I knew the moment I found out I was pregnant that I wanted to breastfeed this time. I stated as much publicly a few months ago. Having tried, and given up, with my first daughter, I thought of it as a do-over.
I prepared myself and did a lot of reading on the subject, but putting it into practice is a lot different from thinking about it conceptually. Thankfully, one of my labor and delivery nurses helped baby Juliza latch on right after she was born, and we’ve been going strong ever since. By strong, I mean that we’re still doing it 11 weeks in. Not that there weren’t challenges. Because there absolutely were. There were triumphs too, though, and I thought I’d share both here in hopes of helping other first time breastfeeding moms.
Triumph 1: Juliza Latched On Well
This is honestly due to absolutely no help from me, because I had no idea what I was doing. The L&D nurse positioned newborn Juliza on my chest, and she immediately found my nipple and did her thing. In in the following days, I did do a little reading about the best positions for feeding, but without my assistance, she always latched well.
I know because nursing never hurt. Yes, the sensation was unfamiliar and a little uncomfortable at first, but I had very sensitive nipples long before I had any babies. Still, this time around, feeding was never painful. It just took some getting used to.
The hospital’s lactation consultant came to see us the day after Juliza was born seemed really pleased with our progress. I could hear baby swallowing from the very beginning, and she had more than a couple of wet and dirty diapers in the first 24 hours. The consultant did correct her bottom lip, because Juliza had a tendency to curl it inward. After correcting her a few times, she latched on that way naturally.
Challenge 1: Engorgement is a B!&$%
Like most women, my milk didn’t “come in” until a few days after birth. I expected that. But when it did come in, it came in strong. I mean, wow. I was incredibly engorged and my breasts were hard and painful. Juliza was still feeding like a champ, but I was suffering.
I tried pumping for relief, but it was fruitless. Because my let-down reflex had not yet become — well, reflex — I’d pump and pump and nothing would come out. I tried expressing milk with my hands, in the shower, etc. Nothing worked. Finally, I resorted to laying a cold towel on top of my boobs to relieve some of the pain. Thankfully, that helped quite a bit. Plus, it’s a lot easier to keep a towel cold than it is to keep one warm.
Juliza never really ate enough to empty my breasts, but feeding did give me some relief, at least for a little while. But patience was my friend. Within about a week, the constant engorgement subsided. I’d still feel “full” sometimes, but not all day and night.
Challenge 2: Overproduction & Hyperactive Letdown
However, shortly after the engorgement subsided, Juliza started to get really gassy. As in crying for an hour straight at 2 am because her tummy hurt. This was easily the most frustrating part of the breastfeeding process.
We gave her gripe water and gas drops, both of which would help, but only for very short periods of time. Her stomach was hard and distended a lot of the time. We starting praying for her to pass gas and stool, because that was the only thing that gave her relief. I’d do bicycle legs, massage her tummy, and let her take naps on my chest skin to skin because the warmth seemed to make her belly feel better.
I finally figured out, though, that overproduction was the likely culprit. Also, I was feeding her religiously on both breasts, even if she didn’t finish with the first. Everything I read had recommended that I feed her on one side for a few minutes, then feed her on the other. But in my case, doing this meant she was getting a ton of foremilk, which is full of lactose, and not very much of the fattier hindmilk. Her delicate newborn tummy couldn’t handle all the lactose, and it made her gassy and miserable. If she was awake (and wouldn’t you know, that was mostly late at night), we were trying to comfort her. It was exhausting. This was probably the only time I considered quitting. I really thought my milk was hurting her, and I beat myself up about it. Add to that the fact that the lactation consultant was unavailable for a few days, and I was really pulling my hair out.
But once I figured out the issue, I did what I do best: I read everything I could find on the subject. I started nursing her on only one breast per session, known as block feeding. I was producing so much milk that she still never really emptied the breast, but she got a better balance of fore- and hindmilk. Except there was another issue: When my letdown reflex finally kicked in, it was really strong. She actually started choking when it happened because the milk flow was just too much for her. So I started taking her off the breast when I felt a letdown coming and letting it flow into a towel. I also tried the football hold and feeding her in a more upright, almost seated position propped against a pillow, because gravity helped her handle the milk flow better as well.
