Caveat: The views contained here in are solely mine, based on my own life experiences. I simply want to share my experiences and viewpoint I’ve developed based on that, but your mileage may and should vary. In short, what’s right for me and my family may not be right for you and yours. I respect that entirely.
If you’d asked me a few years ago whether I would breastfeed my baby, I would have said, “Eh, I don’t know. I might give it a shot, but I’m not really gung-ho about it.”
This response stemmed partially from a long-standing belief (and a very real possibility) that I could have a child with physiological problems that might make it difficult for them to breastfeed (I have a cleft lip and palate; I realize some people will tell you this isn’t necessarily a deal breaker for breastfeeding, but that’s another story). My response also stemmed in part from watching my mother struggle with breastfeeding one of my siblings (I was almost 12; it was part of my formative years’ experiences). And frankly, I just didn’t care one way or the other. My opinion has always been this: the baby needs to be nourished. How that happens isn’t really a sticking point for me.
As we started discussing family planning more actively a couple of years ago, The Spouse told me he’d really like to see me give breastfeeding (BF or BFing from here on out) a shot. This impulse stemmed primarily from the financially minded side of him, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I told him I would give it a good shot, but made no promises. THEN we got onto the topic of pumping and I was vehemently against it. I had absolutely no desire to feel like a cow, which was precisely what pumping seemed like to me at the time (okay, it still seems that way).
But okay, I figured. If I were TRULY going to give BFing a shot, then pumping would need to fit into the equation – I’m not a stay-at-home mom and have no intention of ever being one. It’s just not me (I spent 6 years in grad school and worked hard to get my fabulous job. I work at an amazing place with wonderful people and I love what I do. I’m not giving that up; I want my kid to grow up with parents who love what they do in life, and this is what I do).
I am the consummate learner and voracious reader, so when a co-worker told me about The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, I checked in with a few friends to see if they’d read it – not all had, but I got the FIRST inkling that oh, yeah, by the way? That first latch HURTS.
This started down my road to research in general. It was always going to happen, but that was my starting point. The thought that latching would not feel good did not surprise me, but no one talks about it. Ask most moms about BFing, and in MOST instances, you’ll hear only good things about how great it is. It IS great, but I wonder if a lot of women forget about those early days, just as most women supposedly forget about the pain of labor.
All this is my backstory. The PLAN looked something like this: breastfeed exclusively all summer, integrating pumping at some point to prepare for going back to work this fall. Once Baby starts daycare in August, pump at work and nurse during evening/early morning/weekend times when I’m with baby. Hopefully make it to one year of BFing, but reevaluate periodically – my job can be pretty busy at times, and I know that stress can affect BFing. Going into it, then, I was prepared to give it up if needed at 3 months or 6 months or 9 months, etc.
You learn pretty quickly that EVERYONE has different input and experiences. Baby latched right away in the hospital, which was great, but then I struggled when we got to the postpartum room. Fortunately, I had a great nurse who helped me fanagle the football hold (with a barrage of pillows). This helped a lot. I had 2 visits from lactation consultants while in the hospital, and both thought Baby was doing well. When we left the hospital, he was slightly jaundiced – normal for BFing babies, they told me, and they figured it would pass.
Of course, getting home is another story. THEN the real work begins. I hear that there are places in Europe where women spend a whole week in the hospital after a vaginal delivery so they can heal and learn to breastfeed – man, that would have been great (aside from the week in the hospital thing – unless the beds were better). First came the frustrations with his hands – he likes his hands A LOT and at night he would tighten up and put his little fists right next to his mouth and cry and it was all I could do to get the hands out of the way so he could eat. (Swaddling solved that problem; we no longer swaddle, but in the first few weeks it really helped him figure out that keeping his hands a little out of the way is a GOOD thing.)
But then there was the adjusting-to-having-someone-sucking-on-you-ALL-THE-TIME thing. Let’s face it: this is a sensitive part of the body, and you have a new baby just trying to figure out this sucking and eating thing. I was sore. Lanolin helped, but family members got some good laughs for the first week as I would kick my leg out in pain reflex when he would first latch (then it would be fine).
