Breastfeeding seminars

Prenatal Classes Didn’t Prepare Me for My Breastfeeding Problems and “Mom Guilt”

My son was born in November 2021. Even though I had a c-section because he was in a breech position, the first few days went smoothly.

Five days after he was born, when the midwife visited me at home, she told me that my baby’s weight had dropped by 10%.

I immediately felt like I was failing as a mom.

She said it’s normal for a baby’s weight to fluctuate, but a week later I was told I wasn’t producing enough milk for him – my baby was starving.

It turned out that my milk was delayed and I had low supply.

I was put on medication and had to follow a strict eating schedule. It was like running a marathon.

Every three hours, I had to:

  1. 1.Wake up my baby and change him (he couldn’t sleep after the three hours).
  2. 2.Feed for a maximum of 30 minutes (if he fed for more than 30 minutes, he would have burned too many calories).
  3. 3.Supplement Lucas with a bottle of expressed breast milk (10 minutes).
  4. 4.Pump for at least (30 minutes).
  5. 5.Organize expressed breast milk and clean the pump (15-20 minutes).
I had a C-section because Lucas was in a breech position.(ABC: Caitlyn Sheehan)

In the weeks that followed, I cried several times a day. The feeling of failure and guilt washed over me as I wondered if I was giving my child what he needed.

I thought I was prepared after taking classes on breastfeeding and prenatal care. But why wasn’t I mentally better prepared to deal with breastfeeding issues?

The breast is not always the best

Everyone’s heard “breast is best” – it’s a common saying in parenting and nutrition classes and it’s a message passed down from generation to generation.

I knew I could give formula to my baby, but should I?

The thought that my child would be somehow disadvantaged if I didn’t insist haunted me.

“The breast is the best” is the advice defended by the The World Health Organization, which recommends exclusive breastfeeding until the age of six months.

In Australia, less than half (39%) of babies are still exclusively breastfed until three months and less than a quarter (15%) until five months, according to the Australian National Infant Feeding Survey 2010.

Even though I was struggling and was told I “could” supplement Lucas’ foods with a bottle of formula, no one told me outright to do so.

At that time, I felt like I needed someone to give me permission to do this. Instead, I continued the breastfeeding marathon to avoid feeling “mom guilt”.

At first I was pumping as little as 10ml of breast milk, but my supply slowly increased over four months.(ABC: Caitlyn Sheehan)

Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA) chief executive Julie Borninkhof says that while breastfeeding has a factual impact on babies, so does forming a healthy bond.

“A bond that is not forged on guilt and feelings of failure, but simply on being there for your little person and making it as safe and good as possible,” says Ms Borninkhof.

“A mentally ill mom or a mom who feels like she’s failing won’t be able to be there and be the parent she wants to be in many other ways that will also impact the individual and their baby.”

Weight on my mind

Because I couldn’t see how much breast milk my baby had, I had to count diapers and weekly weigh-ins at a community child health service.

He would go days without pooping due to the low amount of breast milk he received. When he finally got a dirty diaper, I’ve never been happier to see poop in my life.

The weekly weigh-ins made me anxious. I would feel like a failure if the scale didn’t go up to what I was told was the acceptable weekly weight gain for healthy newborns.

My son’s slow growth and declining percentile chart added pressure to my breastfeeding difficulties.

I managed to breastfeed Lucas until he was nine months old.(Provided: Caitlyn Sheehan)

Dr. Roslyn Donnellan-Fernandez, a midwife and lactation consultant from Griffith University, says, “Weighing and percentile charts aren’t the ultimate solution.”

“It’s an undermining message [that] your diet is not adequate or there are not enough nutrients to feed your baby.

“In some circumstances, the baby may have health issues or other areas where the healthcare professional may be more concerned, and the weight may be more important to record regularly.

“It’s often the messages that aren’t as helpful to women as some of these practical strategies for assessing their own baby’s well-being.”

We’ve all been through the trenches

During those dark days I contacted community child health nurses, my GP, my psychologist and the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) to help me try to breastfeed successfully and overcome these feelings of failure.

Lucas is healthy and happy.(Provided: Caitlyn Sheehan)

Gold Coast ABA Group leader Glenda Grove has worked with mums for over 40 years and says women who want to breastfeed might grieve what they cannot accomplish.

“Those who want [breastfeed] often feel quite intense and ongoing grief if they don’t make it,” she says.

“It’s something we have to recognize.

“We really applaud the woman for what she can accomplish with breastfeeding.”

Ms. Grove says she tells clients, “Enjoy and celebrate every serving of breast milk you give. It doesn’t have to be the baby’s entire diet.

“Celebrate your successes.”

I managed to breastfeed for nine months, however, the scars from that trip still affect me today.

I still worry about his weight even though he looks healthy. I wonder if he is eating enough even though he is now on solid food and formula.

If we are lucky enough to have a second child, I would do things differently.

Hopefully by then support networks will be more inclined to tell people that it’s okay to give formula – it doesn’t make you a bad parent.

If you need help or support:

This is general information only. For personalized advice, you should consult a qualified doctor.

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