Breastfeeding is a sensitive subject for many new moms, especially among those who want to nurse their baby or feel pressured to do so but can’t or choose not to. Not only may they experience guilt, but they also have a higher chance of postpartum depression. One would think something as natural as feeding your baby would be easier, but unfortunately there are a lot of barriers that prevent moms from breastfeeding, from physical issues with baby or mom to societal norms, to lack of understanding.
So, in an attempt to put new moms or moms-to-be at ease over this highly anxiety-ridden subject, I wanted to share my biggest fears and how we overcame them.
Fear #1: Baby Not Latching
When Luke was born, my first fear was realized when he wouldn’t latch. One of the nurses thought that because he was such a small baby, his sucking reflex was too far back in his throat, and it was not stimulated by me alone. Trying to feed him turned into a nightmare. We tried and tried, but he would just not do it. We gave him formula while I tried pumping and spoon feeding drops of milk that I’d pumped. Some lactation consultants put the fear of God in you that if your baby drinks from a bottle, they will never breastfeed from you, which really heightens the anxiety levels.
The day we were being discharged, it seemed like we’d gotten the hang of it. It still wasn’t easy, but he was able to latch and feed. But then we got home and my milk came in, which was a game changer. For some reason this was really painful for me and I got seriously engorged. He absolutely would not latch and would scream when I’d try to nurse him. I started pumping like a madwoman but it wasn’t easing the engorgement much.
I remember at Luke’s first doctor’s appointment the day after we were discharged, I couldn’t even talk to the doctor I was so upset that I felt like I was failing at breastfeeding. My husband Robert had to explain that I was trying to breastfeed but that it wasn’t going well.
Solution #1: Medela Nipple Shield
I sent Robert out to Babies R Us to purchase breast shells, which are supposed to help with latching difficulties. He came home with a Medela Nipple Shield, which most websites and lactation consultants will tell you NOT to use. Supposedly since they create a silicon barrier between your skin and your baby’s mouth, they decrease stimulation, thus decreasing your milk supply. I begrudgingly gave it a shot, and it worked perfectly. Right away Luke began to nurse. I was so happy I think I cried. I was still worried about the shield messing up my supply, which brings me to my next fear…
Fear #2: Not Producing Enough Milk
The early days of breastfeeding are all about establishing your milk supply. You need to nurse any time your baby shows hunger signs in order for your body to get into the habit of making the amount of milk needed. Because I was using the shield, I was worried about it hindering my supply.
Solution #2: Pumping after Feedings
To ensure my body would make enough milk, I started pumping after almost every nursing session. This was hard. Learning how to pump, cleaning all the parts, keeping Luke happy while pumping made this challenging. But I was able to manage and even start building a freezer stash of milk. Second to having him latch, seeing that milk pile up in the freezer was the best feeling.
The true test to seeing if I was producing enough milk was at Luke’s 2-week checkup to check his weight. I think by this point babies are supposed to have regained their birth weight (babies lose a few ounces after birth). Luke had done this and more. This was the beginning of what would be a skyrocketing growth chart. Another amazing feeling for a breastfeeding mom.
Fear #3: Nursing in Public & in Front of Other People
Days went by and we continued using the shield. It made nursing a little clumsy and messy if milk was left over in it after Luke was finished, but we persevered. I kept trying and trying to wean him from the shield, but he’d cry and cry if I put him to the breast without it.
So life went on, shield and all. It made me especially self conscious about nursing in public. That extra step when you’re already trying to cover yourself and unclip your bra one-handed while holding a crying baby made me pretty uncomfortable. I’d bring pumped milk to public outings or just find a corner and hastily try to get him latched on. Before I had Luke, I’d only seen someone breastfeed once in my life. So my lack of experiences in the area made me especially self conscious.
Solution: Just Getting Over It!
The more I breastfed, the easier it became and the higher my confidence was while doing it. It took months, but I was finally able to wean Luke from the shield, which made it a lot easier and boosted my confidence. There are a slew of products designed to cover mom for privacy while allowing mom to look down and see baby.
I always wear a cover or blanket of some sort, but I’ve become so much less modest about it that I actually think it’s a shame that women feel they have to do this. There have been times when I’ve been somewhere outside with the baby in Florida’s 95-degree heat and it’s torture putting a blanket over the baby’s face all in the sake of covering a body part that was designed for feeding a baby. That’s probably another blog post all in itself 😉
Fear #4: Pumping at Work
When exclusively breastfeeding, you’re supposed to pump for each missed feeding. So for an 8-hour shift, that comes to three times a day. I was pretty anxious about how I’d fit this into my schedule at work, as well as what coworkers would think.
Solution: Coming Up with a Plan and Talking to my Boss
There were not a lot of moms at my company, so I sort of felt like a pioneer navigating the pumping world. Fortunately my company had a room near my cube that had a desk, outlet, refrigerator and chair, specifically for providing a space for tending to personal matters. I let my manager know that I’d need to take a break around 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. every day, and she was fine with it, fortunately. I was able to bring my computer in there with me and attend meetings via the phone, so I really wasn’t taking a break. It was more just a private work space.
Although it’s federally mandated for breastfeeding mothers to have a clean, private place to pump, a lot of companies are exempt based on their size, or other reasons. I’m very grateful that I was able to pump at work because I know a lot of women are not afforded that opportunity.
Bottom Line: Breastfeeding is Hard
In addition to my top fears, I also dealt with painful clogged ducts, bleeding and biting. I also had no idea how tied to my baby I’d become. It’s pretty difficult to be away from your baby for an extended period because your body still makes milk even when baby isn’t around. So if you’re not with your baby, you’re toting around your breast pump, which is no cup of tea!
Through all these obstacles, I feel extremely thankful to have been able to breastfeed my boys. There are a lot of perks to it, from the nutrition and fact that it’s free, to the bonding, and lack of bottles to prepare and clean.
For the record, I don’t think there is ANYTHING wrong with using formula. In fact we used it with Luke starting at about 7 months until I weaned him fully at 10 months, and I’m sure we’ll use it with Eli as well.
So if you’re a new mom or mom-to-be with plans to breastfeed, YOU CAN DO IT! And if it turns out that you change your mind, or it doesn’t work out, don’t beat yourself up about it! Yes, I’m a breastfeeding advocate, but I’m also well aware that it doesn’t work for everyone. In my book, a happy mom and fed baby is most important!