I’m going to jump ahead now to my breastfeeding journey.
I breastfed my son for 13 months. There was some pumping and bottle feeding so my husband could feed him. Marcus took well to switching back and forth. He didn’t seem to care what nipple he got as long as it produced milk!
Even at 12 months old, He fed every 3-4 hours, except at night. And he was a slow feeder, he’d be on me for at least 1 hour. So by 13 months, I couldn’t spend 4-5 hours a day with a toddler on my breast. I was done. I was training for my second 1/2 marathon, and would be spending my first weekend away from home soon, so I felt like it was time to ween him off the breast.
But something happened at his first birthday party which I hadn’t expected or been able to prepare myself for. The social pressure to stop breastfeeding because he was now 12 months old. To my non-breastfeeding friends and family, they saw 12 months as the finish line. And A LOT of people at his first birthday asked me how I felt now that I didn’t have to breastfeed anymore, or made comments that I was now done because he was 12 months. I took these comments in silently. It hurt me. At that point, I hadn’t thought of 12 months as the end of breastfeeding. I wasn’t thinking of the end my husband and I were celebrating my son's first year of life! And our accomplishments as first-time parents! It was a joyous gathering! And I was bombarded with people's assumptions and opinions about the expiry date of my body and it’s the ability to produce nourishment for my son. I was emotionally torn inside. Was it time to stop? Was I being too clingy?
Outsiders saw 12 months as the breastfeeding finish line. But for my son and I, it wasn't.
You see, in the beginning, I had a finish line in mind…but by six weeks, I no longer thought of the finish line. The hard part was over, I no longer needed a goal to aspire to, to hold on to until I got there. Breastfeeding became easier and was a natural part of our day. Sure I had bad days, but that’s human.
I was so nervous to breastfeed in public. There were so many social media posts about the negativity surrounding breastfeeding in public and I paid too much attention to them. I expected people to be negative or outraged. but it never happened. Be careful what you absorb from social media. It can set you up for failure. It's the reason I don't share negative breastfeeding stories or news on HEA's Facebook page. You need to be empowered and encouraged, not plagued with fear.
When I was pregnant, I was determined to breastfeed. I watched a bunch of breast crawl videos. In case you don't know, a breast crawl is an instinct in mammals, including human newborns, to move towards the nipple and attach to it for breastfeeding. They do this all by themselves! I was in complete awe of the strength and instinct of a newborn! If you’ve never watched a breast crawl, I’ve linked some videos below. Super cool and moving! I read books, blogs, found Dr Jack Newman on Facebook and followed him religiously. I took a breastfeeding class in addition to our prenatal class. I wanted to be prepared and I wanted to know everything! I shared my goal with my husband and he was on board. I over-prepared to ensure success.
Baby Breast Crawl Video
Marcus and I made it through 13 months! Despite all my preparation and my will to breastfeed, we almost didn’t make it a full week.
Breastfeeding for me was something that I wanted, but it didn’t come naturally to me or to Marcus and it was hard, emotionally daunting, and painful. I was wrought with self-doubt.
Friday morning, May 2nd my milk came in while I was still at the hospital.
When you have a newborn in the hospital you need to track pees, poos and which breast you are feeding on and for how long. None of my prep work taught me this, or it’s information I didn’t retain in the moment I needed it most, so I felt like a fool when I was asked questions and didn’t have the answers.
All my notes in my journal are about him, none about my struggle to breastfeed. I remember lying in bed, my husband was bringing him to me and I was just crying. I can’t explain to you why it was hard, why it was emotionally draining, why I felt like a failure, why I wondered if he was getting enough and worrying even though he seemed content. I couldn’t see it coming out, my breasts weren’t clear like a bottle. What was he getting? I needed to have faith and I needed to persevere but all I had was doubt.
I made the pledge to myself to breastfeed him for the first week. That was my short term goal and my long term goal was a month.
His latches hurt. He latched on so rough! Like a barracuda. My husband would tell me to break the latch, my training told me to break the latch, but I was so afraid to do that to this vulnerable little baby. So I suffered, my nipples were so chapped, scabbed and sore. I started pumping one side and only feeding him on one side to give the nipple a break. It was awful. I made the pledge to myself to breastfeed him for the first week. That was my short term goal and my long term goal was a month. I reached a week then I told myself my short term goal was a month and my long term goal was six months. At some point in that first month, I stopped counting. I’d gotten through the worse part. I’d done it!
At my worst, I remember him spitting up milk and there was blood in it. I knew it was from my nipples, that’s how badly damaged they were. I didn’t have faith that he could be taught to latch more gently. But after the scabs and the pain and the blood when he spat up, I realized how ridiculous I was being. This was not sustainable. I would never make it I wanted to breastfeed. It was a must for me. Do what you were taught woman, or you won’t succeed.
I think in the back of my mind I hoped or believe that things would just fix themselves and become natural and pain-free. We’d find the rhythm, but we both had a lot to learn. We had to work at breastfeeding so we could both be good at it.
Breastfeeding is a practice. You aren’t automatically good at it because your breasts naturally produce milk and your baby is born with a rooting reflex. You need to do it and keep doing it to get better at it.
Breastfeeding is a practice. You aren’t automatically good at it because your breasts naturally produce milk and your baby is born with a rooting reflex. You need to do it and keep doing it to get better at it. It needs to become a habit, and habits take a long time to form. Studies show it takes between 27 and 66 days to make new habits and for these new habits to become routine. Fitness is a practice. You don’t go to the gym once and consider yourself done. You make it a part of your everyday life. Religion, faith, meditation is a practice. You don’t pray or meditate once and you're spiritually enlightened. You make your faith or beliefs and meditation a part of your everyday life. Breastfeeding is a journey and for me, it was hard AF in the beginning!
Milk drunk after a successful feed!
By 6 weeks Marcus was sleeping through the night every night, and by then I was confident enough to no longer follow the hospital's advice to wake him up every 2 hours to feed him. He’d gained 1b a week for the first 4 weeks, clearly, he was doing well, and I could let us all sleep at night! Despite the fact that he had gained 1 full pound in his first week of life, a clear measure of success, I still struggled with breastfeeding and doubted myself. This mind game and the mental struggle, looking back was part of the postpartum hormone cocktail. It was a rough ride, but it did fade overtime.
I want to tell you now if you are in the beginning and you are struggling with breastfeeding, follow through. If it’s something you want, follow through. If you need to supplement with formula. Follow through, there’s nothing wrong with a mix love! If your breasts aren’t producing enough, ask your Doctor for meds to help boost milk production. There are lots of natural remedies like brewer’s yeast, fenugreek, milk thistle, but none of these are proven and may not work. It’s worth a try.
Don’t be afraid to use your voice!!!! You aren’t being pushy. You aren’t asking too much. It’s your right. Don’t be afraid of what your doctor will think. Don’t let your doctor's voice become yours. Follow medical advice, doctors have the expertise, but they also have biases. Get a second opinion if he/she tells you you can’t breastfeed or won’t give you lactation support. Your request, your needs are not unreasonable. Follow through.
From my journal
“My favourite face by far is when he is feeding and he keeps his eyes closed and raises his eyebrows. It is so damn cute!”
PS, I'd like to note that I've never had the courage to share pictures of myself breastfeeding on my own personal social media accounts! But for some reason, I feel safe doing it here!