My Adventures in Nursing
We are so close, we’ve almost made it! When Tad was born, I remember my lactation consultant (Louann! You were awesome!) coming into my hospital room with the gentlest soul ever, and helping me ease into what would eventually become one of the best and worst parts of my first year of motherhood. My breasts were engorged and painful, but I was determined to feed this baby with my body - getting your milk in is so weird, I'm glad it doesn't stay like that all of the time!
I’m a very adaptable person, and I knew that breastfeeding was not necessarily something that I could make happen for Tad and I (I am also a very pushy person). I knew that if, for some reason, nursing just wasn’t going to work for us, that I would not be a happy camper. BUT. It did work, and it’s still working.
I’m not an expert on breastfeeding, but I believe I’ve done a pretty good job so far, and am offering to share a little bit of our journey with you. Whether you enjoy reading about other mothers’ nursing journeys (I do. Does that make me a weirdo?) or are expecting your first babe/are just beginning your nursing journey and need some support through the internet - this post is for you!
I remember very clearly the advice my lactation consultant gave me in those first hours of new baby chaos + bliss: “Give yourself small goals. You may want to nurse for a year, but start out with only three months instead. Then move up to six months, then nine, and then a year.” She was one wise woman. Thankfully, I wasn’t stubborn, and I followed her advice. The first three months were hard. So, so hard. Hell, the first three weeks were hard! Aren’t we always told the first three of everything are the worst? Whichever mother tagged that concept was a damn genius. Anyway, I’m rambling.
Here are some of the lessons I learned while breastfeeding for a year:
1. You can use a nipple shield WITHOUT teaching your baby bad habits. Because I had an emergency cesarean, I was in the hospital for a couple of days. Quite a few nurses were scheduled to me, so I was given loads of advice within the small time frame of me being there. Nursing wasn't easy those first couple of days. In reality, it took us about a month to finally get into a solid groove, and even then sometimes things didn't go how I had originally planned.
I had a nurse who was very much the "tough love" type of mother. She tightly swaddled Tad while he was fussy, popped a pacifier in his mouth, and placed him into the bassinet. She swayed him a couple of times until he fell right to sleep. At this point I was beginning to feel overwhelmed, and she was making a point to reassure me that I could leave him to his own devices and he would be fine. I didn't need to coddle him to get things done properly. Then, I had a nurse who took a gentler approach. She rocked and cradled and soothed Tad to sleep in her arms. She swaddled him gently and cooed and talked with him until he fell asleep in her arms. It was all very confusing, but I knew as I watched that I was a gentler mother. I couldn't just leave Tad to fend for himself, but I was happy to know that it was okay that I could.
Coming to the point of this story, I was told by the tough love nurse and also the internet, that if I used a nipple shield while nursing because my baby couldn't latch properly, that I was doomed to use the nipple shield forever, causing my son to never learn to latch properly and my breasts to become backed up with milk. Well, I'm here to tell you that that's not true (though it may happen to some people). We used a nipple shield for the first two months because I have teeny nipples and Tad couldn't figure out how to latch on. After a while, I just started to try nursing without one, and it was as if I had never used the shield. He just figured it out with time. Time is key!
2. I didn't have to change my diet or schedule feedings. When I was pregnant, I was obsessed with researching any information I could about breastfeeding. How did the scheduling work? Was I supposed to eat a special diet? Did I need to exercise? How do I know baby's getting enough milk?
With time and patience, I quickly learned that I didn't really need to change up much of anything. Sure, I had a newborn and that changed my personal schedule up quite a bit. But, I didn't eat any differently than what I was eating during my pregnancy. In fact, I eat much worse now than I did while pregnant. I drink caffeine (though in smaller amounts, because too much does affect Tad), eat (too many) sweets, and sometimes I even have half of a glass of wine. What you eat and drink can definitely affect your supply, but I personally believe you can follow a much easier diet than only eating sweet potatoes and kale.
I also didn't schedule feedings. Before I had Tad, that part was really confusing and overwhelming for me. I still don't understand how some people can schedule feedings, but I also am a stay-at-home mother. If you work, then I totally get it! You only have so much time. Because I'm at home, I fed Tad whenever he asked. It was a hassle some days, but I grew to learn that as he got older, the feedings became less and less. I did a lot of research to learn how many times the average baby nursed a day, and we kept on a similar schedules, sometimes more or less often than normal. Each day was different. We went from 8-10 feedings to 2 feedings a day in about a year. You can do it, mamas!
3. It's okay to listen to your baby's needs, even if the book (or your pediatrician) says differently. I am a big rule follower, though that doesn't always tend to work out in my favor.* I thought that I had to do everything the way the baby books say: sleep in a crib for 8 hours a night, don't nurse your baby to sleep, only feed them solids after six months. Well, I didn't do any of those. By the time we moved, Tad was one-month-old and sleeping in my bed beside me. It was much easier to get a good night's rest that way when we were hotel hopping during our big move from Texas to Iowa. Then it just became a habit, and one that I feel guilty about all of the time, but it just works for us. And I need to stop feeling bad about it. The book and my pediatrician say you shouldn't cosleep, but it's natural. If you feel the same way I do, then you should really check out KellyMom. It's one of the most reliable breastfeeding websites on the ol' internet. They make a lot of great points about how cosleeping and nursing your baby to sleep are the way it's supposed to happen. Your baby is less stressed and your milk was meant to help put your baby to sleep. My tip to myself: stop worrying about how others think you should parent and how you know your type of parenting it working for you and your baby.
(**See, I had an illegitimate child at nineteen)
4. Weaning is going to be really hard. I thought that I wouldn't be the emotional nursing mother when the time was done to stop. When Tad was a newborn, I didn't really feel emotionally connected nursing. I don't really feel that way now; I don't lie there and look at my nursing son with tears in my eyes because the moment is so beautiful. Sometimes I wish I did, but I'm usually just waiting for him to close his eyes so I can finally get a moment to look through my phone/read/think to myself without distracting him. It's a daily cycle. But, I am very emotional about weaning. Holy cow. I never thought that I would be upset about quitting now that the time has come.
From what I've been reading, it's better to wait until your baby shows signs of being ready to quit. Tad still nurses before each nap (twice), before bedtime, and about two-three times throughout the night on a good night. This is pretty normal. I've decided that he needs to be weaned by September, because I'm planning on taking my first trip away. So, here we are, starting the next journey. I'm attempting the "take away one feeding every 7-12 days" method. For now, we've cut out any "extra" feedings, like comfort when he hurts himself or is fussy or just when he's bored. It's working well so far! I'm not looking forward to the first time we cut out a nap feeding OR a nighttime feeding. Wish me luck!
Do you have any weaning tips? Or nursing tips? Would love to hear your input!