Fly On The Wall (Part 3): The Ins And Outs Of Breastfeeding

In this 3-part podcast, we capture the candid conversation of three women on their obstetrics experiences. Part 3 concludes with their experiences with and views on breastfeeding.

Stream Part 3 above, or read the transcript below.

Kadesha: This is just me. I feel like when it comes to breastfeeding, we have all been sold a dream. It’s like, ‘You’re going to breastfeed, and you’re going to bond with your baby.’ That is some complete bull. I would say breastfeeding was harder than the c-section. The c-section was easier to deal with.

Lauren: I don’t know if I’d go that far.

Aneesa: Right. I’ve never had a c-section, so I don’t know about that, but I will say this: I nursed my first son. I successfully nursed him for 6 months, and I stopped because pumping and all of that got to be a little too difficult once I got back to work. I started not producing enough to keep up. Of course I had the idea I’m going to nurse, no questions asked.

At Elmhurst, they ask you, ‘What are your plans? Are you going to nurse exclusively? Are you going to formula feed?’ They want to know so the nurses can be prepared to help you with whatever, and they’ll send the lactation people in. Pretty much within 10 minutes of him coming out, they popped him on the breast. They were like, ‘Here. Nurse him.’

I did, and for that entire stay in the hospital, we were trying to nurse. When we got home from the hospital, I was trying to nurse. And I will say that it became so painful that I just didn’t like it. I mean, I know like you said it’s supposed to be this bonding time with your child, but I began to dread every feeding. Of course, when they’re nursing, they want to feed more because part of it is obviously you’re giving them nourishment, but the other part is the comfort and all of that. I was nursing on demand, so he would be on the breast for an hour plus, but then I would still have to supplement because he wasn’t satisfied. He was still hungry and crying. The milk hadn’t come in yet.

I think for me, the lactation consultant at the hospital was great. She did give me strategies, and she showed me things, gave me all this information—wonderful. Me not having a good experience with nursing is not because of lack of resources or support. I will be completely honest. My decision to stop nursing after basically almost two weeks is because it hurt, and I was freaking tired. Bottom line. I didn’t have, personally, the patience to wait for the milk to fully come in and for it to not be hurting any more. I’m talking toe-curdling, just breathe-through-it type of hurt when he initially latched on, to the point where, like I said, I was not looking forward to feeding him. And babies eat every two hours, so your whole entire day is feeding this baby.

At first I struggled with deciding to just exclusively go to the bottle because I don’t know if it’s a new movement or an old movement that I’m just finding out about, but there are definitely people and articles that make you feel like the devil for not nursing your child. Emotionally, I was kind of struggling with deciding to exclusively go to the bottle. But I will say that I did decide to go to the bottle, and everybody in my house is a whole lot happier, including the baby.

Lauren: Yea!

Kadesha: Amen.

Breastfeeding Isn’t Easy

Aneesa: He is eating regularly. I am no longer in pain. I do not dread feeding him. I have a little bit more flexibility because now my husband can be a part of the feeding process and also bond with him in that way. And yeah, washing bottles takes up time, but I am just in a happier place now that I’m not stressed about doing something as basic as feeding my child.

Kadesha: Yeah, something as basic and frequent as feeding your child.

Aneesa: I mean, I wish I could have. I think if I was younger and maybe in a different place, I would’ve stuck with it. But I just got to the point where if I’m at the point where I’m not enjoying this, I shouldn’t feel like I don’t want to feed my child. You know what I mean? Just to be honest. I shouldn’t be dreading this. I was just like, all right. That’s it. I’ve had it. We’re going to go to the bottle, and he’s perfectly fine and so am I.

Kadesha: I had a similar, with both children—my kids are less than 2 years apart, so these breastfeeding experiences are right on top of each other—I was super motivated to breastfeed with my son, my oldest child. I was like, ‘Yep. We’re gonna do it. I’m going to exclusively breastfeed for the full time that the American Academy of Pediatrics says. Go, team. Go.’ I was ok with being tired and sleep deprived, but the problem was I wasn’t producing any milk. My son was screaming because he was hungry, and then when it got to the point where he was just losing too much weight, I decided that he’s just going to have to be a formula baby.

The hospital, right after birth, had tons of lactation consultants who were ready to come in and sit with you and work with you. I really appreciated that. Some of them were helpful. Some of them actually made the experience even more frustrating because they have such a strong ideology about breastfeeding that you do start to feel guilty and inadequate when you don’t or can’t. I remember one lactation consultant in particular. She was like, ‘You gotta pump more! You gotta pump more!’

This was a couple weeks after my son was born. I went back to the hospital to meet with them because I was still having trouble, and it had been a month. She was like, ‘You gotta pump more. You need to pump 12 times a day and nurse.’ And I’m like, there’s only 24 hours in the day. If I’m pumping 12 hours a day and nursing him the other time, when am I showering and sleeping and going to the bathroom and eating? I’m not, right? I’m sitting there with a pump attached to my boob 24 hours a day. That’s not really realistic.

