Birth plans. Expecting moms love to make them. But what experienced mamas or health care professionals will tell you is that birth plans never go quite as well planned.
Leading up to the delivery of my third baby a few weeks ago, I felt pretty confident that I knew what was coming in terms of labor, delivery, and postpartum (little fun, lots of pain). And one of those components was that I would breastfeed my baby, just like I had done for his two older sisters.
It was a given. No questions asked.
So I stocked up on nursing pads, busted out the pump, and even had three heads of cabbage ready in the fridge to get me through that first agonizing week.
I was ready – excited even – to nurse another baby.
What I didn’t anticipate, however, was that my baby would have zero interest in breastfeeding. And by “interest” I mean flat-out refusal.
Here’s how it would go down every two hours: Put baby on boob, nipple in mouth, baby screams, arches, refuses to latch. Baby gets frustrated, mama gets frustrated, baby cries, mama cries.
Here’s some of the things I tried in effort to get him to nurse: pumping to let down and then putting him on, hand expressing, dripping milk in his mouth, attempting to feed when he’s sleepy, attempting to feed when he’s fully awake, skin to skin, a dozen different holding positions, nipple shields, and a fancy contraption from the doctor. I talked to three different lactation specialists. I attempted to nurse in front of the pediatrician.
Ultimately, I knew that the baby needed fed – someway, somehow. So we reluctantly whipped out a bottle. He gulped it down without a peep. And I sobbed.
What followed in the next several days was much of the same pattern. I was desperate to get him to nurse, but each time we had to resort to a bottle I knew that the likelihood was less and less. He got pretty used to the instant gratification of the bottle and was certainly not interested in working for it at the breast.
Each time I tried, he would just scream, and both of us would melt into a puddle of frustration and tears. I eventually realized it wasn’t worth it. But let me tell you, that was NOT an easy conclusion to come to.
As if the postpartum period isn’t already riddled with a roller coaster of hormones and emotions, this unexpected hurdle took it to a whole new level.
Primarily, I was devastated at the idea of not nursing what I know is my last baby. From the day I stopped nursing my second daughter, I was already thinking of doing it again – knowing that I’d have one more opportunity to have that connection between mother and child.
I also struggled with shame of not breastfeeding. Coming from a family of breastfeeding women, and friends who are strong advocates of nursing, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of not doing it.
So, once I came to the acceptance that my little one simply was not going to nurse, I set my goal on the next best thing: pumping and bottle feeding.
Let me tell you, those moms out there who exclusively pump should get more recognition. Not only are they basically doing double the work – having to pump and then feed the baby, rather than just one step of feeding – but the decision to exclusively pump requires a ton of dedication.
But I wanted my baby to get the benefits of breast milk – certainly that was better than formula, right? So I pumped every few hours, fed the baby in between, woke up through the night to pump…the whole nine yards.
In the end though, this was only destined to last a few weeks. Why? Well, mostly because my body simply does not respond to a pump like it does to an actual baby. Also, I happen to have two other kids running around that I have to attend to, and a fussy baby whose preference is to be strapped to my chest at all hours of the day.
So guess what? There were times when I had no choice but to skip a pumping session because it simply wasn’t feasible. All of those things combined resulted in my supply dropping gradually over those first few weeks. I knew it was happening. And I had to accept it.
There’s nothing fun about hooking yourself up to machine that basically turns you into a human cow. I came to hate it. And during those delusional middle-of-the-night sessions when I sat in the dark living room alone, I swear I heard that pump talking to me.
I started to seriously consider the importance of my own happiness and mental health. And it wasn’t long before I consented to the fact that a happy mama holds serious significance in this whole raising a tiny human business.
My baby is now three weeks old, and my milk is mostly dried up. With the small stash I have in the freezer, he should be able to reach his 1-month mark drinking breast milk. After that, he’ll be a formula baby.
And you know what? He’ll be perfectly fine.
It’s been a challenging and emotional few weeks, but here’s what I’ve come to realize and know to be true: There is no one “right” way to feed a baby. There are certain things that are out of my control. Fed is best. And ultimately, I still have an amazing bond with my child even if he’s drinking from a bottle. I still am able to hold him close, stare into his eyes, and whisper how much I love him.
In the end, this experience forced me to accept that even the best laid plans don’t always pan out how you envision. The topic of breastfeeding is a hot-button issue in the parenting world, but at the end of the day, moms (and babies) figure out what’s best for them.