If the idea of breastfeeding grosses you out, feel free to skip this post and come back next week!
I was recently inspired by my friend Kylie, over at Rose & Co, to take the time to write down my breastfeeding experience. Our babies were born 5 days apart, so during those first few weeks it was a huge blessing to have someone to text who was going through the exact same thing at the exact same time. I don’t think anyone else knows as much about those dark, lonely nights spent nursing around the clock as Kylie does! We would text each other all throughout the day and night, and it was encouraging to not feel so alone when you’re up at midnight, and 2 am, and 4 am, and 530 am…I remember so many nights when we would put the babies to bed at 10pm, and text each other say, “See you at 2!” Or more commonly, “Just put the baby down…pray you don’t hear from me at 2!”
I debated even posting this, because I absolutely loathe mommy wars and hate that there is a constant debate over how one chooses to feed their baby. But, just like everything else I blog, this is my personal experience, journey, and opinion. Documented for my own memory. I wanted to record my experience thus far so that I could look back at it one day and remember all of the details.
I’ll also start with saying that I’ve been blessed to have a mother-in-law who is a Lactation Consultant, and 3 sister-in-laws and my own mom who have also all breastfed, which means I have had a wonderful support system, something that is KEY to breastfeeding success! Not once did any of them ask if I was planning to breastfeed, or make me feel like I had to – something I think is also important.
These past 9 months have been filled with ups and downs, and it is a time I hope I will never take for granted, nor forget. I have loved breastfeeding Adeline, and will truly miss it when it’s time to close this chapter. It has given us an incredible bond, and has been a source of joy above all else. It is a complete miracle that we are given the natural ability to provide food for our children from our own bodies, and to continue to provide food for them month after month. Amazing.
I always knew I wanted to at least try to breastfeed. I was breastfed as a baby for 6 months, and then switched to formula, so I really didn’t have anything against formula by any means. But, to keep the story short, I did decide that exclusively breastfeeding would be the best choice for our family, and I made that my goal once Adeline was born. If it didn’t work out, or if for some reason I physically couldn’t, I would be open to using formula. Nothing in the world can compare to the benefits of breastmilk though, and I was bound and determined to make sure I gave it my best shot.
As soon as Adeline was born, I knew I wanted her to nurse as soon as possible. If I remember correctly, she seemed to latch on right away, as awkward as I felt. Seriously – as “natural” as a thing as breastfeeding is, it still felt VERY awkward to suddenly have something sucking on my boobs, not knowing if I was holding her right, if she was doing it right, or if anything was coming out! Those first few minutes after she was born are honestly such a strange combination of vivid memories and foggy memories that it’s hard to remember the exact timeline. Adam thinks she breastfeed for the first time maybe 10-15 minutes after she was born, “because she was still disgusting.” Ha! I remember it immediately making me feel sooooo tired. Granted I had just pushed for almost 3 hours, but as soon as she latched on I remember thinking I had suddenly taken like 10 Benadryls. I also remember thinking, “this is so weird, am I doing it right??” My nurse was super helpful, and once Adeline was latched on I seem to remember everyone leaving the room so Adam and I could be alone for a while.
Since A was born at 7:45 Thursday night, we didn’t go to our recovery room until well after midnight. Adeline nursed for maybe an hour or so in the L&D room, then once we made it to our recovery room, I remember her nursing at least one more time while our new nurse got us settled. Gosh I remember being so tired, it makes me tired just thinking about these hours after her birth! Ay ay ay. So after the new nurse got me taken care of, checked, and I was finally able to pee (tmi?), I think maybe A nursed again (??) and then the nurses from the nursery came and asked if I wanted to send Adeline to the nursery, and Adam and I both agreed it would be a good idea so we could get some rest for an hour or two. I quickly dozed off for what felt like the shortest two seconds of my entire life before the nurse wheeled Adeline back in the room. (Really it was maybe two hours max) I remember my first thought being, “so it wasn’t a dream, I really did have a baby, that actually happened!” So then I nursed Adeline again, Adam helped me change her and get her in position, and again nursing her made me seriously almost pass out. Like, can breastfeeding induce narcolepsy??? The nurses were also so persistent in reminding me to page them if I felt myself falling asleep while nursing her because they didn’t want me to accidentally drop or smother her in my sleep (obviously very dangerous!). I was so nervous about this, and every time I’d doze off while nursing her I’d come to real quick and almost panic thinking I’d been asleep for too long. Anyways, so after she nursed again, I paged the nurse and they took her back to the nursery and I was able to sleep maybe another hour and a half before they came back in with Adeline, ready to eat again.
