Breastfeeding seminars

You don’t fail – breastfeeding is hard

When I was pregnant with my son, I was convinced that I was ready to breastfeed. I had done my research, taken a course, and knew I was armed with support (my mother has a doctorate in breastfeeding best practices.) In my mind, my experience was going to be wonderful and beautiful; I would immediately love breastfeeding and it would come naturally to me as it seemed to do for so many women. But when reality hit and i encountered one unforeseen obstacle after anotherI was unprepared for the roller coaster of emotions and doubts that I was about to experience.

My breastfeeding journey started off rough from the start. Unfortunately, I had a complication from the epidural and I was losing cerebrospinal fluid. This meant I had to stay completely flat at all times or I would be in excruciating pain. Lying flat isn’t an ideal way to learn to breastfeed your newborn, but I had no choice.

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My recovery was prolonged, so I nursed in this position for over a week. My mother and my husband played a vital role in helping me position myself during this critical period, otherwise breastfeeding would not have happened at all. It was more than difficult. This, coupled with my son’s tongue tie which prevented a good latch, made the first few weeks extremely difficult. I had only been a few weeks and I already felt like I was failing.

I finally recovered from the spinal leak and my son had his tongue brace serviced. We had been miraculously still breastfeeding for a few weeks, and I felt a new hope. This was when I was going to find that love for breastfeeding that I heard so often about. Everything was going to come together now!

But that was not the case.

Almost immediately after being able to sit up again, I developed my first round of mastitis. I had a high fever, my chest was angry and sore, and breastfeeding was incredibly painful. The antibiotics helped me recover within a few days, but by this point I felt emotionally and physically drained.

Related: That’s Breastfeeding: Living Your Life in 3-Hour Increments

Over the next few months, my breastfeeding journey continued to present me with unexpected obstacles. Mastitis has come back to haunt me many times, as has a beautiful thing called a “milk bubble” (sounds cute, but it sure isn’t) which is a painful milk blister on the nipple.

I saw lactation consultants to help me with latching issues and deal with my forced disappointment. It was theorized that my son was getting too much breastmilk and not enough breastmilk, which was contributing to his reflux and inconsolable crying spells.

My son had multiple food intolerances and I had to go through several elimination diets to figure out what was causing him gastrointestinal upset. There was a time when the only way for him to stop crying was to breastfeed, and my days felt like an endless blur of exhausting cluster feedings, sore breasts and newborn cries.

Related: Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist Sherry Coleman Collins Gives Advice for Moms on How to Set Realistic Expectations for Healthy Eating and How to Potentially Prevent Peanut Allergies with Early Introduction

Then one day, out of the blue, my son decided he was not going to breastfeed anymore. I went back to see the lactation consultant, but no matter what tricks we tried, he was determined to persevere with his nursing strike. My sanity was taking a toll at this point and as a result, we tried to introduce formula, but he refused.

Out of necessity, I turned to exclusive expression for a while, as it was the only way to get my baby to eat. I was chronically exhausted and anxious about what I was eating, how what I was eating would potentially affect my son, and whether my baby was going to eat.

Related: The best bottles for breastfed babies

It hurt to admit it, but I hated breastfeeding. The reality was far below my expectations, and I had a hard time reconciling what was happening with my view of what it was “supposed” to be. I was drowning in feelings of guilt, shame and inadequacy. In my head, I was failing.

Now looking back I see how unfair and wrong that was. In reality, I was incredibly strong, resilient and determined in the face of extreme challenges. I was a mother.

Breastfeeding can be incredibly difficult. The idea that it will be a magical, happy and “natural” experience from the start is a myth for many. I had set myself up for failure by setting myself unrealistic expectations. I was unprepared for it to be so difficult, for it to feel so foreign, and for me to not immediately like the experience. The truth is that it is much more common than is openly stated.

Related: Let’s Normalize Talking About Difficulty Breastfeeding

If you are having trouble breastfeeding, I encourage you to open up a dialogue with other women. Sure, there are unicorn moms where breastfeeding is truly bliss from the start, but once I started sharing my struggles, I realized I was far from alone.

The majority of women I have spoken to have had some sort of shared experience dealing with the inevitable challenges of breastfeeding. For example, I had a friend who also suffered from recurring mastitis, and together we became experts at identifying and clearing our clogged ducts before they developed into full-blown mastitis. We helped each other out, supported each other through pain, and shared new tricks that worked for us. It was so helpful to have someone who was going through the same struggles as me when before I felt so alone.

I persevered in breastfeeding and after six difficult months, my journey finally became magnificent. When my son ate solid foods and breastfeeding was not his only source of nourishment, the pressure was released on both of us and we fell into a (dare I say) “natural” rhythm. I finally felt what I imagined – and enjoyed it! I breastfed my son until he was almost 2 years old, which I never thought possible at one point.

Related: AAP Now Recommends Breastfeeding Beyond Age 2 Due to Benefits for Baby and Mom

If you’re at the heart of breastfeeding challenges, let me promise you this: you’re not failing, Mom. It’s perfectly normal not to like him immediately. It’s perfectly normal to need help. It’s perfectly normal for this to feel like the hardest thing you’ve ever done. It’s perfectly fine to switch to expression or formula if that’s what’s best for you and your baby. Your wants and needs matter too.

So be kind to yourself. Reach out to other mothers from the first days of breastfeeding – it’s amazing what social support can do.

Wherever you are in your journey, you are on the right track. He is your journey, your chronology, your story. And Mom, let me assure you that you’re doing great.