Caleb’s Afterbirth – Breastfeeding Blues

Ok, first things first, if the term “breastfeed” makes you uncomfortable and you can’t believe I used the word in a public forum, I am shaking my head and rolling my eyes right now. In fact, if you’re squirming at this point, you would probably benefit from reading this article by Tim Challies: “Exchanging the Natural for the Unnatural” (thanks for the article, Sarah).

Here’s the bottom line – God used my experience with breastfeeding to refine my character and teach me about life in general – but before I flesh that out, I’ll continue Caleb’s afterbirth story where I left off:

Regrettably, Caleb’s difficulties with breastfeeding did not end at the hospital – in truth, breastfeeding didn’t start going “well” until Caleb was five months old. And then, well, he went through a “fun” biting stage at 10 months and bit me so hard – breaking skin – that I was forced to completely wean him off that side due to unbearable pain, and the wound’s inability to heal with constant irritation. (Biting…possibly the reason God invented two breasts??) I continued nursing for 4 months after that, and learned to embrace my lopsidedness for those remaining months 🙂

For the first 4 months, Caleb’s biggest problem was staying awake, and despite our best team effort (undressing him every time, blowing on him, tickling his toes/face, dripping cold water on him, etc.), we just could not keep him awake for the life of us (I suppose that shouldn’t have come as a shock since he peacefully slept through labor of all things!) Because of this, each nursing session was an event and took about an hour to complete (of which he actually fed for maybe20 minutes). In the beginning, this added up to a whopping 8-10 hours a day – excluding pumping time.

20 minutes may actually be an overestimate, because on day 5, we had to call his doctor because he hadn’t peed in 16 hours, and we feared he was dehydrated (a very serious issue)! A piece of advice for all you 5-day-olds out there – if you want to really put your parents in a panic and take a few years off their life, just stop urinating…that simple. Ugh, talk about freaked out! Just barely keeping it together at that point, we immediately ran out to grab formula to supplement my breast milk. We then had to feed it to him through a syringe (think baby bird), in order to avoid “nipple confusion” (is this even real?? who knows). Do you see what I mean when I said in my earlier hospital post that breastfeeding is not as simple as you’d think!?

Now, I do not consider myself a crunchy mama, but I have done quite a bit of research on the myriad benefits of breastfeeding* and am a big advocate for breastfeeding children during their first year of life, if at all possible (I do realize, however, it is not always possible, and I do not mean to condemn anyone in this post). I was really committed to making it work, but when we were forced to supplement with formula, I began doubting if I would be able to. I was giving it all I had in me and my heart sunk at the possibility of not being able to give Caleb the best I could offer. During Caleb’s entire first week home, I sobbed every night in the shower, pleading with God to help Caleb start eating. I was so scared that he was failing to thrive and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I have never felt more helpless or utterly reliant on God in my life. Caleb needed to eat, and I could not force him to do it. God had to intervene.

From there on out, it got (slightly) better. I say better because I was no longer concerned that Caleb was going to die (I know that sounds ridiculously dramatic, but that is sincerely how my sleep deprived self felt at the time). For Caleb’s first three weeks of life, we supplemented him with pumped breast milk via a syringe, to ensure he was not dehydrated. I also began attending a breastfeeding clinic to get assistance, and to weigh Caleb weekly for two months (which was debatably helpful). I was told by Caleb’s doctor and the lactation consultant at the clinic that Caleb needed to be gaining an ounce a day, and he simply wasn’t achieving that (or even coming close…he was gaining maybe half an ounce per day). I was repeatedly told I needed to “push” Caleb harder and that he was not gaining enough weight. Beyond a doubt, no other event has ever come close to generating the overwhelming amount of anxiety and self pressure caused by fearing for Caleb’s health.

I know my next comment will put me in the direct line of fire of all the die hard breastfeeding fanatics, but truthfully, I did not enjoy breastfeeding whatsoever. I did not feel a “special bond” through it any more than I would have had I given him a bottle, and forget nursing Caleb until he’s 4 years old. 
For the first three months, there was not one day I did not consider quitting. Perhaps the difficulty of my experience taints my feelings, but I found breastfeeding to be highly stressful, demanding, and inconvenient. Even at one year old, I was still breastfeeding Caleb five times a day in accordance with the Dr.’s orders (due to his small size), and was unable to be away from him for more than three consecutive hours that entire year (six if I pumped). Furthermore, it was painful in the beginning, it hurt my back, it drained my energy, it made participating in two weddings extremely complicated, I hated pumping, nipple shields were a nuisance, I developed two breast infections, it was inconvenient when out and about (particularly when Caleb figured out how to remove the nursing cover and expose me to the entire world), he bit me on numerous occasions to varying degrees, and I was lopsided at the end. 

