Breastfeeding: When the Journey’s Over

When my sister had her first child, over 14 years ago, I was shocked watching her use her breast pump. What a loud horrifying torture device. At 19 I was the stereotypical blend of naive and opinionated and told everyone I would never breastfeed. Fast forward 10 years later and nothing could have talked me out of it.

In fairness, no one was trying to talk me out of it. While many people asked me if I was planning to breastfeed, I can’t imagine what the response would have been if I had said no. The undeniable message I received from every direction was “breast is best”. I went to a breastfeeding class. I bought a supply of nursing bras and nursing tops and dresses. I ordered my breast pump. Although I was apprehensive, I wanted to give my baby the very best and generally speaking, for me, that means things natural. No man-made formula!

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Photo credit: Tula Q Photography

I’d like to say I wanted to breastfeed because I wanted to feed my baby with my own body. That I wanted to connect with him in this particular, physical way. That I wanted this specific experience, but I don’t think I ever thought that. That wasn’t my motivation. I wanted to be natural, environmental and cheap. I wanted to dive in head first to this new mama thing.

As if by not breastfeeding I would be less of a mom or miss out on some key experience.

What if I was so busy worrying about breastfeeding that I was missing out on just enjoying my baby?

I don’t regret breastfeeding. Breastfeeding taught me a lot of patience and resilience. I got to have the beautiful experience of feeding an infant with my old body, of providing life, sustenance, for both my boys which is pretty incredible. I’m lucky to have had the ability to breastfeed at all.

That moment that the baby latches for the first time is such a victory. It’s this incredible feeling of power, but it’s also coupled with incredible pain. Actual toe-curling pain. Fun fact: your uterus contracts when you nurse. This is a good thing for your body but it fucking hurts. As expected, your nipples also hurt. All of this goes away eventually. The toe-curling stops and if you are getting a good latch, your nipples will be okay as well. The feeling of power also fades, at least it did for me.

I never felt as though it was a choice. If you have the ability to breastfeed, you do, right? Even if it’s hard (yep), even if it hurts (yep), even if it means your spouse can’t help you feed the baby (yep). It’s a time in my life that I can really pinpoint the effects of media/social media and how it influenced my decisions. Even the second time around, I still felt an internal pressure to breastfeed as long as possible. I didn’t feel able to factor myself into the decision- my comfort, my needs, my stress level.

Breastfeeding is incredibly cool, but mom’s needs, wants and mental health should be a top priority instead of the last consideration. This is hard in parenting when you are so very needed, needed for the every day survival of your children. But what about you?

When people ask if I nursed Haines, my auto-response is “Yes, but I quit around 8 months.” It’s a negative story. It’s about failure. It’s about how I didn’t make it to a year, the ultimate nursing goal. But that’s wrong. Haines and I nursed for 8 months. Austin and I nursed for almost 9 months. We stopped nursing when it wasn’t what I wanted anymore and our relationship is just that, a relationship, a two- way street. When Haines and I quit nursing, it was a rushed stressful decision that resulted in days of emotional turmoil. Starting him on formula felt like a failure.  But the last time Austin latched, I knew the decision had been made. I felt done. I texted my mom friends for support and asked Tyler to bring some ice cream home.

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Will I miss that little flutter suck of a baby nursing himself to sleep? Sure, but my baby’s growing up and I miss my body more. I miss myself.

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Postpartum Body Struggle

I’ve been working on this post for weeks struggling to describe how pregnancy and childbirth has affected me physically. Where do I even begin? What stereotypical path should I start with? Should I tell you how insecure I’ve always been about my body? Or should I just dive in to a tired old diatribe about the baby weight?

But this isn’t the years I hated my body or about baby weight. It’s not about any of things I expected. It’s about feeling out of place in your own body. The midwives described the baby as a very effective parasite, leeching my body of nutrition. I was impressed rather than put off by this until I realized all the energy it (the baby) was taking, how incapacitated I felt. I felt frail and heavy all at the same time. As I walked down the stairs I always reached for the railing or traced my hand along the wall. Never before had I considered I might fall but I stopped trusting myself. I didn’t know this body.

