Breast Feeding; A Journey. A Goal. An accomplishment.

It is kind of ironic that my breast feeding journey would come to an end in August – National Breast Feeding Month… but I suppose it’s alright since I get to post this article to commiserate.

DISCLAIMER: This is my fair warning – this post contains words like boob and lactation and explains (very natural, if I must say so myself) bodily functions. Go ahead and click on past if this is not your cup of tea.

Disclaimer #2 – Honestly, I was a bit hesitant to post this article. While I have always been a very out in the open, a what you see is what you get type of person – this part of me, this tiny intricate piece of my babies lives was somewhat hard for me to just put out there for all to see. However, after a lot of contemplating I have come to the conclusion that this entire journey has become a huge accomplishment for me, a big changing point in my life regarding who I have become as a mother, a woman and a person overall. Like many uplifting aspects of life, this journey is now part of who I am and where I have come from and for that reason I have decided to put it out there.
If anything I hope to help a new mom 3 weeks into this experience ready to throw in the towel to know whatever decision you make is your decision and that decision is OK. However you choose to continue this journey is alright and like anything in life, if you really want to do it – you can do it. Or maybe it will give a fellow seasoned mom who was not able to make Breast Feeding work the first time around the push or incentive to try and make it work on her second go around if that her ultimate goal, because as I know too well, it is possible.
Regardless… this is my story and I cannot believe how far it has taken me.

“I wanted to be ready. I had thought I was ready. I really believed I was ready. That is, until the milk came.” – Katherine Michaels

My breast feeding Journey began back in March of 2011.

Gavin was born and the little dude latched 35 minutes after entering the world like a champ. A little help from a girl I consider to be one of my oldest best friends (who also happens to be a mother-baby nurse at the hospital where I delivered both of my kids) and we were on our way. And by a little help I meant that Kim literally grabbed my breast in her hand and shoved it in Gavin’s mouth.

OH, that is what a latch is?!

I had no idea what a “proper latch” was before becoming a mother. I really had no idea what to expect at all before Gavin was born when it came to nursing my child. Changing diapers, soothing my crying baby, playing and cooing – I had it down… but Breast Feeding was a whole new animal for me. I had done some preliminary research and reading, had talked with family and friends and really didn’t find it all that complicated. I really honestly didn’t put THAT much thought into it…. I always just knew I would give it a shot. That was it. Not until I was knee deep in breast pads, mounds of lanolin and pumping parts did I ever understand everything that also came along with it – and boy was there a LOT that came with it!!

I knew Breast Feeding was “best” for my baby and I knew I was going to try and if it didn’t work, I wasn’t going to stress. Formula was a great alternative and we would all be fine. My husband was in my court and supported me no matter what the outcome or how it worked out, and we were determined to navigate through this together as new parents much like everything else we were faced with during that time.

I was surrounded by women everywhere who had “breast feeding goals” a certain amount of time they would MINIMALLY breast feed their child – ONLY breast milk. What??? Why put SO much pressure on yourself? Why not just see how it goes and take it from there??? But no, they were dedicated and determined to make it work no matter what. They were pioneers determined to make breast feeding a social normalcy, to make it a commonality. No matter where I turned; moms groups, internet forums, friends – this seemed to be the norm. Boy was I on the wrong side of the coin…. or so I felt.

I didn’t know that because I wasn’t entirely dedicated to making it work that some would look at me as less of a mother, as less of a person.

I had no idea formula was considered “poison” by some. I had no idea women literally bullied others into feeling like they HAD to breast feed their child or that they would be essentially “failing” their baby. I had no idea there was such a social stigma attached to the “breast is best” campaign and that some women looked down on others that couldn’t or didn’t make it work. I had no idea that I was looked at as “uneducated” or “uninformed” because these things were not my top priority and I had a “go with the flow” momma mantra… This stuff was no joke!

This was the world I entered when I became a “breast feeding mom”. By searching and looking for answers at one of my most vulnerable times, I was bombarded with this standard I had no expectation of myself to meet. I now was accountable not only to my child but the rest of society to make sure I didn’t “fail” him.

I was flabbergasted.

Luckily, breast feeding was quite easy for me… and for Gavin. We went through a few rough spots in the early months with awful latching habits; it would take me 20 minutes to get him latched and then sometimes he would pop off the breast after what seemed like only 3 seconds. In the middle of the night this was trying and exhausting. Many times I just wanted to cry, especially because of the pain…. sometimes I did. I felt like the majority of my time was spent trying to get him ON the boob… like he never actually ate much of anything. Again, luckily for me this was only a phase and 4 weeks later he was back to nursing like a champ. It did hurt – BAD in the beginning, but we pushed through and eventually it became quite easy and normal for us.

