What I Have to Say About Breastfeeding

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Now. Let's get to the real reason I showed up to my blog today...
I've felt so hesitant over the years to get into the nitty gritty of nursing babies for a bunch of different reasons - but no more. Today I'm going for it. Mostly thanks to the encouragement of a friend from high school who just gave birth to a truly beautiful baby girl. (Congratulations Wyatt & Jessica and welcome to the world sweet Lennon!) Sharing my experience with breastfeeding has been on my mind after a good conversation recently with my friend Marcennia as well. So a big thank you to both of these ladies for unknowingly nudging me to hop back on my blog and write.

For those who might be new around here: I'm a mom x3. I gave birth in 2012 to a girl, 2014 to another girl, and 2016 to a boy. Baby #1 breastfed for 23 months and baby #2 for 19 months or so. (Sorry Molly - I don't remember it as exactly!) I'm still breastfeeding baby #3 and we're nearing the 6 month mark! I feel like this will be a good reference when it comes to writing about my various breastfeeding journeys.

I'd like to start by talking about the breastfeeding worries and struggles I encountered each time.

I don't remember seeing people breastfeed or talking much about it growing up. We lived in Illinois when I was pregnant with my first baby and I went to all kinds of amazing, free parenting classes offered at Pregnancy Resources there in town. Thankfully, this included a class that solely focused on breastfeeding. I remember seeing so many bare breasts in a video that day and I couldn't stop giggling to myself. (I was 23 at the time and a lot less privy to these types of images back then.) At the end of class that day the instructor opened it up to questions from the parents-to-be. I wondered - out loud - if we were supposed to clean/sanitize our nipples before and after every feeding. This was literally how clueless I was to all things breastfeeding back then! (For those of you wondering... the answer is no!) 

Like so many other women I know, before ever having breastfed, my only real frame of reference for breasts in general was sexual. There is nothing inherently wrong with breasts being sexy - I totally agree that they are and love my breasts. But before beginning my breastfeeding journey these images were at war for me... how could breasts be sexual AND be something I fed my baby with? I worried about that quite a bit before having baby #1 and then again before having baby #3, which was my first boy. What was it going to be like breastfeeding a boy? Again, those anxieties came creeping back in. Which now sounds so silly to me - but at the time it was real. To any person who might be wondering about the same things - let me put your mind at ease.

1. There is nothing sexy about feeding your baby. It doesn't look sexual or feel sexual. Trust me!

2. There are plenty of body parts that serve us in multiple tasks which have nothing to do with one another. Take your mouth for example. You use it to eat and drink. You use your mouth to kiss someone. Two totally different functions and they don't effect the other. 

So please try not to worry about it. And if you still feel nervous about it or anything when it comes to breastfeeding, feel free to reach out to me or someone you know who has breastfed and who you can trust. It helps so much to talk your worries out and get some support! I mean it - I am totally here to support you.

I ran into different struggles with breastfeeding over the years, too. With baby #1 the hugest struggle was BOTH baby and I learning at the same time how breastfeeding worked. We were both on that learning curve and everything was new. It's hard to have no confidence in what you're doing when it comes to feeding your baby! I had help from the lactation consultant in the hospital but even that ended up being a little stressful. I remember the LC really put an emphasis on doing all the various breastfeeding positions (cradle, football hold, cross-cradle...) maybe because Presley's latch wasn't the best. But I ended up feeling so overwhelmed having to switch up the position with every feeding. We used a nipple shield a lot in the very beginning. One of the worst parts in the first few weeks were my cracked, bleeding nipples. (Thank you God for Lanolin cream!!!) It caused me a lot of pain & anxiety to put baby to breast knowing it was going to cause pain. Thankfully that was relatively short lived. Oh and another struggle? Leaking. I had no idea you needed breast pads! So once my milk came in I was a mess. Literally.

After having baby #2 I had some complications after my epidural that left me with a spinal fluid leak and debilitating head aches. For the first two weeks of her life I literally had to lay flat to escape the worst of the pain. Not being able to sit up to nurse her was pretty difficult but thankfully I was able to nurse her in the side-lying position. She seemed gassy and unhappy often and I think I had a strong letdown as well as a hind/fore milk imbalance. Once I figured those out and took steps to fix that it got better.

