During my time helping new mothers, I get a lot of questions. The two most common being: 1) Do you have any children? 2) For how long did you breastfeed? To answer those questions, I have two children and I breastfed them both for approximately 13-14 months. My breastfeeding experience with my first child truly lead me to where I am today.
When I had my first child, a beautiful baby girl born in 2015, I was not a lactation consultant. I was in my 2nd year of working as a mother/baby (postpartum) nurse. Because I worked in this particular motherhood-focused specialty, I assumed I would have postpartum life under control. I was so wrong. I was blindsided by so many small aspects of postpartum life; the main one was breastfeeding.
Prior to having my first child, I did not research breastfeeding. I assumed that my profession exposed me to enough education. (Spoiler alert: I was wrong). It’s so much different when it is your own experience. I believed that, for me, attending a breastfeeding class was a waste of money. Instead of reading about what I should be mentally and physically prepared for, I focused on reading blogs posts discussing the material items needed for breastfeeding. This act of naivety was definitely one of my breastfeeding mistakes. While it’s a minor thing that many new parents eliminate from their pre-baby to-do list, I highly recommend that everyone attend a breastfeeding class, whether it’s online or in person. Now more about my experience.
Breastfeeding Baby 1 (2015)
After my daughter was born, I was able to immediately do skin-to-skin. Afterwards, I attempted to latch her and she latched RIGHT ON. It seemed so easy. Because the staff was aware of my profession, they also assumed that things were perfect. I headed to my postpartum room and continued to believe that things were going absolutely great.
I started to feel somewhat insecure about my breastfeeding experience right before discharge. The night prior to our departure was a night of clusterfeeding. My daughter looked so skinny. Her lips seemed dry. She had only met the minimum requirements when it came to diaper counts. I felt this instinct (and most likely an idea placed into my head by society) that my body was not good enough in this moment. So I called in my nurse and asked her if it was okay to supplement my baby. I instantly felt push back from the nurses. Instead of educating me and assisting me in a way to facilitate supplementation while also promoting breastfeeding, they (likely unintentionally) made me feel that my thoughts of being inadequate were true.
I decided to have my husband give my daughter two 10 mL syringes of formula after two of the night time feedings at the breast. In that hormone-filled moment, I did feel a little bit remorseful about my decision but I also felt relieved to know that something was in her stomach. Both of these feelings helped fuel me to my goal of breastfeeding for one year even more. After getting a bit more sleep, I woke up ready to tackle breastfeeding 100 PERCENT. My breast pump was set up in efforts to get more stimulation (and hopefully more milk). I called the hospital lactation consultants to my room about 3 times before I left the hospital. In order to feel confident prior to discharge, I asked her to watch me do almost everything. I also asked her to give me all of the constructive criticisms that she had.
Although I gave that small amount of formula in the beginning, I kept my goals in mind. Because I had no underlying issues, was mostly determined, and had an incredible supportive partner, I told myself that I needed to keep going! I knew that breastfeeding was going to be a little hard but I was not expecting this!
Once I got home, my daughter was breastfeeding amazingly. Almost too well. Her feedings didn’t last very long and she never seemed to be emptying my breasts. After being engorged for almost 3 weeks, I finally called a private practice lactation consultant to my house. She was incredible. She told me all of the things that I was doing right and what I was doing wrong. We did a weighed feed, showing approximately how much milk my daughter transferred during feedings.
The lactation consultant basically told me that I created an oversupply, which lead to an overactive letdown, which led to occasionally fussiness at the breast. Long story short, I needed to stop pumping to balance my supply. She left me with tons of resources that educated me on the science behind what was happening to my body. These papers intrigued me so much that I began to research tons of breastfeeding topics in my very minimal spare time. After about 2 weeks of balancing my supply, everything was going incredibly smooth. I was more confident in reaching my goal of one year.
My lactation consultant not only helped reassure and motivate me, but she also inspired me to do what I’m doing today. She was an incredible teacher and a very patient health care professional. If you’re ever running into issues, I highly recommend seeking out a private practice lactation consultant. After returning to work at 3 months postpartum, my patients applauded me on my breastfeeding education. Most of my patients stated that I should consider becoming a lactation consultant. Sometime after that, I decided to start studying to become an IBCLC.
Throughout this year of breastfeeding, my daughter and I encountered several common breastfeeding issues. We went through nursing strikes, biting, transitioning to bottle feedings, nursing while pregnant, and weaning.
Breastfeeding Baby 2 (2017)
Breastfeeding Baby 2 was definitely easier. I was a lot more wise and knowledgeable. With Baby 2, I didn’t run into nearly as many obstacles but I was still finding myself in a downward spiral of self doubt. I had the educational background from studying lactation but I was still a woman who second guessed herself. My milk didn’t come in as soon as it did with baby 1. Of course, that concerned me. Because Baby 1 had those two syringes of formula, at some point in those first days my husband recommended we do the same with my son. He was a bit smaller at birth and continued to look tiny as the days went on.
Fortunately after visiting his pediatrician, she observed a feeding and noticed that his latch wasn’t as deep as it could have been. Because I wasn’t feeling any pain, I didn’t even consider his latch to be poor. Knowing what I know now, a poor or shallow latch can also attribute to poor milk transfer which can also decrease your milk supply. Because of the previous experience with prolonged engorgement and oversupply, I decided not to pump. I had him nurse as frequently as he needed and avoided supplementation. It was extremely tiring but my supply increased and he went back to his birth weight way before the 2 week mark.
Over the span of our breastfeeding relationship, we rarely ran into any nursing difficulties. I was staying at home with the kids and continued to nurse on demand. Baby number started bottles around 10 months when I finally returned to work! This time as a lactation consultant! 🙂
I went on to breastfeed both of my children for approximately 14 months with them still receiving whatever pumped milk was left for weeks after that. Baby number one’s weaning was initiated by me. I was pregnant with baby number 2 and honestly, it was extremely uncomfortable at that point. It was still a peaceful breakup. My second child somewhat weaned himself. He stopped showed interest and the nursing sessions became shorter and shorter. One day, I offered him a bottle. He took it and walked into a different room. It was over just like that.
That’s my breastfeeding journey
While I look back and realize that my obstacles were not nearly as intense as some of the ones that I see daily, I remember feeling as if I was struggling at a point. I can remember some days thinking that breastfeeding may not be something that is going to work for me and my family. I obviously persisted. Through plugged ducts, oversupply issues, nursing strikes, biting, dips in supply, and many moments of insecurity and uncertainty of our breastfeeding future, I continued my journey. I set short term goals and obviously had a end goal in sight. And even though I definitely doubted myself and my body several times, I gave myself as much grace as possible in the end.
The summary is…
Breastfeeding looks and feels different for every mother and every baby. There is truly no perfect way to do any of this. Even though I felt prepared both times, I still had things to learn and asked for help. When I realized the lack of breastfeeding educated provided by health care professionals, I knew that I wanted to figure out a way to change this. I wanted to make sure that every parent could at least feel confident about one part of their birthing and breastfeeding experience. This is what drives me in my career as a lactation consultant. I want to make sure that parents felt confident and motivated and supported in whatever their breastfeeding goals may be.