Breastfeeding is a beautiful, natural bonding experience. But sometimes, it's not all roses. Sometimes it can be really hard and require a lot of practice and patience. You hear horror stories about cracked and bleeding nipples, shallow latches, and low milk supply. My mission here is to offer encouragement and support. If you're having a problem, please know, without shame or judgement, that you are not alone. You aren't alone in your struggle. Reach out for support and help. If you're having problems, I'm here to tell you- it gets better. You are a good mom no matter how you feed your baby. But if you have the desire to breastfeed, it's important to me that you get support, education, and encouragement- not bad advice, judgement, or outdated information.
Pumping: Ya'll, pumping can be so hard too! But thank God for them. It allows mothers to go back to work and still provide their babies with their breastmilk. It allows mothers that for whatever reason can't physically nurse their baby to provide them with their milk. It takes so much time. So much energy. time, and effort goes into pumping, cleaning bottles, storing milk, organizing the milk storage, keeping up supply, and sticking to a pumping schedule.
This image above was taken of a client's milk stash in their extra freezer in the garage. We talked about how many hundreds of hours of her baby's first year of life had been spent pumping. Not including the hours spent cleaning bottles and pump parts. Thousands of ounces pumped and saved. Thousands, ya'll. I found her dedication absolutely inspiring. This image to me just shows the dedication, self sacrifice, and a physical representation of her love for her baby.
"For me since nursing didn't work I was determined to provide my baby with breastmilk and so my pumping journey began. I still tried nursing here and there but a couple months in I stopped trying to nurse because the pressure was too much and it clearly wasn't working for him or me. I wished I had known early on to purchase a lot of extra pump parts to make my pumping life and life with a newborn easier. Looking back it's neat to see how my pump journey evolved. I started with 2 sets of pump parts and was pumping 7-8 times a day, around the clock and hand washing them after each pump session. I had my dedicated pump station with water and snacks, my Medela pump logs that I hand wrote on until a month or so in when I realized I could do all that on their app. I ended up purchasing more pump parts and would prep my pump bag so everything was set up, connected and ready to go for my next pump session, that started thanks to my husband!! It really came in handy for those middle of the night pumps. The hands free bra is a must! When my son was small enough I could pump with the help of my hands free bra and hold him and feed him at the same time. Haha
I didn't love being confined to the pump, it was definitely HARD, especially setting my alarm every 2-3 hours the first few months, but it became second nature and I didn't look at it that way. I looked at it as my only way to give my son breastmilk.
If he was napping, I could read a book, watch some tv, look at his pictures (which helped letdowns in the beginning) or do nothing but relax while sitting straight up. Lol. But for me it was ALL about the end result and seeing the milk in those bottles and knowing I could STILL give my son breastmilk is why I did it and made it ALL WORTH IT!! Of course there were tears and frustrations, clogs and mastitis along the way just like if I was actually nursing. I had to wean extremely gradually or I'd get clogs and severe pain, I'm talking weaning a minute or two max from one pump session at a time...that takes forever when the pump session is 30-40 minutes. I remember doing several happy dances when I beat my personal record for how much I pumped in one session. And each time I was able to freeze a bag on top of make his bottle for his next feeding made me SO Happy. ALL My Hard Work was paying off!!
I remember the last month when I was weaning completely from the pump, it was extremely emotional for me. It was all I had known for 13 months. I actually cried after my final pump session and as I type this now it's very emotional revisiting it again (keep in mind I'm almost 5 months pregnant). I would do it ALL over in a heartbeat! And I'll gladly do it again so I can provide my new little one with breastmilk should nursing not work this time either. I'm hopeful it will this time though because I'm slightly more knowledgeable and just knowing how much extra work pumping is motivates me to try harder to make nursing work. Of course, it will bring new challenges my way as I'm not familiar with it, but it'll save me some time!
I'm so thankful that pumping did work for me! I know some of my friends have really tried and it didn't work for them. Everyone has their own journey and we all just wanna do what is best for our babies. I never knew I could love someone so deeply!!
