What I Wish I Knew About Breastfeeding

Posted 3 August, 2016 by Trish in Mommyhood / 22 Comments

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What I wish I knew about breastfeeding

My Breastfeeding Journey

I’ve been drafting this post for what feels like years, but seriously for the past several weeks. Learning that this week is World Breastfeeding Week gave me the push that I needed to actually write down my breastfeeding journey.

I’m currently a little over halfway done with breastfeeding my third babe. Halfway done because she’s seven months old and my goal is a year. Of course a lot of this depends on how pumping goes when I return to work full-time in the next few weeks.

After I weaned Evie, I started to write up my thoughts on breastfeeding but I got sidetracked and it ended up being one of those posts that fell to the wayside. One of the brilliant and devastating parts of motherhood is that memory can be faulty…brilliant because you forget the struggle of sleepless nights and the torture of the terrible twos, and devastating because some of those sweeter moments are forgotten. Breastfeeding is one of those things for me. There have been good times and bad times.

Breastfeeding the First Go Around

I nursed Elle until she was about four and a half months old. When I’m not being honest, I’ll round this up to five months. Nursing was great until I returned back to work at 12 weeks and the stresses of pumping became too much. This is another partial lie. I made breastfeeding stressful from the beginning because when I was on maternity leave I was desperate to build up a stash for when I returned to work. I tried to pump in between nursing sessions, and every ounce was a fight. This was especially frustrating when I pumped during a nap that ended up running short and I felt like I had just stolen milk from a baby who wouldn’t last a full three hours between nursing.

But besides the stresses of trying to build up a stash, Elle and I had a solid nursing relationship by the time I returned back to work when she was three months old. Things started going downhill when I received bad advice about how often she should take a bottle and how much she should be consuming in each bottle. Because how do you measure how much a nursing baby is taking in at each feeding? A bottle feeding mother gave me a chart with times and amounts, but it wasn’t until my second baby that I realized this was really for formula. How did I not know at the time that breastmilk is digested more quickly than formula and that my breastfed baby would probably continue to feed every three hours until she was closer to a year old?

Sadly my daycare provider (in-home) was not much help. She didn’t show much regard for my breastmilk. I was constantly frustrated with not knowing how much to provide or by a frozen batch of breastmilk being thawed only to go to waste. I should have spoken more of my mind and voiced how I was feeling, but I was overwhelmed. Especially as pumping at work wasn’t going very well either.

After I returned to work, my company was in the process of remodeling the office. Because of this, there wasn’t an official place for me to pump. I was moved from office to office to office, sometimes pumping in the middle of boxes and paperwork while people tried to open the door. I was embarrassed at the lack of privacy and the uncertainty of where I would pump each time during the day. While I was allowed time to pump during the day, I had to make up the time away from my desk so started work a little earlier and worked through my lunch.

To top it all off, I was using my sister’s old pump and she only had one tube so I could only pump one side at a time. I remember searching and searching for an extra tube online with no luck–was it really possible that extra tubing wasn’t available five years ago?  Five years later, I can’t believe I didn’t purchase my own pump that would provide more efficiency. What was I thinking? I’m sure I was thinking of the expense of a pump, but in the end I spent more on formula than I ever would on a new pump.

Eventually I got to a point where I wasn’t producing enough milk to keep up with what I needed to send to daycare. I gave up and grew to hate the pump.

I’m filled with resentment when I look back on those days. I’m angry at my company and daycare provider for not being more supportive. I’m angry at myself for not trying harder.

Breastfeeding the Second Go Around

Fast forwarded to Evie. After I had Evie, I decided to leave my job and stay home with her. I always knew that I would be returning back to work, but I didn’t have to worry about when this would happen. I ended up nursing Evie until she was about fifteen months old. It was a huge success compared to my run with Elle, but it wasn’t entirely without challenges.

