If my previous entry about giving birth was not divisive enough for you, you’ll like this post about the perhaps even more divisive mom-topic of breastfeeding. I have a few thoughts I want to share, because I now spend the largest chunk of my time involved in this very activity. Of course, I AM NOT JUDGING ANYONE. If you breastfed your babies, good for you. If not, good for you. Everyone has to make their own choice about this, and I strongly believe you should research your options and, above all, do what is right for you and your family. We have decided to breastfeed, and I am going to write a little about my experience because I now spend anywhere from 6-9 hrs a day breastfeeding – it’s a pretty big part of my world right now. I do have some thoughts on the matter and would also like to vent a little. I’m going to be talking a bit about my boobs, and it may be TMI, so if that’s not for you, get out now before it’s too late.
Right now, breastfeeding is like a full time job with flex-time that is spread throughout the day and night, except that I don’t decide when I’m on the clock; that’s up to my 6 week old boss. At this point, Maia spends about 10-20 minutes on each boob while we are breastfeeding. With that and the burping, getting her to latch and changing her diaper at least once (sometimes before the feeding, between boobs, AND at the end of the feeding – because for some reason my baby does not seem to be able to focus on eating if her diaper is even a little bit wet) the feeding routine takes 45 mins to an hour. She eats anywhere from 8 to 10 to 12 times a day depending on the day, an anywhere from 1-4.5 hrs between the start of one feeding and the start of the next (but usually 2-4 hrs between and about 8 feedings a day).
Here is a bit of advice based on my experience so far:
–Get your breast pump before you have your baby. Call your insurance company and see if they cover it. I was able to get a very easy to use electric breast pump shipped to me from this company and didn’t have to pay a cent. I had thought, oh, I won’t need the pump right away because I will be on maternity leave feeding my baby. Sure, if every feeding went PERFECTLY, I guess one might not need a breast pump right away. But I needed the pump at the beginning to establish my milk supply before Maia started sucking well, and now I need it to pump about 1-2x a day to express milk so Brian can feed her bottles, and so we can accumulate a supply of breastmilk in our freezer (squirrelling it away for my impeding return to work like doomsday preppers). I also use the pump if, at a feeding, Maia nurses for 20 mins or more on one boob and then only 2-3 min on the other boob, leaving me lopsided and sore. Got to get that stuff outta there!
–When you order your breast pump, also order this bra. For the first week at home, I was simply holding the breast pump containers up to my boobs for the duration of pumping, which rendered me helpless, staring into space listening to the unpleasant whirr of the machine. Luckily I have an amazing husband who would feed me, and push my hair out of my face (I remember telling him, “Don’t be gentle, just shove it all back behind my ear.”). I also had breastmilk leaking out of the flanges and running down my belly, and I was wondering how I would ever do it at work without completely making a mess of myself. Then my genius friend Emily told me about this bra, which now allows me to have both hands free while pumping. Since I have a cordless pump, I can even change locations/walk around while pumping. Game changer. I honestly cannot believe that something like this does not come every breast pump, because, seriously, I don’t think anyone should have to pump without it.
–Get professional help and ask for advice. You might think breastfeeding is going to come naturally for you and your baby. And, while I wish that for you, I didn’t have that experience. My nipples were cracked and had scabs on them in the hospital because I was so desperate for my baby to eat. Luckily, there were TONS of professionals available to help us. We saw 2 lactation consultants at the hospital, and one at our pediatrician’s office. We then took advantage of a free follow up appointment with the one we liked from the hospital, and have now had 2 follow ups with the one at our pediatrician’s office. Nurses in the hospital are also happy to help you latch your baby or try different positions. Get advice from multiple people, because you never know what is going to work for you. Take the advice you like and forget the rest. Breastfeeding is a skill that you need to learn; don’t expect it to come naturally. Dedicate the time to learning it, just like you would if you were learning how to drive. In my experience, after the first week at home (during which we did a laborious routine that included pumping after every feeding, and supplementing the feeding with pumped milk using a syringe and tube, breastfeeding was “well established.” Maia was consistently latching well, my nipples no longer looked like a war zone, and the lactation consultants were able to verify that she was taking in milk sufficiently by weighing her before, then after, a feeding. We would not have gotten here on our own — lactation consultants saved us.
–Get someone to help you around the clock with the early feedings. Involve your partner, because you don’t want to be alone in this. Eventually you will start to feel like you (the one with the boobs) are self-sufficient and you don’t need to wake him/her, but until then, it is crucial to have the extra set of hands and the moral support.
–If possible, pump when it doesn’t make you hate your life. I like to pump while I eat my breakfast if someone else is available to amuse Maia, or I take advantage of the time (and the hands-free pump bra) by doing a two handed activity like typing while pumping (if Maia is sleeping/otherwise occupied). MAYBE I AM PUMPING RIGHT NOW!!
–Optimize your logistics. While it would be nice if new parents automatically acquired the skill of telekinesis, humans have not yet evolved to this level. When I sit down to feed Maia, I have been using the side of the couch with a table on my left and a tray on my right, so I have places on EACH side of me to place my water bottle, snack, remotes, phone, kindle, etc. I can reach them easily to keep myself entertained and nourished, so I don’t get jealous of my baby who is feeding her chubby little face.
-On a similar note, take the time to set yourself up with whatever you need/want BEFORE you latch your baby. Babies are not patient while they are hungry. I have noticed that Maia nurses better and nursing is more comfortable for me if I support the boob she is on with my hand, which means I have one hand available for other activities while she is latched. I’ve learned to tolerate her crying for a moment or two while I make myself comfortable, because Maia doesn’t want an annoyed and frustrated mommy.
–Pay attention to your body mechanics. This topic deserves its own post… if I ever figure out how to make it work. But generally, make sure you have back support, are not rounding your shoulders forward too far, and try to hold your wrist in neutral (still working on this – I have numbness in hands… problem). Consider using a stool under your feet, multiple pillows behind your back, and a nursing pillow (I prefer My Brest Friend).
No matter what, feeding your baby is not likely to be easy, whether you are using formula or breastfeeding. When you are getting exhausted with your method, remind yourself of WHY you made the choice you did. AND remind yourself that the other option also has its disadvantages – If you are a mom who formula-fed, I’m sure you could write your own post like this about the woes of bottle-feeding. When you are losing patience and can’t believe you are up at 3 in the morning, take a deep breath and just look at your sweet, innocent baby who completely depends on you to survive, and thank God, the Universe, or whoever/whatever you think is out there, for him or her.