black cat cuddling baby

Breastfeeding Struggles

For today’s post, I featured a photo I took when Jai was 3 months and my favorite cat used Jai as a bed. This doesn’t make for an easy nursing session and while it’s fun to show off silly pictures of cats making nursing difficult, struggling with breastfeeding is no laughing matter.

I struggled at first and then it got better. And then I struggled again and that got better.

This was my personal experience, so what worked for Jai and myself may not work for everyone, nor will you have to deal with the same issues I did. Please take what is contained in this post as suggestions/anecdotal evidence and not as universal fact. Please speak with a professional if you have any major concerns regarding breastfeeding.

Something to Remember

Prior to giving birth, I attended a breastfeeding class, took a bunch of notes because it is hard to shut the academic off most of the time, and requested a lactation consultant (LC) once I was in the recovery room. One thing that was never mentioned in the class or in the hospital, and this may be a failing on my birthing hospital’s part, was that there are two people in the process of breastfeeding.

It was only Jai and me.

I had the intellectual or logical knowledge of what to do and he had the instinctual knowledge. Unfortunately, I brushed aside instinct in favor of logic so I asserted what I thought was best on Jai. This is to say that when the LC came into the room, she shoved my breast into Jai’s mouth and snipped at me to listen for a swallow while holding his head to the breast. I tried to copy her aggressive manner of shoving the nipple into Jai’s mouth and keeping his head close so he wouldn’t move and prayed I would hear that swallow to indicate a latch.

Needless to say,  this manner of feeding was ineffective and did not work.

Both he and I got frustrated. I was frustrated because I wasn’t feeding my child and he was frustrated because he was hungry. I began to stress about my milk not coming in, that he’d be underweight and they wouldn’t release us from the hospital, the nurses were already getting judgemental over each box of newborn formula they brought in, and my hormones were working in overdrive.

I don’t remember crying, but I do remember feeling like a failure as a mother.

But the moment I shut out the intellectual learning and trusted my son to know what to do, he latched and within days my milk eventually came in strong. We were on our way to breastfeeding.

 

Common Struggles

Struggling to get a newborn to latch is pretty common, so Jai and I weren’t particularly unusual in this instance. Our struggle had more to do with overthinking the matter, but other issues can come from physical constraints, such as tongue tie or flat nipple.

I asked some mother’s what their personal struggles were with breastfeeding and the answers ranged from nothing to mastitis.

Tongue Tied:

Our child had a tongue tie and a lip tie that went undiagnosed for a month. It caused problems with latching—both on the breast and with bottles—and we had to syringe and spoon feed as well as supplement. My supply was low as a result of poor latch. – Anonymous

Letdown:

I didn’t experience or realize the “letdown”. My baby was eating but I couldn’t feel if the milk was really there. – Michelle M.

Full Breasts:

Rock hard breasts that hurt like hell within a day or two of getting home from the hospital – massaged those with my knuckles in the shower and used cabbage which helped but OUCH! – Theresa S.

Other common issues?

  • Clogged ducts
  • Mastitis
  • Chapped/cracking nipples

The other issue I had with Jai’s feeding related to chapped nipples in the beginning. I had to wait until my nipples either toughened up or he adjusted his latch so it was more effective. I found that each time he would latch on, I would make extremely pained faces, so much so that Ash would ask if we should just quit for my own sake.

I remember thinking: I may have gone through birth unmedicated, but this was a lot worse on the pain scale. Prior to giving birth, I had no nipple sensitivity, so much so I assumed I had little to no nerve endings in my breasts.

When I started breastfeeding I found that was a lie, that I very much had feeling in my nipples and I could feel each and every nerve ending when he latched.

What helped resolve this issue for me was to rub my nipples with coconut oil and pump from the wounded nipple while breastfeeding from the other until everything healed. I had to switch back and forth a couple of times until we worked everything out. Now it only hurts when he accidentally bites down.

Common Frustrations

My greatest frustrations were the chapped nipples, the pressure to breastfeed, and sitting around all day with a baby attached to my breast.

I hated when he went into cluster feeds. The class never explained the point of a cluster feed but only that they happened. Once I realized it was his instinctual way to get me to produce more milk, I relaxed a bit more over the matter. He was doing what he needed to do naturally in order to ensure my supply was enough for him and I shouldn’t begrudge him for it.

Some other frustrations mothers experienced…

Cultural Pressures:

Feeling as if I was a horrible mom because it was difficult to breast feed.   It was pleasant and it make the experience stressful which did not help with bonding. – Lara J.

…Other mothers would say how long they breastfed in front of me as if I couldn’t hear them never bothering to ask why I was giving her formula. – Michelle M.

Slow Eater:

In the beginning she was a slow eater which wouldn’t have been so bad if she wasn’t losing weight. I was expected to feed her every 2 hours (from the start of a feed), but she would often take at least an hour to eat. It was an impossible schedule! – Anonymous

General Discomfort:

Sore from sitting so long. I already hurt my back while pregnant and didn’t want to mess with that while pregnant and with an infant, I am having difficulty finding time to get to a chiropractor. – Sarah S.