My biggest challenge with nursing Evie was that she was so easily distracted that I couldn’t nurse her when Elle was around. Oh the guilt when I would turn on the TV on the days that Elle was home with me and try to encourage her to watch TV until I came back downstairs after nursing Evie. Because Evie was so small, I was constantly paranoid about my supply and whether she was getting enough, so I did everything I could to make sure that every nursing session was the best that it could be.

The second biggest challenge was that Evie got to the point where she refused to take a bottle. When I was ready to go back to work–9 months–she wouldn’t take a bottle. For a year, I was unable to leave her for more than three to four hours at a time. Consequently, I worked half days when I could and Scott and I rarely had any date nights away from the girls. But I nursed her for fifteen months! I can remember wanting to be done around a year but not knowing how to wean her. At this point I can’t remember the details.

So much of motherhood is about stressing in the moment for things that always seem to work out in the end.

Nursing Babe

Breastfeeding the Third Go Around

Maybe the third time is the charm? Breastfeeding has gone so much more smoothly with Cara and I feel like I’ve gotten it mostly figured out. It wasn’t always easy, though. Cara has a strong latch and the first six weeks of nursing were incredibly painful. Like toe curling pain when she would latch. I would suck in my breath and brace myself for the first minute of nursing. Thankfully this passed but it made me understand when mothers don’t continue to breastfeed after the first few painful weeks of cracked nipples.

I went back to work part-time when Cara was four months old. She was reluctant to take a bottle at first but with some effort we all adjusted (I learned she would take a bottle if the giver wasn’t holding her). Her daycare providers were great about making sure that I didn’t waste an ounce of breastmilk during the day. At first I took several smaller bottles until we finally got the hang of things and could better gauge how much she would drink from each bottle. After my first experience with Elle, this was an incredible relief. Plus with a better pump, I’m currently able to express more milk than Cara needs. It’s also helpful that I work closer to home this time and only have to miss two nursing sessions with her.

In a few weeks I’ll go back to work full-time rather than just two days a week. I’ve known this was coming for months but I’m still not ready for it. The thought of pumping every day terrifies me. After my experience with Elle, I’m afraid that it will kill my supply and that it will be too much to maintain. I try to remind myself that my breastmilk supply is very established and that I’m on the downhill side to a year. I have enough bags of milk in the freezer to provide a bottle a day for a month in case my supply does decrease.

I try to remind myself not to worry. That I’m doing the best that I can do. That the world won’t end if I can’t breastfeed my baby for a year.

What I Know About Breastfeeding

I’m of two minds when it come to breastfeeding–at the same time it’s the easier choice and the more difficult choice. For all of the negativity and stress that I’ve already written in this post, I love nursing. Sometimes I like the idea of nursing more than the reality (Elle can still remember the time when a year old Evie brought me to tears after she bit me), but I love nursing. I love the bond–the bond that only I have with my baby. I love the connection and the intimate time. I love the milkdrunk look in a nursing babe’s eyes. I love holding the babe’s hand or holding her little body. I love the way that her hand strokes my side as she cuddles me. I love that I don’t have to buy a pallet of formula and prepare bottles. I love that I can provide milk for my baby at anytime and any place (though I’m a bit squeamish about nursing in public and try to keep it private).

On the other hand, I’m the one who is tied to the baby for a year. I’m the preferred bedtime rocker because I’m the one with the boobs. I wear an incredibly unattractive nursing bra every day (though it is comfy!) and have to wear nursing pads, the outlines of which can usually be seen through my shirts. I watch what I eat to make sure that I’m eating enough and drinking enough, but also to make sure that I’m not eating foods that upset the babe. I can’t wait to eat the world’s biggest bowl of ice cream when I’m done nursing. If’ I’m going to be away from the babe for more than two hours, I pump and make sure that there’s a bottle in the fridge. It’s a constant game of milk logistics. I still track all of my nursing and pumping through an app on my phone.

I know that breastfeeding is restrictive. I can’t workout in the mornings because I’m engorged before the babe wakes up. I guess I could pump, but then I have to pump…and what if she wakes up 10 minutes after I’ve pumped and wants to nurse? And if I’m honest, breastfeeding is one of the reasons why I want to stay home with my baby. I’ve talked before about how I’m a better working mom than stay at home mom (insert ALL the guilt here!), but being able to exclusively breastfeed is certainly one of the big perks to staying at home.

