I asked fellow blogger rceg91109 to share all of her wisdom concerning breastfeeding. She took her time and really thought about her experiences as a breastfeeding mom. I am so grateful to be able to hear about her experience breastfeeding as I prepare for a breastfeeding journey of my own.
Here is what she had to say:
I feel compelled to immediately start with a caveat: what follows is based solely on my own experiences. As you likely know well if you’ve explored this topic on your own at all, every woman’s experience with breastfeeding is unique and different, much like the pregnancy and childbirth that preceded it. But, for what it may be worth, I hope you might find some interesting or new insight related to one of the craziest times of life: having a new baby.
Now, on to the more interesting stuff!
Very briefly, about me: I am (finally!) a mother of two. I have a 5 year old, who I breastfed for about 5 1/2 months, and I have a a new baby who will soon reach 4 months old who I am currently breastfeeding. Both are girls.
In The Beginning
When in doubt, start at the beginning, I suppose. My girls were born in different states, at different hospitals, with different doctors. It just sort of worked out that way. But it gives me two very different experiences to draw from for our purposes here.
When I was pregnant with my first, I went in for my first OB appointment at 8 weeks. One of the first questions out of the doctor’s mouth at that 8 week appointment was, “So, do you plan on breastfeeding?”
Umm, wait. We just spent 2 1/2 years just trying to get pregnant in the first place! I’m still in shock here! And just hoping this is a viable pregnancy. The last thing on my mind is how I will feed this still hypothetical child. Cue first (mercifully short) lecture on how important breastfeeding is. Ugh.
On the flip side, with baby #2, though I was bracing for more lectures, there was only brief mention of breastfeeding at one OB appointment and everything that followed was very much along the lines of, “you can breast feed, you can formula-feed, either one is acceptable.” Very, very different, and far less stress and pressure.
The So-called Experts
I was pressured into taking a breastfeeding class while pregnant with my first. Now, wait just a minute. Isn’t this supposed to be a “natural” thing? Why do I need credentials for this? The class was mostly a waste of time. Now, I’m not saying all such classes are useless. I refer back to the caveat at the beginning of this post: “what follows is based solely on my own experiences.”
Anyway, the woman leading the class, a lactation specialist, is a woman I will never forget. Let’s call her Becky the Boob Lady. Her name really actually is Becky. So Becky the Boob Lady proceeded to tell us all about the beautiful, wonderful, practically spiritual experience of breastfeeding. Becky was and still is one of the most condescending human beings I’ve ever met. You know, the whole “holier than thou” vibe and all that. She talked to people as if they were all two years old, I swear. I remember thinking, this better not be the person helping me with breastfeeding in the hospital after I deliver.
So, of course you can guess what happened next. I delivered my little girl and was subsequently immediately harassed by Becky the Boob Lady to get started with breastfeeding. Yep, she was conveniently right there in the hospital that day. And, make no mistake ladies, they are pressuring you to feed that tiny human you just pushed out literally before the epidural has worn off, in my case. Anyway, Becky and her condescending self just sort of took over. I mean, this woman was literally grabbing my breasts and trying to shove them in my baby’s mouth. I was seriously manhandled.
And after I left the hospital, she started calling my house to see how things were going. Like, every day. I could not get rid of the woman.
It wasn’t until our pediatrician recommended a different lactation consultant that things finally started to look up. It was only a matter of days, but things still weren’t clicking between my boobs and baby #1. After expressing my frustration, the pediatrician asked if I was working with Becky. “Yes,” I said. “How did you know?” Well, of course she knew Becky. Becky the Boob Lady apparently had a rep. Our wonderful pediatrician then saved our breastfeeding experience by politely saying she knew someone else who might be a “better match” as a lactation consultant. Someone who would be more realistic and down to earth about breastfeeding, the doctor said. (ahem, UNLIKE Becky the Boob Lady) The new lactation consultant she hooked us up with was a lifesaver! Seriously, if it had not been for her, I am 90% sure I would have quit altogether in those first two weeks.
In my first appointment with this wonderful new lactation specialist, she very kindly and gently asked if she could feel my breasts to see if my milk had come in. Wait, no grabbing and manhandling? Ok, sure. Turns out, after 5 days, my milk still wasn’t in. She said that was a little late for milk to come in, but to be patient.
So I was. I met with her a couple more times. She had me try nursing my baby so she could check the latch and lo and behold, she told me to listen. She said, “Hear that sound? That’s the baby swallowing your milk!”
You guys – that was probably the most beautiful sound I had ever heard! I couldn’t believe it! I was actually doing it!
After that, it actually got easier.