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The last few weeks of pregnancy, I lost my positive attitude. I beached myself on the couch and wallowed in self-pity. It was pretty much all wallow and waddle. After giving birth, I eagerly waited for my body to return. I thought there were four stages for my body: pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, the days or weeks of recovery and then the return to pre-pregnancy body. Um, no.

The fourth trimester was a strange trip. I was desperate to be active again in the hopes of feeling like myself. After about a week we started venturing outside the house, walking around the school across from my house and then eventually down to the lake and back and so on. It was a month before I walked the 4 mile lake trail I’d typically done every week.  It did not feel good. It is a whole new world when it’s your vagina that says you’re exercising too much.

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This is the first time I wore regular jeans. I busted out of them about 4 minutes later.

Everyone had told me that breastfeeding would cause the weight to drop quickly. Obviously I have nothing to compare it with but for me it was true. The first 25+ pounds were gone in 5 weeks. My enormous belly first became soft, then drooped, then starting to fade away. Only a couple weeks after childbirth I could find my belly button easily. A tiny dip reappeared where it was once flat. But it doesn’t take much to go up a size or two and I still can’t fit into most of my clothes. I’ve started to exercise regularly again but I can see these last pounds will be a long process. To be honest at this point my belly feels like a souvenir or a badge of honor. A light tan line still marks me down the middle proudly announcing “new mama”! I’d embrace it all if I could just wear my dang old pants and shorts like I want to.

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NEWSFLASH- You may think it’s a waste to buy maternity clothes since you’re only going to wear them for nine months but chances are that’s not true!

What I truly didn’t anticipate was the boobs. Sure the Internet said all kinds of silly things about needing bigger bras when your milk comes in but who can understand what that means?! Well, it means that your T-shirts are too short, your button-ups are too tight and your cleavage is full on out there. There’s a reason nursing shirts are a thing.

Exercise, hormones, my hair, eating habits, sleep schedule, sex, who I saw in the mirror – nothing escaped the experience of childbirth. Nothing felt recognizable in the weeks and months that came after.  Haines is getting ready to hit 6 months in a week’s time which is absolutely wild. Last night he tried avocado. He’s on the verge of crawling. He watches everything and becomes less of a baby and more of his own person every day. But I still struggle to appreciate all that my body has done and continues to do- carried a baby, gave birth, provides milk. I struggle to give myself time to recover and figure things out. But here’s goes nothing.

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Pumping at Work (Otherwise Known as Crying Over Spilled Milk)

There’s nothing to make you feel more like a dramatic fool than crying over spilled milk, but when it’s breastmilk? Having recently spilled half a bottle of breastmilk at work, I say that’s legit.

There’s only two parts of Haines’ life that have stressful (except for that one time we went to the hospital): sleeping and eating. I felt strongly that I wanted to breastfeed so I’ve been lucky in that Haines latched on pretty well from the get go. Despite that we still spent the first couple days home in constant tears watching La Leche YouTube videos. The worst was being up in the middle of the night, the house dark around me save for the bathroom light shining into the hall, trying to get Haines to latch while everyone else slept. Babies are so tiny then and frail seeming. It was such an ordeal shifting him around my body into different positions until we could get settled. The first few weeks I was always hunched over, my breasts brought to his mouth, rather than the other way around. My shoulders lived up around my ears,  before my body finally unclenched.

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Almost five months later breastfeeding is certainly easier. I still don’t love it but it can be a nice reason to sit down and relax a few times a day. Pumping is not like this. It is not relaxing to grab my laptop twice a day at work (formerly three times a day) between meetings and set myself up in the health clinic. Once hooked up I force myself not to watch the milk drip into the bottles. I try not to count every ounce. If it’s not enough, should I make another trip to the health clinic? Do I have time to stay longer or do I have a meeting? Why is nothing coming out? Should I try to use the hand pump tonight once Haines goes to bed?

