Breastfeeding is HARD

I really don’t want to write this. For one thing, I feel like it’s going to come across like I’m struggling more emotionally than I really am. I promise I’m watching for signs of postpartum depression, and I’m not seeing them. It’s also talking about feelings more than I like to. But I get a lot of comments (online and in person) saying that people appreciate that I’m willing to be honest about hard topics. So I don’t want to skip over this one when it’s looming pretty large in my life right now. And I also am not sure I want to delve into all of this myself, but that’s exactly why I need to. Even if I never click post on this, I need to write it out for myself. So here goes.

As the title says, breastfeeding is hard. We got kind of screwed from the get go with kiddo being a preemie. That meant she was too sleepy to stay awake to nurse, her mouth was too small, and she was just not strong enough for it, because nursing is hard work for a baby, especially a little one. Very early on they didn’t even want us to try too much, because she would wind up burning more calories nursing than she would get out of it. Though for better or worse, we never had to worry about that. During the time in the hospital, she almost never latched on. I saw the hospital lactation consultants (LC’s), but honestly they weren’t much help. They showed me the basics, and said she’d figure it out. Yeah, not so much thanks.

As we continued to have zero success once we were home, I contacted a local IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, so the most qualified LC’s available). She diagnosed a tongue tie and lip tie, as I mentioned before. But she was very optimistic that once those were corrected, Lily would be able to latch and we’d be able to get things going, though it would take time. We had her ties released last Wednesday. (It went well, and she was fussy but not too terribly miserable afterwards.) From Wednesday to Saturday she didn’t latch at all. Sunday (yesterday) we had an appointment with an LC (a different one, as the first was out of town, but from the same practice). Of course, she latched immediately and stayed on for about 15 minutes with the LC’s help. She didn’t get much out of it, only 20ml’s total (LC’s do weighed feeds to determine how much milk babies are actually getting from the breast), but it was encouraging. She still doesn’t open her mouth as wide as she should, but her latch isn’t bad all things considered.

Since the LC left we’ve had no success at all. At best she latches, sucks two or three times, and pops off crying. At worst she just cries and gets hysterical if we even try. I’ve tried giving her the bottle first, so she’s not super hungry (bottle is much faster at getting her milk). It doesn’t seem to help; she still cries once she realizes she’s at the breast again. I’ve tried different positions, as much as I can (I’m not great with anything but cross cradle). I’ve tried switching sides (she’s never liked the right). Nothing helps. There’s definitely milk right there too, because sometimes I’m pretty much leaking all over the place when I try to latch. I’m afraid that continuing to push her to nurse when she’s crying will make her associate the breast with being unhappy. But I’m also afraid to just not try, because she cries every time right now. I’m hoping she’s just too tired. She had a big day yesterday with the LC, since she showed me not just more on latching, but also how to do stretches for her lip and tongue now that the ties are released, and suck training to strengthen the muscles she uses to suck. Today I had my postpartum midwife appointment (all is well!), so we were out for a while and she got pretty upset in the car seat a couple times. (Had to drive for a full 15 minutes with my arm reaching back to her seat so she could suck on my finger, the only thing that would calm her down.) So maybe she’s just too tired to want to nurse. If she keeps it up tomorrow, which should be a completely calm day, I’m going to email the LC again. But we can’t keep dropping $80 per appointment with no improvement. Both the LC’s I’ve seen (outside of the hospital) have been great, and I’ve left the appointments feeling much more encouraged and optimistic, but it never seems to last. Though the good news in all of it is that I’m still pumping a ton, so I’m up to around 200oz. No worries about her getting milk, even if it’s not from the tap.

So that’s where we stand. But detailing what we’ve tried is not the point of writing this. I said I’d talk about feelings, so I guess I must. First off, it’s just disappointing (though I’m not sure that’s really the right word?). I’ve always wanted to nurse. On the rare occasions she’s latched, I love it. It’s such a cool thing. I’m terrified it will never work out and I’ll have to give up. It’s just really hard since I’ve already had to give up so much. Right now I’m supposed to be 40 weeks pregnant, complaining about being huge and trying whatever wive’s tales I can to try to start labor. And I’m supposed to have had skin to skin when she was born, and been able to try to breastfeed right away, etc etc. She’s so amazing that I’ve mostly made my peace with all of that (and I still plan to write a separate post about that), but I just really want something to work out.

And then there’s the fact that while rationally I know this has nothing to do with me personally, and she loves her mommy as fiercely as any tiny baby can, it feels like rejection. Other new moms complain that their baby wants to nurse all the time, and I wonder why my baby doesn’t want me like that. Nursing is supposed to be what I do to comfort her when she’s upset (“comfort nursing” is a thing), and instead it’s what upsets her.

And it feels like I’m failing as well. Everything I read about having ties released said to be prepared to nurse afterwards, because it would make her feel better. I couldn’t offer her that, because I can’t nurse her. (We did try, but she just sat there with her mouth on but not latched.) Again, that’s not rational. I was able to comfort her just fine without nursing. But feelings aren’t rational, unfortunately.

I know that we still have time. If she had been born yesterday, on her due date (!), this would seem like not nearly such a big deal. And in terms of size, strength, wakefulness, all those factors that tie into being able to breastfeed, she might as well have been born yesterday. She’s only just now term, and moving out of preemie territory. But it’s been 7 weeks of trying, and failing. I just need to remember that her adjusted age is 1 day old, and stop putting pressure on myself. It’s not going to happen overnight, but we can keep trying. And if we do have to give up (which is not even on the horizon yet), it’s not the end of the world. It will really suck, because this is something I really want, but just like I feel a lot more at peace with having lost the last 7 weeks of my pregnancy, her being awesome will help me make peace with not breastfeeding if it comes to it. A friend told me to be sure not to let stressing out about nursing keep me from enjoying every minute of my time with my baby, and I really think that’s the most important thing. Right now, while there are moments when I just feel really discouraged and overwhelmed by it, overall it’s not damaging our relationship and time together. But if that changes, then it’s time to reevaluate whether we need to keep trying. It’s far better for us both to be happy with her taking a bottle (whether pumped milk or formula) than for us to be miserable trying to force nursing to work.

And who would want to spoil even a second spent with this little sweetheart?

Sweet girl!

Sweet girl!

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2 thoughts on “Breastfeeding is HARD

  1. We are going through similar difficulties trying to nurse our preemie in the NICU. I try not to let my guilt get the better of me, but I understand feeling “robbed” of such experiences. Your little one is adorable and so worth all the struggle 😊

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