Our Feeding Journey

Friday, 2 October 2020


Feeding Ellie has been far from simple (though in talking to other mamas, I realize that feeding babies is rarely simple). Many of you who follow me on Instagram know that I formula feed Ellie, but don't know the specifics of how, when, or why. I wanted to tell our story on the blog today.


Our feeding story starts in pregnancy. I was not the "field of daisies, breast-feeding is a dream" kind of future-mama. Honestly, I thought the idea of breastfeeding was strange and unnatural. But I had heard all the benefits of breastfeeding. Actually - let me rephrase - I couldn't NOT hear all the benefits of breastfeeding. When you are pregnant, every app, article, and expert repeats over and over the benefits of breastfeeding. So, I figured, "let's give this breastfeeding thing a shot and if I can make it to 3 months, I will transition to formula then."


That was my loose plan - breastfeed until Ellie was 3 months old. If breastfeeding didn't work for us and I would call it quits early. I did not want to work for breastfeeding. If it came easy, great! If not, I would go straight to formula. 


Then, I gave birth to Ellie and my entire world changed. I looked into her sweet eyes - soaked from tears because she is never not crying - and I knew that I would do anything for her. Anything. All of me and all of what I had was hers. I would try anything, pay anything, do anything that was best for her. And all the people and all the things said, "breastfeeding is best".


Ellie latched on right away. She was a champ. A hungry little champ. But I felt like a wimp. I had just pushed a baby with a proportionally gigantic head out of my vagina. That baby sucking on my nipple shouldn't hurt in comparison, right? OH MY GOD, WRONG! Who knew that such a tiny little peanut could suck so damn hard?! My poor nipples were mashed and mangled by this hungry little human who really had no idea what she was doing. I asked the various nurses in the hospital to help us with latch. They all told me I was doing a great job - a model mama. But I was still in so much pain. I then asked for the in-hospital lactation consultant to help me. She spent a grand total of 5 minutes in our room, shoving my nipple into my daughter's mouth and told me that all looked good. She was not concerned in the slightest that I was crying in pain every time Ellie would latch on. 

 

"Everyone experiences pain at first."

"Give it two weeks. You will develop calluses."

"Breastfeeding hurts". 

'What you are going through is normal."

"Just keep nursing." 


I came home from the hospital in *rough* shape. I was very slowly recovering from an episiotomy (turned out I had an infection at the incision site), I hadn't slept more than 5 hours in 3 days, and there was excruciating stabbing pain radiating from my nipples.


But that little gremlin of mine was hungry and I had to feed her. She had to gain back the weight she had lost since birth, and the only way to do that was to feed her round the clock. My boobs were engorged, my nipples were cracked and sore, and the pain when my daughter would latch on was unbearable. "Just keep nursing," the nurses and doctors said. "Just keep nursing," said my friends who had been through it before. "Just keep nursing," wrote all the experts online.


About a week in I couldn't handle it anymore and reached out to a lactation consultant. I cannot stress enough that connecting with a lactation consultant was the best decision I have made in my parenting journey thus far. Emma was a dream (is a dream. She is still my mama guru to this day). To my shock, her advice was not to "just keep nursing." Instead she told me that it was not ok that I was in such terrible pain and that she would do what she could to help make it better. Honestly, I could have french-kissed her when she said that to me. I was so thankful someone cared about what I was going through. Someone cared that I was in pain - it was not all about my daughter.


With Emma's help, Ellie and I worked on latch and other strategies to make nursing more comfortable. Unfortunately, none of what we did relieved the pain. It turns out there was a lot going on - I had vasospasm, possible thrush, nipple trauma, bad latch and an early clogged duct. I also now know that my daughter has a tongue tie which also may have played a part. It was a bunch of small things, and fixing any one of them was not enough alleviate the pain. 

  

In the meantime, I was suffering physically and emotionally. About 3-4 weeks in, I developed a feeding aversion. Ellie would cry and cry, clearly needing to eat, and I would do anything to delay feeding her. Just the idea of breastfeeding made me sob. I cannot quite express to you how low of a point in my life this was. I was a shell of a human - anxious, angry, and depressed. Looking back, I am so sad that the pain I was in robbed me of the joy I should have been experiencing. I am not angry at myself - anyone in that much pain would be upset. It is just sad thinking back at how low I was.


