When I was born, my mother didn’t have any support breastfeeding and eventually chose to switch me to formula pretty early on, so I know that formula-fed babies turn out just fine. And, having gone through the first three months of breastfeeding myself, I totally understand why she gave it up. The first days and weeks of breastfeeding can be really tough, and while I have a solid breastfeeding relationship with Elliot right now, it wasn’t always easy and I came very close to quitting a couple of times. Now, I don’t know what will happen as I go back to work and Elliot goes to daycare and I have to start pumping more regularly instead of nursing, but since it’s been almost three months, I thought I’d share a little of our breastfeeding journey thusfar.
Our breastfeeding journey started well. I will start by saying that I never had any leaking at all during pregnancy, and like a lot of women, I worried that that meant I wouldn’t produce colostrum right away. Well, immediately upon arriving in the recovery room, the nurse was helping me get set up for skin-to-skin and was able to express a big blob of colostrum. El latched on well from the start, and things seemed off to a good start.
Then the second two nights hit and El stayed up screaming all night. The first morning after that happened, the nurse noticed that he was shaking his hands a lot and tested his blood sugar, but it was okay. And he wasn’t showing any signs of jaundice, so we decided to stay the course. But our third night in the hospital, the nurse explained that he had lost 10% of his birth weight and that the pediatrician would probably want to talk about supplementing with formula in the morning anyway, so we might want to consider giving him just a little bit to top-up to see if it helped him calm down.
I will say, supplementing with formula brought up a lot of feelings that I was trying very hard not to have. I have nothing against formula-feeding, and I even made sure to get plenty of samples of formula because I knew I wanted to make sure my baby was fed, even if breastfeeding didn’t work. Well, now that I was faced with the reality of needing to use formula, I felt broken and inadequate. But we gave him supplements and he was happy and I’m forever grateful for that nurse for broaching the subject in a very pro-breastfeeding hospital.
One we got home, we kept supplementing. The second day at home, my milk came in fully and El started refusing his formula supplement. The next day, the pediatrician found out he’d put on a lot of the weight he’d lost, and we were given the okay to stop supplementing. So we had a short supplementing journey, but I’m still glad we did it. I also had some issues with cracked nipples, and there was one night where I couldn’t face switching the baby back and forth between two already-raw nipples, for more than an hour, so I handed him to Dan for a top-up to see if it would satisfying him and give my nipples a break.
Ironically, after our issues with weight loss, the next major issue we had was an oversupply and an overactive letdown! All of a sudden, he went from nursing for 20 or more minutes per breast, to barely 5-10, and he would pull off, cough, sputter, and get fussy. Luckily, our pediatrician has a lactation consultant on staff and they strongly recommend having an appointment with her the first or second time you visit, so we were able to do a weighted feed and realized that he was eating for so short a time because that’s all he needed.
Since then, as my milk supply has been regulating, I’ve done a little bit of pumping to help take the pressure off, especially as he started sleeping longer stretches at night. We introduced a bottle of breast milk at about eight weeks to make sure he’d be used to it before he went to daycare. I will say, I think he prefers the breast because it’s actually a faster flow than the newborn nipples we use. It takes me less time to pump the amount he eats in a bottle than it takes him to eat it from a bottle!
As far as things that have helped me in my breastfeeding journey, here are my favorites:
A Nursing Pillow:
I got a My Brest Friend pillow at my shower, but I found the style to be limiting. I couldn’t use it for the football hold, plus it was occasionally irritating on my incision. So I splurged on a Moon Womb pillow from the Sustainable Baby Co. and, wow, it’s probably my favorite baby thing ever. If anyone finds a pillow that is the same shape, and stuffed with buckwheat instead of batting/foam, please let me know, so I can recommend a cheaper alternative. And a nursing pillow is totally worth it. When I need to wash my pillow cover, I miss my pillow when I have to try to rig up something with other pillows. Plus, the weight of the buckwheat-filled pillow felt amazing on my incision in the early weeks, and it smells like lavender and chamomile.
I had cracked nipples the first week or so, and in addition to nipple balm and all-purpose nipple ointment, I loved the hydrogel nipple patches from Medela. I got a handful of them from the lactation consultant at the hospital and bought more off Amazon. I will say that I absolutely have to change them every 24 hours or else my nipples get itchy. The lactation consultant said that some people can go up to 36 hours without changing them.
All-Purpose Nipple Ointment
Also called Jack Newman’s ointment, Dr. Jack’s ointment, Dr. Newman ointment, or just APNO, this was a lifesaver. Even now, I’ve noticed that if my letdown gets a little more painful than usual, a day or two of dabbing on APNO will quiet it down. If you have a doctor who will prescribe it and a compounding pharmacy where they’ll make it for you, it’s worth it, even though it’s not cheap (mine was $40/oz., but I’ve been using the same 1-oz. tube for three months).
Nursing Sleep Bras
I have a bunch of different styles of bra, but hands-down, my favorite nursing bras are the cross-over style sleep bras, like these from Kindred Bravely. I also have a bunch from Target, if you’re not feeling spendy. I like to wear a sleep bra with a deep v-neck or wrap-front top as my ideal nursing outfit.
A Giant Water Bottle
On the advice of a coworker, I bought a 32-oz. water bottle for my hospital bag and I’m so glad I did. Breastfeeding is thirsty work, and dehydration will 100% affect your supply negatively. I drink 3-4 of these bottles of water per day, and if I had a smaller bottle, I’d definitely be up too often to fill it. At the very least, it’s nice to have a bottle big enough not to need a refill in the middle of the night.
Breastfeeding is also hungry work, and you will need a variety of snacks. My favorite snacks are cereal, oat bars, and meat-and-cheese snack packs that my husband found for when I was getting sick of sweets.
So that’s where we’re at on our breastfeeding journey. I’ll try to update in a few months to see how going back to work and sending El to daycare affects it. But for now, I’m going strong towards my goal of at least one year of breastfeeding.