Breastfeeding has always been intimidating to me. Before having my daughter, my thought on it was always: Good for the moms who rock breastfeeding, but I’m just going to try to keep my life together for like 5 seconds.

Because of this, my husband and I decided to attend a breastfeeding class together.  I thought it broke things down pretty well for us newbies, so I went into my first breastfeeding session with my daughter with a false sense of security and confidence. However, here’s the gist of our first session together:

  • She worked her way down my chest during the “golden hour” and latched
  • Intense pain set in immediately as she chowed down
  • I began to internally freak out remembering the mantra from the breastfeeding class: “Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. If it hurts, you’re doing something wrong”
  • After unlatching and re-latching her several times, I cried and gripped the boppy pillow for dear life as she fed and thought very seriously about giving up already

Failure to Launch (And Correctly Latch)

The next two days were filled with tears (from both of us) and wondering what I was doing wrong. I mean, I was obviously the problem here since millions of moms before me had been able to successfully feed their babies in one arm while gracefully holding a coffee in their free hand and holding a casual conversation with friends. Meanwhile, I was crying while clumsily trying every breastfeeding position, and watching my nipples turn into deflated, bleeding balloons with every feeding.

Finally, an angel of a nurse took compassion on me and decided to see exactly what was happening when my daughter was eating. After trying a few things, the nurse exclaimed with pity, “Well no wonder you’re in pain, she’s basically chewing on your nipple!” She brought me a pump so I could continue giving her colostrum and my nipples would have time to heal from my daughter’s repeated assault on them, and she arranged for the lactation consultants to visit me again the next day. After that, for the first time since her first feeding session, I felt relaxed.

Don’t Get Too Comfortable Yet…

Just as I was getting into a comfortable routine with pumping, my milk came in, and I hated every minute of that process. Here’s what no one told me about my milk coming in:

  • Your breasts may grow a size or two (or two, in my case) overnight
  • You can develop a rash on your chest and neck when you need to pump
  • Your breasts can become so heavy you may experience neck and upper back pain
  • Your breasts may turn into rocks every 1.5-2 hours and can be so painful you can’t sleep

The night after my milk started to come in, I was so exhausted from lack of sleeping due to pain and doing everything required to keep another human alive that I needed to take my anti-anxiety meds. I was so proud of myself for managing my anxiety well through most of my pregnancy, but exhaustion and the fear that my milk coming in was going to kill me had me on edge. The lesson on irrational thoughts here is there’s a reason sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture; it will mess you up!

When pumping every 2 hours wasn’t offering any relief from engorgement and pain, I took some advice from my mom and slept with a hot compress and heating pad on my chest, and the next morning it was like waking up in a freaking Disney movie. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and my boobs didn’t hurt! I felt really great about moving forward with breastfeeding the traditional way at that point, but my daughter was doing so well taking bottles and I knew I’d need to pump eventually for work anyways so I decided we were just going to do this thing unconventionally.

As with my entire experience with breastfeeding up to this point, the next few weeks were not what I expected. We discovered, after 4 hospitalizations, that my daughter has a very severe intolerance to the protein in dairy, so as I began to cut dairy out of my diet she needed to be on formula.

Unnecessary Guilt

For the shortest moment, I felt guilt that she would need formula. People hammer it into your head that breastmilk is best, so all I could think in the moment was that I was failing her by needing to give her formula. All it took was my husband gently reminding me, “Without formula, she doesn’t eat,” and I was back into confident mom mode. We’ve heard some criticism from people about her being on formula, most of which was not intended to be malicious but it was criticism nonetheless, but after all we’ve experienced I will forever promote the saying, “Fed is best”, even if that means doing a hodge-podge combination of breastmilk and formula.

Currently I’m on a non-dairy diet so that we can slowly work breastmilk back into her diet. We’ve had little successes here and there, but we’re more excited that she no longer has a feeding tube, eating doesn’t cause her intense pain anymore, she’s finally gaining weight, and she’s a happy baby. She doesn’t care what we’re giving to her as long as she’s getting to eat (my kind of girl!).

The Lesson Learned

We’ve not had a conventional breastfeeding experience thus far and I don’t see it getting any less weird in the coming months, but it works for us. My advice after all of this? Feed your baby how you can and lift other parents up, even if you don’t feed your children the same way as them. Because, let’s be honest, in a world full of exhausted parents living off of caffeine IV’s who are just trying to successfully get in and out of Target without tears (from them or their kids), nobody has time to listen to how you would like their children to be fed.

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