The way a mother chooses to feed her baby seems to be a subject of wild controversy and yet no matter how many times we seem to have this conversation, there’s always someone who has a strong opinion on the subject that leads other moms to feel deflated and sometimes confused.
While I was pregnant, the question of how I planned to feed my baby came up a lot. My goal was always to breastfeed but little did I know that voicing my preference and goals would open a floodgate of stories and opinions from other mothers, some of them which were quite frustrating at times. I didn’t understand why so many women chose to inflict their assumptions on what I should do, would prefer, wouldn’t prefer or shouldn’t do onto me.
During my pregnancy, I did everything I could to prepare to start breastfeeding. I read articles and tips from other women, received literature and support from my public health nurse, saved lactation recipes on Pintrest, bought all of the nipple and breast-care supplies I could and I even took a free one day class on breastfeeding that was offered through my local Health Authority. Although I was more than prepared, nothing could truly prepare me for how my “goal” actually played out.
After my accidental at-home delivery, I started hemorrhaging because my placenta didn’t completely detach from my uterus which resulted in me losing a ton of blood. A litre and a half of it, to be exact, and so I was rushed to the hospital with my newborn baby girl where I had to be put under to have a DNC. When I woke, I had two IV lines in each of my arms and a catheter inserted inside me plus stitches which made laying down uncomfortable. To make matters worse, one of my IV lines wasn’t placed in my wrist properly and it caused a hematoma which made positioning my daughter in a comfortable feeding position very painful. Not only was I recovering from childbirth but I also had all of these obstructions which made the start to my breastfeeding journey all the more challenging.
During my first night in the hospital, the nursing staff were initially very helpful in helping me with my baby’s latch. My daughter was born super tiny at only 5 lbs, 9 ounces and so I was handling her like a porcelain doll which wasn’t helpful when trying to get her to properly feed. My midwives told me to use my call button as much as I needed to during my hospital stay as the nurses were there to help me in every and any way that they could, and so I did. I used that call button so much during my stay for help with breastfeeding and I learned quite quickly that every nurse had a different approach and different advice’s about proper feeding which made things very confusing.
One night in particular, after a long day of blood transfusions, the night nurse told me bluntly that if I felt a pinch at all, I was doing it all wrong. This was so frustrating because I did feel a pinch every single time my daughter latched on and so I felt like every bit of progress I thought I was making was completely false- I was failing. This coupled with the sleep deprivation that comes with having a newborn lead me to break down, cry and snap at the nurse. And this was only the beginning of my frustrations with breastfeeding.
Later that week when I finally got home and had those annoying tubes out of me, I persevered with my goal of breastfeeding. I was determined to get to the point that it would no longer hurt. I had heard from so many of my fellow Mommy friends that the pain doesn’t last and that I would be healed up and used to it before I knew it. Some of my girlfriends healed up in two weeks while the most common timeline was about 6 weeks. Six weeks. That timeline seemed like nothing at the time.
As it turns out, six weeks is a really-long-fucking-time when it comes to putting your breasts through the trauma of breastfeeding. Looking back, I would have rather given birth again than have to establish breastfeeding- that’s how painful it was for me. Also, it took longer than the magic 6 week mark for me to feel even slight relief from the pain. There were nights that I cried at my daughters night wakings because I dreaded the pain so much. There was even one instance in which she spit-up blood and I freaked out but was assured by the nurses call line that it was just maternal blood which babies can not digest and so they spit it up instead. Seeing a newborn spit up blood is terrifying!
I cried in the shower, purchased special ice packs for my breasts, used a heating pad at night between feeds, switched nipple creams twice and even took approved painkillers just to get through it. I was determined to be able to breastfeed my baby and thankfully for me, just over two months into motherhood, the pain finally went away we are still successfully still exclusively breastfeeding to this day going on almost six months.
Sadly, this isn’t the case for all mothers.
Breastfeeding is both extremely difficult for many women to establish and a very personal journey, one that is not bound to a set checklist of fool-proof methods. There are so many factors that can alter a woman’s attempt at breastfeeding their baby. Pain tolerance, inverted nipples, necessary medications, sensitivity, lack of resources, mindfulness to mental health and patience are just some of the contributing factors that can alter a woman’s experience. I understand completely through my own experience why so many women can not and choose not to continue. The madness is sometimes not worth it when it means sacrificing a mothers sanity and well-being.
What I learned from my experience is that it’s very important to be extra mindful in what you say to a woman who is either in the midst of her journey or about to begin her journey in breastfeeding. It’s okay for a mother to voice her goal of breastfeeding without judgement. It’s also completely okay for a mother-to-be to decide that she doesn’t even want to try without judgement. As women, we know ourselves well enough to know what works best for us and our families.
Isn’t it about time we stop shaming and criticizing women in every which way we can about how she feeds her babies? Stop shaming the Mom in the check-out line at the grocery store buying formula for her baby. Stop telling a mother-to-be that she won’t like it, won’t be able to do it or give her false hope that it’ll be easy-as-pie. Most importantly, do NOT project your own personal story onto her as if your experience is law. Like I said, breastfeeding is a very delicate and personal journey. It’s not one-size-fits-all. While you’re at it, stop judging the Mom breastfeeding in public or bottle feeding when her baby is hungry- you have no idea what she went through to feed that precious little human. Supporting one another by way of accepting ones choices instead of assuming we have the be-all-end-all of advice’s is the first step in changing the way we approach this subject. Even if breastfeeding is considered the “best way” to feed a baby, it’s important to remember it’s not the only way. Fed is best. Period.