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Breastfeeding Isn’t as Easy as Some Make it Look

Five-day-old Bodhi Biddle Schneider visits his pediatrician in Santa Monica. Photo by Tabby Biddle

I never thought I’d be bottle-feeding my breast milk to my son in the first few weeks of his life. But that’s where we are.

So many things have been different than I thought they would be as I initiate into motherhood. For instance, I started intending to have a home birth, but after 26 hours of labor at home, I chose to go the hospital for some extra support. Fourteen hours after we arrived at the hospital, my son was born.

In the first few days of his life, my son nursed from my breasts. It wasn’t easy, but he did it. To get there, this required the use of a nipple shield to accentuate the landing area for his latch. My milk was just starting to come in, so the supply was not huge, but he was getting what he needed for those early days.

On July 4, everything changed.

My son must have taken this holiday to heart because he suddenly became “independent” from my breasts. He no longer seemed to grasp the concept of latching and instead, would just cry and scream at my breast. This is heartbreaking for a mom. It was heartbreaking for me. Our breasts are our source of life for our children. They are where we nurture, love and cuddle our children to provide them with all that we have to give them as mothers. I know not every mom may be keen on breastfeeding, but I think many moms can agree that our breasts carry a strong symbol as “mother,” whether we are breastfeeding or not

So here I was on July 4 with my baby, just four days old, and he was rejecting my breasts. I know that “rejecting” might seem like too strong of a word for some, but that’s how it felt to me. So what was I going to do?

Since my son was hungry and wasn’t getting enough to eat, my midwife suggested that I pump my breast milk and feed it to my son through a syringe.

My husband and I followed our midwife’s advice. All through my prenatal care, she was always spot on. We trusted her wisdom and expertise. So my husband and I created a routine where our son would suck on my finger at feeding time, and my husband would dispense my breast milk in our son’s mouth via the syringe. Our son was happy. We were happy. Our boy was being fed.

Bodhi resting after a good feed. Photo by Tabby Biddle

We fed like this for a couple of days, still trying the breastfeeding in between. But I wanted to be breastfeeding exclusively.

I want to mention here that when the pediatrician made her visit to the hospital the day after our son was born, she suggested that our son may need his frenulum clipped. The frenulum is the tissue that attaches the tongue to the floor of the mouth. If it is shorter than usual, this can limit the mobility of the tongue, and therefore make breastfeeding difficult. She said that it didn’t look urgent and that we should see how the breastfeeding went over the next few days to see if the clip was needed.

Since Bodhi (that’s our son) started to have difficulty with breastfeeding a couple of days after her visit, we opted to have his frenulum clipped at her office the very next day. But unfortunately even with this procedure, breastfeeding was still proving difficult for Bodhi.

While we already had an incredible birth team, the team was about to get bigger. My midwife had been acting as a lactation consultant; my post-partum doula was supporting me with different positions for breastfeeding and my pumping schedule; and our pediatrician also was offering great advice. Now it was time to hire an independent lactation consultant. Our birth team suggested this was the best next step.

When we met with the lactation consultant, she said that she thought Bodhi’s frenulum needed to be clipped even more. She also said that we needed to move on from the syringe feed to a bottle. “He needs to suck,” she said. She was adamant that he needed to get more breast milk and get it fast. She suggested two options: a Supplemental Nursing System that looked like you needed better fine motor skills than I would ever have at 2 a.m., or a bottle feed. She also recommended that I supplement my breast milk supply with formula because my son needed more milk than I was pumping at the time.

Formula? Oh boy. This was a biggie. I never imagined that I would be feeding my little guy formula in his first weeks of life. I was a proponent of breast milk. Not only was breast milk the natural way to go, I knew that studies had shown that breast-feeding was far better for our children than formula. It includes benefits like reducing the risk of ear infections, gastroenteritis, severe respiratory tract infections, eczema, asthma, obesity, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, childhood leukemia, and sudden infant death syndrome. Breast-feeding is also said to be health-enhancing for moms.

As Dr. Christiane Northrup states in her book, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom: “It is a well-known fact that the composition of human breast milk is superior to that found in any formula, including its balance of the essential fatty acids so necessary for brain development.”

This is what I wanted for my son. But there was also a stronger instinct in me: I’m going to feed my son what he needs RIGHT NOW. He is hungry. It is my job as his mother to supply him with what he needs to grow and feel safe and cared for. In this instance, that meant supplementing my breast milk with formula until my milk supply was up. My midwife and pediatrician agreed that this was the best route to take.

My breastfeeding supply table – complete with fenugreek, goat’s rue and my encapsulated placenta – all said to help increase one’s milk supply. Photo by Tabby Biddle

As more of my breast milk came in, I was happy to have formula as a back up. Without that formula, my son would have been struggling over these last couple of weeks to feel nourished. I think this ultimately would have caused some longer-term issues.

