As it is World Breastfeeding Week, it seems appropriate to write about breastfeeding. I can probably write a book about breastfeeding. There is so much to talk about. There are blogs just about breastfeeding. I am a huge advocate, but I do not in any way look down on those who, for whatever reason, do not. I decided long before I had children that I would feed my them naturally with my own body. With each child, there were similarities and differences.
My first child was breastfed exclusively for 3 ½ months and for 5 months total. I remember when she was born and putting her to my breast minutes after birth. At the time, I had not heard about the nursing crawl. This is where the baby moves themselves to the breast on their own. She took to my breast immediately and every 3 hours I nursed her. I did not choose that schedule, she did. The next day, the lactation consultant came by. I thought that I was a pro by this point and didn’t need her help. But to be nice, I let her “help” me. She put the baby on my breast and I was like, “Whoa!”. I was not doing it correctly. It turned out that she was latching on the tip of my nipple. I would have had no idea. It’s so important for new moms to learn from the experts because they probably are doing it wrong. Just from that one day of latching incorrectly, I developed small cuts on my areola. I used lanolin after every feeding to help it. But once my milk came in around day 3, breastfeeding was torture. Along with the fullness and engorgement was a baby sucking at the strength of a vacuum on my cut body. I would count down the seconds until I could take her off. I felt that 10 minutes per side was enough. Then on top of it, I was in the shower and realized that I had a very swollen lymph node in my armpit from a blocked duct. So for a few days, I had to apply a warm washcloth to the area and massage it. All I could think was, “How the hell do women deal with all of this crap?!”. And I didn’t even develop mastitis. But, the smoke cleared, and at about a week postpartum, it became better. There were no blocked ducts, my areola was healed, and my baby latched on without any pain. Finally! This was the experience I was waiting for. It was a pleasant bonding experience now.
I was able to stay out of work for 14 weeks. I planned on pumping when I returned to work and being able to pump enough for each day. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I had pumped a few times before this, but I used what I pumped to bottle feed her so she could get used to the bottle. I gave her a bottle for the first time at 3 weeks old. My cousin was getting married and I had to leave the baby for the first time. I won’t even go into how hard that was. I wanted to wait as long as I could to make sure that breastfeeding was established first. She took that bottle like a champ. I gave her a bottle every 1-2 weeks to try to prevent any issues when I returned to work. However, I did not think about storing milk to have a supply ready. I was working as a nurse assistant at a children’s hospital at the time. I worked 12 hour shifts, 3 days per week. In that 12 hours, I was lucky to pump twice. Slowly, my milk supply dwindled. I was so upset. I felt like I failed. Each time I had to supplement, I just felt bad for my daughter. I nursed her when I was with her and then even that became an issue. She went through what is known as a “nursing strike”. She would actually push my breast away from her when I tried to feed her. Although she did stop the “strike”, it was too late. I was lucky to pump 1 oz at a time and she really only nursed for my benefit. I made the decision to stop trying. I guess that you could say she self-weaned. I tried to tell myself that I should be proud for the 5 months that she was fed from my milk. At the time, it was hard for me. But now I realize that any breastmilk is better than none. Also, the most important thing was that my baby was fed. I did buy organic formula to make myself feel better, though.
My second baby breastfed for 6 months exclusively and 9 months total. Unlucky for me but luckily for my children, I was laid off from my job while on maternity leave. It was a bittersweet moment. I wasn’t sure how we would live, but I was able to experience what it was like to be a stay-at-home mom. I was happy that I wouldn’t have to lose my supply from returning to work as well. The experience this time started out much better than my first. Since I had experience, I knew what a proper latch was and did not have the cuts on my areola this time. But, inevitably, I still was uncomfortable when my milk came in and had a blocked duct. I realized that this is the norm but I knew that it would be over soon. I enjoyed being home with my girls. I have to admit the excitement was short-lived when I realized how much we had to cut corners to live on one income. However, me not commuting and constantly ordering out for lunch at work did save a good amount. So I tried to enjoy being home. I still offered a bottle of expressed breast milk to my daughter every week or so. When she was 5 months old, just like my first baby, I started giving her rice cereal. But again, I did not really pump except when she was getting a bottle. So I ran into a problem when starting solid foods. Eventually, I had to buy formula just to use to mix with her cereal. I did notice a slight decrease when pumping after 6 months and that my daughter didn’t always seem full. So I started supplementing with the organic formula. At around 8 months, I noticed that my daughter didn’t seem to mind whether she nursed or drank a bottle. I decided to finish out the month and slowly weaned her throughout the month. Then she finished her first year of life on formula. I felt happy about my decision because it didn’t seem to bother her.