Further Confusion: “Nipple Confusion”
Despite the way Becky the Boob Lady treated me, I was still pretty determined to breastfeed, so I kept trying. My little babe didn’t want to latch, though. And, my milk just wasn’t coming in. She had jaundice and was losing weight. To the point that they made me supplement with formula right there in the hospital. But don’t think they just handed me a bottle of formula and said, “Go to it!” No, no. They had me feed my tiny newborn using a cup. Because we cannot have a baby with nipple confusion. That would be a travesty. The point of no return. Or so they led me to believe.
For those who have never tried cup feeding, yes, it’s about as crazy as it sounds. What newborn can sip from a cup? Becky the Boob Lady and the nurses assured me babies get the hang of this easily. Yeah, right. I look back at the photos we have of this process in the first few days home from the hospital and I realize even more fully the insanity of this. Most of the formula just runs right down the baby’s chin, onto her chest, and eventually just onto the floor (where the dog laps it up, in our case). Oh, and a ton of air gets swallowed this way, too, so what little bit made it down into her stomach seemed to all come right back up when she burped/spit up. It’s a miracle she consumed any of it at all.
In contrast, when babe #2 had very similar weight loss issues (actually, worse – more on that later), the nurse handed me a bottle of formula with an actual nipple on it and said nonchalantly, “Here you go!” And that was that.
Breastfeeding Purgatory: The First Two Weeks or So
I’ve come to the conclusion that breastfeeding is like exercising or eating better: if you can survive the first two weeks or so, you can probably stick with it. With both of my girls, the first two weeks were hell. HELL.
I thought it was rough with baby #1, and it was. I’ve already written about most of that.
I thought with baby #2, at least I had more of a clue what was going on, and everyone kept telling me your milk comes in much sooner with a second baby. Good, I thought, because that was a significant issue the first time around.
LIARS. Liars all.
With baby #1, it took more than 5 days for my milk to come in. With baby #2, it was NINE DAYS.
Granted, I also since learned that your milk can come in later if you’ve been induced, which I was with baby #2. But still.
You know what else they lie about? How many times did I read that in those first few days until your milk comes in, all your baby needs is colostrum. Bold faced lies. My babies both had to be force-fed formula in the early days, per their doctors’ orders. Both had jaundice. Both suffered far too much weight loss. Because I had no milk to give them.
Baby #2 was even at risk of being hospitalized because of it. She lost so much weight in those first few days that we were at the doctor’s office EVERY DAY for 11 days for a weight check and bilirubin check. We were on a strict feeding protocol. She had to be wakened to eat on an ironclad 2-3 hour schedule. Each feeding I was to nurse her as long as possible then give her 1 oz. and later 2 oz. of formula immediately after each nursing session.
So, it would go something like this:
Wake baby. Possibly change diaper.
Struggle for about 15 minutes on each breast to get her to stay awake and suck on me.
Put baby down to go make bottle of formula. Baby cries.
Force feed baby bottle of formula, all the while trying to keep baby awake to eat.
Burp baby, during which seemingly all of it came right back up.
An hour later, go back to bed.
Sleep for maybe 60 minutes.
Repeat it all over again.
If I had let my baby try to survive on colostrum alone, they would have hospitalized her. That’s how bad her weight loss was. They actually told me that.
I remember one time at the doctor’s office during all of this when they weighed her and read the scale wrong, indicating she had lost something like 8 ounces. I felt my heart drop, thinking, how could that possibly be!?!? I was momentarily devastated. Then the nurse corrected herself. Baby #2 had actually gained a little, not lost, but that was a scary moment.
In those days I had so many thoughts of failure and fear. Especially when even supplementing with formula wasn’t getting the weight gain we all wanted. I worried that something was actually wrong with her digestive system. I remember sitting in the rocker, in the middle of the night, trying to feed her with tears streaming down my face, worried that she had an actual internal digestive problem. Feeling like you cannot feed your own child satisfactorily is a feeling of raw, primal failure at the most basic level.
Finally, the day came when the doctor said baby #2 had actually exceeded the required weight gain and we could not only stop supplementing, but we could actually let her go for one four hour stretch without eating each day! Huzzah! The following week, she allowed us to let her sleep for five hours between feedings. And then, finally, I started to feel human again. I got four hours of sleep. IN A ROW. It was indescribable.
Also, did I mention the severe pain that came with that first week or two of breastfeeding? With baby #2, the pain was so bad the first several days that my nipples were bleeding. Lanolin cream saved the day and this, too, was not insurmountable in the end. But for a while there, not only was I crying while nursing due to the emotional pain of feeling like a failure at feeding my child, but there was literal pain in my breasts bringing tears to my eyes, too. Of course, baby #2 did not like the taste of the lanolin cream on my nips, making her reluctant to even latch. Time after time I would cry through nursing sessions, the pain was so bad.
