The closer we got to Blair’s first birthday, I thought that I’d be most sad about the fact that an entire YEAR has gone by in the blink of an eye. And it did, for sure. But what surprised me most when thinking about her first year, was that I’m dreading the end of our breastfeeding journey. There have been so many times I wanted to write about our experience, but for fear of jinxing it all (and I don’t even believe in that!) I wanted to wait until we’d made it a full year. Let’s start at the beginning.
Long before Blair was even born, I knew I wanted to breastfeed her. Our decision was reconfirmed when we had our childbirth class at the hospital and the OB nurse shared more about the benefits and gave more information about the how much support new mothers can get from the hospital’s team of lactation consultants. I read lots of books, websites, forums, etc. to learn as much as I possibly could.
Though I knew ‘plans’ were often hard to keep when it came to childbirth and post-delivery, I went into it with a birth plan and intended to keep it. The biggest thing on my list, other than a big NO to a C-section, was making sure we had skin-to-skin right after delivery, because that can really boost the potential for success with breastfeeding.
What was that about plans not going as intended? I should’ve been prepared, I guess. :)
When my water broke at the hospital, my midwife noticed that there was meconium – which could mean very little or it could be very serious. There wasn’t really a way to tell how serious it was in Blair’s case, so my midwife warned me that they would be bringing in the pediatrician during delivery and that even possibly, Blair could be whisked away to the NICU at the children’s hospital – miles away from the hospital where I was delivering her. I was nervous, but hoped for the best, because that’s all you can do, right?
As soon as Blair was born, the pediatrician and nurses immediately took her over and suctioned out her mouth and tried to remove as much of the meconium as possible, while I sat there helpless, not really knowing what was going on. Finally, they brought her over to me – but unfortunately, I only got to hold her for about 2 minutes and then the pediatrician said she’d need to stay in the nursery until further notice for monitoring due to the fluid she had swallowed. The combination of emotions of just giving birth, seeing your new baby for 2 minutes, and then having her taken away got the best of me. My next thought was that our chance of success with breastfeeding was fading – maybe a little bit irrational, but I was crushed by not having the skin-to-skin time I had hoped for so much.
We were very fortunate that Blair’s condition after birth didn’t warrant going to the children’s hospital, but nevertheless, it was a rollercoaster of emotions. I did not get to breastfeed her the day she was born, and instead had to pump so that hopefully my supply would come in. I remember pumping a few drops of colostrum to feed her with a syringe and feeling defeated because I was certain I wasn’t going to have success with breastfeeding. I pumped every 3 hours around the clock the first 24 hours after birth and finally, on Day 2, I was able to go into the nursery and try breastfeeding. I feel so fortunate that she took to it right away, and I visited the nursery every few hours to feed her throughout the night. On Day 3, the day we were set to go home, Blair was finally able to stay in our room and it was our first time truly taking care of her. We hadn’t even changed a diaper up until this point! Needless to say, it was scary. :) All I remember from that day was that she wanted to nurse constantly – and she did for over an hour straight! It was rough, not going to lie – but one thing you should know about me is that I’m determined.
The first few weeks at home were a little rough, but I never felt like giving up on breastfeeding. I knew it was best for Blair, and slowly but surely, it started to get easier. After the first month, it even felt comfortable. One of the best things was we could pretty much go anywhere on a whim, because all I had to do was hop in the backseat of the car and feed her – and I’ve done my fair share of that over the past year! It became second nature, and to this day, it’s been a breeze (after the initial first month of getting used to it!).
