Wow! I can’t believe it’s been a year. A year since my baby was born. A year since I met him and held him in my arms for the very first time. A year since I first tried to breastfeed him. A year since he vehemently rejected it…
A Difficult Birth
From before my baby was born, I knew I wanted to exclusively breastfeed for as long as possible. When he was born, I told the midwife I wanted to do so immediately. In my post-birth delirium I accepted her answer of “He needs to eat.. he’s not eating.”
My baby’s birth was a traumatic one, and I believe we were a step away from a C-section. He was born too exhausted to even cry, and I don’t think I need to tell you how I was feeling. When I tried to breastfeed, he wouldn’t latch. I had endless help from nurses and lactation consultants, but it was a struggle every time. Once he did latch, he wouldn’t suckle. He made a few weak attempts at sucking, but nothing more. We tried a nipple shield, but, while that somewhat helped with the latching problems, it did not solve the suckling issues.
He slept through feeding times. When the nurses woke us to feed our babies, because “they’re all awake and crying”, mine was the only one in the nursery that was still sleeping. I had to wake him to feed him. I didn’t trust him to let me know he was hungry.
I felt awful. I wanted to do what was best for my baby. I wanted to do what was best for me. In my first few days as mother, my idealistic attempts at being the perfect mom were so suddenly thwarted.
Throughout my two day stay, there were the “good ones” and the “bad ones.” The good ones were the ones that constantly encouraging me to keep trying. The bad ones where the ones who insisted I give the baby formula. They said my milk wasn’t enough. They said he needed to eat more. They said I needed to know how much he was eating.
To make things worse, my baby was jaundiced. He numbers were hovering near the threshold where they treat it, but they were just above so the doctors kept saying to wait it out. They also said that formula can help. So we gave the baby formula.
Making the Switch
I still wanted to breastfeed. I was devastated and depressed that things weren’t working out. My postpartum hormones weren’t helping things and I felt like I was getting things all wrong. For the first week, he was mainly getting formula, with a few exceptions. I slowly started swapping feedings for breast. It was a struggle each time to get him to latch, and then to suck. It was extremely painful.
But I kept trying. I don’t know how or why. I adored that “drunken” satisfied look on his face after a feeding. I looked forward to the bonding and the feeling of giving. Perhaps it was also the encouragement of my mother, who breastfed all ten of her children. Or maybe it was my own ideals that kept me going. But I did it.
By gradually switching out more and more bottles for breast, we slowly made the change. At first it was one feeding a day. Then we graduated to every third. Then it was every other, and before we knew it, he was only getting an occasional bottle.
Lots of Tears
I thought we had made it… until he started his screaming phase. Every time I tried to feed him, he would simply scream and shout. He would be inconsolable. He was obviously hungry but refused to nurse. This happened at almost every daytime feeding. He would only calm down after we would practically force him to down a few ounces of formula. I spoke to a few pediatricians, but they had little to tell me.
I remember that day that I was shopping with my sister in law. Baby was hungry, so I went into a fitting room to feed him. I was there for half an hour. He was hysterical. He woudn’t eat. He wouldn’t take the bottle either. The salesperson asked my sister in law, out of concern that I may be hurting my baby, if I’m okay. It was horrific.
I tried pumping, but all I had available was a manual pump. I did it anyway. Then I got tendinitis from pumping. I couldn’t get hold of an electric pump. So I kept trying to nurse him. It was a never ending cycle of tears. His tears. My tears. It was heartbreaking, after all our efforts.
The Last Bottle
It was soon after his 3rd month, right after we moved back to the US that he had his last bottle of formula. He simply wouldn’t take it. He had finally learned what’s best. He had gained his strength, and finally wanted only breast.
Throughout the months, there were some phases where he gave me a hard time. His tummy bothered him sometimes. Sometimes he was just restless and distracted. But mostly he just wanted me. I had succeeded, with perseverance and determination, to breastfeed my baby. I succeeded in giving him what’s best.
Honestly, I had planned on weaning him at about eleven months, when our pediatrician said we can give him cow’s milk. But he loves nursing so much, I simply can’t bring myself to do it. Well, to be honest, I love it too. I look at him, and think about how much he’s grown… primarily from my milk. It’s an amazing feeling.
I Love Breastfeeding
I’ve asked myself again and again why I tried so hard. I know that breast is best, but formula is a close second. And while I am a perfectionist, and I would like to always give my baby what’s best, there are occasions in life when “almost best” will have to do. But now I know why I persevered.
There is a closeness that I simply can’t describe. We cuddle. We bond. Giving is a source of love, and there is no greater giving than motherhood. Breastfeeding is a huge part of that connection of giving. It is literally an extended giving of a part of me – similar to the experience of pregnancy, except with more moderate symptoms, and with a person I’ve already met.
My baby also has had some of the “perks” credited to breastfeeding. So far he has never had an ear infection. He has always been a healthy weight. His diaper rashes have been few and far between. And if you ask his mommy, he’s the smartest little boy around.
I have written up a part 2 for this article which offers 12 mom to mom breastfeeding tips – actual things you can do when the going gets rough. These tips, of course, are sourced from my own experiences.