Breastfeeding was not easy for me. I wanted to be good at it and do the best thing for my babies. The intense pressure I felt to do the best for my babies was both internal and external. We all hear repeatedly that breast milk is the best nutritional choice. It helps defend against infections, prevents allergies, protects against a number of chronic conditions, helps you bond with your baby, and supposedly makes your child smarter. One thing I learned early on about parenting is that things don’t always work out as you thought, hoped, or planned for. I know that sounds obvious, but that was hard for me to accept back when I was a serious type A personality, and felt the need to be a perfect mother (I’ve since realized that’s impossible and unnecessary—phew!!).
Bella was my first baby. I loved snuggling with her and gazing at her while sitting in the rocking chair breastfeeding. It was so peaceful and beautiful, at first. Then something changed. I started feeling anxious and trapped. I didn’t feel comfortable breastfeeding in public, it began hurting more and more, I hated pumping, and Bella started throwing up and crying excessively. I didn’t know what to do.
I found out that she had Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) and lactose intolerance. (My mother and I are both lactose intolerant and it’s hereditary.) I tried to breastfeed as long as I possibly could, but I only lasted three months with my first daughter. Once I made the decision to quit and worked through my feelings of guilt, the transition to the bottle was pretty smooth for both of us. It was so much easier. Ahh…things got better.
Olivia came along three years later, and I thought I’d give breastfeeding another shot. It was a disaster! She would only take milk from one side, she cried, she didn’t sleep, she looked unhealthy, she seemed uncomfortable, and she wouldn’t drink anything from a bottle ever. Her pediatrician suggested I exclude milk, nuts, cheese, and soy from my diet. That didn’t help–nothing seemed to help. I was frustrated and Olivia was clearly unhappy. Here we go again… At just six weeks old, the doctor was concerned and drastic measures were in order. I remember that last day I breastfed like it was yesterday.
The doctor was kind, understanding, and listened to me, which can make a big difference when moms, guilt, babies, health, and big decisions are all in the mix. I told him that it wasn’t going well for mommy or Olivia. I told him how I was feeling and how Olivia was behaving. Olivia was not thriving. He told me to go home, call my mom, and have her come to our house right away. I was to leave the house (so Olivia couldn’t smell my breast milk) and not come back until she was drinking formula from a bottle. I remember thinking, “Today? Right now? Seriously!?!” Until that day, I had never left Olivia for more than a short thirty-minute walk.
This may seem like it should be an easy endeavor, but it was a nightmare. Olivia refused the bottle. I called to check in many times over the next several hours, and I could hear her screaming. I felt horrible for my baby and was feeling sorry for myself. In my rush out the door, I had forgotten the breast pump and my breasts were throbbing. That evening, she took the bottle from my mom. The transition was hard for both of us, but we got through it. No matter what anyone said, I felt like a failure, again.
With the Doctors guidance, we tried several different formulas before we found the right one for her–Hypoallergenic Similac Alimentum, containing alimentum made up of protein broken down into tiny pieces, which virtually eliminates allergic reactions in most babies with protein allergies. I was so thrilled! We were both happy, at last. When Olivia was nine months old, we found out that she has a severe anaphylactic food allergy. My breast milk had been making her sick those first six weeks. I was poisoning her. I felt horrible and guilty again, but I’ve since gotten over it. I did the best I could with what I knew.
Both our girls are really happy, active, intelligent, and thriving now. I feel completely bonded with both of them. Those are the things that really matter most to me. Looking back, I should not have been so hard on myself. Olivia still has a severe food allergy, but that didn’t have anything to do with me breastfeeding or not. She was born that way.
If you are struggling, you are not alone and this challenging time will pass.
*Did you breastfeed? If so, what was your experience like? Did you or your baby struggle? How long did you breastfeed for? Would you do it again? Did you opt out of breastfeeding? If so, did you feel guilty? Did you feel pressured? What would you say to moms who are struggling?
**Much more on severe allergies to come in future posts.