This is not a sponsored post. The Honest Company is interested in hearing stories about feeding a newborn to help promote a healthier discussion of feeding newborns. I'm getting nothing for doing this, and everything here is my own experience and opinion. Normally I turn these kinds of offers down, but I've adored this company for years and love what they do, plus I have some passionate thoughts on the matter that I've gone back and forth on writing. I figured I would take this opportunity to share my story, even though it makes me a bit uncomfortable to talk about my boobs so much on the internet. This topic is also important to The Honest Company because they provide high-quality organic formula and prenatal vitamins for anyone who's in the market. I've never personally used either, so I can't vouch for them, but we used their diapers and wipes for 8 months, and I loved them so much. I would buy everything from them if I could afford it.
When I was in the throes of breastfeeding hell, I found a blog post somewhere deep in the internet written by a mom who had gone through the same thing. I had it bookmarked and read it over and over. It brought me immense comfort and reassurance that this too shall pass. I'm writing this for any mom who has or will struggle with nursing or choosing to formula feed, and I hope it will encourage you to learn from my mistakes and to comfort you that you are not alone.
When someone mentions breastfeeding, I have two competing reactions: warm fuzzies, and pure horror. This might sound ridiculous to anyone who didn't struggle with feeding their child, but breastfeeding is hands down the hardest and most painful thing I've ever done in my life. Giving birth was child's play in comparison. A few hours of pain and it was over; but breastfeeding was like stabbing myself in the boob with a dull knife every three hours.
I had every intention of breastfeeding my daughter when she was born, but I was no idiot. I had a stash of formula and bottles in the pantry just in case. I was stocked up on nursing pads, lanolin, and nursing bras. If I had any idea what I was about to get myself into, I would've set them on fire instead of packing them in my hospital bag. When Gracie was born, she latched right on. She needed a little help at times, but she was nursing like a champion. I was so grateful. I was held together below the waist by stitches, recovering from a hemorrhage, and got zero sleep in the hospital. I needed something to go smoothly! I had several nurses who made it their mission to make sure I knew what I was doing by the time we left. A pediatrician told me early one morning that she nursed her baby for 16 months, and it was the hardest thing she had ever done but completely worth it.
My milk came in the day we got home from the hospital. My supersized nursing bra couldn't even contain me, the girl who cried in high school over her A cups. Gracie suddenly couldn't latch on anymore. It was like learning to drink from a straw that suddenly turned into a basketball within hours. I dreaded feeding her. I would have a true anxiety attack every time I saw her sucking on her fist--the newborn cue that she was ready to eat. I would start shaking and sweating. My heart was pounding. I knew it was going to be excruciating for us both. We both forgot how to nurse. It would take her upwards of an hour to finally latch, then she would nurse for an hour, sleep for a few, and the process would repeat itself. By the time it ended, I would be dripping in blood and tears. I had open wounds from teaching her how to latch. I couldn't sleep because I was so scared she was going to want to eat. I lived in terror of feeding my own baby.
Not only was I losing my mind from the pain and stress of learning to breastfeed, but my recovery from birth was just as awful. I couldn't sit up. I had to nurse partially lying down and propped up with pillows. The only way I could even attempt to sit up a little would be if I stuffed my pants with ice packs and sat on the Boppy. The Boppy was zero help with nursing, but I took that thing everywhere to sit on. I had no shame. No dignity. I was just trying to survive the black hole of pain I was in. I wasn't even fazed when I opened the door for the pizza delivery man with half my nursing bra undone.
The nurse at our pediatrician's office was studying to be a lactation consultant, and she saved my life. She had me nurse in front of her so she could see what the problem was. Things would improve for a day or so after our visits, and suddenly the tricks she gave me would stop working and we would be back to square one. I was in her office about once a week, sobbing uncontrollably. I fell apart every time I saw her. I was failing horribly and felt so ashamed. My only saving grace was that despite our issues, Gracie was thriving. She surpassed her birth weight in less than a week and was growing by the day.
Eventually, Gracie learned to latch, but the damage had been done. From weeks of sucking and pulling her off and putting her back on, I had large, open, gaping wounds and exposed flesh. I was bleeding, occasionally infected, and in so much pain I couldn't even hug my husband. I wanted a sling or wrap to carry her in as a newborn, but my chest was so sore I couldn't imagine being able to hold her against my chest. Even the water in the shower touching my chest was excrutiating. Putting on my bra and shirt without hurting myself was like doing a strange interpretive dance. I would start to scab over between feedings, but every time she nursed, she would pull off the scabs and reopen the wounds. It was a pain like I had never experienced before, not even in childbirth. The only thing I can equate it to is an attempt at an unmedicated amputation.
The lactation consultant was mildly horrified at what a hard time we were having. She finally told me that if I was going to heal, I would need to start giving her bottles. I knew that, but I for some twisted reason, I couldn't bring myself to do it. It would be admitting to failure. All I had heard were fear mongering stories of nipple confusion, and once you go bottle, you never go back. Our nursing problems had nothing to do with milk supply or an anatomical issue preventing her from latching. They were about me not being able to push through the pain, and it turning me into a shell of myself. I was deep in the throes of postpartum depression. I cried nonstop. I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel. I couldn't feed my baby without writhing in pain, and I still couldn't sit or walk comfortably after birth. I was constantly in pain. On the back of my discharge papers, I had a chart marking the times I had nursed and the times I could take more Tylenol. My entire life revolved around those two times.