I exclusively nursed him for 2.5 months (which at the time, I thought was pretty good – looking back, not so much). I would pump bottles for Jeremy to feed to Gavin occasionally but the first 2.5 months fell pretty much on my shoulders. Then we started supplementing with formula. I had no idea what it took to keep up with pumping and no clue how it was all supposed to work out – I guess this was me being uneducated… I just thought it would be fine.  Ultimately it was figuratively speaking, but it was also the beginning of the demise of my supply.

I went back to work when Gavin was 13 weeks old (just over 3 months) and my breast feeding journey ended with him at 5 months and one week to the day. Since he supplemented so well, it was easy for me to skip a feeding on the weekends and give him formula – so I did, it worked. It allowed me some freedom, for Jeremy to get in on the shared duties which he so wanted so much to take part in. Everyone was happy. Gavin took breast milk and formula interchangeably and never seemed bothered so I figured everything was OK.

Jeremy would also get up every other morning during the weekend so I could catch up on sleep and would feed Gavin either pumped milk or formula depending on what I had saved that week and I would nurse him all the other times. By 4 months he was probably getting equal parts formula and breast milk but the breaks helped me feel human, like myself.

I always knew I wanted to be a mom…. but becoming one was another story. My life was different in ways I never knew how to prepare for and in those first couple months the entire change was honestly incredibly overwhelming for me. I wasn’t overwhelmed by Gavin, or having a new baby in the house. He was always a very easy baby – he still is….that transition was almost seamless for me. The part that really got to me, was more about me and my changing life – how drastic this change actually was. Being the first of my girlfriends to have a baby was even more difficult for me especially because at that point in my life I still has so much time and energy invested in our friends and social life. I wanted to still do the things everyone else did in the early spring/summer…. happy hours, parties, summer cook outs and going out. But for me and Jeremy, our reality was now different… and I was not prepared or ready at all. We had to grow up – our priorities needed to change. On top of all of that, breast feeding only added to this anxiety and I felt like my entire being, who I was, who I had always been, was lost. I felt like I had nothing of my old self left and it was scary. I felt ugly and gross and flabby on top of it all – things I never expected out of all the other wonderful parts of motherhood. I loved being a Mommy, I loved Gavin and this new life more than I could even describe… but I was also longing for some part of my old self. To say it took awhile for me to get used to the idea of being a mom and not queen of the social scene is a truth I have come to accept.

Sadly unknowingly, skipping feedings was bad news, I apparently respond to my babies so much better than my pump, but at that time… I had no idea. My supply plummeted. I was pumping 2+ times a day at work and was hardly producing anything. I was also pumping every night before bed. I felt chained to my pump with really no measurable outcome.

One bottle of breast milk didn’t feel like much of a realistic achievement to me and we found ourselves buying more and more formula even more regularly.

 20140423-093950.jpg

This coming from someone who had a HUGE over supply in the beginning months…. I ultimately never caught up, never regained my supply.

For about a month and a half I pumped 3 times a day to produce ONE bottle.

20140327-090819.jpg

Again I had people in my ear telling me that one bottle was good enough – it was better than nothing… so I kept on. Looking back at that time in my life, the entire experience had been a constant back and forth debate in my head for months – to keep on trucking or to throw in the towel. Every week I had another internal discussion with myself on whether this was worthwhile or not… whether it was productive to our lives or whether it was tearing us down. Each family has to make a choice at some point on the cost benefit of every aspect of their lifestyle…. this was no different.

I was essentially killing myself for ONE bottle. One bottle a day. It had to come to an end. I had to come to peace with my decision and let go of the constant speculation – in both directions. Yes Gavin was more than worth the sacrifice and the work I had to put in, but at the same time our entire family’s quality of life was changing and shifting and it wasn’t for the better. Ultimately Gavin was going to be fine with the changes of this decision, I knew that. This was our choice, it was OK and the time had come for this to run its course.

To anyone who has ever gone back to work when your baby is 3 months old (or younger) and has kept up pumping for longer than a year – PROPS to you my friend!! You deserve a medal of some sort!

How in the hell people commonly manage this is beyond me for a couple reasons. 1) Some people just cannot produce for a pump… how in the heck do you keep up with the demands of your baby??? And if you have nothing saved – what else are you supposed to do but give your child formula?? Let the baby starve?? Lets be realistic here people. 2) Pumping is horrific… boring as ever and cuts into your work day which is HARD to keep up the momentum to keep going while also succeeding at your career. 3) Pumping plain sucks!!! End of story… if you have ever met a woman who actually enjoys this bain of my existence; I would love to meet her and pick her brain.

