On Breastfeeding

2.09.2016

I wanted to share some thoughts with you about how nursing has gone/been going for me, but please understand that these are my personal opinions about my own journey and are in no way intended to reflect or represent anyone else’s breastfeeding experience.
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I always intended to breastfeed R if possible. I know that there are a lot of moms who want to nurse but can’t for various reasons: not enough milk, schedule difficulties, baby won’t latch, and a host of other unforeseen problems. I realize that I have done absolutely nothing to make it possible for me to nurse R for almost six months, and I don’t take that for granted. 

I hadn’t read much, but I had read enough and heard enough stories from friends to expect a lot of pain in the beginning. As it turns out, I swung way too far to the negative side of things (as I tend to do) and expected nursing to be much worse than it actually was. Like, I was expecting the absolute worst and ended up being pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t the horror I was dreading. The one thing I heard over and over was that if you can make it until six weeks, something snaps into place and it all becomes better. I would say for me it took about a month for me to feel like I wasn’t a giant ball of stress about the whole thing.

The First Few Weeks

One thing I didn’t know was that breastfeeding helps your uterus return to a normal size in the first few days after giving birth. I was initially surprised (in a bad way because ouch) to feel a cramping sensation (like a period) during every feed for the first few days, which I was told was my uterus contracting. Even if you are not planning to breastfeed your baby, you might consider nursing at least in these very early days to assist in this process.

The first few weeks of nursing were very stressful for me, and there were many tears of pain, confusion, and frustration. First of all, it is very painful for obvious reasons, but it does (or should) get better over time. After about a month it completely stopped hurting at all, but in the beginning I just had to suck it up. For me, it wasn’t completely unbearable pain like it can be for some people, and there are creams you can buy to help. I used Lanolin, which was great. But overall, my boobs just hurt a lot, and there's not too much you can do about that.

I had heard some pretty bad stories about lactation consultants (being mean or rude, etc.), but thankfully the one who came to my room in the hospital was amazing. (Are you seeing a pattern with me hearing horrible stories and things not being as bad as I thought? You think I would learn not to freak out so much.) She was helpful those first few days, and I made an appointment to come back in a week to visit the LC. This was a game changer for me. I would highly recommend you visit an LC at your hospital during the first few weeks. I wasn’t even experiencing huge issues, but it was so nice to sit in a quiet room with an expert and have her watch me nurse R and show me different holds and what to be looking for in her positioning to help her latch better. And if it sounds awkward to have a stranger's face literally inches from your boob, I assure you that labor takes all that right out of you and you don't care two cents about it. I've flashed so many people in the last six months. It's whatever at this point.

While I was at the LC she also weighed R before and after a feeding to see exactly (by the gram) how much she was getting from me, which let me know that she was definitely getting enough milk and made me feel so much better. R didn't gain any weight during her first week half home from the hospital, and I was a wreak about it, so it was nice to know that she was getting enough milk.

I originally almost cancelled my appointment because I felt dumb for going, but it seriously was one of the best things I did in that first week. My opinion, of course.

Supply

I have a pretty good supply of milk. Until about a month ago I pumped sometimes not out of need for milk to store but because my boobs are aching from being so full. It was mostly just in the morning once R was consistently sleeping through the night, but it happened very often throughout the day in the beginning months until my body regulated my flow a little better. This was annoying because I had to carefully plan my day or else they would get too full and be uncomfortable.

Pumping

I was really overwhelmed by the idea of pumping. I think just because of all the parts and keeping things sanitized and storing the milk properly. It is a lot, but it’s very simple once you get the hang of it, which really doesn’t (or didn’t for me) take long at all. Now that I'm back at work, I have noticed that I don’t pump quite enough as R needs to fill her bottles, which is super frustrating, and to be honest the last few weeks have been pretty terrible as far as pumping goes. 

She takes 5-oz bottles, and I have been pumping around 3 ounces each time. I used to pump 4-5 ounces, but lately it's been around 3. Babies are much more efficient at getting milk than the pump is, and when I'm nursing her I don't have issues with milk, but I don't think my body is taking to pumping multiple times a day very well. I have been needing to add in an additional pumping session so we have enough to fill her bottles for daycare. I do have milk that I’ve pumped and froze, but I’d like to not have to start going through that just yet.

Pumping to build up a stash is one thing, but knowing exactly how much you need to pump in each session to fill your baby's bottle is very stressful and I kind of hate it a lot. It's on the list of Reasons I Wish I Didn't Have to Work. I could go on, but I'll leave it at that.

