I never shared my breastfeeding journey on the blog, but I’ve gotten some questions about the topic recently so I thought I’d lay it all out there.
I chose to breastfeed for a multitude of reasons. The health benefits for Owen and me. The economic benefits– although breastfeeding isn’t completely free (nursing bras and tanks, nursing pads, breast milk storage bags, etc. add up), it is less expensive than formula. I also liked the convenience aspect of breastfeeding. No time wasted preparing bottles. No need to carry bottles, formula, and bottled water in the diaper bag. Not having to constantly wash bottles. Another reason was because my mom breastfed my older brother and me. She was very encouraging when it came to my choice to breastfeed.
I also wanted to have a successful breastfeeding experience because I wasn’t able to have the labor and delivery I desired. Not having the birth I wanted made me strive to work hard at breastfeeding. I wanted to feel like something worked out the way I wanted it to. So my goal was to breastfeed Owen for a year.
First, let me say that I think it’s really important to have a supportive partner while trying to learn the breastfeeding ropes. I’m thankful Brad was behind me 100%. He was willing to do things like look up YouTube videos on latching and run to the grocery store at 10 PM because I needed cabbage for my severely engorged breasts when my milk came in.
Before I gave birth to Owen I wondered if it was going to be weird breastfeeding him. And I can say that once he was born I didn’t feel any weirdness at all when it came to nursing him. This is something my friends and I have talked about so I thought I’d put it out there for anyone else having those same thoughts and feelings.
I’d advise new moms who plan to breastfeed to sit down with a lactation consultant before going into labor. There’s so much is going on after you give birth that it’s hard to take everything in. So I’d suggest scheduling at least one visit with the LC at the hospital where you plan to give birth so you can ask her questions and she can give you information so you feel prepared when your baby arrives. I really wish I would have taken the time to do that.
In addition to meeting with a lactation consultant, I think it’s important for expectant moms to reach out to a mom friend who has nursed. It’s helpful to have someone, who’s recently experienced what you’re going through, to field questions and offer support.
I think it’s also important to find a pediatrician who is knowledgeable and very supportive of breastfeeding. You wouldn’t believe how many pediatricians are misinformed about breastfeeding. I suggest getting recommendations from friends and family members and then having meet and greets with prospective pediatricians before you give birth. An unsupportive pediatrician can be detrimental to your breastfeeding journey.
I tell all my expectant friends to get Dr. Jack Newman’s All Purpose Nipple Ointment before going into labor. Trust me, you’ll want it from the beginning. You can read more about my experience with this life changing ointment here.
I also rave about this breastfeeding pillow, which is great for nursing, bottle-feeding, and even supporting your arms as you snuggle your napping baby.
Kellymom.com is an excellent resource for expectant and new moms, especially when it comes to breastfeeding. I gave that site a plethora of page views during the first year of Owen’s life.
YouTube is also your friend. You can watch videos on proper latch, breastfeeding holds, demos of breast pumps, etc.
Speaking of breast pumps, before you run out and buy one, call your insurance company. They should provide you with one, free of charge. That’s how I got my Medela Pump In Style. Under The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), it states, “Health insurance plans must provide breastfeeding support, counseling, and equipment for the duration of breastfeeding. These services may be provided before and after birth… Your health insurance plan must cover the cost of a breast pump. It may be either a rental unit or a new one you’ll keep.”
Another piece of advice I would offer is to brush people off when they say breastfeeding is ‘so hard’. I heard that all the time when I was pregnant, and I have to admit, it got annoying. While it wasn’t discouraging to me, if anything it made me want to make it work even more, I could see how hearing that could discourage expectant mothers. Yes, breastfeeding isn’t a walk in the park for most people, but know that it’s very rewarding and worth all the hard work you put into it.
Since I took an extended maternity leave from my day job, which turned into me staying home full-time with Owen, I was able to exclusively breastfeed Owen 24/7. I was his personal 7-Eleven for 11 months. It’s my belief that being able to be with him around the clock made a huge difference in our breastfeeding success. I give mad props to moms who nurse and work out of the home and have to be away from their babies and moms who pump exclusively.
