, if you need anything, give us a call.

    • Jessica says:

      An infection from your tear? OMG, that sounds horrendous!

      I wish I were better at ignoring feelings that I’m being judged, even when there is really no evidence that I am. I’m just such a perfectionist, so having this much trouble with nursing drives me bonkers.

      • Stacy says:

        Oh, the feeling of being judged was KILLING me. Seriously, do you know how many people felt like it was within their right to question me on not breastfeeding Sophie? It felt like that was the ONLY conversation I was having with anyone. Even my neighbor whom I’ve barely shared but 10 words previously. She felt that it was within her right to inquire whether I was breastfeeding or not.

        I finally decided “ENOUGH”. I don’t owe any of these people an explanation and it’s none of their business. At that moment I made up my mind that the ONLY people I have to answer to are my daughter, my husband and Sophie’s pediatrician. That’s when I started to feel such a release from the judgment. It was so free-ing! I finally learned to say “No”, and it only took 37 years and a bouncy baby girl! 🙂

        There is no perfect way to be a mother and no matter what you do, there will always be someone there to judge it and tell you should have done it differently. However, you are the only person that can meet all of Charlie’s needs and that makes you pretty much perfect already.

        After the breastfeeding issues, comes the unsolicited parenting advice issues. LOL – kind of like this reply. 😀

  7. Sarah says:

    (I arrived here on the advice of Eric and Jenn who rightly thought I would appreciate your blog.)

    Your post gives me hope. I’m a few weeks behind you, and experiencing nearly the exact same thing. I haven’t been successful in continuing to nurse my son though – he just absolutely refuses the breast now, and I can only take so much crying and fussing and flailing at my breast before I give in and give up. But your post gives me hope to keep trying, in addition to the pumping.

    Good luck to you in finding a support group that works and an LC that you like. I’ve been blessed with a great group of LCs from the beginning who confided in me that it’s not the end of the world that Kieran isn ‘t getting BF all the time and that *any* BM is better than none. Hearing that from an LC is seriously what turned me around from a guilt-ridden, panic-attack-suffering, weeping mess to the tired-but-enjoying-it-more mama I am now.

    Good luck to us both.

    • Jessica says:

      Aww, I miss Eric and Jenn!

      It’s sooooo nice to hear that another mom is having the same kind of trouble. Why can’t our babies just understand how easier it would be on all of us if they’d just nurse?!? 😉

      If you find any latches or tricks that make your baby not flail and fuss, PLEASE LET ME KNOW!!

  8. Ally says:

    I judge you for not quitting and torturing yourself! (just kidding, but only a little bit). So, all women like to respond with talking about their own experience, and I can’t help doing the same. I have a 3.5 year old girl and a 1 year old boy. Trying to bf my daughter (after a c-section) were the most miserable 5 days of my life. Same issue – latch problems, etc. Unlike you I never wanted to breastfeed and was always afraid of it. I quit and was so so happy, and felt that I was reborn again. The idea of having to put her to my breast gave me anxiety, I dreaded the pain, her screaming, and I could not feel that way every 3 hours of every day, so I quit. Of course I felt guilt, and all those feelings of inadequacy, but I always knew I did the right thing.

    When i had my 2nd baby, I read a LOT about breasfeeding, and I think i figured out what had gone wrong w/ my daughter. I breastfed him for 8 months, and loved every minute of it. Literally. We never had any latching issues, never a single cracked/bleeding nipple. So i’m definitely of a belief that one need not torture themselves in this respect. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Also, for what it’s worse, my daughter (formula-fed) seems to have a much better immune system than my breast-fed baby boy. Unfortunately. But that’s probably because she brings all the bugs home for him to catch from nursery school.

    (P.S. i used to read your livejournal a lot, found it through Julia’s.)

    • Jessica says:

      Thank you for your comment! It’s good to hear how other mothers have navigated through this.

      I know this is torture sometimes, but some part of me just won’t give up. Isn’t that the mark of a crazy person – doing something over and over again expecting the result to change?

      The lactation consultant still hasn’t called me back, although I called again and left another message. Cross your fingers!

      • Stacy says:

        You should ask Dan about Liz Mander. She was one of his actors in The Graduate but she is/was a lactation consultant too. I haven’t talked to her in years, but I gathered she was pretty good at her job.

  9. Pingback: Confessions of a Nursing Mom: An Update | Hour 23

  10. Heather says:

    Hi Jess, so glad to connect up with you again! Bummer about the breastfeeding. So many people have these difficulties, they should advertise them more!! Anyway, there was an article in The Atlantic awhile back called “The Case Against Breastfeeding” that you might be interested in reading, because it might help you feel less guilty about feeling this way – http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/04/the-case-against-breast-feeding/7311/. Also, if you haven’t already, everybody is telling me that La Leche League has groups and meetings all over the country of women who get together to share tips and support (and literature, etc.) just about breastfeeding issues. It’s been around forever – even my stepmom says they helped her so much back in the day. Check them out online if you haven’t already – they might have a group near you. Hang in there! I think babies thrive mainly on love anyway, as long as you’re giving them nutrients and calories from somewhere.

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