Hello, my name is Allison and I blog over at A Little Blueberry. I am a mama to a 13 month old baby girl named Lemon, a full time high school teacher and a wife to an amazing man named Ian. Motherhood has definitely been a challenge for me, and even at 13 months there are days where I have no idea what I’m doing. And, I have to say, breastfeeding was one of the biggest hurdles I’ve overcome – persistence was the key for me. I have breastfed my daughter for 13 months and we are still going; this is an amazing personal accomplishment and one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.
There isn’t a day that goes by where my husband looks at Lemon, turned totally around with my nipple stretched in her mouth, and says to me, “Did you ever think guys would be here?” And no, I never thought we would. Lemon was born on July 2nd and on August 13th (almost exactly a year ago today!) I wrote a post about nursing and my struggles. I was so confused, sad and it seemed like we were never going to get the hang of it. I can’t believe how far we’ve come, and definitely can’t believe that we are still going. Breastfeeding takes patience, faith and determination and I think you have to be somewhat knowledgeable about the mechanics of it in order to really set your mind at ease.
On July 1st, 2012 I went into labor and felt fully prepared. I had a birth plan, took hypnobirthing classes and thought I knew everything about birth and labor. I ended up having the natural birth that I wanted, in a hospital, but there was one thing that I didn’t bother to learn about before-hand: breastfeeding. I am kind of a hippie at heart and just had faith in myself, as a woman, and was so naive to think that my baby would just crawl up, straight from the womb, and latch on. I didn’t read anything beforehand and no one told me that it may be a struggle, even though I had heard about women who stopped nursing. I assumed it was because they didn’t want to be “attached” to their babies all day, but then I learned: Babies are born to suck but aren’t sometimes born to latch and it takes practice.
Lemon seemed to latch fine right after she was born and I had a very patient nurse there to help and encourage me. Then, we were moved into a very small room with nurses who did not seem very knowledgeable or helpful. No one told me how often I was supposed to be feeding my baby, no one else checked my technique and her latch, so I am pretty sure that she was hungry for most of that first night (and cried all night to prove it). In the morning I told the nurses how I hadn’t been feeding her very often (even though I had that log, but it was only for recording feedings) so they gave her formula. I was referred to a lactation consultant, who was also not very helpful, and attached me to a pump and told me to spoon feed Lemon colostrum and every couple of hours to supplement with formula. I did not know that those first days were crucial for building supply, and wish I would have.
I was sent home with formula, which I continued to use, and suffered through feedings because it just hurt like heck. We had many sleepless nights struggling to latch, shoving my whole breast in her mouth and that Lemon spent crying. I was too proud to give her too much formula, said to my husband on more than one occasion, “I have a Master’s Degree why can’t I figure this out?!” and cried in bed alone because it hurt so badly that I didn’t want to do it and then felt guilty about it (can you say a bit of postpartum?!). I finally decided to ditch the formula and set my mind to conquering nursing once and for all.
I went to a La Leche League meeting where the consultant finally looked at how Lemon was latching and said she was doing it correctly, and expressed that it was ok to feel like I didn’t want to nurse because it hurt. She really validated my feelings and told me I wasn’t alone. I felt so guilty, was so sad (and was probably starving my babe) and think back on it now and wish I could do it all over again. My nipples were so sore, raw (and even cracked and bleeding) and I tried every shield, shell, cream, etc. out there (Motherlove ended up being the best!), and there was just nothing that helped. I was told so many times by so many people that breastfeeding wasn’t supposed to hurt, and if it did, I must be doing it wrong. I was defeated.
My mom ended up hiring a lactation educator to come to our house and one morning, after sleeping in (and grandma babysitting), this angel appeared. She sat with me, laid with me, taught me how to side nurse, stuck her finger in Lemon’s mouth to see if she had a tongue tie and told me I was doing everything correctly and that it may just be painful for me for awhile. She also taught a class at a local store and I went, and was the only mom with an actual baby there. I learned about the breast, how babies latch and suck and what it all looked like – a class I should have taken while pregnant (but one that was SO beneficial when there with a nursing baby too). The film in the hospital showed older babies, not newborns, so this was my first lesson.
My mind also got in the way of nursing. Lemon was so hungry and so impatient and would get upset and cry because my let down wasn’t fast enough. She would be miserable at night (and was maybe still hungry), so she always had trouble going to sleep. I would be in my head too much, waiting for multiple let downs, and then I would worry that I didn’t have enough milk for her. I started reading, googling, watching videos and now I realize that everything I read back then was about older babies, not newborns (just like the hospital video). No one tells you how it is with a brand new babe and all of the information I can remember reading applies NOW, to my one year old nurser. I had to find a way to get out of my head.
I downloaded books on the iPad (starting with the 50 Shades Trilogy!) and reading them while nursing at night. I would just sit for hours while the babe nursed and let down wasn’t a problem because I stopped focusing on it. Massaging never worked for me but clearing my mind really turned it around and helped me relax. I am an over-thinker, and find that I do it a lot with all aspects of motherhood, so sometimes I have to take a step back and chill out. I also took herbal supplements – fenugreek and blessed thistle – not necessarily because they helped (I have no idea if they did!) but because it put my mind at ease that maybe they were boosting my supply (a placebo, definitely).
I ended up pumping once a day, at lunch, for over 125 days and when school ended in May I stopped. I started pumping over 10 ounces a day when Lemon was 4 months (enough for two bottles while I was gone, and a feeding right when I got home), then about 7 ounces and I think I ended around 5. It takes commitment to pump, store, wash, and remember to do it all again the next day and I give huge props to moms who exclusively pump – it’s a lot of work. Now, returning to school this week, I don’t pump (and find that I have so much extra time!) because Lemon mostly nurses just in the morning and at night, and drinks almond milk during the day. I donated over 65 ounces to a friend who does not produce a lot through pumping, and felt so good about it, giving away all that milk that I thought I would run out of during the year.
I didn’t enjoy nursing until Lemon was 6 months old and I remember it being uncomfortable, for me, until about 5 months. I know that some women have an easy time and I truly hope that is the case for most. But, there are some of us who struggle and I think it shouldn’t be a secret, it should be something we share so that we can help others. So many times I was told to just stop nursing, but once I set my mind to something I have to see it through. I always wanted to breastfeed my baby, and so I persevered, even when it was tough, even though I was so sad at times and even though Lemon may have been starving. To this day I still feel guilty about those early months, and may actually have a better sleeper now if I would have done things differently then. But, I have learned and grown and will be more educated next time (if there is a next time for me!), and that gives me some peace of mind. Not a day goes by where I don’t remember just how lucky I am, even when it is tough, and am so thankful that I get to be someone’s mother, no matter how it has all turned out.
I want to thank Julie for having these guest posts on her blog. It is so helpful to know that we, as mothers, are not alone in our journey. I think that the most important thing we can do for each other is support one another – whether we nurse, pump or formula feed our babes. We don’t need to judge or give advice, all we need to do is help and encourage, in whatever we decide is best for our babies. Because what you decide to do, as a mother, is best for your family, and I am here to support you in your decision. We are not alone, we are all in this together.
Thanks for reading!
Such wonderful advice from a beautiful mama. If you would like to contribute your story to the Breastfeeding Diaries, please email me! And be sure to catch up with the rest of the series at the top of my navigation bar.