It’s official. We made it past the 1 year mark. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about breastfeeding, something I knew really nothing about before Flynn was born and felt it would be helpful to write it down and share.
When I was pregnant with Flynn I still didn’t know if I wanted to breastfeed. The thought of it felt a little disturbing to be honest and up until he was born I really wasn’t sure how I would feel about it. I knew I’d at least try pumping, but I really didn’t know how much work that would involve.
However, when Flynn was born I felt so helpless. There were so many moments I felt disgusted with myself because my body couldn’t protect him and carry him to full term. He struggled to gain weight, hold his temperature and wasn’t even strong enough at first to wake himself up to eat. If breast milk could somehow give him any edge in overcoming his struggles, I wanted/had to do that for him. Being able to nurse him and provide for him gave me some power back, some pride in myself. And believe me post-partum hormones are serious and being able to have some control meant a lot.
Flynn – 1 day old
I had some idea that breastfeeding would be possible because I started lactating so early in my pregnancy – somewhere around 20 weeks or so. I had to wear nursing pads forever – which isn’t fun. After Flynn was born he was rushed off to the NICU so nursing him right away was not possible. That night a nurse came in and asked if I would like to pump. My first time I got maybe 10 ml which seemed like way too little. I was almost too embarrassed to give it to the nurse to take to the NICU. However, when she saw it, surprisingly she was impressed with how much I had pumped. I continued to pump every 3 hours over night and would get slightly more each time. The next day a lactation consultant came by my room. Talk about awkward – a total stranger watching you use a breast pump when you have no idea what you’re doing. But I knew getting their help would be crucial. They set me up with a nicer breast pump and gave me all kinds of supplies. They even set me up to take the breast pump home with me since the one covered by my insurance wouldn’t come for a week (you can only order your pump within 30 days of your due date – a serious problem for those of us who know our little one is coming early). I remember even the lactation consultant was really impressed by how much milk I was getting (maybe an ounce) and how quick my letdown was. In fact, as soon as I got the pump out sometimes I’d start leaking in those early months. When I told her that I had started leaking early in pregnancy she was surprised and said that perhaps my body knew he was coming early and had started prepping. When you’ve been reminded how much of a failure your body is for months, it’s really nice to hear that it’s doing something right.
First kangaroo care
That day we tried feeding Flynn for the first time. I’m sure this is a much different experience than most new moms. At first, Flynn had no desire to eat. By trying to feed him you were basically keeping him from sleeping, something he wasn’t too happy about. Also, his suck reflex was very immature – his muscles weren’t coordinated enough to perform this complex task we often take for granted. Most of the time when you put the bottle in his mouth his tongue would stick to the roof of his mouth so you’d have to fish it out of the way and even then sometimes nothing would happen. Feedings were exhausting for both of us as Eric/I basically twirled a bottle and hit Flynn’s cheek off/on the entire feeding to try to get him to eat as much as possible. Probably about 1/10th of the feeding he was actually eating. The rest of the time he was attempting to fall back to sleep. Feedings were not to last >30 minutes as they told us at this point he was likely burning more calories than consuming them. So that first day I tried nursing Flynn. Getting him to latch on was out of the question. He simply lacked the strength for it and his mouth was so tiny. After a few failed attempts, the NICU nurse gave me a nipple shield. It’s a thin layer of flexible plastic that has a cone in the center of it. It sticks to your skin and converts your nipple into a much more established nipple. When the baby latches on, your nipple is pulled into the cone and since it’s more structured than a real nipple, it’s easier to stay latched on. I think the first time we tried it we maybe got him to take a few sucks. It was so frustrating and literally if the NICU nurses hadn’t been so encouraging, I probably would’ve given up and stuck to pumping. Sometimes I felt almost like I was holding him back by attempting but the NICU nurses were adamant that I continue to try. They were seriously the best. I think maybe the 2nd day the lactation consultant actually came into the NICU to watch a feeding. These women were amazing and would literally just come up and grab my breast and move it different ways to try to get him to latch better. I’m a super modest person. I would never be one of those women to whip out a boob and feed a baby in public. In fact, I’ll do anything to have a bit of privacy even if that means sitting on a toilet. But this was not the time to be modest. And I’m so glad that I just let them take over.