Pumping:

The open wounds from his poor latch were pretty frustrating. I hated pumping, too. – Anonymous

NB: I hated pumping as well. As soon as I found a way to stop pumping (with exception to keep my supply going when I went out of town for the weekend) I stopped immediately. It’s so boring and takes way too long for me.

You’re Not Alone

Know that any struggles you face while breastfeeding means that other women have experienced the same struggle at some point in time in the world and history. You are never alone. There are plenty of resources available online and through LCs in your community.

While the La Leche League is a great resource for support and advice, be aware that they strongly support breastfeeding. There may be some pressure to continue to breastfeed when it isn’t in your best interest, so please do not feel guilty if you choose not to continue.

Some advice I collected from other mothers:

Fed is best, obviously. But lactation consultants are wonderful resources, and nursing is the best thing I have done for my son. I feel proud to have overcome so many obstacles (tongue and lip ties, lipase issues, biting, surgeries, etc.). – Anonymous

Let it come naturally and if it is stressing you out don’t feel bad.  There is nothing wrong with formula fed babies. – Lara J.

Follow your heart and intuition. You know your baby and what is best for both of you. There is no wrong choice in formula vs breast milk and if you want to breastfeed but your body decides otherwise, maybe it knows something you don’t. Your body did this amazing thing giving you a beautiful baby, don’t be mad at it if the milk doesn’t come or you realize breastfeeding isn’t for you.  – Anonymous

Do what works for you and your baby. If it isn’t a good fit, stop. It doesn’t make you less of a mom. – Theresa S.

Again, do what you feel is best.  You are the mother and you can trust your instincts. – Michelle M.

Getting your baby fed is the important thing. It doesn’t matter whether they are breastfed or formula fed. There are pros and cons to both, but the method that works best for you and your baby is the right choice. – Anonymous

Keep feeding even if it hurts, but take the time to find out why it hurts. – Sarah S.

Keep Going (if you Can)

Because breastfeeding may be the most frustrating aspect of new motherhood, do not allow yourself to get discouraged over the matter and keep trying if you can. I say this not in a way to put pressure, but as a means of encouragement. You can get through many of the struggles placed before you during breastfeeding, you just have to wait for that light at the end of the tunnel when everything stabilizes.

However, if you still decide that you don’t want to continue breastfeeding keep the following in mind…

It’s Not Giving Up

If reasons beyond your control force you to wean the baby off the breast sooner than you desired, do not look at it as giving up. If you are ready to switch to formula, do not look at it as giving up.

A decision was made for you or you made it for yourself and you have every right to feed your child however you feel comfortable. One thing I kept highlighting in Monday’s post is the importance of doing what is best for you and ignore the prevailing opinion if it was detrimental to your own well-being.

The first thing to remember: you do not owe anyone an explanation. You will want to inform your little one’s pediatrician that you are switching over to formula exclusively, but if acquaintances or strangers want to know how you are feeding your baby, you do not owe them a response.

If you do choose to disclose your feeding habits or have to feed in front of someone, do ignore any criticisms that may come your way.

One of the best ways to neutralize the situation so you can move on is to reflect their comment back to them: “I hear that you are concerned about how I am feeding my little one. Thank you for your concerns.” You are neither agreeing, nor disagreeing with what they are saying and by wording it in such a way, you can get the conversation to shift onto a different topic quickly. Then remind yourself again that you do not owe anyone an explanation.

Remember this, if other people don’t: a fed baby is the best scenario and you are doing your best.

Some words of comfort from mothers who switched to formula:

Every house is different. There are lots of things that you are going to have to do your own way.  Don’t let anyone make you feel like less of a parent for making the right choice in your house and for your baby.  My follow-up would be “Welcome to parenting, you’re doing it wrong. Remember every choice you make, no matter what, someone out there believes you are doing it wrong. Right now.” The emotional shaming that is prevalent in today’s parenting world is horrific. – Theresa S.

You have a bond with your child no matter what.   Breastfeeding won’t make that bond stronger.   You are a good mother and there are other ways to feel close to your baby. – Lara J.

Don’t Stress

The best advice I could give any expectant/new mother is to not stress over the matter.

This is easier said than done because hormones are still raging postpartum when many of the issues come up. But try to remember to take a deep breath if you are struggling and allow yourself to relax at the moment.

Even now, at Jai’s age, whenever I feel stressed or harried over a particular situation and he needs to nurse, I try to settle in and enjoy the time I have with him. Yesterday, we sat in his room while he nursed and fell asleep, something he hasn’t done in a very long time, I put down what I was doing and just enjoyed the quiet moment I was having with him.

Moments like these are possible if you are breastfeeding or formula feeding, so try to remember that you are doing the best you can and that you are a wonderful mother no matter how you feed your little one.


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