When I was pregnant with Andrew, I knew I wanted to try and breastfeed him. However, I had heard from countless moms that breastfeeding wasn’t always as easy as it would seem and countless issues could come up that might make it difficult or impossible to breastfeed. So, I convinced myself that if for some reason I couldn’t breastfeed, it would be okay.
I don’t know if it’s the hormones that come from having a baby or the fact that you are instantly overwhelmed with wanting to provide this child the absolute best in life, but once Andrew was born, I could not imagine not breastfeeding him. This mindset made for an emotional first few weeks, and there were a couple times when I had to let go of this determination to exclusively breastfeed and do what was best for Andrew. Below I’m sharing my struggles and triumphs with breastfeeding, how I feel about it now, and my favorite products that have helped me on this journey!
I feel like a broken record saying this, but the first six weeks of Andrew’s life were the most challenging when it came to breastfeeding. Here are a few of the reasons why:
The Nipple Shield
The first struggle that arose was due to the fact that he was so little – Andrew was 5 weeks early and weighed 5 lbs 1 oz at birth. He could not latch on so the lactation consultant provided me with a nipple shield, which made my nipple larger and easier for his to grasp onto. Of course at first I was not happy about having to use this. I felt like it took away from the natural connection I so desperately wanted from breastfeeding and it was a pain to carry around and wash all the time. I worried every day that he would never be able to latch on to my nipple and that we would be using this obstruction for our entire breastfeeding journey.
I’ll get to this in a bit but I was eventually able to break away from using this shield and looking back on the time that we did have to use it, I am just so grateful that it existed so that he could breastfeed even when he was so little. It wasn’t how I pictured our first few weeks of breastfeeding to go but thankfully it helped get us started. Another benefit of using the shield was that I never had any discomfort while breastfeeding him – my nipples were never cracked, sore, or in pain and I assume it’s because this shield offered a protection around them.
Pumping in the First 2 Weeks
Because Andrew was so little (see pic above), our pediatrician recommended that we supplement either with formula or expressed breast milk until he at least got back to his birth weight. Since I wasn’t prepared for Andrew to arrive so early, I had not yet ordered my breast pump through my insurance So for about five days, we supplemented with formula. I was not a fan of this. Andrew would spit up so much, have gas, and really poopy diapers – I just don’t think the formula sat well on his little tummy.
I did not want to go two more weeks supplementing with formula while I waited for my pump to arrive so I looked for other options. I tried a manual breast pump to see if that could be a quick fix and realized my hand was going to fall off before I could even pump enough milk for a bottle. I’ve heard of some women solely self-expressing and props to them – I have no idea how they do that!
Next option was to rent a hospital grade pump. A quick Google search and I found Breastfeed Atlanta, which offered two week rental periods on all of their hospital grade pumps. At first pumping was incredibly discouraging. I think the first time I pumped I got one ounce, and I thought well this fancy thing isn’t going to work either. But after giving it a few more tries, I was able to get enough for almost two bottles in a 15 minute session.
Thus, my pumping journey began. While I was happy to be supplementing with breast milk and not formula, pumping this early did lead to a couple more struggles…
Clogged Ducts and Mastitis
I did not realize this until it was too late but pumping as much as I was pumping and as early as I was pumping was drastically increasing my supply to the point where my breasts would get overly engorged and my ducts would get clogged. Apparently, using a pump does not drain all the ducts as well as a baby’s mouth does so I got three clogged ducts in total and they were not fun. They were hard, sore, and incredibly tender lumps on my breasts that I had to massage out while either feeding Andrew or taking a hot shower. Massaging these out yourself is not easy because it’s so painful but it was the only way to quickly get rid of them!
One of my clogged ducts, however, led to mastitis which is a painful infection of the breast – even more painful than just a clogged duct – and it makes you so sick. It knocked me out for an entire day with flu like symptoms and a high fever. There are very few times in my life when I felt that sick. At one point when I woke up from taking a nap, my clothes were completely drenched in sweat from my fever! Thankfully, my mother-in-law was in town when this happened as I could not physically take care of Andrew. Once I got on antibiotics I felt better within 36 hours. Lesson learned – prevent clogged ducts by massaging your breasts during pumping, and if you do get a clogged duct, massage it out immediately! Even though it’s a painful process, it’s not worth getting mastitis!
A Full Time Job
Pumping and breastfeeding was a job with overtime. Those first few weeks when I was doing both in order to supplement I literally felt like either Andrew or a pump was attached to my breast at all times. He was eating every two hours (or less), which took thirty minutes, then I would pump for fifteen minutes, and then I barely had time to go to the bathroom before I had to feed him again! I was so glad once we were able to stop with the extra bottle feeds around three weeks so that I didn’t have to constantly pump.
Switching to just breastfeeding, however, was still a full time job, and even more so because Andrew had a lot of catching up to do since he was five weeks early. It felt like Andrew ate all.of.the.time! I think that’s why I keep saying those first six weeks were so hard because I felt like I had lost my life and was a slave to breastfeeding. I seriously could not even find the time to feed myself or get dressed for the day. I was exhausted because day or night Andrew wanted to eat every two hours. Then, there were a few days around week four where Andrew was eating every hour on the hour! I had a few breakdowns that week and swore I was going to give up on breastfeeding. However, once I realized that this incident aka ‘cluster feeding’ was him going through his first growth spurt (thanks to a Google search) and it only lasted a few days, I was back on the breastfeeding wagon. But, man those days were tough. I really wish the pediatrician, lactation consultant, or someone had warned / prepared me for this first growth spurt so I could have handled it better.