Baby #1 was a little different in terms of pain. On my left side, I never really got past the pain of breastfeeding with her. I don’t know why my left nipple was more sensitive (with both babies), but it was and is. Every time baby #1 latched on I would cringe. Like many things, though, you learn to work through the pain. I’m also told some women don’t have this sort of pain. Lucky ones.
Reaching Normalcy and Surviving Purgatory
So by now, if you are still reading, you may wonder why on earth I kept breastfeeding through all this drama. Is it worth it? Well, I’m happy to report that despite rocky starts with both babies, I have come through the other side successfully and consider both of them to be “breastfed babies,” more or less.
By now it’s abundantly clear that I’m not one of those, “Ooh, I just loved breastfeeding!” kind of gals. In my experience, though, once you get past though first couple of weeks, you do find a way to settle into a routine. I can’t tell you exactly how, as it’s mostly a blurry haze, but you just do. It takes determination. And energy. It’s hard. Yet satisfying once you find your groove. There is something incredibly powerful about nourishing your child just by what you produce in your own body.
With my almost 4 month old, we’ve reached that happy plateau. I don’t love every minute of it, necessarily, but we are making it work and it doesn’t completely suck anymore. No pun intended.
With baby #1, I breastfed for 5 1/2 months. Ideally, maybe we would have made it to 6 months, but it just didn’t happen. I hope I reach at least 6 months with baby #2. I think I will.
For me, it was and is worth it to know that I’m giving my children the best possible start in life. That was and is my motivation to breastfeed.
Being a Human Cow
Ahh, I would be remiss if I didn’t write about pumping. Breastfeeding is supposed to be such a “natural” thing. Well, you already know it isn’t so for many of us, but add in the breast pump to the equation and you take a supposedly natural thing and make it the complete antithesis of natural.
Mark my words, using a breast pump is akin to milking yourself like a cow. In fact, the sign I have on my office door at work pays homage to this idea as it features a cute cow holding a carton of milk and reads, “Milking in Progress.” (I love our graphic designer!)
Pumping causes a different sort of nipple discomfort and pain. Again, you get used to it, but it’s not a comfortable thing in my opinion. For me, pumping falls into the “you do what you gotta do” category.
For those of us who want to continue providing breastmilk to our babies once we return to work from maternity leave, pumping is certainly a necessity. Even with my first, I knew that one way people make this work is to pump and freeze as much milk as possible while still on leave and at home with baby. But with a newborn who is eating every 2-3 hours, how in the world do you do that? I could not wrap my mind around that. I still can’t. Plus, I just couldn’t fathom how you could nurse your baby, then immediately pump and actually have anything left in there to pump out. In my case, what I did get didn’t add up very quickly at all.
In those early weeks, they tell you to sleep when the baby sleeps. Yeah, right. The reality is this. When the baby sleeps, you likely have the following competing options:
(I’m totally disregarding the fact that you also have mounds of laundry, bills to pay, a house to keep kind of clean-ish, possibly other children to feed or chase) These are competing needs on Maslow’s hierarchy. To this day, I am convinced that breastfeeding moms lose baby weight faster because they literally do not have time to feed themselves. I missed many a meal in the first few weeks of breastfeeding with both babies. There was simply no time. Sometimes I opted for a shower over a meal. Tough choices.
Anyway, I tried this pumping strategy with baby #1 and did the best I could. By the time I went back to work, I did have some frozen milk built up in my freezer. Yay, me!
Except once I went back to work and was mostly pumping, my baby outpaced me very quickly. I could not keep up. Therefore, the frozen milk stash was quickly used and depleted. I continued to pump what I could during the work day and take it to day care for my baby the next day, but it wasn’t long before she was also getting formula. That was just the reality of it. I could not keep up. Eventually she was getting more formula than breast milk as her appetite increased and my supply continued to diminish. We gradually threw in the towel and weaned her altogether around 5 1/2 months old.
Baby #2 has been a different experience in this regard, though. See “The Question that Changed by Breastfeeding Life” for the secret to greater success in this department.
The Question that Changed My Breastfeeding Life
I am a working mom. By that I mean I work 40+ hours outside the home at a job I went to graduate school to be qualified to do. With baby #1, as I mentioned, my supply went down quickly when maternity leave ended. Though I had some milk in the freezer, it turned out to be nowhere near enough.
