I need to get something off my chest. The chest that has my boobs on it that fed all my children and still feed Violet. Breastfeeding is easier said than done. Violet is probably my last child (*weeping*) and I feel like I should share my journey as she is 14 months old and will start to wean in the coming months.
It has come to my attention time and time again that many people assume I (and many other women) stuck with breastfeeding because it must have just clicked for me. I hear things like “I wish it had been so easy for me” and I want to respond, but I know whatever I say will come out sounding like I am obsessed with other women’s lactation decisions. I am not.
I have no problem with mothers making the choice to breastfeed or formula feed. I totally get that some mothers cannot breastfeed and wish they could. I understand that certain work scenarios make it almost impossible to maintain a milk supply. There are so many reasons why breastfeeding may or not work for a woman. I am not commenting on or judging those reasons. I promise.
Here’s the thing though…
Please don’t look at me and assume this breastfeeding thing is all easy and sweet. Because breastfeeding is the one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. It is also one of the things I am most proud of and I will never regret going through what I have in order to nurse my children.
I, like many people, said I was going to breastfeed my children. I was sure of it. My mom breastfed all of us and never mentioned it being hard. I figured it might take a couple days but then everything would be wonderful. I did not fully understand it all or what it would take, but I read the books and went to the classes and said “I’m going to do that.”
No matter what happened, I did that and I am still doing it. Some days I can’t believe it. I thought about giving up. It was that hard.
In the Beginning…and After the Beginning
In September of 2006 Sophia was born. My milk came in right away, so fast that she could not latch on when I held her in the moments after she was born. She would simply slide off. I spent the days in the hospital crying through the night while lactation consultants came in and tried every position to help my firstborn to eat. She got some milk while I was in the strangest positions and while it was painful, I could actually squeeze milk into her small mouth. My lactation consultant advised me to come in 2 days after we went home. Everyone thought that I just got my milk early and that after the normal engorgement everything would work itself out.
When I got to the LC’s office I had a low grade fever and my breasts were as hard as rocks. I had a small red area on one side and as I cringed in pain while holding Sophia’s mouth to my breast to eat, the LC informed me that I was most likely already experiencing mastitis from being unable to empty the milk and from the strange way that Sophia had to eat so that she would not drown in milk. I am not kidding, if she did not clench down and take one gulp at a time her little face would be covered in milk. It was terrible for her as she ended up choking and spitting and upset. It was awful for me as I wondered what to do and felt completely embarrassed. The two of us were constantly dripping. I went home with a call into my OB for antibiotics and a scale to measure how much milk Sophia was actually getting. Turns out if you cover the baby in milk not a lot goes in.
It did not take long to figure out that I was struggling with hyperlactation. I had weekly appointments with the LC for a couple of months. I made WAY too much milk. It’s funny because some people find breastfeeding hard because they have to nurse or pump so much to keep supply up. I had to do a crazy routine of block feeding combined with minimal pumping and then a once a day pump out to keep my supply from building up and getting me sick.
Sophia and I finally figured out our own little complicated routine. I cherish the moments I have spent nursing each of my children and do not regret at all my decision to stick with it. However, my overproduction was not improving. I had mastitis multiple times, constantly struggled with plugged ducts and was completely exhausted and overwhelmed by breastfeeding in my first few months of motherhood.
Besides being sick, I never really thought about the fact that my husband could not breastfeed. No one’s can, unfortunately. It was all my boobs…all the time. We could not get Sophia to take a bottle and with our crazy weighing and recording and pumping schedule there was little Ross could do to help. Why take a bottle when the milk came so much faster from the boob? Nothing worked. There is a joke that Brittany does nights. I have been up for so long at all hours of the morning that it is true. I do nights. Ross does give backrubs, bless his heart.
Back to Work
When Sophia was 14 weeks old, I went back to work with my pump. I never went anywhere without a pump. I had the hand pump for my purse (still do) and the big double electric for work. My team and boss were aware that I was breastfeeding, but man was it hard. I had to pump every three hours or risk a very embarrassing situation at work. I took calls from the little room I pumped in. I sat attached to those plastic cups with my blackberry in hand, trying to keep up with my days. At the end of that day I had two coolers full of small bottles of milk. We all thought that with me at work she would learn to take the bottle quickly. We were all wrong.
Sophia did something called reverse cycling, where instead of learning to sleep through the night and eat during the day, the baby holds out during the day, content to get all of their nutrition directly from their mama. She would have only a few sips at daycare and then nurse every couple of hours all night long. She ate almost constantly from 6 to 10 p.m. and then every 3 hours until I left for work. Honestly, it was grueling. Also, our freezer was completely full of milk that she never drank.
