Before I even got pregnant, I knew I wanted to nurse my baby. When people would ask if I intended to breastfeed (kind of a strange and personal question, if you ask me) I always said that I was going to try. If it didn’t work out then so be it. However, I never really had any doubt of my success. How very wrong I was.
I’ve already written in a previous post about Benjamin’s time in the hospital and that’s when the trouble started. Usually after a baby is born, you start nursing right away, but my baby couldn’t eat anything for more than a day after he was born. He was on IV fluids to keep him hydrated and nourished but we couldn’t try nursing because he was under the oxygen hood. When he was born they did everything they could to get the fluid out of his airway and lungs. That means that they had to stick a tube far down his little throat and this hurt him badly. He was terrified of anything going in his mouth. Plus, they gave him a pacifier immediately after he was born so he was very confused about eating.
I started pumping immediately so that my supply wouldn’t disappear while he couldn’t nurse and so I would have milk to give him when he could. Once we tried nursing he was very resistant. He would push away and scream like he was being burned every time we tried. I felt like he hated me. I also felt like a complete failure. How could this be happening? As a new mother, I only had a few responsibilities. Feed him, protect him from harm and get him to sleep. He was sick and in the hospital so I wasn’t protecting him or getting him to sleep, and now I couldn’t even feed him. Since the nursing wasn’t going so well, one of the nurses told me that we had to start supplementing with formula. That was my darkest hour. I broke down with the weight of my failure and how unfair it all was. I realize now that I wasn’t actually failing at all. Every baby brings trials and difficulties, it’s just that ours came all at once.
I hated the formula. I hated the sight of those stupid little bottles. I hated the smell of it. But most of all, I hated how much Benjamin seemed to enjoy it more than my milk that I worked so hard to pump for him. Every time we tried nursing we would have to revert to a bottle of formula and I’d feel like a failure again. I’m a very determined person and I always thought that if I work hard enough, I could do anything. Except this wasn’t working no matter how hard I worked.
We saw countless lactation consultants and they all had different advice and techniques. It was so confusing! One of the techniques we tried was to take some of the milk I pumped and use a syringe to squirt the milk into his mouth. This way he would get the instant gratification that a bottle gives and he would subsequently be more willing to latch on to me. The syringe was my husband’s job. He would stand over my shoulder with that syringe and tell me it was OK when Benjamin and I both started crying because it wasn’t working. He would squirt the milk into Benji’s mouth and take him from me when it became too much. I can’t express how great Steven was during this time. He was my rock, my port in the storm, my every thing, my insert your own cliché here. When I felt like giving up, he encouraged and supported me. He also told me it was OK to quit trying. This was very important. Allowing me to give up made me try harder but it also meant that if I did quit, I wouldn’t be letting him down as well as Benjamin.
I didn’t quit and by the time Benjamin was ready to leave the hospital, he was nursing intermittently. He was still taking the formula as well, but at least we were getting somewhere. I took a couple dozen of those stupid formula bottles home with us in case he wouldn’t nurse. The first couple of days were very difficult. Because he had a pacifier first, he didn’t know how to latch properly. This caused me a great deal of pain. They tell you that nursing hurts at first, but this wasn’t normal. It was excruciating. But I kept going because I had to. There was nothing more important to me than breastfeeding my baby. I prayed harder for him to eat from me than I have ever prayed for anything. I would hold him, crying, and pray “Please God, teach Benjamin how to eat. Help him learn, please… please…”
My prayers were answered. I never used any of the formula I brought home.
We both got the hang of things over time but it took 2 months. Several moms I know nursed for 8 weeks and gave it up because it was too hard. I totally understand why now. At 8 weeks I was at my wits end. It still hurt beyond tolerance every time I nursed and I didn’t think Benjamin would ever learn the right way to latch on. How could I continue like that? If he never learned the right way and I was in constant pain, was it really worth it? I kept going, though, and at 2 months we hit a sweet spot. Everything started clicking. I finally felt the bond that nursing brings between the 2 of us and it no longer hurt. So if anyone is looking for advice on breastfeeding, all I can say is this: keep going for 2 whole months. If you can make it 2 months, it will probably work out.
And it’s totally worth it. I love nursing now. It’s the best! Knowing that I’m feeding him exactly what he needs most gives me such a sense of pride. I feel like I was made to do this. When he looks up at me and smiles while he’s eating… those are the most crucial moments in my life now. In those precious moments, I thank God for giving me the perseverance to keep going. I wouldn’t give up that time for anything. I’m actually worried now that I might become one of those moms that nurses until the kid is 5! I’m kidding of course, but seriously, I don’t have plans to give it up any time soon. Benjamin and I worked too hard and the rewards are too great.