Baby latched perfectly the first time! Nursing like a champ! I can't tell you how many times I've heard stories like that. Which is why I felt like a total failure when I had such a hard time nursing in the beginning. Some recent nursing related posts on other blogs have inspired me to write about my own experience and let some of the moms-to-be out there know that it's not always that easy.
My kids had the unfortunate luck of being born late on a Friday night. The hospital where they were born does not have lactation consultants on duty on weekends. WTF?!? When I was checked into the postpartum room in the wee hours, a nurse asked if I planned to breastfeed, and I proudly said yes. I was expecting that would get me some help learning to breastfeed from someone at the hospital. Or at the very least, that it would get my kids a little sign in their bassinets proclaiming that they were breastfed and should not be given a bottle. No such luck.
The nurses who I asked for help all gave different information and advice. One told me to remove some layers of blankets and clothing from my sleepy baby to help her wake up enough to latch on. Another scolded me for not having her bundled, and wisked her away to be put under a warmer. When my boy refused to latch at all, the nurse just shrugged and said "boys are difficult". When my babies had been taken from my hospital room for yet another checkup, and I was being given yet another post-partum depression survey, the nurses fed them bottles of formula. Without asking me. Then they told me that if my babies lost 2oz by Sunday, that I would not be able to take them home. And they handed me some backpacks loaded with free samples of formula. I felt exhausted, ashamed and defeated. I felt like I had failed my kids by letting them have formula. Tail between my legs, I took the free samples of formula and did what I had to do to make sure they could go home with me the next day.
When I got home from the hospital, I had a bit more luck with my baby girl. She was happy to nurse, but based on my output with the pump, I was afraid she was not getting enough. Knowing that the pediatrician could order them back to the hospital if they didn't gain weight terrified me. So she got bottles of formula in addition to nursing. The boy still refused to nurse at all. Screamed bloody murder when he got near the boob. He got bottles of formula, mixed with the few measly teaspoons I was able to get using the pump. We scheduled an appointment with a lactation consultant, but she was not able to come until the babies were 5 days old. It felt like an absolute eternity. She was able to get the boy to latch for the first time. But it was through some crazy trickery involving a nipple shield, dripping formula down my breast, then removing the nipple shield. It was a 2 person job, and it only worked once. Eventually my milk supply kicked in and we only did formula bottles at night. But he still refused to nurse, and screamed until he was red in the face any time I tried. It was the worst rejection I had ever felt, even though I knew deep down that I shouldn't take it personally.
Maybe I liked to torture myself, maybe I was just optimistic that something would work out, but I continued to try to nurse my son every few days for the fist 6 weeks of his life. And then one day, it just happened. It was like things finally clicked for him. Just when I had started to come to peace with the idea that my son would be a bottle fed baby, he got it. When he started nursing, my pumping output increased, and we were finally able to ditch the formula. We like to joke that he is making up for lost time. He went from the boy who wouldn't nurse, to the boy who co-sleeps and nurses half the night.
Given our rocky start, I never imagined I'd make it to a year with breastfeeding. Now I'm just a few weeks away from that milestone. It has taken me a long time to feel comfortable writing a post like this. I still fear being judged as a failure by moms who didn't need to resort to formula. I still feel upset about being let down by the hospital, who provided no support. Nearly a year later, and I am still working through my issues and guilt over the beginning.