Friday, January 19, 2018

My Breastfeeding Journey and All of my Advice

After my baby registry post, I had a few people that reached out for breastfeeding advice. I thought I’d put pen to paper (or the computer equivalent of that), and just start writing out every single thing that comes to mind. I remember scrambling to find good, solid advice, especially when it came to returning to work and pumping, so I’ll be sure to pay extra attention to this part of the timeline in hopes that this may benefit some of you.
I’ll also note here that I was able to breastfeed Oskar for a full 13 months and August for 10. I also want to note that I don’t judge, and certainly don’t care, if somebody doesn’t breastfeed because they can’t or don’t want to. This isn’t a post to sway you one way or the other. It’s simply my experience, my advice, and what to expect if this is the path that you choose to take. 

 My milk drunk nurslings

When I was pregnant, I read four whole books, cover to cover, and took a breastfeeding class at the hospital where I was scheduled to deliver. If you’re wondering how much preparation to do, I’ll be the first to admit that what I did was complete overkill. I’d recommend investing in The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding since it’s a fairly comprehensive resource for any and all issues you have during your nursing journey, and can flip to the relevant section when you hit a bump in the road. I also want to be fair. Nursing is the hardest I’ve worked at nearly anything in my life. It is so, so difficult, especially in those early weeks and even months. As wonderful as husbands can be (and my husband truly was), there is little they can do during those around-the-clock nursing sessions where you are chained to a chair, feeding a growing and never satisfied baby. Yes, husbands and partners can keep you company, bring you all the things, and change diapers. But the burden is 90% on you, 10% on them, and that’s the only way to split it. It’s reality. You will be in pain, you will likely cry. A lot. You will be exhausted, you will be frustrated, and you will search the ends of the earth for answers to how to make it easier. But then you make it. And it’s so beautiful and so bonding and makes you marvel at the level at which you’re connected and made for each other. As is true for so many other aspects of life—it’s hard because it’s worth it.

Day 1
The awkwardness of nursing. You quickly learn how difficult something that seems so natural can really be. You’ll be nursing an hour or so after delivery for the first time, assuming all goes smoothly. Use every lactation consultant made available to you, and if you THINK you know what you’re doing, it still doesn’t hurt to confirm. Hopefully you have your trusty Boppy with you at the hospital, and prop that puppy up high on top of 2 or 3 pillows, so that when baby lays across it they are right at nipple level without you having to hunch over. It’s all about getting baby’s latch as deep as possible. The better the latch, the more easily baby gets milk (or colostrum, which you’ll produce the first 3 or so days until your milk comes in), and less amount of pain you will have to endure. This is where the above book is really helpful. I’d read the section on latching a few times through leading up to your delivery date. The section on the different ways to position baby is also useful, just to give you ideas, but you wont know what works best and is most comfortable for you until baby is here. Every baby is different, but both of my boys nursed for about 20 minutes, about every 1-2 hours, in the first days of life.

Day 2
The soreness. The unbelievable soreness. Whoever says that nursing shouldn’t hurt if you’re doing it correctly is just not right. Or human. No matter what, there is pain. Sometimes the amount of pain that brings you to tears every time you bring baby to breast to nurse. There are a few things that help. Make sure you are keeping your nipples exposed to air as much as humanly possible. This means wearing robes over top of nothing at all. Lanolin and nipple creams are your best friends, and slather these on after every time you nurse. My absolute favorite is Mother Love Nipple Cream, which applies really smoothly and evenly. All are safe for baby to ingest, so no need to wipe off before nursing. Breastmilk itself has amazing healing powers. Apply to any sores or tender areas. If you need to get dressed, use these Nipple Shields under your bra to protect your nipples from rubbing on fabric. When you’re in the hospital, ask for as much stuff that they have on hand. I was given several tubes of Lanolin and some nipple shields to take home with me. If nursing is what you want to do, please don’t get discouraged and know that the pain is very real, but only temporary. At the 2 week mark, it magically and completely disappears. It will be smooth sailing from there.

Day 3-4
Holy. Moly. Your milk comes in and your boobs are hard as rocks, let alone humongous. I think I remember mine pulsating and being burning hot to the touch. It is a very uncomfortable sensation, but one that will level out adjust in the following days. Please, please, know that nursing is 100% supply and demand. The more you nurse OR pump, the more milk you make, so a remedy for day 1 of your rock boobs is NOT to pump. You’ll create big time over-supply and have a whole new world of problems. If you’re getting NO relief, you can always hand express a little bit to relieve some of the pressure. Also use cold compresses. Once my milk came in, both of my boys took longer to eat. Oskar was eating for 45 minutes per session, about every 2 hours. Fun fact: the interval between sessions is measured from the BEGINNING of the last time you nursed. Example: if you nurse from 12:00-12:45pm, and nurse again at 2:00-2:45pm. This is considered nursing every 2 hours, though really you only get a 1hr15min break. August was a little more efficient and took about 25 minutes. You can see how demanding this gets. New babies are hungry ALL THE TIME, and there is very little time to do much else but nurse. It’s mentally draining, so go in with a game plan. Have books and TV series that you’ve been wanting to start. Call friends on FaceTime. Make sure you have company. It was helpful for me to have a few different Boppies around the house—one on the living room sofa and one in the nursery, so I had a few different places already set up and ready for me to nurse instead of having to haul my stuff around. I also really recommend having a little basket of nursing essentials: nipple cream, a burp cloth, a water tumbler, your nipple shields, a snack, etc. I’ll also give you more TMI: when you’re nursing on one side, your other boob leaks milk the entire time. You’ll need a cloth or rag to keep dry. So many people often think that baby is hungry and isn’t getting enough milk because he/she is nursing ALL THE TIME. This is new baby life. As long as baby is producing wet and poopy diapers (5-6 pees and 3-4 poops a day after day 4), he/she IS getting enough milk. You’ll also be going in for several weight checks in those early days and weeks, and these should reassure you as well. This also leads me to YOUR diet, mama. Drink more water than you thought possible, and then drink some more. It is so vitally important to your nursing success. Healthy fats are everything, and any way to incorporate avocado, peanut butter, any type of nuts, salmon, etc. will help you in your journey. I really liked Kind Bars because they were easy to eat while nursing. Nursing burns more calories than you can even imagine and the more successful you are at it, the faster the baby weight will melt off. Don’t worry about how much you’re eating, as long as it’s reasonably healthy and balanced. I also always made myself oatmeal (a nursing superfood that really helps with supply) first thing every morning (note: you can’t use instant oats. They have to be the real deal). I highly recommend this nursing bra and this sleep bra at night (yes, you will now need to sleep in a bra because your boobs will leak), both lined with these nursing pads. Size up one from your normal size in both.