Aneesa: Like I told you when you came and visited, I’m just not that committed. The lactation nazis can beat me up all they want to, but I’m just not that committed. I don’t know if it’s because it’s the second time around or what, but there are plenty of babies that were exclusively formula babies, and they are fine, you know?

Kadesha: Yeah. Well, the reason I ended up stopping as committed as I was, the reason I ended up going to the bottle is because Sharon, again the nurse, was like, ‘I think you’re at risk. You’re putting yourself into depression zone now because you’re sad about this, and you’re so down about this. There’s already a risk of postpartum depression at this stage so soon after labor anyway. You don’t need any extra added stress.’

She’s the one who said, ‘If you go down the street to that prison and ask how many of those dudes were breastfed, I’m sure plenty of them would raise their hands, and you’d see it didn’t help. It’s not like your kid is going to come out to be some kind of menace to society just because you didn’t breastfeed. Let’s all get over it and feed the kid and move on.

Aneesa: I’m glad you said that, though. I’m laughing about it now, but I think I was in the same place. I was crying, you know what I mean? I’m emotional. I’m like, ‘Oh my God.’ At least you stuck with it for a month. I’m at a week and a half, and I don’t know if I can do this, even though super emotional about it. I think it was last week. One of the neighbors had talked to Charles, ‘Oh is your wife nursing?’ So on and so forth. And he’s like, ‘No, she’s on the bottle.’

People love to give unsolicited advice, so she shared with him some tips or something around nursing. What qualifies her, I don’t know but whatever. So he comes back in the house with good intentions, saying so-and-so said try this, you could do this. And I just bust into tears. You know, I finally thought I made peace with not nursing, and I know you have good intentions, but it was like everyone I was talking to were people with good intentions asking about me nursing. I would share—no, I’m formula feeding.

It was just like an open invitation to give all this advice about how I should nurse, or what I could do to nurse better, and so on and so forth, which was making me feel worse—you know what I mean?—and not better. Because I was trying to make peace with going to the bottle instead of nursing. I definitely appreciate what your nurse, Sharon, said to you because you do have to be careful about that depression zone. You’re already sleep deprived, you’re emotional about caring for this new life. I agree.

Kadesha: I hear you. It was so funny because after that lactation consultant left the room—you know the one who was saying, ‘You gotta pump 12 hours a day!’ There was another nurse in the room, and after that lactation consultant left, she was like, ‘Look. They’re crazy. Do what you can do. If it doesn’t work, feed the baby some other kind of way.’ And I was so glad she said because it was like, ok there is another side to this that doesn’t make me feel so bad.

Now, Lauren, you’re having a very different experience with breastfeeding that is a lot more shiny and rosy and positive.

Pumping Vs. Nursing

Lauren: My first daughter took to nursing pretty quickly. I took the class, and I read the books, and I had a great nurse. My older daughter Aliyah took to nursing pretty quickly. It was hard. I mean, nursing is not easy, but she did it pretty regularly for about four or five months. I pumped a lot. I ended up going back to work, but she nursed for a while until she went on strike because I went back to work.

Then my second daughter, Olivia—every baby is different, right?—was much less interested in eating than any baby I’ve ever seen. She has a shallow latch also, so that was challenging. We struggled with it the first couple weeks, and there wasn’t a lactation consultant available at Northwestern when I was there, so I ended up paying an independent lactation consultant to come to my house. As somebody who’s done this before, I knew what to do. Everybody was applauding my form—’Oh yeah, you’re putting the nipple in correctly. That’s right. You need a strong latch.’ I know all the rules of the game. I even help friends with nursing.

Kadesha: You helped me for that month I did it.

Lauren: I know all the tricks of the trade. I know all the old tips and all the things that are supposed to help you nurse. Olivia’s latch was shallow. She was sleepy. She would nurse for 5 seconds and just go to sleep. She’d play opossum with me and decided she didn’t really want to work for it. If it didn’t come out immediately, she was not into it. With both daughters, although I nursed a lot, I did always supplement. And I never felt bad about that. I feel very blessed to have been around people that didn’t dare make me feel bad about it.

With Olivia, I was pumping a lot, and the kind of low point for me was about almost two weeks ago, I felt like a cow. You know like how you go to the farm when you’re in school and they show how the cows get milked with those machines? That’s what I was envisioning every time I set my pump up to pump, and I was pumping 7, 8 times a day, and we weren’t nursing at all because she just wasn’t into it. I couldn’t get her to stay on the breast, and I couldn’t get her to latch deep enough.