Plus pumping sucks. Besides my terrible first experience, this second time around I had an office with a window but no blinds. Thankfully my “boss” is my husband and I told him I wasn’t coming to work unless he installed blinds on my window. I don’t own a hands-free bra because pumping is a very hands-on act, despite having an electric pump. I work for every single ounce that I get and stress for every ounce I don’t get. Did I drink enough? Am I eating enough? Is my supply diminishing? Should I have pumped longer? OMG the sky is falling! In the past I’ve read all of the forums on how to increase supply, what to eat, what supplements to take. Is it ever enough? How do I know if I’m pumping correctly? If my flanges are the right size? Do I need to replace the membranes? It’s an old pumping mom’s adage that whoever mentioned not crying over spilled milk did not have to express.

Nursing Snuggles

For something so natural, breastfeeding is hard

You might be asking, “What’s the big deal? Why do you keep breastfeeding?” I don’t have a simple answer and this post is already almost 2,000 words long. I hate the phrase “breast is best” because breastfeeding is hard and at the same time I recognize the privileged experience of breastfeeding. It’s not feasible for many women to breastfeed and there is no shame in that–other than the shame that it isn’t easier for more women to breastfeed (this all makes sense in my head…you’re with me, right?). But to know that my body makes milk specifically for my baby is amazing to me and I’ll keep fighting to keep going.

This post has no real point other than my desire to record my thoughts on breastfeeding from what I can remember five years ago to what I’m experiencing now. It’s been quite a journey. Not always an easy one and certainly not one without tears. But I hope I can always always always remember the feeling I have in the moment of feeding a sweet babe. Smelling her head, holding her hand, patting her bottom, watching her nurse.

With Milk Drunk Love,

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22 Responses to “What I Wish I Knew About Breastfeeding”

  1. Simply beautiful and honest, Trish. You should submit this for publication in a parenting/mother’s magazine. I’m sure many more mamas would find themselves nodding their heads in agreement, thankful that they are not alone in their breastfeeding experiences. I know I did.

    • Thank you Les! Just like everything else in motherhood, I wish that more people would talk about their triumphs and struggles. Though our experiences may be different, we’re all in it together. xo

  2. Oh my gosh, this post brings back so many memories. I nursed both mine – one for a year and the other for 9 months. I liked nursing, but it’s certainly restrictive and I really didn’t feel like I was coming out of the “I just had a baby fog” until I was done nursing. Which made the process of having a baby feel incredibly long.

    A friend of mine just had a baby and she’s nursing. She wasn’t able to nurse her first child (terrible milk production), but it’s working ok this time around and she’s full of questions. She texted me the other day asking “how I ever left the house” while nursing. I had to chuckle b/c she’s right…you don’t have very big windows to leave the house, she just didn’t really realize that going into it!

    And – my mom warned me about making sure I introduced a bottle early on b/c apparently I didn’t take a bottle, which taught her a very real lesson!

    And I agree with Les…you should submit this to a parenting magazine or website!

    • Ha! The struggles of trying to leave the house in the first few months are so real! For such a long time I felt like I was living my life in 2-3 hour cycles. I hope things are able to work out for your friend. And thanks for your comments–I totally understand what you mean about baby fog.

  3. I used to nurse in public and know I scandalized some old people. Sometimes I just had to leave the house, though.
    It’s interesting that you had one who latched on hard. I guess I didn’t realize that different babies would latch on differently, although it makes perfect sense.
    The only trouble I ever had with nursing was getting milk ducts plugged up and infected. My doctor was old and told me to stop nursing when that happened.

    • Oh yes! All three of my babes have been very different when it comes to nursing. Cara is by far the most efficient which means that it takes hardly any time at all…nice when you have two others vying for your attention. But her latch–yikes the pain at first! LOL! Too bad about the advice from your doctor–even in the past five years I feel I’ve noticed a big difference in the support given nursing mothers, even by healthcare professionals.

