Crying Over Spilled Milk: our breastfeeding journey
Did you know "Breastfeeding Awareness Week" was a thing? Yeah, me neither. Thanks Instagram! Well, it's this week (August 1-7) so I figured, why not share my story along with the plethora of other incredible moms this week? I mentioned a bit of our story in a previous blog post, but I think it's important to get into the blood, sweat, and tears (literally) of it all in its entirety.
I was never around babies growing up. The first diaper I changed was two years prior to getting pregnant. While babysitting for a friend when I was in college, I put the diaper on backwards and called my mom crying. I had to warm up breastmilk and clean bottles... I'm pretty sure I did all of that backward, too. Sorry y'all! It's pretty obvious my baby experience was at an absolute ZERO, so it's not like I was ever exposed to the art of breastfeeding.
The only moms I ever saw breastfeeding seemed to do so with a lot of ease. I could be completely wrong, but two women who I befriended in college had kids around the same time, and their babies seemed to nurse so gracefully! And that was it. That was all of the exposure I had to breastfeeding before I conceived my first.
I was determined right away to be a breastfeeding mom! Truthfully, I really believed it was something that would just come "natural" to me. Afterall, as women we are biologically made to do this, so how hard can it be, right? I knew formula was an option, and a good option at that. But I'll be honest...somehow, it had gotten into my head early on that moms who opt for formula right away just didn't "try hard enough" or something stupid like that. I KNOW. That's an awful, terrible, icky way to think and a stigma that still needs to be buried deep, deep down beneath the earth. Thankfully, the more I researched, the more my big-head got screwed on straight.
So, my colostrum came in quite early during the 2nd trimester. For those of you who don't know, colostrum is the first form of milk women begin to produce. When I started leaking I was a little freaked out until I learned that it was completely normal, albeit hilarious to have some droplets on my shirt that did not come from my clumsy water-drinking-skills. Colostrum continues to develop until you give birth-- it's the first form of "breastmilk" the baby eats before the "real" supply comes in! To be honest, I began using my bamboo nursing pads before I gave birth because that colostrum was coming in strong toward the end. In fact, the few days in the hospital following her birth, the nurses and lactation consultants told me that they thought I'd have a pretty great supply of breastmilk because I was producing so much colostrum! Even though she was having a tough time latching on that first day, I was suddenly under the expectation that this huge supply would come in and nursing would be the breeze I dreamed of.
Big SIKE. Time to get real about all my expectations. The only time she ever truly nursed well was the very first time she was put to my breast. I'll never forget that moment. She seemed to latch on perfectly-- no pain, just a sweet nurse session until we got moved into our room where we'd stay for the next two days.
During our hospital stay, she didn't have regular urinary or bowel movements like a newborn should have. Thankfully, the nurses noticed her jaundice early on and we began to supplement with some formula. Every time we tried to nurse, she would fall right asleep. They'd weigh her and she didn't eat anything. Ice, tickling, solely skin to skin, none of it kept her awake or got her to nurse. When she did latch on it was like her baby teeth had already come in it hurt so badly. I had a rotation of lactation consultants come in to help, each nurse tried something different with me, and I was also pumping to make sure my supply would come in. We got discharged, went home, and I was hopeful that maybe being more comfortable would help.
It didn't. That first week home was spent in a lot of trial and error (as expected). Some days I would nurse, supplement, pump. Others I would pump, nurse, supplement. And others I would supplement, nurse, pump. Aware that keeping my supply up and keeping her fed were the two most important goals, we did everything in that arena to tackle new techniques and try different things. Luckily, my sister-in-law stayed with us that first week, keeping me well-fed and hydrated. We went to my first lactation meeting at the hospital as well. Of course baby girl would latch on in every position and eat while we were with the lactation nurses. OF COURSE. But, when we got back home, it was back to bleeding nipples, fumbling nipple guards, and working on different positions.
We went to the lactation group every single week until we moved to Texas. Each week, we came home with new techniques and a new regimen to try. On week 3, noticing that my supply was not where it should be-- I went on a crazy pumping regimen to sort of "ramp up" the supply.
Maybe that would get her to nurse a bit easier? Maybe more nipple stimulation was what we needed? Maybe more lactation recipes? More water? Some barley? Maybe she had a tongue-tie no one was catching? Maybe I was too stressed?
At 1 month, right before we moved, I was at the point where I'd shake and cry when it was time to nurse. Nipple shield or not, it was bound to hurt, she was bound to fall asleep, and I was bound to pump for an hour after. My husband finally said to me "babe, she's healthy, I trust you, let's decide together how to move forward."
So we did. Moving, road-tripping in an RV, and living with family for a month in a brand new state was already overwhelming with a newborn, and we decided that exclusively pumping was going to be our way forward!
