Tuesday, 6 November 2012

My Love/Hate Relationship with Breastfeeding

When I first found out that I was pregnant I knew that I wanted to breastfeed my baby. I knew that it would be hard and that there were dozens of obstacles that could get in our way, but I wanted to at least give it a chance. It was free, it was natural and it has a myriad of health benefits (for baby and mom). For some reason I had it in my head that I would breastfeed for the first six months and then transition over to formula. Where I got six months from I have no clue. I think I read somewhere that breastfeeding for the first six months is the most important time to breastfeed your baby, and I knew around that time that we would be starting solids as well, so it seemed like a good time to wean.

Now that we are approaching that six month mark I have extremely mixed feelings about giving it up. No one is forcing me to do so but a part of me still wants to stick to that time frame. Every day I have this do I/don't I conversation with myself. Considering I am the WORST at making decisions, I'll probably end up breastfeeding the poor kid until she goes off to school (kidding - though I'm not judging those who do that).

We had a rough start to breastfeeding, as most new moms do (especially first time moms). In my birth plan I indicated that I wanted to have skin to skin contact as soon as Kaitlin was born. My hospital is a big supporter of that, but unfortunately there were a couple of minor complications that prohibited us from trying to breastfeed right after birth, and I didn't get a chance to do so until after we were settled in our recovery room. At that point I was so exhausted (as was Kaitlin) that our first try at breastfeeding was a complete failure. I couldn't get her to latch, it was the middle of the night, she was crying (and I was close to it) and I gave up pretty easily. Over the next couple of days in the hospital I saw a lactation consultant a few times. I was still having trouble getting Kaitlin to latch on properly and it hurt, a lot.

After a week of being at home and trying breastfeeding on my own I was geting very discouraged. It just wasn't working right and each feeding seemed to be a struggle. I was getting frustrated and over and over again thought about throwing in the towel. I was afraid that I was starving my baby yet was hesitant to give her a bottle for fear of the evil nipple confusion. While my parents were here I had them take me to an appointment with a lactation consultant at the hospital. She showed me a couple of things and reassured me that everything was going to be fine. It was just the pep-talk that I needed. It still wasn't easy, and I had to practically force myself to keep going, but in the end we made it just fine and Kaitlin turned into a great nurser.

In those early days and weeks I can't tell you how many times I said to myself, "Just make it through this feeding" or "Just make it through the end of the day, you can quit tomorrow." or "Just make it until Saturday, she'll be XYZ weeks old, you can quit then". But I didn't quit, and I'm really proud of myself for that.

Fast forward a couple of months and here I am ready to throw in the towel again. Sometime during month three Kaitlin started nursing for shorter and shorter periods of time. At first I just thought that she was getting to be a more efficient nurser and that it just didn't take her as much time to eat. But after her four month check up I found out that she wasn't gaining as much weight as she did in previous months. She wasn't getting enough to eat. In addition to shorter nursing times her latch also got worse. She was busy looking around and not paying attention. Wherever her head went, I went to - if you know what I mean. It started being painful again, something I was not prepared for this late in the game.

The main problem and biggest source of stress for me about nursing is that you never know how much the baby is getting to eat. Sure, you can weigh the baby before and after feedings to find out how many ounces they took in (which I also tried doing) but who can remember to do that all the time and it made me super stressed out (especially when she only ate an ounce or two). I knew that her short feeding times were decreasing my supply. I tried a few things to increase my supply (more pumping, mothers milk tea, oatmeal, etc) and started feeding Kaitlin in a calm, dark room so that she would be minimally distracted. Even so, she seemed to push away the boob and the bottle after a few minutes of feeding.  I even had her tested for a protein allergy just incase there was something in my milk that she was reacting badly to. I started giving her a bottle in the afternoon (when my supply is lowest and when she seemed to be eating the least) and we replaced her bedtime bottle of breast milk with formula.

As important as it was for me to breastfeed my baby, I am in no way opposed to formula feeding. My mom formula fed my sister and I from the get-go and we turned out just fine (well...that might be debatable ;) ). I have a lot of friends who formula feed and I would never judge their decision to do so. I am a firm believer that you should do whatever is best for you and your baby, as long as you are both staying healthy. I don't have any problems giving Kaitlin a bottle of formula at bedtime, which is what we started doing around month four. I don't hate formula at all and many times have even thought how much easier it would be to just feed her formula. So why do I feel guilty about stopping breastfeeding?

Maybe part of it is because I'm not officially at the six month mark. Even though that's only a couple weeks away, if I were to suddenly stop breastfeeding today I know I would be disappointed in myself. Maybe it's because I know that switching to formula would be an added cost to our budget, and why should I spend money on something I produce for free? Maybe it's because I feel selfish giving her formula when I produce the perfect food for her already - why give her something that's "fake" when I can give her the real deal myself? These are my fears, and this is what stresses me out about stopping breastfeeding. Deep down I know that she is going to be just fine when we finally make the switch to all formula and that I shouldn't feel guilty for even one minute - we are going to have much bigger fish to fry as she gets older. But I do.

I have had a number of conversations with friends who were going through the same thing, in one way or another. Either they were having problems breastfeeding or found themselves having to supplement with formula, and the guilt that we all feel is the same. And I have told all of those friends - and am 100% genuine when I say it - "don't feel bad, you need to do whatever you have to do in order to make sure your baby is healthy." I guess it's tough following your own advice, isn't it?

For now I am revisiting those early days of breastfeeding and talking myself through each day. I'm stuck in this weird place of not wanting to continue and not wanting to give up. I am only breastfeeding three times a day now, the other two feeds are bottles (one breast milk and one formula). If I can continue this way until month six I think I'll feel better about weaning her off of breast milk. My plan, at the moment, is to slowly drop one feeding a week throughout month six until we are breastfeeding free just before month seven. I will continue to pump a couple times a day to help slowly decrease my supply and will have a stash of extra milk that I can feed her into month seven.

I'm hoping that by making the transition slowly the guilt that I feel about stopping will gradually disappear as well. We will be busy trying out solids as well so I'm hoping that will be a bit of a distraction.

Did you feel guilty when you stopped breastfeeding? Any words of advise for getting rid of that guilt?

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with everything you said. The guilt us moms feel is awful. The dads just don't get it. The weaning conversation is one that I have yet to have with myself and I'm not looking forward to it. Since we're already supplementing with 1 formula bottle before bed and 1 solid food meal during the day, my goal is to wean by 1 years old. But, who knows, it may be sooner. Liam too seems to want to take my boob with him while he looks at everything. I can't tell you how many times in one feeding he just pops off because he's pulled too far for the boob to follow. Ouch! Anyway. You are totally right in needing to just follow your own advice and do what's best for you and Kaitlin. You are a great mom!


    P.S. We totally need to get together someday! :D I'm hopefully going to be in both Austin (without Liam) and Dallas (with Liam) next year. I'm not sure how far that is from you, but it'd be fun to hang out!