When it came time to breastfeed baby #3 I felt so confident. His first latch went great and it was honestly like riding a bike for me. (Once learned, never forgotten.) We got him home and man was a knocked down several rungs! I seemed to have a hind/fore milk imbalance again along with a strong letdown. Baby #3 was also very refluxy, gassy, and very unhappy as a result. I thought he might have a tongue or lip tie but that was ultimately ruled out. We got him on reflux medicine because he was projectile vomiting several times a day at this point. A month into his meds nothing was helping and it seemed like his mood had worsened. At this point not only was baby #3 gaining weight, he was gaining a lot of weight. He was prescribed a stronger medicine for the reflux but I just didn't feel right about it. I didn't give him the medicine to see if it helped his mood and symptoms or made them worse. Long story short - he did better off the medicine and eventually the vomiting was down to only once a day and then lessened from there. During this time I wanted to quit breastfeeding. I felt like it was so hard, I wasn't figuring out how to make these issues stop, and I didn't see the point of continuing all this stress on my part. Surely bottles and formula would be a hell of a lot easier that what I was currently dealing with AND I wouldn't be the only one in charge of feeding him.

And that struggle - the feeling that so much falls directly on my shoulders for baby's wellbeing - is something that I felt so strongly early on in my breastfeeding journey each time. I can't be away from baby very long... ever... especially in the beginning. (Not without introducing a bottle to baby - which can be stressful - as well as pumping milk beforehand and pumping while I'm gone so my supply isn't affected.) Another struggle all three times was breastfeeding in public. It can be scary and uncomfortable mostly because you just don't know how other people will react to it. And if you're a habitual people pleaser like I am you worry about what even the strangest of strangers think of you. Which I know is so silly but it still gives me a little anxiety from time to time. What I've come to realize is that my children take top priority. If my baby is hungry I'm going to feed him. If that makes someone else mad then it makes them mad and there is nothing I can do to control their feelings. Sure, I can nurse in a bathroom but I absolutely refuse to do that. I find it demeaning. And gross. And ladies, it helps so much to know your legal rights in regards to breastfeeding. I feel so much better when I remember that breastfeeding mothers and their children are protected and allowed to nurse in public.

If you have a partner - God bless them! Enlist their help. Their encouragement and support can make all the difference. Since you do the majority of the feeding you get so much bonding time & snuggles with your baby that they might feel they're missing out on. Here are some of my favorite ways for them to get involved:
  1. Water refills. Tony is so good about this! If he notices my water is empty then he'll fill it up for me - especially while I'm feeding the baby.
  2. You're in charge of the input so they can take care of the output! Simply put: they can change the diapers. In the middle of the night when baby #3 wakes up I'll wake my husband up. He changes the diaper while I use the restroom and get situated & ready to nurse. It might sound small but it helps me tremendously... mostly it just helps me to feel like I'm not in this on my own. Which I'm not!
  3. Taking care of the older kids while you nurse baby!
  4. Getting you a new breast pad!
  5. Bringing baby to you while you get set up to breastfeed.
  6. Burping the baby after you're all done! Honestly it's such a good way for daddy & baby to bond.
  7. Your partner can take baby in between feedings for you.
  8. Your partner can make you a snack or meal, too!
And don't be afraid to ask for help! You're doing some serious, awesome work for your family. If your partner is anything like mine then they're grateful for your sacrifice and hard work and are happy to be there for you. My guy has really gone above & beyond to support and encourage me breastfeeding our kids. He advocates for breastfeeding and it's really been a joy to see him become passionate about it over the years!