Day 5 to 3 months
Settling into new mom and nursing life. The more you nurse, the better your supply and production will be. It’s as simple as that (typically). There is no such thing as nursing too much. The more consistent you are, and the more you’re putting baby to breast, the better you’re setting yourself up for long-term success. It is critical to get your supply where it needs to be, especially if you are returning to work. It may be frustrating, and it is incredibly demanding. But think of it as vitally important work that will make your life so much easier in the long run. I jotted a few notes down in the boys’ baby books, and while every baby is different, perhaps this can serve as a baseline:

Oskar: started sleeping in 6 hour stretches at the end of month one (beginning of month 2)

August: started sleeping in 3-6 hour stretches at the end of month one (beginning of month 2).

I “dream fed” both at 10pm prior to putting them back down for that longer stretch of sleep in order to get some rest myself. This means, that though they typically fell asleep earlier, I would keep lights dimmed and noise machines on and nurse them one final time. Both snoozed through it, but got a full belly, allowing me to get a little bit of sleep.
Both ate at 3 hour intervals through the day. 

I would hold off on introducing a paci until the end of week one, because August got some serious nipple confusion and we had to work through some stuff to get him to latch appropriately again. 

I knew I had to return to work at 12 weeks postpartum with both boys, so pumping became a part of life around 8 weeks postpartum in order to begin to build a stash. It is not recommended to pump prior to establishing a good, solid breastfeeding routine. Please don’t rush it. Plus, who wants to hurry up and put their boobs in a vacuum any earlier than they need to? Figuring out the pump in and of itself takes a little while, so take your time getting it set up and watch a Youtube video or two if you need help. You’ll turn into a ninja in no time. My method to starting pumping was very successful with both kids. Your milk supply is at its highest in the early AM hours. Both boys woke between 6-7am to nurse, and I would only nurse them on one side (which was plenty for that first session of the day because you have so much milk early in the morning). I would then go ahead and pump from the other side, store that pumped milk in these breastmilk storage bags, and freeze them in 3oz quantities. I really like these bags WAY more than Medela’s because they lay flat and have a 6oz capacity (instead of 5) for when baby begins to eat more. I tried to make sure I had a week’s worth of milk (conservative) prior to sending them to daycare, meaning 45-50oz in the freezer (3oz *3 times/day * 5 day work-weeks). Speaking of deep freezers, I really recommend investing in one if you have the room. Breastmilk freezes and stores for up to a year in deep freezers, and I really hated having my every day freezer full of breastmilk bags and no food. This made all the difference. I also recommend introducing a bottle around 8 weeks. Try the bottles compatible with your breast pump first so you can pump into and feed from the same one. This will save you double the dishes. Some have found that even Medela’s slow-flow nipples are too fast for breastfed babies that are new to bottles, and I happened to agree. You’ll know if baby is choking or dribbling milk when taking a bottle, meaning they can’t keep up with the flow. My hack for this was to use these preemie nipples and these bottle collars (note: the collars ONLY, not the nipples), which are both compatible with the Medela bottles.

3 months and beyond
Back to work. So many feelings even typing those words, but I’ll stick to nursing and pumping. In the beginning, you’ll want to send baby to daycare with three 2.5oz-3oz bottles (assuming they eat every 3 hours, and you work an 8a-5p day). Also send in an extra frozen bag of breastmilk so your daycare provider has it on hand in case any is accidentally spilled or if baby is very hungry that day. Your daycare provider will make note if baby does not seem satisfied after eating, or is eating at more frequent intervals, both which would signal that they are ready for more oz/feeding. Though both of my boys would have slept a little longer, usually until 4:30a (which would have thrown off my schedule and supply for morning), I always set my alarm and nursed both at 3am. I did this until they were able to sleep completely through the night. I then nursed them between 6-630am, and they ate at 9am, 12pm, and 3pm at daycare. These are also the times I pumped. Try your hardest to stick to baby’s schedule, since you’ll need to be in sync. Like I mentioned in my previous registry post, treat yourself to extra sets of pump parts so you don’t have to be constantly washing and packing the same set. Also, get a pumping bra. It will save your sanity. I also included recommendations on amounts and sizes of bottles in the aforementioned Registry post, which should get you everything you need for your back to work and daycare life.

And, that’s it! All of my sincerest advice I have to give to you, because I really believe in this whole breastfeeding thing if you can get it to work for you. Please breathe it all in and enjoy it as much as you can while it lasts. I cried the last time I nursed both boys. While it was certainly a relief in some ways, it was also the end of a chapter. I wish I had a photo or two of me nursing them both because it was such a huge part of our lives for so long. So take some! Please let me know about your experience, and if you have any other tips or tricks. Happy nursing, friends.

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