When I had my first daughter 4 years ago, it was via an emergency c-section which resulted in lots of complications. My milk supply suffered as a result, and I was not able to breastfeed. I struggled with the guilt but was so thankful to have access to formula that provided the nourishment my baby needed.
Fast forward 4 years and I was as determined as ever to nurse my new baby girl. With “Baby Friendly” hospitals being the new trend, I imagined rooming in with my baby and having immediate skin to skin (which I was not able to do the first time around) would make it easier for me to nurse. I was having another c section and felt some anxiety about how my recovery would affect my ability to breastfeed this time around. The big day finally arrived and as soon as my daughter was born, the nurse put her on my breast to suckle. I was ecstatic to begin this breastfeeding journey that I just knew I would master effortlessly. I mean, I read all the Pinterest articles, attended a breastfeeding class, spoke to friends who have done it before, and I have breasts! I got this right?
But from the second the nurse put her on my chest, we were off to a horrible start. I panicked because she seemed ravenous and impatient. She latched just onto my nipple and I immediately felt a sharp pain as she drew blood (ouch!). I yanked her off my breast (another mistake) and switched her to the other side where she drew blood again! I swear I was cursing every breastfeeding manual which told me she would naturally know what to do.
I consulted with the lactation specialist (an angel sent to me from above) who helped me fix her latch, provided nipple shields to allow me to heal, and also gave me lanolin cream. What I did not anticipate was that my daughter wanted to be latched for hours at a time and that caused me to dread each feed due to the pain. I grinned and bared it thinking that this torture just has to end soon. After being discharged and going home to settle in with my new little family, night time arrived quicker than I wanted it to. I found myself in tears all night while nursing my little piranha and feeling like my nipples would fall off. I was alone in my misery, exhausted, in pain, and the night seemed like it would never end. Since my husband physically could not breastfeed, I felt resentment towards him because he did not have to deal with the pain and was able to sleep way more than I did. He pitched in by making sure I was stocked with cold water and snacks (which was a huge help, nursing made me hungrier than pregnancy ever did). Throughout my misery I kept eyeing the formula bottles the hospital sent me home with, but the guilt quickly took over and I kept trucking on. Despite the pain my daughter seemed to enjoy nursing, was gaining weight, and I enjoyed the special bond we had.
I know that a little pain in the beginning is to be expected, but I had intense pain for weeks every time my daughter nursed, even though I knew there was nothing wrong with her latch. I tried lanolin, prescription all purpose nipple cream, shells, airing out, praying to the boob gods, and everything else that could provide relief. Nothing seemed to help so I finally decided to supplement with formula in order to give my breasts a break. It was the only thing that worked! It felt great to have a chance to heal and not be attached to my daughter for what seemed like 36 hours a day. What I didn’t realize was how quickly my milk supply would suffer since I was no longer exclusively nursing. As a result, I continued to supplement with formula.
Sometimes I do feel guilty that I am not exclusively breastfeeding any longer. During my daughter’s one month check up, I had to fill out a sheet of questions that helps the doctor determine if I could be dealing with Postpartum depression. I specifically wrote down the struggles I was having and how it was affecting my mood. After the appointment, my daughter’s pediatrician looked me in the eyes and said “Please do not stress over this, formula is also great and nutritious for your baby. She is healthy and happy, so you are doing a great job”. It was such a relief to hear this from her because we mommies are bombarded daily with pressure to breastfeed through social media, friends, mommy groups, and pretty much everywhere you turn. I have come to learn that I can’t compare my breastfeeding journey to anyone else’s. Although it did not go as planned for me, my baby truly is happy and healthy. We are still doing both nursing and supplementing with formula, it is just the way it worked out and it works for us. But I do want you to know that whether formula fed or breastfed, you are providing your baby with the nutrition they need to grow healthy and strong. As long as they are loved and nurtured you are doing a great job! Let’s stop putting so much pressure on ourselves to be so perfect! Instead, let’s celebrate that we are trying our best and most importantly, that we love our babies. That is all that matters at the end of the day. So take a deep breath, give yourself a pat on the back, and enjoy a glass of wine (or two). You are giving it your all every single day, even on the days when it does not feel like enough. And for that, I salute you.