Thursday, January 20, 2011

The dark side of nursing- what I wish I'd known

To anyone who feels scandalized by the topic of nursing I urge you to stop reading now. This was a deeply personal and difficult post to write but enough new moms and mother's to be read this blog that I feel its important to talk about it particularly since months ago I could find nothing like it when I needed it most. Note:This is NOT a post about whether or not you should breastfeed- this is a post for people who are planning to and some advice I wish I was given before my son arrived.

I always planned to nurse. There was never any doubt. Then I had my son and learned something I did not and could not know until that very moment: I hated breastfeeding. I never hated anything more. And this hatred shocked me. Before I had Waleed I read many books on breastfeeding, scoured the internet, spoke with other mothers. I was told ad nauseum the benefits of nursing and warned about latch, supply, positions, but no one told that me I just might hate it with a passion. I didn't know why I felt this way. It baffled me. Yes it was time consuming, sleep depriving, sometimes painful, but it wasn't that. The hate came from a place without reason. I cried literally each and every time. I fantasized about running to Sam's club and buying buckets of formula. I switched to pumping- which was better- but still not great- and I felt guilty that God blessed me with a healthy beautiful baby, abundant supply, and I could not stand the act of nursing.

People kept saying it gets better but I had a hard time believing this. Two months, they said but two weeks in, two months felt like two years. I called my hospital lactation service, but they seemed horrified and I felt worse. I was about to give up. Then K went to pick up a lawn mower from a Craigslist seller. It wasn't revving and as they waited for it to warm up, the two made small talk with the usual so what do you do? Kate? She was a lactation consultant. We talked on the phone and she gave me advice and told me my feelings were normal. Some women get dysphoric milk ejection and its okay, it goes away with time, and not everyone loves nursing. She was busy lady and it was the only conversation I had with her. I began feeling hopeless a few days in when K, on the elevator at work making small talk with a fellow officer learned that in a former life she was a lactation consultant. I talked to April almost every day. She helped me work through the feelings. Gave me advice. She was my cheerleader when I needed it most. And thanks to Kate, April, and all the people in my support system, I managed to make it to the other side.

And now? Now I love nursing. Just like people promised, it got better. [Ofcourse by then he'd gotten used to pumped milk and it was a struggle to get him used to nursing again- but that's a whole different story].

Not everyone hates it, but if you are in my shoes, here are some words to live by:
  1. Talk to a lactation consultant. And keep talking until you find the one that will work for you. Like I said, the hospital consultants were awful. Luckily K introduced me to two wonderful women. Most hospitals have them, LLL volunteers are a phone call away, as your child's pediatrician- they have recommendations as well.
  2. Take it one feeding at a time. A few people gave me this advice and above all else, this is the reason I am nursing today. If I thought at week 2 about month 2 I wanted to give up but if I focused just that feed, and nothing more I could make it through. Feed by feed I made it to the other side.
  3. Get a good pump if you don't want to nurse but want to give breastmilk. Invest in a good quality pump. A hospital grade pump will not only maintain your supply but will help you increase your supply which is important in the early months whereas a store bought pump will usually just maintain what you already have. This site has great advice.
  4. It really does get better. I promise. It does. And if it doesnt ever get better, remember. . .
  5. . . .Nursing is a choice. Yours and yours alone. The majority of mothers do not breastfeed and their children are fine. Don't beat yourself up. Don't let anyone else. Your baby needs a good mom, how you feed them does not factor into the equation. I am so thankful the people in my life gave me comfort and no judgments as I struggled with my decision. I hope you will be so lucky and that you will not beat yourself up regardless of the decision you make.
If you have advice for anyone else reading, or can simply relate, please share. I hope that anyone else who was in my shoes just eight months ago can find this one day and know that they are not alone.

35 comments:

Jamila said...

When I first had Rania, she was tongue tied(which I've talked about briefly on my blog). Breast feeding was frustrating. She'd cry and fight me. Then I'd cry. I wanted to chuck it and go to formula.

