One of the biggest challenges about becoming a parent for me has been breastfeeding. Let's get into it.
"Are you going to breastfeed?"
"That's the plan"
I think I had this exchange with 2 doctors and half a dozen nurses over the course of my pregnancy. My response was always "that's the plan" because I knew that it was possible I wouldn't be able to breastfeed. I knew that some women struggle to get a proper latch and/or to produce enough for their babies. So I was trying to practice being kind to myself early, just in case.
The thing is, I knew about low supply before having my daughter. I even knew a little bit about clogged ducts and mastitis. I'd studied every public health pamphlet I could find on getting a proper latch. But in the end, I was not prepared for the (not so) unique struggle breastfeeding would be for me.
My Breastfeeding Experience
Immediately after my daughter was born, she latched and fed for 40 minutes. The nurses were certain my latch was good and baby was "a natural".
We were discharged on Friday and by Sunday, I was experiencing a level of discomfort I was not prepared for. My milk came in hard and fast! Over the next week I struggled with a cluster feeding infant, and breasts that were so engorged I was worried I was going to get carpal tunnel from massaging them.
Nipple damage is a common experience for many women and can range from tenderness to a crack which may bleed. For me, I experienced bleeding after one week. I ended up exclusively pumping for over a month to save my mental health before my daughter and I reattempted nursing. I was nervous to reattempt for fear of more damage, but I wanted the convenience and connection of nursing.
To ease my anxiety, I used a nipple shield which helped me relax. It also helped my daughter transition back to breast from bottle. She was frustrated the first few times we reattempted (nursing requires her to work harder to get her food than even the slowest flow bottle nipples). I started out alternating feeds between breast and bottle and slowly added more and more breast feeds. I continued to offer the bottle at night when I was more likely to be tired and overwhelmed. It took about two weeks to transition back to breast completely, and I'm grateful that we were able to successfully breastfeed until just beyond one year.
My biggest struggle was the fact that I am an over producer, meaning my body produces more milk than my little one needs. Adding in pumping, and my supply took a long time to regulate. I continued to feel tenderness and strong let downs at random times all the way to the end of my breastfeeding journey. Even more than when I was pregnant, I have found breastfeeding leaves me wishing I could have my body back. Wishing I didn't have to think about where the water in the shower is hitting me, or worry about packing around a pump "just in case".
Add in a dash of sleep deprivation and the experience has taken its toll on me mentally at times and there have been lots of ups and downs.
Advice to myself as a new mom
If I could go back and tell my past self anything about breastfeeding it would be this:
Its ok that you hate it!
It's ok that you don't feel that it is a magical bonding experience, and you don't love every second your child is latched on to you!
Its ok to wish that you could just have your body back! After all, you survived 40 weeks of pregnancy.
Its ok to see breastfeeding as simply the most convenient (hello washing bottles and pump parts), cheapest (hello expensive formula), and frankly laziest way to keep your child fed and happy.
5 Breastfeeding Tips to Help You Be Successful
1. Invest in a few styles of nursing bras, including comfortable, underwire free styles
Your boobs are going to change size and shape seemingly multiple times a day. The convenience of a nursing bra is a must, but having different styles and shapes is incredibly important. It’s a good idea to have a few styles on hand to start, until you find what is most comfortable for you. To save your bank account, search in thrift stores, online marketplaces, and ask your mom friends if they have any hand me downs for you.
2. Prepare for damage and speed healing while breastfeeding.
You may hear that a proper latch will not hurt or cause damage, but many women do experience damage even with a proper latch due to clusterfeeding. If this happens to you, seek help from a certified lactation consultant, talk to your doctor who may be able to prescribe nipple cream specific to your needs (though in many cases, breast milk itself expressed onto the nipple after feeding is a great solution), and let those nipples breathe. Exposure to open air speeds healing and helps prevent the growth of yeast which leads to thrush and loves warm, wet, dark places. Lil Helper has a great tool for this. I often sleep on a Lifesaver Mat. The charcoal fabric soaks up the leaks and the PUL backing protects your mattress, making sure you don't wake up in a puddle! Plus, its super soft, thin, and comfortable.
One day the damage will heal and you won't have to worry about this. Then, you don’t have to worry about air time so much and you can use regular or overnight breastpads for comfort and leak protection when you sleep. They are the most discrete, best absorbing, and kindest to sore nipples I have found!
3. Know the facts, and get tools to help you: few women have low supply, but engorgement, clogged ducts, and mastitis are real, common, and painful
If you are worried about your supply, feed baby often and again- seek help! As long as your little one is wetting and dirtying enough diapers for their age, you are probably producing enough. If you are frustrated with the constant soreness and leaking, you aren't alone. Utilize a pump to give yourself relief, but remember the more you pump the more you may produce. If you can, pump only small amounts between feedings for comfort. If cluster feeding is taking its toll on you though, use that pump! Pumping is a great option to give mom a break. It's all about what works best for you. Soreness can also be relieved by massaging your breasts and using warm water before, cold after to help relieve the pain. One great trick for pain relief is frozen cabbage leaves - they freeze quickly and conform to the shape of your breasts.
There is a lot to be said for pumping/bottle feeding. Like the fact that other caregivers can step in to feed babe and enjoy those milk drunk snuggles.
4. Connect with other women with breastfeeding experience
Because it is sold as a natural and beautiful thing, I was surprised to find out how many women in my life experienced similar struggles with breastfeeding. Talk to the wise women in your life. Sisters, aunts, friends, moms. Join a local support group if you can. You are not alone, and breastfeeding, especially because it goes hand in hand with the postpartum period and sleep deprivation, is a journey no one should walk alone.
5. Natural fibre, reusable breast pads are worth the investment
There is nothing more frustrating or embarrassing than leaking through your clothes in public. Disposable breast pads are expensive, need to be changed often, and in my experience are ineffective. They become hard over time, and can contribute to the lack of air flow that leads to yeast. Enter lil helper bamboo breast pads. They feel dry even when very full, are the perfect shape to be discrete even under bralettes and light tops, and the PUL backing protects you every time. Given that you might be wearing breast pads for many months, its worth it. Trust me.
But honestly, this is just one leaky lady's experience. You need to find what works for you. Be kind to yourself. We moms get shamed and feel guilty for just about every choice we make. Really, the most important thing for your little one isn't breast or bottle, cloth or disposable, working mom or stay at home... the most important thing your baby needs, is a happy, healthy parent.
Breastfeeding is wonderful for bonding and caring for your baby. It can also be very challenging and exhausting. Be kind to yourself.