I’d say my biggest challenge has been PUMPING. When I went back to work as she turned three months old, I knew that would become my reality for the next 9+ months. Two weeks into going back to work, I accepted a NEW job with a new company – so not only was I new to pumping, but I was going into a new company where I didn’t know anyone! Luckily, the company is very welcoming to new parents, so I didn’t have a problem acclimating. It was a challenge, though, to find time on my schedule to pump three times per day. I finally just made it clear on my calendar that I was unavailable at those times. I think that approach helped me succeed with pumping at work – placing a priority on it and making sure others know I have an obligation to attend to. Despite the fact that my company made it easy for me to pump at work, I still struggled many days to produce enough. I’d read many times before that the pump isn’t as effective as a baby is, so it wasn’t uncommon to produce less when pumping. Nevertheless, it was stressful to constantly worry about whether I was going to pump enough for the next day! At around 8 months, I had to add a regular pumping session as soon as I got home in the evening – so I was pumping four times a day now – in addition to breastfeeding in the morning and the evening. At about 10-11 months, I had to sometimes add ANOTHER session – so I was doing five sessions some days. You bet I was exhausted. ;) But, we were so close to a year at this point – so I never even considered giving up!
When Blair turned one last month, I realized that the thought of breastfeeding coming to an end actually made me really sad – not quite what I would’ve expected a few months ago! Also, she still enjoyed it and wasn’t eating enough solid foods to completely replace it. She also still nurses some nights if she wakes up at 3-4am – so I was knew that would be rough to quit cold turkey. So, now that we’re at almost 13 months old, I decided to focus on cutting back on my pumping sessions (so I’ll at least get some time back during the day!) and still nurse her in the morning and in the evening. So far, this is working well – and I’ve decided to let her make the decision as to when we stop (within reason…I promise I won’t be breastfeeding her when she’s 3, 4, 5. Ha!). While I know I’ll be sad when we finally do stop, I definitely have zero regrets because we made it to our goal of one year – despite the initial challenges we faced!
If I could offer any advice to expecting or new mamas, this is it:
- Don’t allow others to sway your goals. If you want to breastfeed, but maybe you’re having challenges, don’t let someone tell you to just ‘try formula’ because it’s easier. It sometimes takes a few days for your milk to come in, so don’t fret if it’s not right away!
- Likewise, don’t be afraid of supplementing if you need to. There were a few days right after Blair was born that I think we did the right thing by trying to supplement, but if I could go back, I would’ve stopped after my supply came in. I’ve learned that sometimes you should listen to your instincts rather than just take everything the pediatrician says to heart. Blair never even really liked formula, so it was usually a challenge to make her drink the 3-4 ounces of it per day.
- If you are going back to work, it is definitely a good idea to try and pump while you’re on maternity leave. I didn’t do it enough, and I didn’t build a good freezer stash, but even the amount I did it helped.
- Don’t feel pressured when you need to pump at work. I made the decision to view it as non-negotiable and the most important thing I could do for my daughter, so when I felt people giving me side-eye for walking out of the office three times a day, I let it roll of my back. That’s not to say I never had to tweak my schedule for work obligations, but I always made sure to fit in my pumping sessions.
- You probably will go through stages where you are pumping less. Don’t stress too much – that can affect your supply, too.
- Try Mother’s Milk tea and Fenugreek supplements (our pediatrician is a lactation consultant and she recommended both). I really liked the Honest Company Lactation Plus capsules! Also, drink a LOT of water!
- Don’t be afraid to breastfeed whenever you need to. I used to feel pressured if Blair would need to eat when we had company at our house or if we were at someone’s home. Excuse yourself and then focus on the baby’s needs – don’t let yourself worry about everyone else. They understand – or if not, they will learn to!
- Remember: it gets easier! The first few months were a LOT different than now. She used to eat for an hour at a time, and then we would start all over again two hours later. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time on the sofa! Now, she eats for five minutes and has to get down and get a toy because she’s a busy girl! Just realize that when you don’t know how you’re going to make it to your goal (whether it’s 6 months, 9 months, 1 year, or more!) - you can! And just remember that you’re doing something GREAT for your baby. Blair only got sick one time while breastfeeding – and it was last week…she got her first ear infection. But really, breastfeeding is that great – it can keep your baby from being sick all the time. That in itself is awesome! :)