**Okay, here’s a disclaimer before we begin. You are about to read my personal experiences with breastfeeding. I talk about my boobs here and if that makes you uncomfortable, please stop reading now and go do something nice for yourself. Maybe treat yourself to some ice cream and go get your haircut or… something. You do you.**
Alright, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I wanted to rant a little bit about the challenges that I’ve faced while nursing and pumping for my daughter these past 8 months. (Woo! only 4 months until I meet my goal!)
I didn’t really give too much thought of whether I would breastfeed or give formula while I was pregnant. As I was en route to the hospital to deliver PJ, I was at peace with either method, as long as my daughter was getting fed and was healthy, that’s all that mattered to me. Without a second thought, I flung myself into the responsibilities and incredible discipline that came with breastfeeding and pumping.
The first few months were HARD. The first few weeks? Almost unbearable.
While I spent my first few days with our new little bundle of joy, I was in a complete fog. I think I was still in shock that I had actually delivered my baby without dying and that I was holding her and looking at her for the first time. But soon enough, she became very hungry. The lactation consultant would come into the room and latch her onto my breast but did not really explain to me what I was about to experience.
“It will feel a little tender at first, but nursing shouldn’t hurt.”
Don’t listen to people who tell you this. These kinds of statements are LIES.
I screamed in agony as PJ tried to latch on to nurse for the first time. My boobs were definitely not ready to be my baby’s new chew toy. We had a lot of problems right out the gate. Her latch wasn’t great, as this was a skill that babies actually have to learn to be able to drink at the breast efficiently. I didn’t get the memo that this was something that had to be practiced in order to be able to work. I fumbled with my other breast and tried to perform what was called the “nipple sandwich” in order to feed my squished nipple to PJ.
Surprisingly, if you keep trying to put one of the most sensitive parts of your body into a hungry newborn’s mouth, you end up with pain. Lots of pain. Imagine that.
Tears were rolling down my face as the nurse and lactation consultant tried their best to console me. They believed PJ was not getting enough milk, and so they brought out these small, 3-ounce bottles of Enfamil to feed her and to encourage her to sleep. Even though I knew before stepping into the hospital that I would be okay if breastfeeding didn’t work out, I was totally devastated in the moment. I thought that this was something my body was supposed to do, and I started to think that I was a defective mother right from the start. Of course, this was while my hormones were out of whack and I was far, far away from recovering from the delivery, but my feelings were real.
I didn’t give up. I used the hospital pump religiously around the clock to see if I could give breastfeeding another go. Holding one pump funnel onto one breast, and holding the baby in my other arm, I tried to pump and nurse PJ at the same time in my hospital bed. At the end of the second night, my nipples became raw, cracked and started to bleed a bit. It was not a pretty sight. I was not a pretty sight. I felt like a great big mess the entire time I was recovering.
And then, we got the discharge papers.
I was not ready to go home without knowing I had tried my best to get the milk flowing for my daughter, but I knew the nurses had better things to do than deal with this weeping, squishy blob of a woman who was formerly myself. I kept trying. And kept trying some more.
And then, a miracle happened.
I got a quarter of an ounce of milk from one pump! From just a few drops, I was starting to make more of what I needed to feed PJ, and I was over the moon with this achievement.
But after I got home and googled everything about breastfeeding and why I was having so much trouble, I found that what I was experiencing was NORMAL.
Apparently, most newborns only need about an ounce or so of milk in the first week of life. And it is common for women to make only an ounce or less in the beginning. And the nurses were giving my newborn 3-oz bottles of formula. Huh.
The pain eventually started to subside as I kept pumping and nursing, but it wasn’t until after 4 long months that I noticed it became a little less painful. I was able to get used to the sensation at that point.
I used my pump at home just as religiously while I was on my medical leave, practicing for the big day when I would be returning to my office job, about a half an hour away from home. Bigger challenges were ahead of me, but for the moment, I was just happy to be out of the hospital and back home where I needed to be for the next few weeks.
Returning to work was another great obstacle I faced when trying to keep my milk supply up and prevent some painful conditions, such as mastitis. Babies are not very predictable creatures. They don’t always eat the same amount at the same time each day. My boobs were engorged, confused, and feeling raw on a good day. You don’t wanna know what a bad day was like.
Also, with the new laws in place to protect breastfeeding mothers, my previous employer was required to give me a pumping area (that was not a restroom) to use during the workday. Which I had no idea about and I was perfectly prepared to go pump in my car if needed. That probably would have been pretty awkward to some poor person who had to walk by my car in the parking lot.
I believe I got a pretty decent setup. A cute and comfy chair from Target and a small Ikea-like table were set in a small supply closet, next to a mini refrigerator to store any pumped milk. (So the other coworkers would not confuse my breast milk with the coffee creamer, I’m sure.)
My Human Resources Manager at the time was super supportive of the decision to breastfeed my daughter and the company was happy to assist me with whatever I needed within reason. However, when things were starting to pile up at work, it would cut into my pumping time and would cause me to be in an incredible amount of pain if I didn’t take care of business – at least two to three times during the workday. A dual electric pump was a necessity. I was so thankful that my insurance covered a Spectra S2 breast pump that I used at home, and that I received a Medela Pump in Style breast pump from my baby shower to use at work. I carried that Medela EVERYWHERE, and I loved that it was so discreet. It just looked like I was carrying around a harmless black tote bag.
Having the ability to take work home with me and use flex time if needed was huge, but I also needed to make sure in the long run, I kept work at work and didn’t bring it home with me. I was blessed to have this ability since I know that not every mom has the luxury of even a supply closet to use when needed if she chooses to breastfeed her child after returning to work. There are moms that I know that still need to use the work bathrooms to pump, despite the new laws put in place.
Fast forward a few months later, around the 6-month postpartum mark, and I noticed some changes – the milk I was producing seemed thicker and had more fat content in it. Shortly after I noticed this, I became extremely fatigued after every time I nursed PJ or pumped. I had forgotten that producing milk took a lot of energy from my body, and even more so now that PJ was starting to become more active and alert – she needed the extra energy, and it had to come from somewhere.
It was one of the few times where I actually had to eat more food to keep up with the caloric demands of this new milk. Worried that I would put back on the pounds from pregnancy, I had started to revert back to my old habits and diet, where I would only eat about 1200 calories in a day, along with exercise here and there. I was determined to get back to my pre-baby weight, and even that was considered overweight for my height, at 180 pounds.
However, breastfeeding moms need additional nutrition to keep milk supply up – which can be anywhere between an additional 400 to 500 calories a day or even more. It took some trial and error to realize that even though I was still overweight, I needed to be taking in at least 2000 calories a day. I was definitely not eating enough and I was thankful my mistake didn’t cause any damage to my milk supply.
I have to remember that weight loss after pregnancy is a marathon, not a sprint. I will get there. I hope.
Now I am only 4 months away from meeting my goal of nursing PJ for one entire year. It has been a labor-intensive act, but I am forever grateful that this experience has helped me bond with my daughter and allowed me to slow down enough to spend quality time with her during her first months of life. Also, all the money I saved by not having to buy formula was also a huge bonus.
But after this, I’m definitely going to think twice about breastfeeding and if it would be the best choice once baby #2 comes along. And hopefully, that’s not for another few years.