That Thing They Didn’t Tell Me As a New Mom
Breastfeeding is natural, they say.
Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for your baby, they say.
Here’s what they don’t tell you about nursing your baby.
Throughout my pregnancy I always assumed that I would breastfeed my baby. The idea that nursing might be difficult never even crossed my new mommy mind. My midwife’s office was full of pamphlets discussing the benefits of breastfeeding and I just assumed that it would happen naturally. We discussed “the latch” in my prenatal class, but never talked about the fact that some women choose not to breastfeed, or that some women experience complications that make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to nurse. I just assumed the baby would be born and nature would take over. My boobs would be filled with milk and be at the ready to nourish my new baby.
The truth is; breastfeeding was perhaps the most challenging part of the new mom experience for me. Not only did my nipples look like they’d been run through a blender, I also was not blessed with a body that produced a great amount of milk. I remember sitting in my living room with my midwife and my three-day-old baby crying because my milk hadn’t come in. My midwife suggested that I supplement using formula. My baby was slightly jaundiced and was losing weight faster than we liked and clearly needed some extra calories. I had been told that breastfeeding was “natural”, that it was beautiful, that it was an incredible bonding experience for mama and baby, but so far, it was just painful and exhausting.
When the midwife pulled out that little bottle of formula, this incredible feeling of shame and embarrassment overcame me. I’d only been a mom for three days and already I felt I’d failed! I couldn’t even do the most basic thing; feed my child. I sent my mom to the pharmacy to pick up the grocery list of supplements my midwife recommended. My milk supply did come in a few days later and baby and I were jammin’ through our feeding sessions.
I loved nursing; maybe because for those first few days I thought that I might not be able to. I mean absolutely no judgement here to anyone who has made the conscious decision not to breastfeed. I believe it’s every woman’s personal choice how they feed their child and I’m a strong believer that FED is best. But in my vision of me as a mother, I always imagined holding my baby to my breast and having my body nourish his.
Then one day, after six months of some solid breastfeeding, my son decided he’d had enough. I probably wasn’t producing enough milk to fill his little belly and he had enough of the struggle. I was absolutely crushed. The feeling of failure overwhelmed me once again. I had loved that closeness that we shared; that connection that only he and I could share.
Not wanting to give up on breastfeeding, I took to the pump and let the machine do the work that my son didn’t want to do because I was so fiercely determined to nourish him from my own body. But as I mentioned, I was not blessed with a body that produced a great amount of milk. Pumping was exhausting! I would pump for 20 minutes to get 2 oz of milk. I was never one of those mamas who had a freezer full of breast milk. I pumped and fed, pumped and fed. Pumping was not at all like the nursing experience. It felt cold and mechanical. I hated every minute of pumping. I mostly hated seeing the tiny drops fall into the bottle after several minutes of moo-ing. While other women I knew could fill two bottes in 20 minutes, I was barely filling half of one. And I HATED the sound of that pump that made me feel like an actual cow.
So I trekked to the store and I bought a package of formula. I’m pretty sure I didn’t make eye contact with the cashier when I placed the container on the counter. Rather than seeing that container of formula as food that would nourish my child, I chose to see it as a symbol of my failure. My body had failed to produce enough milk to feed my child. My child had rejected my breast; had told me it was not enough for him. I felt such shame that I actually hid the bottle of formula from other mamas.
When we went out to our mom and baby group, I would go into the bathroom to mix the formula and water together because I was so embarrassed to be around all of these other women who were just pulling up their shirts and feeding their babes.
My reason for feeling ashamed isn’t because I think formula isn’t as good a nutritional supply as breastmilk, but because the reason I was buying the formula was that I still wanted to breastfeed, but my body simply couldn’t keep up with my son’s nutritional needs. Eventually I came to accept the formula, but I admit we were a few canisters in before I felt ok about it.
A short time ago, I was approached by the Halton Baby-Friendly Initiative to place a sticker in the window of our play café that we are a breastfeeding friendly location. Of course, as a family friendly space, we are breastfeeding-friendly. There was never a question about whether we would place the sticker in the window and let mother’s know that they are welcome to breastfeed here.
But I would also like another sticker; one for mamas who are formula feeding. We are not just a breastfeeding friendly location, we are a baby friendly location and we support all mamas; whether you are lifting your shirt, or mixing a bottle of formula. I hate that I went through those months of feeling shame; and it breaks my heart when I see other mamas who I know are feeling the same way. We are all Mamas doing the best we can to nourish our children; and there’s no shame in that.