Preparing and Education
I took a breastfeeding class (with Terry!) through the hospital where we delivered. It was a great overview and a wonderful opportunity to ask questions, and it helped Terry and I make sure we were on the same page about everything. It's nice that when I have a question about something I can usually run it by him and he'll remember something from the class that I had forgotten.
I also read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding from La Leche League International, which was fantastic. The approach is very laid back and tries to emphasize that breastfeeding should feel easy and natural (after you get the hang of it). I really liked the book, and it provided great support and information whenever I wasn't sure about something in those first few weeks. There are some aspects to the book that weren't for us (bed sharing, for example), but the information was still helpful. I strongly recommend it!
And finally, I just sort of mentally prepared myself. I asked questions of my mom and my friends to ease any anxiety and hoped for the best.
The First Few Weeks
The first few weeks actually went really well. After the C-section, I was very nervous about how nursing would go, because I knew that surgery and labor drugs can cause complications for some women. Thankfully, Marshall latched like a champ and we had incredible support at the hospital (the L & D nurse helped with our first nursing session, but then we also had help from the Recovery nurses and two different lactation consultants). I've never experienced any pain with breastfeeding, except for some engorgement and one short bout of mastitis, plus the normal contractions that come with the first few weeks of breastfeeding.
When Marshall was readmitted to a different hospital for jaundice, yet another lactation consultant visited and answered more questions. I really appreciated this visit in particular because I had gone through a few days of nursing and was able to better formulate some questions, like if there were foods I should avoid or what to do during engorgement. This nurse was fantastic, too, and took some time to thoroughly answer all of my questions. She told a story about a mother of twins whom she saw eating a cookie for lunch (just a cookie, nothing else) because she had heard that salads can give babies gas. The nurse pointed out that sometimes what we read or hear interferes with common sense--how is it that we might think a cookie would be better nutrition than a salad? I walked away feeling much more confident that I should go with my gut and use my best judgment.
Once we were out of the hospital (finally!), we spent the next few weeks as a family of three all cozy in the house. I spent a LOT of time nursing Marshall. Feedings took around 40 minutes, and he ate about every two hours (start to start), sometimes more. It was exhausting. I still have to remind myself that nursing isn't just sitting around--it's a lot of work for my body! There were times during that first month when I wished someone could take over for me because I was so spent. Thankfully, Terry did take over almost every other aspect of our lives--burping and changing Marshall, cooking meals, cleaning, doing laundry. I felt a little helpless at times because I would just sit there feeding the baby while Terry ran around taking care of everything else, but it was only temporary. Terry, as always, was incredibly patient and generous, grabbing me water and snacks without missing a beat.
Around the six-week mark, I noticed that Marshall wasn't eating as much--or so it seemed. I checked my book and learned that around this time, babies (and mom's body) get much more acquainted to the whole breastfeeding thing. My body now makes pretty much the amount of milk Marshall needs, and Marshall nurses a lot faster (about five minutes on each side). He still eats often (maybe 8+ times per day), but I don't feel like I'm living with a baby attached to me.
As a side note, we don't have a regular schedule for nursing. I feed on demand, which ends up being about every two hours. Sometimes in the evenings he eats a little more frequently, which fills him up for his long night sleep. But breastfeeding, while primarily a source of nutrition for babies, also provides comfort and stimulates the baby, so I never feel like I can feed him too often. Plus, if he's full, he stops getting milk on his own (as opposed to a bottle, where we have to stop him--otherwise he'd just keep on going).
At some point I started pumping milk so we could have a small stash. I'm staying home with Marshall for now, but it's nice to have a little back up milk in case Terry and I want to go out or in case I just need a little break and Terry wants to feed him. Here's how pumping has worked for me:
I pump whenever I feel like it. If I feel "full" or if Marshall didn't eat much, I might just pump a few ounces. At first, I tried pumping both sides at the same time, but it was difficult and frustrating and created more work because then I had to wash both sides of accessories. At some point, I tried out pumping just one side at a time, and it's SO much easier. Here's the process:
- Either while Marshall is napping or while he's happily playing on his own, I plug in the pump and grab a pre-assembled bottle.
- I almost always pump the left side first, because that side makes probably four times the amount of milk that my right side does. Note: I have to plug up the hose on the right side while pumping on the left; otherwise there's isn't as much pressure to get milk out.
