When I was pregnant, I completely dreaded breastfeeding. I knew I wanted to give it a shot, but I was nervous about it. For one, I had a breast reduction about five years ago. Even though I was not married or ready to have a baby at that point in my life, the decision to have the surgery was difficult because I knew there I knew there was a small chance I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed. Second, I was terrified about how much it would hurt. Ironically, I wasn’t scared about delivering the baby, but for some reason the thought of breastfeeding freaked me out. Third, I couldn’t imagine taking my shirt off, pumping and storing breastmilk in my office once I went back to work. It had nothing to do with how my company handled providing a mother’s room or anything of that nature – just the thought that everyone would be that far into my business bothered me.
Breastfeeding is hard and isn’t for everyone. In my experience, it did get easier and easier. It is definitely a team sport – so once you and your baby make the teamwork happen, you get into a little groove.
Some nights I would be up in the middle of the night, feeding Charlie in complete darkness and silence, and feel like the luckiest person in the world. Charlie’s first real smile was at about 4am after a feeding. A big gummy, toothless smile just for me. I will never forget that special moment when the rest of the world was sleeping. On the flip side, there were many nights that I would wake up to feed him and feel so overly exhausted, lonely, frustrated and even sad.
On Day 1 of Charlie’s life, I never would have guessed that I would breastfeed him for 6 months. For mothers who do choose to try to breastfeed, I have gathered some information that I think will lead to a better and less stressful experience. This article is broken down into two parts:
- Details and anecdotes – there were definitely a ton of mini breastfeeding surprises along the way that I felt unprepared for. If I was more “in the know”, these things may have felt less stressful. There are also some great resources I would like to share.
- Helpful products – a short list of some cheap, simple products that helped me along the way.
Details & anecdotes
At the hospital
In my Gestational Diabetes experience post, I recount the moment that Charlie was born and how he was given formula right away to proactively help regulate his blood sugar. (Side note: his blood sugar was fine and he was and is a healthy baby, but this was suggested to us since I had GD) In a way, this was a blessing in disguise for me. A lot of women I know who exclusively breast fed were in constant worry that their newborn was not getting enough breast milk the first few days. I was anxious about that, but since I had already given Charlie formula, the nurse suggested we continue to supplement with formula until my milk came in. I supplemented with formula for the first 2 months and then exclusively breastfed for the next 4 months. This did not ever cause any type of nipple confusion.
I was unaware that breast milk took a few days to come in (along with a whole bunch of other things that moms should know). Milk production can be delayed a few days longer if you had a c-section or were induced. The first few days your body produces colostrum, which is a thicker, yellow substance high in antibodies and protein. Nurses and the lactation specialist told me that the baby was getting what he needed from this, but it feels like barely anything is coming out to feed the baby and its really nerve wracking to a new mom. Almost mom I know, including myself, felt very stressed and out of control when trying to start breastfeeding. Its hard to do at the time, but I think trusting the process is a good way to calm any worry you might have. And in my definition of “process” that includes moving onto a bottle if breastfeeding doesn’t work for you or the baby.
If possible, I suggest asking the hospital’s lactation specialist to come as soon as you can. All of the nurses that came to my room throughout my hospital stay were helpful, but it nice to have the lactation specialist in the room to walk you through each step. None of the professionals seemed to be worried for the baby’s wellbeing (even when I was sure he was starving or going to get dehydrated) and this was helpful and reassuring.
I had a really negative mindset about breastfeeding – and immediately thought that I would not be able to produce enough milk for Charlie. It took a little time, likely due to the combination of having a breast reduction, a c-section and being induced, but eventually I made enough milk to exclusively breast feed. The first 2 months I supplemented with formula, usually at night to fill Charlie up before bed. For me, this option took the pressure off of feeling like breastmilk was Charlie’s only source of food. This also allowed me to see how much he was getting some of the time, since I did not pump. After the first couple of months I became more confident that I was producing enough milk for him and exclusively breastfed until he was 6 months old.
I remember a friend telling me that breastfeeding will hurt like a B* for 2 weeks and then the pain just goes away. The first few days I didn’t think I would make it for 2 weeks it hurt SO BAD. But somehow, I made it to the 2-week point, and she was right, the pain was gone. Without sugarcoating it, it can be a hard thing to commit to. You are essentially giving up your body after you just got it back from being pregnant!
Having the support of my partner was really necessary for my BF success as well. I was constantly on the couch feeding Charlie and asking my husband for water, my phone, my phone charger, a bite of food, the remote control, the hakkaa, etc. I realized that he was also an important part of the teamwork needed to make this successful.
