Long before I had children I promised my mom one thing. I promised her I would breastfeed. So, when my son came, formula wasn’t even something my husband and I discussed. I was actually devastated when he did have to be given formula for the first six days. He was born 5 weeks early, there were concerns about his weight, and it took 3 days for my milk to come in.
These were things no one told me about.
I had assumed the milk would come right away. I assumed it would be enough. I assumed he wouldn’t ever need formula.
I was unprepared for the latching difficulties he had. For three days, he refused. He screamed every time I tried to put him on my breast. One patient nurse helped us over and over, to no avail for three days.
I was unprepared for the massive number of times I needed to pump in order to get the milk going. There wasn’t even any colostrum, that super nutritious early milk. I hadn’t considered pumping. At all. I didn’t have a pump until the day I left the hospital sans baby, who had to stay behind for treatment for jaundice.
I was unprepared for the tears I shed, wondering what was wrong with me. Wondering if I would be able to breastfeed. In my mind, there was no other option. I did not want to give my son formula.
Then it happened. I started pumping milk. My son finally learned to latch. It was magical. I loved holding him, feeding him, watching his eyes flutter closed with pleasure as he ate to his heart’s content.
Then came the swollen, sore, painful armpits three weeks later. The full breasts. The milk leaking. The fact that I might not be eating enough and that’s why he’s cluster feeding and nothing is coming out and he’s wailing and now my husband is bringing formula back up. Tears, more tears, inadequacies.
Then we reached a happy point. I ate. He ate. He grew. He was a champion weight gainer for the first year.
But one day he refused to eat from one side. For weeks. For weeks he would only eat from the left side. The right became heavy and painful. I pumped. I expressed. I held a cup while he feed to the right side and just watched the excess milk drip. Over and over. Week after week. He only ate from the right side at night, when he was too sleepy to realize which side he was eating from. I couldn’t even save the excess milk because he wouldn’t take a bottle.
But the happy point returned. He became happy to eat from both sides again. I was happy to breastfeed him for 19 months. It was sad for both of us when it was time to wean him so I could start going to work. But he refused a bottle and was gulping down cow’s milk like crazy, so it was time.
The last time I breastfed him is something I savor. That sweet expression, the half closed eyes, the little hand resting on my breast, the love I poured out to him as the milk flowed.
Then my daughter came, 22 months after my son stopped breastfeeding. I was looking forward to breastfeeding again. I thought I knew what to expect, thought I was prepared.
She was almost term when she was born. She latched right away and sucked down that first milk. I thought it was wonderful. No latching issues and the milk came in right away. I was going to be enough right away.
She was still born a little early. There were concerns about her glucose level. Not only did she have to have her tiny foot pricked for blood throughout her first day, but we also had to give her formula.
I was a little more willing to give her formula than I was with my son. I knew it wouldn’t prevent her from breastfeeding, knew she already liked breast milk. This time around, I gave her a couple of bottles of formula (I didn’t with my son). I wanted more than anything to make sure she was okay. She was also at moderate risk for jaundice and formula was supposed to help. So, I gave her the breast and the bottle.
It felt so much easier the second time around. No waiting for the milk to come in. No endless rounds of pumping. No latching problems. She was happy to lie in my arms and eat and eat and eat.
She ate so much it made my uterus contract painfully. My womb was already shrinking rapidly before we even left the hospital. I hadn’t experienced such painful clenching with my son. Whenever she ate, I moaned in pain. Sometimes I dreaded feeding her because it was so painful.
Then it stopped just before we went home. Relief! We ended up taking some formula home as well to help prevent her from getting to that jaundice level. But she loved the breast, and I was happy.
But then she loved it too much. How is that possible? It wasn’t that she was cluster feeding. It wasn’t that she was even hungry. Most of the time she sucked, the milk came, she pulled off and screamed, and got a face full of milk.
My daughter wanted to suck. She wanted to suck and NOT eat. We were told to not give a pacifier for the first month, but, 3 weeks in, we couldn’t stand it anymore. She wanted to suck without eating. The milk came every time she sucked. We were miserable day and night.
We gave her the pacifier. She was happy. She continued to breastfeed just fine. This time, this little baby took a bottle. For a couple months. See, I had to take her brother to speech therapy once a week, so she stayed home with her grandma for about an hour and a half. She took the bottle of breast milk just fine, but after 3 or so months she just didn’t want it anymore. She was another strictly wanting breast baby. I didn’t complain.
She did the same thing her brother did. Something about the left side was very tempting. A few months had passed. My breasts were no longer achingly full from her continuous rounds of wanting to suck, but not eat. I no longer had to pump the extra milk. We were happy. But she stopped wanting to switch sides.
Oh no. I remembered this. Remembered the painful feeling in my right breast, remembered watching the milk drip into a cup. Was I doomed to have to do this all over again?
It was weird. My body just adjusted right away. She wanted the left, so the left filled with milk faster than the right. Oh, the right filled, but not to a painful level. Sometimes she even wanted that side, but, for some reason, there wasn’t any milk for her. She cried in frustration, but then I gave her the left and there was milk, so she was happy.
Today, she still does that. She still prefers the left. She has preferred the left for months now. My body has adjusted quite well. The right fills, but not by much. By the time she is ready for the right, it is just full enough for one feeding. She’s also quite good at switching at night; wants both sides at every night feeding.
My daughter is 9 months today. We still breastfeed, and will continue to do so until it no longer works for us. It was a long journey, but I finally perfected breastfeeding.
That perfect breastfeeding moment. It’s something I savor.
The milk isn’t always perfect. Sometimes there’s too much or too little. Sometimes she doesn’t really want to eat, but sucks and fills the breast anyways. Now she also likes to play with the nipple and, when her nails need a trimming, ouch.
But when she latches and eats, she has her little hand on my breast. Her eyes are often wide open and staring at me. She’s content to lie in my arms and eat as long as there is milk or until her tummy is full.
Even when her brother is jumping around and playing, it’s a moment where it’s just us, so like many moments I had with my son. Not every breastfeeding instance is perfect, but, at the same time, it is. Because I can hold her and feed her and enjoy her. I know I am enough, I can do this, both my babies could do this, and I am giving them the best thing I could.