This week is World Breastfeeding week and I wanted to take a moment to reflect on my experiences and share them with you all. Breastfeeding is wonderful. I am truly fascinated by what our bodies can do for our babies in the womb and after delivery. There are so many benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and baby. It helps your uterus return to its normal size quicker and it saves a lot of time and money. For baby, breast milk provides antibodies and nutrients that strengthen their immune system. They tend to get sick less and it even protects against future health conditions such as obesity and types 1 and 2 diabetes. These are just some of the wonderful things that breastfeeding does.
You’ve heard the saying, “breast is best” and you’ve most likely heard people say, “It’s the natural thing to do”. They’re correct, breastfeeding is natural but it doesn’t come naturally to every woman. In fact, what most people fail to realize is that although breastfeeding is natural it still takes practice for both mom and baby to learn to do so successfully. It truly is a journey and no two journeys are alike.
I’ve had five unique experiences with breastfeeding. When we conceived our first son I was just 19 years old. I never aspired to be a mom and unlike many women I know, I never took care of any babies. The most I had done up until that point was watch my younger sister for a couple of hours until my parents got back home from work or grocery shopping. All I had to do was give her something to eat or drink and make sure she wasn’t doing anything “bad”. By the way, this was when she was ten so it wasn’t a very difficult task! Anyways, since this was all new to me I remember rushing to our public library and taking out “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel. I love reading and therefore I read as much as I could about what was going on in my body and everything else that was still yet to come. My husband and I watched numerous documentaries on pregnancy and delivery. We tried to prepare as much as possible.
My doctor spoke to us about breastfeeding and all of the benefits related to it. She asked me what my plans would be for when I had the baby. Will I be breastfeeding or giving formula? Breastfeeding seemed like the right way to go. After all, isn’t that what women have breasts for? She informed me about a breastfeeding class and I signed up for it.
The lactation consultant was very helpful. She had brought a doll and showed us all the positions we could breastfeed in. She taught us about colostrum and how our milk will be coming in a couple of days after we gave birth. She assured us breastfeeding wasn’t painful and if it was we had to get baby off and relatch. She told us that our nipples get darker and that, along with our scent, helps baby find the nipple. “Bring your nipple to his nose and that’ll make him open wide then bring him to you. It all seemed pretty basic, pretty natural. I remember leaving that class feeling confident that I was making the right decision by breastfeeding and that I’d be successful at it.
Fast forward to April of 2011, I had just given birth to my first son Michael. He was born 9 days late and had meconium in his mouth. They took him away to clean him up and suction it out of his mouth; they wanted to make sure he hadn’t ingested it. It was due to this that we didn’t get to breastfeed and do skin to skin contact right away. An hour later I tried to breastfeed and I felt like I was doing it correctly. It was hard for me to open his mouth wide enough. I felt my breasts and nipple were huge in comparison to his little mouth. Did I mention that he was 10lbs at birth? It was difficult for me to get in a comfortable position to breastfeed him. I asked to see the lactation consultant and she assured me that I was doing it correctly. “How do I know if he’s getting anything? I can’t tell.” She told me that as long as he was peeing and pooping it was fine. “You will also be able to hear him swallow.”
Everything was fine and I was breastfeeding exclusively at the hospital. Breastfeeding wasn’t extremely painful but it wasn’t very comfortable for me. We were discharged on the third day and once we got home things changed. I didn’t have nurses or the lactation consultant there to help me. To make matters worse my milk had come in and it was a lot. I was feeding on demand and baby wasn’t eating as much as I was producing. On top of that, I didn’t have a breast pump.
My husband and I were on our own and at that time we didn’t realize how important it is to have a village supporting you. My mother and grandmother came by to meet the baby and I recall telling them that my breasts were hurting. I had read about becoming engorged but underestimated how painful it would be. By the time I asked my mother and grandmother for help I had mastisis. They advised me to take a warm shower, express milk by hand, and put the baby on my breasts as much as possible. By then the pain was almost unbearable. “I don’t want him on my breast it’s too painful!” Even though we had agreed on exclusively breastfeeding, my husband turned to me and said, “Why don’t we just give him formula? It’s ok.” It was in that moment that I broke. I was crying hysterically. Aside from struggling with breastfeeding I was also struggling with a mild form of post-partum depression known as baby blues. I felt like such a failure. I was crying from the physical pain but also from the thought of not being able to do something that my body was meant to do.
