I wrote this in August 2015 and never got around to posting it, better late than never…
A few weeks ago, I had my last nursing session with my son. I breastfed him for a little over 13 months and it’s one of my biggest accomplishments of my life. Maybe even my biggest accomplishment! If you’ve ever breastfed or tried to, you know what I mean.
I work full-time and commute 90 minutes to 2 hours every day. It was tough to keep up with the physical demands of breastfeeding being away from my baby so much, but I was determined to make it work. This is what helped me make it work:
- Supportive work environment. I could not have been successful at breastfeeding (and pumping) without the support of my employer. I had a private locked room with a sink and chairs to pump during the day. For the first 9 months back to work (until my son was 11 months old), I pumped 3 times a day, usually around 8am, 11am, and 2pm. I could usually get in and out in 20 minutes, but sometimes my morning session would last 30 minutes since I (along with many women) produced more milk in the morning.
- Having a system. I pumped directly into Dr. Brown’s bottles which fit the Medela pump parts. I stored the bottles in the fridge at work and right when I got home, I would divvy out the milk into equal portions and label them for daycare the next day. I did this usually right after I got home from work (after snuggling my babe for several minutes). Sometimes, right after I went back to work, I would nurse my son right when I came home (which I loved — it gave me extra bonding minutes after being away all day), and then I would deal with the bottles. My husband, who is awesome, was the designated bottle washer in the house. I pumped, cleaned my pump parts at work (and brought them home for deeper cleanings on the weekend), nursed at home, and managed the full bottles, so he was fine being the bottle washer. It was a nice break for both of us on the weekends because I would nurse and we wouldn’t have to deal with pump parts or bottles.
- Having a stash. Ladies, BUILD YOUR STASH ON MATERNITY LEAVE. I cannot emphasize this enough. During your maternity leave, your supply is out of control (for a lot of women) and you have a lot of extra milk to pump. I pumped every day after my son turned 6 weeks old (I didn’t want to mess up my supply even more before then, so I waited) and by the time I went back to work I had about 200 ounces in our deep freeze. The first few weeks back to work, I made an extra 3 ounces a so every day to add to the stash. This stash was instrumental during 2 instances: when I got sick and when I experienced a supply dip. I experienced supply dips during and after an illness, when my son was around 6 months, and when I got my cycle back around 10 months. I got sick SO MUCH this winter due to the stress of a new job and baby and all the germs from daycare. It was awful — my husband is the best for taking care of me! Each time I got sick, especially when I got the stomach flu (4 times last winter!!), my supply would take a nosedive. I worked hard to power pump and take fenugreek to build it back up. My stash was the only way I was able to exclusively breastfeed my son before he turned 6 months old. He started solids at 6 months but still drank only breastmilk. At 10 months, my cycle returned and my supply took a hit so hard that we did start supplementing a bit with formula (which I was completely okay with). I fought to build my supply back up after the 10-month mark, but it never returned to the peak it was before my cycle returned. Still, I was providing my son about 20 ounces of breastmilk each day, which I was thrilled with. But it was definitely my stash that got us through the tough winter months!
- Having a support network. I have a lot of girlfriends that were really successful with breastfeeding, which was super helpful when I had questions or concerns. I texted them constantly with questions and they were so motivating. I had a really hard time with breastfeeding in the hospital and Adam and I were really feeling defeated that it wouldn’t work for us. But I pressed on and the support of friends was really, REALLY motivating. Especially because they told me they struggled with the same things I struggled with, but they were able to work past those issues. A support network of knowledgable ladies is so important! I hope I can help others in the future because it is something I am really passionate about.
- Remember that everything is a phase. Breastfeeding can hurt. I’m not going to lie. Getting the latch down in the beginning is very difficult for most people. And until you get ‘broken in’, it’s painful. And after you get into a comfortable groove, something else will happen and throw you off course. Some of the things that almost made me quit were: recurrent clogged ducts and biting. I got clogged ducts easily and those things hurt. Bad. Luckily, I made sure to work them out quickly and never ended up with mastitis. But even worse than that was the biting that started around 9-10 months. Ouch. There is nothing like trying to relax and nurse your son when you think he might chomp down. NOPE. I really thought about quitting during the biting phase, but I worked with my son to try to teach him not to bite. There were tears from both of us. But we worked through it thankfully. Everyone told me the biting was a phase and it would end if I worked with him, but I just couldn’t believe them at the time. After about a week, it did end, and I was so relived to resume snuggly feedings for a few more months!
- Medela Breast Pump. It’s true that this truly is the best pump. I tried an Ameda Purely Yours since it was free from my insurance and I would get half the milk in twice the amount of time and be in a lot more pain with the Ameda. The Medela work quickly and efficiently with no pain. I truly credit the Medela with keeping my supply in tact for 13 months!
- Mastering the Lying Down nursing position. If you want to nurse for long-term, please master nursing lying down. It is a lifesaver for those middle-of-the-night feedings. I could doze in and out of sleep while nursing my son while lying on my side, it was so nice! I almost didn’t even dread those nighttime feedings because it was extra snuggle time with my baby, especially when I was back to work. You really don’t even have to wake up too much if you can set up a bed in the nursery, bring baby to your bed, have dad bring baby to you, or just lay on the floor of the nursery. If you’re scared of nighttime feedings, I can’t recommend this enough! Most mornings, my husband and I would hardly remember being woken up the night before (which is a little scary, haha).
- Focus on the positives. Several perks of breastfeeding kept me going: being able to sit down and relax (especially when we got into a good groove…during some phases, the nursing sessions were stressful, don’t get me wrong), NO BOTTLES, being able to eat 500 extra calories each day and still lose weight (amazing!), and bonding with my baby. The bonding was really important to me after I went back to work. Like a lot of working moms, I struggled with (and still struggle with) worrying about keeping the baby/mom bond strong despite being away during the day. Being able to breastfeed him is something only I can do, so that really kept me going for the long haul. Along with the extra calories I could consume. Many cheeseburgers and fries were eaten for the benefit of my son.
- Not missing pumping/nursing sessions. I did not miss feedings. I just didn’t. There were times when I dreaded feedings (during fussy or biting phases, for example), but I kept at it. I kept the pumping schedule at work no matter what. I pumped 3 times a day no matter the schedule. I stepped out of meetings, skipped lunch and pumped in the car a few times to make sure I got my pumps in. No matter what, I always made sure to hit my target number of pumps/nursing sessions each day.
- Lactation Consultants. I would have never been successful with breastfeeding had I not spent the time I did with the Lactation Consultants in the hospital. When you’re in labor, please ask your nurses when the LCs leave (at our hospital it was 11pm) and to let them know you want to see a LC right away after you deliver! We didn’t get a chance to try nursing for the first time until 4 hours after my son was born (which makes me sad every time I think about it) and by that time the LCs were gone for the day. It was such a miserable experience, I didn’t think breastfeeding would work for me. But, the next day the LCs came to the rescue, and by the time I left the hospital I felt like I knew what I was doing.
I hope this helps any mamas looking for guidance or support in their breastfeeding journey!