I believe it is our job as parents to help our children feel safe, loved and nourished. Without these three elements in place, particularly in a child’s first weeks of life, I think we are doing our child and ourselves a disservice.”

I am happy to report that as of a couple of days ago, my milk supply is up to the level that Bodhi needs for his feedings. So breast milk it is for my boy! With this said, I am very grateful for the formula that we used. It served as a bridge for us.

So when I read Alissa Quart’s OpEd in the New York Times this past weekend about breastfeeding, I was not only comforted by her words, but inspired to use my voice to share my story:

“We need more balanced, reassuring voices telling women not to feel guilty if they can’t nurse exclusively for months on end. Given how difficult it is for some women to nurse, we should understand that we might sometimes be asking too much.”

As a woman who always expected that I would breastfeed my child, I now see that there are so many nuances that come along with breastfeeding. It is not all about what I want. I have another player on the team. My son. What we do is not based solely on what I want or solely on what he wants. It is a dance between the two of us. It is where both of our energies meet.

Bodhi enjoyed his first bath with his Mama. Photo by Lee Schneider.

So for now I am pumping my breast milk and feeding it to my son via a bottle. At several feedings throughout the day, I give him the option to breastfeed. While I have seen some improvement in terms of his patience at trying to latch, there still seems to be a strong learning curve we have to embark on together. While we have sought the advice of many experts (including a second independent lactation consultant), I realize it’s now up to my son and me to find out what works best for us. Our breastfeeding journey is unique to us, in the same way that every woman’s labor is unique to her and her baby. I think respecting our journey with our baby is what’s most important, no matter if we nurse, bottle-feed our breast milk, or bottle feed formula.

What is your experience with breastfeeding? I invite you to share your comments below.

Tabby Biddle, M.S. Ed., is a well-known voice speaking out for the human rights and empowerment of women and girls around the world. As a writer and speaker, she has been featured by The Huffington Post, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, UN Dispatch, NPR, among other international media. In 2011, Tabby was the recipient of a Press Fellowship from the United Nations Foundation to expand the dialogue around global health issues affecting women and girls. Through her work as a coach and workshop leader, Tabby is committed to giving women and girls a greater voice in the world. For more information, visit tabbybiddle.com.

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11 Responses to Breastfeeding Isn’t as Easy as Some Make it Look

  1. Wendi Knox July 19, 2012 at 8:32 pm #

    Tabby, I can so relate to what you are saying. Even though Landon was a newborn almost 17 years ago, I remember feeling so inadequate and ashamed that I couldn’t breastfeed him the way I thought I was supposed.

    He was a premie, born 5 weeks early at 4 pounds. Because of this, he needed to be in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for nearly two weeks. Breastfeeding such a tiny baby hooked up to monitors wasn’t the most conducive environment. Besides the pain of having to leave my baby in the hospital while I went home to heal from a C-section, I didn’t produce enough milk and had to supplement.

    I used to berate myself—thinking that women all over the world can breastfeed their babies—that it was the most natural thing in the world.

    Many women don’t talk about their struggles, so we assume that everyone else has it handled with ease and grace. You sharing your truth will help so many other mommies.

    And now that I’m a mother of a teenager, I can tell you that “things not gong the way you expected them to” is what parenting is all about. We need to learn to be as fluid as the breastmilk or formula we feed our babies.

    Bodhi will be the most challenging and awe-inspiring teacher you will ever have. And what a blessed boy to have a goddess like you for his mommy.

    • Tabby Biddle July 20, 2012 at 8:58 am #

      Wendi, thank you so much for sharing your story with baby Landon here. That must have been so hard for you to be separated from him in those early weeks of his life. And very clearly, that wasn’t the most conducive environment to breastfeed.

      I agree with you on thinking that women all over the world can breastfeed their babies – that it is the most natural thing in the world. That’s how I felt.

      I had heard that breastfeeding can be challenging at the start (but I thought that meant the first day or two). Now I know differently from my experience, and by hearing about your experience, and the experiences of the women who have shared in their comments below.

      I love your insight about parenting: We need to learn to be as fluid as the breastmilk or formula we feed our babies.

      Thank you for sharing your voice, story and wisdom here Wendi.

      Much love,
      Tabby

  2. Alenushka July 19, 2012 at 8:36 pm #

    Thank you for your poetically written post. How great it is someone sharing personal struggles without hoping of quilt . How true and matter of fact your wrote that your job a mother is to feed your child. Sometime breastfeeding works sometime it does not. Thank you for your post.

  3. Sophie July 19, 2012 at 10:56 pm #

    What a blessing you are Tabby. I think that so much about motherhood is held secret and behind the closed doors of shame and guilt. If we can share our experiences and let one another know that we are not alone in our challenges of motherhood in all its forms, we will be doing such a kind and loving service to our fellow mother goddesses and girls and women in general.

