This iPhone selfie was taken *after* things got easier and I just got home from an event. Normally I look exhausted and don’t have makeup on.
Now that June is almost a year, I thought it was a good time to share my experience breast feeding. June’s love of food has made weaning very easy and I’m down to nursing only first thing in the morning. My plan has always been to make it a full year and I’m very proud of myself to share that we’re going to get there! But it wasn’t always easy. Actually it was hell and 100x worse than labor.
I’ve slowly been writing this post over the past couple of weeks and I’m finally sharing my breastfeeding journey, how terrible it was and how it changed. But before I dive in, I’d just like to preface this post by saying that I’m not a doctor or lactation consultant, I’m just sharing my experience and the things I found helpful. And lastly, I’m not a hard-core breastfeeding-is-the-only-way kinda person. I just believe fed is best. Always!
While pregnant, Kevin and I took a bunch of classes. The longest course was on labor which in hindsight seems so futile. Once we got to the hospital I got a fever and was instantly hooked up to tons of things and confined to the bed. Basically all the labor positions and exercises I learned went out the window while I had to stay in bed until June was born. We also took a short “feeding basics” class at a local birth resource place that went over breastfeeding and bottle feeding. And while it seemed like a whirlwind of info at the time, it wasn’t the prep I really needed and I regret not sitting in on a new mom’s breastfeeding class. But more on that in a bit.
Breastfeeding, for me, was definitely worse than labor. And I had an epidural that was ineffective.
I felt every contraction intensely until she was born. I later found out that it might have been due to a previous pelvic fracture or my chronic foot pain. Perhaps I’ll share more about that later but to my point, breastfeeding wasn’t easy for me. But I felt so much pressure to make it work. Not from any one person directly but more because I’m in L.A. and that’s what you do. That’s what the hospital pushes and the message social media shares. It wasn’t until the teacher of my mommy & me class asked me why I didn’t stop that I really gave it any thought. I said it was because I’m not one to give up and I felt too invested, emotional and financially, to stop. Ironically now I also get weird looks when I say I’m still breastfeeding. You just can’t win with some folks, right?
When June was born she latched on right away and we didn’t have much trouble the first couple of days. But as soon as we got home from the hospital that’s when all the issues arose. My milk came in and I instantly had an oversupply. Which I know can be such a good thing (I later donated 50 bottles of milk) when so many mother’s can’t produce enough. Yet with the oversupply came many complications and so much pain for me. June then had trouble latching and thanks to my amazing sister-in-law she recommend I try nipple shields. Got those ASAP thanks to Prime Now and used them for every feeding for the first 3 weeks. It helped her latch because my breasts were so engorged and it took the edge off the pain. Just a little.
The pain kept getting worse with each feeding. I cried every night because I knew how hard the night feedings would be because of the pain and exhaustion. But I’m stubborn (or overly determined) and I kept going while the pain increased. Around 3 weeks in, I was convinced I had mastitis but everyone said it was just my oversupply. Sure enough, I got a high fever and felt extremely flu-ish. I tried to get antibiotics from the doctor on call (my OB was out of the country) but she wouldn’t return my calls or e-mails. So I waited 4 days until my OB was back and got antibiotics. The pain was so intense and I later found out that I could have needed surgery to remove the plugged ducts had I gotten them any later.
After starting the antibiotics I almost immediately booked an appointment with a lactation consultant. This was a game changer for me! She was so knowledgable and kind. I cried when she told me that she felt if I had seen her earlier much of my pain could have been avoided with just a little education. Ugh.
Everyone told me that around 6 weeks your body will self-regulate and start producing the amount of milk your baby is actually consuming. But that wasn’t the case for me.
Things didn’t start improving for me until around 12 weeks. And the time between getting mastitis at 3.5 weeks and it getting a little easier at 12 felt like an eternity. I kept getting clogged ducts and was having to soak my boobs in epsom salts several times a day. Thanks to the lactation consultant, I was referred to a lactation massage therapist. Which as I write that I realize just how L.A. that sounds. And yes, she works in Beverly Hills. While it wasn’t the day spa you’d image; she manually (and so painfully) opened the clogged ducts. At this point, I had racked up well over a thousand dollars in out-of-pocket expenses but it significantly changed breastfeeding for me.
At around 4 months in, my body finally started producing closer to what June was consuming. Side note: I stopped using the nipple shields at 3 weeks although I likely should have continued using them longer. I just personally was sick of how inconvenient they were to use when I was out and about (not to mention during the middle of the night) so I just sucked it up and bared the pain for a couple weeks while my breasts adjusted to their new work load.