Flynn had a scheduled feeding every 3 hours around the clock. For a few days I’d go and try to nurse him for 15 minutes. And if we weren’t getting anywhere (and usually we weren’t), at that point we’d switch to a bottle. And at first because I was still full, I’d pump in the NICU while Eric fed him the bottle. My milk came in I think about 48 hours after birth. Since I was still pumping I was collecting quite a lot of milk and Flynn was only consuming 1-2 ounces every feeding. So I began to stockpile a lot of milk in the NICU freezer. Like seriously an embarrassing amount. Like picture huge plastic “belongings bag” filled with breast milk on ice when Flynn left. Every single feeding, Flynn would get just the teensiest better at latching on and would get just the teensiest less sleepy while eating. But it was a SLOW. PROCESS. And sometimes I wondered if we would ever get to a point where we wouldn’t need to supplement with a bottle.
NICU bottle feedings
A few days in he started to eat better and maybe 5 of those 15 minutes he was legit eating when I nursed him. And so I stopped pumping in the NICU. At that point we were back home and I only went for feedings at the hospital 4-5 times during the day because I was still very much healing from giving birth and walking the necessary 1/2 mile or so from my car to the NICU was torture.
About 10 days in, Flynn started to become alert enough that he would wake up hungry near the time of the next feeding. By the time he left the hospital at 2 weeks after birth, we had hit a stride with nursing. I’d nurse 20-40 minutes or so and probably half that time he was eating. I finally felt like we had a chance.
Once we got home, we settled into a groove. Flynn ate every 2-3 hours round the clock. At night was no different. Since it took about an hour to feed him, many nights I’d lay back down after feeding Flynn and in less than an hour I’d be back up again. I literally stopped dreaming. No REM sleep. Just fog. When I think back to those days of course in some ways I miss holding tiny sweet Flynn who literally spent all day sleeping and eating and who rarely spent time awake/playing. But really I’m just glad we survived that stage. It was so hard. Nursing a preemie to a healthy weight so that he could finally sleep 4 hours took forever. There were so many long nights. I think I just permanently walked around in a fog. A milk truck fog.
Zombie mom and flynn
It took a solid 3 months before Flynn slept longer. And then it was spotty. A good night here, then up 3-4 times a night for the next 5 nights. The first time he did sleep longer of course I was so full of milk it was painful and I couldn’t sleep longer. It’s really quite cruel.
Passed out after a nursing session at 4 weeks old.
Because I began with pumping mostly, I had very little pain at first. I used lanolin after pumping the first 2 weeks but after that my nipples didn’t feel raw or sore afterwards.
And because I was using the nipple shield I had a thin protective barrier that also helped with that.
I’ve had mastitis somewhere in the 5-10 times range and thankfully was only plagued with it in the first 6 months or so. I never ended up having to take an antibiotic for it but the first few times it was nearly bad enough. The first time I got it I had no idea what it was, just that I felt like death. And felt like death quick. I thought it was the flu at first and after quickly getting sicker over the course of a few hours finally I noticed a small lump in one breast, a clogged duct. Tylenol to reduce the fever, extra pumping after each feeding, continuous nursing from that side, massaging – I did it all. The more times I got it, the quicker I’d recognize what was happening and start treating the clogged duct. The quicker I’d treat it, the more manageable my fever would be and the quicker I’d get over it. The last time it happened it only lasted a day maybe.
The first time I got it it lasted probably 3 days and my fever was over 100 deg for probably the first 2 days. It happened while Eric was out of town for a week for work. The timing couldn’t have been worse. Flynn was maybe 6 weeks old. Of course, those days I was a zombie anyway with not sleeping more than an hour at any given point but adding in the fever, pain and all over body aches, I was miserable. I think I probably cried half the week just desperate for sleep.
We officially ditched the shield a few weeks after Christmas when Flynn was 5 months old. I now realize the shield may have contributed to the clogged ducts because I haven’t had problems with that since then.
When using the shield Flynn would nurse 30 minutes to an hour. A few months in I tried nursing him without it but it really seemed hopeless. He wasn’t sure how to latch, would mouth at it a few seconds, get frustrated and cry. I tried a couple more times here and there but had kind of given up hope.
