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.
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.
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,