I’ve always been fascinated by breastfeeding. Before even thinking about conceiving our daughter, I was intrigued by this incredible yet simple and natural way that the female body produces the perfect food to sustain and nourish another human being. Perhaps it’s because of the #normalizebreastfeeding hashtag on Instagram that shines light on so many amazing women taking pride in feeding their children or a result of admiring the beautiful work by Ivette Ivens, but I always knew that if I were to become a mother one day, I would want to breastfeed my child. What I didn’t know was how difficult it can be.
Moments after my darling Ivy was born, she ate from me for a solid forty-five minutes. We were blessed with the foundations of a great latch from the beginning (I did have to guide her for a week to perfect it), and for the first month of her life, breastfeeding felt natural, euphoric and easy for us. I was always told that it was painful, physically demanding and challenging but that wasn’t the case for us and for that, I considered us lucky. Then at four weeks old, she became fussy. She cried all day and she cried all night. Up until that point, she was the most calm, chilled out and happy baby so I was confused by the change.
After three days of crying and two sleepless nights, my husband and I were frustrated, exhausted and very concerned. I called our midwife and asked if we could come in to have her examined because I knew something wasn’t right. We went in that afternoon and learned that Ivy had dropped weight. She hadn’t lost a lot, but enough to make her upset. She was crying because she was hungry.
That was the first time I learned about how growth spurts affect newborns. Obviously she was hungry, why hadn’t I thought of that? Up until that point, I was feeding her the same amount as I always had. It didn’t occur to me that she needed MORE food and that she was trying so hard to tell me that. I felt awful. I sobbed and sobbed. I felt like she deserved better than me and that I wasn’t worthy of being her mother. The guilt ran so deep it almost destroyed our breastfeeding journey.
From the moment my milk came in, I started pumping to build up a stash of milk to freeze in case anything happened to me. Call this a ‘new mommy worry,’ but it came in handy! My midwife suggested that I use my frozen milk to top her up with a bottle after every meal from me. After twenty-four hours of some serious eating, she gained all of her weight back, plus more. She was happy, she was sleeping and she felt better. But I still felt awful.
I had gone through my entire supply of frozen milk so I was pumping around the clock, on top of feeding her, to replenish it. I was obsessed with having a freezer full of milk because I was convinced something bad was going to happen again. I was exhausted, overwhelmed and falling apart. On top of my psychological stress, after taking the bottle for multiple meals over the previous twenty-four hours, she started to reject my breast. She scratched me and fussed when I tried to feed her. I was devastated and felt completely hopeless. I had almost convinced myself that our breastfeeding relationship was over, that I was going to have to forever pump milk and bottle feed her and that, after a few months of that, I would dry up. I was so passionate about breastfeeding her, it was something I wanted to do so badly, but that night I found myself online researching vegan formula. A few hours later, I had a severe anxiety attack and thoughts of hurting myself.
I am forever thankful for my husband for many reasons, and helping me through that night is one of them. He talked me down, brought me back to myself and had a real, hard conversation with me. He told me that if I decided to give up on breastfeeding and turn to formula, it was okay. He told me that there’s nothing wrong with using formula, all that matters is that our daughter is fed and that if breastfeeding was going to stress me out to the point of getting sick, it wasn’t worth it. He also reminded me that my milk had kept her alive for a month and that up until that point, I was so confident with feeding her. He told me that we will face many challenges as parents and that we are strong enough to overcome all of them. This was my first challenge and I could get past it.
I knew how badly I wanted to breastfeed her. In my heart, I knew it was the only option for us and even after falling so low, I was confident that she and I COULD overcome the challenge. After a week of committed work, we found our stride again.
We now have such a close and magical bond of on-demand breastfeeding. It feels effortless and intuitive. I look forward to feeding her and I cherish every meal. I love the intimacy it creates between just her and I and how our bond is strengthened after every single meal I give her. And ironically enough, she now rejects her bottle and eats only from me.
“Breastfeeding is an instinctual and natural act, but it is also an art that is learned day by day. The reality is that almost all women can breastfeed, have enough milk for their babies and learn how to overcome problems both large and small. It is almost always simply a matter of practical knowledge and not a question of good luck.”
― La Leche League
Every woman needs to do what is best for her child. While human breast milk is said to be the healthiest food for an infant, breastfeeding isn’t possible for some women. This is nothing to be ashamed of and not something we should be shaming other women for. Whether you choose to breastfeed, pump and bottle feed, use donated milk, formula feed or a combination of everything – #FEDISBEST. You have my support. You have my standing ovation. You have my love and you have my judgement-free applause. Because becoming a mother is so much HARDER than one can even begin to understand until going through it. On top of the excruciating physical pain, the guilt runs so deep, the anxiety is crippling and getting through every day feels like an enormous accomplishment. Please know that if you do choose to breastfeed and challenges come up, you are not alone. Somewhere in the world, there’s another woman going through exactly what you’re going through. Do what works for you and your family, take care of your mental health and LOVE YOURSELF through all of it.
When I was experiencing a lot of anxiety around breastfeeding, one of my biggest fears was that my milk was going to dry up. My midwife shared this simple recipe with me that dramatically increased my supply overnight.
½ cup water
1 tbsp fenugreek seeds
Soak the seeds in the water overnight in the fridge. In the morning, drink the water and eat the seeds. Repeat daily until milk supply has increased.
- *Please consult your physician about any decisions related to your pregnancy and post-partum health. For more resources on breastfeeding please contact the La Leche League.
Up next… Ashley’s 5 Must-Haves for New Moms
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ASHLEY WOOD is a recipe developer and writer from Winnipeg, Canada. With a passion for health, wellness and vegetables, Ashley creates simple and inexpensive vegan recipes made from whole ingredients that are often seasonal, sometimes gluten-free and occasionally raw. Ashley believe in celebrating the benefits of living a vegan lifestyle and at the very least, hopes to inspire others to eat more plants, smile and live with some Sunshine.