Hi, I'm Melissa and I blog (sporadically) at For The Love. I'm a wife, mom, and attorney. Those roles keep me pretty busy but when I get the chance, I love to read, cook, bake, and watch sports. Sauvignon Blanc and pedicures are my guilty pleasures. Cookies are my love language. Now that we're properly acquainted, let's talk about my boobs, shall we?
My daughter Blaire is one and a half now but once upon a time, I was a breastfeeding mama. To be honest, I hesitated when Julie first asked me to contribute to The Breastfeeding Diaries. I thought the series was a fantastic idea but I wondered what I could offer to her readers. I'm far from an expert on the subject. Quite the opposite, really. There were plenty of missteps along the way. But then I thought maybe sharing my story, mistakes and all, might help someone else on their journey. So here I am. Bear with me as I reach back into the depths of my mind and remember a bit about my nursing days.
Let's just start with this - breastfeeding is HARD. Everyone warns you that it will be but you don't really understand what that means until you're in the thick of it. And by "in the thick of it," I mean four days post partum, your milk hasn't come in yet, and your nipples are cracked and bleeding because your child has what the pediatrician calls "quite a strong suck." Yeah, thanks Doc. That much I've figured out.
But it gets better. And easier. At least it did for us.
Here's our story.
At 41 weeks and 5 days, our sweet little girl was finally convinced (by the miracle of modern science) to join us in the world. The moment they put her in my arms I fell hopelessly, completely in love. And then they told me it was time to feed her. Okay, sure. Now, how do I do that?
I read all the books you read when you're expecting a baby but in my experience, reading a book does not prepare you for the moment they put a child in your arms and tell you to feed her. I wish I had taken one of the prenatal breastfeeding classes offered by our hospital. I'm sure it would have been helpful. ShouldaCouldWoulda Tip #1 - Take a breastfeeding class. (I'm sure you're all thinking - DUH.) Thank goodness for my angel of a labor and delivery nurse who helped me through that first feeding. I vaguely remember a lactation consultant coming into our hospital room later that day with some ping pong balls that were supposed to represent the size of a baby's stomach but there were 983 people in the room at the time and I hadn't slept much in the past 36 hours, so you can guess how helpful that session was. (The hospital's lactation consultant did leave me with one incredibly helpful resource - www.kellymom.com This website has a wealth of breastfeeding and pumping information. I consulted it constantly while I was breastfeeding and pumping.)
I continued to breastfeed Blaire over the next few days but I had a lot of trouble getting her to latch and nursing was incredibly painful. Excruciatingly painful. That powerful suck our pediatrician mentioned had left my boobs in sad shape. Bleeding, cracked, sore - it was pretty awful. I started to dread feeding time because it meant at least half an hour of serious pain. But everything was so new and overwhelming so I just kept at it, stayed quiet, and assumed that pain was part of the deal. ShouldaCouldaWoulda Tip #2 - Speak up! Ask for help! I should have called a lactation consultant and explained our latching problems and how much pain I was in. Talking it through with an expert probably could have helped me learn some tips and techniques for latching and made nursing much less painful.
A few days after we brought Blaire home, a good friend who is a nurse and a mother came over to meet Blaire. I mentioned the trouble we were having with breastfeeding and she suggested nursing shields. My boobs and I will be eternally grateful to her for this advice. For us, they were a game changer. Blaire was finally able to latch properly and I finally got some relief from the pain I was in. I think nursing shields may be a no-no in the world of lactation consultants but for us, they were incredibly helpful. I'm not sure how much longer I could have continued to nurse without them. We phased them out after a while but in the beginning, they were essential for me.
At about 5 weeks, I started pumping. As a working mom I knew that pumping was going to be part of my breastfeeding plan. I waited a while to start because I wanted to get the hang of nursing first and to be honest, I was a little intimidated by the pump. (It's not every day you hook your boobs up to rubber tubing attached to a machine, ya know?) ShouldaCouldaWoulda Tip #3 - Pump Sooner. I wish I'd started pumping earlier on to increase my supply and to add to my freezer stash, both of which turned out to be less plentiful than I'd hoped. I always pumped in the morning, after the first feeding, because that's when I was able to pump the most milk. I also pumped at bedtime while my husband fed my daughter a bottle of expressed milk. Typically, I'd add in another pumping session mid-day or before I went to bed.
I went back to work when Blaire was three and half months old. Breastfeeding when you work outside the home isn't easy but it's totally doable. A little planning, some helpful products, and a little support from your partner can make it so much easier. A few tips for the pumping, working mom:
- Have extra pump parts. You're busy. You don't have time to wash and dry your pump parts every time you pump, especially not at the office. And inevitably you'll need to pump RIGHT THIS MINUTE and the parts aren't clean. Three sets worked well for me but I don't think you can have too many. Add a few extra sets to your registry. Trust me.
