Within the past couple weeks I have spoken to several friends who just recently became new mamas. Inevitably the conversations eventually turn to the struggles that come with having a newborn. Amongst other things that we new mamas have to learn about the first time we bring our little bundle(s) of joy home, there’s this one really big thing that is unusually unheard of during our pregnancy. Breastfeeding. Over the past two years I’ve quickly learned that I’m not the only one who entered motherhood unprepared for what comes after the labor and delivery. Therefore, I’m writing this post for the sole purpose of being an encouragement to other new moms out there who just need to hear that they aren’t alone. Here’s our story… FYI, I’m going to be rather open during this post, so quit reading now if this conversation makes you uncomfortable.
When I was pregnant I knew that I wanted to breastfeed our boys. I knew that I would be working a day or two a week after my initial 12 weeks out of work after their birth, so I got a really nice breast pump and a few bottles to pump into during those days. That was ALL of the preparations I did. I lived in this fantasy land imagining that they would pop out wanting to latch on and the rest would be history. Boy, was I wrong!
After their birth pretty much everything that could have worked against me having breastfeeding success occurred. For starters, both boys were taken from me immediately. One was instantly transferred to another hospital and I wouldn’t even see him for two days. And even when I got to see him, he wasn’t allowed to eat for several weeks because of his gastroschesis/surgery/etc. The other baby was in a different NICU and although he was only 5 weeks early he was facing the same problem that most preemies face, he was too tired to eat. Sure he would try for just a little bit, but then he’d fall asleep. He ended up having to have a feeding tube for about a week. He was around 3 days old before I was ever allowed to try to nurse him. And when I did I had his NICU nurse standing right over me watching the whole time. It was horrible. I felt so pressured and anxious. Not to mention uncomfortable. I was new at this whole “everybody gets to see my boobs” thing. After mere minutes of trying she told me that she was going to go ahead and hook his feeding tube up because he wasn’t getting the hang of it.
Looking back, that makes me furious. If anyone ever tries to boss you around when you are attempting to feed your child for the FIRST time ever, you tell them to leave you alone immediately. That is a precious time and you and your baby need to practice and get comfortable and you definitely don’t need someone staring at you and making you feel like a failure.
The first time I pumped was in my hospital room. My mom encouraged me to pump and honestly the thought hadn’t even occurred to me. I was dealing with a lot at that time in my life and was too overwhelmed to even try and figure out how to set it up. She figured it all out for me. Thank the Lord for our mamas! I don’t think I pumped anything out during that first session. I immediately thought I had failed and that my body wasn’t going to make milk. I was totally overwhelmed. I felt like it was so unfair that I had two babies and I couldn’t actually nurse them; I was stuck using a pump in my hospital room while they were far from me. I continued to pump every three hours, and my milk finally came in when they were about 5 days old. That’s something else I didn’t know. I thought that the minute I birthed them I would suddenly have milk. Nope. That’s not how it works, but I didn’t know. But I’m sharing this, so that now you’ll know.
My Mama kept encouraging me through it all. For the next several weeks and months she encouraged me. Maxton came home when he was 9 days old. On day 10 or so I started trying to nurse him at every feeding. At every feeding he would not latch on and he would cry and cry and cry. The crying would only stop if I finally pumped and gave him a bottle. I was on the verge of deciding that he had gotten too used to the bottle while in the hospital and he would never catch on. But I kept pressing on. I would try to nurse, pump, feed, clean the pump. Try to nurse, pump, feed, clean the pump. Over and over and over. All day and all night. He wasn’t catching on. It was exhausting. I was also trying to pump enough to take some to Maverick who was still in the hospital. I felt like a dairy cow; only good for my food supply of milk.
