People always wonder if pregnancy and motherhood is easier when you are an obstetrician. The short answer – no. Nothing about this journey was as expected, and everything about it was more challenging than I had anticipated. However, breastfeeding was by far the most unexpectedly difficult thing I encountered.
As an OB, I always counsel my patients that “breast is best.” Breastfeeding is economical and environmentally friendly and has been shown to potentially decrease your baby’s risk of infection. I’m not going to get into the detailed benefits of breastfeeding but if you are interested here are some links:
As a naive young doctor, I counseled my patients to feed their newborn on demand which would be approximately every two to three hours. I figured these new mothers would have two to three hours between feeds to nap, eat, shower, etc. No biggie.
I apologize to all of the postpartum breastfeeding mamas I have cared for over the past several years. I had NO FREAKING CLUE what you were going through.
My little one had difficulty latching on initially so the nurses gave me a nipple shield to use right off the bat. I was able to see a lactation consultant in the hospital, and she helped me with positioning the baby so that I wouldn’t be contorted in some weird position for hours at a time.
I saw a lactation consultant in the office three days after delivery. She watched me nurse and confirmed my son’s latch were great. He was gaining weight so clearly I was producing enough milk for him.
Although all of these objective measures were great. I was subjectively not doing well at all. My baby boy was feeding almost continuously. This meant I had pretty much NO time to myself. I would feed him, change him, rock him to sleep, he would sleep for maybe 20-40 minutes and then wake up to feed again. And we would repeat this cycle over and over again. I bought the My Brest Friend pillow which I mentioned on a previous post to help with positioning and back pain since I was sitting for long periods of time. While I was breastfeeding, I would read articles on Kellymom.com and La Leche League (great sources of information and encouragement for breastfeeding moms), and from everything that I read, feeding almost continuously was normal in the early days after delivery. So I decided that since this was probably temporary, I would just stick with it for now because I really wanted to breastfeed my baby.
But it never improved. Three weeks after delivery, I had seen two lactation consultants at two different hospitals who told me that my son was gaining weight appropriately and to continue doing what I was doing. At this point, I was trying to pump after each feed to improve my milk supply so I was essentially not sleeping because this left NO time for naps throughout the day. And honestly, I hated being a mom. I really did. I was so sleep deprived, frustrated, and hungry (my God, the hunger! Breastfeeding makes you SO hungry! And I NEVER had time to eat or drink very much – so I was constantly STARVING!) My only interactions with my child were him screaming to be fed and me nursing him for hours on end. On top of all of this work, my little guy was rarely satisfied after feeds. After I found myself bawling my eyes out during a nursing session for the umpteenth time, I decided to try switching to exclusive pumping.
This lasted for a very brief period of time because this would involve me feeding the baby either formula or expressed milk via bottle, rocking him to sleep, and then trying to pump during the 20-40 minutes he was sleeping (I am telling you our baby NEVER slept the 18 hours a day that newborns are “supposed” to sleep). So again, I was sleep deprived, frustrated, and hungry. And I finally decided to switch to formula completely.
I felt horrible about it initially, like I was slowly poisoning my child by feeding him formula instead of breast milk, but I found the articles below which really helped me feel better about it.
Sometimes, even now , I feel a little guilty like maybe I gave up on breastfeeding too easily or I should have tried harder. But once I made the switch to formula, I was able to sleep, eat, and enjoy my time with my new son. He seemed to be much more satisfied after feeds which made me feel better. And most importantly, I began to love being a mother.
What have I learned from all this? While “breast may be best,” the decision of how to feed your child is a deeply personal decision and is different for every woman and every family. There is a lot of hype around breastfeeding, and all of the news articles and social media posts can feel “in your face” at times. But breastfeeding is UNBELIEVABLY difficult, and moms who are nursing need all the support they can get! If this means more breastfeeding selfies on my Instagram feed, that is totally fine by me. However, there is a lot of unnecessary guilt surrounding being unable to or choosing not to breastfeed. As a result, many articles about formula feeding can seem defensive or aggressive.
But the bottom line is, being a mom is so SO hard and as a mother, you need all the support you can get! We need to be more accepting and less judgmental of each others’ choices. We’re all just doing the best we can.
What was your experience with breast or formula feeding? Leave your comments below!