With baby #2, I was worried about not having enough milk stored up and frozen by the time I went back to work, obviously. But I also had a little more knowledge in my back pocket about the subject. I started pumping earlier (though I don’t recommend anyone try to do this until you survive the purgatory period!) after as many feedings as I could. But again, it was adding up so slowly that it was discouraging. All that time and effort, including less time actually bonding with my baby during that all too short leave since I was strapped to a pump so much, and I was getting so little milk to bank. Again, I was discouraged.
As my brain pondered this frustration, the beginnings of an epiphany started to dawn on me. What if I replaced just one feeding a day with formula? What if my baby had a bottle once a day while I simultaneously pumped and stored that milk? Was that sacrilege? Would I be a failure as a breastfeeding mom if my baby wasn’t “exclusively” breastfed?
My real question was this: in terms of the benefits to the baby, is it better to be 100% exclusively breastfed for a shorter amount of time (i.e. fewer months) or is it better for baby to have some breastmilk, but not exclusively, for as long as possible, until she is as old as possible?
I posed this question to our pediatrician. Her answer changed my breastfeeding life.
She said that babies will receive the full health benefits of being “breastfed babies” as long as they get at least 50% of their calories/feedings from breast milk. So, I could actually supplement her with up to 50% formula and she would still receive the same level of antibodies and other health advantages as a baby being fed 100% breast milk.
Cue the singing angels!!!
This epiphany struck when baby #2 was about a month old. By then, we had survived the purgatory period and settled into a groove. I immediately started replacing one nursing session with a pumping session and concurrent bottle of formula given by dad. Sometimes (gasp!) I even did this twice a day.
You guys. I have SO much more milk in my freezer than I did with baby #1! It really, really started to add up. I actually don’t have room for it all. It’s amazing! I didn’t even push the limits as far as I could have. Baby #2 was (and is) still getting 2/3 to 3/4 of her calories from breast milk and I’m confident she’s getting the maximum health benefits of being “breast fed.” I’m also confident that I will make it to the 6 month mark with her…maybe, just maybe, even beyond.
To be fair, there is one other major difference between baby #1 and baby #2 in this department. I have committed to pumping more often now that I’m back at work with baby #2 than I was able to do with baby #1. I’m at a different job now, which is part of the reason, but the real reason is my mental commitment to making time for it. I’m more confident in my ability to juggle my time during the work day to make it all work. Some days it’s damned hard, but I’m doing it. As I write this, I’ve been back to work for four weeks and so far the supply and demand has been nearly equal.
We’re doing it. And when it starts to get harder to keep up, I have gallons of frozen milk to fall back on.
And, because baby #2 is only consuming 4 ounces or less of formula each day, we’re spending very little on formula, too. The cost of it doesn’t add up very quickly at all at that rate! Granted, I have had to buy more and more of those milk storage bags, though. :)
Frankly, I don’t know how this fact is not more widely advertised to moms, especially those who are trying to build up a stash of milk in the freezer. It’s like I want to shout it to the world! It’s been completely liberating.
I’m a Slave to My Boobs
Speaking of liberating, or, well…not so much…I do often feel like I’m a slave to my boobs. My pumping schedule dictates my workday to a degree that is challenging at times. Needing to pump or feed baby #2 on somewhat of a schedule interferes with activities I want and need to do with my older daughter, my husband, and others. I can’t be away from my baby or my pump for more than about 3-4 hours at a time. It still interferes sometimes with my own meals. It interferes with running errands. It interferes with date night. (wait, what’s that?)
There’s just no way around this. There are times when having a formula fed baby is so, so, so much more convenient! Some people swear that breastfeeding is actually more convenient. I have not found that to be the case very often at all. But I don’t have the luxury/burden of being with my baby 24 hours a day at this point.
My friends have told me that when you know the child you’re breastfeeding will be your last, as in my case, it’s harder to give it up. I don’t know that that will be true for me. I want to bond with my child in other ways. And, I’ll just say it.
I don’t really like breastfeeding very much.
My reason for being so determined to breastfeed is because I know it is the best for my baby. End of story. That’s a huge motivating factor, though. Enough to push me through the weeks of purgatory, complete with bleeding nipples, missed meals, the physical pain, the seriously inconvenient schedule. I may even be doing something next month I swore I would never do: attempt a business trip while pumping. Traveling and pumping is so daunting. I hope it works.
I guess I like a challenge. But I reserve no judgment for those who feed their babies in ways different from my strategy. Some are hell bent on a drop of formula never touching their baby’s lips. Some can’t get through breastfeeding purgatory. Some never even try.
Just feed your baby. Love your baby. In whatever ways are best for you.