I met with a lactation consultant in the NICU where Maverick was at and told her of my struggles with little Maxton. She was amazing. She was so encouraging and such an advocate for me to not give up. She gave me a nipple shield. I had never heard of such before. Basically it was this little clear, plastic thing that I placed over my nipple and it helped him get a better latch. It made my nipple feel more like the familiar texture of the bottle he was getting used to. This thing was amazing!! It freed me of having to pump every 2.5 hours so I could feed him. It was a blessing for sure. He nursed straight from me while using his nipple shield. I didn’t care if he used that the rest of his nursing career, it was much better than the alternative of pumping/bottle feeding.
I met with that same lactation consultant right before Maverick came home from the hospital a couple weeks later. I was very nervous about having two little ones to feed. I had never even been allowed to attempt to nurse Maverick. He had been having pumped milk from a bottle his whole life up until the day before he came home. I requested another nipple shield for him. It worked great! The only problem was that when they were both nursing I had no free hands since I was holding them both, therefore when someone moved around a little bit and knocked the nipple shield off there I was with no way to put it back on. When Nathan was home I’d call him over and he’d find it and put it back on for me and help redirect the baby back to it. But when he wasn’t home it was a very difficult dilemma.
Fast forward to about a month later, when they were two months old. I was nursing them one night and Maverick leaned back swatted his nipple shield off and latched right on to me. I was so shocked! The next day I tried not using the nipple shield with Maxton and he latched on just fine. Finally, freed from the nipple shields! This made nursing much simpler.
Another thing I wasn’t prepared for when I planned to breastfeed was the fact that I may have to supplement with some formula. I wanted to make enough to be able to supply them with only breast milk. But, it just didn’t work out that way. I fed them all I had to offer and I’d supplement with formula when they needed more. In some ways it was a bit helpful when I could use those moments to let someone else feed them. It gave me a much needed break at times. But my body eventually figured out that I was feeding two and it caught up. I had pumping sessions at work where I would pump 18 ounces in 10 minutes. It was crazy how much milk I was making. So, here’s another encouraging tip for any mamas out there: don’t beat yourself up if you have to supplement. A fed baby is a happy baby! And don’t worry, it’s all about supply and demand. Your body will catch up!
The last thing I was unprepared for was the intense pain from nursing. Yep. You read that right. My sore, cracked, bleeding nipples had no idea what was about to happen to them when the boys were born. I have girlfriends who have told me that nursing never hurt for them, and then I’ve had girlfriends tell me that they have dealt with the same things I did. So, if you have pain so bad that your heart starts to race and you almost start to sweat just knowing that it’s about time to feed your little ones, know that you’re not alone. Every book will say to have the baby first latch onto the side that isn’t sore, that way his sucking isn’t as hard when he gets to the sore side. Well, that doesn’t work when you’re feeding two. Neither side ever gets a break. There was a time when the boys had blood streaming down their little chins while nursing because my nipples were bleeding so bad. But what choice do you have? None. They have to eat. I would sit there and cry while they nursed. But take comfort, it gets better. I’ve heard that our nipples “toughen” up with some use, so I guess that’s true. Hang in there, mama.
The biggest part about nursing that I didn’t know is how much of a bond it builds. It’s simply awesome. I loved being the only one who could really take care of the boys in that way. When we would be at someone’s house, or at a gathering of some kind, we could excuse ourselves to a back bedroom, find us a chair and just calm down from all the excitement going on while they nursed. I was the boys’ peaceful place and I loved that.
And for any mamas that choose not to nurse, I don’t judge you one bit. That’s your choice! Each mama knows what’s best for her child in their situation, so please don’t take this post any different. But who knows, you may want to try it with your next one so maybe you’ll remember some of my words and be encouraged then.
So how long did I end up nursing our boys? Two years. 26 months to be exact. Two long, amazing, wonderful years and I wouldn’t have changed a minute of it. I’m so thankful for the encouragement I had at the beginning. I truly think that if it hadn’t been for my mom and my lactation consultant that I might have given up, and I am so glad that I stuck it out! I hope that this post can be of some encouragement to a new mama out there that just needs to know that she’s not alone.
Hang in there girl! You got this!