There was no question in my mind - I was going to breastfeed my baby. After all, "breast is best." Friends warned me, "Breastfeeding is hard and painful at times." But I wasn't swayed. I looked forward to feeding my baby and sharing that special bond.
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When our baby boy arrived two weeks early, my breasts still felt empty. The nurse put him on my chest to breastfeed, but he wasn't interested. My heart sunk. The moment I had been dreaming about vanished, and my breastfeeding nightmare began. "Don't worry," the nurse reassured me. "It takes some babies longer. Keep trying."
After 12 hours and no luck, I reluctantly gave him a bottle of formula and he happily sucked away.
Soon enough the pediatrician discovered our baby was tongue-tied. "Maybe that's why he won't latch," he suggested. I clung to hope. But after his tongue was clipped a few days later, still no difference.
My doctor signed me up to see a lactation specialist. "It can take some time for some mother's milk to come in and the trauma of childbirth can also delay milk production," he explained. "Just make sure your baby is getting enough to eat even if it's formula." He had seen too many new mothers fixated on breastfeeding and babies losing weight because of it.
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The lactation nurse arrived and was quick to get to the root of the problem. She squeezed and pushed at my breast. "There's not enough there to get him to latch. You need to pump to get your supply up," she concluded.
We paid a small fortune and bought the best pump out there. The next four weeks I pumped eight times a day, whether it was 3 am, in a bathroom stall or in the car. The little bit of milk I managed to pump was like gold. I made sure every drop my son ate. On a few occasions, in my exhausted state, I tipped over the bottle and cried over the spilt milk.
While I struggled the first weeks of motherhood to breastfeed, it seemed everyone had their own solutions and advice: drink beer, just relax, hot showers, different positions, let your baby get really hungry, drink mother's milk tea, tickle his feet, skin-to-skin.
I dreaded meeting people with my new baby in my arms. I knew they would ask the unavoidable question: Are you breastfeeding? I'd stammer to answer. In my head everything seemed like an excuse.
People's comments would play through my head again and again. Family went on about how I took to the breast right away when I was born. Strangers would lecture me on how important it is to breastfeed. A friend told me that every woman can breastfeed - those who use a bottle are lazy.
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During playgroups, as the other mothers would sweetly breastfeed their babies, I would embarrassedly pull out my tin of formula and make my baby a bottle. Occasionally a breastfeeding mother would comment how much easier it must be to bottle-feed. I'd quickly change the subject worried I'd launch into a rant.
I'd lay awake at night and make up crazy scenarios in my head: What if my baby and I got lost or snowed in and I didn't have formula or clean water? What would I do to feed my hungry baby?
A few weeks into motherhood and I felt like I was already failing. I couldn't feed my own baby. I'd watched teary-eyed while my husband peacefully fed our son from a bottle and I sat uncomfortably hooked up to a machine. I was missing this precious bonding time with our baby.
I was guilt ridden. I wasn't giving my son the best and he wasn't getting the head start he deserved. What if he didn't develop as fast as a breastfed baby, or what if his immune system was put at risk?
For the next month, we saw a lactation nurse every few days. When one didn't work, we saw another; each with their own tricks, nipple shields, tiny tubes and syringes, undressing him to keep him awake. He would occasionally latch and my heart would leap. Then he'd let go.
I quietly begged him to keep going. The nurse explained it's a catch-22 - if there is no milk, he won't latch, and if he doesn't latch, your body won't produce milk.
I stocked up on supplements to try and bump up supply. When those didn't work, I went to my doctor for a prescription. He reluctantly prescribed it to me and warned me of the side effects. The medication helped and for one week I was able to feed my baby only breast milk. But stubbornly he still would only take the bottle.
The next week I couldn't keep up with his appetite and had to top up with formula. I was exhausted and miserable. The side effects from the medication gave me terrible headaches and cramps.
My husband supported my decision to breastfeed, going to every appointment, quietly listening and helping in any way. But after a month of little progress he urged me to stop. He had grown up on formula and was fine, he said over and over again. It wasn't worth the stress of constantly pumping. I was missing out on valuable time with my son. He needed his mother, not breast milk.
My husband was right.
After six weeks of appointments, specialists, a couple thousand dollars, all the tricks, medication, pumping, I had to give up on my dreams of breastfeeding. After a couple days being pump-free, I felt like a weight had been lifted.
I was finally able to really enjoy my baby.