  4. Get yourself a hands free pumping bra! You can still be hands on when you need to be but also you can take a sip of water. ;)

    I still feel like I failed with Evan when I couldn’t keep up and had to give him formula at daycare even though we nursed for 18 months. It’s hard to let go of that.

    Pumping at work the second time around was a million times easier for me. I hope it’s the same for you. Only 5 more months until your goal!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I wish everyone had good support without needing to seek to it. I was privileged to have access to a good lactation consultant, support group, helpful friends, a great boss, and an amazing husband. It took all of this to allow me to nurse my babies.

    • Well, I’d like to thank you for always being available when I have all the breastfeeding questions. I probably should seek out a consultant or support group, but part of me thinks that’s silly the third time around. Even though I still feel like I know so very little about breastfeeding. Why is it so hard! :) Support is certainly key. And re the pumping bra–I probably should but I’ve gotten really good at being able to balance things so that I can have one hand free to play two dots on my phone. #shame

  5. I’m always blown away by mothers who choose to nurse for so long. I know every journey is different, but I just had so many issues that I can’t help thinking of nursing as a negative experience. I kept thinking, if only I can stick it out until X, then I’ll decide. I can’t remember what X was, but I know it kept changing. I gave up on nursing during the day at about a month, I think. We stuck with it for night feedings just because it was (in theory at least) the simpler choice, but even that I gave up on about a week later. On the one hand, I feel like I didn’t give nursing a fair chance by not powering through the tough part. But on the other hand, I was a complete mess, and once I finally made the decision that I wasn’t going to try anymore, it was like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. It’s weird, I felt more nursing guilt while I was nursing than after I’d decided to stop.

    So I ended up exclusively pumping for a year, which of course came with its own ups and downs.

  6. “it’s the easier choice and the more difficult choice” this sums it up so well. What a great post. I pumped at work until she was a year and I nursed probably 18 months? The end is such a blur of wanting it to be done and that feeling of snuggling by baby. But really- pumping is just the devil. I’m glad you have a better work environment this time. I just cut up an old bra to make into a pumping bra and that helped me a ton. Good luck going full time! And no guilt! The baby’s fed in the end – that’s all that matters.

    • Oh I’m so curious about this hand-made pumping bra. I have a ton of ill-fitting bras. Would you just slip it on when you pumped? Pumping really is SO hands on for me…makes me think I’m probably doing it wrong. Why isn’t this easier?! LOLOL!

      • Yep I would! Just cut an X through the middle so I could fit the parts through. Then I had hands to read, eat, play angry birds and send messages to my bestie comparing myself to a dairy cow!

  7. I came across the bead bracelet my mother gave me when I first started breastfreeding. I had mentioned reading somewhere about wearing a bracelet and switching it from wrist to wrist to remember which breast I had left off with when feeding my daughter. My mom immediately pulled her bracelet off and gave it to me. I don’t know that I actually needed it after awhile, but that bracelet holds a lot of love and memories even so.

    I wish sometimes I could have a second chance at breastfeeding, knowing what I know now. It was such a struggle for me, especially those first few months. I hated it. And then I loved it. It was such an amazing experience when I wasn’t hating it. The pumping I could do without, but I made it work as best I could–which wasn’t as good as I would have liked. I was fortunate to have a hands-free bra to use with my pump–it made it so much easier. My issue with the office space at work was that sometimes finding a room was hard to do–and then none of the doors have locks. I learned to sit with my back against the door so if anyone opened the door (missing me big bright sign on the outside of the door), they didn’t get an eyeful immediately. I still remember the time I went through the motions of setting up the pump, turned it on and realized I hadn’t attached the bags. Oh my gosh, was that awful! I was more upset by the lost milk than I was embarrassed by the mess. Then there were a couple times I forgot the bags . . . I had to run home to get them.

