“Breast is Best” Deciding to breastfeed my firstborn was a no-brainer. I was among the many believers in the slogan “breast is best.” So I went ahead and got all the breastfeeding accoutrements: nursing pillow, the sling with the matching nursing cover, the latest double-electric pump, the best-fitting nursing bras money could buy, lanolin cream, lanolin disinfecting wipes (why?), and the biggest ticket item of all, a glider/rocker with matching ottoman in camel-colored faux suede. Clearly, I had a ridiculous idea of what breastfeeding involved!
The disappointing attempts Within a half-hour of my daughter’s birth via C-section, she was placed to my breast. Immobile and exhausted in the recovery room, I watched my ob-gyne and delivery nurse take my breast out and shove my daughter’s wide-open mouth right smack onto my nipple. This was how one got a good latch, they explained. More was said about the newborn’s sucking reflex, the importance of getting a good position, the mechanics of lactation. None of this was new because I had done my homework; but none of it mattered. Three days later, I was still not producing any milk, and I was depressed. In the meantime, my daughter was put on formula.
On the fourth day of my hospital stay, the breast pump finally showed evidence that my breasts were working, but things were still not looking up. In the coming weeks, my milk supply would never catch up with my daughter’s demand, a result of poor latching technique. I was often in pain and ridden with feelings of failure and guilt. In spite of the support of my husband, family and friends, I felt like the most useless, worthless mother on the planet. My doctor confirmed that my postpartum blues had turned into full-blown depression. She gave me a choice: to take medication for the depression and stop breastfeeding and take non-drug treatments such as counseling and talk therapy.
Making the difficult choice
This was tough because I wanted so much for the breastfeeding to work. “Breast is best!” said my brain, and on went the litany: Breast milk contains antibodies and is more easily digestible; breastfeeding decreases air swallowing, tooth decay, ear infections, colds and allergic reactions. Oh and I would lose weight faster; heal sooner, save time and money! Phew. At the same time, I needed my sanity back. I wanted the meds and the therapy. I wanted to be able to sleep for more than two hours at a time. Hey, I wanted to enjoy my newborn daughter! Was this selfish? My depressed self said, “Yes, you horrible mother!” but my family, friends, and doctors helped me see that both my daughter and I would be better off if we stopped. They were absolutely right. I packed away the pump, pillow, nursing bras, gave away the rest, and took a deep breath. As I grieved my lost fantasy of breastfeeding, I started to know my daughter and experience the real joys of motherhood.