To infinity and beyond!! Juno being super cute, even while asleep.
So, you get pregnant and pretty much right from the start you get asked if you’re going to breastfeed. You get told repeatedly that it’s a wonderful, bonding experience that you really must do to give your baby the best possible start in life. The other thing you get told repeatedly is that breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt.
I wish someone had been honest with me.
I wish that, while I was still at the hospital, more than one midwife had the decency and the guts to say it’s gonna hurt. The basic biological purpose of breasts may be to feed a baby but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to feel painful, strange and overwhelming – especially for a first time mum.
Pretty much every other woman I’ve spoken to who has breastfed has said the same thing: breastfeeding freaken hurts! The let down hurts. The baby latching on hurts. But none of the breast-feeding advocates ever seem to say this. They all speak about how amazing it is, how natural it is and spend a lot of time lamenting the lost art of breastfeeding.
This isn’t helpful in the least when you’re in the middle of the blur (and panic) of having a new baby.
It wasn’t bad at first. While I was in hospital it was okay, even though I had the bizarre experience of being “milked” by a midwife the night after my c-section after Juno wouldn’t/couldn’t latch on and she really needed to get some colostrum into her. I had another midwife whose idea of teaching me how to breastfeed was to grab my boob with one hand, Juno’s head with the other and bring them together with some force. Not that helpful really.
After the c-section I was pretty determined to breastfeed because I felt that I’d missed out on that initial bonding experience. I wanted to breastfeed her. I knew it would potentially be quite difficult, being a large busted woman but I really thought it would be okay. After all, how hard could it be? I did nearly every feed during the day in the breastfeeding room so I could be near the midwives. I was told how good I was doing, how calm I was about it, how lucky I was with Juno being big because big baby means a big mouth and an easier latch. (“My, what big teeth you have.” “All the better to eat you with” said the wolf.) My efforts were praised and I was pretty much left to my own devices. I didn’t speak up about the difficulties I was experiencing because I thought other women deserved more help then I did.
Well, it wasn’t okay.
Before leaving the hospital, I had cracks in both nipples but didn’t really say anything about them (I know, I should’ve). They got significantly worse once we were at home. The skin was so raw and broken. Every time Juno latched on, she rubbed the raw skin. It got to the point where I dreaded feeding Juno. I would drag it out for a long as possible so that I didn’t have to deal with the pain. It got so bad that one night I was sitting on the edge of the bed, trying to feed a screaming Juno who was understandably hungry and just sobbing. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to feed my baby without experiencing a huge amount of pain.
This isn’t conducive to a good bonding experience. My determination to breastfeed was actually damaging the fairly fragile bond that I felt that I had with her. I couldn’t enjoy my baby because I so dreaded feeding her. I wanted to stop – I so desperately wanted to stop – but I felt that I couldn’t because I’d bought into the whole thing of it being what was best for Juno. I was consumed with guilt because I hated it so much when all I’d been told was how wonderful breastfeeding was and how it would make me feel so close to my baby. It didn’t. All it did was make me resent her which then made me feel even more guilty.
In the end I hired a breast pump and saw a lactation consultant. The consultant had good advice and tried to be helpful but on the day Juno did the perfect feed – latched on easily and comfortably – so the consultant couldn’t really see how (badly) our feeds normally went. I did listen to her advice and some of it did help. But what really made the difference was deciding to try bottle feeding with expressed milk. Thankfully Juno took to the bottle straight away so we began a routine of her having half of her feeds out of a bottle instead of from the boob. It meant I was attached to a breast pump three or four times a day but it did give my nipples a chance to heal, making the times she did feed off the boob less painful. I could sit on the couch, cuddling Juno while she drank her bottle, look into her eyes and feel peaceful. I could hold her close and not be consumed by how much it hurt to give her the sustenance she so desperately needed.
Making this choice – which so many breastfeeding advocates would disagree with – has totally changed my relationship with Juno. I don’t regret it for a second because if I hadn’t, I’m pretty sure I would’ve stopped breastfeeding all together and Juno would be a formula-fed baby by now. We’re even back to the majority of feeds being off the boob which is something I didn’t think would happen. I’ve also breastfed in public which I thought I’d never have the confidence to do. I’ve even expressed milk in public!
But I have to admit that I’m still more than a little ticked off by the lack of honesty when it comes to breastfeeding. I really wish someone had said to me that there was a very good chance that breastfeeding was going to hurt more than I could possibly imagine but that it would get better, that it’s not the end of the world to switch to bottle feeding, that I’m not a bad mum for doing what I did. I really wish midwives and other breastfeeding advocates would acknowledge what appears to be a common experience for women when it comes to breastfeeding – that it hurts – because them not unintentionally makes women feel like failures when it does. I know I really felt like I was a failure and I thought that I must’ve been doing something so terribly wrong (but now I don’t think I was).
I’m a big believer that knowledge is power. But when it came to breastfeeding I can’t help but feel that I was seriously let down by the people who were supposed to help me get the knowledge I needed. I had to work out how to solve this problem on my own. It was so hard to work out felt was right for me and Juno and it’s a solution that some would disagree with. Still, I have to not care because this mix of boob and bottle is what works for us. And that’s what matters in the end.