A journey that I am forever grateful for. A goal that I more often than not thought would not be achieved. A journey that was beautiful and scary, joyful and painful, easy and the hardest thing I have ever done…physically and emotionally.
I want to preface this blog post by sharing that I am in support of #fedisbest. I made the personal choice to breastfeed, but that does not mean that I am against mothers that choose to formula feed or do a combination of formula and breastmilk. What is always most important is that the baby is getting the nutrition they need. I am also not a fan of when people put pressure on moms to decide one way or the other. Mama…your body, your boobies, your baby, your choice!
Continuing on…when I was pregnant, I already knew that I wanted to breastfeed. I had no idea if I would be able to or if my body would produce the milk needed. Throughout pregnancy, I kept hearing “how hard” it was. I didn’t love hearing comments like that and I do not like to go into any situation thinking already that it will be hard. But, let me tell you, girl they were right!
“Hard” isn’t exactly the verbiage I would use, but I definitely didn’t know what kind of journey and rollercoaster I was in for. I ultimately breastfed D.J. for 14 months, and there wasn’t a week or month in that time that I didn’t think I may not make it. I had daily and weekly doubts that I would be able to make and pump enough milk to keep up with his hunger.
My first step in being able to start and finish my one year goal, began by hiring a lactation consultant. Farrell Topham here in San Francisco was my saving grace. Near the end of my pregnancy, she came over for an in home consultation. She was knowledgeable, calm, sweet, and instantly made me feel comfortable. She clearly walked me through what to expect, what my body was going to do, and when she was going to come see me post partum. While every experience is of course different, it was reassuring to have some sort of expectations. If my memory serves me correctly, I believe I had her come over two or three times in those first couple months. When I came upon a road block or a new issue I couldn’t solve, she was available to help me navigate and get through.
TONGUE TIE. It was initially the hospital and then later confirmed by Farrell that my son had tongue tie (p.s. I’ll save that story for another day). Without her assessment and guidance for next steps, it is highly likely that my breastfeeding journey would have been cut very short due to his latch issues. Sadly enough, so many babies have tongue tie, in varying levels of severity. But, we were able to get him the help he needed and we kept pushing through.
After correcting his tongue tie, came Cranial Sacral Therapy aka Baby Chiropractic work. Not to worry though, no cracking necks here. It basically just looks like a little baby massage. Farrell referred us to one of my now favorite people Dr. Kristine Hicks of More Mojo Chiropractic. Seriously, I love her. With my son’s tongue tie combined with latch struggles, the therapy dramatically helped him to learn how to be more coordinated and use his face muscles properly to nurse. In addition of course to keeping his growing body in line (for lack of a better explanation). (Also, fast forward two years and I still take him to Kristine, especially now that he is a physical little toddler who runs, falls, and take tumbles far too often that this Mama is comfortable with :)).
Truth Moment – 3 things I did NOT love about breastfeeding: 1. Feeling like a cow. every time I was connected to pump, it felt like milk jail. I was so thankful for being able to express milk, but straight up, not a fan of pumping. 2. The discomfort. My son, was never nice (lol), he was an aggressive eater from day one. He would bite, pinch, hit, push, pull, and the list goes on, ugh. (side note: these boobies just may never look the same. Now, I don’t believe that breast feeding ruined them, but I do think that his level of aggression did not help). 3. The Worry. I did hate the constant mom worry I carried around in concern that I wouldn’t make enough to keep up. A year of worry in the back of my mind was exhausting at times.
PUMPING. Ok, this part was not my favorite, but I’d rather not bore you with my complaining. I’d like to offer help as more often than not mom’s do not necessarily love pumping, what we love is being able to provide nutrition for our child. I didn’t get off on the right foot with pumping because I did not start pumping early enough. I thankfully had a five month maternity leave, but I did not start pumping until 1 month prior to my return. Within that fifth month, I had built up a nice stash while my son slept through the night.
WHERE I WENT WRONG. In his very first week at daycare, he blew threw my stash! Why? because I never knew how much he was consuming on breast or could consume in a bottle. I simply brought daycare a bunch of bags. Well, turns out, he was downing 8 ounce bottles at each feed and there went my liquid gold in just one week. Once that happened, I never again could get more than a few feeds ahead of him. Poor milk storage management on my part.
Additionally, for the longest time, I didn’t realize that there were multiple let downs. For anyone reading this that is also unaware. This is when milk starts to flow, stops and then flows again. Example, you hook up to your pump and begin. Milk flows for however minutes and then stops. With every pump session, when milk stopped, I stopped. Insert, the mistake. This would mean I was only pumping about 10 minutes every session. Let alone did I know that at 15 minutes another let down happened and more milk was being expressed. Once I learned this important part of pumping, I got to a much easier place with pumping efficiently daily.
BREAST PUMPS. I could not have had more pumps, I swear. Through insurance I had the Medela Advanced Portable. I also kept the Medela Manual Hand Pump in my purse just case. I then tried the Willow, and I also rented a hospital grade Ameda pump, for a year! Why did I have three main pumps? First, the Medela Advanced was free and portable, so I used that for my work pump sessions and kept it in the pumping room. The willow I used when I had to be on the go and needed a convenient pump and go situation. The Willow was my favorite in theory, but unfortunately it did not express as much milk as the Medela and Ameda, so I used it much less frequently. The Ameda, looks like an organ donor box, it’s heavy and not convenient for on the go or travel. It became a permanent decoration on our kitchen table as that was my home multiple times a night for night pump sessions. The Ameda was recommended to me by my lactation consultant. She explained that if I was going to breastfeed for the long haul, I would have the most success with a hospital grade pump. She was right. Here are images for the pumps I used.
