It’s World Breastfeeding Week! To celebrate, I am sharing the story of our breastfeeding journey so far.
With most things when it comes to M, I just go with the flow and see what works. But I wanted to breastfeed, no matter what it took.
I took multiple breastfeeding classes and read at least one book on it. Nick came with me to all of the classes and even took a class called “Breastfeeding for Dads.” And I am so glad that we did all of that, because while everyone says nothing can prepare you for breastfeeding, the classes really did. We learned about latching, about how often the baby eats, positions, worrisome things to look out for, like a tongue tie. We learned that there are many reasons why breastfeeding may not be possible – no matter how hard you try. Not surprisingly, the classes were more helpful than the books, so I’d recommend taking some kind of class before you have the baby and skipping the books.
I brought my breastfeeding pillow to the hospital and that was a game-changer in helping me get her in the right position for feeding. It took me a lot of trial and error to figure out the best positions and for me to keep her awake long enough to eat.
In the hospital, despite my efforts to get colostrum into her, M was dehydrated.
I was so worried that they would recommend formula. Looking back, I really wish I didn’t stress out about this so much. Would it have been bad if M got some formula in her first few days of life before my milk came in? Absolutely not. In fact, it would have saved me a lot of stress.
But to me, in that moment, I was already dealing with so much with my broken tailbone. I couldn’t get out of bed to pick her up. I needed to be able to breastfeed for her. The hormones were all over the place and for some reason, I equated breastfeeding with success as a mom. It is not.
When I came home from the hospital, I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. My milk came in and I realized that the lactation support you get in the hospital is very different from what you need when you get home.
When you are breastfeeding, you don’t know how much milk the baby is getting. Also, M had some jaundice (many babies do). She was a very sleepy baby. I had to wake her up to eat because she would just keep sleeping.
So, combining her dehydration with her lack of interest in eating made things very stressful. During the first week, Nick had to help me with every single feeding. We had to be constantly shaking her legs or tapping her in order to get her to be awake enough to eat! It was stressful because she would just fall asleep one minute into eating.
We decided to have a lactation consultant come to the house when M was 5 days old. She weighed M before and after I fed her and she found that M was getting enough food, which was a huge relief to me. She also helped me figure out some positions for feeding M. If you can afford it or your insurance covers it, I recommend seeing a lactation consultant within baby’s first week, even if you think things are going perfectly well. She taught us so much!
Everyone says breastfeeding should not hurt, but something happened in the hospital when M was learning to latch and I got a bruise or something on one of my nipples. There was blood. While it was healing, it was extremely painful to nurse her.
Pro tip: Bring your nipple cream to the hospital. Start using it on day 1. Don’t wait for your nipples to get chapped or sore like I did.
Whenever we took M to the pediatrician, she said she was fine. She was gaining weight quickly, and I was so relieved.
There are apps out there where you can track everything from the amount of diapers they have to how long the baby eats on each side to how long the baby sleeps. I tried the app but all of that was WAY too much work for me and it kind of all seemed pointless. Did it really matter how many minutes M ate on me left boob? My milk came out fast which resulted in M eating fast, so stuff like that is really all relative.
The first week was the hardest. After the first week, something clicked and I was able to feed M on my own. Now at least Nick could get a solid chunk of sleep.
One of the hardest parts of breastfeeding is that you just don’t get a break. Nick and I tried lots of different methods for getting me to get a break. We tried to take shifts at night. One method involved Nick bringing her to me in bed during the middle of the night. I would feed her while laying down in bed. I could go right back to sleep after feeding her and he would change her and put her back down. Then I would let him sleep and I would do the next feeding myself.
That helped, but I knew I needed more of a break. Some people can function just fine on no sleep. I am not one of them.
By week 2, we did something everyone says you’re not supposed to do. We introduced a bottle. Nick started giving her one bottle in the middle of the night, so we could each get a stretch of sleep. For a little while, I would get up at some point during my stretch and use the haakaa to let some milk out to make sure my supply kept up. Soon I would just sleep straight through and my supply never took a hit.
I can’t say whether or not I recommend this, because everyone told me it would dry up my milk. But I had such an oversupply of milk that I knew I would be ok, and I was desperate for sleep. Without that break, I knew I would be able to keep breastfeeding.
As helpful as all of the classes and lactation and pediatrician were, you do kind of have to figure out what works for you.
The hardest part of breastfeeding, in the beginning, was the mental toll. Being the only one who can feed a newborn baby is really tough because you just don’t get any breaks. Even if you get a break, you have to pump.
Because it was so painful to nurse in the beginning, all I could think about was how much time I had in between feedings. All of this only lasted about a week, but that week felt like an eternity.