When I was pregnant with my third baby, I had just started a new job after 14 months of being unemployed. I was upset about leaving my girls but was excited to interact with adults. It was part-time and it was just enough hours to get me out of the house without missing too much time with the kids. The best part was I would be working as a breastfeeding peer counselor at WIC. I didn’t know much about WIC at the time but was excited to learn. I have to admit, in the beginning, I was a little biased about the women who came there. I didn’t understand how a woman could have a Coach bag and be on government assistance. This quickly changed. Not only did I get to spend time with these women and know their stories, but I became one of them. Because I had been laid off the year before, we lost my health benefits. My husband’s benefits were awful and way too expensive. We had to apply for Medicaid for the kids. I was so embarrassed. I never wanted to get help for nothing, But our kids needed insurance so I did it. Then when I became pregnant, I didn’t know what to do. I had to succumb and apply for Medicaid too. We barely made the cut to be eligible. My husband was not eligible but because I was pregnant, I was. I then found out that being eligible for Medicaid made me automatically eligible for WIC. I did not want my coworkers to know that. However, while I was waiting for my insurance to be approved, I needed to start my prenatal care. The company that the WIC department was a part of was also a health center. They saw patients who had Medicaid pending. They asked me if I wanted to be enrolled in WIC and I declined. Not only did I not want anyone to know but I didn’t feel like I needed it. But then a few days later, my boss, who did not know I was pregnant yet, came up to me and told me she knew. Apparently I was referred from the obstetrics department as a new client for WIC. Well, so much for that idea. I realized after all of this that anyone can have an experience where they need assistance and I was not going to judge anyone who was there. So I began training in being a peer counselor by my supervisor who was an internationally board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC). It was so interesting. I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know even though I had over a year of first-hand experience. I always love learning new things, especially when it came to something pertinent to my career goal as a NICU nurse. I was able to go to breastfeeding conferences with other counselors and lactation consultants locally and in the city. But the best part was being able to help moms who were in need. I loved hearing that a mom was successfully breastfeeding after I gave them advice or information or just support. I also had decided that I definitely wanted to become an IBCLC in the future. I had learned so much from just being a counselor and I was so interested in learning more. From this new experience, I definitely wanted to approach breastfeeding differently this time around. I had kept my first two infants on a schedule. My first pretty much set it herself but I also thought that was what I was supposed to do. With my second, I decided to stay on a schedule as well since it worked pretty well with my first. They both thrived but there were times where they seemed hungry and I tried to hold them off until the 3 hour mark. I also had my supply decrease and my period returned after 1 month postpartum with both of them. So this time I decided to take my new knowledge and apply it personally.
