First, A Letter to My Newborn Son – On Feeding
Cradling your tiny body in my arms
We’ve both shed literal blood, sweat, tears
You’re hungry. You just want to eat.
You’ve never done this before.
Neither have I, baby.
I know I’m bigger and stronger and I’m supposed to know what I’m doing and how to feed you but…
I just birthed you. I’ve never done that before, either.
Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, hurts.
But you…what you’re going through is harder. You went from cozy-warm womb to wide-open world and you’re scared, overwhelmed, cold.
In a matter of seconds, everything I used to care about faded away as I saw your precious face. You’re the one I’ve been waiting for. (Just wait until I tell you about Jesus!)
And now, it’s my job to feed you. To give you that little bit of comfort you’re craving, you were made for, as you snuggle up to me and try to eat.
But I can’t. Something’s wrong. It’s simply not working. Why isn’t it working?
When you cry…I cry. Instantly. You’re totally dependant on me and I’m already failing you.
But, oh, sweet boy…we get there. We learn, together. Sloooowly, so slowly at times painful, at yet quickly, too (because how is it you’re already 4 months old?), you latch. You eat, no, guzzle milk. You grow. We keep doing it, at least 8 times a day for at least 4 hours every day. It’s not always easy. Sometimes, there are still tears. But, man, it’s so rewarding, for both of us.
I’m sorry for the hard moments, my Theo. But I also believe those moments have brought us closer together that we could have ever been without them.
My Breastfeeding Journey
When I was pregnant, I was convicted over and over that I needed to hold my desires and preferences loosely. I strongly desired an unmedicated home birth, in water, with no interventions. Yet, I knew to hold that loosely: if, for my baby’s or my health, going to the hospital was needed, I had accepted that (read all about my birth story here). I didn’t let any slight preference in the baby’s gender lead to potential “excitement” or “disappointment” And, when we were told after our first ultrasound that our baby had a marker for Down syndrome, after some initial emotions and processing, I really placed that potential in the Lord’s hands, excited for whoever He wanted to entrust us with.
The one thing that I had a hard time holding loosely was breastfeeding.
I knew I really wanted to breastfeed, that it was super important to me. I mean, the benefits are clear and, as a new mom, you hear about them everywhere. I wanted that bonding experience with my baby, and, to me, breastfeeding was the only “natural” way to feed my baby. I think I also wanted to show myself and those around me that I was capable of eating enough calories to nourish my baby through my own milk.
So, I did all the things. I read the books, watched the videos, took the e-courses, set up my pump (just in case), and thought, “I’m all set.” I had heard many women say that breastfeeding was one of the most challenging things they’d ever done, and I was prepared for it to be challenging. I even expected it to be challenging. But, oh no, I was not giving up.
Well, the Lord sure used my stubbornness to teach me…a lot.
If you read my birth story, you’d know that I was separated from my baby boy for 8 hours after he was born as I needed to have surgery. Before I went in for surgery, though, the nurses tested Theo’s blood sugar to see if he could hold off on colostrum until I was out. Thank God: Theo’s blood sugar was abnormally high. Johnny later told me that he barely cried the entire 8 hours I was gone: just blinked and cuddled and slept.
Finally getting to see, hold, and cuddle him again was the best feeling in the world. And then it was time to try to feed him.
This whole period is so blurry to me now, but I remember trying to get a latch with him and failing miserably. Every time I tried, it just ended in both Theo and I bawling. When I think about the fact that I didn’t get to feed Theo right away, I still struggle with feeling immense guilt. Because I wasn’t there, I think, he had to go without food.
And then, once I was able to feed him, I couldn’t figure out how to get him to latch. My boy was hungry and tired and crying, and I was hungry and tired and crying. I had read the books and taken the courses and even had a lactation consult and STILL I couldn’t get my baby to latch.