It took me a couple of days to feel better about giving him formula. During that time we had purchased a breast pump and I began pumping for my baby. I didn’t know much about pumping but I would pump milk here and there during the day. Eventually my milk dried up and after two months my son was being fed formula only.
My second attempt at breastfeeding took place in 2013. I wanted to breastfeed so badly. This time I had everything from a nursing bra to an electric pump. I had brought my electric pump with me to the hospital because I didn’t want to get engorged like last time. I wanted my breasts to be as empty as possible.
When my second son Gabriel was born I was able to have skin to skin contact right then and there. I had read that the epidural sometimes makes it difficult to establish a good latch once baby is born and so I tried my best to not get one. It was perfect, at least for a few hours. When Gabriel was two days old the doctors moved him to the nursery because he had jaundice. At the time, my hospital didn’t allow the UV lamp to be in our rooms and they would place them in the nursery instead. Unfortunately, his jaundice hadn’t gotten better by the time I was ready to be discharged. It was very difficult for me to have to leave him behind. Luckily, we lived a couple of blocks away from the hospital so I would pump for him during the day and then take it to the hospital so he could drink breastmilk while I was away. Two days later Gabriel was home with us but by then I was afraid he would not be able to latch on. Sometimes he would and others he wouldn’t and so I pumped and supplemented with formula. This time the decision was a little easier to make. However, I wasn’t pumping as often as I should and his stomach was very sensitive to my diet so I stopped after 3 months.
My third pregnancy came as a big surprise to us. I learned I was pregnant on November 2015. Unfortunately, I began having complications in mid-December. I began spotting and learned that I had a large subchorionic hematoma in my placenta, basically a large blood clot. The doctors were very honest about my condition from the beginning. “It can go both ways. It may resolve on its own or it may get bigger and we would have to remove the baby.” My doctor was very optimistic and she tried to keep my spirits high through everything I was going through. Sadly, on March 2016 I had a spontaneous abortion. My baby Malachi was 19 weeks old. Needless to say, this event broke me and affected our family. I thought the pain would be over once I accepted my loss. However, I was wrong. A couple of days after I experienced my loss my breasts became fuller. It never crossed my mind that even though I didn’t have a baby my body carried one and it was tricked into believing that it had to produce milk for him. I remember going online searching for what I should do and searching for someone else who had experienced something similar. I tried cabbage compresses which surprisingly work very well! I also tried peppermint tea and candy which helped. By the second day my milk had decreased and my breasts didn’t feel full.
With my fourth son I was determined to get it right! In November of 2017, I took everything I had learned during these past years and put it to work. My son had latched on beautifully. It wasn’t painful and remember when I mentioned that breastfeeding helps your uterus go back to its normal size? I felt that! Every time he would be on my breast I felt as my uterus was contracting. How amazing is that? I was extremely happy to finally be able to breastfeed my child. I nursed exclusively for 3 weeks and then I began to pump instead. Here’s why:
By the third week my son Casey, began cluster feeding. He was going through a growth spurt and wanted to be on my breast all the time. His sleep schedule was a bit off as well. It was a tough decision to make but I knew that it was the right one in order to keep me sane. He took the bottle well and I would nurse him from time to time. At this time I was looking for ways to keep my supply up. I came across a community of exclusive pumpers and learned that pumping is still breastfeeding. There’s this misconception that if the child is not at your breast you aren’t breastfeeding but as long as your child is drinking breastmilk he/she is! Nursing on the other hand is when your child is on your breast and not being bottle fed formula or breastmilk. I’ve done both and honestly one is not better than the other. It’s totally up to what you enjoy doing and what is easier for you both. I exclusively pumped for months. I would pump every 2 hours and yes it was very exhausting but also very rewarding. There were many times when I just wanted to give up but I always pushed through. It helps to have a good support system and that is what I had in my husband throughout my pumping journey. I was able to breastfeed Casey for 4 months.
