Hi there. I’m DeNae and I blog over at Big Love, Epic Fail where I talk about life, the magic in the mundane, homeschooling, and the adventure and joy of raising children in this beautiful, terrible world. I love reading, writing, running, drum solos and singing loudly in the car, and laughing. Spending time outdoors with my family is my happy place and calms me when life feels too crazy. Jim and I have been married for 17 years (what? How? Impossible!) and we have four kids. Our three boys are Isaac (10), Elliot (6), and Asher (1) and our daughter is Audrey (8).
Between the four kids I have breastfed for over 6 years and I currently breastfeed our 14 month old. In fact, in the mid-to late 2000s, I was pregnant or nursing for over 6 years. So, yes, these breasts have a very full breastfeeding resume. During my first pregnancy, I planned to breastfeed because I read about the health benefits for the baby and I wanted to experience that level of bonding. We attended a class on breastfeeding, but I didn’t do much research beyond that. I just assumed it would work because women have breastfed for all of human history, so why couldn’t I?
With the help of a lactation consultant who I will love forever for her gentle and reassuring care, my milk came in around day 3, but two weeks in my nipples were extremely cracked, to the point of bleeding, and my son would no longer latch on. This, combined with the general hurricane of hormones associated with pregnancy and childbirth, triggered post-partum depression. I vividly remember sitting on the floor in the hallway of our teeny apartment, bawling on the phone to my mom and telling her that my baby was perfect and he deserved a mama who could feed him and I wasn’t good enough to be his mama so he should be someone else’s son. Thankfully she called my husband who got me straight to my OB and we talked things over and she prescribed an anti-depressant to take if those thoughts continued.
During that time I pumped around the clock to feed Isaac the pumped milk. I remember a foggy haze of pumping and cleaning pump parts and feeding and copious amounts of nipple cream and loving my baby. At first my nipples were so cracked that the pumped milk looked like strawberry milk. Oh the pain. I kept trying to get Isaac to latch on, but he refused every time so the pumping continued.
Finally, on a Friday afternoon when Isaac was 10 weeks and 2 days old I decided to try one more time. He latched on! Jim got home from work and I was on our couch breastfeeding our baby with tears streaming down my face, but this time they were happy tears. I was fully prepared to pump exclusively and feed him with bottles, but I was thrilled at the chance to breastfeed him again.
I ditched the pump and breastfed him until he was about 14 months old. My routine with him and the rest of our children was to feed on demand. I’d start on one side and switch to the other when it emptied, then start on the second side for the next feeding. When Isaac was a baby I read all I could about breastfeeding, the history of formula, and the health benefits to mother and baby because I was so amazed by the miracle that my body could produce exactly what he needed. I never knew that breastmilk for newborns is so different from breastmilk for 8 month olds or that the milk at the beginning of a feeding is different than the milk at the end of a feeding. I am still in awe that our bodies can do that.
Audrey’s and Elliot’s breastfeeding stories are much less dramatic. Feeling much more knowledgeable about breastfeeding and how to avoid the problems I had with Isaac, they both latched on and breastfed with no problems. I never got the breast pump out with Audrey or Elliot because I was still sick of it from the first time around and too tired with three kids in four years to bother with the extra dishes it would make. I breastfed Audrey for 18 months, even after getting pregnant with Elliot when she was 15 months old, and I breastfed Elliot for 19 months. The weaning process was very gradual although it was more difficult emotionally with Elliot since we thought he’d be our last baby.
Now I’m nursing our beloved surprise of a fourth baby, Asher, aka choochie face. He was one hungry newborn and worked hard to get my milk in one and a half days after delivery. He was a big, hungry baby so I had to be sure to stay well hydrated and keep my calories up to provide enough milk for him. We ran into a slight hiccup at eight months when my supply dipped. I had started running more miles again and also got my period again so I think the combination contributed to supply issues. I ran, not walked, to the internet to get any and all ideas on how to boost my supply. I used some essential oils, started drinking Mother’s Milk tea, ate lots of oatmeal, and started pumping between feedings and was able to work through the issues. Thankfully Asher kept latching on and doing his job of sucking/gently tugging until the milk let down even when he was frustrated. Now he’s 14 months old and he still loves nursing. In a busy house with four kids, those quiet, tender moments with him are a beautiful blessing for both of us. He nurses to sleep most days and I feel such peace as I watch his eyes drift closed and his face and body relax as I provide nourishment and comfort for his strong, growing body. It is a joy.
My hope for all mothers is that your breastfeeding story goes how you want it to go. Whether you want to formula feed immediately or breastfeed until your maternity leave ends or you want to hit the one year mark and stop or you want to breastfeed until your baby is three or you want her to self-wean when she’s ready, then that’s what I hope happens. Because when the reality of feeding our baby doesn’t match our dream, then we are so quick to beat ourselves up for it and think of all the things we’re doing wrong. We are so good at forgetting that feeding our babies is one teeny part of being a mama. We forget the lullabies we sing and the rocking in the middle of the night and the baby massages and the post-bathtime snuggles and the beautiful act of being there for our babies, no matter how they are fed. So, I would say that my advice is go in with a game plan and the knowledge you need to succeed, but be prepared to have nothing go as planned. And if nothing goes as planned, remember you’re still a beautiful, strong mama and that God gave that child to you because you are just exactly right for each other. Even if he needs formula.
When I think about my breastfeeding experience, I feel thankful that I had minimal problems. I feel overjoyed that I could provide not only food, but also comfort and care for our babies. I grew them for nine months in my womb and nursing feels like such a natural outpouring of my love for them once they enter the world. I do not have the easiest breastfeeding stories or the hardest breastfeeding stories. I just have my stories. The stories my children and I wrote together in the back seat of the car on road trips and in the middle of the night in the glider, on the green couch in the living room and curled up on the floor. They are beautiful, sometimes painful, lovely, fulfilling stories and I am so thankful they are ours.
Thank you for reading and thanks to Julie for the chance to share our stories.
Be sure to catch up with the rest of the Breastfeeding Diaries series at the top of my navigation bar.
Calling all moms! I'm taking Breastfeeding Diaries submissions for 2015! I'm looking for well written stories of breastfeeding and also for stories where breastfeeding didn't work out, or mom's who chose not to breastfeed. All are welcome! Please email me if you are interested at thegirlintheredshoes @ gmail. You do not have to be a blogger to participate.