Then came the supplementing when he was a week old. For us, supplementing with a small bit of formula seemed like the best thing to do: he was not gaining weight and his jaundice was getting worse, not better. From what I can tell through the lab results and my own research looking at medical guidelines, we were pretty darn close to having him go to the hospital – and that stress might have really disrupted breastfeeding more than supplementing after a few feedings. We supplemented religiously with formula for 5 days, kept at it with the breastfeeding, and added in pumping.
And that was the frustrating and stressful part. You have a newborn who doesn’t sleep through the night, you’re constantly trying to feed the baby, you’re adding in supplements at a few feedings (at least), you’re exhausted, you’re stressed, and now you need to pump multiple times a day in between things. Yes, because that’s SO EASY to add in, right?
Also, it takes time to adjust to a pump – or at least, it did for me. I was stressed that I wasn’t getting anything; it helped to learn that frankly, the pumping wasn’t REPLACING feedings, so it was really just telling my body to make more milk and thus anything I did get was EXTRA, not a sign that I wasn’t producing milk. So even though I might only pump a third of an ounce between both sides, it was better than nothing, and slowly, we were able to alternate pumped milk in between supplements.
When his weight improved about 5 days after our initial investigation into the jaundice, I began efforts to move away from formula. I knew from my reading and talking to people that I should be seeing more milk production, as long as baby was feeding from me (and pumping doesn’t hurt, but baby feeding directly is the best way to do that). We seemed to turn a corner the last Monday in June. He was almost 4 weeks old, and that day, I couldn’t get off the recliner – nor the two days after that. He wanted to eat and eat and eat; the cluster feeding was INSANE, but I knew it would be good for both of us. After a day or so of “OH CRAP! There goes my ability to do things while he naps somewhere,” I embraced it and just started keeping my devices and remotes and books near me. I freaked out a little about not being able to pump as much – frankly, I never made it to the 8-10 pumping sessions a day that were recommended for increasing milk supply.
The cluster feeding let up a little the following week, as we transitioned into achieving 5 weeks old on July 3. By this point, he was only napping on me, so I was letting him latch whenever (I always had, but the frequency had only gotten so much the week before). When the doc asked how often he was feeding ,I estimated every two hours; she suggested “topping him up” with a bottle of expressed BM (or formula) after each feeding, again suggesting that maybe he was just a little hungry and needed a little more. I liked that advice, but modified it: he seemed fine in the mornings, but by afternoon and evening I could tell when he wasn’t able to get as much milk, so I watched his cues and supplemented when I could see him getting frustrated.
My pumping output continued to improve, by the way – at least in small measures. I can typically get at least the half- to one-ounce output that seems the norm if you are pumping on top of feeding regularly. And I can get more than that if he only eats on one side (like at 3 or 4 am) or in the morning when he’s napping between feedings. This has all been promising and really made me more confident about whether we’ll be successful with pumping when I return to work. Baby hit 6 weeks last Wednesday, and the constant feeding continued (along with the “I won’t nap anywhere but on YOU, Mama!”). Something seems different now, though.
The thing is, I think BFing is a definite process and a learned one at that, one that takes adjustment with each baby (since some women, like my mother, have varying degrees of success with multiple children). I’ve seen people say that after the first six weeks it gets much better, and maybe knowing that made things easier the past two weeks. Maybe getting through the first month made it easier to feel better. But in the last few days, I’ve felt really good about things. I even have a small (but growing!) freezer stash: three bags, each with 4 ounces. This is PROBABLY enough for his first day of daycare – but at the very least, having those three bags, which I was able to do over the past week, means that I’m not going to start out with nothing for him when he starts at school. And that feels GOOD.
Also? We haven’t used formula in a week and a half.
Don’t get me wrong; I have no problem using it if it’s what we need to do; if we run into problems this fall, I’ll send formula with him if needed and just nurse at night and on weekends – whatever I can do is better than nothing.
I think we’ll also see some good transitions this week, but I’ll leave that for another time. I have a lot more I’d like to say about this breastfeeding thing. Stay tuned.