I made two goals for myself. I wanted a natural childbirth (that birth story is a different article which I am happy to share) and I wanted to breastfeed until my baby weans himself. I am forever grateful to the women who reached out to me on the trials and tribulations of breastfeeding. I share the beginning of our breastfeeding journey in hopes of paying it forward and my own personal keepsake.
In the beginning, breastfeeding is the most natural thing that doesn’t come naturally. It is a skill that both mama and baby have to learn together. Lactation consultants and books say it shouldn’t hurt, but is uncomfortable as your nipples adjust to all the friction and their new job. I’m calling BS right now! It was awful! I never had any cracking or bleeding and it still hurt so bad that at times I really didn’t want to feed Gavin. There was a ton of guilt that came from not wanting to feed my baby. And let’s talk about engorged! Rock hard, twin peaks sitting right on my chest, but you’re not supposed to pump because you’ll trick your body into thinking it needs to always make this much milk. Leaking! Always, always leaking! I remember crying to my husband after I got out of the shower, but was already covered in milk that I just want to be clean for once. I grit my teeth and kept at breastfeeding him. Sometime around 6 weeks that pain went away for me. It helped to talk to friends with barely older babies when they told me that the pain would go away since they had it fresh in their memory.
When I was pregnant, I decided I wanted to be a Master Breastfeeder and I would breastfeed where ever I wanted without my cover, with no fear. Soon after Gavin arrived, I realized I wasn’t nearly as brave as I thought I’d be. I even made my dad go upstairs every time we nursed when he came to visit when Gavin was a month old. I attended a Breastfeeding Support group at the hospital and attended Mom & Me yoga regularly. I became comfortable at these places breastfeeding in public because the ladies next to me were doing the same thing. (At the Breastfeeding Support group, I also learned I have a great milk supply. We brought the babies hungry, fed them and talked, and weighed them again. Gavin often took in more than 6 ounces. I was even told to never let anyone tell me that he needs formula because I have a great supply.) I have not, nor will I ever feed my baby in a bathroom. I never let myself because I didn’t want to get into the habit. I would be in the middle of a grocery run, Gavin would get hungry and I would look around like where should I feed him? I’ll never forget the first time he was hungry and I just sat on an aisle shelf and fed him in Hobby Lobby. A couple people shopping walked by and didn’t care. It was freeing! We can do this! We’re not stuck inside for all of eternity! From there I’ve fed Gavin in the lawn furniture at Lowe’s, countless restaurants, lots of hikes, the hot air balloon classic, in the ergo, etc. Basically, if there isn’t a chair, I’m sitting on the ground or if I can’t sit on the ground, I’m standing. If the baby is hungry, I’m letting him eat. It probably took me 4 or 5 months to get to this point, but once you get here, there’s no going back! I’ve never been approached to “cover up”. In fact, I’ve been approached by women encouraging me or admiring/remembering when they breastfed their babies.
So here we are at 4 or 5 months as Master Breastfeeders, right? This is when I would say the breastfeeding journey begins… All the sudden, Gavin awoke and realized there is a world outside mama, daddy, and eating. Any sound Gavin heard, he’d snap his neck without unlatching. Ah yi yi! This is commonly referred to as nip-lash in the breastfeeding world. At this point in our journey, I had to cut out distractions by either putting the cover over him or going to a dark, quiet place to feed. Here I am secluded again so I can breastfeed, but at least I was ok with it because I was doing it for my baby, not society.
I stay at home with Gavin so I never had to work on pumping up a supply for work, but I did have a Bachelorette weekend around this time. I was able to pump up 100 ounces with a single valve hand pump and shipped them to my parents where Gavin stayed. He stayed with my parents’ at night and they brought him to me during the day to nurse by the pool. I pumped before we went to bed and in the morning. It was truly perfect for our situation. When I think back, for some reason I wasn’t bashful at that pool at all. I felt like I was so close to being topless since I only had a swimsuit top on anyway.
At this time, Gavin’s weight gain also slowed and our pediatrician sent us home with formula without much conversation on why the weight gain may have slowed down. (I’d like to punch that guy in the face if I ever ran into him especially since he told a friend of mine that some women starve their babies just so they can breastfeed… umm, wow!) After sobbing for a whole day, I convinced my husband to hold off on the formula. I contacted the local Le Leche League and was referred to a pro-breastfeeding pediatrician for a second opinion. She is our new pediatrician and she is pure gold. We talked it out and I should have never put my breastfed baby on a sleep schedule and I especially should not have started the schedule when he was 3 weeks old! I also learned about hindmilk and foremilk and the importance of both. Gavin was always so spitty so I pulled him off at 15 minutes on each side in hopes that the less he drank the less he would over flow (spit up), but really he was missing out on that good fatty hindmilk. I needed to let Gavin eat whenever he wanted and for as long as he wanted. My pediatrician also suggested I cut out dairy to see if it helped with his spit up. After trial and error, we figured out when I drank even the little bit of milk in my coffee and/or ate broccoli, Gavin would spit up. I cut those out of my diet and his spit up decreased substantially. Gavin started gaining on track again and he has never had an ounce of formula. I was a wreck for those months as his weight gain was slow. I have a personal bias to stick it to formula companies. I refuse to let the cultural experiment they have bestowed on our country to affect my breastfeeding relationship with my baby. Formula is meant as an absolute last resort and thank God we have it for that, but it is used too much because mothers are unsupported, told they can’t breastfeed, and their spirit is broken. In my gut, I knew, Gavin is always happy, smiling, and meeting developmental goals other than weight. I knew I had a great supply. I knew formula wasn’t the answer to his weight gain problem, but I was a wreck until his weight gain got back on track. I still get nervous weeks before doctor appointments where I know he’ll get weighed.
