Wednesday, March 6, 2019

My breastfeeding experience

Whew. Breastfeeding is such a huge topic. I honestly hadn't given it much thought while pregnant. If people asked about it (and they did, surprisingly often!) I would just say that I planned to breastfeed but I wasn't going to go crazy doing it. I've seen the full gamut with my friends, from people who had it come really naturally to people who struggled desperately. But nothing really prepared me for the intense emotions that you get caught up in when you're in that zone.

Sleepy girl
{5 days old}

So I'll say it upfront. I don't really love breastfeeding. I hadn't given any thought to whether or not I'd enjoy it, I'd only considered whether or not I could physically do it. I assumed that if you were able to breastfeed without massive struggles, that it would be a lovely, bonding experience. And for lots of people it is, which is wonderful. But it's also okay to just .... not love it, or to feel a little trapped by it. Once we got over the initial hump (which is a very mild way to describe an incredible blend of tears and pain and guilt and frustration) and settled into a routine it became bearable and even sweet at times, but it's still not my favorite thing.

I feel guilty saying this, because so many people desperately want to breastfeed and can't. But there it is. My experience is probably colored by the fact that my baby doesn't seem to love it either. She's almost always all business, eating fairly quickly every 3 - 4 hours and then wanting to get on with doing something else (other than in the first few months, when cluster feeding was real).

I did struggle in the beginning and somehow I wasn't fully prepared for that. My colostrum came in the night before I went into labor (I was a week overdue, not sure if that has something to do with it) and my milk had come in by the second day, but I still struggled to get her to latch in the hospital. It hurt, so much. The hospital lactation consultant came by regularly to check on us, but she just kept saying that if it hurt it meant she wasn't latching right and so she'd pop the baby off and we'd try relatching, but no matter what position we tried it always hurt and I'd finally just say that it felt fine because I was so damn tired of trying. I ended up hand expressing in a tiny cup a few times and we tried to feed her that way. I cried a lot. After 48 hours I was so stressed about it that we called to make an appointment with an outside lactation consultant for the day after I was released. This ended up being a great decision. Seeing someone in a private setting felt really different from the hospital and for the first month she would call regularly to check in so we felt like we had support. She did pre- and post-feeding weights, checked the baby's latch, showed D how to help get the baby in position, and told me that my postpartum bra situation was an actual travesty that needed to be remedied ASAP (shockingly, the $10 bralette I purchased from Target was not cutting it). It was a splurge (about $200) but well worth it and it was FSA eligible.

I never did find a magical way to make it pain free right away or get the perfect latch, even with that help. There were a lot of tears in the beginning. And I didn't fully believe all the people who told me that it would get so much easier, if I could just hang in there. I told myself that my goal was to make it to six months, and then if I got that far I'd try for a year. I just kept trying and it did get easier and easier and around three months I noticed that it had become pretty effortless for us. She had gotten bigger and stronger and better at latching. The evening cluster feeding had started to ease off.

There have been lots of ups and downs since then, and things got really interesting around five months, when she started getting more easily distracted and we went through a long phase where I could only get her to eat by sitting in a silent, dark room. We struggled with weight gain, which took up a whoooole lot of my mental space for several months (discussed a bit here, the good news is that everything seems to have settled out - she was just taking longer to find her curve). But I also credit breastfeeding with really helping out her immunity during her first winter in daycare, which happened to also be a pretty vicious cold/flu season. And now that we're at 11 months it actually does feel fairly easy and sweet for us.

I'm not an expert but if you're in that place, where you're lucky enough that things are (mostly) working physically but the whole experience is feeling more challenging than you expected, here's what helped for me:

Get outside support. If you can afford an LC visit, that's amazing. A cheaper alternative can be a breastfeeding support group (I did this as well), or a good online community.

Do what you need to do to get through it (especially the evening cluster feeding sessions). In the early days, I would watch Netflix and simultaneously play Candy Crush the whole time. My sister's (male) doctor told her that you won't properly bond with your baby if you multitask while breastfeeding, to which I say - spoken like someone who has never had to sit alone and feed a baby for 45 minutes out of every hour, for weeks on end. Also, fuck off, sir. In my (limited) experience, there are so many ways to bond with your baby. For me, breastfeeding was stressful, but babywearing was amazing. I spent hours every day wearing her in the Solly wrap and it was the sweetest experience. We bonded just fine, thank you.

