Motherhood // My Breastfeeding Experience

So this post is coming a little late in the day, but I wanted to get it up before the weekend…

It seems like all the time on social media, people are celebrating some random day…National Watermelon Day? Ice Cream Sandwich Day? Root Beer Float Day? And those are just the hashtags I have seen in the past few days! But this week, there’s something going on that I think really deserves celebrating…it’s World Breastfeeding Week! (I actually meant to get this post up on Monday, but Cam was out of town for work earlier this week and it’s just been a little bit of a hectic one, so better late than never!) August 1-7 is World Breastfeeding Week, but the whole month of August is National Breastfeeding Month and so this seemed liked the perfect time to share a little bit about what my breastfeeding experience has been like so far. I was initially planning on posting about this topic much sooner after Henry was born, but I’m glad I waited because I think it’s given me a lot more perspective.

(Also, I know I’ve written some lengthy posts before but this one is really long…just FYI)

Snapping a quick breastfeeding selfie or #brelfie (seriously that’s a real hashtag) while nursing earlier this week
Before I get into my thoughts, I realize that many topics relating to babies can bring up strong opinions but breastfeeding in particular seems to be one that people can get especially sensitive about. I just want to preface this post by saying I know all my fellow mamas out there are trying to do what’s best for their babies, regardless of how they feed them. I don’t think the intent of World Breastfeeding Week is to look down on moms that don’t, but rather to celebrate and support moms who have chosen this particular path. I am in no way trying to pass judgement on anyone for their choices on this issue, I simply wanted to be honest and share my personal experience! Because just like reading pregnancy/birth stories, I also enjoy reading about other moms’ experience with nursing and that’s why I want to share my story! (PS – if you’re looking for more breastfeeding stories, definitely check out Julie’s ‘The Breastfeeding Diaries’ series…it’s awesome!)

Stopping to nurse while hiking with Henry earlier this summer
Before Henry was born, I knew I wanted to try to breastfeed and was hopeful that it would go well for me. However, I tried to keep the same attitude about nursing that I had towards my birth experience in that I didn’t want to get my heart to set on one particular way things had to happen as I wanted to do what was best for my baby, whatever that might be. Living in Portland though, breastfeeding is strongly encouraged and Oregon as a state has some of the highest breastfeeding rates in the USA. However, I wasn’t breastfed as a baby myself and I feel like I turned out pretty good (ha!) and so if it didn’t end up working out, it wouldn’t have necessarily been the end of the world to me. 
I didn’t really know much about breastfeeding though, so Cameron and I took a class on it through our hospital before Henry was born. It was an all-day class that was fairly intensive that covered everything from the anatomy and physiology of how breastfeeding works to common issues and what happens those first few months. One thing that stuck out to me that the teacher had us do in class was to write down the reasons that we wanted to breastfeed. As she explained, breastfeeding can often be really challenging in the beginning and so in order to stick with it, we’d need to have a clear understanding of why it was important to us personally. She encouraged us to reference back to what we had written down on those hard days, which looking back now, I think was a great idea. For me, I wanted to breastfeed because of all the known benefits for the baby, but also because of how much we travel. I also had a feeling that breastfeeding would be the best fit for us in terms of convenience with traveling and I really wanted to make sure he would have the strongest immune system possible as I knew we’d have him on a plane at a fairly young age.
When Henry was born, my plan was to do skin to skin contact immediately and wanted to try to nurse him right away. However, when he came out, he not only had the cord wrapped around his neck but there was also meconium in the amniotic fluid and so neither of those things ended up happening. I did get to hold him briefly in that first hour after he was born, but they really wanted to get him down to the NICU to monitor his breathing and so I didn’t get to try to nurse him initially until hours later. (Looking back now, I probably would have fought a little harder to let him stay with me a little longer before taking him to the NICU so I could have nursed him sooner, but at the time I was so exhausted from the birth plus with a first baby you really have no idea what’s going on) When I went down to the NICU to try and nurse him that first time, the hospital’s lactation consultant showed me how to get him latched on and I tried nursing him for awhile, but I was still so out of it from giving birth that I feel like I barely remember that now. I know that he did get a little bit of formula in the NICU because they were concerned about his blood sugar, but once he was out of the NICU and back in our room, I kept trying to nurse him. It was so overwhelming trying to get him latched on and I remember being so unsure of what to do. It seriously seemed like a three-person job to get him latched on and I wasn’t sure if I was doing it right. I remember him crying quite a bit in the hospital in the middle of the night after I had tried nursing him and he was such a big baby that we ended up giving him a little more formula because he seemed hungry. All of the nurses were helpful in trying to assist me with nursing though and I had multiple in-patient lactation consultants check in with me during our hospital stay. Everyone really promoted that breastfeeding was the way to go, and it was basically presented as the only option, which was a good indication of what the culture is like here in Portland.