By this point, it was maybe 5 or so in the morning, and the start of our first full day in the hospital. Like I mentioned earlier, I remember distinctly thinking one side felt more comfortable than the other. I made sure to dig out my lanolin pretty early too, and starting Friday morning I started applying it after every single feeding.
After that feeding, we kept her in the room with us and the next time I woke up I woke up to one of my favorite memories in the hospital. The sun had come up, but not really because it was pouring down rain, and when I opened my eyes, Adam was holding Adeline by the window and he was talking to her about the rain and showing her what the outside world looked like. It was one of those surreal moments where I instantly knew how great and loving of a dad Adam was going to be. I have a picture of this very moment, and it will forever be engrained in my memory.
Throughout the day in the hospital, Adeline seemed to want to eat anywhere from every hour to two hours or so. Sometimes it’d seem like she wanted to eat every 45 minutes! I applied lanolin after every feeding and found myself thinking, “this isn’t so bad!”, “Why do people say it hurts so bad?!”, “This is pretty easy, I am a PRO breastfeeder.” HA. Oh silly, silly me. Even my doctor came in to check on us and see how Adeline was doing and I remember her saying, “well, it’s going to get worse before it gets better, your nipples will get very, very painful, but after that it will get easier, you just have to push through.” Ok doctor, like you know anything, you’ve only delivered a million babies and nursed your own three children. Whatever. So I continued doing what I was doing.
Later that day a lactation consultant from the hospital came in for a free consultation to check Adeline’s latch. According to her, she was doing everything right and we were on a great path. Any soreness I was starting to feel was normal. I remember asking a gazillion questions but I was also nursing Adeline at the same time, and again, nursing her made me instantly feel like a zombie so I barely remember anything the LC said. I remember her spouting off tons of information, and just looking at Adam like, “please tell me you’re going to remember this for the both of us!”
I think I also remember that night being pretty tough, and Adeline ate what felt like every hour. There definitely wasn’t much sleep to be had!
We were discharged around noon on Saturday, but by that morning I definitely remember thinking I was starting to feel some discomfort while nursing, but the LC had assured me that it was normal and that Adeline had a great latch. So I didn’t think much of it. My milk still hadn’t come in yet so A was still just getting colostrum. The morning that we went home, I remember just crying and crying because I was still so tired and sore from delivery, but it was also actually kind of starting to hurt on one side when I nursed.
So we got home Saturday early afternoon, and the nursing around the clock began. By now my right side was definitely TENDER when Adeline would latch on, like tender enough to grimace. My left side always felt the most natural and the most comfortable, but my right side always “bothered” me more. It seemed like Adeline almost preferred the left side too, so I’m not sure if that had anything to do it with or not.
By Sunday evening, my milk had come in with full force. Quick note about that – no one had ever really told me what it was like when your milk comes in, or what to look for, or how you’ll know, or what it will feel like. It’s really a strange feeling, and I remember just starting to feel really full, and hard, and when I hand expressed I noticed that it looked like actual milk! And sure enough, it had definitely come in! The engorgement was terrible. We’re talking rock hard bowling ball boobs. Ouch, not fun. I was super engorged for maybe two days before it really started to go down to something manageable, and for those 2-3 days after my milk came in, it was like boob central over here. Suns out boobs out. So miserable, but we got through it. It was also really hard to nurse while super engorged because Adeline couldn’t really latch on until a bit of pressure was released.
