I remember the oxygen being sucked out of the room the moment I was told I had starved my baby. The pediatrician in the Emergency Room didn’t say it exactly like that, of course, but that’s all I heard. The baby who had the “perfect latch” had nothing coming to him behind that beautiful latch.
He wasn’t getting my milk.
Braeden, my sweet brand new baby, lost 15% of his weight and had dangerously high Jaundice levels. It was at that moment I looked down and realized just how yellow my baby looked. How had I not seen it before?!
We were admitted to the hospital but no longer allowed to be in the cocoon of the Labor and Delivery floor where we stayed for extra days after my son was born a month early. They wheeled me around the hospital for what felt like forever as I held my tiny 5lb 2oz baby.
When we finally arrived on the pediatric floor, a slew of intake questions seemed to come at me from all around. In that moment, I could hardly remember how to spell my son’s name…B-R-A-E-D-E-N…all I could process was that I had starved my baby.
I was just six days postpartum, with large and swollen breasts. My vagina and tailbone constantly ached from 16 hours of childbirth. Since I was breastfeeding, the hospital me with sanitary pads and food, but nothing else. Not even a bed.
The first night in the hospital, I was alone with Braeden. My husband and mother went home to get a good night’s sleep. I couldn’t sleep on the rock-hard pullout chair so instead of getting much-needed rest, I just kept replaying the fact that my son was back in the hospital because I had failed him.
The following day, in my state of exhaustion, I saw beds everywhere…in countless empty rooms and even in the hallway. I was desperate to sleep on a mattress, if only for a few minutes.
Hours later we saw a pediatrician.
My mother wanted me to address my complete devastation over my son’s weight loss. When I brought it up, the pediatrician looked me in my eyes and said, “I’ve seen some terrible things parents have done to their babies. You need to know that you did nothing wrong. You did not harm your baby!”
That brief conversation probably saved me from spiraling into a deep depression.
The pediatrician then asked if there was anything else he could do, and I begged for a bed. I told him I’d give it up the second a child needed it but I was a zombie and in so much pain.
He wrote me an order for a bed and, that night, I finally slept.
We spent three nights in the hospital where Braeden met weight gain goals. Unlike leaving the hospital after giving birth, this time we were sent home with a clear feeding plan. At this point, Braeden was still exclusively fed breast milk from nursing and pumping.
Two days after leaving the hospital, we did a weight check at our pediatrician’s office and were told we had to start supplementing with formula. At that point, I was willing to do whatever my son needed while still holding onto the belief that I’d be able to breastfeed exclusively at some point.
Over the next five months, I popped Fenugreek round the clock, drank Mother’s Milk Tea, pumped after every feeding, tried pumping while nursing, used nipple shields, and so on.
I never produced enough milk to breastfeed exclusively, and my son preferred the bottle to my breasts.
What little breast milk I had left Braeden didn’t want from me. I would get painful stomach cramps and IBS symptoms due to stress. I was trying to force my dream of nursing but it had ended long before I was willing to admit defeat. My husband finally said the words I didn’t know I was longing to hear, “It’s okay to stop.” And so I did.
I never expected to be the mom with a bottle in her hand. I so genuinely believed that breast is best and I was going to do everything that was “best” for my kid. Now, I firmly believe that being fully supported along your journey to feed your child is what’s truly best.
If you’ve fed your child with love, then you’ve done your best.
While it’s still incredibly painful to think back on my breastfeeding journey, I no longer feel as if my breasts failed me and I failed my baby. I know I did my best under some really difficult circumstances.
My son was fed with love, and I forgive myself.
My only regret is that I never connected with an IBCLC (highest level of certification for lactations consultants) outside of my hospital stays. I know now that continuous support from an IBCLC has been proven to improve breastfeeding outcomes, so I wish I would’ve had that support.
Part of my healing process is being a champion for those who desire to breastfeed as I talk about the importance of IBCLC support.
As a bottle-feeding mom, I also reassure and validate formula-feeding moms!
My child was fed with love. Whatever your story is, please know your child was also fed with love!
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