Monday, August 18, 2014

How it feels when you want to breastfeed your child but you can’t

Today I want to write about something near and dear to my heart before it becomes a distant memory and the emotions associated with it aren’t as fresh. While this was/is my experience, it may not be the same as yours—but I think that the experience is probably not a unique one and there are many moms out there who have gone through the same thing. My hope is to validate your feelings and let you know that you are not alone.

Before our sweet baby girl was born, there was no question about whether or not I would breastfeed. My husband and I took the breastfeeding 101 class, I read books about breastfeeding and learned about the basics of technique, the joys and the struggles.

We thought we were ready. I thought I was ready. We didn’t buy a single bottle or can of formula prior to baby’s arrival. After all, I was going to breastfeed because “breast is best”.

I’m not going to go into all of the details of the struggle—but it lasted a good two months. Even at the hospital I had to self express colostrum and feed baby with a spoon. During the two months time I absolutely had to supplement with formula because baby was losing weight—even by a month she wasn’t up to her birth weight yet.  But I nursed her, rented the hospital grade pump and pumped to try to increase my milk supply (if that was the problem? The supply never increased), drank mother’s milk tea, and sought the help of lactation consultants. While many times I thought that I had it all figured out, nothing ever worked.

It came down to a choice. And while the choice was crystal clear, it did not make it any easier. And this is the part that I want to share with you most:

You look down at this beautiful baby who is screaming and you don’t know if this is simply her disposition, if something is incredibly wrong with her, or if she’s just hungry.

You have given every ounce of your strength, physically and emotionally, to try to give this precious child the very best and you come to realize that physically, you are just not capable of nourishing her.

It is hard to accept it. Breastfeeding is natural. Why can’t I do this? I’m a mother and I cannot nourish my child. What is wrong with me?

The first feelings you have are of guilt. You educated yourself on all of the benefits of breastfeeding and now you cannot provide. You fear you have failed her.

And next you will mourn. You will cry many, many tears. You wanted to feel the closeness and develop the bond that you’ve been told only nursing mothers have with their children. But you never got a chance to experience that because it didn’t happen the way that nursing naturally should. Instead it was stressful for you and the baby. And then you feel guilty again.

You feel guilty for making the choice to even supplement with formula. What if you tried harder? But you know that you have nothing else to give. And then you mourn again.

But let me tell you that after being through this and past this that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And while you may still feel the pangs of guilt every time you give your child a bottle, you are providing for your baby and she is happy and healthy for the first time—and you will feel overwhelming relief that your baby is ok. You will cry again—but this time because your heart holds so much love for this child that it is overflowing with joy that your child is finally thriving.

You will still experience the closeness to your baby. She will adore you whether she is fed breast milk or formula or both.

And you will still give everything you have.

For me, that means pumping twice a day. And while I still only get 3 oz. total to give her each day, I know that I am doing everything I can for her. For you, that may mean something else.

But you will give your best for your child—most importantly that means surrounding her with the greatest love she will ever know. That’s what mothers do.

1 comment :

  1. Wow. This could have been my story. You are not alone in not being able to produce enough for your child.
    We didn't supplement with formula at first either. I thought she was doing OK, but she had lost a quarter of her birthweight by 10 days old. The midwife who weighed her at that age sent us to the ER where they...gave her formula. She ended up in the hospital with a feeding tube for 3 days. The lactation consultant had me pump every 2 hours for 24 hours (hello no sleep) to increase my milk supply. It didn't work. All it did was make me more miserable because I was even more sleep deprived...which can negatively affect milk supply. I pumped several times a day for 3 months for her to give her what I could (which wasn't much) and gave it to her in a bottle and supplemented with formula. After I stopped pumping, I became much more sane and a better mother. With my second daughter, who actually latched properly, but still wasn't getting enough for me, the decision to supplement was easier. I did rent a pump with daughter 2 and used it a grand total of once where I ended up in tears reminded of my experience the first time around. I made the decision to let her get what she could directly from me and supplement with formula right away. It was a much happier beginning. I still held her close when I fed her and looked into her beautiful eyes. You can still bond.

    I understand the guilt. Other lactation consultants told me that anything we can give them is good and better than nothing and that there wasn't really a wrong decision. It sounds like you have a great plan (in my opinion, which shouldn't really matter ;) )



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