Just like I did a mini-series on my pregnancy experiences with Matthew (Part 1 & Part 2) and Emma (Part 1 & Part 2), I’m going to be doing a mini-series on my breastfeeding experiences with both children. Just as pregnancy, labor, and delivery were different with both children, my breastfeeding experiences were (and are!) vastly different as well.
It just goes to show you that when you think you have something figured out as a mom, a new situation will crop up and change things on you yet again!
**Please note: Ad links found in the post below lead you to Amazon. There you can directly find the products I am referencing in case you want to purchase them for your own needs!
Breastfeeding Part 1: Matthew
Honestly, before I actually gave birth to Matthew, I gave very little thought to breastfeeding. I know I read all about it in my child-prep books and I knew it was important, but I didn’t give much thought about the ins and outs of how it worked, or what to do if it didn’t. I guess I was just too preoccupied with everything else going on in my life and all the other changes to worry about it too much. I mean, it’s this completely natural process, so how hard could it be?
But in the back of my mind I knew it was something I wanted to make happen. I had read all about the health benefits (for mom and baby), the cost savings, and the bonding it achieves. Plus, if you’ve read any of my other posts, you are well aware of how strongly my husband and I believe in good nutrition and eating foods as close to their natural form as possible, and you can’t get much more natural than breastmilk for your newborn. So once Matthew was born, I was determined to make it work.
So imagine my dismay when we just couldn’t get him to latch! Matthew was only hours old and seemed hungry and wanted to latch, but it just wasn’t happening. So instead of nursing my son in his first few days of life, instead I had to pump and syringe feed him. Not really the bonding experience I was looking forward to. Lactation was constantly in the room working with us, but no one could figure out what was wrong. I was sore and miserable – from the pump, from getting used to having a newborn attempting to latch, from all the man-handling lactation was doing to try and get breastfeeding to work for us, and from the engorgement of my milk coming in.
And then suddenly one of the nurses (Elizabeth) took a close look at Matthew and questioned whether he was tongue-tied or not. She brought in the staff pediatrician to take a look and they determined that he was! After explaining what was going on and the pros/cons of having the procedure done, we elected for the quick repair. Within an hour a frenulectomy was completed. Matthew was brought back to me and latched on the first try! From then on out, Matthew and I had pure breastfeeding success.
But even with breastfeeding working well for us, there were so many things I had to learn and work through.
First off, the first few weeks after your milk comes in are pure misery. Even the pressure from a shower is painful on your breasts, and don’t even think about getting your nipples under the flow of water. I had spent so much time during pregnancy training myself to sleep on my side for optimum blood flow to the fetus, and now sleeping on my side was painful due to compression and breast engorgement. I had to retrain myself to sleep on my back once again to keep pressure off of my chest. Even once the initial engorgement subsides, any time that your breasts are feeling full or extra tender, you need to shield yourself from a spray of water, rough materials which might rub against you, or even (unfortunately) your partner!
Secondly, never go anywhere without either your baby or a pump. You have to have a way to relieve the pressure of a milk let down. Again, I learned this by trial and error. I hadn’t been away from Matthew for more than an hour or so in his first 6 weeks of life. Around 6 weeks of age, my mother-in-law came to watch Matthew while Rob and I drove an hour away to have some time together. We went out for lunch and picked up some nursery furniture which finally arrived off backorder – so in total we were gone about 3-4 hours. I nursed Matthew right before we left, but didn’t think to bring a pump with me. Big mistake. We were halfway through our trip when I realized I was in trouble and going to be majorly in pain by the time we got back. The instant I got home I bolted for my pump and can’t even begin to explain the sense of relief I got when finished! I learned that lesson and always had a pump with me from then on out – even if I didn’t think I’d need it.
And even if you are nursing well, you want to invest in a good pump! There will be times that your baby may not want to nurse, but you need to get the milk out. There were times that Matthew was too stuffy to nurse from me, but was able to drink ok from a bottle since he could feed in a different position. And if you plan to be away from your baby for any length of time (working or traveling) and don’t want your milk supply to dry up, you need to keep pumping! I’ll be covering pumps and my experience with three different types in Part 3 of this series (to be released in the future!)
