As is usual with my longer posts these days, they are always up later than I intended. So, here’s a Thanksgiving post a week late! There’s probably TMI for some of my readers, but that’s life and it’s my blog and I’ve gotta write what I’ve gotta write. Avert your eyes from this post if body part talk makes you squeamish. Also, this isn’t meant to be a judgemental post re: formula v. breastfeeding. It’s just a post about my experiences and some information I wish I’d known beforehand.
This year has been one eye-opening life changer that’s for sure. Of course I’m thankful for my family and friends and definitely for my crazy little buddy Forest, but honestly I think the biggest thing on this Thanksgiving that I’m grateful for would be for my success with breastfeeding. I know I have expressed here before that prior to my own experiences with breastfeeding I had encountered very few people who had been successful or had gone long-term with breastfeeding. The people I did talk to about it however, (Chris’ mom, a coworker, a couple of people I know in real life) were optimistic with me about it and gave me what advice they could and all I could do was hope for the best when the time came to implement it for real.
Going into Forest’s birth I was nervous on the outcome of breastfeeding, or the successful beginnings, rather. With the last minute c-section and not seeing Forest for an hour and a half after birth I wondered if he’d latch properly, if the colostrum would be there and he’d take it. When I finally saw him and he latched right away I was thrilled! The night of his birth—or early morning, rather—was so bleary eyed and hazy. I remember watching as one of the night nursery nurses came in to change his diaper while Chris attempted to sleep on the built-in couch in the birth room while I was still recovering from the traumatic events from hours before. I had mentioned to her that we’d successfully nursed and knew that we’d be nursing every 2-3 hours, but it hadn’t been relayed to us at that point in time the necessity of supplementing with formula due to his high birth weight and that he was hypoglycemic. It was mid-morning, many hours after that visit with the night nursery nurse, when the neonatologist told us of the importance of supplementing with some formula, that the colostrum wouldn’t be enough to get his blood sugar up in the immediate days in the hospital. Of course we were immediately freaked out by this and the possible implication of letting his blood sugar remain too low. And then I was immediately worried that my milk wouldn’t come in fast enough and I’d be tethered to formula feeding.
First, we had to get his blood sugar back to an acceptable level within a certain time period and secondly, the dude was hungry. I always nursed first on both breasts and then give him the formula. As I sat there in the hospital bed, swollen from IV fluids and feeling out of sorts, I worried about when my milk would come in, wondering how long we’d be needing to supplement and if along with failing for my goal of a natural childbirth I’d be failing at breastfeeding, too. The dude was so hungry, chugging that formula down! It really made me doubt my milk producing capabilities at the time.
We played the breastfeeding/formula game for nearly two weeks despite that we’d gotten his blood sugar up to a happy level before leaving the hospital, mostly because Forest was so hungry and my milk hadn’t really came in by the time I’d been discharged from the hospital. The weekend after we came home from the hospital I began pumping, using an electric pump my sister-in-law, Stephanie, generously gave to me. It was one she’d used for her children. I’d ordered replacement parts before Forest’s birth but hadn’t figured out how to use it. In the hospital Chris had gone home at one point to get the pump in an effort to try to start jump-starting the milk to come in but we didn’t end up using it there. I tried it a few times in the first day or two when we got home and quickly got sores on my nipples. It hurt so bad! I hated pumping! I was in tears, wondering how on Earth I was going to be doing this for months on end…it wasn’t looking good to me.
I got on the phone to Stephanie to ask for her advice, wondering how much milk she got when she pumped, wondering if the pump flanges hurt her. I was bawling and upset, the situation sucked. At this point I was getting mere drops after a feeding, which was what everyone said to do…pump after you feed the baby and it’ll help the milk come in and you can save the milk for a freezer stash, or so ‘they’ (re: the internet) all said. With the mere drops I was getting I felt like a failure. Not only that, I wondered what Forest was getting. Luckily Stephanie gave me the idea that the flanges were too small, that I should try a different size. Frustrated but hopeful with this new idea, I told Chris the situation. I don’t think at that time he got the seriousness of the pain I was in, how badly it hurt. Through tears I was finally able to get him to understand and he went out to Target at 9pm, rushing to get there before the store closed to get flanges the next size up. The difference was immediate and the sores went away within a few days with a bit of nipple cream for soothing! If I hadn’t have had the help from Stephanie and read online after she’d given me that idea, I’m not sure what I would have done.
