Nobody really tells you just how hard nursing and pumping can be. The only negative thing I was told was your nipples will hurt if you don't use lanolin cream and if you don't pump frequently you'll become engorged. I thought - I got this! That's it? Doesn't sound worse than pushing out an 8lb 10oz baby - and I'd do anything for him. So there I was so hopeful and excited to bond with my baby and be able to give him everything he needed. Sounded like a picture perfect disney movie moment. HA! If only I knew what I would have actually experienced. I'm very hesitant to share my experience because of those Karen's out in the world who would say I didn't try hard enough - but I'll take one for the team, so buckle up because this is no disney movie!
After my son, AY, was cleaned off the nurse asked me how I plan to feed my baby. Without hesitation and probably a little too animated I responded "I'LL BE EXCLUSIVELY BREASTFEEDING!" - okay Rachel, simmer down! - A nurse helped me figure out how to get AY to latch and he was sucking or doing something... I wasn't really sure but I was so happy that whatever was happening I was feeding my baby with the best thing on the planet for him. That first night - I felt like an 18 wheeler hit me at full speed. My epidural didn't work and I labored on all fours. Every single muscle in my body ached and I couldn't understand why in the moment I thought it was a brilliant idea to go on all fours! With my body feeling that way - my eyes felt heavier than they ever have. Ironically in that moment, with all that pain, I was the happiest I have ever been in my life at that point. Then AY started crying. Why was he crying? I picked him up, rocked him, was holding him and dozing off, then tried feeding him - he kept screaming and wouldn't latch. I rang for the nurse frantically - probably pressed the button 25 times - and finally a nurse came in with a lactation consultant. They gave me some pointers on how to get him to latch. "Hold his head and neck like this." "He won't latch when he's this worked up - you need to calm him down first. Try rocking him like this." The nurse calmed him down and got him latch. I stared down at him with awe hoping he'll never been that unhappy in my arms again.
NOBODY in the hospital told me how often you need to nurse if you're exclusively breastfeeding. NOBODY told me how often I would need to pump either. I told every nurse I had that I was exclusively breastfeeding and I guess I spoke a different language because not a single one helped me achieve that goal. I was clueless and they had no patience helping me understand what my Son needed from me while I spent 48 hours under their care. The first night they said they need to take AY to run some tests, give him a bath, and weigh/measure him. "Okay! Sure" "Get some rest momma, he'll be back to feed soon." - que the voice from spongebob - FOUR HOURS LATER they brought AY back to me. He was screaming so loud. "He's ready to feed." I didn't think anything of it at the time - but at 4 weeks when I took a newborn class - I learned that crying is the LAST sign a baby resorts to when trying to say they are hungry or tired. The second night they took AY for 5 hours and then brought him back to me. He was calm and sleepy and I wondered when he would be hungry for me to nurse him next. Only on the second night did they bring me in a Pump after I asked them when I'm supposed to start pumping. "Pump for 10 minutes each day twice a day" I thought it would be a piece of cake! That's all? I can do that!
We left the hospital and when I say that first night home was straight out of a horror movie - it was! At first it was so sweet - AY was sleepy and cuddly and I was in seventh heaven. Then when the clock struck 10 the crying began. I rocked him, put a pacifier in his mouth, tried to get him to breastfeed. Nothing was working. AY kept latching and unlatching - he was miserable. Mo and I were fighting from the stress, exhaustion and feeling like we were really in over our heads. What did our baby need and why don't we know what it is? Finally at two in the morning, in pain from hearing AY scream a high pitched and scream for hours Mo turned to me and said "Rachel - I think he's hungry... maybe we should try to give him formula- we have some samples that were sent in the mail..." Without hesitation this dark possessed voice left my body as my head turned slowly towards Mo and I said... more like barked... "HE'S NOT HUNGRY. I KNOW MY BABY. IF HE WAS HUNGRY HE'D LATCH WHEN I TRIED TO BREASTFEED HIM! WE ARE NOTTT FORMULLAAA FEEDING." Mo replied with a firm "I'm giving him a bottle - you need to calm down. If you're right and he's not hungry, he won't take it." I gave Mo a less than subtle death stare as he brought the bottle to AY's mouth thinking "Ha! AY won't take it. He isn't hungry." then within 20 seconds the entire 2oz sample bottle was gone. AY wasn't hungry... AY was starving. I have never felt like a worse human being than in that moment. My entire world felt like it was crumbling. Can I really do this? How can I ever be a good Mom to him if I can't even realize he's hungry?" What an emotionally and physically exhausting night!
