As soon as Landon was born, he was placed into my arms, but the nurses and doctor soon realized he was unable to cough up what was still in his little lungs and he had to be rushed to the NICU. Evidently, this is fairly common after inductions, but of course, as a brand new Mama, it scared me to death. They were still working on me when they brought him back, so he wasn’t gone too long, but as soon as they put him back into my arms, the first thought I had was is this delay going to prevent me from being able to breastfeed? Spoiler alert: it didn’t.
For months, I had researched and read blogs and watched videos and studied everything I could get my hands on about breastfeeding. I had asked too many questions to count, listened to the women I’m closest to tell of their experiences, and prayed until I was blue in the face. I didn’t really care about a “birth plan,” I just trusted God to take care of us, and I didn’t have many things that I was just completely heart-set on… but breastfeeding was different. For me, it was the most important thing.
For the last 15 months, I have found myself shying away from sharing too much about my breastfeeding journey for a few different reasons. I would never ever want anyone to think that I believe you’re a better mom if you breastfeed than if you bottle feed. I would never want anyone to think that I consider myself an expert or a know-it-all when it comes to breastfeeding (because even in the last month, I’ve had to seek advice from friends who have gone before me). I would never want anyone to feel bad that they were unable to breastfeed and my story make them feel less-than. You see, one thing I’ve learned from hearing so many women’s stories is that everyone’s breastfeeding journey is so, so different. What may have worked for me may not work for you, and so on.
Now that my breastfeeding journey has officially come to an end (Landon is 15 months old), I have decided to share my story. I love reading about other women’s stories and have found them so helpful, so hopefully someone will find my story helpful too.
So, from the very beginning:
The lactation consultants at the hospital were so helpful. I have heard a few women say that they felt intimidated by them or that they didn’t like the way they explained things or just barged into their rooms and started “doing their thing.” I, on the other hand, was the complete opposite. I called for them in the middle of the night, I asked them a million questions, I let them squeeze and touch and do whatever they needed to do to help me get started. It was so important to me that I was more than willing to lay aside any ounce of modesty I had left (after giving birth… oh dear) to have someone help me. By the time I left the hospital (a day late, but we’ll get to that later) I was referring to them as “the angels in pink scrubs!”
By 24 hours after giving birth, I had started pumping in addition to breastfeeding (a lactation consultant’s advice, to help increase my supply) and was getting about 7ml. I felt like a champion! I would breastfeed every couple hours, pump, and immediately feed him what I had pumped. The day after that, we were supposed to be able to go home, but Landon was very jaundiced, and they decided to keep him another night under a bililight and on a biliblanket. Although I was upset, I knew it was a blessing in disguise because if we had been sent home and then realized that he was jaundice, we could not have returned to the new baby floor; we would have had to take him to the sick baby floor. So, it was really a good thing that they caught it before we were sent home. However, I was heartbroken when they told me that one of the ways to rid his sweet little body of the jaundice was to feed him and make sure he had lots of dirty diapers (to flush out his system) because just the day before, I thought I was doing so well breastfeeding, and come to find out, the measly 7ml I was producing wasn’t even half of what he needed. I cried and cried and felt like such a failure. That, combined with having to watch him lay there shaking, in just a diaper, under that lamp and not being able to hold him or comfort him was just too much. It seemed like a bad dream.
They came in and told me that because it was crucial to flush out his system, I needed to supplement with formula, something I did not want to do. This whole incident made me realize that fed is best. Not breastfed, not formula fed, just fed. However you can. So, my heart ached having to give him the formula, but thankfully, he only had to have it two times… because my milk supply more than TRIPLED by the next day (23ml.). I truly believe that was because the lactation consultants had me start pumping early, and it was part of Jesus’ plan all along. This taught me so much about being flexible, not giving up when I get discouraged, and about trusting His perfect plan.
When we brought him home the next day, I remember feeling like I was being sent home with no manual (which wasn’t entirely true, because I have my Mama, and she’s the best). When you bring a brand new baby home, it’s kind of like you go into survival mode. You just do what you have to do, try to take care of yourself too, and figure things out as you go. My Mama and Grayson were so good to me. They were such a huge help and Mama stayed with us for 3 nights. She would wake me up to nurse, and then make me go back to bed (I was still in a lot of pain, recovering from second degree tears and quite a few stitches).
I had chosen the Medela Symphony electric breastpump from my insurance and if I was giving it a 1-10 rating, I would give it a 7/10. It got the job done, but isn’t top of the line and I had a few problems with it after a few months. However, I’m so thankful for it! I nursed every two hours for 15 minutes on each side, alternating the starting breast each time. The two hour mark was two hours from the last time I started, so really, it was every one and a half hours, because it took 30 minutes to nurse. Then, immediately after nursing, I pumped for 15 more minutes, making it a 45 minute process each time. This left about one hour and 15 minutes between feedings, not including washing the pump bottles or feeding him what I had pumped. This was a big time commitment, but it was wonderful because:
- By nursing and pumping in this consistent pattern, I was able to establish a very strong milk supply from the very beginning.
