It’s no secret that there are benefits to breastfeeding. From increased immunity, lower SIDS risks and higher IQ for baby to reduced cancer risks for mama, it didn’t take long for me to commit myself to a year of breastfeeding. And while breast milk is free, it certainly isn’t always abundant. And it sure didn’t come easy for me.
Within days of my daughter’s birth, we were well on our way to facing supply issues. She was born strong, healthy, and hungry. Our pediatrician told us she moved and acted like a one-week old the day she was born. She also wanted to eat like one. For the first three days at the hospital, my sweet little newborn was either attached to me or screaming inconsolably. Before we knew it, we were holding a tiny tube containing formula up to my breast, in hopes that it would satisfy her and trigger my milk production. If that sounds complicated, it’s because it was.
Because Morgan was losing too much weight, we ended up with formula samples and instructions to supplement after each feeding. There are no words for the guilt I felt. Though disappointed, I remained resolved. After every feeding, I pumped to stimulate supply. Before every feeding, I pumped to stimulate let down. I nursed every hour – sometimes for hours at a time. I saw a lactation consultant. I drank tea, ate oatmeal, took fenugreek. I saw more LC’s and took more herbs. I smelled like a walking maple syrup factory (thanks to the fenugreek).
My breasts never leaked. I never felt a let down. I had no idea whether my daughter was eating enough. A couple times a week, I would take her to Meriter’s Mother Baby Hour or Nicki’s Diapers so I could weigh, feed, and weigh again. She never took more than 1-2 ounces at a time. With every cry, I assumed she was hungry. I rented a hospital-grade pump for better suction. I was a woman obsessed (and on the brink).
Finally, things turned around. By 8 weeks we weren’t supplementing anymore. I was only pumping after morning feedings, to increase my supply and store for daycare. When I finally identified that the 9 fenugreek pills I was taking a day were likely contributing to my girl’s discomfort and fussiness, I gave it up. I still nursed on demand, and by the time she was 3 months old, we Stellas had our groove back.
With all the focus on supply and demand, I was reluctant to bottle feed. Nursing empties breasts more fully than pumping, thus keeping my supply up. I suddenly realized that I’d be going to work soon. I had no idea how I could pump enough.
Somehow I went from telling myself “just one more day” to “ok, one more week” to thinking I didn’t even want to deal with the hassle of transitioning to formula. Morgan and I made it to 14 months. My husband and I survived the time he spilled 5 ounces of breastmilk (but I don’t know who was more upset about it). I didn’t explode when our daycare accidentally let 4 ounces thaw. I cried after the last time I nursed her.
My experience taught me so much. Looking back, I have no regrets. Looking forward, I am not sure if I will have the same expectations to breastfeed as long. As I tell all my friends, it’s an accomplishment even to nurse for a month. A week. A day. With all that in mind, here’s what I learned.
- XXL breast shields aren’t sold in stores, but they DO EXIST.
- Breastfeeding is humbling. I can’t put a number to the amount of people who saw my boobs.
- Freeze milk in 1-3 ounce portions. They can be combined that way, or you can advise your daycare provider to give a one or two ounce “snack” if the little one is hungry before you pick up.
- Milk blebs are. THE. WORST. Followed closely by manual expression.
- Don’t have expectations for quantity. Some days I pumped 16 ounces. Some days I pumped six. Most days, I pumped 10-12. (That said, Morgan rarely drank more than 3-4 oz at a time).
- Babies do weird stuff. From biting, to nurse strikes, to eating all night sometimes. Just don’t try to understand it. It’s impossible.
- And finally, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS “ONLY!” I can’t tell you how many times I have heard “I only breastfed for a month,” or “I was only able to pump and not nurse,” or even “I only fed formula.” We’re all working our asses off at feeding our littles, regardless of how we’re doing it. Let go of “only.”