I will say I don't miss setting my alarm but I wish I still had breastmilk to give him.
In the 13 months I exclusively pumped I had 1,854 pump sessions in which I was able to pump 341,121ML/11,370 OZ/88 GAL. Of that I was able to have a freezer stash of 74,417ML/2,480 OZ/ 19.375 GAL.
I had some mishaps along the way, I was talking to my sister on the phone and 5 mins in to the conversation, looked down and realized my pants were soaked. I forgot to attach the bottle before starting the pump. Slightly funny now, definitely not at the time knowing I wasted food for him.
If you're gonna be an exclusive pumper, I highly recommend the hands free bra, having a designated pump station with everything you need such as water and snacks (the insatiable thirst is REAL), magazines, a book, and/or pictures of your little one, and prestaging your pump bag during the day so you're all set to go especially for your middle of the night pumps. If you don't have a LaVie Lactation Massager, I recommend a vibrating razor! That definitely helped me, especially when travelling. Pumping in the car is another story, and doesn't work as well as normally when it's plugged into the wall, which meant clogs were inevitable when I traveled. So having a vibrating razor and ice packs (also the packs you can microwave are good once you get to your destination) was a must for me.
Just take it one day at a time and one pump session at a time knowing you're providing breastmilk for your little one. Celebrate EACH victory and Keep Going. You Got This!!
You can read one about one mama's experience and reflections pumping and donating to the CHKD milk bank here.
Dads: I feel like I need to make a special section just for Dads. Dads play an important role in breastfeeding. Sometimes I hear Dad's say that they feel left out or are missing out on feeding their baby. I can tell you this- I absolutely and completely rely on my husband's support. I absolutely need him. He plays a huge role in feeding our baby. He supports me. He talks to our babies while I feed them, helping to keep them calm if they are crying and I'm trying to nurse them. He strokes their cheek (stimulating the suck reflex). He brings me water or snacks, In the early days of breastfeeding, you'll remember that I had major issues nursing my first baby, he encouraged me every single second to try to get her to latch. At his suggestion, I went to see another lactation consultant. If I needed to rest, he made me rest. If I needed to eat, he brought me food. If I was crying, he comforted me. If I needed to relax to help my milk letdown, he was there for that too. If I was out in public and having a hard time nursing, he was SO on top of things! And, you know what else? The very few times I had negative comments about breastfeeding, DAD TO THE RESCUE. Hero status.
Overall, breastfeeding has it's ups and downs- just like anything in life. Mine just bit me for the first time yesterday. Happy World Breastfeeding Week, right? HA!
My sincere hope that is that these 3 blogs have been an encouragement to you. I hope you have the support system that you need, I hope that you receive good advice, and I hope that you are not set up at a disadvantage to reach your goals. Not breastfeeding doesn't make you a bad mother and it doesn't make you a failure. If your baby is loved, you are winning!
- Get yourself a copy of the La Leche League book, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding- click here to purchase (not an affiliate link)
- Relax. It could happen right off the bat or it could take a little time. Trust in your baby and your body.
- Set up a "breastfeeding (or pumping) station". Fill it with snacks, water, burp cloths, a diaper or two, and a phone charger. Or, if you have older kids or toddlers, maybe keep a few snacks in there for them too so that if they ask you for snacks when you are pumping or nursing, they are close at hand and you don't have to get up.
- Have some lanolin handy. It can be a lifesaver when your nipples start to feel sore.
- Hook up with your local LLL chapter. They'd be so happy to have you!
- Reach out if you need help. Don't go this alone. The sisterhood of motherhood is out there willing and ready to help you. Just ask!
- Rest mama, you're sustaining a life outside of your own. Even if all you "accomplish" today is a shower, it's okay. Truly.
I asked in a few different places for people to share with me their experiences breastfeeding. The response was fantastic! This blog post is dedicated to sharing the stories of these mothers and showcasing their unique experiences. My sincere hope is that this can be a source of encouragement to mothers and that no matter our differences, we can bond over this common ground.
From Steph: "All 3 of my kids were born with tongue and lip ties. I had no idea what that even was until #1 was almost 2 years old and our breastfeeding relationship had long since ended. I had no idea her midline defects were causing my supply to dwindle, or that she was always hungry because she couldn't really use her tongue properly. I knew what to look for when #2 came around. They both had laser revisions around the same time and I was able to breastfeed him double the amount of time I got with my daughter. I started a new health journey that included stabilizing my blood sugar and made enough milk to donate to a friend's adopted micro preemie. This was the redemption I needed, not to prove it to anyone or boast about what I could do, but to have closure on what I couldn't give my daughter.
**Side note: Looking back, I don't blame myself, but rather the circumstance, because I was ill-informed and unsupported by her pediatrician and the LCs at the hospital. Pediatricians don't know anything about oral ties; this woman started pushing formula on me the moment I said that nursing hurt. She told me not to be a hero. To cut myself some slack because I was a first timer. I will never understand the lack of support for moms' decisions. If my goal was to nurse, I should have been encouraged to nurse and given every resource available. I should have asked a pediatric dentist all along.**
I nursed him well into my second trimester with #3 and then oh my word, the aversions happened. I was devastated, as I had my heart set on tandem nursing. When #3 was born, we had his ties revised at 6 days old and after another week of working on it together, his latch improved drastically and my supply was great.
Life threw us a huge curve ball when #3 was 4 months old. I was forced to be without him for 6 weeks as I cared for #2 in the hospital after a terrible accident. I pumped around the clock. God had a divine purpose for our surprise #3 being born when he was because I was producing milk right when #2 needed it to heal. I was able to give him fatty nutrient dense milk instead of the formula they wanted to offer him. Within a few days of him being on my milk again, he started healing and was taken off the ventilator.
I continued to pump for #2 while #3 at home with my family was receiving donor milk. It all comes full circle. Give and you shall receive.
One week before we were released, my body gave up on me. No idea if my parts were the right sizing or if it was stress and dehydration or maybe the dry hospital air... I eventually got terribly dry and cracked to bleeding and had to stop pumping for a few days to let them heal. By the time I tried pumping again, the cracks reopened and all I pumped was blood. I never got a last nursing session with #3 but I do remember the last time I nursed him. Was in the waiting room in the PICU, just the two of us. I feel as though I failed him, but perhaps this was part of the plan too.. so I could devote my energy to #2's recovery. It is so time consuming. I planned to try to re-lactate because I know I can. But since getting home, life has been so different, I don't know that I can even commit to that. He's still on donor milk for as long as we can still get donations. #3 is blessed to receive milk; I know how time consuming and how much effort goes into pumping, bagging, freezing, cleaning parts... it's a lot.
I don't think we are done having children so I pray I can really have a better experience next time."
"I’m so glad to have nursed all 3 of my kids for a cumulative time of almost 4 years but yet I’m so glad it’s over and I’m done. So bittersweet. I felt so empowered part way into the second kid when I was like “boobs out all the time idc who’s looking!” But the worst part was having a distant relative pm me on fb about one of my bfing [breastfeeding] posts and had the nerve to tell me that I need to be more private and suggest I could “set off” a man with a sex addiction. ARE YOU SERIOUS RIGHT NOW???" - Michaelynn
"So with Eirik, my first I was super happy and thankful I could breastfeed him till after he turned 1. He had a dairy & soy allergy so formula wasn’t an option, I tried to offer him the formula once and he wouldn’t even take the bottle. Which, I have to backtrack.... when he was born in the Middle East I had no one to teach me how to breastfeed. There weren’t any LC [lactation consultant] at the hospital and the nurses were literally squishing my breasts so hard for colostrum and milk to come out. So for the first 2 months he was bottle fed. Finally I found a ped [pediatrician] on base who was a LC and taught me how to BF him and ever since day he didn’t touched a bottle.
With my second, Astrid, who’s about to be 4 months bf [breastfeeding] has been challenging. She just had a lip & tongue release so it’s making it hard to bf [breastfeed] bc [because] she’s so traumatized after the procedure. None the less we keep trying and once we get that latch we’re happy campers.
The worst for me is having to breastfeed outside the home.
We just can’t seem to find comfortable positions for both of us and that’s frustrating. But once again, I think of how lucky and blessed I am to be able to breastfeed her.
A lot of people take breastfeeding for granted, they think boob out and it’s all good, but in reality there’s so much more going on that even if you try to explain it all, they won’t get it till they’re in your position." - Kate H.
"Here is a funny... my family and I were driving through the night to visit family. Everyone is asleep but me, my boobs are filled to the brim and need some relief. I cant reach my hand pump and I don't want to wake up my husband. So here I am, driving down the road hand expressing into some paper towels. Not my finest moment!"-Jackie C.
"I had an over supply with my first and when my second came, CHKD had just started their milk bank and I was able to be one of the first donors and donated over 1200 ounces!" -Melissa A.
"My son was born in 1979. Breastfeeding was just really starting again. I had no support system, and being a new mother, absolutely no knowledge. With my girls, I was determined to succeed, and I did. I loved the convenience of breastfeeding.
I loved the bonding that occurred between me and my baby. My favorite experiences was once the girls were old enough, they would look up at me with twinkles in their eyes. They would stop to give wonderful toothless smiles and then start nursing again. I loved when they would reach up to play with my face. I would kiss their little hands and nibble their fingers. The only part that wasn't fun was when they began to get teeth, they would go to sleep and slowly close their teeth on me. I would have to put my finger in her mouth to break the suction so she would let go. One time she bit me and left perfect little teeth marks! I just loved being so close to all of them. I hate that I gave up with my son so soon. I missed out on those experiences with him.
My mom breastfed me. She told me she knew when I was about to bite. She said I would get a certain look in my eye and clamp down! It was nice knowing that she and I had shared such unique and special experience." - Dovy H.
"I loved how they would fall asleep on me while nursing. His little eyes would start slowly rolling back in his head and he'd finally pass out. It was complete bliss!" - Amanda D.
"I thought she would never wean! But now I miss it so much!" Brianna K.
If you have a story you want to share, feel free to leave it in the comments below! Talk about your struggles, your victories, your favorite moments, and your worst moments. Let's have a conversation!
World Breastfeeding Week is here!
This has always been a special week of reflection for me, even when I wasn't nursing any babies. In my time between nursing little ones, I have always taken some time to think back on the challenges I have faced (there have been quite a few!) and rejoiced in the triumphs. This year has been a little bittersweet for me because my biggest breastfeeding cheerleader isn't here earthside with me any longer. My sweet grandmother passed last July, but this is my first WBW without her and a nursling.
In this blog post, I would love to share some stories submitted to me about their breastfeeding experiences.
And I'll start with mine.
I guess I had never really thought about breastfeeding too much in the beginning. I figured I would do it because formula was expensive and my grandmother had talked so fondly about it. And I don't remember making a solid commitment to breastfeed before my first was born. However, all of that began to change a few weeks before she made her appearance. I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia (a very dangerous condition related to pregnancy) and suddenly, I wasn't in control of anything anymore. Nothing was really up to me because pre-eclampsia had taken over my body and was threatening the health of myself and my baby. The day I needed to be induced to have her, my motherly instinct had kicked in full force and I was doing everything in my power to give her the best start at life. She was 5.5 weeks early and wouldn't latch. The nurses had given her a pacifier and encouraged me to use formula until my milk came in. Not much was mentioned about colostrum and the importance of as much skin to skin as possible. The lactation nurse was little to no help. I went home with no idea what I was doing, but I kept trying. My grandmother and mother tried their best to help me, but I ended up pumping 90% of the time. By the time she was 4 weeks old, I was at my wits end. I wasn't pumping enough, I was supplementing with formula, and I was pumping every 2 hours for 30 minutes. It was awful.
I found a private lactation consultant who worked with me quite a bit. Things were improving. My baby had finally latched with the assistance of a breast shield.
And then, finally, a turning point. The lactation consultant had told me about La Leche League. Back before I was on social media, I emailed the leader. She emailed me back a time and a place. I will never forget pulling up to her home and being enthusiastically welcomed at the front door. I cannot express to you what those meetings meant to me. I cannot tell you that I owe my breastfeeding relationship to that LLL leader. She helped me have the confidence to nurse my baby- without the shield. She fostered a confidence in myself as a mother. In that living room with those ladies, I found my way into motherhood. It was so much more than breastfeeding.
Within a few weeks, my firstborn, preemie baby was nursing at the breast, without a shield, without a pump, without cracked and bleeding nipples, without pain. And we continued until shortly before her 2nd birthday.
** I will also add here that she helped me from hundreds of miles away via the great technology of Facebook with #2 and also with #3 as he dealt with tongue and lip ties. She's literally a saint.
One thing that has always amazed me was tandem nursing and/or nursing throughout a pregnancy. I was able to meet with this incredible mama in their home and do an "afternoon in the life" session with their family. She was 9 months pregnant and still nursing her toddler. I asked her specifically what her thoughts were nursing throughout this pregnancy and I want to share her beautifully encouraging words with you:
"Nursing while pregnant is certainly not my favorite thing to do. But like motherhood, so much of what we do is not for us. We sacrifice day in and day out for our children. Now just because it is not easy and it is a sacrifice doesn’t mean we can’t find joy in it. At near 38 weeks pregnant with my fifth child I am reminded that we have to choose what we focus on. We can choose to focus on the positive. We can look past any discomfort and see the glow and joy in our children’s eyes. We can focus on the laughter and miracles happening right in front of us. Nursing while pregnant for me is hard. But when I choose to look into her sweet face and focus on how much she still needs me and nursing, then it is all worth it. I can offer her part of me that is invaluable to her! Nursing while pregnant is like many other parts of motherhood... challenging, sacrificial, exhausting and yet amazing and so worth every moment!"
One thing my grandmother told me a few years before she passed away was, "I know I'm old and I forget things. But one thing I will never forget is looking down at my baby and remembering them looking up at me from the breast."
She would tell me often that in the 1950's, she didn't know many breastfeeders. In fact, she said she was the only one she knew who nursed her baby. A look in back in history will tell show us that in the 50's, formula became very mainstream and even thought to be better than breastmilk, so, it was pushed on new parents. Not that there is anything wrong with formula, but even those parents that wanted to breastfeed were being told that there's no need for it anymore- formula can do the job and do it better! Studies show that by the 60s-early 70s, less than 25% of babies discharged from the hospital were breastfed. You can read more about the history of infant feeding in this article. This means that women were no longer nursing their babies and that young mothers had likely never been around other breastfeeding mothers- the art of breastfeeding was being lost. And I strongly believe we are still trying to come back from that more than 40 years later.
She told me this story several times, that she was in the ladies bathroom/lounge around 1956 and she was nursing her baby (my dad) in a chair. A woman came up to her with a little girl around 6 years old or so and said, "Ma'am, are you nursing your baby? Can my daughter see? She's never seen anyone nurse a baby before." And she eagerly agreed, invited the little girl to sit next to her and removed the blanket from her shoulder so that she could watch. She said the little girl was absolutely amazed and that it made her (my grandmother) feel so good to be able to share that with her.
I wish I had a picture of that.
Stay tuned for Part 2 in the 2018 World Breastfeeding Week series where I'll share more stories and images documenting this sweet season of Motherhood.
Jess is a photographer serving families located in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. She specializes in documentary and storytelling photography.