My purpose in sharing all that is not to whine, to scare anyone, or to demonstrate how ‘awesome’ I am for pushing through, but actually, to encourage. Those are my candid thoughts, and I know I am not the only one who struggled or is struggling with breastfeeding. Breastfeeding
 can seriously suck (no pun intended, hehe), and there’s no doubt that it requires an enormous amount of sacrifice. Sacrifice of your body, your privacy, your comfort, and your freedom. Those were not easy things for me to give up, and I think I grew a lot as a person and in my faith through my many struggles with breastfeeding. 

For those of you who have struggled, are struggling, or will struggle with breastfeeding, my suggestion is this: rely on God, persevere, and remind yourself that part of love is sacrifice, and it comes at a price. John 15:13 says “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Breastfeeding, however random, has taught me more than anything else what it means to deny myself and lay down my life (particularly in those first few months). Before I finish, I want to make it abundantly clear that I do NOT look down on you if you did not breastfeed your child(ren). As much as my prideful self wants to take full credit for this accomplishment, I am completely aware that God intervened and it was His grace and strength that saw me through. 

Caleb, if you read this one day, (and are super awkwarded out…sorry), I just want you to know that I love you very much and I was happy to do it for you even though it was hard for me. I am so thankful God carried me through the difficulties and matured me in the process. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat son. 

Readers – what is your experience with breastfeeding?

*If you are interested, here is a great resource on why breastfeeding is important (and other related breastfeeding topics).

More posts in the ‘Afterbirth’ series:

Caleb’s Afterbirth – the Hospital (Part 1)
Caleb’s Afterbirth – the Neighbs (Part 2)
Caleb’s Afterbirth – Body Slammed (Part 4)
Caleb’s Afterbirth – Am I an Incompetent Parent (Part 5)

Also, read about Caleb’s birth:

Caleb’s Birth Story: Rated PG-13 for Language, Nudity, and Drugs 🙂

And here’s the 10 ways pregnancy crushed my dignity:

Part 1 – Constipation
Parts 2 & 3 – Appetite and Weight Gain
Part 4 – Mourning Sickness
Part 5 – Incontinence
Part 6 – Crazy Hormones
Parts 7, 8, & 9 – Pain, Pain, Pain
Part 10, the Pinnacle – Diarrhomit

Published by

Melissa Felker

I blog to share my life, entertain, inspire, inform, encourage, challenge (both myself and others), and of course, for personal therapy - haha! I love to write about meaningful experiences and a wide range of topics I find interesting. I particularly enjoy sharing life in a raw and barely censored fashion because I highly value authenticity.

11 thoughts on “Caleb’s Afterbirth – Breastfeeding Blues”

  1. Natasha here…I would love to offer a guest post of my experience….It can show the other side of what happens when you don’t push through….Your Commitment and follow through are very inspirational to me. You know that as well, b/c we have talked in depth about it. To be honest, you have provided me with a practical expample of what can happen if you do stick it out. I had the same difficulties in the beginning, but did not continue through. I am okay with that decision, Parker turned out fine, but I often do wonder…what if…

    1. Natasha, I am so glad you commented. Honestly, I thought about you a lot as I wrote this one. I was really hoping and praying that you (and others with similar stories) would not read this and feel discouraged, because that was not the intent at all. I would absolutely love for you to write a guest post!! It would be an honor 🙂

  2. dang it! i just wrote a long comment, but i pushed publish and it disappeared 🙁 ok here is a summary of what i just wrote (hopefully i remember everything):

    1. lots of docs still use the old CDC charts which are based on old data from formula fed babies (so they often freak out about small breast fed babies… this has happened to two of my good friends). the CDC now recommends using WHO charts. if they are still concerned about his weight, maybe request that they consider using the WHO charts. here is more info from the CDC site:

    2. praise God that you pushed through 14 months of BF’ing! your sacrifice has and will benefit his emotional and physical health. 🙂 🙂

    3. on the topic of sacrifice… i read a quote recently that struck me (appropriately, it was written by a christian mama of 5 littles ages 5 and under!). “our bodies are tools, not treasures”. the world tells us our bodies are treasures, and saying for example need to preserve them so that at age 50 we still look 20. but for the christian we offer our bodies as living sacrifices. which means that as we seek to swim upstream 🙂 in this culture, we can be joyful about things like saggy and lopsided breasts, because we are serving and honoring God with our bodies.

    4. a suggestion for baby #2… attend your local la leche league meeting. i still go every month and i have really benefited from the emotional support as well as advice (we are going through a biting phase right now too :/ ). medical advice is good (i too saw a lactation consultant when esther was young) but sometimes other mamas can offer advice that medical professional cant or dont offer. and if nothing else there is the emotional encouragement to push through when its hard. an added benefit: i have connected with several mamas who dont know jesus, and now hang out with them frequently, and have had opportunities to talk about jesus with them.