Then we got her tongue clipped. It was amazing, she was able to latch. But, boy was it painful. It's gotten much better. I took it one feed at a time. Sometimes she still fights and refuses to nurse. Those times are further and further apart though. Anyway, the point is, like you said, a support system is so important. Nursing isn't easy. No one tells you that. I thought it was intuitive. It's not. I'm glad you got help and that things are better now.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad that you give the advice you do. I think there are a lot things that women don't talk about and it would be so helpful to new moms if they did! Pixie

Maleeha said...

Thanks for this post Aisha. And for your honesty. I hated breastfeeding when I started too. The first few ones felt like torture because he wasnt latching properly. Then when he did, I hated the frequency of it. Every 2 hours or so. I vowed to quit every day, but somehow made it through. I never did call a lactation consultant, maybe I should have. Now he's 15 months and I'm still nursing at least once a day, but it has gotten much much better. The upside is that he doesnt get sick that often thank God, which my mom is convinced is because I breasfed him. Who knows. But the fact is, nobody prepared me for how hard breastfeeding would be. The first three months of his life were really difficult because of this alone. And the thought of going through this again, when and if I decide to have another one inshallah, makes me groan.

Anonymous said...

wow thanks for this!

Aisha said...

Jamila, thanks for sharing your own struggle- once Rania is on solids- it will get even better!

Pixie, thank you, I thought of you as I wrote this since I know you're expecting. I hope you don't go through what I did- but if you do, at least this might be of some benefit.

Maleeha- wow- I had no idea that you also struggled. Two hours was maddening- sometimes less, and then each session lasting thirty minutes or more. I too worry about the next go around if I am blessed with another child- is it worth it to go through the darkness to reach this? Or is it better to be in a happier place in the early weeks albeit via formula feeding- I still am not sure.

Anon- glad it was helpful!

E said...

I hated it. I will honestly never try it again, that is how much I hate it. But, my body never works right. I have chronic low milk supply and I don't have "milk ejection". My poor babies starve when I try to breastfeed. So, I went to the pump and that quickly became hell. I would spend 45 minutes just trying to get 2 to 4 ounces. I was in pain the whole time. I was getting clogs every other day. It was horrible. What a relief to stop and use formula. Everything turned out just fine!! I will never attempt to breastfeed again and that's okay too.

cheryllookingforward said...

This is beautifully said. I hated it for at least the first month. My goal was 3 months and I would look at the calendar every day and think about how great it would be when I was done. I'm not sure when the switch flipped, but today was my last nursing session and I cried. I made it 8 months and 1 day. I loved it by the end.
I'm going to try to remember the way I felt in the beginning so I can talk about it openly. Not just how much I loved it at the end, but how hard it was to get to the point where I loved it.
I love your attitude about how nursing is a choice. If only everyone felt that way!

Aisha said...

E, I remember how much you struggled and I don't blame you. thanks for sharing your experience

Cheryl, congrats on making it to 8 months! I have a question for you, will your baby even take formula now because mine won't take it no matter what even if it's just in his cereal. or are you switching to cow milk

Michele said...

Could for you for sharing your story!!

Anonymous said...

Wow, thanks for sharing...I was in the same boat--the whole idealistic "how could moms not breastfeed their kids considering the benefits"? But, this has def. given me something to chew on :)

Aisha said...

Michele, thanks I remember your story of struggles too!

Anon- I was the same way before I had Waleed- now I have a newfound understanding of the situation :)

raisingbrainchild said...

Thank you! I think that we need more moms in the world who are willing to express that not everything about childrearing is black or white.

I had supply issues. Bear kept losing weight after birth and didn't return to her birth weight until a month later, at which point, her pediatrician had me supplement. She was nearly dx'd as a "failure to thrive" baby simply because I didn't have enough milk.

I used LCs. I used herbs, drugs, pumping, you-name-it. I did everything that I could to improve my supply and failed. And while I was comfortable with the idea of supplementing, it seemed that the rest of the world wasn't. I got "looks" at Target while buying formula. I was questioned by well-meaning moms as to why I was giving my newborn a bottle. It angered me. Unfortunately, breastfeeding was something that I did not have any control over.

In addition to the supply struggle, I began having vasospams, which were painful. I hated every moment of it.