When Ellie was about 4 weeks old, I confided in Emma what was going on with me mentally. Her advice was to introduce bottle feeding and to approach each feed as my choice - Do I want to breastfeed? Do I want to formula feed? Do I want to pump and bottle feed? The choice was totally up to me. This was a game changer. It put me back in control. It was my body again and I got to choose what I wanted to do with it, while of course caring for Ellie. Bottle feeding also fixed my feeding aversion. For the first time in a long time, I got to experience the joy of feeding Ellie - those little gulps and sweet cooing sounds - without pain. 


By the time Ellie was 6 weeks old I was breastfeeding her 3-4 times a day and bottle feeding her 3-4 times a day. Most of the milk Ellie was getting was breastmilk. I was pumping each time we bottle fed her. At night, I gave Ellie formula mixed with breastmilk. This filled Ellie up more at night and allowed me to freeze some of my breastmilk.


It was at this point, though, that Ellie's latch went to hell. To this day, I am not exactly sure what happened. She was totally fine for the first 4-6 weeks of her life , and then all of a sudden I couldn't breastfeed without her crying bloody murder. Maybe my let down was strong and it was hard for her to keep up? I am not sure. But I was still in pain when I breastfed, so once she stopped enjoying it, it was easy for me to let it go. I began exclusively pumping and feeding her breastmilk by bottle.


I did this for about 4 weeks. Mamas, if you are exclusively pumping, please know I feel your pain. Even if it is better overall than breastfeeding, bottle feeding + cleaning/sterilizing bottles and pump parts + pumping + caring for a baby, all on different schedules, is tremendously difficult. Especially if, like me, you have a high needs baby that does not like to be put down. The worst moments were when I was forced to put Ellie down in order to pump on schedule. She would start wailing, but I couldn't go get her because my nipples were being yanked in and out in rhythmic motion by my super sexy breast pump - talk about feeling like a horrible mom.


I want to briefly interrupt this story to answer the question that you may be thinking - "but Jess. You had said you weren't going to work for breastfeeding. That you were ok with formula feeding. What gives?" Great question. I DON'T KNOW! There was for sure fear of the unknown - FORMULA. How could I feed something to my perfect little angel that came from the same aisle in the grocery store as the cat litter? That had 'corn syrup' as one of the first ingredients? That smelled so funky I would gag each time I cleaned her bottles? How do I even prepare formula? And how do I introduce it to Ellie? The most important question - how do I not feel like a fucking failure every time I give her  formula?


But I do think there was more going on than that. If we are being honest, motherhood is a total mind fuck for those, like me, who crave control. I think getting to the 3 month mark of feeding Ellie breastmilk - what I (loosely) wanted to hit pre-pregnancy - was my way of trying to control a part of uncontrollable, messy motherhood. 


At 10 weeks, I had had enough. I was exhausted, pumping 6 times a day including twice in the middle of the night. I decided I wanted to cut back to 5 pumps. I did, and I got a really bad clogged duct in my right boob. It was horrible and so painful. As a long-time hypochondriac, I was terrified of getting mastitis, so I spent all my time trying to work the clog out. The toll that this took on my mental health was overwhelming and I finally decided it was time to begin the process of weaning. 


Believe it or not, the only thing that worked to remove that horrific clogged duct was breastfeeding Ellie. I hadn't breastfed her in 6 weeks, but in desperation and pain I decided to try (because the solution to clogged ducts? You guessed it! JUST KEEP NURSING!). She latched right no problem and cleared it in a matter of minutes. I am still emotional about it (tearing up as I type). I cried as I breastfed her and kept whispering a combination of, "thank you" and "I'm sorry." I felt really selfish for continuing to wean off of breastfeeding after that. But listen - a mother balling her eyes out whispering "I am sorry" to her daughter while she fed is not healthy!!! I very clearly was NOT ok. At the end of the day I trusted my gut which told me that Ellie having a healthy, mentally stable momma was better for her than getting breastmilk. I totally stand by that decision.


Elle is now 17 weeks old. I no longer pump and have very little milk left. I breastfeed her, pain free, twice a day - once in the morning and once after her last nap of the day. During those sessions, I breastfeed first, and then follow with a bottle of formula. We have 4 bags of frozen breastmilk left and go through 1/day, so in less than a week she will only receive the breastmilk that she feeds from me (I think maybe an ounce or two per day). Otherwise, she will be fully formula fed. 


My little Ellie is growing on her curve and doing all the things she is supposed to be doing, with the sass and ferocity that I could only expect from a child of mine. I love her to pieces and am so thankful for this journey of ours. Because it really was ours. Hers and mine. It is something we got to experience together - the good, the bad, and the ugly. I look back at the entire thing with happiness and love. All the pain and heartache was worth it because it is a road I got to walk with her - the little love of my life.

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