My Breastfeeding Journey
The one thing I wanted going into my pregnancy was to be able to breastfeed. I guess I always pictured it being such a beautiful part of the motherhood and baby journey. And it really is! What I didn’t realize was that it would be SO hard.
While I took two breastfeeding classes with a Lactation Consultant in my third trimester, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for learning how to breastfeed until my baby was here. I thought breastfeeding would come naturally - it seems like it would be instinctual, and while part of the process is, it really is something that you and you baby have to learn, together.
Note: I am not here to tell you that you have to breastfeed. I have used formula. I have pumped and given bottles. I have breastfed. I can tell you this: Fed is best! I am here to tell you my story in hopes that it will shed some honesty on the process of breastfeeding and possibly encourage you to keep trying IF breastfeeding is something that you want and is possible for you & your baby.
Learning how to latch
The first thing that happened in the post-operation room (once I had stopped shaking from all the anesthesia I had during my emergency c-section), was skin-to-skin. I remember the nurse laying my tiny infant on my chest and telling me to breastfeed as if it were something I’ve done my whole life. I was still so weak after a 24-hour labor and remember fumbling to put my breast to his lips. Babies do naturally make a sucking motion when anything touches their mouth, so that was pretty easy! However, I had no idea that there was an art to getting the perfect latch. Or that it would be so hard to know if the baby was actually getting anything.
It turns out, I wasn’t really feeding him because I wasn’t producing anything quite yet. It also turns out that the sucking was actually a bad latch. I was just giving him comfort to suck.
Later on in the hospital, this process continued. I remember the nurses waking us up every 2-hours to nurse. I was still in such a fog from the whirlwind of it all and so excited to nurse my baby. And sometimes I would even try sooner than that if he was fussing. That whole hospital stay was such a blur, but I was adamant about nursing and I did what I was told. I knew from my classes that I would first produce colostrum and that it would eventually turn into milk. I knew it would take a few days for that process to happen. But what I didn’t expect was that my baby would be SO hungry when my body wasn’t making enough.
So, I broke down and asked for formula.
After two days of trying to nurse and only a few drops of colostrum coming out at a time, I knew I had to do something to feed him. He was hungry and I was tired. And I remember feeling like such a failure. I wasn’t making enough to feed my baby. I was a ‘bad mom.’ All of these negative thoughts were spinning in my head as we put formula into tiny syringes to squirt into my baby’s mouth. We chose syringes over bottles as we were told that it would be easier to keep him interested in the breast, if that’s the route we wanted to take after leaving. But he was so hungry and wouldn’t sleep, so supplementing felt necessary. And it worked!
The painful parts
By day 3 of my 5 day hospital stay, my nipples were raw and so cracked. I don’t want to scare you, but I want to be honest because I believe you have to be an advocate for yourself if something isn’t right! I knew my nipples were not supposed to look or feel the way they did. If your toes curl when your baby nurses, there is something wrong! Even though we had exceptional hospital care, the nurses are in and out every few hours and each have different opinions on nursing. Some really knew what they were doing. Some clearly didn’t. Some were willing (and had the time) to work with me and help me. Some were too busy or maybe didn’t care.
So, I finally started to speak up when it ‘wasn’t working.’
I was finally given a prescription ointment for my nipples and that helped SO much. Once my cracked nipples started to heal, I realized that I had to get my latch down in order to get it right. I also started pumping.
At this point, I was also adamant about speaking with a trained Lactation Consultant. Our hospital had them and our insurance would cover it. Heck, I would have paid cash to have someone help at this point! We finally had one come to the room after lots of requests (seriously, you have to keep asking) and she helped us so much with proper positioning and learning techniques to be more comfortable nursing. She also showed me how to use our pump! Again, none of this felt natural to me - even with reading and prior knowledge. So, having one-on-one training helped…here are some of my biggest takeaways:
Tips for getting the right latch:
Use a support pillow (this will also help your back) and for positioning. I exclusively used the Boppy pillow
Try different positions (I started by side lying and eventually worked up to football hold). Now, I can nurse in any position.
Look at the alignment of baby when in position (ear, shoulder and hip should be in line).
Cusp your breast like a hamburger (or “C” shape) to guide into baby’s mouth. This helps with getting the latch right.
The majority of your areola should be in baby’s mouth (not just the nipple).
Make sure baby’slips are flanged (like a fish) for proper suction and nose has room to breathe.
When he is sucking, make sure it’s a deep movement. You can tell when the cheeks & ears are moving at the same time. If baby is pulling off and on or you hear clicking sounds, it might not be a good latch.
Tip: run your nipple down baby’s nose to mouth to get them to open wide before latching
Breastfeeding takes practice
By the last day of being in the hospital, my milk had finally come in. All of a sudden, I was SO engorged that I swear my breasts had grown 3x and it was hard to get into a comfortable position for feedings.
At one point, I had to have my husband help me by holding the baby’s lips while I held my breast to get in position.
Like I said, it really does takes practice.
Asking for help after the hospital
I was so worried about taking my sweet baby home and not being able to nurse properly. We had formula at home “just in case” and also took the syringes provided during our stay. But I wanted to make breastfeeding work and since I was producing milk, I kept trying.
We did not need to supplement once we were home, but I know there may be a time in my breastfeeding journey later that we may have to. And if/when that happens, I will be okay with that.
I do think once we were home, it was easier to find our groove.
It took trying lots of different positioning techniques to feel comfortable…I learned that I liked nursing the best (at first) in our rocking chair because it had back support for me and the arm rests were cushion-y enough for baby to rest his head on. I also ONLY nursed with my Boppy pillow those first few weeks once home.
Besides practicing, it took lots of ointments for my nipples to heal and making sure I was taking care of myself to keep my supply up. Also, invest in comfortable nursing bras! I have several that I wear during the day and for sleeping.
The other thing I did was to book an outpatient visit with the Lactation Consultant. I wanted to make sure that after a week or two home that we were maintaining a good latch and that he was gaining enough weight so that I wouldn’t have to supplement. This visit gave me so much peace of mind.
Maintaining my supply
You think that you will be most hungry while pregnant, but I was suddenly ravenous once exclusively breastfeeding. I could eat every hour and still want more! But I tried to stick to healthy foods so that I would be fueling my body and giving baby all the nutrients possible. I had oatmeal for breakfast and protein bites or oat cookies later in the day to help with my supply. I ate lots of healthy fats (nuts, avocado, salmon, olive oil) and tried to maintain a healthy diet. But I wasn’t restricting myself or focused on losing weight. I was definitely eating 500-700 additional calories at first. I also drank a TON of water and sometimes gatorade. I think staying hydrated is key!
6 Months Later…
I am now almost 6-months into my breastfeeding journey.
I have experienced cluster feedings, late night & early feedings, nursing to comfort during teething and sleep regressions, breastfeeding in public, pumping to make bottles so that I can go to work, having my breasts leak in public, training him to take a bottle, watching my supply drop and working to increase it, and so much more...
It hasn’t always been easy.
But I am so thankful that breastfeeding has been a part of my journey. I am so thankful that I didn’t give up in the hospital, even thought it was physically painful and emotionally hard. I am so thankful that it worked for us.
All of this is to say, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you really want to breastfeed!
Breastfeeding might not come naturally at first, but it can get better. It might hurt, but doesn’t always have to. It might not always work, and that is okay. You are doing nothing wrong. You are not a bad mom. Every experience is different. I am hoping you learn from this story that it took me lots of practice and working with a professional to ensure that this was working for us both.
I hope that this story encourages you to know that if it’s not easy for you at first, that it can get better. And that asking for help and practicing will make it worth the struggles.