I had heard somewhere that if you want to quit breastfeeding, don’t quit in the moment. Give it two more days. I never felt like I wanted to quit. I just wanted it to get better. So many people seemed to love breastfeeding, and for the first week or so, this absolutely baffled me. Believing that it would get better helped me get through.
My first goal was one week. Then one month. If I couldn’t get the hang of it by one month, I decided, I would just pump and give her bottles. Then one day, she was a month old and we had made it Then my goal was three months. After that, I knew I could go as long as we wanted to.
I had taken a 12-week birth class, where I made a friend. She had a baby a couple of weeks after me. When M was a little over a month old, we made a pact to make it out of the house together. We met at our birth class instructor’s house for a breastfeeding support group. It was our first time taking our babies out of the house, alone. We were both so proud of ourselves. We talked about nothing but breastfeeding, poop, sleep, and spit up. M pooped all over me and I didn’t have a spare shirt (rookie mistake, I had about 4 for M), so she gave me hers. It made me feel normal, human to have someone to talk to who was going through the exact same thing as me.
After that, things got a lot easier. I met up with her and her baby a few times at the breastfeeding support group. After that, we started going other places together. We both would breastfeed our babies outside together, and that gave me a lot of confidence. Having someone else to meet up with at a designated time, someone else who was going through exactly what I was going through, really helped me.
I also joined a mom’s group in DC. We would get together officially in the class once a week, but often more times throughout the week. We would bring everything we owned – breastfeeding pillows, whatever we needed to make it work. Some of us nursed, some of us didn’t. Feeling like I wasn’t alone helped me immensely. We were all in this together and that camaraderie helped me a lot. We would talk about our struggles and share tips of our successes.
All of this is to say, get out of the house with the baby! A safe space, like a mom’s group of a breastfeeding support group, is the perfect place to start. You can show up a hot mess and it’s totally fine, because everyone else is a hot mess too. Bonus: you will make friends with people who also have babies.
The other thing that helped me was the friends I had who had recently breastfeed their babies. My friend Christy, who runs the blog Planes, Trains, and Running Shoes, answered so many of my questions day and night. She truly made me feel like I wasn’t alone. I had a lot of other friends who gave me support and advice too.
I remember texting Christy that I didn’t think I would ever be able to go anywhere because I didn’t think I would ever be able to feed M in public. That takes time too. Once M was a little bigger, I was able to nurse her anywhere. And I did. Before covid hit and we used to go places, I would nurse her anywhere – parks, fairs, wineries. I hated using covers, so I never used a cover. No one ever said anything to me.
Once I got the hang of it, knew that M was eating enough, and we got into our routine, breastfeeding began to mean so much more to me than just nourishing my baby.
I know that breastfeeding helped us bond. I also loved that only I could feed her. I began to enjoy nursing her, looking forward to feeding her.
Whenever I would leave for a few hours, the first thing she would want to do when she saw me again was nurse. That’s when I really started to understand what nursing for comfort meant and how much comfort and security he was getting from nursing.
Since then, we’ve had our ups and downs. M went through a period where she would only eat from my right side. I’ve gotten fungal infections more than once. Luckily those are easily treated with creams and M never got one. But I’ve never wanted to stop.
M is over a year old now and it blows my mind that breastfeeding is still going this strong. I’m planning to just follow her lead. Since I am with her all of the time due to covid, we’ll probably go for longer than we would have.
I love how much M loves nursing, how much comfort it gives her. I love seeing how excited she gets when she’s about to nurse. I love the snuggles that we get while she is nursing. It’s such a calm moment in time. I love the smile she gives me when she’s done eating. I love that with all the chaos and changes that this year has held, nursing has been a constant for her.
Am I glad I stuck with it? 100% yes. I love where we are right now in our breastfeeding journey. I am so thankful that we are where we are and that I stuck with it. I love that I can give her breast milk.
So I wish I could say, “push through it and it would be worth it.” And that was the case for me. But I know that is not the case for everyone. I don’t think that anyone should continue if their mental or physical health is suffering. There is a lot of pressure to breastfeed, and while many people can push through and make it work, you don’t have to. Your success as a parent isn’t tied to the way you feed your baby.
I’ve thought about different way to celebrate our breastfeeding journey. Honestly, the picture in this post and a few others I’ve taken is probably all I need to remember it. I’ve thought about that milk jewelry that’s popular now, but it honestly seems kind of gross to me.
Let’s normalize breastfeeding. Let’s talk about breastfeeding. Please feel free to ask me ANY questions about breastfeeding. You can comment below or email me at carolann.findingithaka [at] gmail [dot] com.