Breastfeeding was the hardest and most rewarding experience of my life. I’m so proud of the effort I made at each one of our hurdles. However, it’s definitely a personal journey and everyone is different. All you can do is try and do right by your baby and that is helping them grow, thrive, and be loved.
Hello friends! I’m Erinn from Strawberry Swing and other Things. I’m an original Jersey Girl, now living in the Philly Suburbs with my husband and sweet 15 month old baby girl, Ashlynn. We’ve had a roller coaster of a breastfeeding journey (you can read the extended story here) that became one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
I knew I wanted to try my hardest at breastfeeding, though I definitely wasn’t in a “I HAVE TO” mind frame. I’ve had a lot of friends face struggles with their supply, baby not latching, doctors pushing formula and it just not working out. I didn’t want to place the pressure on myself to feel like a failure if I wasn’t able to to produce milk or help my baby healthily gain weight.
While my goal was to breastfeed for a year, I never wanted to place pressure on myself to make that the only option. I just wanted a healthy baby who was thriving, on whatever form of nutrition it might have come from.
Baby’s [unexpected] Arrival:
Ashlynn surprised us when she was born at 35 weeks gestation on April 18, 2012. At this point, we had just finished our birth class the week prior and I hadn’t even read up about breastfeeding. I was planning to get to that in my final month so it’d be fresh in my mind. Plus, I had heard fabulous things about the lactation consultants at our hospital, so I was hoping on getting more hands on learning as we went.
When Ashlynn arrived and was placed on my chest (read the birth story here and here), she was given the chance to nurse. She started rooting immediately and eventually found a latch. Looking back, I’m not sure if she was truly latched or even getting anything at all, but after a small bit of time, the nurses gave her to her daddy to supplement with formula. We were barely asked if this was okay, but since she was preterm and only 5 pounds, it was essential we do what we could to keep her weight and sugar levels up to keep her from visiting the NICU.
So our routine began at the hospital, every 3 hours I would start the process of letting Ashlynn attempt to nurse for 20-30minutes, then let the husband feed her the colostrum I pumped from a syringe, then an ounce of formula, while I pumped again (both sides for 15 minutes). After our two day stay, we took this routine home.
My milk came in overnight our first night back, and it came in like tsunami from all that pumping! This set me up for a very uncomfortable start. We attempted to nurse, switch off, I’d pump and my husband feed. Finally I was pumping more than enough milk to completely fill bottles. We started our freezer stash all while keeping her fed with the two ounces or so she was taking at the time. She started gaining weight and things we going well, all aside from the actual nursing part.
Painful and pretty sure she wasn’t getting much nutrition from the source, she constantly was falling asleep at the breast. We would tickle her feet, strip her down, you name it, she would just snooze. I was getting defeated by the hospital grade pump (I hadn’t yet purchased my own since I was waiting for my registry completion discount and she arrived before it did!). I felt like a dairy cow. We also found out after Ashlynn’s first doctor appointment that she had jaundice – which is known for making breastfeeding even harder. We had a bili-blanket delivered and trying to feed a glow worm baby, who was literally plugged into the wall, was awful.
About a week to 10 days in, I called a lactation consultant to work on our latch. At the time of our appointment, we were having decent feedings on the right side, but the left side was just awkward and very painful. She gave me a nipple shield and that really helped things along. After a few weeks, we were able to drop it with out a problem and the left side feedings became as smooth as the right.
Over time our feeding schedule of 20 minutes one side, 20 minutes the other, bottle of pumped milk, and 15 minute pumping session and clean up (roughly 90 minutes) and then starting the process again 90 minutes was killing me. I needed to stop pumping. It seemed I was producing more than our tiny little baby would ever consume, yet no guide (kellymom.com or the Le Leche League books) or professional, really had an answer for our situation – preterm baby with a mom who’s been pumping from the start, a no-no in their world. If I stopped pumping would my supply drop below her eventually demand? No one had an answer. I felt so confused where to start and how to go about transitioning out of our routine without causing harm to my supply or her needs.
Around 6 weeks we hit our stride. I would feed on one side, since she was getting a full meal there, and pump the other. Slowly I cut the pump time down and got ourselves to just feeding one side every 2-3 hours (on her cues). Sure I was a bit lopsided, but I was also back to being very small. I’m a B in denial, so it really wasn’t noticeable at all until feeding time. I honestly have no idea where the milk came from. Finally, I had weaned out pumping by about 2 months.
It was also at this time I noticed Ashlynn’s reflux (and severe projectile vomit episodes and diaper rash), might be related to dairy consumption. I decided to cut out obvious dairy (milk, cheese, ice cream) and see what happened. I noticed less vomiting, but we were still battling the rash. I think after two weeks, I added it back, and back came the reflux (read: vomiting her entire meal). This was around July 4th and I knew we had to cut dairy for good and I scheduled an appointment to see a GI specialist.