The next day one of my greatest baby gifts arrived - a baby nurse 24/7 for one week. She was there to help me rest and teach me how to care for my new baby. My nurse asked me how I plan to feed my baby and I told her I want to exclusively breastfeed but AY wasn't latching well and my supply wasn't in, so We are supplementing with formula. I was advised to pump for 25-30 minutes 3x a day - 6am, 4pm, and 10pm to help my supply come in. Take hot showers, massage your breasts often and make sure you do not get engorged. Each time I would pump I only got 1ml of milk, if i got anything at all. I started eating lactation cookies, chugging water, gatorade, Mother's Milk tea, and making sure I ate well during the day and got enough rest. I was told not to bring AY to my breast until my supply came in - so I listened... I didn't know any better. Nothing was changing and then on night 6 AY wouldn't even latch onto a bottle. Our baby nurse stayed up all night with him feeding him by pouring drop my drop into his mouth with a spoon. I then remembered a very close friend warning me of tongue and lip ties when I was pregnant - having either can cause latching issues. We took AY to the pediatrician and immediately she said he has a tongue tie and may also have a lip tie. Our pediatrician referred us to a pediatric dentist in our area and it ended up being that AY had a tongue and double lip tie. We had them clipped on scene and immediately by his next feeding his latch was so much better!
The latching issue may have been fixed but we had another issue to try to overcome - AY was super used to bottle feeding and his formula. I met with a lactation consultant at two weeks postpartum and she told me that all the advice I was given was wrong and that is why my milk supply was 1ml to nothing. I was advised to first bring AY to my breast every feeding to start with and once he seems fussy - I should give him 10 sips of formula to calm him and go back to my breast. I was so determined to breastfeed so I got home from a walk and said to our baby nurse "Stop! Don't give him a bottle. I'm going to try to nurse." Knowing how AY has responded to it in the past, I saw her concern with my plan. In the end, I'm his mother but her job is to make sure my baby is happy, healthy & taken care of for that week. I sat down, got ready to nurse and brought AY to my breast... immediately AY starts crying. "WAHH WAHH WAHHH." Kicking, screaming, actively pushing me away from him. With each passing moment his body got more red and hot from the screaming. My heart broke more and more with every cry. All choked up and fighting back tears so he wouldn't notice my pain I kept saying "Don't worry. Please latch. You'll feel better once you start feeding. Please latch... Please." After a good 10 minutes of trying - I needed to stop. My son was in so much discomfort and I was easily able to fix it if I just gave him a bottle. If he was able to speak he for sure would have been saying "I don't want that for dinner! I want what you usually make!!! I'm already soo hungry, Mom! Please stop trying to force me to eat this!" My baby nurse came over and took him from me and immediately AY calmed down. That was so heartbreaking. Trying to nurse was causing us both to experience so much stress, my baby couldn't even be comforted by me.
