Breastfeeding: Expectation vs. Reality

There is no way to be a perfect mother, but there are a million ways to be a great one.

-Jill Churchill

Did anyone else get a rude awakening when it comes to breastfeeding? I definitely did. I had always thought that once the baby is born, they automatically know how to latch perfectly. I figured that a mom always has plenty of milk for her baby, and that the breastfeeding experience is one of bliss and perfect bonding. Turns out, I was pretty naive about the whole thing.

My baby Ricky and I had breastfeeding problems from the very start. When he was born, Ricky swallowed a lot of amniotic fluid. As a result, he spent his first 24 hours of life vomiting. I found that when I tried to get him to eat, he just wasn’t interested. He was either too tired to try, or he would vomit before we could get a good latch. I had two consults with lactation specialists, who each told me to keep trying my best and to pump every couple of hours to try to get my milk production up. I was pumping using the hospital grade pump in my room, but every time, nothing came. Meanwhile, Ricky had to get his blood sugar checked every few hours to make sure he wasn’t getting too low.

We ended up having to give Ricky donated breast milk while in the hospital, and I took the hospital grade breast pump home with me to try to get my milk production going. At our first visit with the pediatrician, Ricky had lost 9% of his body weight. The PA suggested that we supplement with formula while I was still working on getting my milk to come in.

During those first 6 weeks, I was doing everything I could. I tried breastfeeding Ricky even though we had latch issues, I went to another lactation course to try and troubleshoot the problem, I was pumping after every attempt at breastfeeding, I was power pumping every night before bed, I was taking fenugreek four times a day, I was eating oatmeal every morning, I was drinking water like crazy, etc., etc., etc… No matter what I did, nothing was working. I knew Ricky wasn’t getting enough milk from me. I was only able to pump about an ounce a day total, and the formula we were supplementing with was making Ricky constipated.

There was so much stress and so many tears during those first weeks. Breastfeeding was something that I always knew I wanted to do, but it wasn’t working out, despite my best efforts. I felt like I couldn’t enjoy my time with my precious little newborn because I was so worried about trying to breastfeed him and make sure he was getting what he needed. At my 6 week follow up appointment with my OB/Gyn, my doctor confirmed for me what I already suspected: I didn’t have the milk supply to be able to feed my baby. There was just nothing there. I was devastated. It was a really hard time for me, and I felt like I was failing in my role as a mother.

There is a happy ending to this story, however, and I learned a lot along the way. The most important thing I learned is that FED IS BEST. Whether he got breast milk or formula, Ricky was going to end up fine. Once I finally figured that out, my stress and anxiety about the situation immediately faded away. I felt like I was better able to focus on my baby and enjoy my time with him, rather than stressing about trying to get him to latch or trying to pump the non-existent milk. I also learned that there are resources for moms who are struggling with breastfeeding. Here are a few that really helped me:

Eats on Feets: This is a Facebook group where moms can donate extra breastmilk to mothers who are not able to breastfeed themselves. Through Eats on Feets, I was able to give my baby exclusive breastmilk for the first 5 months of his life.

Human Milk 4 Human Babies: Another Facebook group with the same goal, to give breastmilk to moms in need. If you have breastmilk to spare, you can donate through these groups!

Lactation Specialists: There are many lactation groups and specialists that are there to help you and your baby figure this whole breastfeeding thing out. I went to a class with Lactation Link and I thought it was helpful. I think that if you are a first time mom, going to a class like this before you have your baby is a good idea!

In the end, everything worked out. Ricky turned out healthy and happy, and so did I. It just took us a little while to figure it out. So if you and your baby are struggling with this whole breastfeeding thing, don’t worry. There are many moms out there who are just like you, and however you choose to feed your baby, there are resources to help you be successful. You’ve got this, mama!