But, once I returned to work and stopped trying to increase my supply and began pumping and only nursing when I was home, things got so much better. I was able to keep giving Bear some breastmilk until after she turned one.

Breastfeeding is HARD. I'm so glad that you've finally reached that place where you enjoy nursing!

Ban said...

What a good post. I mean, I'm sorry you went through such feelings, but what a good thing to share, because you are definitely not alone!

I didn't hate breastfeeding - and Wiggles always had a great latch. But, he also had The Reflux, and for about 3 weeks there (from weeks 5-8 I'd say) I honestly felt like I was poisoning him. Because I'd feed him, and then he'd cry a heart-breaking cry. And I'd cry.

And I had his awful pediatrician telling me it was because of what I was eating (which, it was...but that just made me feel more guilty and more like my breastmilk was poison) and it just seemed like he'd be better off on formula. Luckily, I had enough people around me to convince me to keep at it and formula is darn expensive. So I just kept going, feed by feed, like you.

And, like you said, it gets better.

So thanks for sharing your experiences and I'm glad you like it now!

Anonymous said...

This is why I formula fed. it wasnt an easy decision but I couldnt do it anymore.

katery said...

aww, such a good post aisha, i wish more moms were honest about their experiences. i started thinking today that i should post about how i felt when i had louise and shortly thereafter, let's just say, not good. i really don't sugar-coat anything, but i'm pretty sure you probably know that about me by now :) i knew the first time i tried to breastfeed that i was not going to be able to do it, and i remember how very very hard it was for you, but you stuck with it and that is one of the many reasons that you are an AMAZING mother.

Aisha said...

@Raising- I remember reading about you weaning your baby girl but had no idea the struggle you had. wow. Kudos to you. What do you think you'll do if you have another baby? Will you decide against breastfeeding alltogether due to the stress it caused?

@Ban thanks for sharing your perspective and experiences on this. Like you, my son had acid reflux which was also horrible- my doctor said the opposite- that it had nothing to do with my eating and that it should not be one more thing to add to my plate of guilt. I'm sorry you had such a tough experience but glad that like me you made it to the other side :)

Anon- you have to do what oyu have to do!

Kate, I hope you do write about your experiences. Thanks for calling me an amazing mom :) You too are also an amazing mother to sweet Louise!

kmina said...

There is always something to rain on our parade, isn't it?
I am very sorry you went through this and kudos to you for sticking with it even though it was so hard. I am happy for you that now you get to experience the beauty of this kind of bonding. But people need to know it is not the only way to bond with a child.
I had something else to say, but it flew right out of my sleep deprived brain. Going to the paediatrician this afternoon and must keep the one neuron working until then.

Aisha said...

Kmina, thanks :) Keep us posted on the ped!!!!

Sarah said...

Great post! I am so glad you wrote it. It feels as easy as it is for people to suggest breastfeeding, there is not always readily information out there about what to do when things dont go as planned. I didn't exactly hate nursing, but it was a HUGE struggle for us the first few weeks. Eventually we got our feet under us, but it if wasn't for great doctors and our lactation specialist I am not sure we would have made it. I ended up breastfeeding my son for 13.5 months, so it was well worth it in the end!

ICLW #8

katie said...

I really appreciate you writing about your struggles. I thought it would be tough but not anywhere as hard as it was. I suprised myself though, i thought i wouldn't really like it but i really did. The problem was that i was in terrible pain. I got blisters and no matter what i did it never worked well. I paid for so many lactation consultants to come and they were bermused when after what looked like a great latch the baby would come off and i would have a great dime sized blister. She also got her tongue clipped as one consultant thought it was a little tight but the pain continued. In the end at 3 months i stopped and pumped exclusively for 12 months. It was a relief to stop and just pump. I wish people were more honest. it would make it easier on everyone

Monique said...

This is something I hadn't known about until a few weeks ago when I randomly went about clicking breastfeeding links. I am grateful that I loved nursing each of my little ones from the beginning, I Know I would not have made it far if I felt the way you did. You're a strong woman! I'm so glad nursing worked out for you. :) {Visiting from ICLW!}

Aisha said...

