Today I’m sharing the final (for now, anyway) part of my breastfeeding journey. Last week I shared my daughter’s story, and earlier this week I shared my oldest son’s story. I was unable to breastfeed either one, but for very different reasons. Although devastating to me each time, I gave it another go with my youngest son. And this time, everything fell into place.
They say “third time’s a charm,” and for me and breastfeeding, this was certainly true. Even though I was unable to breastfeed my daughter or my oldest son, I still wanted to give it a try with my youngest son, Eli. But, whereas I went into it with fierce determination the first two times around, this time I didn’t stress too much about it. Given my history, this time I was more laid back: “If it works out, great,” I’d tell myself. “If not, it won’t be the end of the world.” And I actually meant it. Whether this had something to do with my success the third time around, I don’t know. But I like to think so.
After Eli was born, I didn’t rush the medical staff to give me my baby so I could immediately put him to my breast. When the nurse placed Eli on my chest for the first time, breastfeeding wasn’t my first thought. Instead I was in awe of the cute little human I had just pushed out of my body, and I was totally and completely amazed that I now had three, THREE, children.
I’m not going to lie. When it was time to try feeding Eli that first time, I was hit with a little bit of anxiety. But wouldn’t you know, my littlest man latched on quickly and, like his brother at first, nursed like a champ! I wasn’t lulled into excitement just yet, however, because I knew things could change quickly, as they did with Saurus.
But things didn’t change the next feeding. Or the feeding after that. Or ever while we were in the hospital. Eli took well to nursing every single time. It took a few feedings for us to get in sync with each other (you know, figure out the best position and such), but after that, there was no fussing or whining or wailing — on either of our parts. Yes, yes, yes! I could hardly believe it was happening. I was actually breastfeeding!
I did get a little anxious again the day we had to leave the hospital. Even though Eli was my third baby, he was my first to really breastfeed. I was by no means an expert at breastfeeding, and I still felt very unsure of myself. But we made it through the first couple of days just fine.
But two days later when my milk came in, my anxiety came flooding back. Now that I was exclusively breastfeeding, I didn’t know what to do when I was so engorged that Eli couldn’t latch on. I didn’t really want to offer a bottle because things were going so well, and I was still afraid of nipple confusion. But when I couldn’t get relief, I turned to a bottle so as not to starve my little peanut. Thankfully, my fears about nipple confusion proved to be nothing but unneeded worry because, as it turned out, Eli was happy to nurse from anything and went right back to the boob when I was able to breastfeed him again. Phew.
I’d like to say that the remaining months that I breastfed Eli were 100% smooth sailing. But they weren’t. Breastfeeding — although a completely amazing experience and one I am so grateful and blessed to have been able to have — is a lot of work. A LOT. And for me, at least, it was not all glitter and unicorns.
It’s true that there are a ton of great things about breastfeeding! It’s an amazing bonding experience, it provides many health benefits for mommy and baby, and it can save you a ton of money. Oh, and you can never forget your boobs anywhere, so there’s that. (There’s also a rumor going around that breastfeeding can help you drop all that baby weight pretty quickly — soooo many people told me this would happen — but, of course, it didn’t for me. Waah waahh.)
But if I’m being completely honest, breastfeeding took a toll on me physically. Off and on the entire time I was breastfeeding, I dealt with milk blisters (yes, they really exist) and plugged ducts, in addition to chronic nipple spasms (yes, those also really exist, and feel as awful as you imagine) due to another health issue I have (Raynaud’s — a vasospactic circulatory disorder). As you can imagine, all of these issues made for painful nursing sessions. I probably singlehandedly kept the lanonlin and nursing pad companies in business that year. Not to mention various pharmaceutical companies for all of the antibiotics and creams I had to use.
I should also admit that I was wholly unprepared for the amount of time breastfeeding would take. Breastfed babies tend to nurse more frequently than formula-fed babies, and usually take longer to nurse than a baby with a bottle, and boy did Eli capitalize on this, especially early on. And even as he got older, unless he’d take an unusually long nap, we never really made it past 3-ish hours between feedings. This means that I had a baby on me like all the time for nearly one whole year. Not only did this leave me with little time for myself, but it also made it hard to spend a lot of quality time with my other two kids. (And oh the guilt!) This is nothing unusual or unique to my situation, but I wasn’t really prepared for this. Coming off of two bottle-fed babies, I was used to sharing feeding responsibilities with my husband. This was especially nice when we could divvy up nighttime feedings. With breastfeeding, I was the only one producing the milk, so . . . I was the only one feeding the baby. All the time. The bonding was great, but I won’t lie, I missed being able to share the responsibility every once in a while.
Another surprise? The amount of pumping I had to do even though I was breastfeeding. Contrary to what I thought was the case given my previous experiences, I actually produced a lot of breast milk. And for a while it was just way more than I actually needed. Which meant adding pumping sessions between nursing sessions so that my boobs wouldn’t explode. Or, if Eli slept exceptionally long and missed a usual feeding, and when he started sleeping through the night before my body adjusted my supply to meet his demand, I’d have to add in some pumping. Which was nice because I was able to build up a frozen milk stash for when we needed it, but it took more time. For a long time it felt like all I was doing was either breastfeeding or pumping. Breastfeeding, pumping, breastfeeding, pumping.
With all of this said, however . . . I wouldn’t trade my breastfeeding experience with Eli — blisters, plugged ducts, spasms, and all — for anything. Anything. The whole bonding thing and closeness that I felt with Eli was absolutely amazing. I am proud to have been able to breastfeed him for nearly his entire first year of life. And if my husband and I are blessed with any more children (we haven’t closed the door on that just yet), I will definitely give breastfeeding another go. Despite all of the issues we faced, I certainly consider my breastfeeding experience with Eli a success!
But I do think that the whole “breast is best” movement should expand not only to educate families about all of the good that comes from breastfeeding but also to help better prepare breastfeeding mothers for the realities and struggles that can often occur, and are completely normal, even with “successful” experiences.
As happy and proud as I am to have breastfed my youngest, I do not feel in any way that this experience was superior to my other two . . . just different. Mommies, all mommies, whether they choose (or have no choice) to breast or bottle feed need to be supported and need to know that they are doing great. Whatever road they travel.
Nothing is supposed to come more naturally to a new mother than breastfeeding. At least that’s what I always thought until I actually had kids. And then this little thing called life sort of changed all of my plans. This series is about my ups and downs with breastfeeding with all three of my kids — my journey through anticipation; disappointment; overwhelming, debilitating guilt; and, eventually, success. I’m sharing this journey with you not to come down on one side or the other in the whole breast vs. bottle debate (because as you’ll see, I’ve fallen on both) — and by no means do I want to start a debate about it here (so please, let’s not go there) — I’d simply like to shine a light on the fact that many women, and for many, many different reasons, struggle with breastfeeding. If you have ever or are currently struggling, please know that you are not alone.