I don’t normally post about breastfeeding because I know it can be painful for others to see and honestly… it feels like undue credit for me.
I had planned on breastfeeding. Then I was at my OB’s office, she looked with grave concern at my Attachment Theory text book (I think she forgot what I was studying). She said “are you going to try and breastfeed?” I said “oh yes! I’m definitely breastfeeding!” She said “you mean you’re going to TRY to breastfeed.” I said “yeah, that’s what I meant… try.” There was something about that moment that stuck. I didn’t feel the pressure to succeed and instead focused on just trying.
When my child was born, I went to put him to my breast, as I had read to do and the nurse stopped me. She told me because of my anxiety/depression meds I couldn’t breastfeed…. I was confused… I had been told they were safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding… then… my child was taken to the NICU 45 minutes after he was born and I only saw him for 10 minutes in the first 24 hours. I don’t even know if he had formula or breastmilk first but I think formula because he had a feeding tube for a couple days. It’s a big traumatic blur with some intense moments still feeling visceral in my mind. But the details like names, dates, times and ounces all faded with time.
I remember the nurse coming in the next day and saying “are you gonna breastfeed?” I said “can I?” She said “of course! It’s the best thing you can do for baby!” (Cue pressure to save my child via breastmilk) I asked about my meds and she thought the other nurse was ridiculous but checked with Motherisk and the Paediatrician and they both confirmed it was fine. So my first bit of breastfeeding was actually being milked by my nurse into a little vile. I don’t remember the first latch!! I don’t AT ALL!! It certainly was not something I took a picture of or even registered that it was a big deal… after waiting all that time, I was still just lost in grief and panic.
We were at the NICU for 7 days. I was able to stay in a parents room, down the hall from my babe so I did the 3 hour rotation for that week. Anyone who has been a NICU breastfeeding parent knows about this…
1st hour: Breastfeeding combined with weight checks to see if they actually ate enough. I would breastfeed for the first 45 minutes, then it usually was not enough so I would have to feed him pumped milk for the last 15 minutes, with a bottle (a few times a bit of formula).
2nd Hour: Pumping… since I had no idea what I was doing and had a double pump, I just sat there holding the pumps and ruminating in my anxiety and trauma. Then I would bring my small vile of drops over to the nurses station.
3rd Hour: Eat, sleep, bathroom, hygiene (Post-partum style with a first baby and a decent amount of stitches) and wash and sanitize pump parts.
This goes on 24 hours a day, for 7 days… I don’t know how I got through this, but for this, I deserve a crown.
Despite our incredibly difficult start, breastfeeding was the only thing I felt good at… it was the only thing that comforted him. He was not a fussy baby just a wakeful baby and if he was awake, he wanted to eat.
I did mixed feeds for the first 4 months with my first. With mixed feeds I would try to see if a bottle made him sleep longer. I would try a bit of formula but he always preferred to nurse. Around 4 months I just tried to get rid of the pump and bottles and had no problem. What I discovered was for me… and my personality, on-demand breastfeeding worked for ME. It would not have been easier to bottle feed. Yes it was nice to feel like I was doing something wonderful for my child but to be honest, that was not my motivation. It was laziness and cheapness and a whole lot of privilege.
Things that worked for me with breastfeeding:
⁃ Career and government support: Home on maternity leave for 12 months then was able to breastfeed throughout the day, while at work, because I worked where my child was cared for.
⁃ Less Cleaning: I hate dishes… like HATE!! The amount of gear that needs to be washed everyday is beyond my capacity.
⁃ Cheaper: No formula but also no pump parts, bottles and other gear.
⁃ Easier to leave the house: A diaper and some wipes stuffed into my regular sized purse and I’m off.
⁃ Flexibility: I am not into schedules, counting, planning… all that organizing that some people love. There is no organizing with breastfeeding. You respond when they signal.
⁃ Nighttime parenting: I found it much easier to nurse at night then to prepare and give a bottle. I also found it more effective in soothing my baby at night.
⁃ Post-partum breastfeeding support: I saw a lactation consultant. I also had a public health nurse regularly visit me. I also qualified for VON to come in 3 times a week for 3 hours and WATCH MY BABY WHILE I SLEPT!! 😱 this was not private insurance, it was my government insurance. Not to mention every support person was an absolute angel from heaven, so supportive. I was beyond fortunate for the support I had with my first.
⁃ Sleep: there were no observable changes with bottles versus breastfeeding, in regards to sleep. He never slept for more than 60 minutes for 2.5 years… if a bottle of formula would have made him sleep even 4 hours, that’s what he would have been getting but it didn’t.
As I wrote this I thought… “well you just make it sound so easy!!” Well that’s my point… it was easy for me. It was easier for me. I’m happy I have the comparison but I have supported many parents in their breastfeeding journeys and researched breastfeeding supports… what I have found, like anything, everyone is different. I am not without my breastfeeding struggles but the ease of it for me, always outweighs the struggles. For so many, it’s just not that easy, for a number of reasons. Then they are sacked with the guilt of not loving breastfeeding or not being able to fulfill this goal that they had.
