Breastfeeding: A Lesson In Humility

While I was pregnant with Maggie, my goal was to exclusively breastfeed her for a year.

That seemed to be a perfectly reasonable goal for me, and one I felt would be pretty attainable. I’d just pump at work, nurse her at home, and all would be well.

Now, I didn’t think things would be super easy. I’d heard enough stories from friends and strangers (hey, internet) alike to know to anticipate some potential problems. Maybe Maggie would have a tongue tie that went undiagnosed for a while. Maybe we’d have another kind of latching issue. Maybe my milk would be delayed in coming in. Maybe it would be super painful. I had a long list of maybes.

And then, Maggie was born…and breastfeeding was a breeze (at least initially). Maggie was a champ of a nurser right from the start, and when we started to introduce bottles around week four, she didn’t bat an eye. We got into a pretty good groove with pumping and nursing while I was on maternity leave, and I was proud of the stash I was able to build in our freezer (in the second freezer we’d bought specifically for breast milk, by the way, although it does come in handy for storing extra frozen food in general!). My supply seemed to be good and unwavering, so I felt like we had this thing on lock. A year of breastfeeding? Cake.

Then it was time for me to go back to work (Maggie was nine weeks old at the time), so pumping was no longer optional and was now totally necessary. No big deal, at least at first. Before long, pumping started to feel pretty cumbersome, but my supply remained intact, so things were mostly fine. Slowly, though, things started to shift. We started having to dip into my precious freezer stash, which made me really anxious. I started taking fenugreek and making lactation cookies and upping my water intake — trying to get my supply back to where it had been. What seemed to be the real issue, though, was that I wasn’t nursing enough versus pumping. And once I was back to both working and teaching Pure Barre, the pumping was outweighing the nursing in a big way.

When Maggie was approaching her five-month birthday, I was going to be away from her for the first time (for a two-day bachelorette party), and my freezer stash at that point had been completely depleted. Time for some formula supplementation. (Easier said than emotionally done.) We went for it. Maggie tolerated the formula fine. And even though my brain knew it was okay — that formula was perfectly healthy for her, and that I had accomplished so much by being able to exclusively breastfeed her for nearly five months, and that I still would be giving her breast milk in addition to formula — I felt like a failure.

I hadn’t accomplished my goal (and I’m someone who loooooves to reach a milestone, as you may have gathered if you know me or read my blog!), and it didn’t feel good. But also, some of the pressure was off. I was no longer solely responsible for feeding Maggie. We had a safety net. I think part of the reason the transition was so hard to swallow for me was because it was my first experience of things not going right when it came to Maggie. I’d had a wonderful pregnancy, Maggie’s birth was even better than I’d hoped it would be, and she was a good baby who slept great. I’d been very fortunate so far, and this was the first real hiccup.

Taking all of this into account, I think the main takeaway is that, as with so many things, many emotions were involved. Some of the feelings I was and am grappling with include:

  • Failure: Despite trying several tactics for increasing my supply, I wasn’t able to keep up with Maggie’s needs, and that was a hard pill to swallow. In addition to feeling like I’d let her and myself down in some way, it also served as a reminder of how much I’m away from her each day.
  • Relief: But wait — I no longer had to be responsible for meeting all of Maggie’s nutritional needs. That kind of felt amazing, and once I got over some of the sadness and feelings of failure, I felt a weight lifted. She was still getting lots of breast milk, but I didn’t have to stress every single day about making enough for her. Great news, right?
  • Guilt: Feelings of guilt came hand in hand with these feelings of relief, though. Was I really trying everything I could to try to boost my supply? Should I stop teaching Pure Barre or scale back on the amount of classes I was taking so I could nurse more in the mornings and evenings?
  • Selfishness: Part of me loves the idea of “having my body back” by not having to keep making milk and worry about all the details that come along with that. But that’s selfish to some degree, right? I don’t want to be inconvenienced by the whole process, even though I’m able to produce milk and know it’s so very good for my kiddo. But wait — aren’t inconvenience and sacrifice key tenets of parenthood? (I could strongly relate to parts of this video about breastfeeding by fellow new mama Whitney Port.)
  • Uncertainty: What now? Right now, I’m still pumping and nursing, and we’re feeding Maggie a combination of formula and breast milk. But how long do we keep this combo going? Some days, all I want to do is pack my pump away. I get so SICK of plugging it in over and over, of having to plan for when and where to pump at all times. Of pumping in my car if our conference room — the place I pump — is occupied for a several-hours stretch. It gets so old. But other days, I love that I’m still able to give Maggie breast milk. And on slow-paced mornings, when I can pull her into bed with me and nurse her right there without having to rush to get up and get ready? There’s nothing better. I wish there was a more clear sign of when to move on to the next phase, but since there isn’t I’m trying to take it day by day.
  • Gratefulness: Regardless of what happens next, I feel so incredibly thankful that I’ve been able to give Maggie breast milk for nearly seven months. She’s healthy and happy and thriving, and I had a distinct role in that.
  • Respect: All you nursing mamas out there — WOW. This is a big job, whether you’re a full-time mom or heading off to an office each day with your pump in tow.
  • Humility: All other feelings around what’s best for Maggie, how I feel about nursing/pumping, etc. aside, this was a lesson in humility for me in a big way. Prior to Maggie’s birth, I felt so confident that breastfeeding exclusively for a year was going to be our path…and then it wasn’t. I’m very aware that this is the first of what will be many parenting goals I set for myself and then don’t achieve, or don’t achieve in full. And that’s okay, and all part of the journey, right? As my mom often reminds me, “Becoming a parent is a lesson in losing control.” So true, Mama. And aren’t we all doing our best, after all?

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One Comment

  1. Rebecca

    I made it 4.5 months before my supply dropped and I couldn’t keep up. I cried when I gave her that first bottle of formula, but, like you, then I loved the freedom of having a back up and the control of knowing exactly how many ounces she was getting. Just one of the many lessons of parenthood! I’m no longer nursing. It all happened so naturally and I can’t say I miss it. I’ll absolutely nurse our next baby, but it will be so nice to know that formula is there if/when I need it.

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