A mother breastfeeds her baby with some difficulty

Life Lessons from Struggling WIth Feeding My Baby

Hello, my friends,

The first three months with my beautiful baby girl were so full—full of love and smiles and diapers and tears and burp cloths and family. The transition felt challenging and overwhelming and amazing.

There are really hard days sometimes though. Sometimes I lose focus or hyper-focus on the diapers and tears instead of the snuggles and smiles.

Sometimes, in my sleep-deprived mommy mind, I wonder in desperation what I’ve gotten myself into and how I’m going to avoid drowning in all of it.

My sweet baby girl was 6 lb. 11 oz. when she was born and had the tiniest perfect mouth. She had such a hard time learning to nurse. We used a nipple shield at every feed for the first six weeks of her life because it was easier for her to get her mouth around it. 

Baby girl wasn’t gaining weight like she should have been at our two-week appointment. Our doctor asked us all kinds of questions about how we were feeding her, how often she ate, and for how long.

He told us we needed to make sure she ate for at least fifteen minutes at every feeding, and fifteen minutes of active swallowing. I wanted to cry when I heard him say this.

Our little girl was so sleepy from the very first day. She just wouldn’t wake up to eat. All the nurses tried all the tricks they knew to wake her up, and nothing worked.

We stripped her down to her diaper, rubbed her chest and back, played bicycle with her tiny legs, held her out in the air, laid her on the cold metal scale, wiped her down with wet wipes, and turned the lights on as bright as we could.

Nothing worked.

Sometimes she’d wake up long enough to latch, but two or three swallows in she’d fall suddenly and deeply asleep again.

A few days in, she started to wake up a little more, but she still fell asleep multiple times during each nursing session. I was spending between forty-five minutes and an hour at every feed trying to get her to eat for ten minutes.

So when our doctor said she had to eat for fifteen every time, I felt completely overwhelmed and unqualified to be a mom to this sweet little girl.

We spent the next week trying to reach our fifteen-minute mark every two to three hours. This resulted in feeding sessions that were at least an hour and a half long.

That meant that I only had half an hour between some of those sessions during which I could take a bathroom break and get a drink of water—and that was only if my husband or mom was there to change the baby after I’d fed her.

I also had a large milk supply from our first day home from the hospital. That meant I had to pump often since baby girl wasn’t eating as much milk as I was producing. We quickly built up a stash of milk in our freezer.

And one blessed day we decided to break out the frozen milk and give her a bottle. She ate. She still fell asleep a few times, but we found that if we laid her on a blanket on the floor she would startle herself awake and remember she was hungry. 

That first bottle led to another—and another—and another. Her feeding times and my stress levels seemed to be correlated.

My wonderful husband noticed the correlation and suggested that we start feeding our baby exclusively from bottles.

My heart ached—I so wanted to be able to breastfeed my baby—but my heart also yearned for relief from the immense load of stress I was staggering under. 

At the next appointment with our doctor, he was still worried about baby girl’s weight. She was only in the third percentile. He advised us to start supplementing her breastmilk with a small amount of formula to increase the calorie count. 

We kept feeding her from bottles, now with the addition of formula. I told myself I would still breastfeed her once a day so we could bond and so she wouldn’t forget how to nurse.

My once-a-day goal turned into an every two or three days reality. I felt justified in feeding her bottles because I knew she needed the extra calories the formula provided, but I felt guilty too.

I felt guilty for not breastfeeding her. I felt guilty that my milk wasn’t enough for her. I felt guilty that I couldn’t handle the stress of trying to pump and bottle feed. I was constantly relying on others to give my baby a bottle while I pumped.

I felt guilty for not spending as much time with my baby since we no longer shared agonizing hour and a-half feeds. I felt guilty for feeling happy that I didn’t need to breastfeed my baby, for loving the alternative. 

I also felt elated. I finally had time to shower more often than every five days (I know, disgusting!). I felt so relaxed every time I got to clip my nails or wash my face. I felt absolutely gorgeous whenever I got to change out of my pajama pants and robe. 

All of these feelings swirled together in my overflowing heart, and I wondered if motherhood would always feel this way. 

My emotions conflicted less and less as time went on. I started having more good days than bad. Baby girl was gaining weight, not much, but she was holding steady in that third percentile. We started nursing more often again.

Our doctor said we could change to supplementing only half of her feeds. One day baby girl randomly decided she knew how to nurse without a nipple shield. She only fell asleep during feeds once or twice a day and was fairly easy to rouse. 

When we first got home from the hospital and were floundering in all the newness, I heard my husband singing to Brielle. “Things are gonna get easier. Things are gonna get brighter.”

That song, “Ooh Child,” by The Five Stairsteps became our theme song, and I finally felt those words coming true. Things were getting easier, and they were getting brighter too.

Then our sweet girl started teething a week before she turned three months old. That brought frustration and sadness swirling back into our feeding routine and into my heart. I guess what I’m beginning to realize here is that motherhood will always feel this way. It will always be full. My mamma heart will always be running over with emotion. 

I know that this capacity to feel so much and deeply is a gift from my Heavenly Father. He wants me to feel immense joy in my life, and that comes with some pain and sorrow. But the thing is, the pain and sorrow don’t drown out the joy.

They just make it more poignant. I appreciate the joyful moments more. Beyond that, I try to create more joyful moments. I feel more motivated to be present when I’m feeling joy or relief or peace or satisfaction or love.

I feel more grateful for my beautiful baby and my amazing husband. I feel more reliant on my Savior for His grace to carry me and for His Spirit to help me recognize the good in my life. 

Basically, I often feel overwhelmed by the calling of motherhood, and I’m learning to fall in love with that state of overwhelm. And just like any other kind of love in my life, I have to remember that it’s a choice—my choice—to love. So here I am, loving my new life with all its variety. 

Your often-overwhelmed friend, Brooke 

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