Sometime after Christmas I had read on a forum that someone had successfully gotten their baby to latch without the shield. So I thought, well let’s give it one more try. To my total surprise, Flynn latched right on, ate for 5 minutes and drained it, switched sides and ate another 5 minutes and was done. Nursing in 10-15 minutes? This was a whole new world! Over the next week we used the shield a few times when he’d forget how to latch but after that we were completely weaned. I no longer had to remember to pack the shield when we went out of the house. Even nursing at night which always took longer since he would sleepily eat takes 20-25 minutes or so. And because the flow is faster, he eats quicker and is probably able to more effectively empty the breast, keeping the ducts from clogging.
Eyes on the prize
Thankfully Flynn’s teeth took a while to come in. He got his first 2 bottom teeth at 8 months. At first it wasn’t too bad but then he started getting into the habit of biting me. He’d latch and eat and then all of a sudden out of nowhere he’d chomp down, causing me to scream several times. I would firmly say “No!” and look sternly at him but that only made him giggle every time. After about a week of getting bitten I decided something had to be done. I read a little and decided that he was biting me when he was close to getting full. So I started to become more vigilant when feeding him. I’d watch his mouth and if I lost sight of his tongue (which should be visible in the corner of his mouth if he is actively eating) or if he started to slow down I would just go ahead and unlatch him. I’m sure I kept him from filling up quite as much but it worked and he stopped biting. Eventually we settled back into our lazy nursing sessions but still every now and then he’ll randomly bite me but it’s not quite as hard as it was at first.
Around 11 months, Flynn got into a bity stage again. Perhaps it was some teething issues although his top 2 teeth didn’t come in until almost 13 months. He bit me badly on my right nipple and his tooth made a small cut on the underside. It was nothing really and would’ve easily healed up in likely a day or two if I hadn’t continued nursing. But since every 3-4 hours I had to nurse him from that side it would not heal. Though it was just a pinpoint bloody spot on the exterior, it felt like almost a tunneling blister that went deeper. It got worse before it got better. It took 2 weeks to heal. And every time I fed him from that side it was nauseatingly painful with each suck feeling like someone was rubbing a raw blister. I finally broke down a week in and started putting neosporin ointment on it overnight to help it heal more. I’d wash my nipple the next morning before feeding Flynn. Out of everything I’ve been through, I honestly think those were the most trying 2 weeks. I absolutely dreaded each and every nursing session.
Since I still have to pump on the days I work, I know that I’m only producing about 50% of what I used to produce. Which is surprising given that I’ve been able to continue nursing Flynn on days I’m with him.
In those early days my body was a milk-making machine. I’d guess I was getting 6 oz of milk or more every 3 hours. But after a couple months things settled down. It’s pretty amazing how quickly my body responds to Flynn’s changing needs. The first time he slept through the night I thought I might combust the next morning but within a few days my body made the adjustment. It’s amazing how it knows how to make X amount of milk from 9 pm to 5 am but to make Y amount from 5 am to 8 am.
When I first began pumping at work I tried to stay on Flynn’s schedule. That was possible for a while but as I got busier at work it just wasn’t doable for me to pump at the times he needed. So I began to shift into a schedule. I pump before work around 7:50 am. Then again usually around 11:45. I pump the 3rd and final time at the end of the work day around 4:45. I pump for 15-20 min and usually go until I’m empty unless I’m in a hurry. I returned to work when Flynn was 14 weeks old. I used to pump 4 oz total each time I pumped at work. Nowadays I get about 2 oz. The change happened pretty abruptly actually and was somewhere close to our introduction of solids at 6 months. The grandmas have kept Flynn on 4 oz bottles despite my change in production. So naturally we had to start supplementing with formula. It still baffles me to this day though because on days I have Flynn he happily nurses and seems content with what I assume is probably half of what he is getting from his bottle. But I do tend to probably get one more nursing session in a day than he would get on days with the grandmas so perhaps that’s where he makes up the difference. He used to always do 3 bottles during the day but now that he gets a big lunch with the grandmas a lot of days he only does 2 bottles.
Awkward Places I’ve Nursed
The car. Family bathroom in the airport. A plane.
At work I’ve pumped in the bathroom or in doctor’s exam rooms. I usually pump in a huge conference room.
