Breastfeeding isn't always easy

By Tania Simcock on September 20, 2012
No one ever told me breastfeeding could be so challenging. I dove into motherhood with the understanding that it would come naturally and would be easy. I am here to tell you otherwise.

Shortly after my son was born I was moved to a different room in the maternity ward which I shared with another couple. My husband, Shawn, went home for some much needed and deserved rest, which also gave me a bit of time to adjust to the demands of motherhood.

I was extremely worn out from the previous days and had low blood pressure and iron levels. I could not go to the bathroom without at least one nurse aiding me, and the wheel chair became my best friend. Any time I wanted to hold my son I had to page a nurse to help me, as I could not get out of bed. It was emotionally overwhelming to watch my baby lying by himself in his basinet, while not being able to easily pick him up.

My first experience with breastfeeding was both confusing and uncomfortable. There was always a nurse overseeing our work and at times she had to hold my breast. One nipple was flat and the other nearly, so getting Matt to latch on was time-consuming and stressful. Eventually he had lost enough birth weight that the nurses had to formula feed him with a tube taped to one of their fingers. Many times I cried, pained that I was unable to feed my own child. My mother breastfed four babies easily why couldn't I feed just one?

A breastfeeding expert stopped by for a visit and offered helpful tips. She suggested multiple positions and I chose one that I found comfortable, called the cradle. She described a nipple shield which provides suction and helps the baby latch on. Also, instead of purchasing a nipple cream she told me how to use any left over expressed breast milk. I found her advice extremely helpful and I began to see things in a more positive light.

That afternoon Matt and I had great luck and fed without any hiccups! Nurses and doctors stopped by congratulating our hard work. The number of people going through the confined room was insane. The curtain only provided minimal privacy as nurses were assigned to complete different daily tasks and would just walk in as needed. There was only a select few who respected my privacy and asked for entrance.

That night was horrible. Matt wouldn't stop crying, wouldn't feed, and I was still unable to get off the bed and walk with him. I paged a nurse to take my son, who formula fed him again. I spent what felt like hours bawling in the dark hospital, filled with screaming babies. There was no family or friends close by and I would have felt guilty calling to wake them.

By the next morning I gave up entirely. I was in constant tears and told the nurse, "That's it, get me a bottle! I can't do this anymore." The specialist stopped by again and told me its OK to formula feed, many mothers chose to. After all, I could still pump to keep up the milk flow and offer him breast milk bottles. I wasn't crazy about that as pumping so far had been a nightmare. Using an electronic pump was easier than pumping by hand, but it was really painful at first. Before the specialist left she gave me a nipple shield. I didn’t really have a plan at that point, all I knew was I was worn out.

Right before we left the hospital my milk came in, soaking my shirt. This made me feel so much worse. Who knew it would take three days for it to start flowing? No one told me that, I had to find out the hard way; on my own and after I gave up.

Shawn wheeled us out of the hospital as I was still quite weak and couldn’t stand for long. The drive home got me thinking about my experience and how easily I gave up. I felt like a failure. I made a plan to continue breastfeeding, no matter how hard it was. So for the next two weeks I pumped, tried breastfeeding and used formula. It was absolutely tiring. The nipple shield worked wonders and the pump kept my milk coming in, at least a bit. Matt improved with latching on in the first month but my milk production couldn’t keep up.

The local nurses offered groups where mothers brought their babies to discuss parenting stuff. I began to attend some meetings and found out about pills that could help increase milk production. So I went to my doctor and got a prescription.

It was amazing! By the time Matthew was two and a half months old I no longer required formula. I continued to pump and offered him bottles when we were out so that he wouldn't have issues switching later on. We even got to the point where the nipple shield was no longer required.

Once Matthew reached eight months old he started biting my nipples so we decided to stop. It was hard to find a formula he liked and took about two months to get him off my breast. He sure was picky! At just under one year we switched to homo milk and he loved it, just in time for me to go back to work.

My advice to other expecting mothers: As much as it is helpful to hear other people’s stories never believe that you will have the same experience with your baby. Every child is different, and every mother will develop their own methods. Becoming a parent is rewarding but never easy. You will never truly understand what a parent goes through until you become one. The most important thing to remember is never call yourself a failure, no matter what happens. If you build a support group, even if it's just the community nurses, you can accomplish anything you set your heart on.

By Tania Simcock| September 20, 2012

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