I was at such a loss. I didn't know what to do - but with many people screaming "breast is best" in my ear I couldn't let myself "quit." I wanted to be a good Mom. The lactation consultant I was first meeting with told me to power pump if AY is unhappy at the breast and takes a bottle better. That meant pumping for 10 mins on and 10 off for an hour straight. I took a shower, massaged the girls and set myself up in bed with my pump, water, and a relaxing meditation. I refused to look at the pump for the first 10 min and by the second shift I had 2 oz. I was so excited I was actually producing milk - I sent a picture to my best friends and Mo immediately!! I ran out to my baby nurse and screamed "THEY WORK!!!! I'M MAKING MILK, BABY!!!!!" and ran back into my room to finish pumping. I made 4 oz total and I thought "amazing!!! this is it. It can only be uphill from here." I told our baby nurse by the next feeding I want AY to have my breastmilk in a bottle. I was so exhausted but so excited that I went to feed him. He was hungry and I was so eager to feed him my liquid gold. I brought the bottle to his mouth, his took two sips and "WAHHHH WAHHHHH WAHHHHHHHH" screaming on the top of his lungs. I was so confused. "Isn't he hungry? why won't he eat?" my baby nurse looked at me and said "Rachel, don't kill me, but I think that I should prep an ounce of the formula to see if he'll take that. He could be very used to that already." I thought "Hey! what can we lose by trying? He probably isn't hungry." I gave AY a bottle filled with formula and he started chugging it. My baby nurse said "do the good 'ole bait and switch!" so we gave him a little formula and quickly swapped it for my bottle of breastmilk. We thought we finally got him to take it. Three sips in "WAHHH WAHHHH WAHHHHH". I finished feeding him after that with the bottle of formula. The whole time I kept wondering why my baby was rejecting me and when the feeding finished I went to my room, curled up in my bed and started crying. Mo bravely asked what's wrong and for about 45 minutes I explained to him that I really don't know what to do. I pump but nothing comes out. Then when something finally comes out AY doesn't want any of it. So why am I driving myself crazy trying to make it happen? We called a family friend and she eased my heartache by telling me I'm a great Mom whether or not I feed my baby formula or breastmilk. It's about the bonding during the feeding. The way I look down at him, talk to him, cuddle him and love him with each feeding that's important - not the content in the bottle. It's the feeding environment I create for him and if he feels loved, safe, happy and fed then I'm doing my job. I took a sigh of relief and told my baby nurse to wake me throughout the night so I can feed AY at every feeding. I wanted to bond with him and let him know I'm not there to bring him stress.
You would think by then - 9 days Postpartum I would have stopped trying to produce breast milk. Nah - I'm as stubborn as they come. I kept on pumping - but not nearly as much as I was supposed to. My goal was to get my milk supply in so maybe if I add a little more each day to AY's bottle he will get used to the taste and eventually only take breast milk. I took alfalfa sprout supplements, chugged water, Mother's Milk Tea, Gatorade, Body Armour, had two different lactation cookies/bars, ate oats and greens - nothing. I was producing 1ml again - if anything came out at all. This lasted until about 7 weeks postpartum. I kind of had one foot in the door of still trying and one foot in the door of leaving it behind. I was scared to give up. Was I quitting? Was I trying hard enough for AY? Why did I keep hearing the voices of all the people telling me "breast is best" or the person's voice repeating over and over again in my ear what they told me by AY's Bris - circumcision - "It's not the hard to nurse or give your baby breastmilk. You need to bring them to your breast every 1.5-2 hours. Forget about sleeping - if that's your concern you're being selfish. That's the one thing you need to do for your child! If you aren't doing it, you aren't trying hard enough and if that's the case you're not being a good Mother to your son." I politely responded "I really am trying, but nothing is working. We didn't have an easy start." "Try harder. Giving up isn't an option. Breast milk is the only good and healthy thing for your baby." My heart shattered. I wanted to go home and just ignore everyone. I didn't want another person to ask me how my son is being fed. Normally I would have very loudly defended myself, but I was sleep deprived, emotionally exhausted from my experience so far, and so deeply confused by this person's behavior I just smiled and said "Thank you for coming to my Simcha, I'm so happy you were able to come." I don't lie - In fact, I'm usually so very blunt I could kill with words. I fake smiled and lied through my teeth. When I came home, I handed AY off to my baby nurse and went into the shower to contemplate my efforts as a mother thus far and to sob in peace where nobody can hear me - but also, everyone could hear me because we live in a one bedroom apartment.
By seven weeks postpartum I was thinking of just stopping. I wasn't producing any milk - literally 3 drops if I was lucky. I dwindled down from my awesome 1ml. Was this even worth my time? Do I even have enough time to bottle feed AY formula, work so hard to pump when nothing comes out, and when can I take care of our apartment and myself? I spoke to Mo about it and He was so supportive. "Do you think I should stop pumping? Nothing is coming out and I don't know how to build my supply. I've tried everything and I really feel if I was properly educated before I gave birth or at the Hospital AY would have nursed and my supply would have picked up." "I think you tried your hardest with this and AY knows you love him. You can always try again with the next kid." You would think with that supportive response a weight would be lifted off my shoulders but I of course started sobbing. Mo tried to console me and while I was telling him I was fine I began to message Tamari from @onewiththepump on Instagram. I told her I was approaching 8 weeks postpartum and wanted to know if it was too late for me to get a milk supply in. Tamari gave me hope and we planned to have a consultation. Many of you may think I'm crazy for still trying at this point and that might be true because looking back on this experience I can't believe myself either.
