In the weeks before having my first child, I was excited and prepared to exclusively breastfeed my child. I had done the homework, been to classes, and bought the supplies. Breastfeeding has amazing benefits for babies, like reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), allergies, diabetes, and some cancers; I was amazed and enthusiastic to provide milk for my daughter. I was ready to breastfeed—or so I thought.
The Hard Work of Breastfeeding
After my daughter was born, “ready and excited” quickly became“I have no idea what I’m doing.” Keeping a small human alive while sleepless and exhausted from labor is worthy of an Olympic gold medal. Feeding the baby was its own feat; the very thing I felt prepared to do suddenly made me feel unqualified and discouraged as a new mom.
The lactation consultants in the hospital were supportive of my plan to exclusively breastfeed. I can’t overstate the value of the encouragement I received from women who walked this path before me. However, much to my sadness, we were still not able to get my baby to latch.
The lactation consultant and I came up with a plan to pump breast milk until my baby could latch by herself. (Check out an article on reasons why you may need to pump here). I will never forget when the lactation consultant gently grabbed my hand, looked me in the eyes and gave me this challenge: “You can do this. Feed your baby, protect your milk supply, and don’t forget to take care of yourself.”
Crying over Spilled Milk
Fast forward a few days. I was breastfeeding, pumping, then bottle feeding the pumped milk to my baby. The whole process took almost an hour, and then was repeated every 2-3 hours. Considering newborns eat 8 or more times a day, that’s at least 8 hours of only feeding the baby—the equivalent of a full-time job. My life revolved around my daughter’s feedings and I became obsessed with providing enough milk. My freezer began to overflow with excess frozen milk. I pumped and pumped and pumped, nervous that I could not provide what my daughter needed.
Then, one day, it happened: I knocked over an open container of milk and watched 4 precious ounces spill on the floor. The wail that came out of my body was indescribable. My hard work was ruined. I literally cried over spilled milk that day.
Becoming a Stronger Mother
That defeat was a momentous day in my motherhood journey. I learned it’s ok to cry over spilled milk. Countless hours had gone into providing milk for my daughter. I had lost sleep and given up freedoms to give her the benefits of breastfeeding.
Moms choose to breastfeed for one reason: we love our sweet babies and want to provide for them. If something is keeping us from being able to give our babies what we think is best, it’s ok to be upset, sad, and frustrated.
I also became aware of how important it is to take care of myself as a mom. I followed the lactation consultant’s plan to a T, but seriously neglected taking care of myself. It’s practically impossible to pour from an empty cup. Uninterrupted sleep, showering, and a few alone minutes every day are things that our culture may call privileges; in reality, self care is a necessity for mental health. The most humbling thing I’ve learned in motherhood is to speak up and get help when I need it. No woman should have to conquer motherhood alone.
After these realizations, I had less tension while breastfeeding my daughter and decreased my pumping frequency. I reached back out to my lactation consultant and came up with a plan that worked for me. And while breastfeeding—and pumping for that matter—isn’t all rainbows and butterflies, I have never felt more accomplished and proud of myself. Breastfeeding pushed me out of my comfort zone, and yet I have never felt more comforted and close with my daughter. Fighting for my breastfeeding relationship grew me into the confident and strong woman and mother that I am today.
Don’t give up, mama.
Feed your baby, protect your milk supply, and don’t forget to take care of yourself.