Breastfeeding is Hard

Even though I realize that I have done nothing to “deserve” to have had the ability to breastfeed R, I have a hard time not being proud of myself for making it this long. Because you guys, the honest truth is that even with pumping aside, breastfeeding itself is hard. I expected it to be painful, yes, but I didn’t expect for it to be this hard on a daily basis. Not hard in that it’s an effort to physically breastfeed, but I mean it’s hard because it’s a constant juggling act with my schedule, and it’s exhausting.

every. single. day. for almost six months I am silently doing reverse math in the back of my mind.

R ate at xx time, so she will need to eat again at xx time.

I need to run to the store, but R will be wanting to eat in ten minutes, and it will take this long and so I need to be back by xx.

See what I mean? Every day.

Not that I’m not happy to do it, because hello I’m not going to deny my baby food (free food at that), but I didn’t realize how tiring it would be to do this much scheduling. Although I will say that at six months, it is so much better because she's on a more regular schedule finally.

I personally believe that breast milk is the best option for the baby if you can do it, but just in terms of scheduling and the time commitment, I can see why many women choose not to nurse. Sometimes I think that it would be much easier to be able to hand a bottle to someone else so they could feed R, especially in those early weeks when all I wanted to do was sleep but instead I was up every two hours nursing, and it’s not like Jordan could do it.

That said, I absolutely love that my body is producing food for my baby and she is healthy and growing. 

It really is such an amazing thing and so worth it to me at the end of the day. I do feel like I’ve developed a bond with R through feeding, and I love feeling her little body curled into mine. I love that I can tell when she’s full or when she wants to switch sides. I love the face she makes when she’s just finished nursing and how rosy her cheeks get because they’ve been pressed up against my arm. I love the way she grabs my shirt with her tiny fingers. I love that when Jordan walks in the room and says something to me, she pulls off and smiles at him. (Although I don’t love when she pulls away and a mouthful of milk runs into my bra and down my stomach.)

I honestly don’t really get all the controversy that surrounds breastfeeding. Women need to choose what the best option is for their family, and if that involves breastfeeding, awesome! Let’s support nursing moms and recognize the hard work that it is to feed a child. And if you choose to formula feed for whatever reason, let’s support each other in that too. Perhaps most of us can agree that breast milk is the best option, but please, let’s not act like formula is a death sentence. It’s hard not to hear so much negativity surrounding formula and feel the weight of, but what if I can’t nurse and have to resort to formula??? This kind of pressure adds unhelpful and unnecessary stress to a new mom who is just trying to do the best she can for her baby. (<<-- Totally preaching to the choir right now aka ME with all of this work pumping struggle.) 

Over the past six months, I’ve been blessed that my baby gets full and is happy breastfeeding and feel so grateful that it's worked out for me to nurse. It is such a wonderful thing that I can supply her food, and even though in many ways it’s much harder than I thought it would be, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I hope to be able to continue to breastfeed R until she is one year old. However, we will see how pumping goes at work and reevaluate if needed. I'll keep you posted!

Okay! I think that's all I have to say about nursing for the time being. I hope this post was interesting to you! Leave any questions in the comments or feel free to email me if you have thoughts/questions, etc.

p.s. You might like these related posts:
Claire's series of posts about wanting to breastfeed but it ultimately not working out and how she came to terms with that.

23 comments:

  1. Love this so much. It's honest and I'm really glad you wrote this. I can relate to just about everything here. Those terribly painful, difficult early days seem like such a distant memory to me now, but constantly calculating when she'll need to eat again is exhausting. Sometimes I'm jealous of mothers who formula feed their babies. IMAGINE THE FREEDOM. But at the end of the day, I know this is worth it and I'm just grateful we've been able to make it work this long. I don't pump often since G thinks a bottle is a toy and not something to eat from, but I've had to out of necessity and I have the same problem. I get way less from pumping than I do when she nurses. It's frustrating! Also...praise for all the LCs. The one at the pediatrician's office saved breastfeeding for me. My hospital didn't really have an option for me to see one postpartum (I would have to drive 45 minutes away and then pay out of pocket...no), and I'm so grateful God provided me with one somewhere else. We wouldn't have made it otherwise. Finding a good LC is the best advice I could give a new mom.

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    1. I try to tell everyone to go to an LC! I felt so stupid for going and almost cancelled because I didn't have a "big" problem and felt dumb, but it was so so helpful and the lady was so nice.

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  2. Great post! Nursing has been a challenge for us since the very beginning. In fact, H is still reliant on a nipple shield to latch when he nurses. I've been pumping and feeding him from a bottle since the beginning...and let me just tell you, I will have a big party the day I put that pump away. SO.MUCH.WORK! I constantly have to remind myself that it's all worth it to have a healthy, growing baby...but I'm not sure we'll last too far beyond six months! Time will tell!

