My breastfeeding journey was filled with setbacks - nipple aversion, delayed latch, and pain. By today, as we approach 17 months of breastfeeding, I have experienced many of the challenges that women list for discontinuing. The choice to breastfeed can be filled with obstacles but I hope my story gives a message of hope.
My son refused to latch after starting with bottles and pacifiers in the NICU. To him, milk came from a bottle and my nipple was a symbol of disappointment. Perhaps he remembered his first few days of life when he relied on donor milk. I knew early on that I formula wasn’t for us, but like many first times moms, my milk didn’t come in until he was a few days old.
My milk came in about a week later, but he was already accustomed to the bottle. We met with the lactation consultant before leaving the hospital but nothing changed. “He has nipple confusion,” the home nurse told me.
As a new mom, the expectations seemed never ending. I didn’t understand how all my pre-baby research let me down. Soon I was overcome by feelings of hopelessness. But before she left, the nurse said one last thing. “You’re doing so great. I know things are hard but don’t forget that.”
Suddenly, some of the pressure was lifted. By remembering that I was already doing great, I was reminded that everything else was extra. My son had overcome many challenges and was thriving. If he was healthy, we were fine.
So I decided to go easy on myself. Pumping wasn’t the most convenient feeding method but it allowed me to keep my milk supply up and share feedings with my husband. Some didn’t understand my persistence with breastfeeding, but the people most important to me - my husband and my mother - supported me. I had so much to be grateful for, and that relieved some of my stress.
Over the next few weeks, I researched tips for exclusively pumping. It wasn’t ideal but it was an effective feeding method. I didn’t give up on breastfeeding but the decrease in pressure allowed me to think clearly.
Without the pressure, I wasn’t frustrated when he wouldn’t latch, and he sensed that. When he was a month old, I absentmindedly offered him the breast as I looked for his bottle. And he latched! I was so happy I called everyone who supported me. But that wasn’t the end of our challenges.
Nursing was painful and felt uncomfortable so I visited my local La Leche League leader. She studied his latch and took the time to show the flaws in our hold. For the first time, I was able to breastfeed without pain. Up until that moment, everything I’d done as a parent related to breastfeeding and I couldn’t help noticing how those hard times shaped me as a mother.
Our struggles taught me the importance of support and education. There were many times I wanted to quit, but that first latch made it all feel worth it. I’m grateful for what we’ve been through. It allows me to be a resource to other moms experiencing issues with nursing. Most important, the fear of being unable to nurse taught me your success as a mother is not tied to your feeding method. And to remind other moms, “You’re doing so great. I know things are hard but don’t forget that.”
About the author:
Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez is a writer who specializes in sociology, health, and parenting. Her work has appeared in Healthline, Yes! Magazine, HuffPost, Allure, and many other publications. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter or check out her website.