Tuesday, August 12, 2014
I have started and deleted this post more times than I can count over the past few months. I wanted to share my breastfeeding experience, but I thought does the internet really need another post about breastfeeding? Hasn't that been covered enough already? Then I thought about why I'm blogging in the first place. I want to share my story, our story, to inspire and encourage other moms. So, since everyone's story is unique, I am going to add one more post about breastfeeding to the internet. It may not be ground breaking, but I hope it encourages someone (even if that someone is me sometime in the future.)

Let me start off by saying that I do not think that breastfeeding is the only right way to feed your little one. Everyone's situation is different, so do whatever works for your family. To be honest, I always thought I would go straight to formula. My brothers and I were formula fed (and we turned out just fine), so that seemed like the obvious decision. But Corey was breastfed and suggested that we at least consider the idea. It seemed important to him, so I started researching. I read several books and everything I could find online. After learning everything I could on the topic and discussing it with Corey, I decided to give breastfeeding a shot. Actually, I decided that was absolutely the right thing for our family and was determined to make it happen.

Let me tell you, breastfeeding is hard work! If you are like me, you tend to think something that seems so natural should be pretty easy, right? I mean that is what our bodies are designed to do. That is not always the case though. It wasn't for us, and from what I hear, it isn't for a lot of women. Someone even told me to not even buy a pump before Cullen was born because breastfeeding may not work. I didn't like that attitude; I had my mind set on making this work. I knew that this is what we felt was right for us, so I was determined to do everything in my power to make it work. There were several times in the first few months where we could have switched to formula, and that would have been okay. But I was determined to try everything. It was tough at times, but I think all the hard work and tears were worth it in the end.

This is getting pretty wordy, so here goes. 

When we were in the hospital, most of our time was spent getting Cullen to latch. We tried over and over and over, but he just couldn't do it. So, to at least tell my body it was time to start making milk, the nurses suggested I start pumping. The first few times I pumped I only got a few drops of colostrum, but we gave even those few drops to Cullen. He wasn't getting much from me, and had started to lose a good bit of wait, so we decided to supplement with a little formula. The three days we were in the hospital Cullen's feeding schedule looked like this: Try to get him to latch for about 10 minutes. No luck. Pump for 15 minutes. Feed Cullen with whatever I pumped. Supplement with formula through a curved syringe to get Cullen to practice sucking. Repeat two hours later. We did finally get him to latch occasionally, but he couldn't get any milk out.

Those first few days were exhausting physically and mentally. I cried to Corey, I cried to the nurses, I cried to the lactation consultants. I was frustrated that this natural thing wasn't working, even after all the research and preparations. I am a little bit of a control freak, so not being able to control this was really hard for me. The nurses and lactation consultants assured me that I was doing everything right, getting him to latch correctly, holding him in the right way, and that it would just take time and practice for Cullen to learn his part.

When we left the hospital, we were still working on getting my milk to come in and getting Cullen to latch. Every two or three hours I was nursing Cullen for as long as he would, pumping what he didn't eat, giving whatever I pumped to Cullen and then supplementing with formula (in a bottle at this point, the syringe took too much time). At his first in-office appointment with the pediatrician, the doctor we met with told basically told us that we were ruining any chance we had of getting Cullen to nurse by using a bottle. I cried again, and we have not seen her since. (She was wrong by the way!)

A week after he was born we went back to the hospital to meet with the lactation consultant to discuss our progress and game plan. While there, she checked his latch and did a weighed feeding. At that point, with some work I could get Cullen to latch, but even after nursing for 15 minutes, he was only getting drops (less than I was even able to pump). She suggested I take fenugreek and blessed thistle to increase my supply and continue with everything else to get Cullen fed.

Between pumping and the herbs, my milk finally increased enough to drop the formula. That made me feel a little better. At least if nothing else changed, I could pump for a year and just feed Cullen expressed milk. I have a friend who had to go that route and it worked for them. It is a great solution, but a lot of work!

But I wasn't ready to give up on getting Cullen to nurse just yet. (I can be a little stubborn sometimes!) We went to see the the lactation consultant once more to follow up when Cullen was two weeks old. My milk supply was good, and Cullen would usually latch after some work, but he still couldn't get out any of the milk that was there. We decided the best course of action was to keep pumping and try to get him to latch when we felt up to it. She encouraged me that he would get it eventually, some babies just take a little longer to figure it out.

So that is what we did. Some feedings Cullen just got a bottle and I would pump, other times we nursed for a while and supplemented with expressed milk if he still seemed hungry. We got in a pretty good routine, and while not ideal, things were going well. At about two months, when meeting with the pediatrician, we finally figured out that Cullen had a shallow chin, like my brother and I, which was keeping him from being able to efficiently transfer milk. The doctor assured us that this usually becomes less of a problem as the baby grows. I was encouraged that we still had hope of actually nursing instead of exclusively pumping.

I continued pumping and bottle feeding Cullen, but I tried to get him to nurse whenever we both felt up to it. Then one day, at about three months old, he just got it. All of a sudden, he latched perfectly, ate until he was full, and everyone was happy. No pump needed. From that point forward, I only pumped at work. Nighttime feedings were easier, I didn't have to pack a bottle anytime we left the house, and there were fewer bottle and pump parts to wash.

Looking back, it was only the first three months that we really struggled. But those struggles were enough to make it seem like a lifetime. We started weaning when Cullen was a year old, and he nursed for the last time a little after fourteen months. In the end, the hard work all three of us put into breastfeeding were worth it. After the first few months, nursing was so much easier than making bottles in the middle of the night or when we had to run errands. And I loved the special time with Cullen. 

So, if you are breastfeeding or entertaining the idea of breastfeeding, here are my words of advice:

1. Do your research. Talk to other moms, search the internet, and read a book or two. I strongly recommend The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and These were my go-to resources for nearly every question I had.

2. Don't listen to negative "advice". How you feed your child is your decision. Do what is right for your family. (This applies to formula-feeding mom's as well!) If you let them, the Negative Nelly types can really get under your skin and make you second guess your choices. Don't let them!

3. Find positive and encouraging influences. These may be other moms, your spouse, nurses, or lactation consultants. Find someone you can talk to on a rough day. This helps more than anything else!

4. Most importantly, don't beat yourself up if it is harder than you expect. Or if you end up going a different route. A happy family with a formula-fed baby or exclusively pumping is much better than mom and baby being frustrated all the time. You are a great mom no matter what!

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