Eight weeks postpartum, 11:30am consultation with Tamari. I got all prepared and gave Tamari a short synopsis of this experience so she could understand where I was at. Tamari told me that first she will tell me EVERYTHING I will need to do/know to make exclusively pumping at this point postpartum happen. Tamari first let me know that this whole time I was using the wrong flange size which means my pumps weren't ever able to properly pull out any milk. By 2-4 weeks from that consult if I really followed the plan she would make for me. Tamari also gave me a heads up that it would be extremely time consuming, hard, and can take a a huge toll on my mental health. After I hear all of it, I can decide if it's something I want to try out. Tamari, the first person on my journey who is a professional in the field of anything liquid gold, stressed how important it is for me to put my mental health first. "Rachel, you need to understand that BOTH your baby and your Husband would rather YOU over your breastmilk." Up until that point nobody had said that to me. Nobody told me that if it cost my mental health, liquid gold isn't worth the price. I felt like I was an inadequate mother up until that point. Not only did Tamari give me hope I can produce breast milk if I was able to follow her instructions without it impacting my mental health, but she gave me peace of heart in mind if all of this at eight weeks postpartum was too much.
We ended our session and I was determined that I can do this. Tamari ended off telling me to discuss the schedule and idea with my Husband and let her know what we both think. I began pumping right when we hung up. I tried to schedule my pumping around when AY would eat/take a nap. The first day I missed my early evening pumping session. Bathtime was hectic! I let Tamari know and she said as long as I get in all the other sessions, I should be okay. The 2am pump session is what I was dreading. I knew AY would wake up around then for a bottle anyway, so I didn't set an alarm. Mo and I agreed that I would pump while he fed AY and then we can all get back to bed ASAP. It was 5:00am when I heard "WAHH WAHHH WAHHH". I looked at the clock immediately panicked. "I MISSED ANOTHER PUMPING SESSION!!!" I immediately grabbed my pumps and got to work. I set my 35 minute timer and sat there watching Mo feed AY. Fifteen minutes into that pumping session AY was about to be finished eating and I lost all my patience to sit there hooked up to my pump at that hour. I turned to AY who looked so happy, content, satiated and peaceful and said "AY are you happy?? Good! Because if you're happy, I'm happy. I'm retiring the girls. I'm putting down the pump because ain't nobody have the time or patience for this sh*t anymore!" I unhooked myself - plopped myself back down on my pillow and for the first time since AY was born I knew both feet were in the door of leaving nursing and pumping behind and I couldn't be happier about it. Tamari kept me in check with my ultimate goal - being able to be a present, loving and good Mom to AY. She really didn't have to but before stepping into her role as a Lactation Counselor, she stepped into her humanity. That act right there of putting a Momma's mental health first when everyone else was putting the liquid gold first saved me from a complete mental breakdown. Tamari taught me that liquid gold may be the best because its made to cater to our babies needs as they grow and it's "free", but if it's costs your mental health to get it - it's NOT worth the price.
Now AY is 2.5 weeks old taking about 5oz of formula at each feeding. He's gaining weight beautifully and keeping to a pretty great schedule with eating/sleeping. I'm very happy and content with my decision. I'm planning on trying again with my next baby - G-d willing, when the time is right! I feel like after this experience Mo and I are both so much more educated and aware of what needs to be done for me to exclusively nurse, nurse + pump or exclusively pump. However, it takes two to tango and if it causes my baby stress I'm not here for it! I cannot express to you how freeing and good it felt to wash all my pumping parts, grab all the pumping bras, collect all the nursing accessories and pack them away for next time!
To all you ladies out there who also had the worst experience ever trying to nurse/pump- I see you! To all the ladies trying so hard to validate that FED IS BEST - I hear you. To all the different types of Momma's who thought it would be easy and natural because not enough people discuss how it's hard and grueling - I feel for you & I'm here to change that!