    I didn’t wean Mouse–I let her breastfeed as long as she wanted (a little over 25 months–which still blows my mind because I didn’t think I would be able to go beyond the first month, first three months, first six months–the goal kept changing as I went). I always figured I’d stop at a year (which is when I stopped pumping, finally), but it didn’t happen. It was her decision to stop when she did–and it was quite abrupt. At least it felt like it at the time. I wish I had known that last time would be the last time. I still remember the date. Isn’t that nuts? For all the stress, anxiety, and tears, breastfeeding caused me, I missed it when it was gone.

    I think a lot of my anxiety and frustration came from my own expectations. Things didn’t go the way I expected them too and I took it hard. I wanted so much to breastfeed exclusively and that didn’t happen. And then my supply wasn’t the greatest, try as I might. I swear I tried so many different concoctions and cookies and such to try and increase my supply. Haha.

    I hope everything goes well for you when you go back to work, Trish. It will be such a change!

  8. I loved reading about your journey with breastfeeding. I’m obviously new to it, but we’re just over 6 months and going strong. I was so frustrated at the beginning. Sydney ate constantly, like every single hour. I had to use a nipple shield and it was so painful for the first 6 weeks. But now it’s so easy to nurse her and I love it. I work full-time, so I pump throughout the day. I’m very lucky to have my own office, so I just close the door and blinds and pump while I continue working. It’s still hard though. I have to make sure to schedule meetings and events around my pumping. I have to cart my stuff back-and-forth to work.
    I do get to visit Sydney once in the middle of the day to nurse her at daycare. She’s right next door, which is wonderful. I remember those early days, I had absolutely no idea how much milk to bring to her school each day. There was also one point before I went back to work when she went on a nursing strike. I’d never heard of pace feeding and didn’t know that was how my husband was supposed to bottle feed her. Also, I track all my nursing and her bottles on an app too. So helpful! I think in the end you have to find what’s right for you and your family. I’m so grateful I made it past those difficult first two months because I wouldn’t give up those sleepy nursing snuggles for anything now.

  9. Amanda

    Oh goodness. I totally understand all that – even though I didn’t go back to work. My hardest part is that I am tied to this little one especially through the night. Nursing at night and then trying to function during the day is awful. I am not very good at nursing and sleeping. I’m just too SIDS paranoid so I don’t sleep. Now I’m paranoid about hearing about bad formula killing babies. Eep! I nursed Robbie seven months an Jackson six months. Honestly, living in Las Vegas and being the only one I knew with a baby it was a struggle to go anywhere since I wasn’t that comfortable nursing in public. I didn’t even own, let know about, nursing covers. Hello that would have been nice. I supplemented formula when we went out because I understand the struggle with pumping. The first few weeks with Robbie I had the bleeding cracked nipples. Ouch! I had no problem with formula because in Vegas they loaded you up with free samples and there was no info on breast feeding. Lactation consultant? What? Fortunately he was such an awesome eater. No spit up, no nipple confusion, could switch back and forth, great sleeper. With Jackson I had similar cracked nipples but a harder time. He spit/threw up all the time. Then he got to the point he wanted to nurse ALL NIGHT LONG. He wouldn’t take ANY bottle of breast milk or formula. I was literally attached to him all the time. Finally at six months I was done. With both boys, they started biting, kicking, it was like fighting while nursing all the time. I went through a few types of bottles with Jackson and when he found one he liked it was over. I think I switched him to bottles and formula in a week. With both boys, they loved the independence and never looked back. No more fighting and never went for the boob again. James is totally different. Even with his tongue tie and lip tie I had no nipple pain and you could tell he loves nursing. He looks at me and smiles! I could totally see why people love to breast feed. But the tongue tie caught up and I’ve had quite a few clogged ducts and a repeat clogged nipple duct I can’t figure out why. Now that he’s not teething as bad he’s sleeping through the night better. Once or twice. I might make it to the year mark with him. Now the problem is my husband. He was expecting to get me back around now and he was pretty dismayed to hear I might be going longer. He would never tell me to stop breast feeding but I know this baby time is hard for him. I wonder if anyone else has that problem with their spouse? He is so supportive and helpful so I’m not bashing him at all. That and the repeat clogged duct is wearing me thin. So painful. I’m with you though, I do not like pumping. And wasted pumped milk almost makes me cry. James doesn’t take a bottle super well. Depends on his mood I guess. Wow I could blab for a while on this. :P Thanks for posting openly about this!

