Breastfeeding: The Challenging Journey (an understatement)

Recently, my breastfeeding journey ended with my little guy.  In the 10.5 months we breastfed (and pumped), there are several things I learned that I want to share. While I do not claim to be a pro (consult an ILCBC for any serious issues or questions), I feel that by sharing this info, if I can help or encourage just one Mama, then I have done my part.

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Dreaming of ‘dem boobehs.

First, I just want to say that this post is not about what’s better or overly pro-breastfeeding or anything of the sort – let’s get that out of the way from the get-go.  You do you, Mama. Second, if you’ve chosen to go the breastfeeding route, congratulations – you will be going through one of the most rewarding yet challenging things since the birth of your child – but don’t get discouraged. Keep reading. (By the way, that awesome picture up there was done by the lovely Tanya @ Love You Forever Photography.)

As a nursing mother, you will deal with waiting for your milk to come in, engorgement, possibly plugged milk ducts (but hopefully never mastitis), raw nipples, cluster feeding…the list goes on and on. Honestly though, this ALL ends up being a small bump in the road when you look in your rear-view mirror when you’re a few months into breastfeeding. It is hard, but it gets so, so much easier. That is not to say that there won’t be obstacles and challenges as you go – nursing strikes, biting, breast refusal…ok so this post is starting to sound more discouraging than encouraging – but bear with me, I am getting there.

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Day 2: The face of a naive first-time Mom.

Now that my son and I have ended our breastfeeding journey (that sounds so brutal – it is still a tough pill to swallow, I can certainly admit that), I fondly look back on the 10.5 months I was able to breastfeed my child and was happy to have stuck it out through those dark, dark first days. We shared many awesome moments – even the 3 am wakings: inspecting and memorizing every eyelash on my son, the way the dim light would highlight the few little blonde hairs on his small, sweet-smelling head, the way the corners of his mouth would curl up almost in a half-smile and the little sighs of happiness while feeding made every single challenge worth it. A million times over. I promise you – while it seems impossible – you can do it. Stick with it – except for those Mothers who have conditions or reasons for which they simply cannot. Or choose not to. No shame in that. Keep in mind that you need to do what is best for you, Mama – for your sanity, and for your baby. Whichever way you go, just remember that they’ll all end up eating their own boogers in a few years.

Again, while I am certainly no pro at breastfeeding, here are a few things I found that genuinely helped me during my journey.

Dr. Jack Newman (one of the leading Doctors in Breastfeeding support and advocacy) created an All Purpose Ointment that can be applied to help with sore, chapped nipples. It is safe for baby. Speak to your Doctor about it. It honestly fixed me up in 2 days. Better than any OTC creams or ointments by a landslide. Without it, I might have given up.

While breastfeeding is a normal, healthy thing, it still isn’t widely accepted in public and many women are still ashamed to do it (sometimes myself included). I won’t even get into how STUPID this is (holy shit I can’t believe in 2017 we are still even having to have this conversation). I found a lot of the cover ups to be too restrictive or too hot for baby. This Skip Hop nursing cover has a little window which doubles as a vent so babe doesn’t get too hot and you can see what you’re doing so you’re not sticking your nipple in baby’s eye.

It goes without saying – but get yourself a good pump. A double, if you can.  My son started to outright refuse the breast at one point, so I was left having to pump bottles for him. I had a single Medela Swing which would do the job for a Mom who just occasionally pumped – but if you need to start pumping more frequently or exclusively, you’re going to want a double. It makes your life a lot easier and takes less time. I was lucky enough to have a girlfriend who was able to give me hers (although second hand pumps are not recommended but I think its just fine as long as you have sterilized all parts). Two excellent pumps are the Spectra S2 or the Medela Freestyle. The Spectra is great for home use – less portable as it is larger but is a hospital grade pump so it is recommended if you plan or end up exclusively pumping.

Holy crap, this is a long post.  If you’ve stuck with me this far, you rock.  Thank you. You are a patient soul. I’m nearly done.

Another thing about breastfeeding is that you will absolutely have an insatiable appetite and will be perpetually thirsty. Get a good water bottle. Get two. I found I drank a lot less water if I had to drink it out of a glass. Maybe I’m weird, but water bottles worked for me.

Last, you’ll want to remember your journey.  When you’re in the thick of the cluster feeds, the nonstop night feedings, the uhh-tiss-uhh-tiss of the pump almost mocking you as you sit there, a slave to its flanges, I promise you will look back on it with nothing but the fondest memories. I decided (actually, Baby Daddy got it for me) to get a ring made from my breast milk. If you haven’t already heard of this…crazy, right? While it isn’t for everyone, I think it was pretty special to be able to have a piece of jewelry made with the milk that my body produced that provided my son with sustenance and grew him into the little charge that he is today. There are several companies out there providing this service, but we went with Lait de la Vie.  Brandi, the owner, does AMAZING pieces. Check her out.

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I made dat! Well, kinda.

In my journey, there were many tears, pain, endless hours of frustration and several occasions where I was ready to throw in the towel. If you are lucky enough to have a supportive partner, friend, family, then lean on them for support and encouragement. I can’t tell you this enough – I promise you it gets easier.

What are your tips that you’d like to share with other Mothers?

And finally – You rock, Moms.

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