Jordan, a 28-year-old first-time, working mom from Arizona, intended to breastfeed her son Liam, now 5 months. But blistered nipples, coupled with the exhaustion of those early first weeks, quickly turned her toward formula. In the next installment in The Breastfeeding Chronicles, Jordan talks about what it was like to make a choice that felt right for her family, and the perils of hindsight.
An Easy Start
My husband and I definitely planned on me breastfeeding, for cost-savings reasons and because it's so good for the baby. I didn't know a lot of people who'd breastfed. My mom didn't breastfeed us, and I didn't really see much of it growing up. We were also the first of our friends to have a baby, and everything was really new to us, so I just kind of expected it to happen. We bought the pump and all of the accessories.
I had a vaginal birth in the hospital, and soon after Liam was born they gave him to me to nurse. We were there for two days and he did really well. It was pretty easy, actually. The nurses were there to help him latch on and show me what to do. But when we got home, it stopped working.
When we got home, I would feed him, and it would hurt a little, but I didn't think much of it. I just assumed it would be painful for a bit. But over the course of the first week, I developed blisters, cracking and bleeding on my nipples. They were basically open wounds.
I tried nipple cream, but it just got worse. It's like when you have a blister on your foot, and you wear shoes and they're rubbing -- the only thing that makes it feel better is not having anything on. When my son would eat for 30, 45 minutes, it was this constant, sharp pain. I'd cry. Sometimes I'd take him off for a minute just to get a break, but that wasn't good for him, and then he'd start crying. I'd try and dry the blisters out between feedings, but as soon as he ate again, they'd start bleeding. It put me in a bad place, knowing that every few hours I'd have to be in extreme pain.
Looking For Help
We did work on latching a lot early on. It would be good for one feeding, so I'd think, "OK, great! We're getting back in the swing of things!" But then at the next feeding, I wouldn't be able to get it to work.
Around two weeks after he was born, I called the hospital and asked if they had a lactation consultant I could speak with. They told me it would take four to five days. At that point, I just kind of hit my limit. The thought -- at two weeks in, with a brand-new baby -- of waiting another five days to meet with someone, and five days of continuing the pain of feeding ... it just seemed like too much.
He's a pretty big baby, and he was eating a lot. I would feed him, then skip a feeding and use pumped breast milk to try and help with the pain. But when I pumped, I was only getting around 1-1/2 to 2 ounces total, and he would typically eat around 4 ounces. I didn't feel like I was producing enough to keep up with him.
Making The Switch
A couple of days after I called the hospital looking for a lactation consultant, we had this night where he was up every hour wanting to eat. I literally had nothing left, and we had no other options. So at 3 o'clock in the morning, we loaded up the car, went to Walgreen's and picked up a can of formula with the intention of supplementing -- of just giving him enough until I could meet with a lactation consultant, or until my breasts healed enough that I could feed him comfortably again. But he just took to it so well.
Once I wasn't feeding him every three hours, my breast milk supply depleted really, really quickly. I continued to pump for about a week after we started supplementing, but then we switched to formula completely.
Once we, as a family, gave ourselves permission to do what worked, we started thriving. Our son was getting enough to eat, and he wasn't crying every hour for food. We saw him grow, and start sleeping better.
And my husband says he saw a huge difference in my mental health right away. For me, it wasn't just the pain of breastfeeding, but also the anticipation of that pain, of knowing that I was going to have to do it again in two or three hours. I dreaded it. And I didn't want to dread it, and take it out on our son. He was just hungry!
It was also so much better for us as a couple. My husband stopped feeling all this guilt over watching me struggle to feed our son, and not being able to do anything to help.
I felt a lot of guilt, and I still do now and again. At first, I thought a lot about the cost of formula, even though my husband reassured me that it wasn't a big deal. Now that he's a little older, we spend maybe $75 to $80 a month. We've switched to a slightly less expensive formula, and we have all the bottles now, which means we don't feel it as much financially month-to-month. But in the beginning we did, just because it's money we weren't expecting to spend.
I'll run into other women who breastfeed, and they make comments to each other about it, like, "Oh, I don't know why you would bottle-feed when breastfeeding is the best." I think it's sad that women do that -- it isolates you if you're not doing the same thing. Sometimes people assume that women who bottle-feed do it because it's convenient and it's easy, and it is, but often there's a story behind it. I do have other friends who breastfeed who I never hear a peep from. I think they understand that all moms just want to do what's best for their child.
The Benefit Of Hindsight
Looking back now, I wonder, "What if I had tried harder? What if I had done more research and found another lactation consultant?" But what I have to tell myself is that at the two-week mark, when I was exhausted and broken, that was the best decision I could make. Sure, five months in, now that I'm sleeping, and he's more predictable, I'm in a different mindset. But at that time, the only thing in my mind was, he has to eat again in 3 hours.
We definitely want more kids, and I would like to try and breastfeed again now that I know what to expect. I definitely wish I had heard more, and learned more, about what to do when breastfeeding doesn't work so that I was prepared. But at the time, I did the only thing I knew how to do, which was feed my baby.
In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week (Aug. 1-7), HuffPost Parents participated in "I Support You," an initiative to collect photos and messages from mothers to each other that say we might lead different lives but we share wanting the best for our children. Find out more here.
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