If you read my C-Section Birth Story post, or follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that my journey with breastfeeding wasn’t easy (that’s an understatement). I’ve been scared to share this, one because it feels extremely personal, but two, because it brings back feelings of sadness, fear, pain, and anxiety. But I want to share my story here in the case that anyone else is going through something similar, because truthfully, I felt incredibly alone and scared during my experience and didn’t feel like there were enough resources. Breastfeeding is a polarizing topic and people have very strong opinions, something you’ll learn through a quick internet search. What I’ve come to realize is that we need to approach new moms with compassion and understanding, because feeding our babies is so challenging, both physically and emotionally, and you can’t possibly know what someone’s gone through…
an easy start
As soon as Nez was born, she latched quickly and easily. I remember Tommy and I looking at each other and saying ‘people always make this sound so hard, but this is so easy!’. Well I think we jinxed ourselves because the next day, things went south, big time. I started overproducing to the point that my chest felt as though I had cement strapped to it. The pain was so unbearable that I forgot I’d even had surgery the day before. Nez would feed every hour and a half or so and get everything she needed but I would feel no sense of relief.
I’d always heard about women under producing and needing to supplement or pump to get their supply up, but I’d never heard any stories like mine. While in the hospital I talked to lactation consultants, OBs, and basically anyone with even a minor medical degree, desperate for some sort of insight and guidance. The advice (it’s generous to call it that) ranged from ‘I haven’t seen anything like this but I’m guessing it’ll take a few weeks or months to regulate’ to ‘pump until you’re relieved’ to ‘don’t pump because your body might think you need to produce more’. I sobbed from pain and confusion, and worst of all, I cried because I felt in my heart of hearts that I could never go through this pain again and this would be the only kid we would have.
I took pain medication around the clock (an alarm was set for every three hours, even throughout the night) and decided that I was going to pump just enough to feel relief. While I wanted to stay in the hospital for another week, a few days later we went home and I obsessively researched tips and tricks to help with engorgement. I stocked up on cabbage, bought tea to reduce my production, bought ice packs and a hot pad. If I wasn’t feeding Nez, I was in a constant rotation of using a hot pad, then pumping, then using an ice pack, then putting on cabbage leaves, repeat, repeat, repeat. It got to a point that I would throw away the milk I pumped because I just couldn’t deal with it anymore. It was all I thought about. After two weeks, my body finally started to regulate my production, and for the first time felt a moment of relief.
but wait, it gets worse
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the end of my story. While my supply began to regulate, I ultimately ended up experience really horrible pain from her latch on one side. I went into a lactation consultant every other day, bought a nipple shield, and did whatever I could do deal with it and just keep feeding her in the way that I’d been told was best. After a few days, I was so exhausted from the experience that I bought bottles just in case I needed a break. Every night Tommy and I would go through the same routine; I’d cry from pain and exhaustion, say I couldn’t do it again and that I was ready to give her a bottle, then as soon as he started to prepare the bottle, I’d freak out and well up with guilt and stop him. I’d ingested so much information about ‘breast is best’ that it felt like a massive failure to give her a bottle, even if it was from my own supply. When Tommy finally gave her the first bottle, I cried. It was a mix of emotions- sadness and guilt that I had somehow failed her, as well as relief to simply have a break after what felt like hourly feedings.
the last straw
This routine kept up for another two weeks. I was in pain and when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, we’d give her a bottle so that I could recover, then the cycle would start over again. About four weeks in, I picked up Nez in the middle of the night to feed her and as soon as she latched on, all I felt was fire. My chest was burning and it was a pain different than any I’d felt before. I started obsessively researching what this could be and was convinced that I had an infection, so I made the soonest appointment at my OB to get it checked out. From that point forward, I switched to pumping and bottle feeding, but it still hurt.
The next night I called my parents and started crying on the phone as I told them the latest part of my saga. They told me that I needed to stop doing this to myself and start feeding her formula. That I had done my absolute best, but that it wasn’t worth constantly being unhappy and in pain. That I would be a better mom if I was a happier mom, and that ultimately, I was doing a disservice to Nez by trying to be a martyr.
When I went in for my appointment to see if I had an infection, I decided that I needed to fix whatever the issue was, but that I was also done. Yet again, I cried while I talked to the doctor about weaning off and switching to formula, because again, I felt guilt. As I write this, it pisses me off to no end that even though no one had explicitly told me that switching to formula was failing my child, all of the books and articles I’d read or the birth prep class engrained this in my subconscious. This is quite frankly bullshit, and I think there’s a bigger issue that needs to be addressed in the information we’re receiving as moms, but that’s for another time…
letting go and moving on
The doctor told me that there are two ways to wean. One is that you do it slowly over the course of weeks or months. Or you bite the bullet and essentially go cold turkey, dealing with the pain right up front, but finishing up the process quicker. At this point I was exclusively pumping and feeding Nez bottles, and decided to go cold turkey. I was simply at a breaking point and needed to move on with my life. I stretched out the time between pumping as long as I could, and made sure to pump just enough to feel relief. I was done in nine painful days, but the end goal of feeling like myself again was enough incentive to get me through it. I had cabbage leaves and ice packs strapped to my chest 24/7, took pain meds around the clock, and just got it done.
I have to say how grateful I am to have my family there to support me and listen to me complain constantly for over the course of a month (and let’s be real, my whole life- I love to complain!). I’m grateful that my parents gave me permission to put myself first and do what I knew was best, but I was having trouble admitting. Tommy had my back without question and let me guide this journey, trusting my judgement when it came to the wellbeing of our daughter. I would have lost my mind without him.
When I finally stopped producing and switched to formula, it felt like the clouds had been lifted. I remember feeding Nez a bottle after I’d stopped producing and seeing her little eyes looking straight up into mine, something I hadn’t experienced while breastfeeding. I felt more connected to her than ever, and for the first time, I enjoyed the process. The guilt dissipated and I realized that this was the absolute best decision I could’ve made for myself, but for her as well. Because it allowed me to be present. To enjoy the moment. To just be okay.