Haines turns five months on Sunday (Mother’s Day!) and has yet to have any formula. There’s a couple reasons for this:

  • I’ve super lucky and typically don’t have trouble producing milk.  I don’t believe there is any rhyme or reason to this.
  • I’m cheap. I really don’t want to have to buy formula. Just the idea of having to select a formula brings me anxiety, let alone the idea of paying for it. I have to travel without him in July so chances are he will have to be introduced at some point. I guess I’ll get over it.

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For those breastfeeding mamas preparing to go back to work there are several things you can do to make life easier. I would highly recommend the following:

  1. Start your stash. The breastfeeding class we went to before giving birth did not recommend a stash but I wish I had more of one. There’s no need to go crazy with it but once you’re ready to start integrating bottles, start pumping every day. On maternity leave I would feed Haines, wait 30 minutes or an hour and then pump. I find doing this early on in the day after the first feed is best. Night time is the only time we’d get a decent stretch without feeding so I’d be fuller in the morning. Well, or I’d be laying in a puddle of milk. This still happens. Don’t go crazy and safe guard your stash though! The stash is only worthwhile if you get to use it. Use it to have someone else feed your baby. Take a walk, go see a movie, take a nap and wave bye, bye baby!
  2.  Buy a hands free pumping bra. I’m a fan of this one. For some reason it didn’t occur to me that a bra like this would be necessary until a few days before I started work. Doesn’t everyone just hold their bottles to their breasts? No. They absolutely do not. This is pretty much the only way to work and pump. Actually it’s the only way to not hate pumping because you can be reading or flipping though Instagram.
  3. Definitely order your electric pump from your health insurance before it’s not covered under the ACA anymore. The electric pump makes life so much easier! I also recommend buying a hand pump. You can them for under $30, they fit easily into a large purse and are pretty easy to use. I bought the Philips Avent Manual Comfort Hand Pump. Whatever you do, buy it on Amazon. It’s way cheaper. I’ve found the hand pump is great for when I want to be away for the house for several hours but won’t be a place convenient for an electric pump (ex. coffee shop).
  4. When you prepare for pumping at work, keep in mind that this is a messy endeavor. In addition to your electric pump I recommend bringing:
    • 2 burp cloths- 1 to tuck into the bottom of your nursing bra to protect it and 1 for your lap. I just use cloth diapers as burp cloths.
    • Your hands free bra
    • A stash of disposable breast pads for when your pump time gets bumped back for a meeting
    • A wet bag– essential! Between pumps I keep my bottles in the bag and then place them in the fridge. This keeps me from having to wash them in between pumping. (*This is probably not at all recommended. I just think it’s a huge pain in the butt to wash them every time.) Either way it keeps the stuff that’s wet from getting milk on everything
    • A Nalgene- rather than taking storage bags or several bottles with me to work I pour my milk into a Nalgene. I cover it with a Freaker so that no one can see what inside when I keep it in our shared work fridge. Fun fact: your work fridge may be full of breast milk like mine.

 

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I must admit, I think because of breastfeeding I do end up with a lot more than my fair share of cuddles. I like that best of all.

 

6 Weeks Postpartum: We’re Going to Make it After All

(R.I.P. Mary Tyler Moore)

We’ve made it six weeks. Surprisingly the time has passed more slowly than I expected. I’ve been asked quite frequently how I’m doing, how motherhood is and so on but I have no idea how to respond. This is a strange new world and I’ve barely tapped the surface of it means to be a mother. How I’m doing rests entirely on how Haines is doing. If he eats well then I am happy. If he sleeps well then I am rested. If he cries and fusses then chances are I will cry and fuss. (Well, if he cries a lot. It’s not as though I cry every time his pacifier falls out.) It’s a very different existence when your demeanor rests entirely on how someone else is doing. I think in any other situation this would be a sign of an unhealthy relationship. In the world of newborns and perhaps parenting in general, it’s just normal.