Eyes on the prize. If you can do it without losing your mind, there are real benefits to breastfeeding that might make the initial struggle feel worth it. I mean, sure, the health benefits to baby and mom are the main thing, but you know what was more motivating to me in my post-baby state? Dishes. And time. Boobs do not need to be sanitized or scrubbed, beyond a shower. They do not need to be pulled out of the fridge and heated up in the middle of the night. By the time I went back to work and was dealing with the reality of bottles I was so grateful to be able to breastfeed at night, just because it was so much less work. And the immune benefits have definitely helped during this first winter in daycare. She recovers so much faster than I do from each cold we share, and that is amazing.

So here we are, just one month shy of my one year goal. I'm not 100% sure how things will transition in the next few months. I sometimes feel a pang when I feed her right before bed and realize that these days are numbered, but for the most part I feel pretty relieved that we're close to being done and that pretty soon I won't have to think about the pumping/feeding logistics. At this point, I plan to stop pumping at 12 months, but I'm going to try to follow her lead as far as breastfeeding goes. In my dream world we would just have a night and morning session, and then taper those off, but I'm willing to see how things progress.

{first Sunday at home}


  1. I had no idea that breastfeeding would be challenging, but it was - latch issues etc. My insurance covered unlimited LC visits in the first six weeks, and those were a LIFELINE. It was much easier with my second daughter (no latch issues) but I had an oversupply so had to manage that.

    The best advice I got was from my husband who when I was freaking out, said, "just make it to when she's 6 weeks, then re-evaluate." At six weeks it was SO much better, but not easy, so he said, "just make it to 3 months, then re-evaluate," etc.

    (also, my friend's father (pedi) told her the same crappy advice not to multitask - EFF THAT. I watched the entire Parenthood series while nursing my second daughter (and watched another series with my first daughter that I can't even remember) and they're both remarkable people and we bonded just fine)

    1. Unlimited LC visits is such an amazing benefit! I'm impressed. And yes to binge watching TV shows to pass the long hours! I was extremely grateful to have given birth in the age of streaming, ha.

  2. AND - congratulations on making it this long, and NO GUILT about no loving it.

  3. I was patiently waiting for your blogpost on this. I am in the middle of this as I type (holding a six week old). Every day brings new challenges and new anxieties for someone who was pretty worry-free pre-baby -- is she gaining enough weight? What is going on with the latch today?Why is she randomly crying after a feeding? Did my supply randomly drop? I am realizing that I am not in love with breastfeeding because it is not intuitive to me as it is to some mothers. I am continuing because I can't be bothered to figure out the alternatives if it seems like the baby is gaining weight with it. Also, agree that lactation consultants are amazing. At this point, I would tell others to limit google searches on breastfeeding issues and rather seek out an experienced friend who breastfed, support group, or an actual lactation consultant. It is possible to go down a spiral of anxiety with one google search. Congrats on meeting your breastfeeding goals!

    1. OMG, the anxiety is real! You are doing great, it does get better! We had weight gain issues that in retrospect I wish had not even been brought up to us, because it caused me so much stress and ultimately I don't think there was an actual issue. In talking to lots of other moms, it seems like many, many EBF babies take longer to find their curve, so they'll gain really well initially, then growth can slow down which means they are still gaining weight but falling on the curve (we went from 80% at birth and finally settled out at 20% around 7 months). Obviously I'm not an expert and it's important to monitor growth, but I wish I hadn't known about the curves. My ped was good about looking at my baby too, and ultimately didn't push for supplementation because it was clear that A was very active and meeting milestones. But I do kind of regret the months of stress.

      Oh, and avoiding Google is probably best, but if you need advice - is the best!

  4. There’s only so long you can stare into a baby’s eyes while breastfeeding. What stupid advice.

    For me, the ONLY people I would take breastfeeding advice from are IBCLCs or family/friends that did ebf. A pedi (especially one who had never breastfed a baby themselves) has almost zero training on the matter so far as I am concerned.