Every time a nurse came into the room, I would ask for her help with latching/any advice she had. It became clear that Theo was having a hard time getting his mouth open wide enough in order to get a deep enough latch. Patience is key, I heard a million times. How could I be patient when my baby was starving?
The answer? Hand expression…for now. On that first day, Theo would only need approximately 1 teaspoon of colostrum per feeding to fill his tiny tummy. The nurses gave us little cups and syringes and helped me hand express colostrum into the little cup. It didn’t take much to get that 1 teaspoon/5mL of colostrum. Feeling very satisfied to see that “liquid gold”, we syringed it up from the cup and into Theo’s mouth. Every 2 hours, through the night and into the next day, we would start by trying to put Theo to my breast, where, again, we wouldn’t get a latch. I tried multiple positions, but was emotionally, physically, and mentally so drained, it all just felt impossible. After 10 or so minutes of trying, we would hand express and syringe the colostrum instead.
Finally, when Theo was just over 24 hours old, the in-hospital lactation consultant came to see us. She was lovely. I tried to explain the issues we were having, and she was eager to help. “Sometimes, when babies have a small mouth, the football hold position where they’re upright can be best for getting a good latch,” she said. She helped me position Theo in the football hold. He was crying, trying to open his mouth wide enough but struggling.
The tears started flowing for me, too. I felt like my body wasn’t good enough for him. That my breasts weren’t the right size or my milk wasn’t right or just something about me was wrong. I received so much reassurance from the consultant.
And finally, finally, in that football-hold position, he latched! I had thought he had latched a number of times previously, but no, this was different. He actually had a steady “hold”, whereas before he would just kind of wrap his mouth around, very shallow. Oh, it was the best feeling! I remember trying so hard to keep my arms and hands steady so I wouldn’t do anything to lose that position. He ate well on that side, and I worked with the LC to get him to latch again. Theo was working so hard, too! This really helped me mentally in the midst of the struggle: to know that Theo and I were BOTH new to this, both learning together, on the same team, a unit. It can really feel sometimes like your baby is fighting you when you’re having breastfeeding struggles: like you’re on two separate teams. But you’re both trying to work with the other; you’re getting to know each other. And you’re doing something TOTALLY new. In the womb, Theo had all his nutrients provided to him from the placenta. He never had to feel hungry or work for food. Meanwhile, I’ve never kept a human alive before with my body, needing to feed them every 2-3 hours. It’s a lot of work, and there’s ample grace that needs to be known and received.
When we left the hospital and came back home, I was incredibly anxious about continuing to feed Theo. I was beyond grateful that my midwives were coming for home visits every few days! They weighed Theo at those visits, checked to see how I was doing, and answered any questions. Midwives are truly incredible.
Feeding was still emotional and difficult. Theo was sometimes latching, other times not. His weight quickly dropped from 9lbs 15oz to 9lbs even, almost 10% weight loss. This was when we decided that I would pump after each feed and top Theo up with a bottle of expressed milk.
Now, when I pumped, the most milk I ever got in one session was 3.5oz. Most of the time, though, it was 2oz. Sometimes it was 0.5oz. Meanwhile, my Instagram algorithm was showing me videos of women pumping 15oz in one session with captions like, “Not producing enough milk?”
I felt like a failure. I immediately assumed that I simply wasn’t producing enough milk. I was the reason Theo lost too much weight and wasn’t gaining it back quickly enough.
To top it off, pumping was EXHAUSTING. Our daily routine was: feed Theo at the breast, where he would take 45 minutes to eat, wait 15 minutes, pump for 20 minutes, feed Theo the pumped bottle, clean all the pump and bottle parts, and then repeat: day and night. It’s all one massive, milk-stained, teary, tired blur now, but the difficulty of it is something I remember full well.
I kept thinking, “Is this my life for the next year? Is this what being a mom is? How the heck do moms have time to cook and clean and spend time with friends?”
