I can’t believe it! My daughter is 16 months old already! Time really does fly!
I thought I might share my experience with breastfeeding. If this is something you don’t care to read about, that’s fine. Plenty of other posts to read!
Warning. This is a long post. My journey has been long, and I have lots of thoughts/ideas about how this has gone.
Also, disclosure: I link to a few products that I found really helpful during my breastfeeding journey. Some of them link to Amazon, and they are affiliate links. You can read more about this on my Disclosures page.
Going into the pregnancy, we had plenty of ideas about what we wanted to do for our daughter. One of these was breastfeeding. From most of what I’d heard/read/seen, breastfeeding was highly recommended for a lot of different reasons. So I wanted to try! My plan was: try it and see how it goes.
Before she was born, I tried to learn a bit about how to breastfeed, and what advice was available. I got connected to a Lactation Consultant through the Employee Assistance Program at work. I also went to a class that was a free added extra from the childbirth class my husband and I went to (through our hospital).
The Early Days
That being said, I don’t know how much learning you can do ahead of time. It wasn’t until my daughter was actually born and needed to be fed that I actually got any idea of how to do it. It was a little tricky in the beginning, because she was born pretty small (5lbs 8 oz) so it was hard to get her to latch. Luckily, my hospital had plenty of Lactation Consultants available pretty much all the time, and the nurses were also well-educated on all things breastfeeding as well. They weren’t afraid to get right in and help. And since I stayed at the hospital for 4 days due to my emergency c-section, my milk started coming in before I left, so the lactation consultants could show me more ways to nurse. That’s also when they showed me how to use the nipple shield to help get the baby to latch even better. I’ve definitely seen this recommended to a lot of new nursing moms by our local lactation consultants. It was very helpful for me, until my daughter got a better hang of things (she stopped needing it after a week or so). They also helped me get my breast pump by showing me what options were available through my insurance, and showed me how to use the breast pump, which would be very important later on.
I went to a bunch of Baby Cafes (local weekly meet ups with other new moms and lactation consultants), which was very helpful both early on getting the hang of nursing, getting advice, being able to weigh my daughter before and after nursing (to see that she was, in fact, getting milk), then later when I went back to work, to get additional advice about pumping. (I’ve heard that La Leche League also has similar events like these). Plus it was great to get me out of the house and interacting with other adults during my maternity leave.
Pretty much my entire maternity leave was lots of nursing. She ate pretty much around the clock, and, especially early on, NEEDED to. The pediatrician actually told us to make sure she didn’t go more than 3 hours even at night for the first few weeks to make sure that she got enough to eat. As time went on, it was okay to let her go a little bit longer at night, but those very first few days, I basically had to set an alarm for a few hours into the future every night all night. EXHAUSTING.
I also got over my shyness about nursing in front of people pretty quickly. The first month or so, if I had people visiting, or I was out and about, I used a nursing cover or blanket. But once I started worrying less about what other people thought, I started not bothering, as it was yet another thing to juggle when trying to get her to nurse. I also like to think it helped that I did the “double shirt” technique to reduce exposed flesh: I wore a tank top under a regular shirt, so that I could pull up the top shirt and pull down the tank top to provide nursing access. Meant less of my chest and belly would be showing!
Back to work, the pumping routine
As I mentioned in my post about maternity leave, I found a few books to be extra helpful for transitioning back to work and getting the pumping thing figured out. I highly recommend reading the book Work. Pump. Repeat. for figuring out the whole going back to work, pumping at work thing. What you need to bring, how to navigate the potential awkwardness of dealing with bosses and coworkers when you have to go pump. One tip I found very useful: let your boss know ahead of time that you plan on pumping, and word it in the least boob-related way possible, i.e “I will be taking multiple breaks throughout the day so that I can provide food for my baby.” I was very appreciative of my boss and coworkers being very understanding of what I was doing. I also made sure to block of time in my work calendar so no one would try to schedule a meeting during my pumping sessions.
Ahead of going back to work, I did start pumping a bit, both to build up a freezer stash as well as to just have milk to get others to feed her with. I did run into trouble with trying to get her to actually drink from a bottle. I think I may have started too late with trying a bottle, and it actually was only a few days before I went back to work that she actually started taking the bottle. I was so anxious that she wouldn’t be able to take a bottle at daycare! The first time she actually took the bottle was when I sneaked it into her mouth while she was half asleep! Then she started accepting the bottle while awake. I had tried so many different bottle/nipple options (and tried leaving the room when my husband and others tried to feed her), and then it turned out that the very simple/cheap slow flow nipples sold by the company that made my pump/bottles worked for her. This made things way easier, since I could pump directly into the bottles, and send in the matching nipple top.
Things that made my pumping easier (both the actual pumping and the hassles associated with transport/cleaning/etc):
A nice pump bag. I know it’s not a necessity, but having a nice bag that doesn’t look too strange and can transport all your various equipment (the pump, tubing, flanges, bottles, bags, etc) made things a lot easier. My first few weeks with just an old bookbag and a huge cooler just made me feel awkward and sad. So my mother got me a breast pump bag (and wet-dry bag) from Sarah Wells for my first Mother’s Day! There was a spot to put the pump, and an insulated area to store the pumped milk (with a few reusable cold packs), and plenty of pockets to store everything. And I used the wet-dry bag to store the flanges etc. between pumping sessions so that I didn’t have to wash them after every time. (I’d read that as long as you wash them once a day, and just store the parts in the fridge between pumping, you should be okay!). Plus Sarah Wells is often a sponsor at Kelly Mom (an amazing website and great parenting resource, especially for nursing moms), and when she’s a sponsor, she usually has a coupon code! So we got it at a discount.
