I'm a mom of 3 who co-founded a nursing and pumping brand. I live and breathe feeding babies and breastfeeding is still one of the hardest things I've ever done.
My best friend and I both experienced so many struggles breastfeeding our oldest daughters. After those struggles, we designed an all-in-one nursing and hands-free pumping bra to make nursing and pumping easier and more comfortable.
Since launching our company, Larken, we talk daily with our customers at various stages in their nursing journeys and work closely with experts, such as lactation consultants, doulas and labor and delivery nurses.
So while I was pregnant with my third child, Bennett, I was sure that breastfeeding was going to be a breeze. I had done this twice before and found my groove, even though I experienced a lot of the same struggles so many women face, such as getting baby to latch, supply issues, and mastitis. With both my older kids, we worked through them and I was fortunate to be able to exclusively nurse and pump until they were each a year old.
I walked (or waddled) into my third time postpartum with two rounds of breastfeeding under my belt. I thought, “Now I have all the tools and resources I need to make nursing and pumping easy. This will be the time that we’d get it right from the start.” And yet, my breastfeeding journey was a bit of a roller coaster at best, and mostly, a disaster.
Things started relatively dreamy. Ben latched right away which was an incredible feat compared to the endless tears and brutally destroyed nipples I endured for months while trying to get my oldest to latch properly. I proudly wore my Larken bra in the hospital and raved about it to the nurses and on-call lactation consultant, explaining that though not without challenges, this wasn’t my first rodeo, and I felt pretty prepared this time around.
And then we got home and things spiraled. My milk came in and I struggled physically, emotionally, and mentally. I went to Ben's first pediatrician appointment and I could barely walk because my engorgement was so painful. I sobbed in the lactation consultant's office while Ben screamed because he couldn't latch anymore.
Suddenly my letdown became so strong that Ben was coughing throughout feedings and spitting up constantly. I became paranoid about his growth and whether he was even keeping anything down.
I was familiar with clogged ducts and mastitis as I had been prone to them while nursing both of my older daughters. When Ben was just about a week old, the night before his newborn photoshoot, I woke up in a cold sweat with throbbing pain and knew exactly what was happening. Despite my best efforts to avoid it, mastitis struck again, and at 2 AM while I paced around the kitchen in pain with a screaming newborn, my husband was at the 24 hour pharmacy picking up antibiotics. From there it was a vicious cycle of more clogged ducts, thrush, and constant stress over whether what I was eating was making Ben’s reflux worse.
Ben was a Covid baby. He was a newborn in the winter, when we were stuck inside and locked down. I found myself trying to run a company, entertain a 4 year old and manage e-learning with my Kindergartener while riding this crazy breastfeeding rollercoaster. Things quickly took a toll on my mental health, and something had to give.
Eventually, I started to supplement, my supply regulated a bit more, my husband was able to help more with bottle feedings, and after a lot of trial and error, we got into a better groove. Our combination of nursing, pumping and formula feeding looks different depending on the day, but I’m thankful that we’ve figured out a general routine and plan that works for us, and that I’ve had an incredibly supportive village along the way.
My husband, family, close friends, lactation consultant and our pediatrician all were extremely encouraging and supportive of whatever decision I made regarding a feeding plan. I realize that unfortunately, not everyone has that level of support and can be pushed in one direction over another, leaving mom’s needs as an afterthought.
I am a big believer that fed is best, but when faced with the decision myself of whether to keep trying to make breastfeeding work, the irrational guilt felt suffocating. As the co-owner of a company that makes clothes and accessories for nursing and pumping, and having breastfed my daughters each much longer, I felt like I was throwing in the towel too soon. The guilt suddenly became more emotionally taxing than the actual physical struggles I was enduring trying to continue.
Rationally, I knew and truly believed all the things I’ve told family, friends and customers time and time again. Formula is not the enemy. Formula is your friend, and there are many amazing options on the market today. But here I was, a hormonal, sleep-deprived mess, still sobbing over the decision, tied to a pump again, a screaming newborn next to me, and feeling like I was neglecting my two older kids downstairs in front of a screen while I was trying to massage another clog out.
Every journey, everyone’s circumstances, every challenge they face, and every decision regarding how they will feed their baby looks different. Whether you breastfeed exclusively, formula feed exclusively, or some combination of the two, that baby is loved, and you're doing what is best for you and that sweet baby.
My co-founder and I chose the name Larken because it means fierce, and I am constantly reminded by our community just how fierce moms are. Now more than ever, we want to shout from the rooftops that YOU matter too. Your mental health. Your physical health. Your emotional health. It matters and has to be a top priority. Full stop.
Motherhood is beautiful, but so hard. We are all in it together, regardless of how we feed our babies.