Under Pressure – Breastfeeding

When you are having a baby, there are a million things you worry about.
You start reading books on what to eat during pregnancy so your offspring will be all set for winning the Nobel prize.
You spend hours researching the right kind of mattress for your baby´s crib.
You read debates on whether or not to carry your baby, while expert mothers of four fight battles against each other in the depths of the internet regarding self-soothing.

But there is one thing you can read wherever and whenever the topic comes up:
Thou shall breastfeed!
Exclusively!
And: Every woman can breastfeed. If you don’t, you´re just not trying hard enough.

With this being said, let me share my story.

I didn’t worry about breastfeeding at all.
Women have been doing it for centuries, I am healthy, I have boobs (average sized, two of them) and I can handle a little pain.

In the beginning, everything went all right. Little Bean started to nurse within minutes after she was born, it felt comfortable, easy and I was completely relaxed.
Apart from a little soreness there were no problems whatsoever.

Fast forward three weeks, things started to change.
She would want to nurse all the time, giving me only 20 minutes break, she was uneasy, crying a lot and would stay on the breast for at least 1.5 hours every time.
Of course I read a lot on that topic, talked to my midwife and we agreed that my supply was probably a little low. As I really wanted to keep on breastfeeding exclusively, I decided to “work on it”.
After all: Every woman can breastfeed!

The first attempt was increasing the supply by increasing the frequency of nursing. I was a little limited there, because I was already nursing so much, but for the sake of breastfeeding I quit anything else and stayed on the couch, Little Bean attached.
During the early evenings, where she would sleep for four hours straight, I would use a pump and pump every hour, to tell my body we needed more milk.

Sadly, this didn’t help at all, and Little Bean stopped gaining weight.
She had never been a chubby baby, but now she started to look very delicate.

So the midwife suggested, I probably didn’t eat enough. She hinted young mothers would focus on loosing weight too much and thus reduce the calorie intake.
And even though I hadn’t really lost much weight since giving birth, I obeyed and ate even when I wasn’t hungry.
I ate all the recommended foods: Oats, dairy, nuts, and I ate a lot of them.
So much that I actually gained weight.

But my supply wasn’t increasing.
Little Bean was six weeks then and she wouldn’t sleep at all during the days, she would cry a lot and nurse, nurse, nurse.

I started taking fenugreek pills, a homeopathic treatment I didn’t believe in, because I was desperate.
No improvement.

So I was sitting there on the sofa, sore from nursing non-stop, with a crying baby refusing to sleep or let go of me, beating myself up because I obviously was such a failure as mother that my own baby was starving at my breast.
And that while, as you know: Every woman can breastfeed!

The midwife called and had a final tip she wanted to offer:
She told me I should try and relax, because the pressure I was putting on myself was most likely the reason my supply was low.

I had a total breakdown.
Mr. Loca took Little Bean from me, fed her some formula and she immediately stopped crying and went to sleep.

That, of course, wasn’t the end of the story.
Whenever Little Bean got hungry, I´d breastfeed her for at least 30 minutes and then offered her formula. To prevent my supply form decreasing further, I kept using a breast pump every hour during daytime.
Little Bean gained weight and stopped crying, everything was fine.

Or could have been, if people would keep minding their own business.
One day I was out with a friend for brunch as it was her birthday. I nursed Little Bean and then, after 30 minutes of nursing, offered her some formula.
A woman, sitting a few tables apart, rose and came up to me.
“If you offer formula, your supply is going to decrease. You should breastfeed your baby exclusively.”
I should have told her to back off, but I was still blaming myself, so I tried to explain that my supply was too low and that I was trying.
Her answer: “Well, maybe you´re not trying hard enough. Every woman can breastfeed!”

So now, one year after this incident, I am writing this post to tell you: That isn’t true!
Yes, the majority of woman can breastfeed. But not all of them, and not all of them exclusively. Some woman lack breast tissue (not to be confused with cup size), so there won’t be enough for even one child while others can easily feed twins. This is why there were wet nurses back in the days.
Sometimes you can try as hard as humanly possible and it is not going to change.

I nursed Little Bean until she was five months old and refused to drink on my breast any longer. Looking back at these months now, I don’t understand why it was so hard for me to accept the fact that my supply was low and why I kept feeling like a total failure.
If we have a second child, I will try to breastfeed again for sure.
But I will never again put myself and the people around me under that much pressure solely for the purpose of doing so exclusively.

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