For those first two weeks we made formula for Forest after I breastfed him, giving him a couple of ounces which he downed like he’d never eaten before. Slowly I noticed he seemed more satisfied at night after a feeding and would go to sleep on the breast, and I would hate to wake him up just so Chris could give him formula afterwards. The had become our M.O. Then I began weeding those extra bottle feedings out after that and by his two week appointment the pediatrician said he’d gained all of his birth weight back and was fine to just stick with the breastfeeding since he seemed to be successful at it.
As for my milk coming in, I don’t think I felt that it was really ‘in’ until a week after he was born. I never really felt a let-down and honestly it has only been since I’ve gone back to work that I feel any sort of let-down-esque sensation. Apparently I’m not the only one as others in the breastfeeding group at the hospital mentioned similar experiences. Heck, all of those breast pads I bought, I’ve never used them as I’ve only had a couple of times that it’s been bad enough for me to need something like that and then it has been during the overnights.
So from that first two weeks it was then me getting used to Forest’s hunger cues and accepting that I would spend a lot of those first four to six weeks sitting on the couch and nursing. That took a long time for me to accept and I wish I could tell myself back then to just relax and enjoy sitting on the couch with him. I also found out I wasn’t the only person having difficulty accepting the ‘sit down and breastfeed all day’ change, others at the breastfeeding group expressed similar situations. In those first two weeks I could do the every 3 hours feeding but once we really got into the on-demand breastfeeding Forest was all about a 2 hour schedule, a little longer when he took a long nap. You’ll read things about babies supposedly being able to go 3-4 hours, even the pediatrician said that, but that’s not what I found worked best for Forest. He liked every 2 hours, sometimes less if he drank just a little and took a short snooze. Once I started reading more, I found out that breastfeeding by the clock really isn’t ideal for most babies and doing it on-demand worked out much better…as the saying goes, “Watch the baby, not the clock.” That also played into the supposed 10 minutes on each side for a feeding—HAH! Yeah, right. We’re just now getting to that a little bit better with him being more efficient and but now he’s more cognitive and distracted by bright! shiny! things and noises (you’re gonna get a glare if you talk to me while I’m putting him to sleep). Sometimes it would be the better part of 30-45 minutes for a feed and then during spurts or cluster feeds it would be nearly constant with only 30 minute gaps between feeds.
Then Forest and I worked out the best ways to get comfortable, and when he started his choking ordeals it seemed like we had a whole new hurdle to deal with. Did I have an oversupply? It didn’t seem that way because I wasn’t getting a lot when I pumped after a feeding. I had no idea. I tried new feeding positions which seemed to help but didn’t always. Honestly, going to the breastfeeding support group at the hospital, asking questions and listening to everyone else seemed to help the most. I didn’t feel lost and most of the time everyone else had been wondering the same things I had been wondering—or I wondered about the same things they were asking. It truly helped so much! The lactation consultants had heard just about everything and had an answer for most problems and questions. I’m so glad I went the four or five times I could make it there. In the end it was the lactation consultant who gave me the idea that he might have silent reflux and I went on a dairy free diet in addition to giving him Zantac. The dairy free diet hasn’t been all that bad and in the last week or so we’ve noticed his reflux has gotten a bit better, enough that we don’t feel he needs the medicine at the moment.
It took almost six weeks before I was getting any kind of stash starting to build where I could freeze it. It’s really about that time that your milk production begins to really stabilize and you had a sufficient production for the coming months. Prior to that, what little bit I pumped I left for Chris to feed Forest a bottle in the evenings so Forest would stay used to bottles when I went back to work. Eventually my supply was built up enough that when I pumped after a feeding I might get an ounce or two total. Slowly I began getting more, particularly in the early morning pumping sessions when milk production is highest. I took advantage of times when Forest only fed on one side and then took a nap, stashing the 2-4 ounces I’d get from the other side.