Cleaning supplies specifically for your pump stuff and bottles. You’ll want to have an area at home (or, if necessary, at work) where you can wash and dry your items. If you’re dealing with a preemie, or a baby that otherwise is more vulnerable to infection, you might also want to buy a sterilizer. Or, if you’re like me, and a general germophobe, you might want one. I’ve heard some people say that soap and hot water is all you need (and they’re probably right), but I liked knowing things were “extra” clean. So I washed in soap and water and then used a microwave sterilizer. Then I dried everything on a drying rack separate from my regular drying.
As time went on, pumping changed for me. In the beginning, I was pumping way more than my daughter drank, but over time, my supply regulated, and she started taking bigger bottles at each feeding. At some point, my supply dropped even more, so I had to try pumping more often to make sure I had enough milk to send in, or try “nursing vacations” (nursing A LOT on the weekends). This supply change started around 6 months in, which was also around the time we started introducing solids. (Another thing that helped me get my pumping output back up was to replace the membranes on the pump every month) We got into a basic routine during work days: nurse when she wakes up, then I pump while I eat breakfast. Pump once right before lunch at work, then once in the afternoon at work. At home, more nursing, then I pump once more right before I go to bed. Weekends there was still a lot of nursing, even as she got more and more “real food”.
I kept up this basic pumping schedule for about a year (though I sometimes skipped the morning pumping session). Then at a year, we were able to introduce whole cows milk (which she luckily readily accepted with little coaxing). A little after that, she was transitioned from the infant room to the toddler room at daycare. Unfortunately, due to health regulations, the teachers were not able to give her as many bottles of breast milk as in the toddler room (they have to sit down with her to feed it to her, but there are more kids to watch in the toddler room, and they can’t risk other toddlers grabbing it). They only could really offer up the one bottle if it was right after nap time, when most of the kids are still asleep. So this change pretty quickly meant that I had to stop pumping so much. I started dropping pumping sessions until it was just one mid-day. So, just a few days before she turned 13 months, I stopped pumping all together. I had been tracking my pumping output the whole time, and so at the end, I added it all up. Over that time, I’d pumped over 18 gallons of breast milk!
How things are going now
My daughter still nurses. At this point, I think it’s mostly for comfort. She nurses every morning, and most evenings after work (though, if my husband is home and/or we’re able to distract her, we can get away with skipping the evening nursing). And sometimes on weekends she’ll be very demanding and want to nurse throughout the day. I’ve tried to wean her, but she is very persistent about nursing. I think it helps if we’re out and about, or if other people are around. Usually when she tries to nurse, I’ll try to offer her regular milk, or a snack, or try to distract her with a toy. Sometimes it works. I’ll admit, on days when I’m exhausted and/or she’s upset, it’s just easier to nurse her. I’ve tried the “don’t offer, don’t refuse” advice for trying to wean, but so far, she’s still demanding it. My guess is if I we can get her focused on other things often enough, we can get there.
I lucked out in a lot of ways when it comes to breastfeeding. Hearing from others who dealt with mastitis, tongue/lip ties, lack of lactation consultants early on, low milk supply, a poor latch, etc makes me feel pretty lucky. I also had a pretty supportive network of family and friends, who never made me feel like I was doing the wrong thing.
Being your child’s main (and sometimes only) source of food and comfort can be very stressful. And it was a bit hard on my husband in the beginning, because she had such a strong preference towards me. But as she got older, and became less dependent on me for food, she opened up to him more. Now they have a great relationship!
Breastfeeding took a lot out of me, emotionally and physically. In fact, the physical impact was quite profound. I was basically ALWAYS HUNGRY, and would eat huge meals all the time. Luckily (?) it meant I was able to lose all of my baby weight in less than 6 months, and then the weight still kept dropping (which was a bit scary at times). Breastfeeding just burns A LOT of calories. Now that I’m nursing less, I’m not as famished all the time, and my weight has come back up a little bit to a more normal weight. But my pre-pregnancy clothes are still a bit loose on me.
The whole “breastfeeding is free” mentality annoyed me. Because I was working a flexible schedule (so grateful for this option), it meant I was basically being paid hourly (rather than working full-time and getting a full salary). So, pumping twice a day for about a half hour each session basically “cost” me an hour’s salary every day, since I wasn’t really able to put in much longer hours due to daycare schedules and my overall tiredness every day. Still, I’m glad I was able to do it.
I didn’t think I’d still be breastfeeding at 16 months. I figured I’d nurse until she was about a year old (based on recommendations from health organizations) then we’d wean and that would be that. But as I mentioned above, my daughter is still demanding nursing at times, and I’ve had a hard time refusing. Hopefully as time goes on, she’ll realize she doesn’t need to nurse to be comforted, and can just snuggle with us.
Thanks for reading through this incredibly long post. I think this post was more for me than you guys! If you have any thoughts, questions, or advice, please let me know!
p.s. for a follow up post after I weaned, plus a few extra bits of advice, head over to this post!