This is a post that is going to be of specific interest to a specific group of folks… and absolutely boring to everyone else. If reading about breastfeeding isn’t your thing, skip it!
Because I’m a big believer in “The More You Know”, I wanted to write about my breastfeeding experience. There is a lot of judgment surrounding breastfeeding – whether you do it or not, for how long, in what way – and I just want to tell a straightforward tale of how it worked for us. I firmly believe there is no “right” way to feed your infant – I’m for formula or breast or a combination in whatever way works for you.
This is the point where I say, coworkers, in laws, future employers, seriously, skip it…
Okay, now that they are gone, here is the thing… I have inverted nipples. Every health professional I have ever seen as an adult who has both seen my boobs and heard that I hoped to have children has told me that I would likely have trouble breastfeeding. My midwife told me at my first appointment that if I did everything she and the lactation consultant told me to, “maybe I would be able to breastfeed by 3 months”. I remember clearly thinking, lady, if this baby isn’t breastfeeding by 3 months, we’re doing formula. I really believe in the benefits of breastfeeding, but I also believe in not making yourself insane.
All this is to say, I went into breastfeeding hoping it would work (I heard plenty of anecdotal stories of women whose babies sucked those inverted nipples right out), armed with equipment and a Plan B, which was… if we can’t get the baby to feed directly off me, I’ll just pump. That way she’ll at least still get breast milk. Frances was born, and we gave it a go. Sometimes she really seemed to get a good latch, but mostly we (and I do mean we, feeding on the boob was always a 2 person job. I needed lots of help with positioning, keeping her awake, etc) would spend maybe 30 minutes trying to get 5 good minutes of sucking. Frances lost weight (this is normal, all babies lose weight after birth as they are learning how to feed themselves), more weight than the doctors wanted her to. The pediatrician tried to tell us we needed to supplement with formula, but I really wanted to avoid that. I wanted to be able to breastfeed our baby and I worried that supplementing with formula would make that harder – lead to “nipple confusion” and supply issues. Finally two days in, the hospital lactation consultant was back on duty and got me started with pumping.
For the first week, we did a very long, two person required feeding routine. I would try to get Frances to nurse (again with the help of more equipment). We would try to do at least 15 minutes on each boob, but often there would only be a few minutes of good sucking in that time. It was hard for Frances to get a latch and she was super sleepy in the first few weeks after birth (in addition to the world being new and exhausting, Frances was also jaundiced, which makes babies sleepier). After the nursing attempt, I would pump and Jami would feed Frances pumped milk through a syringe (we were attempting to prevent “nipple confusion” by not using a bottle). This process usually took about an hour – and was repeated every 3 hours from start to start – so you never had longer than 2 hours of “not feeding”.
At the one week point, I was worried. I didn’t think Frances was getting enough to eat or gaining weight quickly enough. She needed to be back up to her birthweight by the 2 week mark and I just didn’t think that was happening. I was, honestly, freaking out a little. So I called the Breastfeeding Center and a lactation consultant came for a home visit. She had a scale and so could confirm that Frances wasn’t gaining weight at a quick enough rate and told us that the most important thing was to get Frances eating. It was such a relief to me when she said that we should just feed Frances pumped milk from a bottle for the time being. I was finding each nursing session so stressful and as soon as one was over, I would dread the start of the next one. Feeding my daughter pumped milk I could do. I had been pumping every time Frances fed (so 8 times a day) since 2 days postpartum. My milk had come in. I had good supply. I could get her the milk she needed, just so long as she didn’t have to get it straight from my body. At this point, we switched from the syringe to the bottle. (The lactation consultant said that Frances could just as easily start to favor the syringe over the boob, as she could the bottle over the boob – and it much easier to feed a baby by bottle than by syringe.)
We had a second consultation at 2 weeks (Frances had gotten back up to birthweight!), but Frances was still having trouble breastfeeding, so we stuck with bottles. The consultant did tell us that her suck would get stronger as she got older and that we might be able to get her on the boob when she got bigger. With that in mind for the next 6 weeks or so, I tried to do at least one “on the boob” session a day – not worrying about if she got enough food for that session, just thinking of it as practice!
It was suggested that at some point, when Frances was older, with a stronger suck, we could do a “breastfeeding bootcamp” – where we spend a weekend not giving her bottles and basically forcing her to nurse in order to feed. For women this works for, more power to you, but I was not interested at all. At the end of the day, I wanted my baby to eat and to grow. I didn’t want to cause us both stress and frustration to try to make it happen a certain way. At 2 months I decided that feeding directly from the breast wasn’t going to happen (or at least wasn’t going to happen soon enough for me) and I dropped the daily breastfeeding session.
So I pumped. I was slowly able to stretching my pumps further apart – going from 8 pumps a day to 6 to 5 to finally (at 3 months) 4, which made things easier. Once Jami returned to work at 2 weeks, I had to pump and feed Frances at the same time, which is… logistically difficult. I would either lay her on her side, swaddled in the glider while I sat in a chair in front of her, or balance her on my legs, carefully in the middle of the pumping apparati. I had a thrush scare. At my 6 week check up, my midwife said she thought I had thrush because my nipples were pink and shiny, so for 2 weeks I put diluted vinegar on my nipples after every pump and boiled the pump parts every day. (In the end, I don’t think I had thrush, I think my nipple were just pink from all the pumping. Frances never caught thrush and all the vinegar did was irritate my nipples).
At 3 months I returned my rented hospital grade pump, and switched to the Medela Pump in Style I had purchased. This was the beginning of the end, although I didn’t know it at the time. The Pump in Style wasn’t as comfortable at the hospital pump and I had to put it at a level that was slightly painful in order to actually express the milk. At the same time, Frances was getting more active (and thus harder to pump around) and I was getting more tired (and thus eager to stop waking up early and going to bed late to get those pumps in). Then when I dropped my middle of the night pump (in the name of sleep) my supply dropped. I started eating oatmeal and taking Fenugreek, which got it back up to where it needed to be, but I was just done. I was ready to not be pumping. I was ready to not have perpetually sore nipples. I was ready to worry about other parts of parenthood. Frances was 3.5 months at that point and I made a commitment to myself that I would make it to her 4 month appointment and then I would start transitioning her to formula.
Two days after Frances’ 4 month appointment, she had her first bottle of formula, and I started to process of weaning (which is a whole ‘nother post in itself). By the time I went back to work, I had stopped pumping in the middle of the day, so I didn’t have to take the pump to work. Last week I pumped for the very last time. In all, the weaning process took a month. Frances has had no problem switching to formula, and I am honestly much happier.
I would do it all again in a heartbeat. I am so happy that I was able to feed Frances for as long as I need, and I am proud that for the first 4 months of her life I was her sole source of sustenance. Pumping was hard and I did it for a 1/3 of a year and I feel good about that. That said, I also think that having a sane, happy mother is more important than breast milk, so I’m also happy that I stopped when I did. 5 months of pumping was the right balance for me – and I fully support whatever other women decide is right for them. It’s hard and personal and no one else can (or should) tell you what to do.
As a final note – I have heard comments to the effect that “breast milk is free” quite a bit. In theory that’s true, but it cost me something like $900 in pump rental, lactation consultants, and pump purchase for me to be able to feed my daughter breast milk for 5 months. That’s certainly more than it would have cost to feed her formula. Clearly there are more factors than just economic when women make these decisions – but I do find the “breast milk is free” argument to be a little specious.