So when people flood me with credit for breastfeeding 3 children, for a total of over 5.5 years… I don’t feel the crown fits…
I want to pass that crown on to all the parents who did not find it so easy. I think you parents deserve the breastfeeding crown. Or maybe we all do… maybe every parent who has ever even tried to give their child even one drop of breastmilk deserves to wear the Breastfeeding Crown.
Kudos to my OB who said it perfectly “you mean you’re going to TRY to breastfeed.?” Thank you for switching my focus, which lessened the pressure I felt to be “successful” because I was successful when I tried… that was the goal… to TRY. It’s actually beneficial, in a number of ways, to focus on the process, more than the product. Let’s make sure new parents know that a goal to TRY is actually better than a goal to DO, in this case.
During this time, Survival Mode Plans became crucial as nothing about parenting was what I had expected. I dealt with a lot of trauma and numbness and disassociation that first year of being a parent. I don’t remember being happy once but I do remember watching my child do new things and I would think.,, “why doesn’t this make me happy?” It was heartbreaking 💔 I realized overtime that my mind was stuck in a trauma response. It took years to come out of it. So I’ve developed tools for the days when things are beyond my capacity to handle. The Guide to Survival Mode Plans can help you make a plan for moments of just surviving and also tools to start thriving.
UPDATED August 4th 2021
“But… there was no “can’t breastfeed” before formula…”
I will whole heartedly agree that a huge part of why breastfeeding became the uncommon approach was due to egregious marketing by formula companies and I could write a whole novel of the complexities and evidence to support that theory… However… I think that this perspective is misguided. When I researched breastfeeding supports around the world, lack of breastfeeding support and complications is a global issue. So what people do is “make due.”
Before formula, nursing problems were handled in a variety of ways.
⁃ Nurse maid or family member fed baby
⁃ Gave baby other animal milks
⁃ Baby died from lack of food
⁃ Baby dies mysteriously (post partum psychosis)
We are lucky to have more supports and products as well. Obviously more needs to be done but remember… breastfeeding and post partum challenges have been around since humans have. It’s not a new issue, we just deal with it differently. Demands on parents in the past were completely different, too.
So what we do now is work within our means.
⁃ Nurse maids and a readily available friend to nurse would be a solution that does not work for most although donor milk is an option, nowadays (which I fully support 🙌).
⁃ We give formula or donor milk instead of animals milk which does have more specific nutritional contents to meet a babies needs.
⁃ We give formula or donor milk so baby does not die of starvation.
⁃ We seek support for our mental health and our babies don’t die “mysteriously”
Remember what it was like just 60 years ago?
I would like to offer a perspective…. My Grandmother had 4 children, spanning 10 years. Her youngest was born at 29. There are stories of how my uncle, before the age of 3, was simply roaming the streets with his other toddler buddies.
My Grandmother used formula and it is common knowledge that the 4th baby felt like a lot for her. Think of how different life is now with 4 children under 10 years old…. We do WAY more now!! Soooo much more…
What I have found during my research on breastfeeding support is partner and/or parent support (or lack of) is the single biggest indicator of how long a parent chooses to nurse. From my personal experiences in working with parents, there are two factors my research did not consider; trauma and mental health. Specifically, the intimacy and exposure of breastfeeding can be a trauma trigger that parents can’t simply just get over. Mental health support will help but they will typically tell the parent to stop nursing…
Also, the on-demand nature and not knowing how much milk a child is getting, can be a major source of anxiety for some parents. No matter how much we work with them to process that anxiety, sometimes they just can’t. When they are finally able to just pump or formula feed, you see their anxiety drastically decrease. Like a balloon deflating. It’s such a common thing, and I can spot a parent suffering with this type of anxiety, from just one comment on a post. I want to reach through the screen and hug you and then ask you some questions to find out if you want a plan to concur the anxiety or a plan to just survive it.
Like I have said before… “don’t judge how others are surviving when you are thriving.”
For me… nursing was easier. People often comment “well it wasn’t for me and I kept doing it.” I get that people want credit for their efforts. You deserve credit. But one of the most toxic things we do in this society is have an expectation that everyone else will act like us. That everyone else has the same threshold and capacity for stress. That everyone has the same triggers and responses to triggers. It’s actually egocentric.
“Well I got through all the challenges so why can’t you?”
A comment like that can be very defeating… and I’m sure I’m guilty of it and I’ve also been on the receiving end of that perspective.
It also seems that formula suggestions and the word “try” are associated with many unsupportive people. This makes it complex… I suggested my OB’s comment was supportive but it wasn’t and I didn’t take it like that but I did appreciate the switch of focus… for others, it seems “at least you tried” was something that unsupportive people said.
The takeaway I get from this is we need to be careful what we say to parents about their choices. Listen to the parent and what they want. Nursing can be very difficult. There are many sacrifices. Parenting choices are personal and not open to the court of public opinion. If you think a parent needs help because they are overwhelmed, ask them how you can help to fill their cup, instead of offering unsolicited “insight” and advice.
The Guide to Survival Mode Plans is helpful for any parent who is struggling with nursing, sleep, behaviour, your own mental health…Whether you want to stop breastfeeding or you want to continue. This guide can give you tools to support whatever you need to do. It will help you prioritize and learn strategies for processing the complex feelings and thoughts that come with this parenting journey we are all on ❤️