I wanted breastfeeding to work for the million and one reasons why it's so great for you and for your baby. We've heard them all so many times (if you'd like a review, I recommend this science-based list of reasons to breastfeed and this awesome-based list of reasons to breastfeed, both are great). I took a breastfeeding class when I was 38 weeks pregnant to learn how to have best chance at making things work. So I learned all the "rules" about how establishing breastfeeding in the first few hours (minutes even!) after birth is so important. I knew about nipple confusion and how we weren't supposed to introduce a bottle or pacifier until one month. I was warned not to "give in" and give any formula. I was really really committed to breastfeeding, and therefore, to all the rules. We all know though, when it comes to birthing those babies, things don't always go according to plan.
So how much did breaking all the rules interfere with breastfeeding for Finn and me?
The short answer: it didn't.
On paper we did everything wrong. I promise I'm not listing all of these obstacles in order to brag about how we made it past them, but so that maybe someone will realize that you can still do it even if everything goes wrong at first. Finn wasn't placed on my chest immediately after he was born. Instead, we were separated for almost an hour. When we were reunited I didn't feed him right away (at the time we were too excited about introducing him to his grandparents). We did establish breastfeeding in the hospital, but on the day my milk came in we had nursed only once when were separated for almost 8 hours due to an emergency on my part. My four day old baby then had three bottles of formula. I had a majorly traumatic experience and was told my milk supply would most likely suffer because of it, not only because of my stress level, but also because of the blood volume I lost.
Finn and I didn't pay attention to the bad stuff though. We stuck it out and spent a lot of skin-to-skin time working out the whole food-by-boob deal. When we were reunited after my whole scary ordeal, and after he had enjoyed three whole bottles of formula, he latched right back on and nursed like a champ. I missed a lot of sleep in those early weeks (okay, and the later weeks too) by not letting Finn have a bottle of pumped milk too often, and I'm glad I toughed it out. Crucial to our success was the help of the lactation consultants in the hospital. During our five days there I was constantly asking for help. Even when things seemed to be going well, I kept requesting (free) consults, for the reassurance and because each new consultant seemed to have a different tip or trick to offer.
|one week in|
If I had to offer any advice to new nursing moms, it would be this: ask for help. You think breastfeeding is going to be this completely natural, easy, automatic process, and it's just not. At least not at first. There were two tips I was given that made all the difference for us. The first is, it's really not supposed to hurt. If it hurts then there is something wrong with the latch and you need to STOP your baby immediately. Now I won't lie to you and say that it can't be uncomfortable at first. Discomfort, sensitivity, pinching... all normal. Straight up pain, no. Latch, latch, latch is the location, location, location of the breastfeeding world, and it's so easy to screw it up at first. I popped Finn off of me due to a bad latch time after time after time in the hospital. He got pretty mad about it, but he would have been even madder if I'd stopped feeding him due to soreness caused by a bad latch. Even a few minutes of doing it wrong is going to cause you a lot of pain. So how do you recognize a good latch? My second best tip ever came from my breastfeeding class and it helped me so much. A properly latched baby should look like he is taking a bite of a HUGE sandwich. A big old boob sandwich. We're talking a wide open, triple decker, food challenge sized bite. My husband and I got kind of obsessed with this image, and I'd call him over constantly when we were in the hospital to ask him if it looked like we were doing it right. No boob for Finn unless he could open that mouth just as wide as he could.
Breastfeeding as a working mom is a whole new game. When I went back to work I had built up a small supply of frozen milk, and I add to that supply by pumping during my 3.5 days at work. Because of the concerns over my supply I have been pumping since Finn was just a week old. I've been very very lucky to be able to pump well over the amount that Finn will eat while I am away. Typically I can pump about two ounces for every hour we are apart, and he tends to take around one ounce per hour. Even though I love my pump, pumping is still a pain in the ass. There are so many times when I'm super busy at work or super tired, and I just don't want to do it. But I do, and I'm always happy when I return home with all the bags of liquid gold for my little guy. I work two seven-hour days when I pump twice, one ten-hour day when I pump three times, and a four-hour day when I pump once. That's eight pumping sessions at work, and inevitably I'll pump a couple of times at home per week as well, whether it's if we're leaving Finn with his grandparents for a few hours or if we're headed somewhere where it would be easier to feed him from a bottle.
Again, there are a couple of things that make a huge difference for me when pumping. First, invest in a hands-free pumping bra. I have this one (Simple Wishes Hands-Free Breastpump Bra) which I put on only when I'm actually pumping, and it's great because it wraps around you over your nursing bra or tank and you don't have to pull anything on over your head. This turns my pumping sessions into iPhone play sessions, and catching up on blog-reading, my twitter feed, or Words with Friends during work makes pumping a lot more bearable. Well worth the thirty bucks for the bra. My second tip is about the dreaded washing of the pump parts... this is easily the hugest pain-in-the-ass part of pumping. Maybe not everyone will be comfortable with the way I do it, but it makes my life so much easier. So here's the deal: breastmilk is just fine at room temperature for eight hours (some studies say even longer). On my longest day of pumping, my first session is at noon, my second at three, and my last at six, so guess what? Milk that may be on the pump parts is still fine. Do you see where I'm going with this? I don't wash the parts in between sessions. (Gasp.) The pumped milk goes into storage bags, which go in the fridge. Pump parts go into a (new each day) gallon sized ziploc and back into the pump bag. I wash them each night and sterilize them once a week or so with these microwave bags. It was actually a lactation consultant at the hospital that suggested this system to me (who also said that sterilizing is not necessary at all- your breasts certainly aren't sterile anyways) and I don't understand why it's not more popular. If you want to go crazy and put the pump parts into the fridge with the milk, they could last even longer.
I know that we are really really blessed that breastfeeding has been an easy journey for us. I have to say that most of the time, I really enjoy it. After a couple of weeks, Finn was a champ, and now latches himself on perfectly every time with no help from me. In those first weeks I only felt comfortable nursing him behind closed doors, but now that we've gotten the hang of it, we've nursed in the car, at restaurants, outdoors at a wedding, on a boat, and while blogging (including now!). I can (and do) nurse him in my sleep. Breastfeeding releases endorphins, and it certainly does make both of us happy. It's an instant soother, a quick solution in the middle of the night, and a constantly available, always perfect temperature, free food source for my child. Our goal is a long ways off, and we may hit other roadblocks along the way, but I'm optimistic that we can keep making this work.
Boobs. Pretty much miracles, no?