At 5 weeks, I finally consented and let James give her a bottle of pumped milk. I watched as he happily fed her, she eagerly ate, and I wept. I felt equal parts relieved that he could share this burden of feeding her with me, but also weirdly betrayed that she was getting my milk from another source. It was ludicrous, of course, but I told him I didn't want to give her another bottle until nursing clicked. You can't expect a woman with raging hormones, sleep deprivation, and constant pain to be rational. I was determined. I can't begin to understand why I had that drive inside me to make breastfeeding work. It just felt like something I had to do, had to prove to myself, had to do for my baby. But I drove myself insane in the process.
It took 7 full weeks for nursing to click. That's 7 full weeks of sobbing and writhing in pain every time I fed her, every 2-3 hours. I would scream at the top of my lungs every time she latched, occasionally dropping some profane words in the process. It would hurt so bad I would be scared to let her latch. I would pause a tv show or set a plate of cookies next to me. I wouldn't let myself unpause the show or take a bite of a cookie until I had let her latch and the initial pain had lessened. I have always been one to run from even the possibility of pain, but I had to train myself to push through it for the sake of my daughter. I became obsessed with making sure her latch was perfect. I smothered myself in creams to help me heal. I prayed with her before every feeding--for healing, and for the pain to subside. I laid in bed at night googling nursing techniques and problems. Sometimes it brought me comfort, but it often gave me something else to worry about that I had never thought of before. During every pre-nursing cry session, James would tell me to pump and give a bottle. Every time, I told him I was going to try just one more time, and then I'd give a bottle. The next feeding, I told him I was going to try just one more time. I refused to think about the next feeding and took it one session at a time. A friend told me that every feeding was one feeding closer to it being pain-free. I clung to that. Once her latch was perfected, I very slowly started to heal, which was nothing short of a miracle. The pain finally eased to the point that around 9-10 weeks, I could nurse mostly pain free. I got my life back. It wasn't until the trauma of nursing passed that the fog of postpartum depression slowly began to recede. I started to feel like myself again and started bonding more and more with Gracie and motherhood in general.
Eventually, breastfeeding became second nature. I nursed in restaurants, parks, airplanes, airports, beaches, stores, coffee shops, you name it. Two years later, and we're still going. Yes, she's still nursing, only once or twice a day. This is not information I regularly volunteer, since at two years it's less good for you! and more so which commune do you belong to? but I think it's important to know. When the doctor in the hospital told me she nursed for 16 months, I thought there was no way. My first goal was 6 months, then 12, then 18. I never thought we would make it this long, and I feel like it's helped to redeem those horrible early months. It hasn't been a walk in the park, though. For the first year, I had a clogged duct at least once a month, and I woke up on Gracie's first birthday with mastitis. But this is the one thing in my life I can look back on and know I overcame every obstacle to accomplish my goal. It's the hardest and most painful thing I've ever done in my life.
If I had been a working mom, I would be writing a very different story. Had I gone back to work at 6 weeks, there's no way we would have been able to push through and come out on the other side. It's for that reason and my experience that I don't think moms should ever feel ashamed of bottle or formula feeding. I don't regret my story, but if there's a next time, I'm going to do things differently. No matter what your breastfeeding support group on Facebook says, bottles are not evil, they are merciful. They do what you cannot. They give you your life and sanity back. I used to look at moms feeding their babies with a bottle and feel jealous. I wanted to breastfeed, but feeding my baby should not have been such a traumatic event. If you have to switch to formula so you can be the best mom you can be, I applaud you. Sometimes I think that's the braver choice, because it's admitting you need help. That's something I couldn't do. For whatever reason, I felt that it had to my burden alone to feed my daughter, and that is so wrong. I'm so thankful for the way our story turned out, but I wish it hadn't happened quite the way it did. If I had let James give her a few bottles while I let myself heal, I know it would have made me a more present and emotionally stable mom.
Here's the thing: the one year of feeding your baby formula or breast milk is so fleeting. It's a blip on the radar in the scheme of things. While you're in the middle of it, it's life and death. It's The Thing everyone asks about. Everyone wants to know how you're feeding your baby and then give advice on the matter. Your entire life revolves around milk. It's all you think about, all your baby thinks about. It's the first thing your pediatrician will ask about. But at 4-6 months, they'll start eating solid food. By one year, they may very well be weaned. In one short year, the whole thing will be a non-issue. It won't matter. Gracie is two, and I can't remember the last time someone asked if I nursed her or not. Her college and scholarship applications won't ask if she was raised on formula or breastmilk. It will have no lasting impact on her life. I remember feeling shocked one day when Gracie was a newborn, and I realized we were only a handful of months away from her eating solid food. I felt a burden lift. I was so consumed with the round-the-clock feeding that I forgot it's only a tiny chapter of our lives.
For some women, breastfeeding is completely natural and comes easily. For people like me, breastfeeding is like stepping off a plane in China and being expected to communicate fluently with the locals. I don't know why some moms have it easy, and some don't. It's the same way some people are born with the aptitude for math, and some have to put in a monumental effort to get a passing grade. I won't extol the benefits of breastfeeding, because we all know them. If you can and want to do it, I think you should. But if you can't, it's okay. It's like deciding you need to drop your calculus class and find something that suits you and your life better. We've all heard stories of moms ridiculed for breastfeeding in public, and even moms charged with high crimes by the Nursing Nazis for giving their child a bottle of formula. We have no idea what kind of experiences that mom had that caused them to nurse or not to nurse. The only reaction we should have to moms feeding their babies is "I see you're feeding your hungry baby. That's awesome. You're a good mom, and your baby is happy, healthy, and thriving."
We are all in this together.