Breastfeeding. I never thought about it before I was pregnant.
Once I was pregnant, I just assumed I would do it.
Like, that’s just what women do. They have breasts. They have a baby. They breastfeed their baby.
Me. Blissfully unaware.
What was formally known as breastfeeding, will now be referred to only as GOD’S CRUELEST JOKE from this moment forward.
Like, what the fuck.
It’s like, “Oh hey, here is a VERY NATURAL process, using a part of your anatomy that is biologically programmed to feed another human being. But…there are 1,000 things that can go wrong, there is a PRECISE way to go about it, not gonna tell you what it is tho, it hurts like hell, it takes days for your milk supply to come in and THEN takes about 4-8 weeks to establish fully, during which time you’ll live in the sunken place. BUT I’M SURE YOU’LL BE FINE, OKAYBYEEEEEEGOODLUCK.”
It me, four days postpartum trying to teach Luke how to latch while watching 10,000 unhelpful YouTube videos.
I took the classes, read the books, and did EVERYTHING one woman was supposed to do to prepare for the glorious moment your baby is placed on your chest.
When the nurse asked me MINUTES after my son was born, “Okay do you want to try breastfeeding now?” I was like, “Oh my God, this is it. The very definition of my femininity and womanhood.”
I was feeling myself and ready to go.
Probably still high on my epidural.
Then she plopped my baby’s open (crying) mouth onto my boob and walked away.
Luke flailed on my chest. I sat there like a deer in headlights.
Um, excuse? Hello? Halp!
Before I go any further, I would like to say that FED IS BEST. Whatever you decided to do is perfect. Never forget that. I’m sharing my experience in hopes of letting women who struggled to breastfeed in their early postpartum days know they are not alone.
I would also like to say that I am NOT a breastfeeding expert, the below is what has worked for ME, and direction given and approved by MY practitioners for MY body and baby.
My son was born on a Thursday, we were discharged and homeward bound on Saturday, and my milk came in that following Monday. Every moment in between was full of anxiety, confusion, terror, and pain. I was beside myself questioning whether or not Luke was getting enough colostrum to survive. My nipples were throbbing, bleeding, cracked, wounded and bruised. I was feeding him every two hours, and each time I was watching the clock desperate for the feeding to end, writhing in pain, seeing stars, and holding my breath.
During one (isolating) 2 AM feeding, I remembered the words of one of my girlfriends, “Give it two months, after that it gets so much easier.”*
With tears streaming down my face and Luke CLAMPED down on my right breast I did some quick math…
…ten minutes per side, twelve feedings a day, seven days in a week, four weeks in a month…OH MY FUCKING GOD I CAN’T DO IT.
In that moment of desperation, I emailed Lactation Partners, trying to sound cool and collected (at 2 AM, I’m sure that worked!), asking for the NEXT AVAILABLE APPOINTMENT, PLEASE DEAR GOD.
Judy, who we will refer to as ETERNAL GODDESS GIVER OF ALL LIFE AND HOPE, literally saved me, physically and emotionally.
The 411 on a Lactation Consultant’s At-Home Visit
Upon her arrival, I immediately felt better; she’s one of those motherly types that makes you feel like everything will be okay. She heard my concerns, examined my breasts, weighed Luke pre-feeding, did a hands-on demonstration of where and how to sit, as well as hold Luke to achieve the best latch, and weighed him again post-feeding. All the while she was delivering information that wasn’t ONCE shared by the hospital staff, or the educators of my classes.
So that’s fucked up.
Judy isn’t able to prescribe medication, but she gave me the name of a compound to request from my O.B. The total for her two-hour visit was around $250, the prescription was $60, and she gave me a document to submit to my insurance for reimbursement.
I can confidently say, it was the best money I’ve spent in a LONG time, maybe ever.
Establishing My Supply
After my session with Judy ended, I was determined to have a banner supply. While genetics and chemistry play a role your output, there are things you can do to set yourself up for success.
- Sleep: I know you’re probably like, “Is this bitch serious? Sleep? With a new baby? PLEASE.” But like, it is essential. If you don’t get SOME sleep, your body and hormones will be even more haywire than they already are. Lack of sleep goes hand-in-hand with stress. And the milk flows best when mama is relaxed and calm. Most days, I wasn’t able to nap, but I made sure to start winding down around 8 PM so I could sleep while the baby slept at night.