Once the engorgement phase went down, she was back to nursing like normal. Except it really started to hurt. The left side never really hurt as bad, but the right side felt like shards of glass every time she would latch on and I vividly remember cursing in my mind because it hurt SO bad. And I remember crying every time she had to nurse again because it only hurt really bad those first few ~30 seconds of her latching on. And with her eating what felt like every 2.5 seconds, I remember thinking OH MY GOODNESS WHY IS SHE HUNGRY AGAIN MY NIPPLES HURT SO BAD! Several times I’d just forego starting her out nursing on the right side because her latch was always so much stronger on whichever side she started on and it was almost unbearable at this point. This painful feeling lasted a good two weeks, at least, maybe a little longer, but I definitely would pinpoint those first two weeks as the most painful before it went away.
On day 11, I experienced my first plugged milk duct, followed promptly by a bout of Mastitis. I remember my mom and I had gone to the hospital for a weight check and to drop some paperwork off, and when we got home I had a fever, chills, and just felt like I suddenly had the flu. And, there was a big red splotchy area on one boob. Yikes. So, I called my nurse at my OB’s office and she said it was definitely a plugged duct, and possibly mastitis, so she called in a prescription. The next day we had Adeline’s newborn photos taken and I remember feeling like death the entire time. In between photos I was rotating ice packs and heat pads on my boobs, and trying not to just cry because I felt so bad. I still can’t believe we survived that day. In order to get the milk duct cleared, I continued to rotate hot and cold compresses, and nurse, nurse, nurse. Right around this time too one nipple had cracked and had started to bleed. GAH. That’s really the icing on the cake! Ha! These ~5 days getting over mastitis also did a number on my supply. I swear it was whatever prescription I was on but the Dr said it shouldn’t have effected my supply. Either way, I noticed a very obvious drop in my supply during these few days because my boobs never felt full. If you ever breastfeed, you’ll know what feeling I’m talking about. But pretty much as soon as I finished up that med, things went back to normal!
Photo credit: Kati Mallory
These first two weeks were made tougher by Adeline not getting back to her birth weight. We made several trips to the lactation consultants to check her latch, and positioning, and to weigh her to make sure she was gaining. They say they need to get back to their birth weight by the two week mark, and Adeline wasn’t quite there.
We took her to the LC’s to get her weight checked on her two week birthday (on a Thursday) and I remember being so disappointed and frustrated that she’d lost weight. I can still remember feeling like I was on the verge of a panic attack. I felt like I had already failed at breastfeeding. I’d worked so hard nursing her around the clock and then only to see that she’d LOST WEIGHT. As a new mom, your most important job is feeding the baby and to think that I somehow wasn’t giving her enough was devastating.
Thankfully my mom was still in town to go with me and I wasn’t by myself having this meltdown and pity party. I immediately called our pediatrician’s office to see if we needed to bring her in sooner than her one month appointment because I was so worried. Of course, they recommended supplementing with formula. I knew they would say this though, but in my heart of hearts I knew there was more I could do to avoid giving her formula this early. I then called my mother-in-law (also an LC), and she suggested pumping after as many feedings as I could, all weekend long. Essentially pumping the “leftovers” after every feeding, then giving that extra milk to Adeline in a bottle. I really, really didn’t want to introduce a bottle sooner than a month, but I knew this was the best solution and I wanted my girl to start gaining more weight! So, I stuck to it religiously for three days, pumping after as many feedings as I had to energy for, and giving her whatever milk I could manage to get out. I’ve got a note on my phone documenting every pump time and how much was in each bottle that I did this and it’s crazy to look back at. But, by Monday when we took her back in to be weighed, sure enough she’d finally surpassed her birth weight and was officially gaining!! From that point on, she started gaining like a champ.
I think we’d come to the conclusion that she was a “lazy eater,” meaning she didn’t have a very strong suck, so she naturally just wasn’t taking in as much milk as we thought she was. At the LC’s office they did a transfer test to see how much milk she was removing in one feeding, and it was only like an ounce! I remember being so paranoid those first two weeks listening to her eat because the LC’s would always say to listen for swallowing noises to indicate that she was actually taking in milk. Adeline would often fall asleep at the breast too, which only added to her “lazy eating.” I’d say this is just another perfect example of mommy and baby figuring out breastfeeding together.
