We’re six weeks into the whole attempted exclusive breastfeeding thing. At this poing, the actual nursing part has gotten much easier. Isla and I both have a pretty good rhythm going at this point. We’ve had a lot of practice, and she’s getting much bigger and her head control is improving, so it’s actually much easier to get her into the right position when we nurse. I can slap her on a boob pretty much at any time, and it ain’t no thang.
There are still some challenges, though. I vacillate between being certain she’s not getting enough to eat to wondering if maybe we might actually have a bit of an over-active letdown issue. I honestly have no idea what’s going on with my boobs, and it’s frustrating to me that I can’t get a more reliable idea of how much I’m producing and whether it’s coming too quickly at some points. I can only gauge my opinions based on her actions and what I read on the internet, and based on her actions, the internet will give me 20 different things that might be the problem…or tell me that everything is normal and that’s just what babies do. So. For now, I’m going on the assumption that she seems to be gaining weight proportional to her increased length, has a ton of wet diapers, has slightly fewer but usually pretty epic poops, and seems to be an alert, happy baby, albeit a constantly hungry and slightly petite one.
The other big issue is still–always–how much time it takes up. This morning, for instance, we woke up at a little after 8 AM, nursed for a little over half an hour, I took a shower, got out at around 9:15, sat down to nurse her at 9:30, then continuously nursed her until almost 11:30. That’s pretty much the whole morning spent nursing, and this has been pretty standard this week…and several others. Even when she’s not cluster feeding, it’s still a big time commitment. Isla eats for about 45 minutes at every feed, and she wants to feed, consistently, every hour and a half from the beginning of one feed to the next. That’s literally half the day nursing! I just want a little bit more of my time back…
A new issue that’s starting to become more pressing as I pass the halfway mark in my maternity leave is getting enough milk put away in my freezer to send Isla off to daycare. 6 weeks seems like a long time to get a good freezer stash going, but in 3 weeks of pumping, I’ve only managed to get 23 ounces of milk put away. I’m still not really sure and can only guestimate how much milk Isla will need once I’m back at work, but going off how much she’s eating now, and knowing that will increase in the next few weeks, I’m guessing she’ll probably need somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 oz. (or 5 oz. for 5 feeds at 8, 10, 12, 2, and 4) to make it through the day. And if I want Kellen to start taking over one of the nighttime feedings so I can get a bit more sleep, that’s another 5 oz. a day.
I’m definitely pumping more per pumping session now than I was 3 weeks ago, but I also just don’t get a lot of opportunity during the day when I’m home by myself to pump. I find myself every time I give Isla a bottle of breast milk thinking, “This could be going in the freezer!” and feeling sort of guilty about skipping a feed now. I’ve got to figure out a way to get more pumping in during the day. Not easy to do when you have a baby who likes to cluster feed at least once a day pretty much every day, either in the morning or at night and sometimes both. Also not easy when you’re going to be in a state 2000 miles away for 2 of your remaining 6 weeks! I’m hoping I can pump while I’m in Texas and then overnight everything back stored with dry ice when I’m on my way home. I’m just having nightmares about 2 weeks’ worth of expressed milk spoiling in my apartment complex’s front office because we missed the shipment. NIGHTMARES.
If anyone has tips or suggestions about pumping in preparation to go back to work WHILE breastfeeding and being the only caretaker for your baby, I would be ever so grateful. It just seems like a completely daunting task at this point, getting enough back for a full week.
On the up side, I continue to find more tools to help make breastfeeding easier. My new best friend when I’m nursing is my Bebe Au Lait nursing cover. It has made nursing in public so much easier, and I’ve even started using it at night and before nap times, because keeping Isla under it means she’s not getting distracted by everything in the room and not going to sleep at times when she really needs the sleep. It’s really nice because it’s a lightweight fabric that doesn’t freak Isla out when she’s nursing, has a stiff bit around the neck that makes it easy to get her latched and check in to see how things are going, and has the loop to keep the cover up around your neck. I didn’t really think I needed one of these until I realized that I was terrified to leave the house without a bottle because I didn’t want to nurse in public with just a regular blanket. Now? I don’t even bother packing a bottle. It’s so much easier just to nurse, and I don’t feel quite as self-conscious about nursing in public as I did before. (I know it’s silly, but I personally am just not comfortable nursing sans cover in public. Doesn’t bother me when other people do it, I just can’t do it myself.)
It’s still hard sometimes being Parent Numero Uno because I’m the one with the food supply. It has definitely shifted the majority of the parenting burden to me, and even though Kellen tries really hard to do as much as he can, I do think it means I have kind of a different perspective on parenting than he does, what with being literally attached to the baby for upward of a third of the day and being at home all the time right now. I don’t really know how to describe it in a way that doesn’t sound sort of condescending or bitter, so I want to disclaim this by saying that’s not how I intend this. But I feel like in some ways, Isla and I are sort of like a single unit and Kellen is sort of the third wheel. That has been very frustrating for me, dealing with the fact that breastfeeding, by virtue of making one person solely responsible for not only one of baby’s basic needs, but also one of the activities that takes up the majority of baby’s time, sort of makes parenting an unequal adventure for the first few months.
There are still a lot of times when the thought crosses my mind, “Mustn’t it be nice to do formula, and be able to split up the parenting duties and to do fewer feeds a day and know reliably how much your baby is eating, etc., etc.?” I still definitely get the appeal of formula and totally understand why so many people use it. I really want to stick this out, though. I’m not quite as emotionally overwhelmed by the sweet moments in breastfeeding the way I was in the first couple of weeks, which I will blame on my hormones settling down and the novelty wearing off. (Still not a touchy feely earth mother. Oh well.) But I know it’s the healthiest choice for baby, so we’ll stick with it until the other shoe (whatever that may be) drops. Hopefully the other shoe is Isla deciding she’s ready to wean at 1 year, but I have a “no guilt, no shame” policy about abandoning ideal parenting policies if they are just too much–physically, emotionally, financially, whatever. So far, we’re doing just fine. It’s just getting over the next hurdle–going back to work–and figuring out how this breastfeeding thing works all over again.