I had a pretty difficult time breastfeeding, which I talked about here. My friend Shannon also had a less-than-ideal breastfeeding experience with her first child, but she had to deal with a grief and a guilt that I never experienced. Breastfeeding didn’t work out for Shannon and her son, and she agonized over it for months. But time gives us perspective, and Shannon has been kind enough to share her story in the hopes that it will help other new moms who might be struggling with breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is supposed to be a natural bonding experience between a mother and child. I went into childbirth with no doubt that I was going to breastfeed my son. After all, there is so much research supporting breastfeeding and its positive lifelong effects. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.” Because of this research, I was determined. No matter what, I was going to breastfeed my newborn son.
Like many things in life, what I expected did not happen. Not even close. The agony started in the hospital. My son, Finn, would not latch, and lactation came in to help us with every feeding. Finally, the head lactation specialist said, “Well, I don’t usually recommend this, but I guess you are going to have to supplement with formula.” The first pang of guilt coursed through me. Am I doing something wrong? Will my baby be okay even though I gave him formula? These thoughts raced through my mind. Lactation continued to visit and, because I work in the hospital, I knew that we were the lost case of the weekend. My son was the only full term baby in the Newborn Nursery who would not latch and needed 24/7 help with breastfeeding.
I was given discharge instructions to have Finn attempt to breastfeed while my husband simultaneously squirted formula through a syringe in the side of his mouth. This was an agonizing experience for both my son and I, and it was clear that it was not working. In tears, I looked to my discharge instructions from Lactation. The bottom line of the sheet said, “No matter what, do not give in and give a bottle!” What was I going to do? I felt so helpless and scared. I knew my baby needed to eat, but I felt so inadequate giving him a bottle because I felt like my chance at breastfeeding would be blown forever. After a few breakdowns, I finally gave in. Finn took the bottle and was so happy. He was finally able to latch easily and enjoy a feeding. I began to relax slightly. My restless newborn was actually happy.
Fast forward another month. At this point, I had given up on breastfeeding completely after consulting with Lactation several times with no success. I was pumping and giving breast milk via bottle. I felt pretty good about this, because hey, even though I was not breastfeeding, at least Finn was getting my breast milk. Well all of a sudden, at month two, Finn began to break out in a terrible rash around his mouth and neck and refused to take a bottle. After several appointments with specialists and frantic phone calls to our pediatrician, we realized that Finn was allergic to both milk and soy and could not tolerate breast milk.
Finn was started on Nutramigen, a hypoallergenic formula that is dairy and soy free. My son’s temperament changed completely in 24 hours. My fussy baby that screamed for 8 hours a day was now a happy child. On one hand, I was so relieved. However, I also felt so lost because that meant I could no longer offer breast milk. I continued to pump and save my milk, hoping that maybe one day Finn could use it. After two more weeks of pumping, I finally stopped. My terrible, agonizing journey of breastfeeding was over, but my feelings of inadequacy continued, especially with probing questions about nursing.
After this experience, I have realized that most people ask about breastfeeding after you have a newborn. Let me tell you, for a mom who is having difficulty with breastfeeding, this is not a welcome question. I felt like I had to justify putting Finn on Nutramigen for several months after I stopped nursing. So many people asked why he was on formula and gave me a strange look when I said that I was not breastfeeding. I felt like I had to go into the long-winded explanation that I just described as to why I couldn’t nurse.
I know that, for many mothers, breastfeeding is the clear choice. However, this does not mean it is right or even possible for everyone. New mothers are extremely vulnerable, and the judgment that some people pass about breastfeeding can be enough to put a new mother over the edge. A new study in the August 2011 edition of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology finds that women who struggle to breastfeed in the first two weeks after giving birth are more prone to postpartum depression. My experience supports this study. I am usually such a happy person and was not myself through this feeding struggle.
If a mother is not breastfeeding, it could be for a variety of reasons. People need to respect that and not pry so much into other people’s lives and experiences. When a woman has a newborn, people need to be focused on the miracle of life. As long as the baby is healthy and thriving, who cares if they are getting breast milk or formula? If the baby is healthy and happy, that is all you can ask for as a new parent.
Will I breastfeed my next child? I certainly am going to try. However, if it does not work out, there is no way I am going to go through that grief, agony, and guilt again. I am going to focus on enjoying my newborn. Having a newborn is one of the most amazing experiences, and there is no way that I am going to let breastfeeding get in the way of this incredible miracle.