Now, this is when I really got into The Office. I never watched an episode before having our girl (I've rewatched the series 3 times in the past year but that's another convo...). I'd watch a few episodes every time I pumped. Yes, a few, as in multiple. It took a really, really long time to pump. If I remember correctly, there was only one time where my right breast filled up the entire pump bottle in an hour. I was so stinking proud! But, other than that time, it would normally take 45min-1hour to produce 3 oz. of milk combined. In laymen's terms: THAT IS NOTHING. BOTH BREASTS. ZIP. ZILCH. ZERO. Luckily, she was able to get at least 1 bottle of breastmilk per day. As I let go of my previous expectations, I was proud of myself for giving that to her.
Now if that crap spilled? You are dang RIGHT I cried over THAT spilled milk.
As the end of 3 months crept up, we decided it was finally time to let go of breastmilk altogether and transition fully to formula. I weaned myself from the pump slowly and carefully, taking it day by day. Icing my breasts was a major help. And yes, the old "cabbage wives tale" actually helped (sidenote: the first time I tried it I used lettuce. Lettuce is NOT the same as cabbage. Who would have thought?) Eventually..."poof"...whatever I had was gone.
Moving On + Words of Encouragement
Initially, I was sad that part of our "bonding experience" was over, but looking back, it was just how it needed to be at the time. Whether you breastfeed or not, you and your baby will be bonded. You'll still do skin to skin, they'll still wrap their hand around your finger, and they'll still slap your boobs just because! Transitioning her to being fully formula fed actually led to a lot of great things for me as a new mom. My husband got to help out with feedings more than normal, which meant I got to take little breaks more frequently! I was no longer worried about the FOMO that would ensue because I locked myself away to pump. Essentially, there were a lot of plus sides to our rocky breastfeeding journey, and I'm truly thankful for it all.
Being a mom, well-seasoned or brand-spanking-new, we're bombarded with the "right way" to do this thing. When, in reality, whatever works for YOU AND YOUR BABY is what's best. It really is that simple. When I finally got that through my head, all of the guilt, shame, and "i couldn't do it right" went away. The fact of the matter is, this girl is now a toddler, growing up way too fast, and will eat anything you throw her way. It's safe to say that she is doing perfect.
Now, what are my hopes for my future kids? Well, now that I am pregnant with #2, I'm looking into lactation consultants early on. I had a chat with my OB just last week about my expectations. She gave me a list of names and was very encouraging about my wishes to try and breastfeed again (formula is $$$ ya'll!!) I'd really like to tackle breastfeeding again. Maybe we'll pay for a private consultant, maybe we'll try infant chiropractic care, who knows! The possibilities are endless. We did, however, talk about the fact that low supply is a chronic issue for some women and that each baby/pregnancy is totally different.
She reminded me to go into this again with no expectations, and I'm really taking that to heart this time around. If it turns out to be a chronic thing, then we'll find the root and deal with it. If I have an oversupply this time? Awesome, we'll deal with the leaky mess! If it's all the same? God's will.
And that's my encouragement to you if you are a woman curious about breastfeeding for the 10th time or 1st: go in with no expectations. If it's something you passionately want to do, try your hardest to do it. Don't give up when it gets insanely hard. Keep going. If you decide to cut your journey short or to not have it at all: that's okay, too. God created our bodies to do incredible things, and sometimes they just don't work like we want them to. That's no reflection on you as a woman. The Lord's will is never our own (am I right?) and surrendering to it will always bring more blessings than we could have imagined.
A quick word to the expecting or new mama: you're going to do a great job no matter what. Breastfeeding may not be all rainbows and butterflies for you, but for someone else it is. That's the beauty of it. No one will have an experience just like yours, no matter how hard or easy it may be. You'll come up with a plan that works for your family's mental, emotional, and physical well-being, and your baby is going to look so dang cute whether they're "milk-drunk" from the bottle or boob.
If you've read this far, thank you for reading about our own little journey. I hope that whether it resonated with you, gave you new insight, or made you reminisce on your own journey, that you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it.
Our Lady of La Leche, pray for us!
The Few Products I Used and Loved
Formula by far our favorite formula! I would usually get at Target or H-E-B. All organic and at a truly decent price
Lanolin keep your boobies moisturized, PLEASE....'nuff said
Nipple Shield some days it worked, some days it didn't, but it was still super useful when my skin was too raw to bear
Boobie Pads absolutely LOVED this. So soft and comfy every time! Never had a leak with them.
Sunflower Lecithin no matter your supply levels, mastitis/clogged ducts can creep in at any time...
Pumping Bra hands-free pumping for the WIN!!!
Ice/Heat Packs so these are technically for "down there" but they're honestly so useful...I still use them today!