  10. This was fascinating and moving and really captures all the stress and wonders of motherhood at the beginning. I never nursed which is something I periodically feel guilty about. For my oldest it just wasn’t feasible and there was no way to make it happen due to my situation at the time. And frankly with the Tornado I didn’t really want too. I felt so selfish but I just wanted my body back. And my husband really didn’t want me to either because he wanted to be able to feed him and all of that as well. And to be honest when I was pregnant I knew several people who where breast is best to the extreme and it really put my back up. I was being told that not breastfeeding was akin to child abuse and my child would automatically be obese with a lower IQ and attachment disorders as well as having no immune system. Since I knew that wasn’t the case as I had an 11 year old who was perfectly healthy, super skinny and reading at a college level that I had a close relationship with it kept me sane but I got mad thinking about what if I hadn’t known it’d be okay as long as I did my best? The one person who almost convinced me to change my mind was a woman who told me “that it had been a really good experience for her and she’d be glad to help me and give me advice if I wanted it.” Thanks for sharing and for making me think!

    • There was such a push to breastfeed when I had Mouse. Even though intellectually I knew it wouldn’t matter whether I breastfed or formula fed, emotionally I was so certain I HAD to. I felt so guilty when we added formula to supplement. But, boy, was it a life saver. I could get some sleep and my husband could bottle feed her. It certainly made things easier if my daycare provider ran out of my breastmilk until I was able to pump enough to cover the times I couldn’t breast feed her.

      So much pressure is put on mothers to breastfeed. It really should be left to the mother to decide. There are advantages to both just as there are cons. It ultimately doesn’t matter. I hate that you periodically felt guilt for not breastfeeding, Katherine. Your kids are wonderful and they didn’t suffer in any way because you didn’t breastfeed. Not in the least.

  11. Missy

    Oh the toe curling pain! I had it with both mine. Thank goodness we had a pediatrician the first time around who suggested that exclusive pumping was an option. It hadn’t even occurred to me in my first-time-mom-traumatized state. I ended up doing that for about 8 months before supply dwindled, but I never had a stock pile. With #2 I was determined to endure the pain longer after hearing stories about how it goes away. I made it over a week before I caved. Back to exclusive pumping. Second time around, supply was so good I was able to stock pile enough in 4 months to last another 4 months. All I can guess is that I was less stressed that time. Of course, exclusive pumping is super inconvenient and time consuming, but it was the best option for me. The hands free bra was a LIFE SAVER. I accomplished lots of reading and web surfing on the phone thanks to that. I’m done having kids but have not been able to part with my pump yet. I guess we bonded :-)

  12. I’m so with you – it is so hard for something that should come so naturally. But it is a learning experience for both mom and baby and we can’t predict how it will go. Glad to hear it is going well this third time around for you.

  13. Meg

    Thanks for such a thoughtful post, Trish! We all have a relationship — or lack of relationship — with breastfeeding. Having had a preemie, I was told my breastmilk was especially important to him (and it was that thick, golden color for WEEKS), so I pumped faithfully… but never managed to produce an ounce at a time, or even less. By the time Oliver came home a month later, his needs far surpassed anything I could give him. My milk never really came in, and I absolutely despised being chained to that pump.

    He needed the formula, and we gave him the formula. I still have moments of guilt about not “really” breastfeeding, and I wonder if I’ll try again with Baby No. 2 someday . . . and I don’t know. I, too, had acquaintances that were militantly “breast is best” and I almost felt the need to flaunt my formula in defiance. They were callous. If women are autonomous, shouldn’t we have the right to choose? I don’t know. A complicated issue with no real answer, for sure!