No One Said Breastfeeding Would Be This Hard!

I had this idea of what breastfeeding would be like for me….my plan was to exclusively breastfeed for 6 months and then supplement as needed after that.

Little did I know my daughter had an entirely different plan.

Due to her size, her ability to properly suck was lacking. Within 5 minutes of latching, she would fall asleep, and despite all of the tricks in the book, I could not get her to wake up. Some feeds I would spend over an hour trying to get her to breastfeed. It was mentally and physically exhausting.

We ended up having to stay in the hospital an extra night after she was born due to her inability to properly breastfeed. For the first 24 hours after giving birth, every 2.5-3 hours I was hand expressing colostrum and feeding it to her through a syringe. This of course extended the feeding process. I was told by the lactation consultant that I had an overabundance of colostrum, which was good because my little one needed all the calories she could get, but GOD was hand expressing exhausting.

I then started pumping after 24 hours had passed and syringe feeding her what I had pumped. We went home with that plan after being in the hospital for 4 days with a weight check appointment the following day. It was determined that Ellie still was not nursing effectively and she was barely taking any milk via breastfeeding. So the new plan then involved us feeding her via a SNS (Supplemental Nursing System), which meant having pumped milk ready for feeds.

A few days later we met with a lactation consultant who recommended using a nipple shield to help improve her sucking and introducing a bottle as a way to ensure she was getting adequate food if I felt she did not get enough via breastfeeding. This was all to hopefully reduce the stress I was feeling and the amount of time I was taking to try and get Ellie to breastfeed.

This “triple feeding” plan soon became unbearable. Ellie was eating every 2.5 hours, so I would spend 30 minutes trying to get her to eat, and then she would typically need to be fed with the bottle. Once she ate, I would then pump to have milk just in case for the next feed. By the time I was done with all of this, I typically had about half an hour in between feeds that weren't solely focused on feeding my daughter. Not to mention I had to power pump off and on every so often because, due to Ellie’s difficulties, my supply kept dipping.

We were seeing the lactation consultant once a week, which went on for over a month. I was so exhausted - breastfeed, bottle feed, sob, pump, repeat. The lactation consultant we were seeing was amazing. She was extremely empathetic and could see how much of a toll this journey was taking on me. After several weeks of trying to get Ellie to breastfeed properly and seeing what this process was doing to me emotionally, she suggested I try exclusively pumping for 24 hours.

This was, at the time, a gift from heaven!

Although this new plan came with its own challenges, it felt like I had a smidge of my sanity back. Exclusively pumping gave me extra time to eat, sometimes take a nap, and just enjoy my daughter instead of obsessively trying to figure out if she was eating enough. So exclusively pumping became my new reality. Despite the new dynamics of feeding Ellie through this method, I felt like a weight had been lifted and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

When I think back to what I imagined my breastfeeding journey would be, this was not it. I say this to say, many people do not talk about how hard breastfeeding can be. They don't talk about how - despite all of the classes you take, videos you watch, books you read, support you have, and plans you make - your breastfeeding journey really relies a lot on your baby and less so on you. They also don't talk about the guilt, frustration, pain (both physical and emotional), and the mixed emotions that go along with breastfeeding.

Prior to having my daughter, I never realized just how much of my focus would be centered around feeding her and how much that aspect of her care would add to my stress.

So with all of that being said, I want moms out there reading this to know that if breastfeeding was hard for you or is currently presenting you with difficulties, you are not alone.

This s*** ain't easy!

Know that our mental health, sleep, and management of stress levels are just as much a priority as our child’s eating. My advice to you would be that if what you are doing is not sustainable consider making a change by talking to someone who can help.

Ultimately, a fed baby is what is best and the way that happens may look a little different than you expected in the beginning and that is okay!

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