In my limited experience, there are few things in early motherhood as challenging as nursing.
Each month that I’ve been able to keep breastfeeding has been a victory for me. I hear so many women say their milk supply just vanished one day so I’ve been anxiously anticipating that, but feel fortunate to be going on month 11 of exclusive breastfeeding (except for the solids we introduced into his diet a few months ago).
That said, it hasn’t come without it’s challenges. I’ve learned that just when you think you’ve got it down, something will change that starts you on the worry train again… Is he eating enough? Does he have tummy issues? Why does he suddenly prefer one side over the other? What’s going to happen to my milk supply?
The worries never end. And even if you feel like it, you’re not the only mom who has them.
Here are 3 key things I feel made the difference for my breastfeeding journey…
- Be Diligent About Pumping
- The day Benj was born I remember the lactation nurse at the hospital told me to start pumping a few minutes after each feeding as soon as my milk came in (which it did the day we got home). In the beginning, it was such a chore. I’d feed him for 20 min every 2-3 hours and pump a few minutes after each of those feedings. Talk about feeling like a cow! But in hindsight, it was one of the most impactful things (if not THE thing) that made the difference in my milk supply early on. Now that I’m back at work, I pump on the days I’m away and added an extra pumping at night, just so I always have more supply than demand in case I have to travel or miss a pumping. There have been so many bumps in the road for me–times when Benj just didn’t want to nurse altogether (currently dealing with some of this now)–and if I hadn’t been pumping and had milk storage, I am 100 percent sure I would have thrown in the towel. Pumping does take extra time. It’s a commitment. But if you’re diligent about it, it really will help. And you can enjoy those sweet moments one-on-one with your babe a little longer.
- Be Patient
- When you hit a bump in the road, along with the worrying comes the need to be patient. There are few things that have made me feel more frazzled as a new mom than breastfeeding. Sometimes Benj cries after he finishes eating. He’s done this since the beginning and the doctors just told me some babies have a sensitive digestive system that’s triggered when they eat. So there’s that. Sometimes he’s gulping milk and then chokes on it, get’s mad, cries and won’t finish eating. Uh, ok. And sometimes he gets frustrated waiting for my let-down (especially when he’s been eating from a bottle all day because I’m at work and he’s used to the the milk coming out instantly). All of these have been recurring struggles for me. And because I’ve always been planning to breastfeed for at least 12 months, I’d panic a little inside that it was all ending each time he’d go through these phases. I realize it won’t last forever. Eventually he won’t bounce back as he always has. He’s getting bigger and more mobile and he’s growing a little impatient, too. So I’m trying to do my best and stay focused on what I can control (again, so grateful for my milk storage) and hope we can make it through a couple more months. But I know I won’t get there without patience.
- Keep Yourself Educated + Connected
- In my blog post with tips for surviving breastfeeding, I mentioned Lindsay from Lactation Link who met with Matt and me before we had Benj and provided really helpful information about breastfeeding that I didn’t know (she is an IBCLC specialist). It can be so hard to know where to start as a first timer. And I’ve heard that even the second time around (and beyond) there can still be unexpected hurdles that you didn’t experience the first time. Having a good resource to turn to and a community of women you can ask for advice is so helpful when you need encouragement. It’s not all roses and sugar plums after the first 4 weeks. I really loved the videos Lindsay created for breastfeeding moms and would recommend them to any expecting or first-time mom. They teach you everything you need to know from how it all works, how to get the right latch, how to introduce pumping/milk storage, etc. (I told Lindsay I wanted to provide a discount to my readers and she made it happen. You can get 10% off her 3 video bundle when you use the code Fearless and purchase through this link). Lindsay has also created a great community on Instagram where she posts about common breastfeeding challenges that lots of moms weigh-in on. This is where I first learned that it’s totally normal to have one breast produce more milk than the other (I thought I was crazy). Also, don’t underestimate the help of a good nursing app. I’ve used the SevenLogics Baby Nursing app since the day Benj was born to keep track of how long he was eating. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to see or remember how each feeding was different from the others and having an app to keep track of everything made me less stressed, too. Keep yourself connected so you have support from women who are going/have been through the same challenges you’re facing and you’ll be more likely to succeed in the long run.
I am so so grateful I’ve been able to breastfeed as long as I have. I didn’t have big lofty goals when I started or big opinions about breastfeeding being the only way to go. I just started with a coachable attitude and took one feeding, one day at a time.
The best part for me hasn’t only been the peace of mind that he’s getting the nutrients and antibodies that he needs to grow strong. I’m much more selfish than that. The best part has been being present with him, in the same moment, with no one else around. As he’s grown and become more aware and distracted, nursing has been the only time of day where he slows down and is really with me. I love when he stairs into my eyes, reaches up to touch my mouth or chin, plays with my necklace, and yes, even blows raspberries and then laughs at himself. All of these tiny moments have shown me a side of him that no one else gets to see and it is magical. Magical motherhood moments that I hope I never forget. Ugh, you guys, my heart melts.
Now I’d love your feedback.
Have you been breastfeeding beyond 6 months? What has helped you get that far? What struggles have you had along the way?
And if you’re not yet a mom, feel free to bookmark this post for later. I hope it’ll be helpful in the future.
Thanks for reading! I’m sure you can tell I love nothing more than being a mom! Read more about my Benjamin Bear here.
Photos by Ashlee Brooke.
(PS, I can’t believe how much he’s grown! He was only 3 months old in these photos.)