It was irritating, so I went to exclusively pumping because I didn’t want to be frustrated with her, and I was getting sad about exclusively pumping because I really love the nursing experience, the whole bonding. I didn’t mind pumping sometimes. I didn’t like pumping exclusively. I was like, this feels like I’m a cow, and I don’t like having this machine attached to me, and then the baby is never nursing.

I didn’t want to go to strictly formula because I do believe breast is best, not that there’s anything wrong with it. I just didn’t want to do it. Then the last two weeks, she had a small cold like the sniffles, and my best friend actually was nursing her daughter until she turned 1, and when her daughter gets sick, she is more interested in nursing when she’s sick than ever before. So when Olivia got the sniffles, I decided to put on a nipple shield—I have these nipple shields because her latch is so shallow—and I just put my boob in her mouth, and she took to nursing like wildfire at week 7. She’s 7 weeks old and learned how to nurse.

I kept with it. I bought books off Amazon. I’m getting book deliveries every other day. I was determined to figure out this breastfeeding thing and not feel like a cow. She started at week 7, and it was great. She’s been doing really well with it the last week and a half. We’re nursing—I like the comfortable ratio of 80:20, 70:30 in terms of breast milk to formula. I like to give my daughter and my husband the opportunity to feed. I don’t have any negative thoughts about her getting formula sometimes versus breast milk all the time. I don’t care as long as she eats and she’s healthy.

To be honest, the thing they don’t tell you is, after a while, your boobs get tired. Your breasts are tired. You need a break. Take a moment to yourself. You want to go out and have your nails done or whatever, so formula is great if you don’t have pre-pumped breast milk. I use that sometimes, but for me, breastfeeding was important. It’s a connection thing for me, and as a working mom, I try to establish that with my children before I go back to work. I didn’t think Olivia would take to it, but I was persistent, and it did.

You read all these books, and they tell you to stick with it, which is really hard to do, and I’m really glad we did. It’s like, if you can figure it out and you can stick with it, then it’s great. If you can’t, your child will be fine. I know that. Olivia is kind of enjoying it more. She doesn’t seem to like the taste of formula as much. She makes a really funny face when you give her formula, but she drinks it just the same.

Kadesha: I was going to say, I thought the bonding part would be a key part of breastfeeding, but with both of my children, when I tried to breastfeed, we both just fell asleep. So I’m like, we’re not bonding. We’re asleep.

Lauren: It is a crock of crap, right? Like, they make it sound like it’s this beautiful thing that everyone can do, and it’s really easy because you were built to do it, and it’s not easy. It is difficult.

Aneesa: I think for me, though, I think I felt bamboozled because for Charles, my first son, it was kind of easy. It just happened to be, not that I knew what I was doing. He just latched well. My nipples were sore initially, but it went away really quickly, so I didn’t have to nurse through pain. Pumping went well. When I had to pump, I produced enough, and I was getting enough to even freeze some to have a little stash so when he started daycare and things like that.

So in my mind, I kind of assumed that it would go the same way. I think that also maybe played into what made it so difficult for me emotionally too because I’m like, well what’s wrong this time? You know like, last time it went pretty effortlessly and now it’s just not, and I’m not enjoying it. No, I don’t feel like we’re bonding because I’m in pain most of the time when I’m doing this.

For me, it was kind of like the opposite parallels where with my first son it was kind of effortless. I didn’t really have to work for it. With this child, it didn’t go the way I thought it was going to go, and it was starting to really affect me emotionally, and I was like I need to go in another direction before this goes badly.

Kadesha: I hear you.

Lauren: I think my previous experience is what drove me to stick with it. Because I am stubborn to a fault sometimes. I was like, ‘I have done this before, and we will figure it out, and I will do it again. No matter what!’ For no other reason than I am off work, and I don’t have a lot of other things going on besides Olivia, so I needed a project. Breastfeeding became my project.

Kadesha: There you go.

Lauren: I felt crazy, though. I think to me, pumping was putting me where nursing was putting you guys. I started to feel sad. This is pitiful, and I feel like a cow. I don’t like this. This is not loving. This is not warm and fuzzy. This is me hooked to a machine. There’s gotta be a better way to do this.

Kadesha: They need to come out with wireless pumps. You know? So that I can walk around.

Lauren: I’ve been thinking about that. Right! So that you can figure out the rest of your life instead of being in a bedroom somewhere with the door closed and a machine hooked to the wall. I’m 100% on board.

Kadesha: Alright, Lauren. That’s your next project then since you need a project. Come out with a bluetooth-enabled breast pump.

Lauren: I’m working on it.

Kadesha: Thank you, ladies, so much for chatting and talking about all this stuff.

Aneesa: Thank you for inviting us to do this.
Read part 1 of this series here, and part 2 here, as the women discuss choosing an OBGYN and share what their hospital stays involved.