Anyway, once Jeremy and I finally made the decision that it was time for me to stop, that continuing was just making life miserable for me and that by God, Gavin would actually live a normal life from being fed formula, I was OK with it. But even now sometimes I look back and think “I could have made this work… I could have lasted longer”. But WHY?

Gavin is a healthy, happy, growing, thriving 3 year old. Why should I have this guilt following me almost 2.5 years later??? The constant nagging that I could have done more, I could have given more??? Why??????? He is perfect.

img_0017

Fast forward – June 2013, I entered breast feeding cautiously once again deciding that if my second baby took to it, we would go with it.

Makenna was born and like the first time, my baby latched like a pro. Makenna may have even been better at nursing than Gavin and this time we didn’t even need any help to kick-start.

IMG_2020

I wasn’t hell bent on making it work though. I wanted to be realistic and I wanted a plan just in case it didn’t come to fruition. We were armed with formula when we left the hospital and if nursing didn’t work, I had no issues using it. Side note: BOTH of my kids were each fed 1 oz of formula on their second night of life in the hospital due to hours upon hours of screaming (my milk had not come in and BOTH I imagine “thought” they were starving). Both went on to be successfully breastfed……. food for thought.

IMG_3211

About 4 days after delivery my milk came in and Makenna was still nursing like a champ. Once again my oversupply was in full force. This time I was ready for it and began pumping and freezing milk right from the beginning. At that point, I had a plan and I was going to stick with it. I became almost obsessed with my milk stash. Think Extreme Couponer… except Extreme Breast Milk Hoarder. Everyday I was pumping when Makenna would sleep so I could bag and freeze my milk. There were weeks I was saving over 75 ozs at a time in the very beginning!!

This is an example of what I would pump and save in a 2 day time period.

IMG_3280

By the time I went back to work at 14 weeks after having Makenna I had over 650 ozs stored.

20140318-210725.jpg

When Makenna was about 2.5 months old I tried giving her formula one day just to see what would happen, just in case for some reason after going back to work – pumping didn’t work out. Makenna was not a fan. She looked at me like I had two heads and promptly spit it out.. The pressure was on!

20140423-093916.jpg

Although I was NOT ready to leave my baby (who ever IS at 14 weeks of age???) and definitely thought we could have benefited from a few more weeks of actual contact nursing, I was ready and prepared in case once again my supply plummeted. This time I was also determined to try my hardest to make it work.

My job has always given mothers’ ample time and space to pump throughout and day and having that “luxury” that a lot of moms do not get was not overlooked. It is half the reason I was able to be so successful.

bfing4

At 3.5 months I could count on one hand the amount of times Makenna had been fed from a bottle or a night that I hadn’t been up nursing her on my own. Her entire food supply and nourishment fell directly on me… and this time I was OK with that, I was happy about it and I enjoyed it. I didn’t feel overwhelmed or panicky, and I never once felt that I would fail her or uncomfortable in who I now was. I had come to terms with who I had become, what I needed to do and how I was going to do it.

I breastfed at home and in public; something I never became comfortable doing with Gavin. I breast fed when my child needed or wanted to eat regardless of where I was and I looked at people like they had 3 heads when they suggested I feed my daughter or pump her milk in a bathroom (and yes this happened several times). My husband was my constant cheerleader and proponent and this time around I had no doubt we would make it.

bfing5

I felt needed, I felt amazing, I felt strong.  I, on my very own was able to produce milk and nourish my baby all by myself. For the first time in my life I saw the awe in the “amzingness” of what it is to be a woman, to be able to make your child’s food within your body and sustain their life. Makenna was exclusively breast fed until she was just shy of 6 months old… she grew, and put on weight and thrived all because of me…. what a miracle!

This was a complete 180 from where I stood with Gavin when he was an infant. Instead of dreading the feedings and pumping daily and resenting the entire idea, this time around I was the one encouraging and helping other moms through the difficult first few weeks. I found myself giving out advice when asked, and explaining how things worked, what to expect, what to do when times got tough – I knew what worked for me and how to keep things flowing (literally). I found pride in encouraging my fellow moms, letting them know it does get easier, the pain will stop and you can do it if you really want too. This only empowered me to continue with my own journey.

I made it a point in conversations to not make any woman feel like they HAD to continue breast feeding if they didn’t want to and I never judged if they decided it just “wasn’t for them”… because in the short reality, it’s perfectly fine if it’s not. Even though this time it worked for me, in the past it didn’t long term plain and simple and I was never out to make someone feel that they had to make it work – to make them feel less of a mother because of a decision they may or may not have come to terms with.