Returning to work I faced the hurdle of wonder if Forest would still want to breastfeed during the times I was with him after being gone all day at work. It was a clear answer of ‘yes’ that first day I came home, him clinging to me with a mix of comfort nursing and actual feeding. I’ve come to appreciate nursing him far more now that I’m away, especially now that he’s begun to interact with me—smiling, pulling my shirt or hair, pinching or patting my back from the arm that’s wrapped behind me.
I’ve also developed a great friendship (ok, it’s more of a grudging friendship) with my pump now that I pump four times a day. My pumping routine is mornings around 7am, a mid-morning pump, then an early afternoon and a late afternoon pump session. When I started I decided to keep a Google document spreadsheet to keep track of my output, to know when I dipped and notice if anything I ate or when I was stressed out, if that affected my supply. That first week I noticed that I did well the first day but it went down after that, which coincided with me finishing off my first batch of lactation cookies I had probably gotten 18-20 ounces during those four sessions and after that it was down to 17 or 18 ounces. When I reintroduced the lactation cookies the following week after making them over the weekend I jumped back into the 20+ ounce range consistently. If Forest nursed during my lunch break (my MIL and mom were caring for him during those initial weeks back to work) then that knocked my production down a bit but it usually evened out because he’d take less from what was stored at home.
I’ve since tapered off on the lactation cookies though due to the added sugar but I think I’ll make another batch again here soon. However I’ve switched to what I’m calling lactation oatmeal for breakfast. It’s a heaping dose of old-fashioned Quaker Oats, a dash of cocoa powder, a dash of brewer’s yeast, a dash of ground flax seed, a dash of chia seeds, a spoonful of honey, unsweetened almond milk to soak in (a hefty dose), and a spoonful of pecan or peanut butter for protein. I put some granola in it one day to change it up. I let it soak about 20-30 minutes until I get to work and then I microwave it and have a pretty tasty breakfast. I’ve definitely noticed a huge difference in my mid-morning output by doing this, pumping 7-9 ounces at a time. Since during these four pump sessions I’m generally pumping almost a 24 hour period’s worth of milk for a breastfeeding baby (19-30 oz is considered the range) I’m definitely ending up with leftover milk at the end of the week since Forest averages between 14-18 oz during the day, which means my freezer stash is getting built up fast. We’re now trying to start using some of the older stuff since it was frozen in late September and well start cycling through a bag or two here and there.
Oh, I did find out the dark side to becoming proficient with the pump. During the Thanksgiving holiday we were away for two days. Chris even asked if I wanted to take my pump but I opted not to. Big mistake. Since Forest wasn’t and isn’t eating near what I can produce during the morning hours I was running into engorgement and pain. It was bad enough I made Chris run out to Target before they closed for the holiday and get me a manual pump. Sadly we didn’t have a way to store the pumped milk so I only pumped enough to make myself comfortable again and ended up dumping 8 ounces down the sink over those two days. Keep that in mind when becoming BFFs with your pump if you go back to work after the baby! Sometimes I end up pumping over the weekend mornings if he isn’t feeding frequently in the morning.
Now that I’ve been thankfully successful with breastfeeding for 3 months I’m definitely on-board with continuing on until a: Forest decides to wean himself or b: nursing to at least 12 months if not 16-18 months. Even if I don’t nurse that long and Forest decides to wean himself, right now I’m open to the idea of pumping in order to provide my own milk for him to drink out of a cup or bottle instead of relying on formula or cows milk (after 1 year). I’d just rather not start the cows milk thing that early if I can avoid it.
Well, that was a bit long winded!
- If you are planning on breastfeeding or have any inclination of doing so, read up about it while pregnant. Find out if your hospital or any local hospital offers a breastfeeding class. Ours did and it really helped and boosted my confidence! Take it with your spouse, too. They will be involved in the process in some form (ie: refilling your water, bringing you snacks, offering you mental support!) and the more everyone knows about any issues that might arise, the better chance you’ll have with being successful!
- Nurse on demand! Forget trying to put a newborn on a feeding schedule—the more you feed when the baby requests it, the more your body produces milk and the sooner the production will begin to increase and then stabilize! If you skip a feeding because the baby is napping or you decide to give a bottle, do not forget to pump! You still have to continue that stimulation for milk to be produced and if you skip a feeding too often you are just telling your body to produce less milk during that time period.