I’ve named the next chapter in our breastfeeding journey: clamping down. I’m lucky Gavin started this game before his teeth broke through and we were able to stop it before his teeth cut. I could handle his gum clamping, but I would still rate it a little more painful than just annoying. When he would clamp down, I would stop the breastfeeding session to let him know that clamping was not ok. I also flicked him once. It was a horrible idea; I wouldn’t suggest it. I cried more than he did. Firmly (but gently) poking his cheek to get him to understand what he was doing was also enough to get him to unlatch.
Sometime after he stopped clamping, I was really able to stop and enjoy the bond breast feeding provides. I always wanted to breastfeed, but if I’m completely honest, it is VERY time consuming. When you’re nursing a newborn for an hour every other hour, it was hard to enjoy the bond. I was more like AGAIN? ALREADY? At this point, Gavin’s latch was more effective so he could eat faster. His sweet eyes would look up at mine and I would realize there isn’t a single place in the world that I’d rather be. I always love side lie position. We both lay on our sides facing each other. We’ve taken quite a few naps like this, it is so special and sweet. As Gavin started eating more solids and nursing faster, our breastfeeding journey became so sweet. I not only am making perfect milk formulated just for him (did you know when baby gets sick, their saliva sends signals to mama’s areolas and mama makes milk with antibodies to help baby fight off whatever they caught? Beautiful, huh!), but I’m providing one on one time with me where I hold him and give him all my love. Who doesn’t love undivided attention from someone they love?
After we hit this sweet spot in our breastfeeding journey Gavin’s teeth came in. His bottom two teeth were a breeze. His top two were basically what I hear is typical for a teething baby, he was miserable and it sucked for us as parents. I even cracked and gave him some baby Tylenol. Gavin pretty much gave up eating any food and wanted to nurse as much as when he was a newborn. 10-11 month old nursing like a newborn at least 8 times a day. We took an airplane trip and stayed in a hotel for a week during the worst of it too. Ah what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. I ran into a girlfriend at breakfast who is breastfeeding with her third baby and I brought up Gavin isn’t eating and nursing like crazy. I had a raw moment of weakness and said I always wanted to let him wean himself, but I don’t know if I can keep doing this. I knew he was turning one soon and I could make it until then. My girlfriends simply said, “teething or growth spurt?” So far as a mom, I’ve had more than I can count ‘now why didn’t I think of that?’ moments. This was one. Go figure, his gums hurt because his big front teeth are coming in and he doesn’t want to chew on food so he’s nursing up a storm because he is also mobile now and needs all the calories he can get. As I recited my mantra at the time “this too shall pass”, it did.
Gavin quickly became his happy self again. Since he didn’t have his gum pain to worry about (for the time being) he was able to get even more mobile. Gavin loves to nurse with is body on one side of me, then move his whole body on the other side of me, then get his feet under him, attempt to stand up while staying latched so really he’s doing about a forward fold, unlatch to look at me with the biggest smile showing how proud he is of himself and then latch back on. Michelle at Le Leche League calls this gym-nurse-tics and it is so hilariously true. I’m learning to not let Gavin crawl all over me because he’s only going to get more mobile so I need to nip this in the butt while I still can.
Today, I feel like we have fun with nursing. I’m impressed if I unsnap my nursing tank like Pavlov’s Dog, Gavin comes walking over for some milk. No boo boo has been so bad (crossing our fingers and knocking on wood) that nursing can’t fix. I practice signing “milk” and so far he hasn’t signed it back, but he does smile and seem interested as I sign milk. We are just rounding out of year one. So far, I’m sticking to my goal of letting him wean. I think tandem nursing is about the coolest concept I’ve ever heard so we’ll see how long Gavin sticks with it (and when I get pregnant again). All the sudden, he’s been eating a lot more solid food the past couple weeks, but we still nurse about six times a day. This is our breastfeeding journey so far. It was completely worth all the hardship and I would do it all over again to get where we are now.
My current project is pumping 180 ounces for him to stay with my parents for our 8-day honeymoon in February when he’ll be 13 months! I figure this will give him at least four 5-ounce bottles a day. I caved and got an electric pump this time (what a time saver that I should have done months ago).
This blog is not intended to be a source of medical information or advice. Please discuss all of your concerns with your care provider.