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  3. Yes! Breastfeeding is a labor of love, and pumping is definitely not for the faint of heart. I couldn't WAIT to throw all that pump business in the top cabinet to hibernate for a very long time. The reverse timing is indeed exhausting. We are still nursing 3 times a day at (L will be 13 months next week), but I will say for us it got easier once L was eating solids/finger foods. The timing relaxes just a little due to L being able to eat some real food if he gets hungry and I'm out. However, solid food poops are so so STINKY! And lugging food around with us wherever we go can also be a pain. You are doing a great job, mama!!!! And amen to the mouthfuls of milk down the bra and stomach and into the waistband...been there!

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  4. I had the same exact experience with pumping- not fun. Around 10-11 months is when my supply really started to take a nosedive which was incredibly stressful. Fortunately, I was able to just fill Charlie up with more solid foods to make up for it, but when he refused to take formula and I was only pumping 2 oz a session, it was not a fun period of time. Not to mention, my schedule is completely erratic and I was making bi-weekly trips for meetings on the other side of the state and trying to pump on the road. Gah- I will not miss those days. But obviously, everything worked out in the end. He now drinks 100% cows' milk- I never intended to wean him so soon, but he no longer had the patience to wait for me to letdown and just didn't seem interested anymore, so I wasn't going to push it. I was ready to be done!

    Breastfeeding was totally the same experience for me- way less terrible than I prepared myself for, but challenging nonetheless. Wouldn't trade those early days for anything though :)

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  5. Breastfeeding is hard, scary, and wonderful all at the same time! It was very stressful for me in the first few days, and I had my mom - a pro-formula gal - kind of pushing me to switch to bottles. Pumping completely stressed me out. So we did switch, and then I had HORRIBLE mom guilt over it. Like, cried in the doctor's office, physically wishing I could turn back time. We ended up doing 50/50 breastfeeding and formula feeding. I didn't miss that much time of breastfeeding to completely dry up, but those few days did hurt my supply and production abilities. In the end, we had and have a healthy little girl! But I totally agree - do what works for your family.

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  6. My experience has been so similar to what you described! I'd say it took me around 6 weeks to get comfortable with the nursing and the pain to go away completely. I loved going to breastfeeding mom groups at the hospital here. I learned some great things from the other ladies and really loved getting to weigh Ava before and after the feeding. Supply and such aside, I totally get why people switch to formula in those first few weeks especially. It is hard and painful and I was just so tired. But I'm glad I stuck it out and hope to continue to until Ava is one. Like you said, reevaluate as needed! Everyone just makes the best decision they can for their child in that moment and we should all just support each other!

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  7. I had a longer mat leave, so I didn't have to pump, but I just hated it the few times I did. Never got more than an oz. I have huge HUGE admiration for women who pump day in and day out. Anyways, if pumping does go south for you, you may be able to keep breastfeeding morning and night. When I went back to work at 10 months, I replaced daytime feeds with cows milk and breastfed mornings and evening and weekends. It worked really really well. Good luck!

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    1. So good to know that worked for you to feed mornings and evenings and weekends! That's encouraging to hear! Thanks for sharing.

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  8. I'm so glad that breast feeding has worked for you guys so far! It is something that some women really struggle with and even beat themselves up over. I had one sister who couldn't breast feed and another one who breast fed way past 2 years (she lives in Europe where that's normal). So I have no idea how it will turn out for us someday. But I will definitely remember your tip about seeing a lactation consultant even things don't seem to be going badly. :)

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  9. one of my best friends was very sick as a child and now has an almost 3 year old - the doctors said she would never have a kid but voila, baby. but, another thing they warned her about was that she most likely would not produce milk. she wanted to breastfeed, but she couldn't. she tried. we were out once and a woman came up to her while she was preparing formula for her little baby and just went off on her, saying she was killing her baby. i didn't even have time to think of something to say before like 10 people in the restaurant jumped up and told the woman off. it was insane! jeez people. you have no idea what situation you are actually looking at.

    anyway. high five for breastfeeding! that is awesome. seriously. i think i will try and expect the worst so that it's not as bad. hopefully.

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  10. High fives and amen to everything you said.

    I find that pumping is such a hassle these days. I only do it when Parker's had a bottle for whatever reason but I really struggle to get enough for another bottle out. I find that I can pump for a bit then it stops working and I have to manually express. Fun times! Good for you for doing it so often. That is dedication to the max.

