by Sara K. Beachy
Written for MOBI Motherhood International
A common theme among MOBI moms facing special breastfeeding challenges is lost expectations, the mourning of that which never came to pass. During your pregnancy, you probably envisoned a certain type of breastfeeding relationship. If things did not go as you hoped, you might feel distraught and disillusioned.
Perhaps you are a low supply mom who is breastfeeding, pumping, and supplementing. You may be an exclusive-pumper whose baby never got the hang of latching. You may be experiencing chronic and painful mastitis or struggling to breastfeed a baby with special needs. Whatever the case, you are probably here because you are exhausted, lonely, and overwhelmed at the thought of doing this for one more day. What do you do now?
The goal of this article is to provide a healthy mental and emotional framework for dealing with the serious challenges you are currently facing. Hopefully, you will understand that you are not alone and that you have a range of creative choices for turning your current situation into a positive, rewarding experience – even if it does not look the same as everyone else’s experience. You have power.
You and your baby have a unique story
As many moms have discovered at MOBI, there is power in sharing our stories. The first casualty is the myth that breastfeeding looks the same for all women. Your experience, your challenges, your feelings are unique, and no one can tell you what choices are best for you and your family.
MOBI moms often feel caught between two worlds. In one corner are women for whom breastfeeding seemed to come “naturally.” You may feel like they cannot understand why it is not working for you. You may fear they are judging you, thinking that if you had only tried harder you’d be able to make it work.
In the other corner are those who think, “What’s the big deal about formula?” You may have strong feelings about it, or you may not be sure what to think. Chances are, providing your baby with mama’s milk is important to you, or you would not be here.
For many of us, breastfeeding seems inseparable from our identity as a mother. If breastfeeding is not working for you the way you hoped, you may be feeling very real grief – anger, confusion, hopelessness, depression, or resentment.
While it may be hard to believe at times, from this can come wisdom, acceptance, humor, confidence, and even joy and appreciation of where your journey has taken you. Until that time, however, whatever you are feeling is OK.
You are not alone
You are unique, but you are far from alone.
When I first visited a lactation consultant and discovered that my 7-week old son was getting 18 ccs. of milk from a complete nursing session, I was appalled and embarrassed. I felt like there was no one in the world who could possibly make less milk than me! No one else I knew locked herself in a room to pump eight or ten times per day and got only drops of milk. When I asked my lactation consultant whether she knew anyone with my condition who had ever supplemented long-term, her honest answer was, “No. Most women quit after the first few weeks.” I had no reason to think I could make it work, either.
When I discovered MOBI, I turned a corner. I met many women whose stories were similar, and I realized we shared many of the same feelings over our dashed hopes. I was also inspired by the creativity, compassion, and spirit of these women who try so hard to provide breastmilk to their babies.
Whether you find solutions that work for you or not, we hope you too will share your story with other women, so that they too can realize they are not alone.
What to do now?
In an ideal world, all babies would get 100% mama’s milk straight from the tap, and we would all live happily ever after. But we live in the real world, where complications arise, and moms are human beings with real needs and limits.
As a new mother, you are in transition. You are recovering physically. You are adjusting to your new role as a mother and changes in your marriage or partnership. You may be experiencing financial strain or health complications. You may be exhausted, overwhelmed, and fighting feelings of isolation and postpartum depression.
What do you do now?
Be patient with yourself
Whatever the challenges you are facing, expect a learning curve. Be patient with yourself and your baby. You are learning a new skill (or several), and this requires knowledge, practice, experimentation, and support until you have mastered it.
And be patient with your feelings, too. Expect good days and bad days. Some women like to remind themselves, “Never quit on your worst day.”
Set short-term goals
If you find the thought of doing this even one more day overwhelming, consider setting short-term goals for yourself. Try a change of scenery to shake up your routine. Give yourself three days, a week, or until the end of the month, and assess how you feel then. We can often persevere if there is a landmark in sight; when the road seems dark and endless, hopelessness sets in.
And when you reach a goal, celebrate!
Know that you have choices
It is important to know you have choices. Don’t be overwhelmed at the amount of information out there. Knowledge is power. Experiment and experience, as another wise MOBI mom once said, to find out what works for you and your family.
It is also important to know that breastfeeding is not all-or-nothing. If you are struggling to breastfeed or pump and you are ready to quit, you might benefit from a vacation from the heroics or simply a compromise. For example, if you are exclusively pumping, you might give up the middle-of-the-night pump session and get some rest instead. If you are nursing and then pumping to boost supply, you might make sure to allow yourself some nursing sessions that are not followed by pumping, so that you can just enjoy your baby. If you are taking several expensive herbals, you might drop all but the one or two that you think help the most.
Will this affect your milk supply? Probably. You will want to be aware of the consequences and make an informed decision. But any amount of mama’s milk is better than no mama’s milk. As one level-headed mom observed, “A happy mama who makes 15 ounces is better than a miserable mama who makes 20 ounces.”
If you think you can hang in there a little while longer going all out, then by all means do so! No one will cheer louder than the moms here at MOBI! But we also respect the mom who just needs to close this chapter and move on. In between, there is a lot of room for creativity. Only you can decide the right “balance” for you and your family.
Share and listen
I am no longer surprised to meet moms experiencing breastfeeding challenges. I am, however, always saddened to meet a mom who had difficulties but feels cheated because she didn’t have good information and support.
Sharing our stories makes a difference. MOBI moms have found many creative and liberating ways to make peace with their situations. When we listen and share, we reclaim our right to define our breastfeeding relationship in the way that is best for ourselves and our families, and we encourage others to do so too.
Some moms feel uncomfortable attending breastfeeding support meetings when they are unable to breastfeed the “traditional” way. But one MOBI mom regularly attended meetings with her supplemental nurser so that other moms could see and understand her situation. This takes courage. Bless her – and all of you who share your stories every day – for lightening the load for another mom down the road.
We may not be able to solve all our problems today. But we are never alone in our struggles. We can be patient with ourselves and each other, set and celebrate short-term goals, educate ourselves and revel in our endless creativity in the face of adversity. We can share our stories, share our research and conclusions and resolve with one another, push for more research, and reach out in courage to moms who might be feeling the same as we have. We are never powerless.