    1. So true, I think a lot of peds have very little training regarding BF, which is sad. I'm lucky because I have Kaiser for medical and the whole system is extremely supportive of breastfeeding, but the peds still don't seem to be BF experts (although they always defer to the LCs, so at least there's that).

  5. 100%--everything you said. Thank you for sharing. "Never quit on a bad day" was the advice that kept me going.

  6. I am due in June and have been really enjoying your updates about pumping and breastfeeding--thanks for sharing! Would you mind sharing what postpartum bra ended up working for you?

    1. Congrats! I have the Bravado Body Silk Seamless Yoga Nursing Bra, which is nice and supportive, kind of like a sports bra. I also have the Lively maternity mesh trim bralette, which provides very little support but is incredibly comfortable (and very cute). I was feeling super claustrophobic sleeping in the Bravado every night so I needed a lighter option. (For the first 7ish months I couldn't ever be braless because I needed to wear boob pads 24/7, fuuuun). So the Lively bralette was perfect for sleeping/lounging. I will also wear it out but just be forewarned on the lack of support. I have a Bravado pumping bra panel that is compatible with most nursing bras, so I don't have a pumping specific bra.

      I'm usually one of those people who only has two or three bras in regular rotation, but with nursing bras you have to wash them a lot, so I have two of the Bravado and three of the Lively, plus two pumping panels.

      If you want cuter options I know that Nordstroms carries some that are genuinely pretty and don't even look like nursing bras.

      Size wise, I was a 32DDD pre-baby, so sizing is always a little tricky but in the Bravado a medium works well and in the Lively I actually have both a medium and a large and can wear either (neither is perfect for me - the medium has the right band size and the large provides more coverage, but both technically work okay).

    2. Thank you so much for all the information! Really helpful :)

    3. Similar size and I found Nordstrom had some of the best selection of nursing bras, and free online shipping and returns.

  7. That anti multi tasking advice is enraging. What do they think parents do after the first child, if they have more than one child, as was very common before our generation? Toddlers hang all over you and don't really get the memo to leave you alone in a room to stare into your baby's eyes for half hour + multiple times per day. We (society) are so hyper focused on creating the perfectly bonded super human that we get in the way of our own bonding by not making room for basic humanity, 'mistakes', forgiveness, sharing time/attention with others, etc. End rant haha! But thank you so much for this post, I combo fed my kids because I always had major supply issues that weren't helped no matter how much nursing, pumping, herbs, medications, relaxing, etc. etc. I did. So I always appreciate hearing the full dimension of other people's experiences, especially the hard parts. Makes me feel less isolated in my struggles, even though our struggles were different. Lots of peace to you as you make your way through a new stage of the journey. ~K

  8. Rachel, as ever, you captured this perfectly!!! I'm due with a second one in Sept (12 weeks pregnant now) and was just saying how I kind of blocked all of the emotions that came with breastfeeding in the first weeks (first one is 2+ yrs old now, I 'only' nursed for 3.5 months due to little one's allergies).
    I totally relived it by reading your post, and glad I did, because I also remember the good times, the ease & the 'always have food readily at hand' =)
    Lots of love,

  9. Breastfeeding just hurts in the beginning- latched on properly or not! It's not some magical insta-bond. And what woman wants to turn her brain off for an hour and sit like some Renaissance painting of the Madonna while her child eats? I used to read- dropped Harry Potter on at least one kid! (They are all fine and doing well in school- and we still have good bonds).

  10. Of course breastfeeding has a level of pain in the beginning. Pre-baby just how many hours were your nipples licked a week? It takes time for them to adjust.

    Multi tasking nursing was my norm. We often had one quieter feed a day, but the rest could be chaos. I nursed my third in the shower while washing my hair. And my fourth on rides at Disney World.

    Toddler nursing is its own thing, but great because its about it working for both of you. You can say no, its my body, and I don't want to right now, in a way you can't to a 3 month old. You can also use it to sooth the real hardships of being 14 months old and wanting the cracker unbroken.


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