It took a few weeks, but these few interventions finally started working. Her digestive system soon was better able to handle the milk and she grew into my letdown. She’s still a really gassy baby, but now, she doesn’t cry when she goes. In fact, her favorite time to poop and pass gas is when she’s nursing, perhaps because the suckling comforts her.
Triumph 2: Nursing = Bonding
This is what everyone says, but you never really know what they mean until you try it. Now that we’ve gotten past the biggest challenges, I genuinely love breastfeeding. It’s my special time with Juliza, and I feel like a superhero knowing that I am nourishing my baby. The fact that she’s been growing by leaps and bounds only makes me feel better. Look at the difference between her size at 1 month and 2 months:
She was 6 lbs. 12 oz. at birth, and by 2 months, she was 13 lbs. 3 oz. Really.
I love the fact that she knows what it means when I pull up my shirt, and I talk and sometimes sing to her when she’s eating. Mushy, but true. I’ve recently started feeding her while we both lay on our sides, and it’s amazing. Especially during her 3 or 4 a.m. feeding.
Lastly, I tend to get hyperfocused when I sit down to work, so having to feed her every 2-3 hours means I’m forced to get up and stretch every so often and give her 100% of my attention. That has proven to be good for my creativity, because I step away from a project and come back to it with fresh ideas.
Of course, there’s a flip side to every coin…
Challenge 3: Nursing is Demanding
Every time I take Juliza to the doctor, they ask if I’m breastfeeding exclusively (as in not supplementing with formula), then sound surprised when I say yes and lavish me with congratulations. Don’t misunderstand: I love the praise! What mom wouldn’t, right? But after they did it a few times, I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was. Until I realized just how demanding it is to nurse exclusively.
The vast majority of the time, I am the only one who can feed my baby. So when she’s screaming, I have to be the one to soothe her. This is both empowering and exhausting. This means I’m up with her at night, pretty much every night. Though, praise be to God, she’s FINALLY started going to bed at a decent hour — 10 p.m. Her previous preferred bedtime was 2 a.m.
I could pump, but honestly — pumping sucks. I only have a single pump, and it’s not nearly as effective at getting milk out as Juliza. I have to pump for 20-40 minutes to get a few ounces.
Also, my boobs are almost always sore after I pump. It’s just not my idea of a good time. Still, I do pump at least a few times a week just so I’ll have some milk frozen in case of an emergency or in case I want to escape for a couple of hours or even go to the grocery store without worrying that Juliza will starve in the meantime. And she will take a bottle, so at least I have that option sometimes.
But for the most part, I am the physical source of all her meals. I’d gotten used to the fact that my 8-year-old is capable of feeding herself and has been for a while. She even cooks — usually breakfast or things that can just go in the oven, but still. This is…new.
I’m not complaining though. I’m learning to work with it and around it. In fact, I’m taking Juliza with me on a few work trips, and I’m just thankful that the companies I’m working with are flexible enough to let me do that.
Triumph 3: Breast Milk is Free & Always Ready
We spent a small fortune buying formula for my oldest daughter, and we switched brands more than a few times trying to find one that didn’t upset her stomach and break out her skin. That was 8 years ago. I can’t even imagine how much formula must cost now. I do not miss the expense. At all. Plus, I know breast milk is the best food I can give my baby, even if we did have to work through some challenges in the process.
And did I mention it’s free? Yeah? Well, it’s worth mentioning again. ‘Cause formula ain’t cheap.