TIP. I recommend that you find a pump and flange size that is appropriate and comfortable for you. Choose a PUMP THAT FITS YOUR LIFESTYLE, GOALS, AND IS REALISTIC for your nursing journey. I knew right away, carrying the huge Ameda pump back and forth to work daily was not going to be sustainable. It is also important to DO YOUR RESEARCH on how the machine works. This was something that I did not do early on and wish I had.
TIP. I RECOMMEND PUMPING EARLY ON! This would have been a life saver had I done this. If I could go back, I would have fed and then pumped. Now, it’s not that I didn’t read this information while on Pinterest at 3’olock in the morning, but since my son fed 24 hours a day until I got him sleeping at 4 months (aka I was a human pacifier), I was never able to do so. Knowing what I know now, I would go back, pump and store!
WATER. WATER. WATER. and more WATER. Early on I learned that breast milk was something like 80% water, so it was easy for me to carry my high consumption of water from pregnancy to nursing. In the first three months, my husband was my water boy. He was amazing at making sure I always had my hydro flask full and next to me. It helped me during pregnancy to stay hydrated and flushed and kept my body hydrated during my year of nursing to ensure that my body could produce. Also, on any days where I would see a dip in supply, I would reflect back on my day to recall how much water I had consumed. More times than not, I was under my target. I would then catch up for that day to make sure I was hitting my target of 120 ounces. Yes, 120 ounces every day. Unfortunately, I now can’t remember how I came up with that number. I believe it has something to do with your body weight.
WHEN THINGS GOT TOUGH. When D.J. was around 6/7 months I noticed that I was not making as much milk as before. Common, especially since your supply tends to regulate. On top of that, I was at work Monday through Friday and not with my son getting that much needed skin to skin contact. At that point, I started to research what else I could be doing to help my supply? I drank tea, I tried acupuncture (p.s. this did help, it was just so hard to fit into my working mommy schedule), and I found online and started ordering Mrs. Patels lactation bars. By the way, if you have not heard of Mrs. Patels, please go right now and check out her site. Her handcrafted artisanal lactation goods are created from Ayurvedic recipes including ingredients that have been helping lactating women for thousands of years! I didn’t need a yelp page to want to try these out. They are delicious and they really helped my supply. I consumed one box every two weeks. I had a recurring subscription. It was perfect, I didn’t have to think about or should I say forget to order, they just arrived.
SKIN TO SKIN. Being a working mom brought a whole flood of emotions, but I cherished my morning and bedtime nursing sessions with my son. Since I pumped 2-3 times per day as well as 2-3 times per night (while he slept), that skin to skin I shared with him was really important to me. It was two times a day before and after the chaos of each day that I got to disconnect and just be mommy. I would soak up those moments and just be thankful that I got that special time with him.
NATURE. I recall on a conversation I had one day with my lactation consultant when I was venting or complaining about my supply and she so simply said “I know that in today’s day and age, women are supposed to be able to “have it all”, but when it comes to nursing, it’s not always that easy”. For me, have it all at that time meant going back to work and it not having an effect on my supply. Her verbiage may have been slightly different, but what she was explaining was the importance of how our supply is nature and it goes back to the primal fact that skin to skin and our babies latch on nipple that sends the signals to our brain to release the milk hormones. That connection tells our body what our baby needs. Pumping has allowed us to keep up a supply while away, which is amazing and I am thankful for! But, very common for working moms to see this decline in supply. If this is you, hang in there Mama! you are not alone.
FEED ME. I always heard that nursing makes you hungry, goodness it sure did for me. It was a journey in itself because continuing over from being pregnant, I still wanted to make healthy choices. I also noticed during the times when I consumed higher calories my milk supply would jump up. So, it was important to me to balance out eating to fuel my body combined with a higher caloric intake that wasn’t going against my health plan. In keeping it all the way real, there were definitely days where burger or pizza was just what I wanted. When those days happened, it was never something I beat myself up over, but I just knew that burger and pizza day after day went against my want and need to feel my best. I was planful with my meals and snacks making sure that I wasn’t stranded and without food. We all know this is a recipe for hanger and bad decisions. Being planful was a big help at home and at work.
THE TOP 6 REASONS I WAS ABLE TO NURSE FOR ONE YEAR. If you have skimmed through the above and landed here (as I often do when reading a lengthy blog), here are the key takeaways:
- I drank 120 oz+ of water every…single…day!
- I pumped (like, all the time)
- Herbal Supplements (shout out: Mrs. Patel’s lactation bars)
- AM & PM skin to skin nursing feeds
- Diet – kept fueled and ate frequently!
- I got help. Please if there is anything you take from this blog, breastfeeding is not a journey that you have to do alone!
IGNORE THE NOISE. Look, in all honesty, there was a lot of judgement, comments and questions. The “why are you doing this to yourself? “why not just give him formula?” “are you really going to keep going for a year?” and the list goes on. It was NEVER something I questioned. My goal and want to breastfeed never waivered. It did not mean it wasn’t tough or I wasn’t emotional or I doubted my abilities. But that desire never stopped. It was important for me to keep true to my own wishes no matter what anyone had to say. I did it for him, I did it for me, and that’s it!
If breastfeeding is something that you want to do, for ANY length of time, let that be your decision, and do you Mama!
I truly hope this was helpful. Thank you for hanging with me. Please drop me any comments or questions! I would love to hear from you!