I was recommended to eliminate all dairy and soy from my diet, since milk protein and soy protein allergies are commonly linked together. It can take up to 4 weeks for the protein to leave your milk supply and see a difference with your baby, so only eliminating one could prolong the negative effects if the other is a culprit as well. After about 3-4 weeks, Ashlynn’s rash cleared and her reflux was back to being just your typical baby spit up. She was sleeping better and nursing was easy as pie.
Speaking of pie, my adjusted diet was anything but or including pie. Luckily for us, our family already eats a pretty clean diet of whole foods and not a lot of processed or packaged meals. However, once you really start looking at the ingredients list on everything you consume, its AMAZING how many items contain dairy or soy. For example bread. Something as simple and “whole” as whole wheat bread usually is made with soy flour. I had to really research and connect with other MSPI moms to get some ideas of how to eat a healthy diet while keeping my baby healthy too. You can read my MSPI journey here and here or get ideas from my MSPI pinboard. After a few weeks, it became pretty simple. The biggest difficulty was eating out – it pretty much was not an option, or getting grief from family members who didn’t understand and wanted me to eat their holiday meals.
Wait, what about the milk stash?
You may remember, we filled our freezer – fast. Literally, we couldn’t have bought ice cream if I wanted to eat dairy because there was no where to store it. However, since all this milk was pumped while I was still eating dairy, it now became of zero use to us. Afraid of a power outage and it all spoiling, or just expiring before we’d ever get to it – if we ever could, I signed up with The National Milk Bank and donated it… all 373 ounces. That’s 2.9 gallons of milk pumped in less than 2 months all while still feeding a newborn (and you wonder why I felt like a dairy cow!)
Since we no longer had stored milk, and I no longer was pumping because I was trying to keep my supply regulated to Ashlynn’s demand, we stopped using bottles. We had been using bottles from the moment she was born, and while I never expected to quit using them completely, I did want to limit them as much as possible when trying to get her to nurse during that week 3 to week 6 time frame. I was afraid she might not nurse if she knew she’d be getting a bottle after and not have to work as hard. Once she finally was making strides nursing, it became so easy. We could feed anytime, anywhere. No clean up or prep or defrosting or sanitizing needed.
Also, once my supply was regulated to her demand, I could no longer pump a full bottle in 15 minutes time. I would get an ounce, may two if I was lucky. It would take me 4 nights of an added pumping session to get one bottle prepared for the weekend. I did this when we had events like showers or doctors appointments and might need to have a bottle ready to go. However, after our GI follow up at 5 months, she never had a bottle again. This also means, yes, I never left her side long enough to miss a feeding.
Being the only one that could feed the baby, while a huge commitment, was so rewarding on so many levels. This meant, no help in the middle of the night, get my hair or nails done, leave for a girls night out, etc. It also left my husband out of the feeding portion of her needs for few months, which did suck. However, he was still able to bathe, snuggle, rock, change, and nap with her like the best of them. And he was so supportive. He saw how hard I worked those first 6 weeks trying to get her to latch and nurse and break the bottle and pumping cycle that was breaking me down. He was a great cheerleader (who I think secretly was enjoying the sleep) and supported my decisions and ultimately wanted what was best for us, and that was the ease of nursing.
I planned to wean Ashlynn sometime after the one year mark. I was hoping to transition to milk and replace our feedings with sippies of milk and letting it take it’s course at her time. I didn’t want to be nursing at 18 months, but if it took two or three months to completely drop a final feeding, I’d be okay with that.
But life is what happens, when your busy making other plans… in our case, pregnancy! When I called my OB to set up my first appointment I asked about weaning and what they recommended, they to wean as soon as I could since my body was using resources to both create and sustain this developing life as well as produce my milk. I also asked her pediatrician since she was a few weeks shy of 12 months and I wanted to know if I could supplement our dropped feedings with milk instead of using formula for 2-3 weeks then transitioning. They were all for it and didn’t place pressure on me to rush, but did agree I was probably feeling exhausted due to doing both.
We took exactly a month to fully wean. We found out we were expecting on April 5th and her last nursing session was before bed on Cinco de Mayo! Fiesta! We started with 4 feedings and basically dropped one each week. She dropped so easily from 3 to 2, I waited one week and dropped to one. I noticed she really didn’t even notice so two days later I just stopped and never looked back. She never seemed to care.
If you would like to share your breastfeeding journey please email me! And be sure to catch up with the rest of the Breastfeeding Diaries at the top of my navigation bar.