Sarah, what a great experience you had thanks to the support system in your life! 13.5 months wow! Thanks for sharing :)

Katie, thanks for your comment and for sharing your experience- I felt so guilty because I didn't have the truly legitimate struggles you had with pain, blisters, etc but simply HATED it- but we each have our own challenges- I admire you for pumping for so long- its NOT easy and its not fun- kudos!

Monique- you are very blessed that you didn't have those challenges- thanks for sharing that its not always hard at all!

Browniris said...

Thanks so much for sharing this!

Happy ICLW!

Aramelle said...

Thanks so much for posting this. I think it's so important for women to be able to be honest about our experiences (and for other women to be able to find the support they need and know they're not alone). I think that feeling of guilt holds a lot of us back from really sharing the truth behind our stories.

Like you, I prepared myself for nursing with all kinds of research. I had one particular book that was strongly recommended by many people that even came to the hospital with me. For whatever reason, I obsessed over the possible issues that we might encounter and wanted to arm myself against them before BFing ever began. We had our share of problems, and I sought out help, just like you suggest. I was lucky to have access to amazing LCs via our hospital, and I found a lot of support in a new mothers group that I joined at the hospital.

I never hated BFing, itself. Actually, I rather enjoyed the actual act of nursing. But I HATED what BFing did to me. I became obsessed with it. To the point where I measured my level of success as a mother based on how well each nursing session went and how much my son gained in the week between group meetings. Finally when he was about 6 weeks old, it seemed we finally had one another figured out, and I managed to relax about it all.

Then I went back to work and began pumping daily. I obsessed again. My supply dipped, and I worried each pumping session about whether I would get enough milk. I drove myself crazy over the need to produce enough milk to sustain him at daycare. I even reached the point where I would feel embarrassed to go into the kitchen at work and put my milk away if others were in there...what if they saw that I hadn't pumped enough??? I tried every herbal supplement suggested and eventually went on a prescription medication to help with my supply. Still, it wasn't quite enough, and the time came where my husband had to force me to see that we were going to have to supplement with formula. It wasn't a lot...one bottle's worth every other day at daycare, but it crushed my spirit. In my mind, it made me a failure. I felt betrayed by my body. And I confess that there was a little piece of me that felt betrayed by my son when he happily accepted that first taste of formula as if nothing were wrong with "us."

Eventually, I managed to relax about that, though, too. I was surrounded by wonderfully supportive people who reminded me frequently that every bit of BM that my son got was wonderful and applauded me for how far we'd come. Once I finally let go of all the guilt that I'd forced upon myself, I was able to just enjoy feeding my boy.

My son is now 13 months old, and we are still nursing. And I feel like the struggle has made this accomplishment all the sweeter.

Aisha said...

Thx Browniris :)

Aramelle, Wow- thank you SO much for sharing- I know your experience is one that many others have experienced so I appreciate you reaching out and sharing it so others will feel less alone. When I pumped I remember feeling that way- I would go nuts trying to figure out output- what it meant, etc. It was a horrible way to live- and once I got over my breastfeeding issues I breastfed exclusively b/c pumping is HARD. Kudos to you, 13 months is great :)

R said...

wow, i had no idea about d-mer or that breastfeeding could be so challenging. thank you so much for sharing aisha, i really appreciate it even though i don't have any kids yet. but when the time comes i know where to come for comfort and insight :)

i also wanted to say, i hope you continue to write and that this blog is up and available forever! i love how you write and reflect and also offer insights. in recent months some of my other fave writers decided to stop blogging due to personal reasons and also deleted their entire blogs. i understand and respect they have their reasons, but i feel sad knowing i can't ever again read some of the most beautiful entries i've ever read and learned so much from and would have loved to return to from time to time.

anyways, i just wanted to let you know, i wholeheartedly appreciate your writing and sharing :)

Aisha said...

R, you are so kind- wow- that is one of the nicest comments I've ever received- thank you SO much for your kind words- I dont get paid to do this so knowing that you are reading and enjoying what I write means more than you know and gives me the motivation to keep on going. Thank you :)

Fruitful Fusion said...

Thanks for such a beneficial post Aisha! I think it will help many!

Aisha said...

