Last week was World Breastfeeding Week. I bet you didn’t even know that was a thing….well it is! I also bet you didn’t know that wasn’t until 2018 that breastfeeding became a legally protected right in all 50 states. Yep. Why all the fuss over breastfeeding? Why all the effort? Isn’t it natural and something we do as mammals? Again, yep and because breastfeeding can be extremely difficult. This is my personal story of my breastfeeding saga through my 3 children.
When I was pregnant with my first baby I knew I was going to breastfeed because all the books and classes told me that it was the best thing to do. It was also free. My husband and I were newlyweds and barely making it financially, so I liked free. A lot. We did all the things, we went to classes, we read books, and talked with friends but surprisingly, I had never actually seen someone breastfeed uncovered. This was many years before I became doula. More on that later. So, when it came time to do my daughter’s first feeding, I held her to the breast and waited for her to do something. Well, she cried. Then cried some more. Then I cried. What happened?! She was supposed to just jump on my nipple and have lunch!! A nurse came over to help me and gave a few pointers but then she left! At some point that night while I was still staring at this gorgeous and completely bewildering baby another nurse handed me a nipple shield. A nipple shield is a silicon apparatus that suctions to your nipple and allows baby to latch without making contact on the skin or needing a “good latch.” I thought I was saved!! Boy, was I wrong. We were sent home soon after the nipple shield made an appearance. I continued to “latch” my daughter with the shield and stay chained to my couch or bed for a few weeks. I had no idea that I was completely uneducated. I was used to having the answers! I was smart! Why did I need help from a wise woman who had been here before? So, I continued. My milk supply started disappearing. My daughter started crying all the time. She was hungry. I decided that I had failed and switched to formula when she was barely 3 months old. The decision to use formula is not a failure. The decision to start with formula from the beginning is not a failure. Do what works best for your family. This is just my story and how I interpreted the events at the time.
When my second child, a son, was born I was determined to “do a better job” breastfeeding. I tried and tried to latch him but still had no idea what I was looking for. I can still remember the feeling of sitting on my bed screaming in pain while he latched, and my blood ran out of his mouth. My mother was there with my husband and they begged me to give him formula and stop torturing myself. I didn’t give in, but I compromised and bought a nipple shield. My nipples recovered! But soon after, my milk supply dwindled and then after a battle with mastitis, a horribly painful and debilitating breast infection, my milk supply was nonexistent. Off I went to the store to buy the very expensive formula my baby needed. I was beside myself. I had failed twice, in my head anyway. I battled with postpartum depression after both of my babies. It was noticeably worse the second time. I am convinced it was partly due to the unrealistic pressure I had put on myself to breastfeed without having ever seen it done well and without any education and a calm hand to hold mine while my baby and I learned together.
When it came time for my third baby to be born, I did everything I could prenatally to change my postpartum and breastfeeding outcomes. I reached out, I hired a doula, I sat with my breastfeeding friends and asked them tons of questions. Did I feel dumb some of the time? Of course, I did! But I was desperate. After the birth of my third child, a daughter, my doula stayed with me until I had latched her and she fed. Then she stayed, and I was able to experience a good latch, for the first time. I was able to feel the difference. She showed me physical markers for what good latch should look like. She held my hand when my nipples got sore, never excruciating and bleeding but hey, they get sore. She rejoiced with me when latching didn’t hurt anymore! I would send her pictures of my daughters latch and she would respond and give tips, or she would send all of the “heart eyed” smiley faces she could fit in the frame! She helped me navigate those first few weeks of engorgement and then regulate supply and demand. I was breastfeeding my daughter and she was growing, and I was sleeping and enjoying every moment. I exclusively breastfed my daughter until she was 14 months old and one day told me, “No thank you.” I never dealt with any postpartum mood disorders the third time around. It was completely different. That is when I decided to train to do what she does. I needed to be able to do it for others.
Why did I share this story? Hopefully, to encourage you mothers who are breastfeeding, and it is not what you pictured. To encourage you to reach out and find someone knowledgeable to sit with you and hold your hand. Hopefully, to educate those who do not yet have babies at the breast to talk with people! Books are not enough, I promise. To encourage those who tried so hard or didn’t want to try at all, that’s its ok. Our number one calling as mothers is to care for our children and make the best decisions we can with the information we currently have. Good job for doing that. Ultimately, I hope that my story can encourage you to find some help, reach out and create a village who support you and your baby no matter what your feeding story is.
Kelly Losey is a local Doula. Her services provides birth, postpartum, and lactation support services to birthing mothers in the Los Angeles South Bay area. Learn more about Kelly here.