Third, you want to invest in some good nursing bras or other nursing tops. And only wear shirts that are easy to maneuver up around your chest if they aren’t specific to nursing. Your breasts will change multiple sizes throughout the day between filling and emptying with milk, and a regular bra just can’t comfortably accommodate those size changes. I tried to cheapen out on this and would wear my regular bras to work and just go without a bra at home (which was easier since I felt like there had to be constant access to my chest!), but I ended up stretching out and ruining all my good regular bras from the daily maneuvering that was needed. So just buy some good bras. The second time around with Emma, I remembered my mistake with Matthew and bought a few packs of these nursing bras from Amazon. Super comfortable and have been well worth the investment (for more than just nursing – more on that in parts 2 & 3 of this series – coming soon!).
Fourth, even if breastfeeding is successful and you make plenty of milk (which with Matthew I was lucky I did!), there are still a ton of other supplies that you need! There will be times that you will be away from your child and others will need to feed your baby for you. So make sure you have bottles, nipples, and collars. For nipples, you’ll need slow flow (easier for a newborn to about 4 months of age), and medium flow (easier for a baby about 4 months and older). I also didn’t realize that different flow rates would be required, but it was easy to tell when Matthew needed to be moved out of the slow to the medium flow – he would get frustrated and cry when eating, even though he hadn’t had enough, and his bottle feedings were starting to take a really long time (45+ minutes vs. 20 minutes or so).
We also chose to invest in a bottle warmer and sterilizer. These two things aren’t necessary, but did have a use in our life. Most babies tend to prefer warm milk (since that’s how it comes out of mom), but it isn’t really mandatory to have it warmed. However, since Matthew was fed breastmilk exclusively, if I wasn’t there to give it to him directly, the milk I had pumped was frozen and needed to be thawed for use. When you have a hungry baby, the faster you can safely warm the milk (no microwaving!!), the happier everyone will be. And since the fats tend to separate out in breastmilk when it cools, I liked to warm the milk up to melt the fats back in, ensuring that Matthew was getting all the calories and nutrients available in each feeding.
When at home, we didn’t use the sterilizer often, and just ran all the bottles, nipples, and pump parts through the sterilizer setting on our dishwasher. However, when we are up at our family camp, there is no dishwasher to sterilize for me. And since camp is fairly remote, this is not the place I want to be when my children get sick. So I make sure to sterilize all the equipment with my portable unit when traveling.
Other things I discovered I needed were breastmilk storage bags and lanolin cream. If you are serious about breastfeeding and your goal is to give your child breastmilk exclusively, then you’ll need a way to store all the milk you’ve pumped. Freezing the milk gives you the longest shelf life (12 months in the freezer vs. 6 days in the fridge!) and these bags worked great to get the job done. And even when everything goes well with nursing and pumping, you will get sore. Your nipples will crack and bleed if you just let them be. So do yourself a favor and invest in a tube of lanolin cream. A little prevention with daily or twice daily application after nursing/pumping will go a long way to keeping you comfortable! (Be aware that it does stain clothing though – so have something protective between it and the clothes you love!)
And other than a few hiccups when Matthew started to get teeth and bite when nursing, once we got started breastfeeding successfully in the hospital, it was smooth sailing for the whole year. I was so incredibly proud when Matthew turned one year old and I had provided him every drop of milk myself for that whole year without one ounce of formula.
Was I ready to give breastfeeding up? Absolutely! Even though I strongly believe in its benefits, I was also ready to get my life back. I wanted to be able to travel without a pump. I wanted to be able to do activities and go places without finding places and times to pump. I wanted to get out of the shower and towel off without milk running down my chest. I wanted to enjoy activities without worrying about sprouting a leak through my shirt. And Matthew was starting to resist nursing directly from me, and was transitioning nicely to sippy cups for his own next stage of growing up. Even though it was great, and I was proud of what we had accomplished, it was time to move on.
Drying up wasn’t the most comfortable thing, but I dropped one nursing/pumping session each week until I stopped all together. And we had a great year with no infections for me, no formula for him, and all the benefits of nursing achieved!
I felt like a breastfeeding pro – which all changed once I had Emma! (Stay tuned for part 2 in this series, coming soon!)
All the best,
P.S. I’d love to hear about your experience breastfeeding your children! Were you successful or not? Do you believe strongly in it or no? I’m not here to judge your opinion – we are all entitled to what we believe and are capable of doing – I’m just interested in your story. Feel free to leave a comment below or send me a message if you’d like to converse more privately!
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