This is part 1 of 2 of my breastfeeding journey. Yes, it’s going to take two whole posts to cover all that happened, and yes I will probably leave some things out – either because I forgot in order to actually be able to go through this whole process again with the next baby, or because I just really don’t want to scare you. I added a ton of links throughout the post that can help if you’re interested, so click away!
On September 5, 2016 I thought I was giving birth to a healthy baby boy. It turns out, I was bringing into the world yet another boobie barnacle.
This is not a list of dos and don’ts. I can’t provide that because your experience will be totally different than mine because you gave birth to an entirely different human than me. But I do want to share the details of my experience in hopes that if my story is anything like yours, you can see something that will help.
Now, before I go any further I want to make something clear: there is no disagreement that breast is best. It is. That’s just the fact. But that doesn’t mean that breastfeeding is going to work out for everyone – for whatever reason – and that doesn’t mean that formula is bad. Formula has kept millions of babies healthy, well-fed, and ALIVE for years. I don’t care how you feed your baby, and I am not here to shame you. Frankly, I think it’s sad and a huge testament to the state of the mommy community that I even have to preface my post with this. Feed your baby. Be proud of the choices you make. You are a warrior, mama, and nobody is here to make you question yourself. Breastfeeding is what I know because that’s what I did, and so that’s what I can talk about. I am passionate about breastfeeding because I had a really difficult time getting to the point where I loved it, and I want to share my experience with the hope that it can help other women love it too.
If you can’t breastfeed, but want to, and this information helps you, that’s great. If you can’t breastfeed, or you don’t want to, that’s great too. Regardless of how you feed your baby I would love to be able to meet up for a cup of coffee one day and laugh about how, even though we totally adore our kids, they can be super assholes sometimes.
Breastfeeding does not come naturally, contrary to what we are led to believe. Breastfeeding is something that most women are able to do, but it is not something that we immediately know how to do. And that’s the part that a lot of us can’t understand. If our bodies are able to create milk and our babies are able to suck as soon as they’re earthside, why doesn’t it always work?
I read everything there was to read about having the baby and virtually nothing about breastfeeding. Why? Because I didn’t think it would be that hard. In reality, it’s been the hardest part about motherhood so far. Why? Because I didn’t think it would be this hard.
I was absolutely shocked how much my son wanted to nurse. Boobie barnacle is not hyperbole. This kid did not leave the boob for 6 weeks. He would suck a little, sleep a little, suck a little, sleep a little, and if I tried to actually remove him from my breast, he would cry. A lot. The inner dialogue in my head was on a loop – Was my milk enough? Was he still hungry? Should I give him a bottle of formula just in case? Maybe I should go buy a scale so that I could weigh him before and after each feed. Am I doing this right? These thoughts that flooded my brain are the same thoughts that every new mom whose boobs are suddenly responsible for sustaining life has.
Now, I am not a doctor or a lactation consultant, but I am a mom who has talked to lots of other moms and the one thing they all said: this is normal behavior for newborns. It’s also normal behavior for new moms to call the doctor and ask a million questions and want to make sure their baby isn’t starving. My only advice when you’re worried if your baby isn’t getting enough to eat would be this: ask, check, consult, but make sure you’re asking the right person. Just because there’s an MD after their name doesn’t make them an expert on or an advocate for breastfeeding. My right person happened to be a local La Leche League leader and a Facebook group dedicated to helping mamas breastfeed, led by an amazing IBCLC/Doula, Cass Romero-Schroeder. These websites also helped – and still do! – a lot.
The fact is that we won’t know how much our baby is getting when they’re breastfeeding and if it’s our first time, we are going to be plagued with worry over the issue. But the number one indication that your baby is getting enough to eat – aside from his growth – is the number of dirty diapers he is having. Other things – like how full your breasts feel, how fussy the baby is, how well (or not) he’s sleeping – don’t necessarily mean you don’t have enough milk.
After Adam’s first check up and weigh in, I knew that he was OK, and that my milk was enough. His doctor – who was encouraging and supportive of my decision to exclusively breastfeed – told me the best thing I could do is just keep feeding him whenever he wanted to eat, which was still all the time. She also told me that I needed to eat all the time and drink a ton of water and rest when I could, and that my body would know what to do. Our bodies know what to do. You are enough.
One thing that I had heard a lot about before having the baby was different supplements and herbs that could help make more milk. They came in all forms – from pills to teas to cookies – and all had roughly the same ingredients. I’m not going to tell you that these don’t work, but I am going to tell you that the evidence that they work is anecdotal at best, and many of the ingredients may do more harm than good by irritating baby’s tummy. The best way to increase your supply – if you even have a low supply to begin with, which you probably don’t! – is to nurse baby all the time and take really good care of yourself. Eat A LOT of good food, and indulge in a little chocolate and ice cream, too. Take vitamins. Drink tea. Eat cookies. Do some yoga poses or take a walk. Do these things because it’s good for your body and soul, not because it will increase your milk. KellyMom has a great overview on how and when to take supplements, but I would really recommend getting in touch with an IBCLC if you’re worried about your supply. There are other issues that could be impacting your nursing relationship that an IBCLC would be able to discuss with you, too, such as lip and tongue ties.
Overall, the more our milk is removed, the more it’s produced. That’s just how the boobs work. So feeding the baby is the best way to make more milk. Pumping is also a great way to kickstart the remove – produce cycle, but be warned: oversupply is a real thing and it is not fun. You know best what your schedule is going to look like, and if/when you have to return to work before baby is 6 weeks, pumping may be necessary. But inform yourself first and look out for cues of oversupply. Discuss your options with your person, and make a plan from there.
Look out for my next post all about my oversupply issues, the problems I had because of that, and how I was able to correct it, resulting in a happy boobie monster and happy mommy.