It started from when she was born. I had wanted to try the nursing crawl experience. But unfortunately, I developed a postpartum hemorrhage and had to change my plan. I had never had Pitocin and I did not have any intention of starting. I knew that breastfeeding naturally released oxytocin and helped the uterus contract. Well after my daughter was born, my uterus basically stopped contracting. Thus, the hemorrhaging began. I asked if I could nurse the baby to avoid Pitocin. The midwife agreed to let me try. There went my attempt at the nursing crawl. I didn’t have the time to wait for her to self-latch. I put her to my breast and she latched right away. My bleeding slowed but not nearly enough. The midwife started to become nervous and kept asking if I would take the Pitocin. But, I’m stubborn so I kept declining and continued breastfeeding. Then a large clot came out and the midwife leveled with me. She said if the bleeding did not slow down soon, I would need a blood transfusion. I asked if I could have 10 more minutes of breastfeeding. She reluctantly agreed. But, it worked. After 1 hour of continuous breastfeeding, my bleeding finally slowed down naturally. I was so happy that I was able to avoid Pitocin and I was so impressed that the simple act of feeding my child with my own body was able to help me avoid complications. So, just as planned, I decided to have a slightly different breastfeeding experience with my third baby. Although I still had the engorgement discomfort and blocked duct, for the first time, I did not nurse on a schedule. I nursed my daughter on demand and I loved it. I had decided to try to breastfeed for a full year and to not use formula at all. This time, I started pumping just a few days postpartum to build up a freezer supply. Unfortunately, I was not able to return to my job for child care reasons and lack of maternity leave. But I found another job where I could work two evenings a week for a few hours. I went to work when my husband was done with work. This wasn’t an ideal situation but it gave us the extra income we needed and it got me out of the house. However, I had not kept up with offering a bottle to my daughter while I was out of work. I gave her a bottle at a month old and then not again. I hadn’t given it much thought. My main focus was to have enough expressed breastmilk in the freezer so I didn’t have to supplement. So I started my new job when my baby was 3 months old. Little did I know that my husband was being serenaded by the screams of our hungry baby for 4 hours. I returned home to an exhausted husband and a very unhappy baby. She absolutely refused the bottle. I figured she just wasn’t used to it and she would take it after a few tries. Ha! For 2 months straight, Tuesdays and Thursday evenings were nights from hell for my husband and daughter. She acted like she would rather starve than take the bottle. I remember advising moms when I worked at WIC about this exact situation. Apparently it was harder than I thought. Finally at 5 months old, she didn’t take the bottle. But, I started her on rice cereal. She loved it. I felt somewhat relieved because even if she wouldn’t take the bottle, at least she could eat something while I was gone. I told my husband to offer the bottle still, but to also give her the cereal. Eventually, she took the bottle. I think it was around 6 months. I think having the cereal made it so she wasn’t starving when it was offered so she was able to calmly try it. But now I didn’t have to worry and my husband didn’t want to pull his hair out every time I went to work. We continued our breastfeeding journey and I am happy to say that we met our goal. We made it to her 1st birthday exclusively breastfeeding. It was such an accomplishment. But I wasn’t sure I was done. She seemed to really enjoy it and almost need it. I had made the mistake of letting her use me as a pacifier quite often. At the time, I just wanted to be able to comfort her. But it made it that much harder when I thought about weaning. My first two had no problem with weaning. But this baby had a much deeper emotional connection to it. It was how she was soothed and felt safe. My breasts were ultimately her security blanket. As much as I was happy to be that for her, I had decided that it was time to wean. Some people let their children self-wean. But I felt that my daughter wouldn’t want to any time soon. It may seem selfish, but I wanted to have a life again. I loved breastfeeding her but I needed adult time. I could never leave her overnight because I would have to pump and I didn’t feel comfortable drinking alcohol. My husband wanted to go away with me overnight for his birthday. I decided that she needed to be weaned before that. At 14 months I weaned her. I could tell that she was unhappy about it and I felt awful. But, I knew for my sake, it had to be done. She still liked for me to hold her close and she would put her hand in my shirt for comfort for a few months after that.
Now I am up to baby number 4. She is 5 weeks old now and breastfeeding like a pro. When she was born, I had a home birth. Because of my history of hemorrhaging, it was important to begin breastfeeding immediately. So there went my second attempt at the nursing crawl. But she latched right on and I avoided the excess bleeding. As a matter of fact, once she latched she didn’t want to stop. I basically nursed her on and off for 8 hours. It was like she had been waiting 9 months to nurse and she did not want to stop. Finally, she gave me a break in the middle of the night and let me sleep. Luckily, she started going a couple of hours between feedings starting the next day. I still nurse her on demand and she goes anywhere between 1 hour and 5 hours. But normally she averages between 2 and 3 hours. Of course I had my usual engorgement and blocked duct. I guess that is my breastfeeding trademark. At 1 month old, she was offered a bottle. She seemed confused but she took it. I decided to continue giving her a bottle once a week every week. After 3 children, I think I have worked out all of the kinks. I hope to continue breastfeeding for at least a year and have another great experience, as it may be my last.