I did not pump with the electric pump very much at all. I put all of my energy into breastfeeding Charlie and chose not to worry about building up a stash. A lot of my friends had freezers FULL of breastmilk and I tried not to compare my journey with theirs. Throughout the entire 6 months, I froze two 5-ounce bags of breastmilk. I think I just wanted to be part of the frozen breast milk club. Looking back, I am glad I didn’t dwell on comparing my journey (and my empty freezer) to other people’s journey.
I ended up loving the Haakaa Manual Breast Pump and using it almost every time I breastfed in the beginning. Beware of how easily it can spill! At some point, you will have breast milk spilled all over your couch or floor. This is definitely where the saying – don’t cry over spilled milk came from.
Haakaa Hack: Nurse the baby on your left side and use the Haakaa to collect milk on the right side. You can either finish nursing the baby on your right side and save the Haakaa milk for a later feed or you can just pour the milk into a bottle and finish feeding the baby with your freshly pumped milk. For the middle of the night feed, I usually gave Charlie the milk that I just collected using the Haakaa because he was able to drink it faster from a bottle and I wanted to get back to sleep!
One thing I will say about pumping, is to watch a video on how to do it right. I got on a facetime with a friend to show her that my pump was broken, when I was just doing it wrong.
Tip: Pump both sides at once when using the electric pump, otherwise it loses strength. And if you do want to do one at a time, make sure you cover the hole of the second side so its not sucking in air.
There are a bunch of useful resources online. There are websites, great Instagram accounts, books, or even lactation consultants who will come to your apartment or do video conferencing with you. Below are the ones that I personally used or think would be helpful.
- Kelly Mom Website
- La Leche League International Website
- This is an great article with all of Best Online Breastfeeding Resources
- Betty Greenman, Breastfeeding with Love – Not only does Betty know what she is doing, but she has the kindest heart. She is extremely responsive and turns a stressful situation into a pleasant consultation. I cannot express how incredible she was to work with. She also an in-network provider with United Healthcare Insurance.
There are a few products that really helped me stick it out in the beginning that I’d like to share. These products are small and cheap and will go a long way:
- Protective Breast Shells – Like I said, the pain you will experience the first couple of weeks of breastfeeding or pumping is no joke. A lot of the pain is caused by friction against your bra and nipple. These silicone breast shells saved me. You stick them right in your bra and they protect the sensitive area of your breast from touch anything. They also collect any breast milk that may be dripping out which is a nice touch! These were given to me by the lactation consultant I used.
- Organic Nipple Butter – I used this on my nipple before putting the breast shells on to help soothe and moisturize. This is by no means a pain reliever, but I do think the constant application in the beginning helps. After about 3 weeks I stopped needing it and was fine.
- Haakaa Manual Breast Pump – This was another huge one for me. In the first coupe of days as I was still waiting for my milk to come in, I was having trouble getting the electric pump to work. I tried the Haakaa and all of a sudden – drip, drip, drip – the milk came right out! My little strategy going forward: While Charlie was BFing from the left breast, I would have the Haakaa on the right side collecting milk. Then I would either save that milk for my husband to feed him later, or I would just dump it in a bottle and feed it to him on the spot. I liked seeing how much he was getting and he also was able to finish a bottle much quicker than being on the boob, which was helpful for those 2am, 3am feedings.
- Nursing Bras – I purchased 2 packs of these nursing bras and I was honestly sad to go back to regular bras after I was finished breastfeeding. These are so comfortable! They are easy to hook and unhook as well. I purchased size Large and was a bra size 36 C/D at the time.
- Hands-free Pumping Bra – If you are going to pump, this is definitely necessary. I personally couldn’t really get into the groove of pumping, but when I did it, I used this bra which worked well.
- Breast Pump – Before you purchase a pump, you should go on the Aeroflow website and see if your health insurance covers it. Mine did! And Aeroflow sent me replacement parts for free every month. I went with the Medela Pump In Style Advanced, which worked fine. However, I really did not use the electric pump very often. Before you choose a pump, I suggest watching the Top 3 Things You Need to Know Before Buying a Breast Pump Video
My story is just that – mine. Breastfeeding is so personal and so different for every mother. The one thing that is the same for all mothers is that they want the best for their baby. A happy mommy is a happy baby, so my most important advice is to do what you have to do to make a stress-free environment for your family.
I’m curious to hear what other moms who BF thought about the experience. Comment below.