Edited: Fairly early on we noticed that Adeline was SUPER sensitive to dairy, broccoli, beans, and overly spicy foods. I had to be pretty mindful of what I was eating because what I ate, was also basically what SHE ate. To this day she is still pretty dairy sensitive and if I eat too much dairy there is a very obvious increase in her spitting up. Adeline was also a pretty gassy baby so we lived off of gas drops and gripe water. If you ever have an LC tell you that there is no connection between what you eat and how it affects your nursing baby, run because that could not be farther from the truth. As a nursing mom, one sacrifice that people don’t think about is how you may have to alter your own diet. Now that I’ve experienced my own nursing journey and have seen first hand how what I eat affects my baby, I always make sure to ask new moms if they’re trying to avoid anything before I bring them a meal after birth. As a general rule of thumb, I think it’s wise to not bring a new mom a meal loaded down with milk and cheese because dairy is known to be difficult for newborns to digest.
After a few weeks of getting over pain, things started to level out and we got into a good groove. Things got progressively easier, came more naturally, felt less stressful if we weren’t at home, and just overall was more enjoyable. It is very, very true that those first few weeks are the hardest, and once you get over that hurdle you are good to go! But, I started noticing that I was super lopsided. Apparently this is normal, and apparently it’s because just like our other body parts, nothing is ever completely symmetrical and your boobs have different amounts of milk ducts in them naturally, so one maybe naturally produces more than the other. To try and counteract this, I started really making sure I was switching which boob I started on each time, and sometimes even started every feeding on the smaller side. Since their latch is stronger when they first start eating, they tend to get more milk at first which theoretically can increase your supply on that side because they’re sucking harder. After being diligent about switching sides for several months, I think things did get closer to evening out, but even still today I feel like one is always more full than the other. A part of me thinks this all began in the hospital when I noticed right away that nursing on one side felt more natural and more comfortable. So I bet too during those first few sleepy days I probably nursed more heavily on one side than the other.
Knowing that I was going back to work around the 12 week mark, I started building up my freezer stash around the 8 week mark. I was able to get a pretty good stash built up between then and going back to work, and within a few weeks of being back to work I had well over 100 ounces in the freezer to use on a rainy day. I became almost obsessed with adding milk to my freezer stash, and was secretly so proud of myself every time I’d have a new bag to freeze. It’s amazing, really, that our bodies are able to produce milk to sustain a life. It still blows my mind. And the idea that I was capable of producing enough extra milk to see it pile up in the freezer made me feel successful and like super mom. I was blessed to be able to pump more than enough for the next day’s bottles at work everyday, and eventually we wound up with 287 ounces of milk in the freezer before I realized I was obsessed over building my stash that wasn’t even being used. A big part of it too I think was some of the anxiety I felt about going back to work. I’d always heard terrible stories about working moms whose supply had dwindled the second they re-entered the work force. I was so scared of pumping at work and was so worried that I would end up having to quit that I worked extra hard to freeze every single extra ounce I could. Finally I started to relax and get more lax about actually using some of my freezer stash that I stopped trying to add to it so much, and Adam assured me that we had more than enough! Since then we’ve been cranking through the stash, using it more freely.
Pumping at work hasn’t been near as bad as I thought it was going to be and knowing that I’ve been able to continue to provide milk for Adeline when I can’t be with her has been such a blessing. Like I mentioned, I went back right around the 12 week mark, and began pumping 3 times a day during the work week, then only nursing on the weekends. I was very fortunate to have my own office with a door so pumping was never a big deal. More than anything it was (still is) such a chore. I quickly settled into pumping at 10, 1, and 4 though. My biggest goal was to exclusively breastfeed for 6 months, so I was very diligent to pump 3x a day at work up until that point. I was usually able to pump between 14-18 ounces a day between three pump sessions. (Adeline only needed 12 ounces the next day, hence why my freezer stash kept growing and growing.) I stuck with it and thankfully made it to 6 months without any real issues, and for that I will forever be grateful.
Funny story – one time I completely spaced and forgot to attach my bottles, thus SOAKING my pants before I noticed! There were also a few times where I accidentally forgot my pump parts at home and I sat down to pump, full as can be, only to realize my parts weren’t in my bag! 20 minutes away!!