When we left the hospital, everyone kept saying my milk should be coming in really soon…but the next few days went by and it still hadn’t come in. I recapped quite a bit of this in my postpartum post, but I’ll just go ahead summarize what happened over the next few weeks. We took Henry to his first pediatrician appointment a few days after he was born and he had fallen to 10% below his birth weight, which is the point where doctors usually start to get a little concerned. My milk still hadn’t come in at this point (5 days later) and so our doctor suggested we try supplementing with formula to prevent Henry from possibly getting dehydrated until my milk came in and also recommended seeing a lactation consultant ASAP. At this point, I was also trying to pump to encourage my milk to come in and it was all pretty stressful, especially on top of postpartum hormones. I wasn’t opposed to giving him some formula, it was just quite overwhelming and confusing because I didn’t want to supplement with too much, but I didn’t want my baby to be hungry or dehydrated either.

A week after Henry was born, we saw the outpatient lactation consultant at the hospital (who was so amazing) and though she made me feel much better about everything, I still had lots of concerns. During our visit with her, Henry latched on perfectly, but that was so not the case when I’d try to nurse him at home as it was still a two person job between Cam and I to get him latched. He also didn’t seem like he transferred much milk when he was weighed after nursing, but the LC didn’t seem to think it was a big deal. Everyone had kept telling me “oh you’ll know” when your milk comes in, but that was not the case for me. I really never experienced that initial engorgement or milk shooting across the room like people talk about, and I think this created some insecurity in me. My milk came in much more gradually and I felt like my milk wasn’t really “in” until a week after he was born, when we had our appointment with the LC and so I just assumed that I had low supply. Plus, Henry was a big baby and the heavier a newborn is the more ounces they need, so I felt like I was starting out from behind right from the beginning. (I still think that part of the reason my milk was so delayed is from not getting to do that skin to skin time and nurse right away…) So even though I felt encouraged by our appointment with the lactation consultant, I just felt like there still might be something wrong. The LC mentioned at that first appointment that she thought Henry could possibly have a tongue tie but said we should just wait and see how things progressed.
At his two week appointment with the pediatrician, he was still not back up to his birth weight but he had gained enough weight that the pediatrician thought we were on the right track, so that was a relief. But I still felt in my gut that there was something not quite right. He still seemed hungry ALL THE TIME and never really seemed satisfied after feedings, even though he would nurse for very long periods of time. Our next appointment with the pediatrician wasn’t until two months, and so I wanted to keep an eye on his weight on my own to make sure he was progressing. At my three week postpartum check-up with the midwife, we stopped in to see the lactation consultant once again (because they’re in the same office) and much to our disappointment, Henry had barely gained any weight over the past week and was still not back up to his birth weight at almost three weeks out. After further investigation of his mouth, the lactation consultant was fairly certain he did have a tongue tie and recommended that we get that checked out ASAP. In the meantime, she suggested I continue pumping and that we try things like I feed him on one side while simultaneously pumping on the other side and then we feed him the pumped bottle after I get done nursing him. At this point, he was supposed to be nursing anywhere from 10-12 times a day and so it was just very, very exhausting trying so hard to feed him and still not knowing if he was getting what he needed.

Those early days of nursing are so tough because you have no real way of knowing how much the baby is getting and so if you run into bumps in the road with weight gain, it can really mess with your head. We did supplement with a little formula during this time but that almost made things more stressful; I didn’t want to thwart my breastfeeding efforts and basically everything online seemed to say that giving your baby formula was a big no-no if you want breastfeeding to ever work out. But in the middle of the night when I’d nurse him for an hour and he’d still be super fussy, it would break my heart and I just didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t want to just give him a ton of formula and overwhelm his stomach by giving him too much, but I also didn’t want him to be starving or dehydrated either. Plus, the mental strain of nursing a baby 24/7 and feeling like they’re never getting enough is super taxing, on top of already being sleep-deprived. To make matters worse, when I would pump I felt like I would barely get anything, like some times I would pump for a half hour and get maybe half an ounce? That would make me feel very defeated and only more insecure about the whole situation. There were definitely some days that I shed tears because it was so overwhelming and although I really wanted to keep breastfeeding, I was ready to throw in the towel if things didn’t improve.