In some ways I feel that I am also just starting out in the world, same as Haines. I have a new identity and new way of a life. Together we’re taking one step at a time.

Exercise

Haines has accidentally rolled over twice now (his arm was stuck underneath in a weird way that helped)! He’s lifting his head pretty regularly as well.

At my postpartum check up I had lost 27 of my 42 pregnancy pounds. 15 more to go! Hopefully I don’t have to lose all of those to get back into my jeans. I’m trying to walk every day. There’s a trail near my house that is a four mile loop and we do this regularly. I’m hoping to incorporate some other forms of exercise here shortly.

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Our first trip to Hugh McCrae Park

Sleeping

I am a champion sleeper but Haines is not. Typically he gets up twice a night which is pretty tolerable BUT he “talks” during the night. The snoring is fine. The occasional squeak is fine but all sorts of squeaking and other weird throat noises is not the easiest to tune out.

Nutrition

Haines is a champ eater. We’ve been incredibly lucky that breastfeeding, while not always fun, hasn’t been particularly difficult. He learned to latch quickly and I learned to help him quickly as well. Many of the women I know talk about breastfeeding as something they enjoyed particularly because no one else could do it. It gave them a special connection and an excuse to have their own time with the baby. I’m not all that crazy about being the only person who provides food to Haines. I love when Tyler or our of our parents gives Haines a bottle. Watching them get to have that time is incredibly special. Plus shouldering cluster feedings and eating in the middle of the night on my own isn’t sweet. It’s tiring. Of course these feelings may evolve as I go back to work and this becomes the majority of our short time together.

Many people told me I’d be insatiably hungry while breastfeeding but it’s not been as bad as while I was pregnant. I’m struggling to let go of my sweet tooth. Ice cream, cookies, candy, doughnuts… I can’t be stopped.

Sanity

Haines isn’t a particularly fussy baby, a fact that has directly contributed to my mental health. That being said, maternity leave is a strange alternate universe. One on the hand, I never think about work. I don’t miss it. I don’t have to convince myself to stop checking my email. It’s barely on my radar. BUT I miss structure. I’m a creature of habit. My day needs something to give it shape. If I’m not going to be drinking cocktails by the pool all day then I want to know that today is Monday or Tuesday or what have you (I don’t actually know what day it is).

In order to differentiate between the days I have tried my best to schedule something for every day. That has included inviting friends or coworkers for walks, having visitors, and exploring different parks or walking paths in town. Haines is only likely to be a good sport about our activity if he’s being pushed in a stroller. Some days this does the trick, others I feel totally without purpose. If my day has no purpose, what the heck am I supposed to do with it? Yes, cuddle and spend time with this sweet baby. And then what? Also, life with Haines is much easier inside the house than out and about but sticking close to home has a tendency to make me feel trapped after too long. The more I venture out the clearer my mind feels and the more myself I am.

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First attempt using Moby wrap. 

Survival Tips

Be prepared! My diaper backpack is kept fully equipped at all times. I try not to go anywhere without extra burp cloths, blankets, outfits, diapers, wipes and a pacifier. If we could get close to a feeding time and I might not want to breastfeed, I stick a bottle inside a wine freezer pack and take it along with us. I’m not great at being discreet while breastfeeding and I don’t always want to let everything all hang out.

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It looks like this except not nearly as pretty/fancy. 

Leave the house! If I can’t socialize every day then I still have to get out and about. Any place with a pathway to push the stroller is on the list to be explored. Once I get better at baby wearing all sorts of new areas will be open to us!

Talk it out. Tyler is really good at recognizing when I need a break but vocalizing the struggle is more helpful than just relying on his intuition.

Acceptance. Life with a newborn slows everything down. I have to accept the new pace and even relish it. This little guy makes it hard not to.

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