I am an adult and pediatric emergency medicine physician and really believed my medical training prepared me in many ways to be a mom.
I was wrong.
As a physician, I was very well versed in the many benefits of breastfeeding from a stronger immune system for my baby to lower risk of postpartum depression for mom. So, of course, I was set on exclusively breastfeeding. I figured I would give birth and she would just latch on; after all, breastfeeding is a natural process. I thought, how hard could it be?
I was wrong.
When my little one was born at 40 weeks, I was in pain and tired. Right after I delivered at midnight, I was taken to my postpartum room. She started crying what seemed like forever. I was in pain, I was tired, I was sleepy, and I was so emotional at hearing my baby cry. The nurse quickly explained to me what I had to do, she helped me once, and boom – she was gone. I understood she had other patients to help as well. I however failed. She would not latch. I felt so helpless, as I had no idea how to hold her to breastfeed, how to get her to latch – basically, I did not know what I was doing when it came to breastfeeding.
The first nurse was kind enough to give me basic breastfeeding instructions, but at 1:00 AM there was no lactation consultant. After a few fails, the nurse advised me to pump to get colostrum. She dropped off a pump and I stared at it. I had no idea how to use the pump, what parts go where, or how to connect it.
My baby is still crying.
I called the nurse back and with her help, was able to get colostrum but failed to pump enough milk in the next 24-48 hours for my baby. After multiple attempts, I was still in pain. The nurses said I had low supply and I need to give my baby formula. I was devasted, I felt like I was failing as a mom already.
How can something so natural be so difficult!?
I was surprised that breastfeeding came with a steep learning curve. Learning how to breastfeed was not natural at all. It was work. It was learning. It was persistence.
After multiple visits with a lactation consultant, my baby was latching intermittently but it continued to be painful. She was always hungry after our breastfeeding sessions. I was advised to start pumping if I wanted to increase and maintain my supply. I hated pumping. I started disliking breastfeeding, too, as it was so painful.
I felt like an utter failure.
After weeks of trying, seeking advice from friends, reading breastfeeding blogs, appointments with multiple lactation consultants, I came to terms with the fact that my breastfeeding journey will require some breastfeeding – and a lot of pumping!
I continued to pump to maintain my supply and I began to enjoy those times when my husband could give her the bottle of pumped milk at night. My baby is now five months and exclusively on breast milk. She latches on once a day and I continue to pump every 2-3 hours.
I never realized such a natural process can be so difficult and emotional.
What I know now.
No matter how much you prepare, it’s normal to feel unprepared. There are going to be challenges and struggles but you learn as you go. That’s what motherhood is.
Here’s what I learned.
To seek help. Maybe seek help even before the baby arrives. I wish I had started learning about breastfeeding prior to delivery. I wish I had learned what position to hold the baby, how to get a good latch all before the baby was born. I wish I had learned to use the pump before I delivered. I also wish I knew more about how to choose the right pump.
Since I am pumping about 6-12 times a day it was important for me to have a pump that worked for me. When it comes to pumping it is important to find one that works for you! For me, I wanted a pump that is portable, lightweight, easy to use, has multiple suction levels, and also a place to store my phone/food. Dr. Browns Customflow Double Electric Pump has all of this at a great price tag! I love that I can take a little break from all the craziness in the house and go pump. Pumping has now become “me time” where I watch a little show, browse pictures of the baby on my phone, catch up with a friend on the phone, or just take a little quiet time for myself.
About the author:
Dr. Poonam Desai, of @doctoranddancer, is an emergency medicine physician, assistant professor of emergency medicine, and teaching faculty at a Level 1 Trauma center and academic hospital. She is a new mom to one beautiful baby girl. Her many hobbies include teaching, dancing, hiking, traveling, pilates, yoga, and writing. She is also a professional dancer and has received many accolades for her performances.