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  11. While I LOVE breastfeeding my baby and can relate to those special moments you mentioned, I admit it's a struggle some days. Our little one eats every hour when she's awake . . . and she doesn't nap. You'd think that would just mean she's not getting enough, but she's always satisfied right after feeding, she's growing wonderfully, and I have pumped up to 7 ounces off just one side. But wow, feeding her an hour after every previous feeding started means I feel like I'm feeding her all day and can't do much else. I don't even have time to pump unless I do it before she's fully done with her night of sleeping. It probably also means I should talk to an LC; for now, our pediatrician suspects she's getting plenty but just needs something more substantial in her stomach so has recommended introducing solids. We'll see how this goes. I'm so, so, so glad I'm breastfeeding, but I definitely understand those who can't or choose not to for various reasons.

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  12. Friend, I can not relate to this at all but I am glad you pushed through and are breastfeeding R. I have friends and family and each person has a different story and experience with it. Also, after living in Burma (that might be my life long saying now, ha!) I think in America we should be thankful we at least have formula. That isn't a big thing in Burma so it is breastfeed or just buy the milk in the store and who knows what is in that.

    I'm always amazed at people's opinions about this topic and how vocal people get. So weird sometimes.

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  13. Go mama! Although I am a few years away from having kids myself, I always hear horror stories about breastfeeding, so I want to thank you for this honest, open, and inspiring post - I am sure that when my time comes I will be reading this over and over. I'm so glad you have found what works best for you and your family!

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  14. I'm glad you shared about this! I have nothing earth-shattering to add, but I'm grateful for bloggers like you who keep it real and tell it like it is. Both the good and the bad, and the YAY for moms spirit :)

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  15. Breastfeeding IS hard! While I had issues with all of the above (pain, latch, supply, etc), the hardest part for me was getting used to being so needed by my little guy, and being the only one who could supply what he needed. It made me feel claustrophobic at first, realizing that I couldn't really separate myself from him for more than a few hours at a time, but I got used to it. And it wasn't all bad - I really enjoyed bonding with him, feeling success at nourishing him, and knowing that it was providing nutrients especially for him. But I can understand that it's not everyone's thing! I'm glad you are having a better experience than you expected :)

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  16. Holy cow. I have no idea whether this is actually something you would want, but between this post and your day in the life post you have really articulated a case for why you should be able to work from home at least a few days per week.

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  17. I am so glad that things worked out and that you have been able to nurse! And pumping is THE WORST. Seriously, I think it is horrible. I only had to do it two days a week and I cannot imagine how much worse it is for people that work full time. Gah. You are amazing.

    Also, just to give you some encouragement, it gets soooooo much easier as time goes on and you don't have to nurse as much. Piglet is 14 months old and we are still nursing - once in the morning and once at night. It is so easy to keep that going (no need to worry about having to nurse while out and about) and it's such a special bond. I love it. I will probably quit soon (I want a little time to have my body to myself before we think about another kid haha) but I will be sad to give it up!

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  18. I loved reading this! I'm not a mom but I'm a nurse and actually took a 40 hour breastfeeding class in college with associated clinicals because I just love it so much. It was great to hear your perspective and I'm thankful that everything went better than you expected. Also, I'm surprised to hear that you've heard of people having bad experiences with LCs... I've only heard good things about them from mom friends and from being around them in the hospital. That being said- I'm so glad you got a good one because that can make all the difference. I love how you said let's support each other whether it's breastfeeding or formula feeding- amen sister! I agree that I think breastfeeding is the best option but I have friends that have been torn apart when they couldn't breastfeed for one reason or another and I think we need to be more supportive of them. So glad to read this and hear your experiences- can't believe your girl is 6 months already!

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  19. I do plan to breastfeed the first few weeks once we have our first. However, after maybe 6-8 weeks, I think I'll pump exclusively both to give myself a break and to allow my husband to be involved in feedings. Honestly, I love the idea of free food for baby as long as my body is willing to give it! :) Thanks for sharing your experience!

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  20. Thank you for this post Amanda... I am a new mom and after a disastrous start, I have given up breastfeeding. my baby is one month old, a growing and happy baby, but I'm still feeling that I'm a second choice mom.... And thank you for talking about the series by Claire about feeding her child, it felt good to read it

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  21. I love hearing other people's breastfeeding stories! How lucky it came almost easily to you. I've been doing everything I can to prepare myself so I probably won't be able to, lol. While I will certainly be disappointed if I am not able to breastfeed I do NOT understand why people are so openly judgy about bottle feeding. The same reason they are openly judgy about every other aspect of motherhood, I guess!

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