On top of all this, the ENT that the lactation consultant had recommended we go to about Henry’s tongue tie didn’t have any openings for weeks and I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to manage until then the way things were going. I was also worried that we might have the tongue tie procedure done and put Henry through pain of that and then breastfeeding still might not work out, I think because I was convinced that my supply wouldn’t be able to keep up with his demands regardless of the tongue tie. I started taking supplements (Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle) and I was obsessed with making these lactation cookies in hopes of helping make more milk. However, right before Henry was a month old, we got a call from the ENT saying they had a cancellation and I felt like God was throwing me a life raft. We were able to meet with the ENT and he confirmed that Henry had a fairly severe tongue tie, as well as a lip tie, and that they were most likely impeding his ability to nurse. Right at that initial appointment where he made that diagnosis, he also did the procedure to fix both the tongue tie and the lip tie, and it was so quick and really didn’t seem to bother Henry at all. I also felt reassured after speaking with him that correcting this issue was the right thing to regardless of how things panned out with nursing as unresolved tongue ties can lead to other problems down the road. The ENT gave us exercises to do with Henry to make sure that things healed correctly and I was hopeful that things would start improving when it came to nursing.
(Sidenote: We happened really to luck out with not only seeing a great LC who caught Henry’s tongue tie, but also that we were able to see an ENT, Dr. Ghaheri, who is actually very well known for specializing in infant tongue ties and how they relate to nursing. (His website is a great resource for information on this topic!) I actually saw on social media that he was one of the speakers at the recent Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference and he’s apparently quite well-know for being an expert on this issue. It was just really amazing that he happens to be based here in Portland!)
We went for our follow up visit with Dr. Ghaheri a few days later and he said things were healing great and it seemed like Henry was nursing so much better already. We also did another visit with the lactation consultant and Henry was finally starting to gain weight at the rate he was supposed to…hallelujah! I still continued to be concerned though and so I kept doing weekly weight checks to make sure he was still gaining correctly over the next few weeks. The whole experience had made me uneasy and I didn’t want to take any chances! But by his two month appointment, Henry was a little chunky monkey and in the 75th percentile for weight. It was a huge relief that his growth was on track and I could finally start to relax a little bit.

Nursing at a restaurant, right around when Henry was 6 weeks old
After that two month mark, I felt like we really turned a corner with breastfeeding. While Henry was still nursing somewhat frequently and for long stretches of time, it wasn’t nearly as constant as when he was first born. He also started to sleep in longer stretches at night and I had so much more confidence in the fact that the amount I was producing was enough to meet his needs. On top of that, he was starting to gain more physical strength as he grew and was less of a floppy newborn, which made it much easier to get him into position and latched on. I started to feel that breastfeeding was something I could continue doing long-term and I finally understood why other moms had encouraged me to stick with it because it does get so much easier once you and the baby get the hang of it.

Nursing Henry in San Diego, when he was about 2 months old

Now here we are at almost eight months and I’m still nursing…and absolutely loving it! Seriously, I never expected to enjoy it so much, but I’m so glad it ended up working out for us. We are starting to feed him solids now too, but other than that, he’s still only receiving breastmilk straight from the source. I love being able to still provide for him in a way that no one else can and it’s awesome knowing he’s getting all the benefits that come from breastfeeding. From a practical standpoint, it’s by far the most convenient option for our lifestyle as well. Since I’m home with with all day, it’s super easy just to be able to nurse him vs. having to deal with washing a bunch of bottles, not to mention the cost savings from not having to buy formula which is even more helpful now since we are on one income. The fact that I’m still nursing also really came in handy on our trip; we didn’t bring a single bottle with us and so it was definitely convenient to be able to just nurse him wherever we were, whether it be on the plane or out and about. I love that nursing allows me to have a foolproof way to comfort him if he’s upset or help soothe him to sleep if he’s fussy. And most of all, I really savor those quiet moments with just the two of us where I’m holding him and he’s just so sweet and content.

