The Reality of Breastfeeding

I had been a nurse for a few years before starting my position on the Maternity Unit.  Other than clinicals years ago, this area was pretty foreign to me since I wasn’t a mother at that time. I was excited to be working with new moms and babies. Precious little newborns and, for the most part, healthy moms. This was when I first realized that breastfeeding isn’t all that easy.

Experience Breastfeeding for Yourself

Everyone talks about how amazing breastfeeding is and how wonderful it is for the baby. We’ve all heard how it provides antibodies for the baby, decreased chances of ear infections, decreases the risk of breast cancer, and so on.  It’s a great thing when it works out, but there is a lot of pressure on moms too.  Prior to delivery, moms usually have a plan on how they choose to feed their baby, and sometimes that plan changes. No big deal, as a nurse I’m here to help them with whatever they choose. Young and naïve, like a lot of the new mothers I started caring for, I thought breastfeeding was so simple and easy.  Just pop that baby right on and bam, they’re fed! Nooo way, definitely a lot more to it than that.  There are so many factors that are involved… like how alert/awake baby is, the baby’s mouth (what on earth is a tongue tie?!), the mother’s breast, the supply, and so on! This is a seriously complicated task.

I remember trying to assist these new mother’s, not even being a mother myself. Looking back I feel so bad for how unsupportive I was, as I would ask them “how’s the baby feeding?”, “Are they on?”.  This brand new mother, with no experience at all, needed my help and I had no idea how to even do that myself! Of course I had some training, but the best knowledge I gained on breastfeeding was actually experiencing it myself.

Entirely Your Decision

I will add that whatever method you choose to feed your baby is entirely up to you, without explanation. You know what is right for you and your baby. I chose to breastfeed, and my goal was 6 months. With my first baby, she had no issues latching on, but my supply was less than favorable. She was a pretty spitty baby, but was never uncomfortable or showed other symptoms.  I had to work very hard to maintain a sufficient supply…lots of pumping while at work, sacrificing sleep, and declining invitations so I could stay back to breastfeed my baby.  So even though she was physically great at breastfeeding, I worried all the time if she was getting enough.  Anyways, we lasted 8.5 months exclusively breastfeeding. It taught me so much. And now that I literally had hands-on experience with it, I was a lot more helpful to my patients and friends.

The second time around… I decided to breastfeed again, with the same goal, knowing my supply might be a struggle. First, this baby had a tongue tie…so the latch hurt like hell. We had the tongue tie taken care of in the hospital after he was born. Through the knowledge I have from working as a newborn nurse, I knew this was the best option for us.  As soon as I got home, I worked very hard to build my supply and store a lot of milk by pumping or hand expressing one side while he was nursing on the other side. Breastfeeding is in fact a supply and demand operation. I had a great supply and the freezer stash was building up.  Then we hit a bump in the road. Our baby boy continuously spit up large amounts after EVERY feeding. By 2 months old, he had low weight gain and mucousy stools with specks of blood in them.  After speaking with his pediatrician and a gastroenterologist, we presumed it was a milk protein allergy. Go figure, he’s an amazing breastfeeder, and my supply with superb this time around.  I had to quit dairy, something I thought I could never do. But when you see something like blood from your baby, you will do anything for them. Almost instantly he stopped spitting up with feedings. After 8 long weeks of nasty stools and worry, his bowels finally healed and his poopy diapers were normal.

Sacrifice and Commitment

Several times throughout this postpartum experience I wanted to quit nursing. It was a lot of work. Eliminating dairy from my life, constantly asking if there was milk in that, or requesting family to not use butter in their cooking.  I saw their frustration and the extra work it took.  Eating out or ordering food was more of a hassle than a break from cooking.  But on the upside, we were eating a lot healthier.  There were so many snacks I didn’t realize had milk in them… and so many snacks I didn’t realize I was consuming!

Breastfeeding a baby takes a lot of toll on a mother, physically and mentally. You have to commit to keeping up that supply, sleepless nights, and missing out on some things. I’ve sat alone in the truck while the family goes off on their own a number of times. Or hid in a bedroom at a friend’s house so I can nurse our baby comfortably. There are certainly ups and downs of breastfeeding. Ultimately it is your choice how you feed your baby. I find breastfeeding an incredible gift I can give my babies, which also comes with sacrifice and commitment. May your breastfeeding journey be a wonderful experience, and your baby be happily fed in whatever form necessary.

>> Erin

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