Thanks Fruitful :)

bongi said...

hey aisha!! my little girl was born on the 12th jan, by emergency caesarean! just thought id tell you as i dont update my blog!! ive just today managed to sit down and try n catch up with blogs and so much to read on yours, which i will get to, but this post particularly caught my attention.
i hear ya, i feel ya.....i had similar problems to start with. for the first 3 days of my hospital stay i had the most shit midwife care...the first day, a midwife "taught" me how to breastfeed, she plonked baby on me, baby hadnt a clue what she was doing...midwife tried a few times, then said "oh some babies just arent good at it, keep trying" and left the room....i hadnt read about breastfeeding, i wasnt born with the knowledge, and just cos im a doctor doesnt mean i know anything about it. i had a miserable few days, she lost 11% of her body weight...and it wasnt until night 3 that an angel walked into my room and taught me....even then, people say "its meant to be painful" so i assumed that pain came with the territory, id scream inside every time baby latched on, i hated the thought of feeding time, i kept nearly quitting every night, i wanted so bad to switch her to formula, as the pain was unbearable, i was literally bleeding every time. and then it turned out when i got home, a support worker turned up and told me i was doing it all wrong, that baby was latching onto the end....man im telling you, i wanted to pull all my hair out, and quit again, i was crying every time, feeling depressed, resenting everything and everyone......but it got beter, and alhamdulillah the past two days have been pain free, babies latching and feeding well, and all is good....the fact that baby has no sense of her stomach and how much to eat...is an entirely different issue.
phew, it felt good to get that out xx

bongi said...

breastfeeding has become such an issue in the uk that in antenatal classes the midwives arent even allowed to talk about bottle feeding, its madness` i hate that i felt sooo guilty thinking about formula even tho i was in ridicukous amount of pain

Aisha said...

Bongi- Bahot Bahot Mubarak! Aw- I've been known you for years now in the venue of the comments and blogs but am so happy for you as though we're frieinds who sit down for tea on a regular basis.

I am SO sorry to hear about your difficult breastfeeding experience and am shocked at how militant they are about breastfeeding overseas because here in the US there are definitely mixed messages- on one hand we're encouarged to breastfeed with lactation consultants at the hospital, but then they give out "swag" of formula as much as you want. . .

Breastfeeding despite being from nature is not NATURAL- its HARD- its why we have lactation consultants- and formula companies- because its not easy to breasfeed. Back in the day people got wet nurses because of the difficulty and issues associated (one of the reasons anyways). So kudos to you to for sticking with and remember its always your choice- dont let anyone make you feel like its not.

Hang in there and email me anytime if you have any questions that I could in any way help you with :)

jenicini said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog! So true about bfing! The docs have told me to give it up after all of the mastitis craziness, but I'm at peace with it. :)

Alia Macrina Heise said...

Thank you for your honest post about D-MER. I enjoyed reading it. Are you are bilingual? Would you ever consider volunteering to translate the D-MER handouts for us? We have Dutch, German are almost done and Italian may be coming....Anyway, if if it doesn't work out I enjoyed visiting your blog! Blessings! -Alia Macrina Heise

Rachael said...

Thank you so much for this! I didn't hate breastfeeding, but it was a lot more work than I had expected. Some of it was cleaning kind of work (I had to pump and there's a lot of pump maintenance involved!), and some of it was the mental kind (where I worried constantly about whether he was getting enough milk because I had a low supply). Once I started supplementing, I felt better. I did feel the guilt about not being able to breastfeed the way I had expected to, but I finally had some time and space to enjoy the act of nursing. And I did until I finally chose (around 11 months) to wean him completely. We were down to one session a day and I just wanted my body back because my breasts were constantly an issue from birth on. I struggled with the selfishness of that decision (and wrote about it a bit on my blog), but in the end, I decided that my son was just fine on formula. He had been fine for a long time. And I had given it my all, which is enough for one tired mama to do.

I wish I had read this post before giving birth, though I wonder if I would have paid close attention the way I do now having been through it. I know now that breastfeeding isn't necessarily a choice, it isn't the only way a mother makes a child feel loved or nourished, and it's not always the best. Really: thank you!

Happy ICLW!

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