For some new moms, breastfeeding comes naturally and other than sore nipples during the adjustment period, everything goes smoothly. I was not one of those moms. I had read the books and bought all of the products. I had even attended a breastfeeding class at our local hospital before my little one was born. I was SO ready to feed this child her mother's milk until forever!
When Baby Z was born she had some breathing issues that became apparent within minutes of her birth. While I was lucky enough to get a few quick snuggles in with my precious new human, she was then quickly whisked off by a team of NICU doctors and nurses to be evaluated. There would be no breastfeeding bond established in the first hour of birth, like all of the books recommended, because her breathing needed to be stabilized first. While my baby was treated by the amazing NICU staff, the nurses helped calm me and worked to settle me in to my own recovery. Within an hour, a brand spanking new breast pump was delivered to my room and I vaguely remember receiving an overview of how to use it and that it was important to start pumping the colostrum to help my milk come in. To say that I was disappointed that my first breastfeeding experience involved a mechanical device instead of a tiny human would be an understatement.
Over the next few days as Baby Z improved and her CPAP was removed, I was able to finally try breastfeeding my sweet girl in person. There was no magic for me. She would not latch, I was stressed out, and there was no time to work things out between us because she needed to stay calm due to her breathing issues. Less than 24 hours after birth, my child had already experienced a bottle, formula, and a pacifier. All of the things that I had read were an absolutely no. Looking back, I don't mind at all. The pacifier helped calm her and regulate her breathing and the bottle and formula helped her build her strength. However, at the time I already felt like a mom failure.
Fast forward to Baby Z making the trip home a week later and we were ready to get this breastfeeding thing going. It still wasn't magical. She struggled to latch, my body wasn't producing what it needed to, and my nipples were ready to fall off in pain.
The one thing I cannot stress enough is how important having a trusted team of pediatrician and lactation consultant by your side is. I spent HOURS in the lactation consultant's office during the first few weeks as we tried to work out both her latch and my supply issues. After several sessions, it became apparent that my baby needed more than my body was producing and we decided to begin supplementing. Again, I felt like a mom failure. We were lucky enough to find a local milk bank that helped supply us with the extra milk we needed while I continued to try and up my supply. To all you moms out there who have pumped extra, pumped longer, and pumped for an extended period to donate milk, thank you!
By month four (yes four!), my daughter and I finally settled in to a breastfeeding partnership that worked. I had worked incredibly hard, tried a variety of options, and spent countless hours hooked up to the dreaded pump to get my supply up and she was finally getting what she needed from my body alone. The soreness subsided (you know, until she decided to try biting many months later) and we were able to continue our breastfeeding relationship for ten more months, something I never imagined could happen based on the rocky start.
Now when I talk to expecting friends about how amazing their connection with their new little human will be, I also make sure to let them know that there is a possibility that breastfeeding will also be very hard. Not to scare them, but to make sure that someone openly and honestly shares that no matter what their struggles are, they are not a failure. It doesn't matter what route your breastfeeding road takes, as long as your baby is loved and nourished, you are a wonderful mother. May you be blessed to be one of those mothers that breastfeeding comes easy for. However, if bottles, formula, nipple shields, and tears are part of your journey instead, hold your head up high and connect with the medical professionals, other moms, family members, and friends who will hug you and help you as you navigate the daunting world of raising a baby.