I think it’s the tendency of bloggers and of people in general to share where they differed from the majority, if that makes sense. It would be kind of a boring blog post (and might feel hard to relate to) if I just wrote, it was easy peasy! No issues! It works like nature intended!
That said, we’re lucky enough that there haven’t been any major issues. The biggest hurdle was the start of the journey.
Besides reading mommy blogs, I didn’t do much research about breastfeeding before we had Ben. Silly me, I thought it would just happen. I assumed I’d give birth and they’d put my baby on my chest and within an hour or two, we’d give breastfeeding a try. Latch. Colostrum. Happy baby. Boom. This is obviously not what happened.
After Ben was whisked away to the NICU and then I didn’t see him for 9 hours (more on that here), I was overjoyed to finally “meet” him at 4am the next morning when feeling had returned to my legs and they finally let me leave my room. After spending some time with him, I went back to bed for a few hours.
When I returned to the NICU around 8am, I was introduced to Ben’s new nurse who came on at 7am.
She bluntly said “Do you have any colostrum for me?”
To which I replied, “Um, no”.
“Are you planning on breastfeeding?”
“So have you been pumping yet?”
“Well no, I don’t really…um…I’m not sure how to…was I supposed to ask for one?”
“Do you have a pump in your room?”
“Why does this keep happening? They’re supposed to bring you a pump immediately.”
“Um, okay. I don’t know. I’m sorry.”
“Well let’s hope that you not pumping for, what is it now, 12 hours? For 12 hours since you gave birth. Let’s hope that we haven’t compromised your milk supply.”
I could have cried right there. I nearly did. But I’m a feisty broad so, wide-eyed, I said bye to Ben and rushed back to my room and requested a pump as quickly as possible.
I returned to the NICU about an hour later with a few tiny drops of liquid gold. The nurse, clearly pleased, showed me where to get swabs to do mouth care – swirling a q-tip with colostrum on it around Ben’s mouth so he could get a taste for milk. He couldn’t breastfeed yet because he was on a CPAP machine (large breathing contraption covering much of his face) and had an NG tube. The nurse assured me that she’d called my floor and hassled them about why Moms weren’t getting pumps immediately.
In hind site, I’m so grateful to that nurse. Sure, she was little abrupt with her delivery but she got my ass in gear and that needed to happen. Plus we had her for several shifts during our stay she was really good to Ben and most importantly, I trusted her completely.
I then started the brutal routine of pumping every 2-3 hours, day and night. You can read more about life in the NICU here but it’s safe to say, it made being at home feel so freaking easy.
Gradually throughout our NICU stay we transitioned from NG tube feeds to eventually bottle feeds and breastfeeding. I had the guidance of the nurses and several lactation consultants throughout our stay, which was a nice benefit.
By the time we got home, we were happily breastfeeding with the assistance of a nipple shield (well there’s something I never thought I’d say on my blog). You may remember that because he was so little, I also had to pump and feed him a bottle of 25-30ml after every feeding. Initially I still pumped after every feeding to keep the fridge stash healthy enough so we always had that 25-30ml available plus a little extra.
By our month checkup, we got the go ahead to stop the supplemental bottle feeds and to stop setting our alarms for every 3 hours all night to wake him to eat (at the instruction of the NICU docs).
Around this time I was really ready to bail on the nipple shield but worried that Ben wouldn’t know how to eat without it. They’re pretty annoying to try to place right, get it to stay on, get the baby to latch, etc. Plus, can someone freaking tell me why they are CLEAR?! I was constantly losing it (usually it had fallen under my nightstand) and I only had one so we were always losing it and washing it and freaking out in the middle of the night when we couldn’t find it and worrying that Archie ate it….etc.
I read up on how to transition babies off of them and most articles said to start a feed with it, and then after the let down, remove it and continue the feed. This worked for us. The nipple shield is still on my nightstand but we haven’t used it in months.
Also an absolute game changer? The breastfeeding timer app. Worth every penny. I still use it for every feed and I love that it gives me stats etc. on Ben’s eating time, duration, etc. and reminds me which side to use next. It’s so helpful because having an infant means you live in a time warp and I’ll swear I just fed him and he’ll be wailing and I’ll be like wtf? And lo and behold, an hour and 40 minutes has gone by since the last feed so he’s wailing cause he’s hungry again. Basically it’s helpful if you’re especially forgetful.
After I decided not to go back to work full-time, I stopped pumping nearly as often. We have a small freezer stash and while I’d like to build it up, some days pumping just doesn’t happen and now that’s okay. Often times if Ben is sound asleep by 10, I’ll pump once before bed and freeze that.
These days Ben eats about 8 times a day and each feed is about 20-25 minutes. That’s about 3 hours of our day, every day. Some nights he sleeps for one 6-7 hour stretch, others he wakes up about 4 hours in to his sleep and eats and goes back to sleep.
Overall it’s been mostly smooth sailing. Considering the many horror stories I’ve read in blog land, I count myself lucky. I have no real advice to give except to say that sometimes things just happen easily and nothing that I did or didn’t do caused that.
I guess I’ll pat myself on the back for a minute and say that I’m proud that I was so committed to pumping in the NICU, as the nurses offered to give him formula several times (to ease the burden on me and allow me some rest) but I always declined. I was dedicated to pumping every single time he ate and with the schedule in the NICU, those pumping sessions meant my max sleep time between feeds was 1 hour and 50 minutes (more on that here). That’ll do some crazy things to your brain.
My general goal is to make it to a year however I won’t beat myself up about it if it stops working well for us before then.
That said (and this is said with zero judgement to other Moms – fed is best), I’m a little shocked by how pushy formula manufacturers are.
Before I’d even had Ben I had received an entire package (like an actual shoebox size package) of formula from one brand and have since received a thick envelope (with samples) from another. On a weekly basis I receive a piece of mail from each major formula company and they always include a coupon or a “check” for a rebate on formula.
It just feels very pushy, like they want you to quit breastfeeding. Like if I hadn’t made up my mind yet, firmly, that I would have given him their formula and we’d all be hooked. I did save it but it does feel odd that they’re so pushy about it. Honestly, they rival insurance companies with how aggressive they are with their marketing. It’s like they’re rooting for me to fail.
In general, I feel very lucky that I have the support of my husband, family, and friends to continue breastfeeding. There are so many barriers to breastfeeding for woman in this country. I know social support plays a huge role in breastfeeding success and I’m lucky to have that (and have so many women in my life to bounce questions off of!).
I’m also fortunate that I have the opportunity to work part-time from home and therefore can breastfeed whenever necessary, without worrying about pumping in the workplace, etc. I say this simply to point out that I realize that my situation is not typical for many Moms and that this has played a huge part in our breastfeeding experience so far. I have no idea how long I would have been able to keep this up if I’d had to pump every two hours at work all day.
I was hesitant to post this because it’s a lot of boob talk for this blog but a few people requested it. It’s part of my motherhood experience and I’m so grateful to other woman who have shared their experiences with me in the past. I also debated because this isn’t something Ben can weigh in on (remember how we decided what we’re sharing about our child on the internet) and I’m sharing something that is his experience also. That said, this is my side of the experience and hey, this blog will probably be dead before he hits middle school (Or will it? 6 years in, my friends…).
Not enough nipple shield talk for you? Leave a comment below if there’s anything you’d like to chat more about.