Our breastfeeding journey was such a roller coaster and I’m so thankful that I was able to nurse Eleanor for as long as I did. We went a whole fourteen months and I loved the bond that it helped us form and loved holding her close to me, but we hit some lows along the way. I wanted to first share our story a few months ago, this post is nearly an entire year late, but I thought it would be best to wait until we were done when I would have to time to look back and reflect on what it meant to me (and us) and how I dealt with the struggles when I wasn’t in the trenches of pumping and nursing.It's also been on my mind with the upcoming arrival of our second child and I have such mixed feelings about doing it again. I definitely want to, but now I realize it's not as simple as I expected it to be.
Since getting pregnant I knew I wanted to nurse my baby, it just seemed to be the easiest and most natural path for me. I immediately signed up for all of the classes my health provider offered. I didn’t read any books about it because I figured it would be a stroll in the park for us- oh she’s hungry? Just put her to your breast! Around that same time, Julia of Girl in the Red Shoes started featuring bloggers’ journeys with breastfeeding and I learned it was going to be a little tougher than I first Imagined. I guess I just never thought about the intricacies of supply, latching, or the possibilities of infection. I figured I’d learn more from the class I signed up for, but after the class I was really disappointed. They went over breastfeeding in the most basic of terms that would only be a benefit to someone who had no idea about the concept in general. One thing that I was hoping to learn more about was pumping! How the heck does it work, when do you do it, and what do you do with the milk afterwards. I eventually learned the ropes of that too though.
Fast forward to Ellie’s birth when we were wheeled over to the quiet room for bonding, Ellie latched right away and nursed for nearly an hour. Then throughout our hospital stay, whenever she was hungry I would nurse her and she would latch right away and it was beautiful. I was so thankful that we were starting off on the right foot. Before leaving, I sat with two lactation specialist and they praised my every move and said I was a natural! We practiced different nursing holds and away I went thinking this would be one of the easiest jobs of motherhood. Ha ha.
My milk came in five days after she was born and things were all honky dory, I’d feed her on demand and she was having regular bowel movements. After a few weeks, I was exhausted and worn out from nursing 24/7. Ellie would nurse for hours, she was constantly falling asleep at the breast, and if she was upset the only thing we could do to calm her was to nurse. I never understood how sleep deprivation could be used as a torture tactic in war until I had an infant. After about four weeks I made an appointment with a lactation consultant and we discovered through weighed feedings that I was making about 1-2 ounces less than needed in order to give Eleanor a full tummy. I felt terrible. No wonder she nursed all the time and cried a lot- poor girl was starving! I felt like such a failure and was embarrassed that I didn’t realize it sooner. I wasn’t ashamed to supplement with formula, in fact I was thankful formula existed and she could get the nutrients she needed. I was disappointed in myself (which I realize now is ridiculous). I was watching what I was eating, nursing on demand, drinking water, I started taking supplements to help give my milk supply a boost and it was all helping, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of not having enough. Luckily, Ellie took to a bottle and went back and forth between bottle and breast easily. I also worried about that as well! I didn’t want to give her a bottle too soon and I didn’t want her to refuse the breast because the bottle was easier to eat from.
We had to supplement her feedings for about 2 weeks before I was able to produce enough milk on my own. I was so happy to finally be where she needed me to be and thought things were looking up. To keep up my milk supply and create a small stash, I pumped after she went to bed, woke up around 2am to pump, and then pumped again at 5am. I did this for months. I was so tired! I finally was able to stop my midnight pump session, but would start that back up anytime my supply dipped. When I went back to work, I still pumped after she went down and woke up extra early to pump again. Then I pumped three times while at work and it would only give me enough milk for one day at daycare!
There were a lot of times I felt like giving up or switching to only formula, but I felt like it was such a small sacrifice that I could keep going. My main goal was to pump for one year, but with how difficult it had been I broke it up to nurse for three months, 6 months, 9 months, and then a year. Every milestone I met kept me motivated to keep going. I only have X amount of months left, I can do it! Seeing how close I was with Eleanor, how attached she had become to me, and seeing how healthy she was (she only had one cold!) were all benefits to the choice I had made for our family. I loved to nurse her, to hold her close, to know that the chunky thighs had come from nourishment that I provided to her.
With a new baby on the way, I'm really looking forward to nursing again, but I'm not going to be so hard on myself or beat myself over about it. I still have the same main goal of nursing for a year and plan to focus more on my diet to hopefully help my supply. I loved nursing and I'm excited to build that bond again with our little one.
How was your breastfeeding experience? What choices worked best for you?