I never had any issues with my supply until Adeline started eating more solid food between 6-7 months. She still took 12 ounces at daycare, but on the weekends when she’d nurse with me she’d be so distracted that I know she wasn’t eating near as much as she used to. So I did notice that at each pump session I started getting less than usual. Also right around this time I started getting lazy and a couple days a week I’d only pump twice during the day, especially if I could pump 12 ounces in two sittings, instead of pumping 14-18 in three. I’m sure this effected my supply some too though because of the lack of that third stimulation. Again, knowing I had a huge freezer stash, I’d made it to my big goal of 6 months, and I was still able to pump the 12 ounces I needed for the next day in two pump sessions, I pretty much eased into the habit of only pumping twice at work.
And that’s where we are today. Adeline is now 9 months old, and we’re still pumping. I’ve just gotten so lazy, and burned out on pumping that I’m still usually only pumping twice a day at work. Occasionally I’ll pump three times if I really need to get that last ounce or two to make it to 12 ounces, but more often than not my new routine is pumping late in the morning, then again right before I leave. My freezer stash has been dwindling because some days I only manage to get 10 or 11 ounces and I end up grabbing a freezer bag to make up for it. I think right now we’re sitting at around 150 ounces in the freezer, which probably still sounds ridiculous. I’ve also gotten much more comfortable with leaving Adeline with Adam or someone else, so using my freezer stash to make bottles has been super convenient. There was also that time that we accidentally spilled 2 full bottles on the kitchen floor! Talk about crying over spilt milk, ha! But once again, I was able to just grab some from the freezer and thaw it quickly.
I would love to be able to make it to one year without having to supplement any formula, but who knows. I made it to my first goal of 6 months, and now I’ve made it to my next goal of 9 months. If I can make it to a year, I’ll be ecstatic, but my goodness I am oh so sick of pumping and so, so ready to have my body back. I think I’m just at the point of making excuses because I’m just so sick of pumping. I decided early on that I would play it by ear once we hit 9 months, so we’ll see if we can coast into the one year mark or if I’ll quit before we get there. The jury is still out on that one!
I haven’t talked about this a lot but I honestly think breastfeeding and all of the crazy hormones involved contributed to my terrible baby blues and postpartum anxiety after A was born. And I think it’s partly why it lasted so long. I didn’t start to “feel like myself” until at least six months postpartum. Breastfeeding is hard work, both physically and emotionally. Those first few months I remember thinking every time my milk would let down that I would suddenly feel depressed. Feelings of “I can’t do this!” would come flooding in. It was like I could literally feel my hormones crashing every time Adeline would latch on, but it would only last for maybe a minute then it would fade away and I’d start to feel normal again. It was the craziest feeling, and it still happens from time to time, but after doing a lot of research I’ve learned that it’s a real thing! It’s called Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex, or D-MER. So if you’ve had similar feelings, that might be worth reading about.
Edited: We also struggled through months and months of reflux, and I will never forget the fear we felt every time Adeline would have one of her reflux-choking episodes. If you’re interested in hearing about our experiences with reflux, let me know! I’d be happy to share.
If you made it this far, you must be really interested in reading about breastfeeding. I wish I’d known and read more personal stories ahead of time, so hopefully this helps someone, or at least gives another point of view that’s not straight out of a textbook! Everyone’s experience is completely different, and I have no idea whether or not I’ll even breastfeed our future children.
Breastfeeding is hard, and at times it really sucks. No pun intended. But it has been amazing at the same time. I will never forget all of the moments I’ve spent nursing her just staring down at her, or her up at me, rocking and holding her tight. It may seem like a pain sometimes, but nursing Adeline has been such a gift, and I am so thankful we have had a fairly good experience.
And as I mentioned at the start, this is my personal journey. These are my own thoughts, opinions, experiences, written down for my own memory. However you choose to feed your baby is completely your choice. What works for one family, may not work for another. Fed is best, and making sure baby is happy and thriving is the most important thing.
Thanks for reading!