- After a few weeks of breastfeeding, you can start pumping after a session to start building a stash if you will be going back to work or plan on being away from your baby for certain periods of time. I didn’t do this every session, but it did help when I did. Don’t expect tons of extra milk after you’ve breastfed, unless you have an oversupply. Half an ounce to two ounces might be all you get, total, from both sides. It’s ok!
- What you pump does not tell you how much of a supply you have or how much the baby ate! Some women’s bodies aren’t as receptive to pumping, some pumps aren’t as efficient as others. In the end the baby is the one who is proficient at getting the milk out. (see this)
- Reach out to a lactation consultant or someone from the La Leche League if you have questions, want to know if the baby is latching properly or feel that something is wrong after you get home from the hospital. Several women I met at the breastfeeding group were able to find out their babies had lip or tongue tie which can inhibit breastfeeding. Once those issues resolved they were usually able to continue breastfeeding successfully.
- It’s hard. It’s frustrating. I wish someone had told me that I should just envelope myself in it those first few weeks so I wouldn’t get frustrated with how much it seemed to tie me down. This is probably part of a societal problem more than a breastfeeding problem, the need to feel we have to get up and ‘do it all’ weeks after having a baby. Just sit on the couch, watch tv, read a book, nurse, and let the baby snooze on you! Once I finally accepted this role it went much better in those later weeks and I still find myself just accepting it during the evenings when Forest wants to nurse and cuddle more. It won’t last forever—they do grow up!
- Don’t beat yourself up if you have to supplement with formula to get their birth weight back up or if your supply takes longer to come in. Do what you can! I’m sure there are more militant breastfeeders out there who disagree with this statement, but it is really about taking the guilt away and making it as easy for you to be successful at breastfeeding as you can be.
- Make water your new best friend. Drink it! A lot of it! Staying hydrated keeps your supply up.
- Night nursing can be unfun, especially when you are exhausted and feeling lonely. We went back and forth for awhile talking about having Chris get up to commiserate with me during those early morning hours, having him give a bottle so I could sleep, but it didn’t really work that way—I would have still had to pump since I would be missing a feeding. So, I just accepted my role as the squinty eyed mom who listened to the sound of dogs barking (and the occassional coyote pack) in the night with a howl of a train in the background while she nursed her son.
Link and Resources
All links are just me linking, I’m not part of any affiliate and don’t make money off of links.
- Kelly Mom: Probably the most cited resource for breastfeeding out there. Also, great information on why you don’t have to pump and dump after having a glass of alcohol. (Shout out to my friend Cindy for even telling me about this!) I went to this site time and time again when I thought I had an oversupply and when dealing with Forest’s choking issues.
- Womanly Art of Breastfeeding: I’ve actually never finished this book and should probably flip through it again, but it was a great resource in the early days.
- Breastmilk Storage Guidelines
- Longest Shortest Time Podcast: This one is about breast pumps and making them not suck! Also touched on in the podcast is the sound of the pump and what it says to us—mine says “Blackhole, blackhole, blackhole” among other things.
- Breastfeeding laws: Know your rights about time for pumping at work as well as breastfeeding in public!
- Lactation Cookie Recipes: I’ve made the first recipe twice—they are very tasty! I’ve noticed the bottoms burn just a bit for the length mentioned, so keep an eye on the time.
- Mother’s Milk tea: I’ve read several people complain about the taste but I like it. I’ve made it as iced tea several times but also enjoy a cup of hot tea, too. I think the fennel is what gets most people on the taste.
Thanks for wading through this with me. It has really meant a lot to me to have come this far with breastfeeding and am thankful that it has worked out for me. It really hit home when we took Forest to daycare earlier this week and he was one of two babies that are breastfed out of the eight that are there. And if you have a question, feel free to ask. I’m glad to offer my meager, 3-months in wisdom. I can help with what I know, which really isn’t all that much, just what has worked for me. I also want to thank my friend Jessica for patiently reading and responding to my crazy emails in those early days! You saved my sanity on many occassions! And of course I am very thankful for Chris and his support in this endeavor, listening to me cry and become frustrated with all sorts of emotions but always being there anyway and refilling my water glass and bringing me chocolate (dairy free! dark!) too. Oh, and for making 99.9% of the dinners around here now so that I can spend time feeding the little dude. I love you!