Not until 6 months things truly got easier and I didn’t hate breastfeeding anymore.
June could latch, my breasts were soft again, and I felt comfortable nursing around town. Although I was never going to be one of those women that said they loved it or look like an Instagram model who could simultaneously and effortlessly be nursing while wearing wearing a beautiful maxi dress. It did get better for me, June and I bonded and most importantly, in my opinion, she was graining weight! Isn’t that the purpose in the end?
Since I work from home, I nursed as much as possible and only pumped when I was gone for long periods. But because of my oversupply, that only happened a handful of time. I absolutely hated pumping and I give major kudos to moms that pump several times a day. At around 5 months in I started pumping once at bedtime (thanks to a suggestion from a fellow mom) for storage and really just to empty my breasts so I could sleep comfortably. Until this point, I would be so uncomfortable in the middle of the night that I had to pump for a couple minutes just to relieve the pressure. After about 10 days of pumping right before bed I was able to comfortably sleep through the night. And I continued this routine until she turned 11 months and then I cried happy tears and stuck the pump in the closet.
While I’m by no means a pro at this, I did learn a few things that I’d like to share!
My Top Tips for New Moms
See a lactation consultant
Hands down my #1 tip is the minute you’re home with your new baby, even if things seem to be going well. Ok, maybe not the minute you’re home, but make an appointment for that first week. You can learn so much
Check out a new-mom’s breasting class
Before you give birth! See what issue other women are experiencing and learn from them. I found the best tips and when to pump (or not) and what products to use came from other moms and not doctors or consultants.
If you’re local to L.A., I cannot recommend The Pump Station enough! Not sponsored, just my honest opinion. I saw a lactation consultants there and they also let you sit in a new mom’s breastfeeding class for free the first time. Oh and it’s where I joined a weekly mommy & me class and met my local mama tribe.
Stock up on helpful items
If you’re expecting, I know there are already a ton of items on your to-buy list. Skip the fancy swaddles and toys you don’t need initially for some of these items! Some of them are lifesavers when nursing just plan sucks.
Silicone manual breast pump – stick it on the opposite boob while nursing to collect milk. Does have gentle suction (unlike milk catchers) but not enough to stimulate your supply if you have an oversupply.
Medela Contact Nipple Shields – there are several different brands but I found the little cut out on these to be helpful.
Breastmilk Storage Bags – unlike other brands I tried, these never leaked when full! Just don’t freeze them more than 6 oz. full otherwise the bags might break once frozen. Also you can pump directly in the bags with a cheap attachment and they are recyclable.
Bamboobies Reusable Breast Pads – way softer and more comfortable than disposable bra pads and greener choice.
Motherlove Nipple Cream – pack this in your hospital bag and then keep it on your side table wherever you nurse the most. Organic, natural ingredients and makes a good lip balm when you’re done.
Clip and Pump Hands-Free Nursing Bra – clips onto most nursing bra and tank clips so you don’t have to take off another bra to pump. Super helpful when you’re pumping away from home.
Hot Cold Breast Gel Bead Ice Packs – can be used for hot and cold therapy and fit (awkwardly) into your bra. Less messy than using Ziploc bags full of ice!
Pull Over Seamless Sleep Bra (2 Pack) – if you’re like me and HATE wearing a bra to sleep in but have to now these are the most comfortable (and affordable) ones I’ve found. I also recently discovered the Wirefree Nursing Bra and absolutely love it. Since I had mastitis I stayed away from all bras with underwires and this one gives good support without one.
Bun Maternity High Low Nursing Tank – my wardrobe staple when nursing out in public in the early days. Also my favorite thing to wear with leggings and a loose long sleeve button down shirt on flights.
Monica & Andy Cotton Burp Cloth – thin, super soft organic cotton burp cloth. I tucked one under my bra strap when nursing in public. Just enough coverage for me and way less hot (and noticeable) than a bulky nursing cover.
Hatch Baby App – used this to record feedings for the first several months. Found it so easy to use and helpful because it counts how many hours + minutes have passed from the last feeding. Also can keep track of which side you nursed on and for how long. Works with the Hatch Baby Grow, a smart changing pad that is also a scale.
LaVie Lactation Massager – found this when I had mastitis and was desperate. It worked surprisingly well! This brand now has other products but I’ve only tried this one.
It’s ok to quit
Whether it just feels too hard initially or down the road. You can make the decision to stop at any point! Looking back, I kinda wish I did because it caused me so much stress but you gotta go with your intuition and do whatever you feel is best!
Did you have a similar experience the first time breastfeeding? Or do you have any tips you’d love to share with new moms?