All of this leads me to my favorite part - my breastfeeding tips, advice, and a few heads-up!
  • Set small, attainable goals. And definitely start small in the beginning. With baby #1 I think my first goal was the first six weeks. When I felt like it would be easier to quit breastfeeding I would go back and look at the benefits my baby was reaping at each milestone. (I literally can't tell you how many times I visited that website during my first breastfeeding journey.) This helped me tremendously to stick with it. My next goal was to make it to three months. After that it was six months. Then nine months. And all along my overall goal was one year.
  • Find your village. This looks different from everyone. I reached out for support to my Facebook friends in the early days with baby #1 and without their kindness and help I really wouldn't have made it as far as I did. Some people have great La Leche League groups in their area. This time around I'm part of a Breastfeeding Moms of Memphis group on Facebook that has been an invaluable resource. (More on my village a little later!)
  • Nurse laying down! Seriously. Try it. It is a life saver - especially when you are recovering from childbirth. Or sick. Or exhausted. This position literally saved our breastfeeding journey while I was dealing with the spinal fluid leak after baby #2. It has allowed me to nap next to my baby as I feed them on numerous occasions. It's the best!
  • Invest in a breastfeeding support pillow and a nice nursing cover. I have two Boppy pillows and use them every single day. I've had several nursing covers over the years and my favorite cover is also made by Boppy. One of my favorite features is that you can fold it up into a little bag so it's easy to throw in your purse, diaper bag, or car and take it with you. It also actually covers everything so I feel a lot more comfortable nursing in public.
  • WATER. Water. Water. Drink lots of it. Get a nice, big cup with a lid. Fill it up before you sit down to nurse. You'll feel better and it's imperative to keep your milk supply up.
  • Breast pads, nursing bras, & nursing camis. Find what you like and get a bunch of them. It'll come in handy - especially when your hormones are a mess after childbirth and you sweat like crazy or when baby spits up on you often in the beginning and you're ALWAYS washing your bras and camis. I love these breast pads but I'm honestly not all that picky these days. I also really like comfy nursing bras with no underwire or extra padding. But that's just me!
  • Just know that the distracted phase is real!!! It starts when baby is around 5 months and wow is it annoying! All of sudden baby just starts noticing everything around them ALL the time and will get distracted so easily. You can call it stop-and-go breastfeeding because that's what it's like... one moment baby is latched and drinking milk and the next he pops off and is babbling or trying to roll over or laughing. It helps to nurse in a dark, quiet room during this phase... but those of you with multiple kids will laugh along with me because that's just not an option. Oh and surprise... there is an arm-fat-pinching phase, too. 
  • Biting while breastfeeding happens - and this often starts before any teeth show up. And it hurts like hell. It's also totally normal but that doesn't mean you have to suffer through it. You can fish hook your finger inside their mouth to break the seal they have on your nipple. You can also push their face into your breast. Sounds weird but it works. I also got some advice from a family member to flick their nose (NOT hard enough to injure them but enough to surprise them) and tell them "No biting!" when that happens. They don't like that! And that has helped all 3 of my kids to stop. Fun fact: When your baby is correctly latched they cannot bite you. Usually my kids would bite me once they were done nursing and before I took them off the breast. Teething is no fun but if you are prepared for how to deal with the biting then it should be much smoother sailing!!
  • Finally, find your groove and what works for you. Sometimes that will mean using certain breastfeeding holds or doing breast compressions if your milk is slow to letdown each time. Other times it's learning to only breastfeed on one breast at each feeding because you have an oversupply. If you gave birth at a hospital with a lactation consultant you can often go back and visit them for free advice and help - make sure to call and schedule an appointment. Lactation consultants - in my experience - love what they do and they're passionate about helping you and baby learn the ropes. You might feel like your questions or concerns are small or trivial & it might require you to step out of your comfort zone but trust me it is totally worth the time and energy to ask for help & get the extra support.

I've had wonderful support within my family as well & I'm gonna take a moment to shout them out. My mom has been supportive from the beginning and breastfed me for six weeks when I was a baby! Thank you, Mom! My sisters & cousin have been there for me - not just because they love me but in their own unique ways, too. My big sister & cousin have been in the trenches with me over the last five years. My little sister has been in nursing school or working as a RN and has been ultra supportive and informative, too. My mother-in-law doesn't bat an eye while I'm breastfeeding.  We've got all kinds of family and friends who have been supportive and loving and I am so grateful for all of you!

When I felt like quitting in the first few weeks with baby #3 my village supported me in their various ways. Tony reminded me of the health benefits & that formula wouldn't solve baby's issues either. My big sister reminded me it was totally okay to quit and formula was awesome. My mother-in-law straight up told me I couldn't quit. Most importantly was that they cared enough to weigh in and be there for me!

And above everything else, I couldn't have breastfed without my three kiddos. They're awesome little rockstars who make me want to be the best version of myself. They're also the reason I started drinking coffee regularly... #mommyconfession


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