When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Go As Planned
Written by Daniela Procopio
Photography by Padilla Rigau
In the not-so-distant past, the primary narrative around breastfeeding was that it’s both “easy” and “natural” to most mothers. Thankfully, hordes of women who have had contrary experiences have been speaking up and sharing their stories of late, changing the narrative and normalizing struggle. One such mother—of 3 children—is Daniela Procopio, who took her own journey in mind when founding SOLMA Tea, the first ready-to-drink lactation tea supplement designed specifically to make increasing milk production easier and more convenient for breastfeeding mothers. Read about her breastfeeding experience below.
For as long as I could remember, I always wanted to be a mother, and when I became pregnant with my first, I knew right away that I wanted to breastfeed. I had heard amazing stories from other moms and learned about the many benefits it brings to the baby.
But quickly after giving birth, I learned about the flip side of breastfeeding—and the absolute pressure cooker it could become emotionally and physically. I wasn’t prepared for the difficulties I would face or the ups and downs of the postpartum period. It was quite a shock to realize that breastfeeding—which is often represented as completely natural and beautiful—had its challenges. I wasn’t ready for the moments when things didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped—both in terms of the physical discomfort and the emotions of feeling as though I was failing.
While my daughter was able to latch on fairly quickly, I experienced excruciating pain in every initial breastfeeding session. I was fortunate to receive support from a lactation consultant during my hospital stay, and I discovered that many women experience pain during the first week or so of breastfeeding as their bodies adapt to the process. I began hearing the term “sixty second sizzle” used to describe the pain during the initial minute of latching; it felt like my nipple was going through some kind of grinder.
The lactation consultant reassured me that there could be an adjustment period while my body acclimated to breastfeeding, but I couldn’t help but have a love/hate relationship with nursing. I dreaded the experience every time and would feel guilty about it.
Fast forward a few weeks: my daughter and I had gotten into a good rhythm and the sizzle drastically decreased to a “ten second burn.” My husband would always joke that he would know when I was nursing because we would be in the middle of a conversation and I would just abruptly go silent and when he’d come to check on me, there would be a bead of sweat on my upper lip.
When we finally had the hang of breastfeeding itself, another wrench was thrown into my routine: I returned to work. I was so ready to be there mentally, but I was having a hard time producing enough milk. I was having to pump around the clock in order to produce enough milk to send my daughter to daycare with. I used to head into the office quite early in the day, so I would need to wake up no later than 3:30 AM in order to pump, get ready for work, and feed my daughter before leaving for the day. I was just making enough to send her to daycare with breastmilk every day, and the first time I had to travel for work, I realized my supply wasn’t enough to provide her with milk while I was gone.
The amount of pressure I felt to exclusively breastfeed was driving me to near exhaustion, and the realization I would need to supplement with formula crushed me. As new moms, our bodies are adjusting to a number of changes during the postpartum stage to include an influx of hormones. Adding in a narrative that suggested that if you weren’t exclusively breastfeeding, then you weren’t doing “it” right, was debilitating to me.
How could I measure myself to this impossible standard? What chance did I have to be a good mom if I couldn’t produce enough milk to cover the days that I was away from home? What did it say about me if I was a mom who wanted to pursue her dreams both inside and outside the home? Was I being selfish? Was I the problem? My body was not doing what it was supposed to be doing, and I felt like a failure. When I turned to other mothers for support, it was clear that I was not alone in my journey, and I discovered that countless other moms had experienced similar feelings. Their words of encouragement played a crucial role in alleviating my sense of isolation and had a huge impact on my mindset as a mother. I began to view my experience from a different perspective and recognized that the challenges I faced were not exclusive to me. I was able to shift my mindset and approach my role as a new mom with newfound resilience and optimism.
Overtime, I was able to let go of the rigid standards I had set for myself surrounding breastfeeding and what it meant to feed successfully. I began exploring options that worked for me in increasing my milk supply, and I was thrilled to find helpful products that supported me on this journey. Being able to find resources and solutions made me feel empowered and inspired to start something of my own, which is how I came up with the idea for SOLMA Tea—to help replicate what was successful for me and other moms, but in a new way.
In my role at SOLMA Tea, I have the privilege of interacting with new moms every day, and there are a few messages I have for them as they embark on their baby feeding journey. Each postpartum journey is different and you shouldn’t measure your worth based on how the journey is going for you. Fed truly is best. If you decide to embark on the breastfeeding journey, it may hurt while you and your baby both get used to it, but there are resources that you can reach out to, and sometimes all you both need is time to adjust. Being a mom is the greatest privilege in the world AND it’s important you make yourself a priority and continue to chase after your dreams, and the things that make you, you.
Whenever I offer guidance to other moms, I make a conscious effort to avoid the discouraging statements that once kept me feeling hopeless during my early days of motherhood (like, you have to exclusively breastfeed for six months in order for your baby to get the benefits). Creating a kinder, more realistic picture of breastfeeding begins with the stories that we tell one another. Discussing breastfeeding as a part of an overall journey to motherhood—one filled with ups and downs and one that everyone addresses differently—is key to creating a positive experience for other mothers.
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