My baby Seanie was born on September 2019. He didn’t latch on from the start. By now I knew better than to give up right away. I continued trying but I wasn’t hard on myself either. Fed is best. All that mattered was that he was eating. I nursed at the hospital and the first weeks at home. Eventually I started pumping more and more for him. In part because I had a large supply and I didn’t want to get engorged but also because I had toddler, Casey, to run after. Another reason was because, and I’m being super honest, I didn’t love having to nurse so many times in a day. I still nursed here and there and eventually only at night. I had initially aimed to breastfeed for three months but I got to 7! I was beyond proud of myself. It really was a huge accomplishment for me.
It is important that we normalize breastfeeding. I am glad that my sons were able to witness me doing so for their brothers. Many times they would help me set up my pumping area and even Casey my then 1 year old would ask me, “Momma pump?” I wanted to share my experience with breastfeeding because I think it is important to understand that there are many factors that go into whether a mom chooses to breastfeed or not. Not only that but there are many ways to breastfeed your child even if you decide not to nurse.
They say that nursing helps build a strong bond with your child and I don’t argue with that but honestly, I have as much of a strong bond with Michael who I breastfed for a week as I do with Seanie who was breastfed up until he was 7 months. Yes there are so many benefits from breastfeeding and breastmilk is what our baby humans should be drinking because it is the natural thing to feed them but that doesn’t mean that you need to exclusively nurse. There are so many other options out there. My advice is to give it a try and try different methods of breastfeeding and ask for help. There are so many supplements that can help you too so don’t get discouraged. Some enjoy pumping a lot more than nursing and that is okay because what matters is that your baby gets all the nutrients he/she can. In the end you will know what the right choice is for you and your baby. Don’t ever second guess it!
I make milk. What’s your superpower?
Here are the products that I used while breastfeeding and that helped me tremendously. I added an asterisk next to all affiliate links. 🙂
I love Lansinoh products. I have been using them since my second pregnancy. My favorite pumps are their Signature Pro Double Electric Pump and their new Smartpump 2.0 Double Electric Breast Pump. I found them to be pretty similar but one big difference is that their newer pump is super quiet. I would use their Signature Pro Double Electric Pump at home and their Smartpump 2.0 Double Electric Breast Pump at work. I have never had a problem with their breast pumps.
Breast Pump Accessories
Lansinoh Simple Wishes® Hands-Free Pumping Bra was a life saver too! I loved the quality of the bra and that you could adjust it to create a better seal when pumping. I would also use their TheraPearl® 3-in-1 Breast Therapy by warming them in the microwave and placing them on my breasts before and during my pumping sessions. It really helped me produce more milk and I would also use them cold to relieve any discomfort from plugged ducts (Ugh!).
Breast Milk Storage
For years my favorite storage bags were Lansinoh storage bags. Eventually they began making storage bags that you could pump directly into. Unfortunately, there were a handful of times that they would leak. Luckily, I found Breast Milk Storage Bags by Nanobebe *. You really can feel the difference. They are made of extra thick plastic and have a double zipper to keep your liquid gold secure.
I would put some coconut oil after coming out of the shower but after every pumping session I made sure to use Lanolin Nipple Cream. Not so long ago, Lansinoh created their Organic Nipple Balm and that became my go to. It’s amazing and you can even use it on your lips like I do.
Since I was nursing I wanted to introduce a bottle with a nipple that wouldn’t cause nipple confusion. Lansinoh Breastfeeding Bottles with NaturalWave® Nipple (5 oz) were perfect. I was able to pump directly into the bottles. They never leaked and my babies never had colic or nipple confusion. Another great addition was Nanobebe Breastmilk Bottles *. I love that their bottles are the shaped like a breast! They are easy to clean and my husband and sons loved feeding our littlest one with it.
Every one needs a little help from time to time. Things like stress from returning to work may start to affect your milk supply. I found Milky Mama products on Instagram and they worked well for me. The two products that I used to keep my stress levels down and keep my supply high were their Emergency Brownies and Pumping Queen which is an herbal supplement. Make sure you read the ingredients before purchasing!
I hope this was helpful and if there is anything else I might have missed feel free to message me. 🙂