- By feeding him a bottle of what I had pumped each time, I was able to KNOW he was getting at least ___ amount (because with breastfeeding, you don’t really know how much they’re getting, you just have to gauge it by their weight gain).
- By both nursing him and having him take a bottle from the very beginning, I made my life much easier in the long run (I was later able to send him to the church nursery or leave him with Grayson while I went grocery shopping and then later even let him stay overnight with my Mama or in-laws with no problems).
As time progressed, the time between feedings stretched, but I continued to pump after each feeding until he was about 8 months old. When his birth weight doubled I stopped feeding him a bottle of what I had pumped the previous time and began freezing the milk in bags to establish a frozen supply. I would encourage all breastfeeding moms to do this in case you got sick and were unable to nurse (although I’ve nursed through the flu) or were in an accident of some sort or developed mastitis (God forbid) or anything happened that prevented you from being able to nurse. Then, when your baby is older, it makes your life so much easier, because you are able to leave them for periods of time and someone else can feed them. One thing I will say, is that when you stop feeding the bottle of pumped milk in addition to nursing (which, like I said, I did until his birth weight doubled), don’t stop giving bottles entirely. It’s important to occasionally give bottles so that they don’t become resistant to the bottle and undo what you worked to accomplish by training them to accept both.
Now, I’m getting a little ahead of myself because there’s one more thing I need to say about lactation consultants. Before I left the hospital, I made an appointment to go back one week later to meet with a lactation consultant again. That way, they could assess how I was doing on my own, answer any questions I might have developed in the course of that week, and make sure I was doing well, his latch was correct, etc. When I went back for this appointment, I was to make sure that it was time for Landon to nurse so they could watch him and see how things were going. I found this experience extremely helpful. At one point, she squeezed my breast so hard that it brought tears to my eyes and she explained that if you get clogged milk ducts, you can develop mastitis (which, if you don’t know what it is… look it up… scary stuff). When I got home, I pumped and freaked out when the pump bottle was filled with bloody milk. I called frantically and spoke with her, and she assured me that it was a good thing because it had prevented build up that leads to mastitis. I was so glad I had gone back, and from that point on, I was very vigilant about checking for lumps and massaging them out so they didn’t develop into something worse.
As Landon grew, I eliminated feedings by gradually moving to every other day, then eliminating it altogether. As he began to eat more and more solids, I eventually only nursed first thing in the morning and last thing before bed, with the latter being the last remaining feeding. It was evident at the end that he was nursing more for comfort than nutrition, and because I never nursed him to sleep ( I always lay him in the crib awake to fall asleep on his own) it was easy to rock him for a while to wind him down before bed instead of nursing.
Over the last 15 months, I have used my breastmilk to cure Landon’s clogged tear ducts, treat eczema (given him milk baths), and treat the one ear infection he’s had. I have used it myself to soothe sore, cracked nipples. As Landon started teething, I used it to make “momsicles” (popsicles made of breastmilk) to soothe his gums.
I have been through cluster feedings and growth spurts where all he wanted to do was nurse. I have been through the painful letdowns. I have gone through the transition off the nipple shield (which I used for probably too long, no shame in my game). I have been through pumping and boiling parts and then doing it all over again an hour later. I have been through the clogged ducts and the painful process of mashing them out. I have spent time away from the crowd to sit in a room alone to nurse. I have left my food on the table at a restaurant to get cold while I sit in the car to nurse. I have breastfed at college football games in the stadium bathroom, standing with my foot propped on the toilet seat and my sweet boy resting on my knee to feed. I have endured through the biting phaze, when Landon’s little gums hurt and he didn’t realize that he was hurting me (until I screamed bloody murder). But I have never ever let it keep us from going and doing and having a great time. I have always viewed breastfeeding as a blessing, not a burden. It’s such a blessing not to have to buy expensive formula; so convenient not to have to measure out powder or warm bottles. Your breastmilk is not only always the perfect temperature, but your body knows what your little one needs and adjusts to help them fight off infections, etc. It’s truly amazing.
It’s been a hard journey but its been 100% worth it. I have never felt a bond so deep, so meaningful, and so precious. It’s hard to imagine what breastfeeding is like until you’ve done it. It’s hard to explain the joy it’s brought me; the intimacy of it all. It’s such a wonder, and I will never cease to be amazed at what God created our bodies to do. No, my body will probably never be back to what it was like pre-baby. I’ll probably always have sagging skin and dark purple stretch marks all over my sides. But, let me tell you, it’s hard to hate your body once you’ve seen what it’s capable of. Giving you child nourishment they need and feeling the love shared in the comfort and safety they feel in your arms makes every late night feeding feel like an honor. It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done.
Even as I sit writing this, big tears are finding their way down my cheeks. I’m sad that my journey has come to an end, but at the same time, I knew in my heart that it was time. It’s so different for everyone, but if I could offer new moms any advice, it would be to listen to other mom’s stories. Find out what works for you and then dedicate yourself to it and don’t look back. You can do it, and you’ll be so glad you did!
The honor of a lifetime. Thank You, Jesus!