Thursday, September 12, 2013

Our Breastfeeding Story

Before I was ever pregnant I knew I wanted to give breastfeeding a try. For one, do you know how expensive formula is? It is ridiculous. But, mainly because it is the best thing I could give my baby. I try to pick the simplest answer to a question, and breastfeeding just seemed like the natural choice. I also knew enough about it to know that it isn't always easy and it doesn't always work out how you hope. But, I was committed to giving it my best and I wanted to hopefully continue for at least a  year.

So, when I got pregnant I read other people's experiences and picked up a book or two. I tried to become an expert basically. Turns out it is just one of those things you have to mostly figure out as you go. But, I was glad I had some basic latch knowledge and various positioning know how once Aria arrived. The rest I figured out as we went along. I wish I would have found The Girl in the Red Shoes: The Breastfeeding Diaries when I was pregnant. It is a fantastic series that I would highly recommend to all breastfeeding mamas. I was so nervous about how breastfeeding would work for us and reading those ladies' stories would have been so motivating and inspirational.

When Aria was born early at 34 weeks she was whisked off to the NICU (read her birth story here). She was having trouble with her lungs, so there was no opportunity to start breastfeeding. It wasn't something that was even on my mind. Seeing her chest collapse down with each breath was more of a concern, and she was just so tiny and beautiful despite all the tubes and wires on her. But, I figured if she couldn't latch then I wanted to pump. The day after she was born I missed the lactation consultant's rounds because I was in the NICU, so I didn't get set up with a pump until the day after that. The LC brought me a fancy Medela Symphony and told me to pump every 3 hours for 20 minutes, so that is what I did around the clock.
The same day I started to pump was the day the nurses started to feed Aria through a little tube down her throat. And, I was so happy that I had enough pumped colostrum that they could give her. I even got to help give her the first feeding. After that I was very motivated to pump so that I could provide all of the feedings. Challenge accepted.

My milk came in the day after I was released from the hospital. And, there was a lot. All of that pumping must have really told my breasts to fill up. But, I felt like I was contributing to helping Aria get stronger so that she could get out of the NICU. It was what kept me getting out of bed to pump during the night. We brought all my pumped milk to the NICU everyday and she never had to be supplemented with formula. At the start it was hard to keep up the supply with the demand, but by the time Aria was released we came home with a bag full of frozen breastmilk.

While Aria was still in the NICU the neonatologist gave us the go ahead to try to get her to latch, but she was having none of it. The next day the nurses called in a lactation consultant to come help and we got her to latch with a nipple shield. Because she was early and tired easily the nurses told me to only try to feed her for about 20 minutes, and then supplement with pumped milk if she was still hungry. So that is the routine we followed when she was in the NICU. I would visit and feed her, and then Chris would give her anything she still wanted from a bottle while I pumped for another 20 minutes.

When we got to bring her home I stopped supplementing her on the bottle after she nursed because she never seemed interested. But, I continued to pump and in no time there was a nice stockpile. When she was a couple of weeks old I started preparing a bottle or two for Chris to feed her in the mornings when he got home from work (he works a night shift), so that I could get some uninterrupted sleep. I was already pumping so might as well put the milk to use and she was use to a bottle. Best decision ever. Chris loved being able to feed her and I loved not being a zombie. Win win.
We went on like that until around 9 weeks when Aria started sleeping through a good chunk of the night. And, she never had a problem switching from the bottle to the nipple shield as long as dad was the one giving her the bottle. But, even though Aria was sleeping longer I still got up in the middle of the night to pump because my boobs were killing me. I didn't know if I could stop without having a drop in my supply, even though I produced more breastmilk than Aria needed.

Turns out I had an oversupply from all the nursing and all the pumping. My breasts were constantly hard and full and ached and leaked. It was incredibly uncomfortable. Honestly I didn't know any better, I just thought it was annoyingly the norm. Any information I found on the internet was unhelpful. And then I remembered I had a breastfeeding mama friend so I asked her if I was suppose to pump during the night even when Aria sleeps. She told me to stop pumping altogether so my breasts could regulate to what Aria actually needs. It will be uncomfortable for a few days and then get a lot better. So, I stopped pumping sometime in February and never looked back.