- Don't wear silk. Drips happen. Silk is not forgiving. I wore a lot of dark colors. Dresses were hard because I didn't want to unzip and strip half naked to pump in my office. Privacy or not, it just felt awkward. Tops that could be lifted up over the pump (and not wrinkle) worked best for me. And a hands free pumping bra will allow you to send emails or type while you pump. So glamorous, right?
- Steam cleaning bags rock. I work with a lot of older men. Breast pumps freak them out. They did not want to see me sudsing up pump parts in the office sink. I would toss the parts in the steam bag in my office, discreetly carry the bag to the kitchen, and then nuke the bag in the microwave to sterilize the parts. I'd bring the bag back to my office, where I had a little drying station hidden in the corner. This was a good system for me and kept the guys comfortable... Except for the time I forgot the bag in the microwave and one of the guys in the office found it when he went to warm up his soup. He was so freaked out. It was hilarious!
- Get a dish washer. I'm not talking about the appliance, I'm talking manual labor. My husband tackled the daily mountain of pump parts and bottles to be washed. Pumping is such a time suck, it was so nice to have someone take on part of that burden. I know not everyone has the luxury of help (people who parent alone are superheroes, if you ask me) but if you have a partner, ask them to pitch in and wash some bottles.
After returning to work, I made my biggest breastfeeding mistake: I overestimated how much milk Blaire was drinking at each nursing session and made her bottles for daycare too big. She came to expect and enjoy the extra milk in the bottles and was gobbling them up. I quickly learned that my daily pumping output could not sustain the amount of milk she was drinking. I tried to get my supply up by drinking lots of water (SO MUCH WATER), taking fenugreek, eating steel cut oats, etc. but nothing made a significant difference. Pumping more might have helped but I was already pumping every three hours, and feeling like I couldn't get anything done at the office.
Blaire soon grew tired of nursing - maybe because it was more work than taking a bottle or maybe because she wasn't getting as much milk. I don't know. But by about four and half months, she all but refused to nurse and I became a member of the club no one wants to join - the exclusive pumpers. There's no sugar coating it, it's exhausting. I felt like I was constantly pumping and had to lug my pump bag and cooler for expressed milk with me everywhere. There was no sleeping in because the first pumping session of the day was the most productive. If I'd known at the time how hard it is to be an exclusive pumper, I might have tried harder to keep her nursing on evenings and weekends.
ShouldaCouldaWoulda Tip #4 - Measure Bottles Carefully. If I could do it all over again, I would have started feeding Blaire bottles of pumped milk at home a few days before sending her to daycare so that I could monitor how much she drank and immediately adjust the amounts. Had I done this, I might have realized I was sending too much before she was hooked on those mega-sized bottles.
Look at her, all sweet and chubby from those giant bottles mommy made for her!
With Blaire drinking more milk each day than I was able to pump, my freezer stash dwindled fast. Before long, it was time to supplement with formula. While this wasn't my ideal situation, I knew my daughter needed more milk than I was able to give her. I didn't want to lose the benefits of breast milk so I continued to pump and add formula to the bottles as needed. I established a system which worked well for me. I made bottles for the following day each night before bed. I would take that days pumped milk and distribute it evenly among her bottles. Then I would calculate how much I was short and make up that much formula, and then evenly distribute the formula among the bottles to top them off. That way, each bottle had approximately the same breast milk to formula ratio and would taste the same. I have no idea whether this was important or if Blaire would have noticed had I done it differently but it seemed to work well for us. A tip if you find yourself supplementing - keep a close eye on formula expiration dates. Formula doesn't last long and if you're only using a little bit each day it may expire before you have a chance to finish the container.
I kept at the exclusive pumping until Blaire was nine months old. By then, my supply had dwindled down to practically nothing and formula was making up the bulk of her bottles. When a full day of pumping only resulted in 2-3 ounces of milk, I threw in the towel. I attribute the decreased supply to many factors, both within and out of my control. Stress at work made sticking to a regular pumping schedule a challenge and didn't do my supply any favors either. I probably should have been taking in more calories instead of trying to lose the baby weight. And the return of a certain monthly visitor was a big blow to my supply as well.
My breastfeeding journey wasn't perfect. I wish I'd been able to breastfeed my daughter longer and avoid exclusive pumping. I wish we hadn't had to supplement with formula. I wish I'd been able to provide her with breast milk for a full year. But, I did the best I could. And I'm proud of what I accomplished. My daughter is happy and healthy and that's what matters most to me. If we have another child one day, I think the lessons learned from my first breastfeeding experience will help me be more successful the second time around. Hopefully some of my missteps along the way and "what not to do's" will be helpful to you as well.