We kept up this routine for 3 weeks, during which I averaged maybe 2-4 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. Not to mention that I was also on a strict meds schedule, in tremendous pain, and on bedrest recovering from birth.
It’s a lot. These are the things people don’t talk about!
But, oh man, was it also fun, joyous, and oh-so rewarding. People also don’t talk enough about that.
At Theo’s 3-week check-up, he still wasn’t quite yet back to his birth weight. He weighed 9lbs, 13.5oz, so just 1.5oz shy of his birth weight.
For context, babies are expected to lose up to 10% of their birth weight, but should get back to it by the time they are 2 weeks old.
Theo lost a full 10%, and, since he was basically a 10-pound baby, that was 1 whole pound of weight loss. Breastfed newborns gain 1/4-1/2 pound per week, so gaining that pound back wasn’t necessarily going to be instant. I was so worried all the time, but looking back, I see that Theo was just a slow gainer. And he still is, averaging about 5oz of weight gain a week where some babies gain much more than that.
But all those numbers led to me thinking I just didn’t have enough milk or that he wasn’t getting “anything.” I would constantly think that. Meanwhile, he was pooping 8 times a day and peeing 12+ times a day. He was thriving in every way.
Finally, at his 4-week appointment, we saw the magic number: Theo weighed 10lbs 2.5oz! It was wonderful confirmation that he was getting everything he needed.
Still, I assumed most of his milk must have been coming from the pumped feeds rather than from the breast. However, logically, he wouldn’t have gained that much weight on the bottles alone.
I’m sharing all these thoughts I had to hopefully help a momma out there to realize they are not alone and that these thoughts are very common, but also that, as I have learned from my lactation consultant and a lot of reading, you are almost definitely making enough milk for your baby. Your milk is supply-and-demand-based, so as your baby suckles, your breasts will make more milk! And babies are typically SO much more effective at removing milk than a pump is.
Between 4-6 weeks, I started weaning the pumping and bottles. I would pump once after his first morning feed and maybe 2 more times throughout the day, topping up only at those times. This was SUCH a relief, especially since Johnny went back to work at this point so I was looking after Theo on my own during the day.
At his 6-week appointment, Theo weighed 10lbs 11oz! So we could see clearly that he was getting enough milk from the breast. From there, I slowly weaned all the pumping until he was just on the breast, and that has been amazing.
Today, at almost 4 months, Theo is still a slow eater, but a much more effective one. He’s burping, spitting up, and pooping/peeing a TON, and continuing to gain roughly 5oz per week. He latches with such ease, and we have a rhythm. Those sweet moments looking down at my precious boy in my arms as he eats, my body nourishing him, make aaallll the tears and hard moments SO worth it, more beautiful and wonderful than I could have ever dreamed of.
I wish I knew:
- That breastfeeding in the beginning often takes up 8-12 hours of your day. That’s a LOT of time.
- That syringing colostrum is a wonderful option if baby isn’t latching.
- That I could hand express and freeze my colostrum before baby was born in case we were separated for any reason (which we were).
- That almost every single breastfeeding woman says they experience at least some degree of difficulty with nursing, but that it also almost always gets easier with time.
- That nursing would soon become some of the sweetest moments of my days, months, year. Being able to nourish your baby with your own milk produced by your body is not only beautiful and joyous, but miraculous. I’ve grown closer to Jesus just awing in this aspect of his creation. Awing in the fact that He, the God of the universe, was nourished by His own mother’s milk.
- That almost all women have one boob (usually the left one) that produces less milk than the other.
- That nursing is supply and demand, so, almost ALWAYS, unless you have an underlying condition, you will make enough milk for your baby.
- That, while there are foods and supplements that may increase milk supply, the best way to do that is to feed baby often.
- That feeding and napping schedules are wonderful and can be helpful, but that they must be held loosely: sometimes, just like adults, babies are hungry “off schedule”.
I would love to hear about your breastfeeding experience in the comments below!