It was incredibly liberating to not have to pump, and in particular to not have to pump at night. I could sleep all night long right along with Aria, and it was lovely. I nursed Aria when she was hungry, usually every 2-3 hours and she would eat for 40 minutes to an hour. My breasts stopped being hard all the time and the aching went away. The leaking however did not disappear. I couldn't go without pads until just recently in fact, especially at night. But, finally a month or two back the leaking at night stopped, another liberating moment in my life - wearing a bra at night is not my idea of fun.
I was still wearing a nipple shield at this point. I'd try to get her to latch without the shield at least once a day but it was frustrating and I'd end up putting it back on in the end. I figured Aria was feeding and that was what mattered, along with being lazy. By March though I really wanted to kick the nipple shield. It was just another thing to wash and sanitize and carry around wherever we went. It also leaked at the base and Aria would always end up soaked in breastmilk. The inconvenience of using it started to outweigh the inconvenience of learning not to use it.

So, we went cold turkey on the nipple shield for a day. My nipples were so sore, I was dying. So the next day I used the shield. Followed by no shield the day after. And, I would have used the shield the day after that, but Aria rejected it. So, I sucked it up and we worked on her latch without a shield. By the end of the week the raw nipples were soothed and by the end of the month Aria had completely gotten the latching down pat.

After Aria could latch easily and efficiently she stopped nursing for so long, and by the middle of April she was down to 10 minutes. At first I was thrown and thought something was wrong and that she wasn't getting enough to eat, but I eventually realized she was fine and eating exactly how much she wanted. Just one of those stop over-analyzing moments.

Now, months later, we are still going strong. Aria nurses 4 times a day at predictable times. We haven't used a shield since March and I haven't pumped since February. Although my entire stash of frozen breastmilk was put to no use because I kept putting off donating it and now it is expired- ugh. But, because I don't pump there is nothing to give Aria instead of a breast. So, I can't go anywhere without thinking about when she needs to nurse next. And while sometimes it can make things tricky it is a sacrifice I am more than happy to make. One day she won't be nursing, and when that day comes I'm sure it will be a bittersweet feeling. I'd like to have my breasts back to normal, but I'll miss the moments of peaceful cuddling in a day of busy.
Before I started breastfeeding, the two main things I worried about was getting Aria to latch correctly and not producing any or enough milk. With the latch, I knew what it should look like and I left the rest up to Aria. If she was latched incorrectly, and ouch you can tell, I would pop her off and let her re-latch. It didn't take her long to figure out how to do it. With the production, I had the opposite problem, which is definitely the better of the two. But, it made the beginning of our journey painful and annoying. I was so worried that I would dry up if I let my body regulate to Aria's intake, and that right there was the source of the problem. Sometimes it is hard to trust nature.

The biggest thing that surprised me about breastfeeding is how much of a wonderful bonding experience it is. Sometimes it is the only time you can sit and hold your baby close. She curves to your body and holds on to your finger or rests her hand on your chest. You are providing the best nutrients with your own body. It is quiet. It is calm. It is as close to magic as you will get. It isn't awkward or painful when things settle or unnatural or something to be ashamed of. That bonding feeling makes everything worth it. The struggle to latch, the nipple pain, the worry, the rock hard breasts, and waking up at night covered in breastmilk is a small price to pay. It is something I'd heard before I breastfed, but didn't truly understand until I experienced myself.

Aria is 9 months old, and the 1 year mark is coming up. At the start I wanted to breastfeed for a year. But, with it looming in the distance I have no plans on setting a date to wean her. I also have no plans on breastfeeding her until she is 2, that is just not something I have a personal desire to do. So, sometime between those two birthdays when we are ready things will come to an end.
I am so honored to have been able to breastfeed. I definitely feel like it is a privilege. Not all moms that want to can breastfeed, and honestly any working mom that decides to pump should be given a medal, and a trophy, and a new car of their choice. It isn't always the easy path, but I think the work you put in up front is triply rewarded by how second nature breastfeeding becomes and by those precious minutes when you can just snuggle your baby and by the sense of accomplishment you get.

1 comment:

  1. I know this post is really old but thank you for this - "any working mom that decides to pump should be given a medal...". My LO is 9 months and I'm determined to make it to a year but I am counting down the days to being done with pumping (though I really hope I can continue nursing at night/in the mornings for awhile longer, as I love the nursing part just hate the pumping at work part and stressing about "is she getting enough?" part). Pre-baby I didn't understand why so many working moms gave up on BFing. I get it now... -Polly

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