Breastfeeding is a personal challenge for each mother and child. Some get it right away, some don’t. Some have a milk supply that flows like a fountain, and some of us have to work really hard at keeping it up. I always felt I failed at breastfeeding my first son. He was tongue tied, and wouldn’t latch on. We tried the nipple shield, but he would passionately protest each time. The plan was:
- Latch for 5 on each breast
- Feed formula from the bottle
- Latch for 5 on each breast
- Repeat every 2-3 hours or on demand
I survived this for 2 weeks, even with barely any milk being expressed. I would think, “how is it possible that my milk hasn’t come in? What happened to cave babies whose Mothers’ milk didn’t come in?” I reluctantly decided to throw in the towel, feeling like a failure. I admired Mothers who nursed or pumped for their babies. They were so lucky. Moms who were also unable to succeed at breastfeeding, were a nice support during my breakup with breastfeeding. But I felt shunned from some Moms who felt there was no reason to “fail.” I felt like I needed to explain myself, why I wasn’t able to breastfeed my son.
My second pregnancy, I was even more determined to succeed. I read books, watched videos, I hand expressed colostrum daily just for piece of mind that something was going to come out. I read that skin-to-skin immediately after delivery would help, so I asked every doctor in my group to be on my side and drilled my husband about the important role he played in supporting me when the nurse might try to take the baby for measurements right away. I did succeed, barely, and I successfully nursed for 8 months and through a gallbladder surgery and food poisoning. With large breasts, a low supply, a poor latch, and a sleepy/dairy allergic/colicky baby- this journey has been a true test to my willpower and googling skills. Here are 9 things, in my experience, I wish I knew before the baby arrived.
1. Nurse On-Demand to Establish Milk Supply. I guess this is a no brainer, but for someone like me with serious attention issues, it went missed. Each time I took the nurse’s schedule of every 2-3 hours to heart, getting frustrated when baby wanted to cluster feed. I wish I had known to expect that I might have a baby attached to my boob just about 22/7. Perhaps, I would have set up in the glider with pillows all around and just slept while he nursed away.
2. Purchase the Correct Flange Size. Did you know that there are different size flanges for your pump? No? Neither did I! Eureka! This is the exact reason I couldn’t pump more than a dime size of milk for 2 weeks with my first. Without the correct size, there is no milk coming out. And it’s not easy to figure out what size you should be without spending around $20 a size on non-returnable flanges. Medela shares an image of what your nipple should look like in the flange, but I’m still confused by it. I have come to the conclusion that there is no size big enough for my left boob. It’s the unpumpable boob. Had I known this before the baby came, I wouldn’t have been chasing a feather in the wind while caring for a newbie and a 3 year old.
3. Lactation Consultant. I had to hire a lactation consultant when boy #2 was 9 weeks old. His 2 month check up showed a decrease in weight gain, he had a dairy allergy, and I was preparing for my gallbladder to be removed. Boy 2 needed every last drop of my milk to get his weight gain going, but I also needed to pump at least 4 meals for the operation and post-op. I was told by insurance that they cover an in-network lactation consultant (LC). Insurance helped call at least 10 LC’s in the area, but non of them took insurance or were in-network. Luckily, one of the LC’s told us that it’s possible to open a special case, pay out-of-pocket, and be reimbursed. I hired a lovely LC. Had I known this before baby, I would have avoided days of worry, waiting for this all to be resolved.
4. Nipple Shields. Saved the entire experience with boy 2. He has a slight tongue tie, so his latch isn’t perfect. My toes curled every time he latched, my nipples cracked and bled despite loads of lanolin and rubbing breast milk on them. My nipples got stuck to my unwashed cotton breast pad and pulled the skin off. Yes, that hurt way too much. Devastating. Thankfully, my sister picked up a few different shields to try, and he took to it very well. (Boy 1, wanted nothing to do with them). My LC said there is no need to wean him from the shield if things are going well. They are hard to balance when you’re trying to keep cover in public, but in the big picture – so worth it. Next time (if), I will have nipple shields in my hospital bag just in case.
5. Breast Milk Soap. Medela makes a soap for cleaning breast milk from pump parts, nipples and so on. At first, we were using dawn dish soap until I tasted the soap on the nipple. I figured that can’t be safe, so I picked up the Medela soap and it’s been great. Had I known, I would have had it at the house and ready pre-birth.
6. Nursing bras/tanks. I have yet to find an underwire nursing bra to fit my big ones, but I live in my 3 sleeping nursing bras. Luckily, most of my shirts, I’m able to pull down to access the boob. If not, I would want to have a few at home before baby. I had one nursing bra, and purchased 2 more. It would have been nice to have all 3 at home before baby. One less thing to worry about.
7. Hand Compression. Boy 2 needed some assistance in draining the boobs. Once I started doing compressions while he nursed, his time at the breast decreased. It helps him become a more efficient eater too because when he falls asleep, I’m squeezing drips into him, triggering him to suck and drain the ducts. Had I known about this before bringing him home, I may have had more time with boy 1 in the first few weeks, and we wouldn’t have the weight gain issue.
8. Shoulder Tickle. My Mom read about the handy-dandy shoulder tickle. Boy 2 is a lazy eater, he often falls asleep at the breast and some feedings end up being over an hour long because of it. Insert, the shoulder tickle. It’s simple, gently tickle your baby’s bare skin upper arm, just below the shoulder, and he/she will wake and continue to eat. No more blowing on their face, unlatching, relatching, and so on. Just tickle that cute little shoulder and move those feeding along.
9. Know Your Support System. Our generation is all about breastfeeding. We know the great health benefits, we understand that we are not starving our babies like Gen X was told, and we are all a bit poor and freaked about finances with my decreased work hours and salary. Here are the breastfeeding opinion groups I have noticed:
- The Everyone Should Always Breastfeed No Matter What Group. This group knows all the benefits, are incredibly vocal advocates, and most likely had very little obstacles in their breastfeeding experience (IMO). This group annoys me, and made me feel like a failure with boy 1 with unsolicited snarky comments about how if I tried, it would have worked. This group feels no family has the right to give their babies formula, and in my opinion are very judgmental and narrow-minded.
- Gen X. When Gen X were having babies, they were told not to breast feed because no one was sure how much food their babies would get. Since then, there have been many studies supporting the wonderful benefits of breastfeeding. It’s typical to receive a comment from a Gen X about how your baby might not be getting enough food. Arm yourself with breastfeeding facts, and educate them rather than let them hurt your confidence.
The bottom line is, do what is best for your family. It’s a tough job bringing home a newborn, whether it be your first, second or third and so on. Every baby is different – even between siblings. Many good-willing people will share their experiences with you, and some may not realize if they are harming your will. I know I have been super sensitive to the subject of breastfeeding based on my own personal struggles with it.
Always know… you are doing a great job, Mom.