As my maternity leave draws to a close, I have to say, I’m really proud that we’ve stuck out breastfeeding this long. It’s worth it, too.
As much as I’ve struggled with breastfeeding, at around 9 weeks or so, something changed and all of a sudden, breastfeeding is easy. While before I was simply trying to make it through my maternity leave because I’d made a commitment to save money by breastfeeding, I’m now actively anti-giving up breastfeeding.
Isla has definitely become a much more efficient nurser. We still have 30-40 minute nursing sessions, but more often than not, they’re more like 15-20 minutes these days. Plus, nursing has just become a part of the routine. Having to stop every couple of hours to breastfeed isn’t quite so jarring to my day-to-day activities. I expect it, plan around it, and for the most part, barely even notice it now. Whereas at some point, a bottle seemed much easier than nursing, these days, I often find myself saying, “Why fool around with a bottle? I can just nurse her and be done with it.” And it’s true. There’s no pumping or mixing formula, no cleaning and sterilizing bottles after. Nursing doesn’t take up precious real estate in my diaper bag.
As unbelievable as I would have thought this statement would be 2 months ago, I now think of breastfeeding as the perfect feeding method for moms on the go.
It helps that she doesn’t take as long, that I’ve got a cover I love, that I’ve gotten over my shyness of nursing outside of my house. It helps that I’ve stopped feeling guilty on the occasions we do give her formula when I need a break, so it doesn’t seem like the weight of the world (i.e. being the only food source) is on my shoulders. It also helps that just in general, I’m not as overwhelmed by my baby. Everything has gotten easier.
As frustrating as it was for me to read, “Just wait, it gets better,” from breastfeeding moms when I was struggling through those first several weeks of breastfeeding, it’s nice to come out on the other side and be able to see the wisdom in that. It will make you crazy to hear it, but breastfeeding really does get better, easier, even something you look forward to.
The challenge now is heading back to work and pumping. We used a two-week trip to visit family in Texas to work on getting Isla more used to bottles and also for me to do some trial runs of pumping during the day. Isla now takes a bottle like a pro, but pumping continues to be a challenge.
I’m estimating Isla will need a minimum of 15 oz. a day between 8 AM and 5 PM while she’s at daycare. I pump 9-12 oz., depending on the day. So I know she’s probably going to get at least one bottle of formula in there probably, if I can’t find a way to get a better freezer stash going from other pumping sessions outside of the work day. I’m working on getting my supply up for better pumping–lots of water, protein and oatmeal–and I got these awesome super shields, which make my pump more comfortable and are helping me to avoid leaking milk out the bottom of the flange when I’m pumping. I’ve been told that pumping at the same time every day, your body eventually gets used to it and will start to pump more, so I’m hoping that will give me a boost of an ounce or so at each pumping session to keep Isla in breastmilk all day.
I think my biggest thing, though, is not to stress myself out over breastfeeding. I enjoy nursing, and I want to continue it as long as possible. I know that I’ll pump what I can, continue to nurse at night, and we can make up the difference with formula, and it won’t be the end of the world. I’m already such a high-strung worry wart about so many things, I want to be gentle with myself in this area. I like to think that hopefully not stressing myself out over it will also help my supply and keep my baby girl in more breastmilk for longer.
I will say, I think it’s a shame that the US has such pathetic laws regarding maternity leave (no guaranteed pay and only 12 weeks of leave for some mothers), because they really do very little to support breastfeeding mothers. If I’d had to go back at 6 weeks after my disability ran out, I think I probably would have switched to formula. Breastfeeding just wasn’t established enough for us at the time. Even now, I feel that it would be much easier to make it to the recommended 6 months of breastfeeding if I had more paid leave. We will definitely be giving her more formula than I’d like in the coming weeks because I have to go back to work.
But considering the policies here on maternity leave and the general lack of social support for breastfeeding (“boobs are for sex,” etc.), I don’t find it even remotely surprising that our breastfeeding numbers are so abysmal or that we lose billions of dollars every year thanks to the lost opportunities for better health that result from breastfeeding. If we want more mothers to breastfeed, we need to support policies that support breastfeeding, and that includes longer maternity leave and paid maternity leave.
Anyhow. I’ll put away my soapbox, and just say, breastfeeding has really become a joy for me, and I wish it were going to be easier when I go back to work to keep it going full-time.