I guess somewhere around the 6 or 7 month mark is where I realized when looking at a new mom and watching her bottle feed her baby in my head I would think “why isn’t she nursing” “I wonder if she even tried”…. I quickly realized that maybe I was the one getting a tad judgy, that maybe I was being hypocritical. I saw a little bit into the other side.

Breast feeding Makenna was not all butterflies and cupcakes… although SHE nursed like a champ, I had many issues along the way that I NEVER experienced with Gavin. I had clogged ducts, cracks and bleeding, Mastitis (twice) Thrush (for 5 months) – if you have heard of an issue that comes along with breast feeding, this time around I experienced it. But we pushed through and kept trucking.

About 9-9.5 months into exclusively breast feeding Makenna, my supply did the old dip out on me. I went from producing anywhere from 9-16 ozs per day to 8-13 ozs per day to 7-12, then down to 7 to 10. By 10 months I was lucky to get 7ozs for the entire day after pumping 2 times. Some days I went home with whopping 4 ozs.

20140403-133109.jpg

Thank God for my freezer supply that we could dip into to supplement with. Once again I felt like I was loosing my ability to make this work and this time around I wasn’t missing or skipping feedings on the weekends. It was just how my body reacted this time, and really there was nothing I could do. I tried adding additional pumping sessions and marathon pumping in the evenings at home, I nursed as much as possible whenever I was with Makenna and nothing worked.

I started taking the supplement Fenugreek and it helped a little. I ate Oatmeal for MONTHS…. I was able to push through and produce enough to make it the last few months. YAY!! I was able to stop pumping at work around 10.5-11 months and my milk stash got Makenna to exactly the week after her 1 year Birthday. The child ate exactly 2.5 ozs of formula her entire life – what a difference from Gavin. We continued nursing every night and on the weekends while she happily also took her cow’s milk until about 13.5 months. At that point the weaning was in full force and it was a natural process for her. She nursed for the last time the day after she turned 14 months old.

Breast feeding also really helped me drop weight  this time around. With Gavin I didn’t loose a single pound (besides the first 20 I dropped before we even left the hospital) until he was 13 months old and I was regularly going to the gym. Loosing weight and breast feeding did not go hand in hand when he was an infant for me but with Makenna the weight just fell off. By 2.5 months Post Pardum I was within 4 pounds of my pre-pregnancy weight and by 4 months I was under. I officially hit the lowest weight I have been since getting married in 2009 – I hit 11 pounds under my pre-pregnancy weight and 1 lb under the weight I was the day I got married!

20140423-094038.jpgbfing2bfing3

August 2014 – Makenna at 14 months old, this journey in my life has come to an end. It ran it’s course and we weaned naturally and in due time. It is a very bittersweet feeling and sometimes I get sad thinking how I will never get to do this again. I am going to miss my early (5am) mornings and evenings with my girl – our quiet one on one time. I am going to miss the fact that I could soothe her and calm her down in any situation. I could cry thinking about not being able to nurse to to sleep and cuddle her for a few minutes alone every night… I cannot believe how fast it all went.

When asked if I regret not breast feeding Gavin for as long as I did Makenna, I can’t really look back and say that I do. While I can’t ignore the statistics, I am also very aware of the facts and specific facets of my kids and how they have developed and grown thus far. I really cannot imagine 20 years from now basing their developmental milestone and stats on how they were fed as infants. I was a different person when Gavin was a baby from who I was when Makenna was born…. I really can’t place any regret on what didn’t happen and I have chosen to be OK with how things played out.

I never thought I would truly become a “breastfeeding Mom”…. ya, I did it with Gavin, but not like I made it work with Makenna. I never thought I would advocate for nursing or even care what others decided when it came to feeding their kid. I have seen both sides of the coin and have come out with more knowledge and experience than I could ever imagine. I have read and educated myself on so many aspects of breast feeding and nursing just because I was curious to learn. I have set and met a goal (even went beyond that goal) and have changed and flourished as a person throughout this journey so much that looking back at who I was when I first had Gavin, I don’t even recognize.

I have grown and learned and have had changed my opinion on things I at first, was so completely against. I understand (now) why some women think breast feeding is the ONLY option when it comes to feeding their babes but on the other hand I get why it’s OK to concede to it just not working out and I can sympathize with why that letdown could be so hard and upsetting. I am proud of what I was able to accomplish in the past 3.5 years and I am thrilled with the two completely different experiences that both of my babies have given me on this mothering journey.

I never thought something like breast feeding would be a defining factor in who I have evolved into as a mom, but it really has… and I could not be any more thankful for this amazing life changing experience.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s