After those first six weeks and especially once we got off the nipple shield (story below), we started to get into a more consistent schedule and I learned how to squeeze my life into two hour cycles. We had a couple more growth spurts after the four week one, but I was prepared for them this time around (I watched Season 1 of New Girl) and was able to accept them for what they were.
As the weeks went by, Andrew, as I now realize most babies do, has gotten more efficient at the breast, taking fifteen to twenty minutes to eat instead of thirty, and has spaced some of his feedings out a little bit longer (most of the time it’s still every 2 hours, but sometimes we will have a 2.5 – 3.5 hour stretch). Having this more predictable routine and gaining a few major triumphs noted below are what helped get me through those first difficult weeks of breastfeeding. As hard as they were for me mentally, physically, and emotionally, I’m thankful that I stuck with it.
The Bonding Aspect
Despite all the challenges mentioned above, breastfeeding for me has been the most amazing part of being a mom thus far. The experience changed the first time that Andrew locked eyes with me while he was feeding. It was as if he was finally seeing me and not just his food. Every eye lock since then is just as precious (see pictures above). Now they also come with milk drunk smiles, which just melt my heart. Oh, and the post feeding milk drunk snuggles make it nearly impossible to put him back down to sleep immediately (see pictures below)!
Andrew also does this thing with his hands while he’s breastfeeding that is just too sweet. With the arm closest to my back, he wraps it around and runs his fingers across my skin while he’s eating. His little caress is so precious. With the other arm, he always takes his little hand and holds onto the center of my bra (see bottom pic below). I don’t know why but it’s just the sweetest little gesture to me.
Whereas before, I used to at times resent our nursing sessions especially the ones in the middle of the night, now I treasure them as our special bonding time just between us. I know it won’t last forever and so I’m trying to cherish every. single. one.
The more I read about the benefits of breastmilk the more amazed I am by what our bodies can do and create. Here are a few of the magical powers of breastmilk that blew my mind:
- Your breast milk morphs based on baby’s nutritional needs and as baby gets older AND it’s specially formulated for your baby – how crazy is that?
- The antibodies in breast milk help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria, decreasing their chances of illnesses and infections – scientist believe that backwash from nursing babies may even creep back into mom’s nipple, where it spurs and immune response – what?!
- It has healing powers for mom and baby – from sore nipples and acne on mama to diaper rash and eczema on baby, breast milk has been used to treat all these ailments!
No wonder they call this stuff ‘liquid gold!’
Losing the Nipple Shield
Around six weeks (this seems to be the magical time for everything in our case ;), Andrew was becoming more alert and getting noticeably bigger and stronger so I thought it would be a good time to start trying without the nipple shield. The first few tries he screamed in frustration. He would shake his little head back and forth, rooting for the large nipple, and completely missing my much smaller nipple. Not wanting to get him too upset or let too much air in before a feeding, I would quickly put the shield back on. When we would switch breasts, I would try again since he was a little more calm. However, the frustration was still there.
Then, I remembered something the lactation consultant had said – try getting him to latch on the same nipple you used the shield since that one would be more ‘pulled out’ from him sucking on it. The first few times we did this he would latch on for a few sucks then fall off and get frustrated but I felt like it was progress given that he latched on even if just for a moment! For a couple weeks during each breastfeeding session, I would do this progression – feed him on one breast for a little bit with the shield, then remove it and try to get him to latch without.
After doing this for about two weeks, one day I tried it without the shield and he latched immediately! After that we never looked back! It has been so nice not having to use that thing anymore, and I’m so thankful that after giving him a bottle, the shield, and a paci he was still able to learn how to latch at around eight weeks old!
Poopy Diapers that Don’t Smell!
Need I say more?!
A Lighter Load
Getting out the door with a baby in tow is so much harder than it seems. It always feels like you’re packing up the entire house just to run one errand. One of the minor yet still positive benefits of breastfeeding that I love is not having to worry about packing formula and bottles. It’s just one less thing I have to worry about. Oh, and one less thing to clean because turns out I never have time to do the dishes anymore either!
All in all this journey has taught me that breastfeeding is NOT easy! It’s a full time job that takes a lot of work, patience, and determination. Because I’ve realized how challenging it can be, I totally understand why not all moms want, can, or should breastfeed. Ultimately, moms have to do what is best for them and baby and sometimes that means exclusively breastfeeding, sometimes it means supplementing, and sometimes it means using formula. Like I said in this post about the lessons motherhood has taught me, when it comes to making decisions as a mom, no one’s opinion matters except yours. And doing what is best for your family comes first!
HOWEVER, if you are in those first few weeks of breastfeeding, are facing some of the challenges that come with the job, and desperately want to stick it out, then hang in there!! You can do it! It will get easier, I promise! Don’t be afraid to reach out for help from a lactation consultant or friend who has gone through it even if just for mental support 🙂
My Favorite Nursing Related Products
Medela Nipple shield
Nipple shield case
Hospital grade pump from Breastfeed Atlanta
Medela Freestyle Pump (this one is great for travelling and using on-the-go) & Medela Pump in Style (this one is stronger and more efficient but harder to move around)
Nursing friendly clothing