Why I Didn't Hate Breastfeeding The Second Time Around.
I have been wanting to write about my breastfeeding journey with Maclane for such a long time now but each time I would sit down to start writing, I would end up staring blankly at the screen willing the words to come.
In case you're unaware, August 1-7th is World Breastfeeding Week and after receiving the following email from a reader, I thought that now is as good a time as any to try and write about my experience. I don't typically share reader emails on here but I thought it might help set the tone for my post. You can read the post I wrote last year during this time here. It was pretty awesome to look back on seeing as how far we've come.
"I think it is so amazing that you have been able to breastfeed your second one for so long! If you're up for it I would love a post that talks about the differences between the breastfeeding experience with your first and second. I feel like you have alluded to it in the past, but that the experience with your first was starkly different? I think it's so refreshing to see someone "normal" (aka not granola-y) breastfeeding so successfully!"
When I was pregnant with my first baby, I armed myself with every available resource that offered advice on pregnancy, newborns, child-rearing and breastfeeding. As I counted kicks, I soaked up information. Things to do, things not to do. What's best, what's not. To this day I still have nearly fifteen books downloaded to my Kindle, each of them flagged and highlighted with important pieces of information that I knew would help me be a successful breastfeeding mother with a happy baby who slept through the night.
And then my son was born and just as all new mothers are told, it was imperative that he come to my breast immediately after birth, which, if your birth happens to be a C-section, ends up being about an hour later. He latched beautifully. I thought to myself, "I've got this! This is so easy!" I was on cloud nine.
My milk came in just as the books said it would and came in it did. By the morning of day three, I was painfully engorged up to my chin. So much so that it made latching nearly impossible. Paired with a nearly ten pound baby who preferred sleep over food, I encountered my very first hurdle.
Everywhere I turned lactation consultants were urging me to wake the baby even though in my gut I felt like I should let him be. I tickled his feet, stripped him naked, ran my finger up and down his spine and soaked him with cold wash cloths all the while he cried. At 6am the day of our discharge, a physician walked in and threatened that he would need formula immediately if he lost any more weight.
"But formula isn't best, I thought!" No where in any of those books did it say that. So we persevered. I cried and he cried. In between tears, we met with overly pushy lactation consultants who manhandled both me and my baby. Through it all, I thought to myself, "but this is best."
Four months later, I would finally come to understand that that isn't always the case.
We were discharged from the hospital and against all orders, I found comfort in using a nipple shield. In those early weeks, I felt like all I did was nurse a baby and in retrospect it's because that's all I did do. Like many new moms, I hesitated leaving my house for the thought of having to nurse him in public made me nauseous. Every two hours I would nurse him for what felt like an eternity. It was painful and it was exhausting and when I look back on our four month breastfeeding journey, I realize that neither of us were really happy about it.
I looked at it like a chore. Something that I had to do for the sake of my baby because all of the books told me to. I didn't enjoy it and truth be told, neither did he. I pumped in between feedings. He preferred one side over the other and I forced him to eat from both. I pumped and fed through sore, cracked nipples, uncomfortable positions and an uninterested baby. My toes curl when I think back to this time.
It was awful.
Three and a half months into our journey, my supply took a dive. It became an issue of supply versus demand and I couldn't keep up with my hungry baby. I started him on formula and never once looked back. It was the best decision I could have made for the both of us. A year later I wrote this post, documenting what it felt like to be a formula feeding mother.
I wouldn't change my journey with my first baby for the world. The decisions I made for the two of us made me a better mother. I'm grateful for the length of time that I did breastfeed him and I'm grateful that I was able to overcome the guilt I would feel starting him on formula.
The only person who can truly make you feel guilty is yourself. It is because of this reason that I didn't set lofty breastfeeding goals with my second. I told myself, "let's make it to six weeks and reevaluate." I felt confident in the decision that if it didn't work out that it was going to be OK. That we would both be OK.
I met with one lactation consultant after the birth of my second baby. After my first experience with them, I vowed to give them a second chance. Unfortunately, I was so turned off by this woman's bedside manner that I felt more comfortable seeking help from my nurses and friends who had been through the same journey.
Not once did I feel flustered or like I was doing something wrong, feelings that I remember so clearly during my very first meetings with the LC's in the hospital after my first baby. Looking back, it was one of the more critical decisions I made, an almost turning point in our journey.
Six weeks came and went in the blink of an eye and again. Much like the first time, these weeks were filled with that feeling of "oh my god my nipples are on fire" each time the baby would latch but I just kept reminding myself that it gets better. It gets easier. So I set another goal for myself. Three months.
I texted with my girlfriends, one of whom I met through blogging and I am so grateful for her support. She was my breastfeeding cheerleader if there ever was one and the support and guidance she provided was a god send.
I grappled with an overactive letdown, often choking my baby during the first few minutes of our feedings. I fought supply issues and turned to Fenugreek tea and supplements to help boost it. Again, I had a baby who favored one side over the other but this time, this time I didn't force it.
