Before I had AJ, I read posts and heard stories on the difficulty of breastfeeding. But I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand why people said it was so hard. Nothing I read really explained what was hard about it. Now that I am breastfeeding, I know why it is hard. I’m sharing my experience, what I think is probably a typical one, to hopefully help other soon-to-be moms know what it’s like to learn to breastfeed, and to see if any new moms have had similar experiences.
Before I continue, I feel I need to say that this is not a post advocating one way of feeding your child over another, touting the benefits of various types of infant nutrition, or saying one form of feeding is more difficult than another. A mom has to feed her child in the way that works best for her baby, herself and her family. How she chooses to do so is a decision that is up to her and her child’s pediatrician, and may depend on various circumstances. Every way of feeding a baby comes with its advantages and difficulties; I am breastfeeding and so that’s the experience I can share.
I knew I wanted to breastfeed, but I was apprehensive about it. I didn’t think I would like it at all. And at first, I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the way it made me feel and I didn’t like the burden I felt it placed on me.
The first 48 hours were by far the hardest. Despite what I expected, a baby is not like a magnet, they don’t immediately latch on and know what to do. It takes a lot of guidance, patience and stamina to get a newborn to latch. Babies have to learn how to eat and suck and it can take a toll on mom while they do so. I was already exhausted from the experience of childbirth, and then I had to try to get AJ to eat properly again and again and again. I got stressed out and panicky if she wouldn’t latch or if the nurse told me I was doing it the wrong way. I received conflicting instructions from people. I thought nursing was something that should come naturally to me and to my baby, but it doesn’t. It is definitely a learned process for both.
Sometimes, babies just aren’t able to latch. There are many reasons why. When AJ was born, she was “tongue-tied,” which means her tongue was connected to the bottom of her mouth all the way to the tip. Because of this, she was not able to latch correctly. She could still breastfeed, but it was very painful for me. If she hadn’t had a procedure to fix her tongue-tie I don’t think I would have been able to continue to breastfeed. It would have been too painful for me and too frustrating for her.
I would not have been successful breastfeeding if not for the help of the lactation specialist at the hospital. I saw her twice and she is the reason I kept going. Without her instructions, I would not have known what to do and would not have been able to teach AJ.
The first few days, AJ was eating every one to two hours. And that timing is from the beginning of one feeding to the beginning of another. With each feeding taking about twenty to thirty minutes, that’s basically all I was doing. Talk about no sleep! It was draining physically, mentally and emotionally. Every time she ate it felt like she was sucking life out of me. Because of the hormones, it also made me feel sad and depressed. Not exactly an enjoyable experience.
When we got home, things got a little better, but not much. She was getting better at eating, so I was only feeding her every two to two and a half hours and the duration of each feeding got shorter. It was still physically and mentally painful for me. After a feeding, I would need to lie down for a while to recuperate.
The stress of it all took a toll on me too. I worried about if she was getting enough to eat and I felt like there was a huge weight on my shoulders as I was the only one who could feed her. While my husband could take a break and sleep for a few hours, I could not. I was always on call (and still am).
About a week and a half in, things took a significant turn for the better. Nursing was not painful anymore. AJ learned to latch and I didn’t have to constantly stop nursing to reposition her mouth. I gained more energy and didn’t have to lie down after a feeding. My hormones started to balance out and I didn’t feel like she was sucking out my soul every time she ate. I learned she was healthily gaining weight at her two-week checkup.
Now, after five weeks in, it’s become (almost) a breeze. Last week, I started to pump; I’m still nursing, but we introduced the bottle so that I can have a break when I need it, and I’m eventually going to have to go back to work. But instead of feeling relieved that she took the bottle, I felt sad that something had taken a piece of our special bond. It took a lot of hard work to get here, but I’ve come to really enjoy nursing. I know when it comes time to wean her I will be a sad momma.