The Guilt of Breastfeeding
Guilt. It seems like the minute you find out you're pregnant the guilt starts. Day to day normality suddenly becomes off limits and taboo.
Pregnancy guilt is bad. Mommy guilt is the worst. The second your baby is laid on your chest you're flooded with emotion—Joy, happiness, exhaustion, wonder, and yes, guilt.
Gizmo had a hard birth. She was sunny side up so she spent a long time in the birth canal. 2.5 hours of active pushing and she was finally in my arms. Her head was a little mis-shapen, they say because she spent too long in there. Let the guilting begin.
After the initial skin to skin contact we positioned her to start nursing.
Nick and I had taken a breastfeeding class and were in total agreement. Breastfeeding was the way to go for us. As pasture based farmers we believe whole heartedly in the wisdom of Mother Nature and where possible, let nature guide our actions.
That first latch is magical. Staring down at your child, watching her contentedly drink, you forget how much pain you were in. You are engulfed. Mother Nature is incredible. No argument. My body was made to feed our child.
Someone forgot to tell my daughter that.
Gizmo never latched again.
Without going into all the details, I can assure you. We tried everything. Traditional medicine, alternative medicine, hippy medicine, consultants, techniques...trust me, if there was some inkling that it could work we did it. You see, guilt is a powerful force. And I was already harboring the guilt of a mother whose baby wasn't latching. I cried big crocodile tears as I felt like a failure for not being able to feed my child.
But here's the really stupid part. I was able to feed my child.
From Day 0 in the hospital I started pumping. Nick and I finger fed Gizmo for the first two weeks of her life. She got all the colostrum she could ever want from me. After my milk came in she had more than enough food for her, her friends, and every other farm animal that would ever come our way.
In some sort of ironic twist of fate it turns out I'm an over producer of breast milk. With no supplementation or diet changes I make 60 ounces of milk a day. So much milk to give and a baby who won't latch. Doesn't she know how lucky she is?!
After the first two weeks of finger feeding we had to make a decision. Do we start her on a bottle or keep trying to get her to latch? I beat myself up over the choice. I agonized. Saying yes to a bottle was giving up. I was defying the natural order of things. I was supposed to be breast feeding. Mother Nature couldn't be wrong!
Except she was. Gizmo took to the bottle so easily it was almost painful for me to watch. But then I got over it.
And once I got over it, my guilt washed away. Gizmo was never going to latch. That doesn't make me a bad mother, that doesn't make me a failure. It just is. I am now what is called an Exclusive Pumper. She only gets breast milk, but it's from a bottle.
In hindsight I feel so silly about the tears, frustration and stress I put on myself during those first two weeks. I'll never get the time I felt feeling guilty back.
What's even more ridiculous, is for us, Gizmo not latching turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Because we finger fed her from the beginning Nick was very involved in her feeding. I truly believe that him being such a vital part of her survival helped lay the foundation for the incredibly strong bond they already have.
And so, even though my daughter isn't even 6 months old yet, I've already learned my first valuable parenting lessons.
Do the best you can with what you have. Be kind to yourself. Ignore the critics. Squash your guilt.
Living in Olympia, which is a relatively hippy community, you are more likely to get a dirty look for using a bottle than you are for breastfeeding in public. In the beginning I wanted to tell everyone who saw us pull out her bottle, "It's breast milk!" But you know what? Who cares if it isn't.
Maybe your baby didn't latch and you can't make enough milk. Maybe you're a working mom and when you went back to work your supply took a dump and now you have to supplement with formula. Maybe your baby is allergic to your breast milk...WHO CARES!
If we are going to stop judging ourselves we have to stop judging others. Leave the guilt behind. Enjoy your baby for who she is, not for who you think she should be. Gizmo is a healthy, happy baby. Her biggest problem is she never latched. That's not a real problem. And as soon as I gave myself permission to think of it that way I was able to sit back and enjoy our daughter.
Every few weeks or so I still offer Gizmo the opportunity to breastfeed. At this point it's like a bad stand up routine. Me topless, my boobs dripping in her face. Her, cracking up. She has no idea that's where food comes from. She thinks it comes from the pump that is always on our couch. And that's okay.
Oh and also, in case you're wondering. Her head is fine. The fluid build up had dissipated by morning. There was no reason to feel guilty for that either. Here she is at two days old (yes, she came out with her eyes wide open) :)
Long story short. Sometimes Mother Nature messes up. That's what Mommies are for.
As an Exclusive Pumper, here's my tools of the trade.
If you have found this post by googling, "my baby won't latch" please let me be the first person to tell you, I'm here for you and I understand. Kelly Mom has an excellent resource page for Exclusive Pumpers. Check it out!
Medela Pump in Style Advanced Breast Pump with On the Go Tote The Medela Pump in Style is a workhorse.
May I also recommend:
- Simple Wishes Hands-Free Breastpump Bra
- Pumpin’ Pal Super Shields: Try these once and you’ll never go back to the Medela Breast Shields
- Philips AVENT BPA Free Bottles (with Anti-Colic Ring)
- Medela Car Charger Adaptor
- Medela Battery Pack Adaptor
And while I was blessed with high breast milk production, my midwife approved the following as supplements for me if I ever need them.