From birth until around 3 months, Owen would wake up around 5 or 6 AM after sleeping for 6-8 hours through the night (I know, he was and still is an amazing sleeper. Please don’t hate me. Trust me, I cherish this.), to nurse. And then he’d go back to sleep for another 2-4 hours. He’d wake up, nurse, and then we’d start a feeding schedule of nursing every 2 hours for the remainder of the day.
From around 3 months until 8 months, Owen typically woke up around 8 AM for his first feeding of the day after sleeping for 7-9 hours through the night, and then he went back down for a 2-4 hour nap. He ate again after that nap, and then we usually started a feeding schedule of nursing every 2-3 hours for the remainder of the day, usually with a 2 hour nap in the afternoon.
From 9 months to 11 months, Owen would typically wake up around 8 AM, nurse, eat a breakfast of solid foods, and then we’d start a feeding schedule of nursing every 3-4 hours. Since he was eating more solids at this point so our nursing sessions started to dwindle. Since I was worried he’d wither away after weaning at 11 months, we supplemented with formula.
Please keep in mind that that was just our schedule. Every baby is different.
I didn’t pump often, but I had a freezer stash from when I was pumping more in the beginning. The freezer stash came in handy when Owen was 11 weeks old and I went on a 48 hour business trip. I was able to pump 5-6 times per day while I was away, so I ended up coming home with around 50 ounces of breast milk to replenish some of the supply Owen depleted while I was gone. I finally said goodbye and threw away that mostly unused stash a few months ago.
BUMPS IN THE ROAD
I won’t lie and say breastfeeding was rainbows and sunshine all the time. The first few weeks were rough. Every time Owen latched on it felt like I was nursing a crocodile. But the most surprising aspect of breastfeeding was how easy things became after the first 4-5 weeks. It was like night and day when the nipple pain subsided. So when my expectant friends ask me about breastfeeding I tell them to just try to get through the first 4-5 weeks and reevaluate from there.
And then there was the large, 2 cm by 6 cm, milk cyst that developed in one of my breasts. When my milk came in, and I experienced the party that is engorgement, the cyst filled up and it didn’t go away until Owen weaned at 11 months. It was only uncomfortable if someone hugged me tightly.
Since I didn’t know what it was at first, I had an ultrasound done when Owen was 3 weeks old. The radiologist didn’t know what it was filled with at the time so they suggested that I have it aspirated with a syringe. Let me say that this was a very scary experience for me. I was 3 weeks postpartum and at the appointment by myself. So there I was crying because I didn’t know if there was something wrong with me. I decided to let them aspirate the mass so they numbed my breast and shoved a giant needle into the side of my boob and withdrew 50 mL of breast milk from the cyst. But it filled back up with milk within 24 hours.
I had a follow up ultrasound 5 weeks later. This time they spotted some questionable tissue inside the cyst so they suggested another aspiration and a needle biopsy, which are not fun. They aspirated 45 mL of breast milk that time. When they did the biopsy it caused a hematoma inside the cyst so every time I expressed breast milk, for the next week, blood would also come out– some call it ‘strawberry milk’. While this wasn’t painful, it was slightly unsettling. Thankfully, the biopsy came back as benign.
I ended up seeing a breast surgeon a couple of times. She didn’t see the milk cyst as an issue, and her prognosis was that the cyst would dry up when I stopped nursing. I had a follow up appointment with her about 6 months after I stopped nursing. She said the cyst had collapsed, and I’m good to go.
Another issue I had was that I was unable to lose any weight while nursing Owen. I detail that experience in this post.
Ultimately, I’m glad I chose to breastfeed Owen for almost a year. And I intend to do it again with any future children we have.
The most rewarding part of breastfeeding was knowing that I provided all of Owen’s nutrition. It’s a crazy feeling knowing that my body was the reason why he had his chubby thigh rolls, wrist rolls, and chubby cheeks. Another rewarding aspect of breastfeeding is the bonding time that we had together. We spent at least two hours of every day together nursing, and I loved that one on one time I got to have with him.