The absolute worst place I’ve had to nurse was when we took Flynn on a road trip to Ohio in January for a pole vault convention. It was frigid there and stayed below 0 half of the day. We were inside all day in a field house. We had to park so far from the building and it was so cold there was no way I could go to the car to feed Flynn. The locker rooms were the only restrooms open to the public. I’ll pump in a bathroom no biggie but having to sit on an open toilet seat is where I draw the line. And there were no lids to these toilet seats. The locker room had a room at the entrance with benches around the perimeter and the walls were lined with lockers. You had to walk through this area to get to the area with the toilet stalls. So, every 3 hours I went and nursed Flynn. Thankfully we had just ditched the shield so I didn’t have to worry about juggling that. I would set up on a bench and feed him and hope and pray that no one would walk in. And most of the time only a few people, strangers, would walk past. I had a blanket draped over my shoulder so nothing could really be seen. But then the night of the elite competition there were a ton of people there for the event. And I swear pretty much every single one of them took a bathroom break while Flynn and I were camped out in the locker room. And there were plenty of strangers but there were also a lot of people that walked by that I knew or that had come with us on the trip. Parents of pole vaulters mostly. And not wanting to be rude they would say “hi” as they strolled in or out. Well I also got passed by an old friend. We had probably the most awkward conversation of my life. I’m sure hers, too. At the end of some chit chat she said something, like, “Well I’ll leave you alone now…”. All the while Flynn happily drank away.
Akron field house
I’m now 2 weeks into the process of weaning. Flynn now takes 2 bottles a day when he is with the grandmas and nurses 1 time and takes 1 bottle when I’m with him. He also nurses first thing in the morning (usually 5:30-6:30 AM) and at night before bed (8:30 PM). All of his bottles are now 1.5 oz breast milk and 2.5 oz whole milk. I plan to increase the amount of whole milk by .5 oz each week until we are 100% whole milk.
Since he only needs 3 oz of breast milk a day for his bottles that means this week I dropped to pumping only 1 time a day at work. And boy do I not miss it. I’m not going to lie though, the thought of completely weaning saddens me. It’s something I really didn’t understand before I began. You hear all these women blabber on about “the bond”. There IS a bond there and a closeness. And sure, it would’ve been there whether we used bottles or breast, but sometimes it’s hard to remember that he’s the same baby that grew in my belly. We used to be one, tethered together, using the same oxygen, taking the same nourishment. I loved being pregnant and having that amazing connection to him. And breastfeeding was an extension of that. We’re still one. He still needs me and I still need him. Not for much longer as he reminds me more and more often when he not so subtly pushes me away after nursing.
Things I won’t miss:
Mastitis and clogged ducts.
The loneliness of being the only one able to feed the baby every 2 hours in the newborn stage
That feeling 2 minutes into a feed when my armpits start sweating because my milk ducts confuse them, the itchiness involved as well as the inevitable stinkiness. Also, putting deodorant on 2-3 times a day and still smelling like B.O.
Wearing a nursing bra every day. And always smelling a bit funky because I’m too lazy to wear nursing pads or wash said bra more than once every (two or three) week(s).
Feeling trapped in the house because by the time you get your shit together the baby will need to eat again.
Worrying about where I’m going to nurse when we’re out.
Those first few months where if the baby slept decent I’d be woken up to painfully hard rocks attached to my chest, a wet bra and sheets.
Feeling silly when I have to ask for a room to pump in at work. Or feeling silly because the pump is SO LOUD.
That moment when you’ve been pumping so long and you are so over it that your pump starts repeating a word at you and you start to think you’re going crazy.
Avoiding alcohol. Or planning drinking around feeds
Did I mention pumping???
Things I’ll miss:
Looking down and seeing our belly buttons smushed together
Being able to eat every single thing I want to eat and knowing I’ll still be under my goal weight. Seriously.
Mandatory snuggles every day.
Not having to prep/wash bottles. This is seriously overlooked in the pros/cons of breastfeeding because washing bottles SUCKS.
Not having to distract Flynn while I heat up a bottle. Oh you’re hungry? Here ya go…
Those quiet moments in the nursery just at dawn as the sun starts to shine in through the window, birds are chirping and sweet Flynn is pressed to my belly snoring away.
Making eye contact with my boy. At first it was just blissful stares and he never took his eyes off me. Nowadays he’s all business but if I look down at him and catch his eye he gives me his deep giggle and wide grin before getting back to business.
Being the favorite. I mean it’s a total cheat because of course he likes me best. I’m the food source. It’s only a matter of time before dad becomes the reigning favorite but I’ll never forget that for a time I was #1.