- Hydration and nutrition: The energy your body requires to produce milk is insane! As a result, the Institute of Medicine recommends a breastfeeding woman consume 2-4 liters of water throughout the day, and an additional 300-500 calories. Studies show a range of results when it comes to caloric consumption during breastfeeding. However, a general guideline states consuming less than 1800 calories a day may put your supply at risk. Most women generally are advised to consume between 2200-2400 calories per day while breastfeeding. Read more about MY postpartum diet here.
- Supplementation: Judy recommended taking Fenugreek (2-3 capsules 2-3 times per day) and Sunflower Lecithin (1 per day), which I did religiously, and still do four months postpartum. She also recommended that I take Arnica Montana, a homeopathic remedy, which is known to heal bruising. Seriously, my nipples were black, blue and purple. Ugh. Between that and the prescription** she recommended my “severely wounded nipples” were 75% better OVERNIGHT. I honestly could not believe it. The next morning I cried tears of joy from the relief.
- Pumping: After I passed the four-week mark, I started pumping after Luke’s first feeding in the morning, and after he went down at night. Luke was a great sleeper right out of the gate and I knew around 9 PM he would be sleeping for at least three hours. I pumped during those two times to start building my supply and my freezer stash for when I went back to work.
Many women worry about working out while breastfeeding, and after doing a lot of research, many studies conclude that fitness does NOT negatively impact a stable breastmilk supply.
Judy recommended that once I started exercising, I wear my nursing bra before and directly after a workout. Wearing a sports bra may compress the breasts to the point of clogging ducts, and that would be no bueno. After I received clearance for exercise, I wore my nursing bra to-and-from the gym.
The program I created for myself did not include running or any plyometric drill (outside of 10 squat jumps in an AMRAMP), so I never experienced pain or discomfort while working out. Other studies show there is not a noticeable increase in lactic acid buildup after moderate exercise, or even maximum intensity – which, hi, you really should not be doing in your early postpartum days anyway. And there are no harmful effects for the baby.
If your baby rejects your milk after you exercise it’s most likely because you’re sweaty as fuck and your baby is tasting sweat over your milk. So, shower and shit, or just use a water wipe!
I waited a full six weeks to go back to the gym, and while I’m glad I waited to ensure proper recovery, I was counting down the seconds. I tried to take a walk with Luke daily, but Chicago had a really shitty Spring and therefore there were days at a time we didn’t leave the house. The difference in my mood, happiness, and emotional state was extremely noticeable on the days I was able to move vs. the days I didn’t.
The benefits of exercise go without saying, but to double and triple check…I’ll say it again:
- A higher level of cardiovascular fitness
- A feeling of well-being
- Improved energy
- Reduced stress levels
- Alleviation of depression symptoms
All of the above improves your mood and therefore enhances the relationship and bond you feel with your newborn.
Finding My Groove
While it may seem “natural,” breastfeeding is a learned skill you and your baby have to acquire together. But the most incredible part – you’re both quick learners. Your baby learns to latch. You learn how to guide your little one to success. You learn to cope with pain and discomfort – which is temporary. Or you may discover that breastfeeding isn’t right for you. That’s okay.
Part of my struggle was that I wasn’t prepared for it! I was shocked at just how hard it is/was and how LITTLE conversation there is among women regarding how isolating it can be. How TIME-CONSUMING it is. I mean, think about this, you’re breastfeeding for 8-hours a day. Sometimes more. THAT’S A FULL-TIME JOB. And that’s precisely what breastfeeding is – a job.
It Gets Better
I would say it took Luke and I a solid 8-weeks to find our groove with feeding to the point we were both comfortable and could settle in with minimal fussing, tears (from either of us), and contentment. BUT each week (shit, every day) that went by it got a little better. By the 10-week mark, I would say we were pros.
My “goal” is to breastfeed Luke until he’s six months. Today, at the time of this post, he’s just under five. We’re going strong, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t putting pressure on myself to continue. For now, it’s something I want to keep doing, but I’m encouraging myself to take it day by day.
*IT DOES GET EASIER.
**Call your O.B. and request the compound; they should do it right away! You’ll need to find a pharmacy in your area that compounds medication, this isn’t something you can pick up at any pharmacy like Walgreens or CVS. Judy recommended a pharmacy for us, but a quick google search should help you figure out where to go. Otherwise, your O.B. may have an idea as well.