Before Isla was born, Kellen and I decided that we would exclusively breastfeed for, at the very least, the first 3 months while I was home with Isla. Not only are there health benefits for both mom and baby, but it would save us A LOT of money. When you don’t have paid maternity leave, free food for at least one person in your household sounds pretty darned swell. (Whether/how much we breastfeed after I return to work will depend on how things go once I’m back at work. I’m a big believer in one step at a time.) We did a lot to prepare for breastfeeding, and on the whole, I’m really grateful for breastfeeding classes, books, and all the internet research I did prior to her arrival to help me figure out just how this whole breastfeeding thing works. When she arrived, I had a basic understanding of the mechanics of breastfeeding, knowledge of the tricks and tools to make breastfeeding easier, and a general idea of what successful breastfeeding would look like.
When she was finally placed on my chest at the hospital, while I was still groggy and clumsy from the meds they’d given me during the c-section, I was elated and relieved to see how easily Isla found the breast and latched pretty much all by herself. I felt like we’d cleared our first major hurdle to breastfeeding. Over the next few days in the hospital, I spent pretty much the entire time focusing on learning to breastfeed. It wasn’t as easy, though, to keep up the breastfeeding considering I was having difficulty maneuvering both myself and her in the bed as I recovered from surgery. Add to that the constant stream of nurses, doctors, and visitors throwing us off our schedule, and I found it was almost impossible to get a fussy, starving baby to latch on and eat a full meal without a lot of screaming on her part and tears on mine.
She went from 7 lb. 2 oz. at birth to 6 lbs. 6 oz. between Saturday and Tuesday when we were discharged. She had lost 10% of her body weight, and my biggest worries when we left for home were getting her weight up and hoping my supply came in soon. The day after we came home was the absolute worst. She was starving, my milk still hadn’t come in yet, I was trying to feed her basically around the clock to jump start my supply, and all I could think about was the fact that my poor baby was hungry and I couldn’t give her what she needed. I was so upset.
Then on Thursday, my milk (finally!) came in and we had an appointment with a lactation consultant. Between the extra milk and the tips from our amazing lactation consultant, things drastically improved. She was up 3 oz. by our Thursday appointment and then at her doctor’s appointment on Monday, she was up another 5 oz. She gained 8 oz. in 6 days, when the recommended average is 5-7 oz./week, so I’m not as worried about her weight gain anymore. Even without the scales, her brand new double chin and fat rolls on her arms and legs have left me feeling quite certain she’s getting plenty to eat. 🙂
Some of our biggest challenges have been figuring out a schedule, sleep, and for me, getting a little bit of “me” time in during the day. In terms of a schedule, we basically are feeding on demand, but if she goes more than 3 hours, we try to go ahead and make her eat so that way she doesn’t get so hungry, she’s too upset to eat. When she’s too upset to eat, it can take forever just to get her to latch and she won’t stay on. At first, we were doing this around the clock, but we decided to just let her go on her own schedule through the night, which means much more sleep for us. Since she’s still getting upward of 12 feedings a day even with the spottier nighttime feeding schedule, I don’t feel guilty about this at all. Plus, I need the sleep. I’m an absolute mess on the days I don’t, and that’s not good for anyone in my house.
We also started noticing that she tends to have a marathon feed (2-3 hours) right before bed time. Once we picked up on this, we started moving forward our bed time preparation, so that if we started at 8, we’d finish up by 10 or 11 and still have time to get plenty of sleep. It stinks to lose so much of my evening, especially when I still have to sleep until 9 to get as much sleep as I’m used to, but worth it to feel well rested the next day.
The hardest part of the whole thing for me has been getting time to myself. I’m one of those people that thrives on alone time and down time, so being attached to another human being for so much of the day, and having so much of my usual down time taken hostage by nursing sessions, has been hard to adjust to. Emotionally, it’s really draining, especially if she’s cluster feeding (hour-long sessions every hour-and-a-half to two hours around the clock.) For that, though, I’ve started trying to fit in some of my “me” things into my feedings. The My Brest Friend pillow has made this so much easier. During the day, I can prop Isla up on it and surf the web, blog, or watch TV, and overnight, I can put her on that and watch shows or movies to keep me awake so I don’t fall asleep holding her. (Our bed doesn’t have the best set-up for cosleeping, so it’s not something I want to do, especially not accidentally.)
So far, my thoughts on breastfeeding is that it’s both the best and worst thing I’ve experienced as a new mom. I absolutely love breastfeeding. I love watching her root around and latch and nurse. She’s so funny. She makes these little snorting noises, and when she’s done, she rolls onto her back with her arms up over her head, milk dribbling down her cheek. She looks so completely satisfied. Plus, it’s fun to snuggle with her while she’s nursing, and after it’s over, she curls her little body up against mine and it’s the best feeling in the world.
At the same time, it’s hard work. It’s scary when you think your baby might not be getting enough to eat, and there’s a lot of pressure knowing that the #1 thing your baby needs–food–can come only from you. Sort of like being pregnant, it’s not a duty you can pass off to someone else when you’re busy doing other things or tired or simply want a break. It’s extremely time consuming, and there are times where I feel like nothing more than a walking milk factory. I totally get why so many people start out trying to breastfeed and quickly defect to formula. I would be lying if I said it weren’t extremely tempting to give it up and just go with formula.
But then we have one of those really awesome nursing sessions where she makes all of her cute faces and noises and everything goes pretty easily and at the end she snuggles into me, and I know I would miss it too much to give it up. I keep thinking about how she’s only small like this for a very short time, and how even though now it seems like the feeding schedule is sometimes too demanding and never ending, these little moments with her are actually extremely limited. There really won’t be many of these, and one day very soon, she’ll be a big girl and weaned and we won’t ever get to go back to this phase again. When we’re nursing, I try to soak in her newness and tininess and sweetness and commit these moments to memory. It doesn’t always keep me from being overwhelmed, but it reminds me why we’ll keep doing it. As hard as nursing is, I know it’s going to break my heart when we finally stop, so we’ll keep it going for as long as we can.