coming to terms with my breastfeeding journey as a first time mom

This week is World Breastfeeding Week. And while breastfeeding is a truly wonderful, beautiful thing, I really wish “fed is best” would permanently replace “breast is best”. Feeding a baby is hard work. It doesn’t matter if you’re feeding them breast milk, formula, or a combination of the two. And the pressure put on moms to only feed their babies directly from the breast is very, very real. 

Before I had Henry I wish I’d known that exclusively pumping is breastfeeding too. That as his mom I don’t deserve to be shamed by choosing what will work best for me, for him, and for our family. The opinion of a lactation consultant who doesn’t know us or our journey shouldn’t matter. 

The nursing portion of my breastfeeding journey was difficult and short. Henry was SGA (small for gestational age) at birth and spent three days in the NICU. Our first attempt at nursing shortly after birth was unsuccessful. His tiny head and my much larger than average boobs with slightly inverted nipples made latching impossible even with a nipple shield. 
A few hours later they moved us to postpartum and by the time the lactation specialist came Henry had already been transferred to the NICU. The next day I asked for lactation to help me at Henry’s morning NICU feeding. With the lactation consultant helping to hold him, we got him to latch and feed for about 10 minutes. It was amazing and made me miss my mom terribly. 

At his next feeding I tried to nurse him on my own with zero success. I realized then that if there was any hope of Henry feeding directly from my breast I would need the physical support of someone who knew what they were doing. Between social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic and absence of my mother, that wasn’t going to be possible. While I sincerely wanted to nurse, I had promised myself that I wouldn't breastfeed at the expense of my mental health. I didn't want to admit it but I knew that trying to nurse Henry wasn't the best choice for me. 

I came back to our room and talked with Dale about choosing then and there to exclusively pump. I was worried I was making a decision too soon and not trying hard enough. I knew breastfeeding wasn’t going to be easy but I was not prepared for the added stress and complication of having an SGA baby in the NICU during a worldwide pandemic. 
When I was getting discharged with my baby still in the NICU, a lactation consultant whom I’d never met came in and asked me what my plan was for feeding Henry. I told her I was planning to exclusively pump because it was easier for us and she immediately launched into a lecture about why that wasn’t a good idea and how I really just needed to suck it up and feed him from my breast. 

After she left I sobbed. I felt completely inadequate as a new mother. And after five days in the hospital and uncertainty about when I would actually get to bring my baby home, her lack of compassion and severe judgement were the last thing I needed. Sometimes I still hear her voice in the back of my head when it’s 1am and I’ve just finished feeding Henry and I have to stay up to pump. 

I’ve been exclusively pumping now for almost 12 weeks. It dictates my schedule but so does my baby. Some days I hate it and it feels impossible. My boobs get sore and leak and sometimes my nipples crack (nipple butter is a wonderful thing). I’ve found support talking to fellow moms like me via text, Facebook, and Instagram. Now I know that I’m not alone and that I’m not less of a mom because I exclusively pump. 
Breastfeeding looks different for me than I anticipated but I’m grateful my body produces more than enough milk to feed my boy. I know not everyone is that fortunate. I am literally the main food source for a tiny human. That’s incredible. 

Henry’s weight has been a concern since birth. He’s gaining but still only in the third percentile so we add formula to every bottle per his pediatrician. By bottle feeding him supplemented breast milk we know how much he’s getting with each feed and Dale is able to feed him too. We’ve found what works for us as a family. 

Not all moms can breastfeed or nurse and that doesn’t make them any less of a mom. To all the mamas out there working hard to feed their babies, I see you. You’re doing great. It doesn't matter how you feed your baby, what matters is that your baby is fed. 

2 comments :

  1. Fed IS best.
    And even though pumping dictates your life, it also allows beautiful freedom of you passing him to anyone to get fed!!!!

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