    1. Thanks for commenting Sarah! I am aware of the new growth charts and will definitely request using those for #2. Even though Caleb is really low on the “normal” charts, he never dropped off or changed significantly so I’m no longer concerned about it, thank goodness. I mean, Sean and I are smaller people (and were small babies), so it stands to reason that our kids will be small too 🙂 Thanks also for your encouragement and that quote…I really like it. I will definitely look into la leche next time; I think that would have been really helpful. Although, there was so much going on the first time around (more posts coming up), that I don’t think I would have even had the capacity to do that with Caleb. It’s been recommended by several people though so I’m excited about it for next time 🙂

  3. Breastfeeding was a miserable experience for me, though I set out with both of my babies wanting to make it work. Deciding to formula feed each of my girls (3.5 years apart) when it was not working out were two of the most difficult and guilt-inducing decisions I’ve ever made.

    My doctor (who was the head of pediatrics) finally told me that it really did not matter much whether or not my child was breast fed or formula fed. Obviously breast milk is ideal, especially in the first few weeks, but either way, she would get the nutrients she needed. He said it was not supposed to be a stressful thing.

    The relief I felt when I finally released breastfeeding (both times) was huge.

    I was a much more relaxed, settled mama without the stress of breastfeeding. My now almost 4 year old has never had an ear infection and rarely gets sick.

    Being a new mom is so hard-I really wish we could take the pressure off of us when it comes to breastfeeding.

    1. Thanks so much for commenting, Jane, and sharing your experience! You know what’s funny, I thought it was Curtis commenting at first and was super confused 🙂 I managed to figure it out pretty quickly though, lol!

      I hope that you did not experience further guilt by my post – that was not my intention at all. In fact, two “afterbirth” posts from now, I will be writing about my experience with the general pressure I felt, (and you speak of), as a new mom. I definitely understand that feeling to be “perfect” and do everything “right,” and wish to take a stand against that.

      In this particular experience, I felt like I was fighting against the opposite extreme. In our culture (and especially our generation), I find that there can be an attitude that if something is difficult, it isn’t right or shouldn’t be that way. Oftentimes the things that are most challenging for me are the things that produce the most growth. This is the belief I intended to tackle in the post, as well as encourage those who are experiencing a tough time with breastfeeding and believe God is asking them to stick it out.

      I do believe there is a time to persevere and a time to relinquish. It’s up to each person to rely on God and figure out what He is calling them to do. Breastfeeding (or not) is obviously not a life or death situation and I think your girls will be just fine 🙂

  4. Wow. I can’t think of anyone who had a good experience breastfeeding. I know those moms are out there, I just don’t know any! I am trying to carefully craft my response to this. I think as mothers we put SO much pressure on ourselves. We don’t talk about it but we compare ourselves to other mothers. We worry about every little thing. We second guess everything and question if we are good enough mothers and are we giving our children all the tools they need to thrive. If you are anything like me you have had your face to floor weeping saying “God, I love this child but are You sure he was meant to be mine? I don’t think I am the mother he needs me to be!” Thankfully God calms my storms and reminds me that yes, I was meant to be Sam’s mom and that with God’s, I can be what the mom Sam needs. In the end, every mother has to make the choices that work for her, her child and her family. We may not understand another mother’s choices. Her choices may not be the ones we would make for our family, but they are her choices to make. I personally chose not to breastfeed. I didn’t even try it (gasp!). I had heard so many horror stories that to be honest, it did not sound natural to me. It sounded awful! (yes, I realize it is natural) I don’t feel guilty for that (though I did for a minute or 2 reading some of your readers comments). It worked for me and my family. My son has always been really healthy. I don’t credit formula for that. I thank God for it daily.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Aleisha, and giving your thoughts! I love hearing about people’s different experiences, and I think it adds so much to the conversation. I compare myself all the time and know the pressure you talk about. Honestly, I never considered myself an insecure person until I became a mother!! I will definitely be blogging about this topic a lot in the future.

      Like I said in my previous response to Jane, there is a time to persevere and a time to relinquish. I am not one of those women who think breastfeeding will save society…lol! Do I think it’s the better option for a child? Yes. Do I think your child will be messed up forever and constantly sick if they don’t? Absolutely not. I think there are *many* decisions we could make, (or don’t make) as parents, that have a much more significant impact on our kids than breastfeeding.

      I am an advocate for breastfeeding, but ultimately, it is a gray issue that is not spoken about in the Bible. There is certainly room for differing opinions, and you are right, it is one of those things that each family must give to God and decide what is right for them. Guilt benefits no one and it was certainly not my purpose to produce any guilt from my post!

  5. Melissa, thank you so much for this blog post! While the decision to breast feed or formula feed is a very personal choice that every woman makes with each child and her own circumstances, I really appreciate the way you shared the challenges you faced with such vulnerability. I’m actually facing a lot of the same struggles with my little one and found your story encouraging. I would LOVE to chat more about it with you so let’s talk soon!

    1. I am so glad you found this post beneficial, Julie! You are a great example of one of my main reasons for writing this post. I hope that those who are in a similar position (and feel that God is asking them to continue on), find it equally encouraging and helpful! We will connect later today…I am excited that God is already using this difficult experience to help others struggling with the same issues! I wish I had known someone who could relate, and could have helped me through it during the experience.

Leave a Reply