    It seems to be set up that we may only freely speak of the joys and blessings that being a mother affords… and being a mother is profoundly joyous and at times is so rich and overflowing with love that I can not find words for it. Yet, why may we not speak about the hard parts freely and without shame? Why are we are expected to be “perfect”, and to get it “right” at every step of the way when that is just not possible. Perhaps the perfection is in all of the messy, unexpected, exhausting details that make up the challenging side of what motherhood can be.

    I applaud you, Tabby for opening your door and allowing us in.

    • Tabby Biddle
      Tabby Biddle July 20, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

      Dear Sophie,

      You asked great questions: Why may we not speak about the hard parts freely and without shame? Why are we are expected to be “perfect”, and to get it “right” at every step of the way when that is just not possible?

      I think you hit it on the nose when you said: Perhaps the perfection is in all of the messy, unexpected, exhausting details that make up the challenging side of what motherhood can be.

      I especially appreciated what you said about how if we can share our experiences and let one another know that we are not alone in our challenges of motherhood in all its forms, we will be doing such a kind and loving service to our fellow mother goddesses and girls and women in general. This reminded me of when you shared your birth story with me when I was writing a blog a couple of years ago about women speaking out about what’s gone wrong with birthing in the U.S. hospital setting. That particular blog was read by close to 20,000 people on HuffPost and was followed by over 100 women sharing their birth story at the end of the blog for the public to hear. I believe there was a lot of healing that took place as a result of this sharing.

      Thank you Sophie for using your voice to unlock the secrets that are typically behind closed doors of shame and guilt.

      Here’s to empowered motherhood!

      xoxo
      Tabby

  4. Amy July 20, 2012 at 5:40 am #

    Having breastfed twins who arrived at 36 1/2 weeks the first few weeks were anything but smooth for a number of reasons. Mouth size, mouth strength impacting ability to latch on and stay latched on fro a long enough period. Juggling two babies at 6 feedings each a day, issue of making sure they were both getting enough volume, sustaining my milk supply for two babies… I could probably go on. In reflection I think being open to and willing to consult a lactation specialist shortly after we arrived home who worked with me on a couple key strategies (temp use of nipple shield until girls were big and strong enough to latch on by themselves,) Use of finger feeding technique in the first 3 weeks, mastering the art of double feeding sessions – both babies at the same time, a doable pumping schedule, huge help from daddy with a breast milk bottle for one baby during the 3:00AM feeding. And being open to an occasional formula supplement bottle in a pinch. All of these things supported me in breastfeeding the girls for 10 months (until they started biting me)… ;) So awesome you are exploring this! Rock on regardless of outcome… ;)

    • Tabby Biddle
      Tabby Biddle July 20, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

      You are a hero Amy! Your story is amazing.

      I have thought many times over the last few weeks about moms with twins. I’ve been asking myself: How in the world do they do it?

      And here you are!

      I am so inspired by your story of breastfeeding your twin girls for 10 months, and using all the support systems that you mentioned above to make it happen. What a Mom!

      Thank you so much for sharing your voice and your story here Amy.

      Sending you, your husband and your girls much love,
      Tabby

  5. Amy July 20, 2012 at 5:48 am #

    As I reflect on all that you have shared above – I can relate to some many specific parts of the journey that is unfolding for you. And I am pleased to report that from my journey with this, I have two thriving Mini-Goddeses who will be turning 7 in September. Mini-Goddesses = Thriving is what I am so grateful for. ;)

    • Tabby Biddle
      Tabby Biddle July 20, 2012 at 6:00 pm #

      Lucky 7!

      Happy early birthday to your girls. May they always know that they are Goddesses and thrive in this knowing.

      What lucky girls to have you as a Mom!

      xoxo
      Tabby

  6. Alexis C. July 20, 2012 at 6:04 am #

    Thank you for such a great post, and for putting feeding your little guy above ideology. It was a massive struggle for me, with my oldest, to even consider exclusively pumping for him. (We learned years later that he has low muscle tone and some motor delays, which probably contributed to his nursing issues.) I cried all the time — as did he. When we finally started bottle-feeding him, he was SO much happier — and now, when I look back at his newborn photos, his little face looks so pinched and gaunt (even though his weight didn’t drop to a degree where it worried our ped). He was a fussy newborn, and in retrospect, I suspect he was mostly just hungry.

    Like an older, wiser friend told me once, “The first rule is, feed the baby.”

    • Tabby Biddle
      Tabby Biddle July 20, 2012 at 6:06 pm #

      Thank you so much for sharing this Alexis. I love what your friend told you: The first rule is, feed the baby.

      I appreciate you sharing about how you learned years later after your son’s birth that he has low muscle tone and some motor delays. That makes perfect sense that this would contribute to his nursing issues. It also makes perfect sense that he was a fussy newborn as he was probably mostly hungry.

      I was so happy to hear that when you finally started bottle-feeding him, he was SO much happier. What a good choice on your part. That’s a great Mom.

      Thank you for sharing your voice and your story here Alexis.

      Wishing you and your family much joy,
      Tabby

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