In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I wanted to reflect on my own breastfeeding journey. After having three babies in under three years, you could say I have a story or two! I hope this encourages you on your own journey of breastfeeding!
My journey with breastfeeding
My breastfeeding journey wasn’t glorious to say the least. It was scary and it was challenging.
No one in my family breastfed when I was younger. I think I knew one mom at church who breastfed when I was a kid and I remember being so weirded out. You mean, the baby drinks milk… from your boobs? I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.
Everyone I ever knew used formula. I knew nothing about the science of breastfeeding, the processes your body goes into to prepare for birth by releasing colostrum and then process of your milk coming in after birth. I never knew how much it would hurt when you first start and how sometimes it takes time for your body to get used to producing milk.
EVERYTHING was new to me.
That’s why I quit after two weeks of breastfeeding with my first child.
My first child was healthy and was born at 40 weeks. She was a big 8 lb. 4 oz. baby. I was apprehensive but willing to breastfeed. My friends and husband’s family swore by it due to the health benefits and how inexpensive it was. I wanted to do what I believed was “best” at the time, but I was really hard on myself at first. I refused to supplement with formula when she was first born out of fear of my husband being disappointed in me because we would have to spend the extra money every month on formula and it not being as gentle on her digestive system (though he said he was ultimately supportive of whatever I chose to do). I gave her a pacifier within her first 24 hours of life and was really hard on myself when she had trouble latching and I had to use a nipple shield for her to latch right and eat.
It was exhausting!
My milk came in a few days after I gave birth, but I don’t know what I did wrong. She ate every couple of hours, I pumped a lot but she never seemed satisfied!
She would cry and cry and cry.
I would cry and cry and cry.
Within two weeks, she lost more than ten percent of her body weight. The pediatrician determined it was time to supplement with formula.
I became racked with guilt.
Feeling like a failure
I felt like I had failed. Among other stressors at the time, I struggled with postpartum depression and overall was in a very unhealthy mental state. Formula became a saving grace of one less thing to worry about and freed up more time for me to focus on other things.
A few weeks later, she came down with RSV and was hospitalized for three days. In my mind, the reason why she got sick was that I stopped breastfeeding (which I have talked to many doctors and all of them said that is not a true reason a baby gets RSV. They told me they knew of plenty of breastfed babies who contracted the virus).
She was formula fed until she was a year old and was a healthy baby.
My second child was also healthy and born at 40 weeks. He took to breastfeeding pretty well, but oh it hurt so bad at first! Thankfully, my hospital had a lactation consultant that helped me immensely to get the right latch. This time I was much more graceful with myself.
This time, I allowed myself to give him some formula in the times where I just could not take another painful latch. I would give it to him in a little medicine cup and pour it into his mouth little by little. He would sleep longer which helped me get much-needed rest during postpartum recovery. When I felt able to nurse, I would go back to nursing. He did really well and I was so proud of myself! This became very helpful because he had to stay in the hospital for a few extra days due to being Keuns Positive (jaundice). I couldn’t hold my baby while he was under the bili lights apart from when I was breastfeeding, so this gave me more motivation to push through the initial pain so I could spend time with him. When I couldn’t take the pain, I could just give him formula while he was under the lights. Win-win!
The second time around seemed so much easier. Not only did I know what to expect, but I also set more realistic goals for myself. I gave myself more grace.
Around three months of age, I got mastitis and the flu within a week of each other. I had to stop breastfeeding and it broke my heart. It was AWFUL!
During my recovery process, my milk supply dropped so much that we had to start supplementing with formula. I was really sad because I cherished that time with my son where I could slow down and spend time with his newness and bond while I had my 18-month-old toddler running around. Even though I was sad, having to use formula was a blessing in disguise because I started a new job at the time that would have required me to pump a lot which made the formula convenient.
I breastfed and formula-fed until my milk dried up, but I had always wished I could have done it longer. My perspective on breastfeeding was redeemed!
Breastfeeding the third time around and giving myself grace
I recently birthed my third child in late April. He is currently three months old. Breastfeeding has gone the best it has ever been. Yes, it is a little crazy because I have a three and a two-year-old that runs around in circles screaming their heads off while I sit down and feed the baby, but this time, I am different.
I am far more graceful with myself than ever before.
If I don’t have enough milk pumped, formula it is! And I am completely at peace with that.
Baby crying and I can’t stop to breastfeed, I grab the pacifier!
Having three babies within three years is tough. It is rewarding, beautiful, and exhausting. Between helping my oldest wipe her bottom after going to the potty and removing my second child from dangerous situations in which he constantly places himself into, the only time I have to focus on my new baby boy is when it is time to nurse. It is the only time I can pause for a moment, breathe him in, and discover this new little person in my life.
Breastfeeding was also a place where I was able to get a piece of myself back even though I was spending myself to serve someone else.
I recently launched my family and newborn photography business in Charleston so breastfeeding is a time where I can get valuable work done on my phone or computer. I look forward to breastfeeding now because I get to spend time holding my baby and work on things that make me feel more like me.
Now that I am in a better relationship with my breastfeeding journey, I know that however long I breastfeed, it will be as long as I needed to without the feelings of guilt and failure if I don’t nurse for a full year.