The first time I attempted to breastfeed was when I had my first born about two years ago. It was the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced. When people say breastfeeding is a full time job, they’re most certainly telling the truth. For the first few weeks you’re responsible for feeding that newborn just about every two hours on demand. That is, if you’re successful.
Let’s face it, breastfeeding is so hard, it’s not glamorous, it’s painful in the beginning, and you find yourself completely attached to the human that you created all day, every day. Only about 25% of mothers continue breastfeeding after their baby is 6 months old, with about 20% of mothers quitting within the first two weeks.
Let’s start out with the painful aspect of breastfeeding. I was never told that while you and the baby are both learning how to successfully latch, your nipples are being rubbed completely raw to the point of bleeding, blistering and cracking. This alone will cause most mothers to give up. Every day for the first two weeks with both babies was spent crying with every attempted latch, using a large amount of nipple cream and eventually resorting to nipple shields so my breasts could heal.
Both of my babies had tongue ties as well as lip ties, causing the latch to be less than efficient. This can be the culprit of excessive gas, colic, unsatisfactory draining of the breast as well as the baby burning too many calories while struggling to eat. I saw improvements with the latching over a few weeks, but neither baby was gaining a sufficient amount of weight in the first few weeks of life, which causes mothers to have to make the unfortunate decision to supplement.
We then as mothers have two choices, find someone with an oversupply of breastmilk, or supplement with formula. Either option can lead to a drop in supply for the mom, as the baby is satisfied from a third party source and the mother’s body isn’t being triggered to make more milk. We are then told we can pump when we give our baby a bottle, to try our best to keep up with demand, with the goal that someday we can successfully exclusively breastfeed our babies.
A drop in supply or low supply to begin with can sometimes be remedied with ‘milk making foods’ or supplements as well as power pumping, eating fatty foods and drinking an excessive amount of water. This works for some, but not for everyone. The simple science behind breastfeeding is that the more milk you remove, the more milk you produce.
On the other hand, I know mothers who suffered from having an oversupply. If you have an oversupply and aren’t able to drain your breasts often, your breasts can become engorged. This is extremely painful and can lead to clogged ducts, which can cause mastitis. This is an infection of the breast tissue that can usually only be resolved with antibiotics.
The challenges of breastfeeding can be an emotionally draining cycle. Some mothers have to return to work after 6 weeks or less, some mothers have to care for multiple kids at home, some mothers have no help. We as mothers tend to put ourselves on the back burner to make sure everyone else is taken care of first.
Whatever your journey is, that’s exactly what it is; a journey. Do not compare yourself to anyone else. Whether you’re overproducing, underproducing, producing just enough, or have chosen to bottle feed donor milk or formula, you’re doing a great job. We’re all trying to navigate the modern world while raising children and we all try to make the best decisions for our families.