I turned to Google and researched whether it was possible to feed a baby from only one side and I'm here to tell you, you can do it. It is possible.
Three months turned into six months and six months into a year. I spent five nights away from my baby and worried to high heaven that my supply would tank and that he wouldn't want to nurse when I returned home. I pumped like a mad woman while at a blogging conference and dumped bottle after bottle of milk down a hotel sink just to keep up my supply.
This month, August, marks our fourteenth straight month of exclusively nursing. If you had asked me back in June of 2012 if I thought we would make it this far, I would have laughed. I am so proud of us. I'm proud of myself for sticking with it and not allowing myself to feel stressed out or inadequate or uncomfortable at any point in our journey.
I also allowed myself not to feel guilty if for some reason we weren't successful.
Being a second time mom, I didn't have the time or the luxury to stay at home all day and feed the baby around the clock. In a way, my second was luckier in that I was forced outside of my comfort zone. I've nursed him on a boat, on a plane, a zoo train, in the park, in the mall and out to dinner with friends and family. I feel like I'm reading a Dr. Suess book, but it's true. I've whipped my boob out in more places than I ever imagined.
Because he was my second and didn't always have my undivided attention, we were able to bond in the few moments each day that we would sit quietly together and nurse. I am so grateful for these moments. Sometimes we would sit and my oldest would choose a book to read. Other times we would color, play on the iPad or watch a movie. During the early days of non-stop nursing, I would pull out a special "box of tricks" to entertain him while I couldn't attend to his every need.
Here we are. Fourteen months later, exclusively nursing. I have always led by his example, fed him by his demand. Whether for comfort or to satiate hunger, I nursed him.
Now, instead of questions about how well it's going, I'm constantly being asked as to when we're going to stop and the truth is that I have absolutely no idea. I'm hoping he will self-wean, whatever that entails. Remember, this is all new territory for me!
Do I want to be nursing him when he's two years old? Not necessarily, especially not for nutritive purposes. Hopefully, by that time, I'll be pregnant with our third and maybe that's the jump start we'll need to self-wean.
Deciding to breastfeed and continuing to do so required the support and understanding of friends and family. It required time, patience, dedication and stick-to-itive-ness. It required the patience, understanding and support of my husband. After all, for the first four months of our journey together, my whole life revolved around breastfeeding the baby. From plans with family and friends to wardrobe choices and beyond, breastfeeding played a huge roll in many of those early decisions.
I don't know what made this time so different from the first. I was different, the baby was different. We were both more laid back. I let go of things that stressed me out and didn't press on when I felt like it wasn't good for us. Like choosing to only feed from one side. That was one of the best decisions I could have ever made. I didn't stress over feeling like I had to feed from both sides. I fed from one and pumped exclusively from the other. Was time consuming? Hell yes. Exhausting? Absolutely. For over six months I kept at it and in doing so, I was able to build up a stash of more than 1000 ounces of milk.
Sometimes you just need to give yourself permission to fail in order to succeed.
I'm often asked if I feel badly for my first. If I feel as if I had shortchanged him something, a small part of me, perhaps. The honest answer is no, not for a second. As I mentioned earlier, I was a much better mother to him after I decided to choose formula. I was more patient, less anxious, able to focus more on him than on the struggle to keep him full and happy. I looked forward to our moments together, sitting on the couch, him holding my fingers as I held his bottle. I can distinctly remember the day he started holding his own bottle, how disappointed and sad I was in that moment. Like mothers who aren't ready to wean, I wasn't ready to give up my responsibility to him, even it just meant mixing a bottle of formula and holding it for him.
I continue to love and appreciate the moments we have nursing. Sometimes they're crazy, chaos-filled moments and other times, like in the minutes before bedtime, they're the best, most calming minutes of my day.
When he was a baby, our moments together allowed me to trace every inch of his body with my fingertips. To follow the curve of his neck down to the tip of his chin, a trip I could take now with my eyes closed. I watched his hair grow to curl along his neck and his fingers dance along the neckline of my shirt. As his chest rose and fell with mine, I would lean over and inhale the familiar sweet smell of his head.
Fourteen months later and I still do this.
Just the other day I was having a conversation with a few friends and family members as I was holding the baby and the entire time he had his hand down my shirt, we're talking up to his elbow, checking to make sure, of course, that his drinks were still there. The moms that were standing with me laughed. We all did. They had been there and it wasn't uncomfortable at all, save for the purple nurples he was giving me.
I didn't hate breastfeeding the second time around. It wasn't a chore or something I felt that I had to do. I'm so grateful for the successes and triumphs that we've had along our journey. It has been an adventure full of highs and lows and I wouldn't change it for a minute but if you had asked me fourteen months ago if we'd be where we are today, I absolutely would have laughed.
Now? I'm laughing at my lopsided boobs.
*all pictures taken via from Instagram account detailing my nursing journey with Maclane