Why I Didn't Breastfeed My First Baby

Why I Didn't Breastfeed My First Baby

My oldest son is 7. He was mostly formula-fed from birth, and completely formula-fed from about 7 weeks of age.

Given the person I am now, the breastfeeding advocate and educator, who has successfully breastfed three subsequent children, sometimes I look back and can't quite believe he wasn't breastfed. But his birth and my experience with him is what made me so passionate about birth and breastfeeding in the first place.

But why wasn't he breastfed?

Was it awareness, or lack thereof?

I don't think so. I was aware of the benefits of breastfeeding. I intended to breastfeed him. In fact, here's an excerpt from a LiveJournal entry I wrote when I was about eight months pregnant: 

The doctor asked if we'd taken any classes, which we have. She said, "Oh good, so you're prepared." Haha! Yes! I feel so prepared! Ok, I know the basics, and sort of what to expect. But prepared? I don't think you can ever really be prepared for your first childbirth. I mean, ok, the nursery is almost ready, he'll have clothes to wear and a place to sleep and something to eat (boobies!), but seriously. Prepared? I keep trying to remember the signs of labor and thinking how this class we took has a doozy of a final exam!

Then, about a week before the baby was born:

I went ahead and ordered a dual electric breast pump...Still cheaper than formula in the long run, and I hope that I will be able to give him breastmilk for as long as possible. 

So I was definitely "aware" of breastfeeding, of the benefits, that I wanted to breastfeed. I had made that decision and was planning ahead.

Was it education?

This was part of it. And I think one of the big problems was, I didn't know I needed to be educated. I know I bought a couple of breastfeeding-related books, but I also know I didn't read them. I didn't take a class, didn't attend any LLL meetings, didn't talk to other breastfeeding mothers about their experiences. Indeed, as the birth story I wrote just a couple of weeks after he was born shows, I didn't know what I didn't know.

They brought the baby to me and helped me latch him. He knew what to do, but I was still pretty out of it. I also have the timeline here a bit befuddled, because of what ensued. I know they needed to check his blood sugars because of his size, and asked us if it would be ok to give him some formula if he needed it, and if so, what kind. We said it was ok, but we didn't know anything about formulas, so just go ahead and give him whatever they thought was good. They suggested Enfamil with Lipil. Sure, why not.

If I had done any reading or taken a class, I would probably have known that he likely didn't need to be given formula, or we would have known to ask more questions. As it turned out, his blood sugars were fine, but I soon went into shock. The nurses told me that because I'd lost so much blood, I wouldn't be able to make milk:

I didn't get a chance to try nursing again. I needed to rebuild my blood supply before I could even think about making milk.

I was stuck in bed for all of Sunday and Monday. They came and checked my bleeding periodically, gave me IV pain meds, brought me food. They brought the baby in on Monday for me to try nursing again, but I was pretty weak and sore. They were giving him formula, which was fine. With his size, he needed to eat, and I didn't have food for him. 

What no one told me, apparently, was that in order to make milk, I needed to nurse the baby. Even if my milk supply increase was delayed, I still needed to be nursing him and/or pumping to set up prolactin receptors and to encourage milk production. Even if they had to supplement with formula, that didn't mean I shouldn't nurse him. The colostrum would benefit him, too. I do recall that they fed him whatever colostrum I pumped, but it wasn't much.

Was it willpower?

Yes. I'm sure a big part of the problem was willpower. Now, I went through a traumatic birth, and I got off to a bit of a rocky start, but that alone didn't make breastfeeding impossible. The bigger problem in this story is that I didn't know how much hard work it takes in the beginning, especially when there's a rocky start, to breastfeed. I didn't know that if I stuck with it, it would get better and easier and really feel worthwhile, and so I didn't try.

Was it support, or lack thereof?

Yes and no. The support in the hospital was variable, as evidenced by some of the quotes above. Then there was this:

[On Tuesday, the lactation consultant] showed me how to use the pump and said I'd need to pump for 15-20 minutes every 2-3 hours to stimulate milk flow and establish a supply. She also suggested I rent a hospital-grade pump, because the one I'd bought would burn out if I used it that often. I think I pumped twice that day. With all the people in and out and all the activity, and my general weakness, pumping seemed like just that much more hassle, that much more of an energy drain.

Wednesday was better, and I did pretty well with pumping. A different lactation consultant came to see me and helped me breastfeed the baby. I tried the football hold, because of my sore abdomen, and the cross-cradle, which I found more comfortable. They told me I should breastfeed for 10 minutes per side and then pump for 10 more minutes.

This information is only sort of correct, and she didn't say the most basic thing, which is, "You have to nurse the baby to make milk, and here's why." She didn't say, "The best thing you can do to bring in your milk is to nurse the baby." She didn't say, "Spend time skin-to-skin with your baby and nurse on demand." She didn't say, "Watch the baby, not the clock." Etc. And no one, again, told me that it was hard work and perseverance that would matter the most. Everyone said it was fine to supplement with formula, and no one, not even me, fought for me to breastfeed.


On the other hand, my mom wanted me to breastfeed. She wanted me to so badly. But she didn't know how to support me, and I didn't know I needed support or how that support should look. Another friend tried to help; she even offered to nurse the baby for me to show me how it works! She offered me the contact information for a local La Leche League leader. She knew I needed support, and she knew how to give it, but I didn't know how to take it, or that I should, and I was convinced that I should do what I was told by the hospital, not knowing, as many women don't, that the nurses at the hospital maybe weren't the be-all and end-all of breastfeeding information.

How did I feel about "failing" to breastfeed?

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