I always intended on exclusively breastfeeding my babies. After all, "breast is best," or so everyone from my mother to my midwife said. Unfortunately, and despite planning, reading books, taking breastfeeding classes, and joining groups on social media, my body didn't get the memo. It turned out that no amount of preparation and good intentions can change the fact that breastfeeding is hard, and because I believed that breastfeeding would come naturally, there were so many breastfeeding red flags I never should have ignored. I did, though, and in the process unintentionally put me and my baby at risk.
All the nurses at the hospital told me my daughter's latch was perfect. It was so reassuring and gave me a ton of confidence. She would fall asleep at my breast every time I tried to feed her, though, and I had to wake her to eat every two to three hours because she was so sleepy. I had always been taught never to wake a sleeping baby, so I thought it was a good thing. I had no idea it was a red flag.
Our first night home from the hospital she pretty much breastfed the entire night. That is, when she wasn't being held, rocked, or crying inconsolably. It was hell. Then, as soon as she latched, she'd fall asleep, which made me worry that she wasn't getting enough milk. After another night of no sleep, I took her to see the hospital lactation consultant. She weighed my daughter before and after feeding. She'd lost 20 percent of her birth weight and had only eaten a few milliliters of breast milk in 30 minutes of breastfeeding. It was so hard to see the subtle changes in my tiny baby, so it never occurred to me that I wasn't making enough breast milk.
I was finally able to see the signs and get both of us the help we needed. It took a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) stay for jaundice and dehydration for me to wake up and pay attention to breastfeeding red flags. I will never forgive myself for that, but talking about the following signs helps. Don't make the same mistakes I did. And above all, trust yourself.
When My Baby Wanted To Be Attached To Me 24/7
Everything I read online told me that nursing frequently was normal and meant that my baby was establishing my milk supply. I had no idea that so-called cluster-feeding can be a dangerous warning sign in the early days of breastfeeding that your baby is not getting enough to eat, or your milk has not come in.
When My Baby Only Breastfed For A Few Moments Before Falling Asleep
I thought that a sleeping baby was a happy baby. She would latch and immediately fall asleep. I had no idea that this was because breastfeeding is hard work. When I consulted a La Leche League Leader, she said, "Just keep nursing. She is getting enough. Babies don't need milk until your milk comes in." She was wrong, and her reassurance partially made me ignore some pretty serious warning signs.
When My Baby Continued To Lose Weight After Coming Home From The Hospital
Almost every breastfeeding website I visited said that weight loss after birth was normal. Which is true, but only to a point. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), if your baby loses more than seven percent of their birth weight, you need to get them checked out to make sure they are getting enough to eat and supplement if they aren't. The hard part is recognizing if they've lost weight, when you see them 24/7 and knowing when to take them in for a weight check.
When My Baby Started To Look Tan
My discharge instructions told me specifically to look for jaundice, as if it's easy to recognize. As a first-time mom, I had no idea my newborn was looking more or less yellow than yesterday.
When My Baby's Latch Was Perfect, But I Couldn't Hear Her Swallow
The websites and books I read described the sound of a baby swallowing as a "k" sound. Now that I know what it sounds like, I sort of think it's one of those things you have to experience to know. So it was easy to overlook.
When My Baby Cried Inconsolably
There's no way to describe hearing your newborn cry, especially when you think you are doing everything "right." Once you've checked everything off your mental list, you're left wondering what in the hell could possibly be wrong.
My baby was hungry. That's what was wrong, but I thought it was normal for babies to cry. It is, of course, but not like that. My baby's cries were not normal, and I will never get over the guilt of letting her go hungry.
When I Was Exhausted & Dreaded Feeding My Baby
I had no idea that my levels of exhaustion and dread while breastfeeding were not normal, and could be a sign of postpartum depression. I wanted so badly to make breastfeeding work that I was killing myself in order to do it. I was lucky, though. I got help, I switched to formula, and I slowly came out of the fog of depression.
The last time I gave birth, I bookmarked a list of warning signs on my phone. I didn't want my baby to suffer because I missed the subtle signs that something could be wrong, or ignored the things I noticed because I didn't want them to be true. While it was still hard to face my breastfeeding issues head-on, I realized that you can't measure being a good mom in ounces of breast milk. I was a good mom because I fed my baby. Period.
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