I had often heard the refrain: “breastfeeding is hard.” As an expectant mom, I didn’t know exactly what that meant. I told myself that I was at least going to give it a go, and would be open to whatever the journey held once we got underway; but in my head I was convinced that it couldn’t possibly be that hard. I had definitely absorbed some of the “breast is best” narrative that is omnipresent for expecting moms. I am also stubborn enough that I wanted to see if I could do it, and care for my baby in this way that I had read and heard so much about.
In fact, like many women before, my personal journey of feeding and growing my daughter, Arden, has had moments of being quite hard. We faced unexpected challenges and uncertainty coming out of the twenty-week ultrasound, when we learned that our baby girl would need a minor postnatal surgery and be kept on an IV for her first few days of life. Anticipating this, I felt frustrated that most of the breastfeeding support and content that I could find online or in general birthing classes as I prepared for her birth seemed predicated on baby latching immediately after delivery. Given Arden’s first few days in this world, that would not be an option.
There is a lot of content out there about breastfeeding, and pressure on moms to do so. I certainly felt this! Regardless of how you choose to feed your baby, I share my own story to help normalize uncertainty and the power of postpartum care and support in order to find those moments of ease amidst the hard, and to define your own journey of what “ease” looks like. Personal care from an IBCLC lactation consultant, and endless support from my husband and family, has made it possible for me and Arden to establish and evolve our breastfeeding relationship together. It now works for us. But it looks different than what I thought it “should” look like before she arrived.
Our sweet daughter was born (after a long and thrilling 28 hours that resulted in an emergency C-section) and sailed through her first day and her surgical procedure with grace, her dad by her side as she moved from the OR into the NICU while I recovered. The first few days and weeks were a real mental struggle. I pumped every two hours, constantly checking the clock and calculating when I would have to start again. I felt nervous to try breastfeeding when we were visiting the NICU, not sure that it would get her enough nutrition when we could just feed her by bottle - and cognizant that she needed to hit certain weight milestones in order to be discharged. I felt myself getting in my own way of even starting. My husband and the NICU lactation consultants were crucial in helping encourage me to just try, even for a couple of minutes.
Mustering up the courage to ask for help both in the NICU and when we got home was the first of many times that as a new mom, I realized that I needed to raise my hand and lean on others. I was driven to try to make breastfeeding “work” however I could. I happened to find a great IBCLC through a close friend, since I hadn’t thought to find someone beforehand despite all my planning! She arrived at our house - in full COVID PPE - and we set to helping bridge from bottle to breastfeeding with more skill and confidence. A lactation consultant may not be able to solve all “problems,” but what I found most helpful was how she helped me both tactically and emotionally to define what my feeding goals were for myself, and for Arden and me together.
Without this postpartum care from our lactation consultant, I suspect that we would have veered from even trying to continue breastfeeding because I was anxious about not being “perfect” from the start. We did not immediately find a groove. It was perfection pressure creeping up that I had felt in other aspects of my life and was just the start of a feeling I’d have to bat away that as a mom, I needed to things to look like the ideal or else it wasn’t worth it. So, a key breakthrough in that first consultation was that breastfeeding did not need to be an “all or nothing” arrangement. This change in framing helped me start to soften expectations that I had somehow put in place for myself that we would exclusively feed at the breast and only that was acceptable. I began to get out of my own head.
In the following weeks after our initial consultation, I tried to figure out how to sustain and build on this momentum. There were a few moments when I asked myself, what is this all about? Am I letting my ego and stubbornness get in the way of truly the most important job I had as a mother - to nourish Arden, no matter how? It took patience, tinkering with our schedule and routine, not Googling in the middle of the night, and more patience, often when I least wanted to be patient. It took our lactation consultant reminding in a stressed Friday afternoon phone call to her to care for my mental health; her validation of my efforts and “enough”-ness buoyed me when I needed to hear it most. Still, it takes everyday reminding myself that Arden will lead the way when it comes to what she needs, and that mothering extends far beyond breastfeeding.
Now as Arden turns four months old, we have a semblance of a routine that involves a combination of breastfeeding and bottle feeding expressed milk, involves all three of us, and is constantly changing - today, we introduced solids! Feeding Arden continues to occupy a lot of my headspace, counting the number of times a day I’ve pumped as well as breastfed her, or gauging when she last ate and roughly how much. It requires the dedicated time and commitment of my husband, whom I am grateful for everyday to have as a partner. I have become more confident than ever in the axiom that “fed is best.” Perhaps we will reevaluate relying solely on breastmilk and solids in the coming weeks or months, so I can lighten this load (and probably fill in the space with some other new mom concerns!).
What I know is that having personal postpartum care by our lactation consultant for me, my husband, and Arden was critical to building a breastfeeding relationship through all the uncertainty. It helped usher me into the world of motherhood and define early on that it would be full of mental challenges, and others without an easy answer on Google. I would have to ask for help, while also looking inward for guidance about what was best for us as a family. I look forward to taking challenges on, and working through them to become the best mom I can for Arden. And most of all, I want to model how it is both okay and necessary to ask for and accept help to get through those challenges life offers us.
Claire Fletcher is a new mom to Arden and lives in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago with her husband. She's also a dog mom to her black lab mix, Leonard, and loves taking walks with her family along the 606, singing Raffi songs off-key to Arden, and eating Do-Rite Donuts.
September is baby safety month. We know this is a big topic. That is why we narrowed down a short list of suggested safety items you can tackle before your due date to ready your newborn’s arrival. For each item we’ve also compiled great outside resources to support your preparation.