I remember the last time I breastfed my youngest. She was three months old. I had great plans of going much longer than we did. Sadly, it did not work out for any of my children to breastfeed past three months. Even though I tried my hardest to make it work.
My oldest was the worst, he had trouble latching on from day one. We had to stay in the hospital an extra day because he was not eating well. I had a lactation consultant visit me at home twice in the week following leaving the hospital. When he finally got the hang of latching on, I was not producing enough milk to sustain him. After two weeks of hour long feeding sessions, constant pumping between feedings, and my own tear filled emotional roller coaster, he started loosing weight. For his sake, and mine, we switched to formula. He gained weight rapidly, and would not even try to feed from me anymore. I felt like I had failed him.
I was determined with our second child to try again. We got off to a great start. By three months however, my supply was not keeping up with her either. Extra feedings, supplements and pumping didn’t work this time either, and she started loosing weight too. Once that bottle was introduced, she started wanting to feed from me less and less. I wish I had noticed sooner and taken the time to enjoy those last feedings with her. To this day I can not remember the last time I breastfed her. All I know is that by three and half months she was eating from a bottle full time.
My doctor at the time said that some women aren’t able to produce a lot of milk. They don’t have enough receptors, or are highly stressed, or any number of reasons could play a factor. Her advice was simply not to worry and move on. She didn’t realize how much I really wanted to breast feed, and how much I had invested in it, both physically and emotionally. But I did accept it and move on. That was the time I started running on a regular basis. I figured I could at least control something about my body.
I got another chance with our third, and last, child. It was a little rough the first week. My milk took a while to come in. But once it did we settled in to a nice routine and things were going well. At two months I started noticing signs that I wasn’t keeping up again. She was crying after feedings, having trouble sleeping, and just being generally agitated. When we got to the point that I was feeding her every hour with out any improvement, I called a lactation consultant. I hoped the lactation nurse would pass on some new trick I had not heard of before. After all it had been four years since my last child, perhaps there was something different I could try. She was encouraging, but alas, had no great new insight to provide. I was already doing everything she would recommend.
I was more prepared this time around. I knew that this was a possibility. I decided to be a little more proactive about it, and introduced formula before she started loosing weight like her brother and sister did. I’d breastfeed her, and when she was done and let go herself, I would give her a little formula if she was still hungry. We did this for a few weeks.
I was still hoping that my supply would increase. I did everything I was suppose to. We stayed home, and I let her eat when ever she was hungry. I pumped in between feedings, and only gave her a bottle if she was still hungry right after feeding. I ate good food and drank plenty of water. Despite all this, I still wasn’t making enough to satisfy her.
As she got bigger, my supply did not decrease, it just stayed the same. We had to supplement more often. I knew the inevitable outcome of this. Babies feel more full from formula. Eventually they get used to that feeling and expect it. Our feeding sessions became shorter and shorter.
One thing I am very grateful of, is that I was aware of what was happening. I had the chance to cherish those last feeds with her.
When she no longer wanted to breast feed for food, she still wanted it for comfort. Her and I both enjoyed it, so we kept going for a while. I treasured every time. It was relaxing, and beautiful. Even after my supply was gone, we started every day with breastfeeding. The last time I breast fed her, I knew it would be the last time. Some how I knew it would be the last time she would latch on or ask for me. We sat in a quiet room by ourselves and I took mental note of everything.
When we were done, I was satisfied that I had done my best, and had gone as long as we could. It still hurt. I still miss it. There are days I wish I could start over and try again, even though I know the outcome would probably be the same.
All of my friends and family have been understanding and supportive. Even those who are die hard supporters of breastfeeding have remained graciously quiet. They knew I wanted to breastfeed, and that was good enough for them. Many of my friends relayed their struggles. Many were successful and able to continue. A few others like me, had to quit long before they wanted to.
Our society is shifting in a direction of being very supportive of breastfeeding. Every mother has heard the mantra “Breast is Best” and it is slowly being accepted as a cultural norm. Over the past year we have heard less and less reports of mothers being called out or asked to leave public areas. More and more businesses are adding comfortable and clean feeding rooms for those of us that aren’t comfortable feeding out in the open or with a cover.
Don’t get me wrong, this is awesome. But there is a small group of people who are getting left behind and trampled upon in the process. Those of us who really want to breastfeed, but can’t. We don’t belong to either camp. We have a love/hate relationship with formula. Seeing a woman feeding her child in public cuts us a little each time. We question ourselves and try to figure out what we could have done differently. To all those mothers I have this to say:
You are not a bad mother. You are not alone. Have courage and know that your best was enough.