By Tanya Grootwassink
When I became pregnant, I knew right away that I would breastfeed. My knowledge of biology and hippie wisdom could steer me no other way. I never once thought I would have difficulties. In fact, I thought breastfeeding would come naturally. I underestimated the time, energy, support and self-care required to produce an adequate milk supply. My lack of preparation and self-care ultimately resulted in me switching to formula after three months of breastfeeding.
The stressful side of breastfeeding became apparent during my first attempt at breastfeeding. At first my baby girl accepted my milk freely, but I quickly realized she was having trouble latching on to my right side. I spoke to the nurse about this, who suggested I consult the lactation specialist. The lactation specialist showed me different holding techniques and how to get a proper latch. I felt reassured and was confident I could do this.
The next day, my little one was taken to the NICU so that doctors could monitor her slow resting heart rate. She remained there for a day. During that time, I was told by the nursing staff that a breast pump was available, if I needed it. Prior to giving birth I believed my instincts would automatically kick in once my baby was born and that no outside help with nature’s process was necessary. So, without having taken breastfeeding classes or reading up on the subject, I was unaware of the importance of pumping while my daughter was away from me. Though my breasts were hard, engorged, and painful, I silently suffered through it. I found myself too embarrassed to ask for help as I did not even know what pumping entailed. Looking back, I wish I could have gotten over my ridiculous fears of asking for help and used the pump in the hospital - it would have helped tremendously to have the knowledge and support of the hospital staff while I was there. However, once my baby was out of the NICU, we went back to feeding as before, with a happy, smiley baby by my side.
After a few weeks of being home, I began to notice that the breast my daughter initially had trouble with was still an issue. I quickly became distracted by my new responsibilities as Mommy, and I lost control of my days as I poured all of my energy into my new role. I was no longer paying attention to myself. Ultimately, I let the unequal feedings go on for so long that my breasts became lopsided. Too ashamed and frazzled to figure out what to do, my partner offered to help, and called the same lactation specialists for advice. As he handed the phone off to me, I felt my throat tighten and the tears build up. I bawled. The gentle voice on the other end of the line overwhelmed me, uttering reassurances that everything would be alright. My voice quivered as I spattered my words across the telephone waves. I found it incredibly hard to express my dismay since I had been denying it for so long. I experienced the unbearable sense that I had failed my daughter by not knowing the solution to my problem. Pushing those feelings aside, however, I made an appointment for the following day to seek help.
The appointment went surprisingly well. They measured how much my baby weighed before feeding and after feeding on each side. Both breasts worked just fine! As I left the appointment, I embraced the positive, nurturing nature of the lactation specialists and began to change my mindset from “things can only get worse” to “things will continue to get better.” I began to notice an increase in production and a decrease in frustration. Positive thinking and stress reduction truly made a difference.
When I went back to work after three months on maternity leave, my dreams of breastfeeding my daughter for at least a year had ended. My first attempts at pumping came too late. I never got the hang of a routine and life got crazy when I went back to work. I had no energy. The housecleaning, cooking, and taking care of a new baby and myself were too much. It seemed impossible to force myself to learn on my own how to fit pumping into my schedule. Because of my diet, my milk supply had almost vanished. I had to turn to formula in the end. My baby’s eagerness to accept the formula was a bittersweet relief and an end to the battle. Although it was more convenient than breastfeeding, I would have traded convenience any day to have had that bond back, to hold my baby in my arms and know that what she needed, what she desired, was solely produced by me.
Ultimately I recognized that my diet and stress were the true culprits in sabotaging my breastfeeding. I was not eating enough as I cared for my daughter. I was tired and stressed out and was not changing my behaviors or patterns. I isolated myself from my family and friends when I should have asked for the help I needed, instead of thinking I was supposed to do it all on my own. I realized that the magical world of breastfeeding requires an immense amount of preparation, self care, and reaching out to others.