However, I know that I’ve been fortunate to have the experience we’ve had but I know that’s not the case for everyone. Despite Henry’s tongue tie, breastfeeding has never been painful for me; I did have a little bit of pinch-y type feeling in the beginning when he would latch on, but I never had the toe-curling pain some women describe. Knock on wood I also haven’t had mastitis or clogged ducts or some of the other health issues that can arise with breastfeeding. I know that the fact that I’m staying home with Henry has been a major factor in the reason why I’m still breastfeeding and I realize that’s not everyone’s situation. I know there are lots of moms who exclusively pump or who pump while they’re at work and I really tip my hat to them because I know that’s hard work and extremely time consuming and I’m not sure I would have been able to stick with it. I also don’t want to make it seem like breastfeeding is all sunshine and rainbow and everything is perfect all the time because that is far from the truth. When you’re nursing, your body is still not your own and although many people tout the fact that it helps you burn calories, for many women (yours truly included) breastfeeding causes your body to hold on to extra weight until you’re done nursing. People also like to go on and on about the strong connection that breastfeeding fosters between a mother and baby, but I think sometimes people don’t realize it’s normal for a nursing mom to also experience other less pleasant feelings like frustration and resentment too. The fact that nursing is so comforting can be a double edged sword because then the role of who takes care of the baby when they’re crying falls much more heavily on the mom. And I know firsthand that it can be somewhat of a tough dynamic when dad wants to help and mom is exhausted but baby wants nothing but boobs.

But despite all that, I personally am very happy that I stuck with breastfeeding; I’m thankful that even though we had some initial obstacles, we’ve been able to overcome them and continue on for as long as we have. I’m not sure exactly how long I’ll continue to nurse, but at this point, I definitely plan to keep going until Henry is at least a year old. (And it’s so crazy bananas that is in only four months!) As for any mamas-to-be reading this, this is the advice I would give you…

1. Make sure your partner is on board – Breastfeeding takes a lot of support, especially in the beginning and your partner needs to realize the role they’ll have to play in order to have a successful outcome. When Henry was first born and I was nursing him around the clock, Cameron was amazing and really made it his job to take care of me. He cooked food for me, made sure I drank water (which is so important for your supply!), he washed all the pump parts, and just did everything he could so that I could solely focus on feeding the baby. I so appreciated how he didn’t just act like it was all my responsibility because it made me feel like we were in this together.

2. Don’t be afraid to see a Lactation Consultant – Seeking out professional help for nursing is fairly commonplace and highly encouraged here in Portland, but I know some people might think it seems unnecessary or excessive. However, nursing is an activity that’s going to take up the majority of your time when your baby is first born and so if you’re having problems, don’t don’t just try to struggle through! I’d specifically recommend seeking out an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) because they have so much knowledge when it comes to breastfeeding and their assistance might make all the difference.

3. Surround yourself with people who are supportive – If breastfeeding is important to you, have people in your life that are going to give you the encouragement you need. My mom didn’t breastfeed me and so I was a little concerned that she might suggest giving up if I hit a rough patch, thinking she was being helpful. So before Henry was born, I told her how important this was to me and that if she was going to stay at our house, I’d need her to tell me to hang in there when the going got tough. She was extremely understanding and having her here was so awesome. Like Cam, she did everything she could to help take care of me so that I could focus on nursing and even though she wasn’t necessarily able to give me specific hands-on tips, she was extremely supportive. I also had many other women in my circle of friends and family who had breastfed before and they encouraged me via text and email and that really helped me to keep going. Here in Portland, we’ve got all sorts of breastfeeding support groups and ways to connect with moms who are nursing because I think it’s so helpful to have people that understand what you’re going through who can be there for you.

4. Don’t let ounces define how you feel – When I was first pumping, I would get so disheartened that I’d pump for so long and get such a small amount of milk. I’d go online to see if that was normal and would read posts from women who were like ‘Oh I can pump 10oz in 5 minutes!’ and it would make me feel really crummy about myself. But if Henry’s thighs are any indication, he’s getting plenty to eat and so now I don’t worry about comparing myself to other people. Everyone’s body is different so don’t worry about if you’re not producing some crazy overabundance.

5. Enjoy it because it’s only a season – When Henry was a newborn, he tended to take his sweet time nursing and I knew I’d be stuck on the couch for 45 minutes to an hour when I sat down to feed him. I’d watch a show on TV or read or watch a makeup tutorial on YouTube and I’d get annoyed because it felt like that was all I was doing. Now that he’s older, he’s a much quicker nurser and I (usually) only feed him four times a day so sometimes I wish for those days when I had an excuse to just sit and watch TV…ha! What I’m saying is this time may feel endless, but I promise it won’t last forever so enjoy it while it does!

I’m pretty sure this may be my longest post ever, but this is a chapter of my life that I want to remember, even if know one really cares to read this level of detail about it 🙂 But hopefully this may be encouraging to some of my fellow new moms/moms to be out there!

Last but not least, next week I’ll be sharing a post with some of my nursing essentials and I’ve got an awesome giveaway planned…so stay tuned! Have a great weekend everyone!