During that first month of trying to breastfeed I kept saying, “I’d rather give birth again every week than go through this.”
I never thought my breastfeeding journey would look like this.
I knew breastfeeding could be extremely difficult for many women. I knew that with severely inverted nipples my chances of successfully breastfeeding were not great, but I had read breastfeeding books, taken multiple courses and had helped doula clients breastfeed, so I thought that if I had enough support and help from lactation consultants then I would be set up for success.
I had already chosen the lactation consultant I wanted to work with and called her first thing in the morning after my birth. With her help, and the help of the nurse/postpartum doula who I had 6 hours a day for the first week, we were still unsuccessful to latch. That first week we did a whole host of things to feed my baby.
I hand expressed colostrum into a teaspoon and fed him with the teaspoon, I pumped to stimulate my milk to come in, I supplemented with formula in a syringe and fed it via the edge of his mouth while he sucked my pinky finger. But you can only syringe feed for so long and once he started needing to drink more as the week went on, there was no way to avoid the bottle.
We started a vigorous rigamarole of what I learned to be called “triple feeding”.
I would attempt to latch him without the nipple shield, then try with a nipple shield. He would latch with the nipple shield for a bit but ultimately get super frustrated. This all took about 30 mins.
Sounds simple enough but getting the baby handed off then setting up all the pumping stuff and pumping, took at least another 30 mins.
- Bottle feed
Most of the time my husband would bottle feed him, while I pumped.
This whole process of “triple feeding” took an hour, and keep in mind newborns are only awake for one hour increments, so my baby’s entire awake hour was lots of crying and frustration trying to feed. I rarely got bonding time with him while he took his bottle because I was pumping. We did this process for the whole first month.
We of course also tried lots of skin to skin time with baby, milk supporting foods, teas, supplements, essential oils, tongue tie correction, and a SNS (Supplemental Nursing System).
Ultimately, it was a plethora of things that derailed my breastfeeding journey.
- Inverted Nipples
30% of women have inverted nipples, but there are different grades of severity of inversion. Some women I had talked to said that as soon as they started breastfeeding their nipples were no longer inverted, and I had heard the saying from many lactation consultants that babies are BREASTfed, not NIPPLEfed, so I was hopeful.I didn’t know at the time, however, that I had the highest grade of inversion severity.While still pregnant, I got the go ahead from a lactation consultant to start pumping and wearing breast shells three weeks before my due date to help break the adhesions that keep the nipple inverted. They did absolutely nothing for me.My nipples only finally stopped being inverted after pumping exclusively 8x a day for two months, and by that time I was emotionally done trying to breastfeed.
- Blood Loss/ Low Milk Supply
I had quite a lot of blood loss at my birth- 800ml, while 1,000ml is considered a hemorrhage. Come to find out, breastmilk is made from blood. So the less blood you have the less milk. This helps explain why many women notice a decrease in their milk supply when their period returns postpartum.So it was this awful combination of not being able to get a latch thus not getting enough stimulation to my nipples (which signals the brain to create milk), plus already starting behind on milk because of the blood loss.
- Not Pumping enough
I think I was a bit delusional from the intensity of birth and the blood loss and the lack of sleep, so I most definitely did not pump every 3 hours as you are supposed to to help your milk supply. I thought he was getting something when he would latch with the nipple shield, but came to find out he wasn’t getting much milk out, and if you don’t get milk out by either breastfeeding or pumping, then your body will not get the signal to make more.
- Bottle preference
Because we had no choice but to introduce the bottle so early on, it was a vicious cycle of him preferring the ease of bottle feeding over having to work at the breast.
I said I wanted to try for one month and when we reached one month, it was extremely hard for me to come to terms with the fact that things weren’t progressing and that breastfeeding may not work out for me after all.
The night I decided to stop trying, I cried harder than I ever have in my life. I know that sounds overly dramatic and hard to understand for those who have not gone through it, but there was something so physically deep inside me that grieved not being able to breastfeed. It wasn’t that I felt like a failure or that I was devastated that my baby might have to drink formula, it was purely a grief of something I thought I would have but felt was taken away from me.
I am super thankful that I was able to exclusively pump and bottle feed my baby breastmilk for 11 months, but my pumping journey is a whole other blog post for another day, because figuring out how to exclusively breast pump was another HUGE learning curve. It wasn’t simply, oh I can’t directly nurse, so instead of giving formula I’ll just breast pump. No, it was a much bigger journey.
I wanted to share all these little details of what I tried in that first month, because I’m someone who likes to have a general idea of things to come, yet I had no idea that this was the process many women have to go through if breastfeeding doesn’t work out. So if you are pregnant, or want to be one day, here is your head’s up for things that may come if you choose to try breastfeeding so that you can know which resources to reach out to quicker than I was able to.
The single thing that I wish I had done more of while pregnant, was follow instagram accounts and facebook groups about breastfeeding and pumping.
Some of my favorites are: