Did you know August is breastfeeding awareness month?! August also marks one year of me breastfeeding Ella. I wanted to share my breastfeeding experience for several reasons. Mostly because when I was starting to breastfeed Ella, I spent hours searching the internet for answers, experiences, anything to keep me going. Some people are lucky enough to have no issues from the get go, but I would say most women experience some kind of learning curve. I would even go as far to say, although I know I can't speak on the behalf of everyone's experience, that a lot of us found it very stressful. When you add a bunch of crazy changing hormones on top of that stress... it can lead a lot of women to stop breastfeeding basically right away. I totally relate to those feelings, but I urge you if you are reading this and you want to just quit because it is all too much right now, YOU CAN DO IT and it is SO WORTH IT.
Whenever trying to do something new, you need someone to teach you. While breastfeeding is natural, it doesn't necessarily come naturally. Even for babies; they come out knowing how to instinctually suck, but that doesn't mean they know how to breastfeed. Both mom and baby need to learn together. If you want to breastfeed successfully I highly suggest you take some classes, either at a hospital, community center, or with a lactation consultant. Do some research to find some classes in your community. They even have online classes you can take. The lactation consultant I used offers in person and online courses (Lactation Link) and she is amazing!
Have a support system! You will more than likely need some hands on help in the beginning when actually applying what you have learned. This can be with a lactation consultant, family member or friend who has experience. Even my daughter's pediatrician was a support to me during the beginning. You need people to support you and back you up if you are going to make it happen. It takes some time to learn anything new, so be patient and keep going. Some of the best advice my sister gave me was to make it to six weeks. Now this number could be different for everyone but the idea was that week by week it does get better, and you will get the hang of it. I would also like to add that YES there is some pain when you first start to breastfeed, but it will stop hurting. If it keeps hurting after a few weeks, something is wrong. So give your body some time to adjust and if the pain isn't subsiding eventually, make sure you call a consultant. I know that I wouldn't have made it to successfully breastfeeding if it wasn't for the people I had to support me. This is key! I was able to text friends, my family to ask them a million questions about what was normal, or tips.
And the lactation consultant I took my breastfeeding courses from was able to do a home visit for me after I came home from Ella's first doctor visit and she hadn't hit her birth weight. I cried in the office thinking I wasn't feeding my baby. You better believe I wanted to throw my hands in the air and give her a bottle. I remember at one point I thought I could just pump and give her bottles for the next year! haha But she was able to quickly adjust the way I was holding Ella that made ALL the difference. Having that professional help can make the difference. Your child could have a tongue tie or something of that nature you aren't aware of, and having that help from the get go can change your entire experience. I know some people don't want to pay for it, or think they can't afford it... but let me tell you... Breastfeeding SAVES you a ton of money in several ways. You cut costs with formula, but it has also been proven to cut down illness thus resulting in less hospital visits. So my one time payment to have a consultant come and help me was nothing compared to what I would pay if I wasn't breastfeeding. So totally worth it!
For me to successfully breastfeed long term, I had to have the proper tools. It just wasn't realistic for me to stay home all day every day and all night to be there to feed my baby. Am I with her 99% of the time? Yes. But there are times where I wanted to or needed to go out without her. Now a lot of people would disagree with this, and I actually got the advice several times not to do this, but I decided to do it anyways. Sometimes you just have to follow your own instincts. From the get go I introduced the bottle, pacifier, and boob to Ella. People say that this can cause nipple confusion, maybe it does. For me though, I didn't want Ella to ever prefer one over the other and I didn't want a baby who wouldn't take a bottle down the road. It worked for us! We had no issues whatsoever with her taking a bottle. This was a life saver in helping me breastfeed long term because I had a solution to being able to leave her when I needed to. Munchkin actually has a line called Latch that is designed to help you reach your breastfeeding goals. The Munchkin one-of-a-kind LATCH™ bottle was the winner of the 2015 American Baby Best Bottle Award. It has a unique accordion nipple, easing the transition from breast to bottle and back. Having a bottle your baby will take when you can't be there to breastfeed will make all the difference for you on your breastfeeding journey.
Another tool that is vital in my book is a breast pump! Oh man, my breast pump saved me on multiple occasions. During those first few weeks where we were struggling to get the breastfeeding down, sometimes my boobs just needed the break from the latch we were trying to get down. So I would pump and feed Ella a bottle. I didn't do this too much, because it is so important to make sure you are establishing that latch. But it was a nice back up when I couldn't handle it and gave me the break I needed to keep moving forward. Also, Ella was such an amazing sleeper that I would be super engorged while she was still sleeping in the mornings. So I would wake up, pump, and store that breast milk for when I needed it. I was able to save SO much milk. I still have some in the freezer. This is great for when you leave the house or to even to have after you are done breastfeeding. Pumps are also great if you need to boost your milk supply. So often I hear people claim they couldn't breastfeed because of a lack of milk supply. Honestly, technically speaking it is very rare for a woman to naturally not produce enough milk for her baby. The issue is people don't seem to realize how important it is to establish and maintain your milk supply from the beginning. The phrase they use is USE IT OR LOSE IT. You have to breastfeed a lot in the beginning. If you are having issues perfecting the latch, or your baby is having a nursing strike, whatever the reason, having a pump there to make sure you are able to keep them (your boobs) on schedule is vital. I always made sure I never missed a "feed." So if I went out for the night and Ella had a bottle I had pumped for her earlier, I would pump while I was out, or right when I got home. Anytime Ella ate from a bottle, I made sure I pumped for it. You can't skip a session, even one time can dramatically decrease your supply. Eventually as my milk supply found its balance I didn't need to pump in the mornings anymore; and so I started pumping an extra "feed" before I went to bed to keep my milk supply strong. Plus you get that added bonus of extra milk! ;)
I am so happy I stuck with breastfeeding! It has been such an amazing experience and I felt empowered working through the struggles initially and reaching my goal of breastfeeding for the first year. I would ideally go longer actually but certain circumstances make now the time to wean. We are doing it very gradually though. I remember how stressful it was in the beginning so if you have any questions at all or need someone in your support system, MESSAGE ME! Seriously, I will give you my phone number and everything ;)