In the wake of this latest wave of breast vs bottle debate, I wanted to share a story which focuses on how to best prepare for a successful nursing experience – and which gives hope to those of you who want to try again with future children. After all, being a FFF is also about supporting breastfeeding, and trying to help others who want to nurse to do so happily and easily. But when it doesn’t work out, we all need the confidence and strength to realize that formula (or combo-feeding) can be an excellent alternative.
FFF Alison T. tells us how life got in the way of her best laid plans, and how she overcame these obstacles to be the happy, healthy mom she is today.
Like nearly everyone else who’s shared their story on this site, I planned to exclusively breastfeed my first baby. In fact, I was so confident in my ability to do it that I didn’t take any classes or do any reading about breastfeeding. I knew so many people who had successfully breastfed that I didn’t forsee having any trouble.
I went into labor two and a half weeks early. Not only was I not mentally prepared to give birth this early, but I also hadn’t stocked up on last-minute items, including a pump or bottles (I know, I know – I just figured he’d be born late). No big deal, I figured – I’d just buy those things after I brought the baby home.
My labor lasted 24 hours, but it went well and was fairly uneventful, except for one thing – I broke my tailbone during it. Yes, it’s just as painful as it sounds. You may wonder what that has to do with breastfeeding – believe it or not, it has a lot to do with it.
My son had to go to NICU right away for some breathing problems, so I didn’t get to try feeding him until a few hours after he was born. With the help of the nurses, he latched on right away. Unfortunately, the only position that helped him latch was the football/cradle hold, which was bad news for me – it meant I had to sit. My tailbone was so crushed that even with the assistance of a blow-up donut, pillows and blankets, I couldn’t sit comfortably. I tried to feed him lying down, but he kept falling asleep while eating and couldn’t latch for a sustained period of time.
The next few days were absolute torture. Every time my son would cry, I would feel a sense of dread. I was in too much pain to feed him for more than a few minutes at a time. The pain was so excruciating that painkillers didn’t even take the edge off. I would feed him for a few minutes, try to change positions to ease my pain, and he would fall off and start screaming. He never slept more than an hour at a time. My nipples were cracked and bleeding to the point where my son was spitting up red because blood was in my milk. And he kept losing weight. Determined to keep breastfeeding, I saw two lactation consultants who convinced me to keep working at it.
I finally escaped for an hour and bought my very expensive Medela breast pump. Because of my pain, I had to pump standing up. The pump was great, except for the fact that I couldn’t produce more than two ounces at a time, and that took 25 minutes. Oh, and that pumping was nearly as painful as feeding. My life became a cycle of pump, feed, change, repeat. I got no sleep and had no time to eat, shower or do anything for myself.
At the end of the first week I started feeling sick. I developed a 102-fever, aches, chills and a headache. This was the absolute low point of motherhood for me. I felt like I wanted to die. Here I was, a brand-new mom, supposed to be bonding with my beautiful baby boy. I was in excruciating pain on both ends (nipples and tailbone). I hadn’t slept more than an hour per day in over a week. And I was so ill and weak that I could barely hold my 6-pound son. Oh, and he still wasn’t gaining enough weight.
My husband watched the baby while I went to the OB, who diagnosed me with mastitis on BOTH SIDES. Yep, double mastitis 6 days post-partum. I broke down in the doctor’s office and started bawling. I mean sobbing hysterically. I just couldn’t do this anymore. She wrote me a script for nipple cream and antibiotics.
That afternoon we took the baby to the doctor for his one-week checkup. He’d been screaming from hunger all morning and was quickly going through the meager 1- to 2-ounce bottles I was pumping, which were all pink with blood. The doctor offered us a sample bottle of Enfamil and I nearly cried with relief. I think deep-down I knew all along that I needed to try formula, but it was like I needed a pediatrician’s permission to make me believe it was really OK.
My son guzzled the 2-ounce bottle in a matter of minutes and fell asleep in my husband’s arms. Sound asleep. I think he slept for 2 hours straight, which was the most he’d slept all week.
For the next week I continued to pump and supplement with formula, but my supply became less and less. I knew deep down that if I wanted to retain any sanity I needed to hang up the pump. So I did. My son is now 8 months old and has been exclusively formula-fed since 2 weeks. He is doing great. And so am I. I truly believe that if I had continued to breastfeed, I would have suffered from severe PPD and would not have been the great mom I am today.
My experience taught me many things, especially this: if you plan to breastfeed, educate yourself. Take classes. Read. Talk to other BF moms. Don’t assume things will work themselves out, because it’s a lot more difficult than you might think. If we have another child, I fully intend to give breastfeeding another try. And I’m pretty sure that the second time around – knowing what I know now – I’ll be able to make it work.
But I also know that if breastfeeding is making you utterly miserable, it may be time to reconsider. My son needed a relaxed, attentive, caring mom and while trying to nurse I was the opposite of that. I know breastmilk is best, but we should all be so grateful that modern technology and chemistry has given us the option of nourishing our babies in another way.
Have a story you’d like to share? Send it over to firstname.lastname@example.org. Confession is good for the soul. Or so my Catholic friends tell me. 🙂