I told everyone I knew that I was devoted to breastfeeding 100% and not to give me the option to give up. Things were so hard that even my husband Ross, who fully supported me, told me he would still be proud of me if I gave up. He was worried about me. I was too, but each day things got a little tiny bit easier and I told myself that motherhood would require many battles and many sacrifices. This was just one of them.
Finally at around 7 months old, Sophia took a bottle. Finally, she was drinking all that milk I pumped. It felt like a miracle. She started to sleep through the night and I started to feel like a human being again.
I ended up quitting my job. I am so lucky that I was able to do that, but it made me so sad. I love working and I was good at what I did. I just needed to focus on being a mom and on feeling better. Very soon after leaving my job I was feeling like a human again and I was pregnant again.
While I never wrestled with reverse cycling again, breastfeeding did not get easier the 2ndand3rd time around.
All My Children
As it turns out…none of my kids were big bottle fans. Miles started learning to drink from a sippy at 6 months old and Violet has actually never wanted anything to do with one. Yes, we tried it right away and kept trying. Yes, we had babysitters try. She is a no go. She would not even try standard sippies until recently. Just the boob. Always the boob.
All of my kids had to be weighed at each feeding to see how much milk they were getting, much like babies nursing from low milk supply or with latch issues.
I continue to struggle with hyperlactation andhadmy last bout of mastitis just a couple months ago. My LC is my friend now. We got close.
I continue to leak milk each and every day. I had to put pads in to write this post. Violet is 14 months old and the furthest I have been from her is a party we went to 15 miles from my house. While I have gotten the crazy spray under control (it used to shoot across the room) this is not ideal in any way.
All of my children learned to nurse with a lot of work and patience. It is a beautiful thing for me to feed them. It just didn’t come “naturally” at all.
I don’t think this is an actual term, but man do I feel like a fish out of water sometimes. I have a lot of friends who had babies at the same time as me and a few that breastfed and a lot that did not, at least not past a month or so. When you are breastfeeding, especially with a bottle hating baby, there are no breaks. I am not invited to girls weekends. We have missed couples getaways and anything that involves not bringing the baby. Sometimes I just want to stop, but I don’t feel like it’s the right time and honestly, if Violet is my last, I am not ready to give up this time we have together. I do want a night away with Ross or with friends, but we are just not ready.
Things are easier now. Violet is a good eater and my hyperlactation is as under control as it can be. For the first time, I do not have to pump anymore, and I couldn’t be more excited to feel less like a cow and more like a lady. While Violet still eats throughout the night we have a schedule and hey, she’s a cute addition to any blogging conference. We will go on vacation alone at some point. My other children self-weaned. I think perhaps it was because things change when you are pregnant and my supply diminished, allowing me to cut out feedings. I’m not preggers so at this point she is still getting lots of yummy milk. Why wean? As she gets busier I think she will drop some daytime feedings and I do hope that she starts to sleep through the night. All in all, we are good.
I know that this is my choice. At any time I could be done and say goodbye to breastfeeding. I’m not looking for anyone to feel bad for me, just to share my story. For me, as long as I could nurse my children, I was going to do it. Many people are shocked that I kept breastfeeding. Even my pediatrician suggested it was okay if I stop. I never asked for anyone else to approve of my choice but I did ask them to support it. While I make jokes about my struggles I have never really expressed how hard it was. Most breastfeeding moms I talk to have struggled at some point and know what a challenge it can be to stick with it until it starts to feel natural and fit in your life. I know I am not alone.
Breastfeeding my children is a gift. Despite the battles, I would not make a different choice if I could. Believe me, there are parenting areas in which I take the easy road. This is just one where I decided to fight for my choice. And I was lucky enough to win.
My Point (If there is one)
Yes, this is my story. All moms have one. It sometimes feels like because of the formula vs. breast milk war breastfeeding moms are not allowed to express their story for fear of offending a mom who could not or chose not to breastfeed. Motherhood is hard no matter what choices you make in breastfeeding or anything else. Motherhood is not a competition. Sharing our different choices and journeys is important. Maybe telling my story will allow another mom who is struggling to stick with it. Maybe it will simply make people aware that the pride a breastfeeding mom feels is not because she is looking down on anyone else, but because she is happy with herself and this accomplishment. Maybe my story will upset some people. I sincerely hope not.
I am that mom who is really proud of myself for sticking with it. Because while breastfeeding my kids is one of the most amazing things I have ever done, I have something to tell you.
It’s not all nips and giggles.