The other part of this is that I never have to fix a bottle. When she wakes up for her nighttime feeding between 3 and 4 a.m., I just pick her up from her co-sleeper that’s attached to my bed (thanks again for that, Renee!), feed her, and put her back down to sleep. She roots around or cries, and I pop out a boob. Simple as that. No waiting for a bottle warmer or anything else. My sleep deprivation would’ve been considerably worse than it already was during the first few weeks of her life if I had to get up to prepare a bottle every time. And it was plenty bad. Whatever extra sleep breastfeeding afforded me was well worth it.
Triumph 4: Breast Milk Burns Calories
Within a few weeks of giving birth, thanks to breastfeeding, I was just a few pounds away from my pre-pregnancy weight. I can honestly say I’m not super concerned about that and got on the scale only out of slight curiosity. I was genuinely surprised that I’d lost so much so soon, because it didn’t exactly happen that way with my first pregnancy. I was also back in a most of my pre-pregnancy clothes within a few weeks. But notice I say was.
I admit, I fell back into bad habits about eating, and I’ve been eating pretty much whatever I want. Which means I’ve gained back a few of those pounds. But frankly, I’m giving myself a break for a while and I’m not sweating it. I’ll get back on the wagon soon, enjoy my body in the meantime and just be thankful that breastfeeding is burning some of those extra calories I’ve been eating (and drinking. Smoothie, anyone?)
One of things I was most worried about when I was pregnant was how I would feel about nursing in public. To be honest, I don’t have a lot of experience with that yet, even after all these weeks. I work from home, so most of the time, that’s where she eats. A lot of other times, she gets hungry while we’re in the car on the way somewhere, so I just feed her in the car when we’re stopped. I also try really hard to feed her right before we leave the house (or more accurately, we try to leave the house right after she has eaten), so we often make it back home before she needs to eat again. I’ve only fed her in other situations a couple of times: At my niece’s basketball game, and at my brother-in-law’s house during my niece’s birthday party.
At the basketball game, I tried to cover with a blanket. That made both Juliza and I hot and uncomfortable. We were already struggling to find a comfy position to nurse, because we were sitting on hard bleachers with zero back support, and I didn’t have a pillow or anything else to prop her up. The blanket kept slipping, and in general, it wasn’t worth the trouble. I made myself more conspicuous trying to hold on to the blanket than I wouldn’t been if I’d just nursed her discreetly without it.
So the next time, at the birthday party, I just sat in a corner faced away from the little kids and fed Juliza without a cover. I also was armed with a blanket that I folded and used to prop her up. Much easier, much less fuss and noone even realized what was happening. I’m fairly certain I’ll just forgo a cover in the future. And hope that I won’t have to read (ie. cuss out) any person who tries to check me about feeding my baby. Fingers crossed it never comes to that, because I’m not sure how I’d react.
For my upcoming travels, I have invested in a breastfeeding diaper bag from a company called Warm Milk that comes with a built in nursing pillow. (aff)
Soon, when Juliza is better able to hold herself up, I probably won’t need it, and when that time comes, I can remove the pillow and just use the extra pocket for storage. But it will be nice to have for nursing in the airport or in flight. During the trips, a lot of feedings will be done while we’re out and about, so we shall see how it goes. I’ll let you know what I think of the bag once I receive it.
However, a friend of mine recently clued me in to a magical idea: Nursing while babywearing! What?! I didn’t even realize that could be done! Juliza and I love her Moby wraps (including the Moby wrap clone I DIY’ed), and I’ve been told that once she has better muscle control, it is entirely possible to feed her while wrapped or in a sling. I am determined to learn how to do this!
OK. I’m done sharing. For now. I hope that this will help another mama who is breastfeeding for the first (or perhaps second or third) time. The overall takeaway is this:
Breastfeeding is worth it.
The photo above is my happy, laughing baby a few minutes after eating. This is a regular occurrence. She either falls asleep at the breast, or turns into happy, giggly JuJu. Both are fine with me.
Of course, I will never judge any woman who is unable to breastfeed or who just chooses not to. Do you, boo. Really. No judgement from me. But I can honestly say it was the right choice for my jellybean and I, and I hope more women will give it a chance.