Hours after giving birth to my first child, I was moved to another part of the hospital, and away from the birthing center. To be precise, I was transferred to a post-surgery recovery wing that had nothing to do with babies. While the beds were the same and the food still left a lot to be desired, the staff was not trained to work with new moms or babies. So when my daughter cried all night long, my husband and I were left to figure things out on our own. But like so many other women, I told myself, no problem, just nurse her, and all will be fine. Needless to say, she cried all night long while suckling at my breast. We left the next morning and wouldn’t find out until five days later at a pediatrician appointment that I was not producing enough milk to feed her.
There are countless lists, articles, and tutorials out in the world that cover everything you need to know about breastfeeding. Trust me, I know. I read every single one of them. In fact, before giving birth to my first child, I felt prepared for anything that could come my way. And how could I not? If you Google the word “breastfeeding,” you’ll find everything from tips to soothe cracked nipples to feedback on the best nursing pillows (these are a lifesaver, by the way). But what many of these lists lack is the truth about the emotional struggles so many women face when breastfeeding doesn’t turn out the way they hoped it would. Here are six truths I wish I would have known about breastfeeding before I had my first child.
It is hard
Breastfeeding is hard. There, I said it. The vision I created in my mind of a peaceful and beautiful experience was nothing like the reality I faced when it came time to put my daughter to my breast. To say I was ill-prepared for the difficulties that could arise is an understatement. When I learned my daughter wasn’t getting enough milk, I tried everything I could to increase my milk production. I tried supplemental nursing systems, spent days in a lactation office feeding and weighing my daughter, and spent countless hours researching supplements and medications that promised to increase milk production. Trying to make breastfeeding work took over my life. Yes, there are women whose cups runneth over with milk or who have babies that latch on like a pro, but there’s also a ton of us who struggle from day one regardless of how many books, videos, or experts we’ve consulted.
It CAN get better
Notice I didn’t say “It WILL get better.” With both of my children, there were countless people whose only advice to me was “It will get better.” Believing them (because I had to believe in someone), I convinced myself that it must get better. When it didn’t, I blamed myself. But here’s the thing: some breastfeeding issues do not magically disappear (more on this later). It was hard with my daughter, and despite all of my efforts, breastfeeding did not get any easier the second time around with my son.
Going 50/50 or 80/20 or 90/10 is okay
If there is one piece of advice I hope will stick, it’s this one. The relationship you have with breastfeeding is what you make of it. And the best part? It can be anything you want it to be. For me, the sweet spot would have been a 50/50 approach: 50 percent breastmilk and 50 percent formula. I wish I would have fed both of my kids using a 50/50 approach from the beginning and NOT beat myself up over the fact that I was physically unable to produce enough milk for my babies. I didn’t know it at the time, but I have a medical condition that prevented me from producing enough milk. Looking back, I regret that I missed out on so many moments with them because I was hooked up to a pump, researching how to make more milk, dealing with sky-high anxiety because nothing was working, going to appointments with La Leche League and lactation specialists, all while my daughter or son sat on the sidelines.
Bottle feeding is a bonding experience too
At times, I pumped at a pace that would even make an Olympic sprinter nervous. While the relationship I had with my breast pump was complicated, it did allow me to produce some breastmilk that I could give to my children along with formula — something that helped me make peace with bottle feeding. After adjusting my expectations, I settled into a rhythm with them of mostly bottle feeding with some time spent at the breast. I also relaxed and finally began to enjoy feeding time — breast and bottle — with both of my children. It would take years before I would really realize it, but my body did a pretty good job of telling me what I, and my babies, really needed.
There are real reasons your body might not produce enough milk
It wasn’t until I had an annual mammogram four years ago that I was diagnosed with hypoplastic breasts, which often results in a medical condition called Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT). This condition prevented me from producing enough milk to feed my babies — no matter how hard I tried. Even though I went to extremes to try and produce enough milk, no one around me thought it could be a medical issue. In addition to IGT, there are a number of other reasons you may not be producing enough milk, including endocrine or hormonal conditions, previous breast surgeries, hormonal birth control, and certain medications. Even if you identify with one of the conditions listed, it’s important to remember that breastfeeding is more than just producing food. Mothers who don’t produce adequate milk can still enter into a nursing relationship with their baby. Give yourself permission to supplement without making it about you failing as a mother.
You get to decide what works
If you’re struggling with breastfeeding, it’s okay to try and make it work. It’s also okay to say “enough is enough.” My biggest regret is that I didn’t listen to (and trust) my voice. I was so focused on not failing that I wasn’t able to see the small successes and milestones that were happening right in front of me. Looking back on it now, I genuinely believe that I would have still chosen to nurse my children as much as possible. I just would have done so with much less pressure and anxiety.
About the author:
Sara Lindberg is a freelance writer focusing on parenting, health, and wellness. She is passionate about all things fitness and health and loves spending time with her husband, daughter, and son.