- If I get a full bottle, I'll just label it (after carefully documenting all bottles on a spreadsheet for weeks, I learned that Sharpie will actually come off these bottles in the wash!) and throw it in the freezer. If I only get a few ounces, I place the entire bottle plus the pump parts still attached into the fridge, ready to use next time. There's no problem with combining milk from various sessions.
- When I do fill a whole bottle, I disassemble the pump parts and wash them in warm water with mild soap (I like Honest Company dish soap, and we have a sponge that we use only for pump parts). We also easily sterilize the equipment by throwing it all in a medium pot and boiling for five minutes. It takes very little effort, thankfully! Once everything is dry, I assemble it so I can "grab and pump" next time.
- To warm a bottle (we like Dr. Brown's glass bottles), we thaw it and run it under warm water until it's lukewarm. Marshall is a big eater, so he can down up to five ounces at a time, and I think he would keep going if we didn't stop him. Crazy kid.
I have the Medela Pump in Style pump, which was free through my insurance. I love it because it's easy and pretty compact for traveling. I also got the Medela storage containers, which are great. I am sure bags would be easier and take up less space if I had to pump a lot more (if I was working, for example), but I've had trouble with the bags spilling (horrible story, let's move on), and I feel good about using reusable containers. I love that the containers attach to the pump to make everything more stable, too.
Honestly, breastfeeding in public is not my favorite thing. I do not like it in a car, I do not like it at a bar. (But I have done both!) I have a super cute nursing cover that my friend's mom made me, so that makes the whole process more discreet, but I still struggle with the whole thing. First of all, it's been a ridiculously HOT summer, so I don't want to make poor Marshall eat under a cover. And then there's the issue of too much milk (often a problem on my left side), which results in Marshall pulling away and milk dripping everywhere. Plus, it's so frustrating to feed a baby who spits up. Even if the feeding goes smoothly, we have to find a place to burp him where he won't get spit up all over a carpet or gross a bunch of people out. It's ideal to be outside, but then that takes us back to being hot. Oh, and it's also SO much easier when I'm with Terry because then I can focus on the feeding and he can take care of the burping.
I've found that feeding in the car is easiest for me, if I'm in a safe parking location. It's slightly more private, so I don't need a cover (especially with tinted windows in the backseat), and I can have the air conditioning on for both of us. And if he spits up in our car, it's not the end of the world, but usually we can make it outside the car so he can spit up in the parking lot. So classy.
I have also fed Marshall in many Targets! Huge shout out to Target here: In three different Target stores I've asked to feed Marshall in the fitting room. The response is always SO generous and welcoming. Usually they help me with my stroller and let me use the biggest room. There's a bench, which is useful for the feeding and also for changing him right after (which is usually necessary). I don't need to use a cover for my own discretion, and most of the floors are tile, so it's easy to clean spit up if needed. So THANK YOU, Target! :-)
I mentioned before that my left side makes way more milk than the right, and it was becoming an uncomfortable problem, so I checked my book, and they recommended starting every feed on the less-full side (the right side, for me). It worked! Marshall starts his meal with a manageable amount of milk instead of way too much.
When I feed Marshall on the right side, though, I let down on the left, too, and I end up with a milky mess. I usually have to shove a burp cloth into my bra, which isn't super appealing in public. It gets a little annoying, but I know I'm lucky to have the "problem" of too much milk instead of too little.
Speaking of which, I use breast pads to protect against leaks. I bought a bunch (probably 30?) of reusable cotton ones, which are great, but they do get soaked pretty quickly. The disposable ones absorb WAY more milk, but I think they smell weird and am not totally sure about Marshall eating whatever chemicals they use to make the pads so absorbent. I try to limit the disposables.
Marshall may or may not have a bit of a sensitivity to dairy. He was getting pretty gassy at night if I ate ice cream for dessert, so I stopped that (the things we do for our children). Now I've tried to reduce my dairy a lot (so I'll still have pancakes with milk in the batter, for example, but I won't have a serving of yogurt or a glass of milk), and I don't notice the gas as much. I also try to avoid fried foods, because he exhibited some discomfort when I ate fries or other fried foods.
All I really need for breastfeeding is a baby, but here's what I really like to have:
- Nursing bras and tanks. I really don't think I could have too many of these. I have six nursing bras, three nursing tanks (that would be appropriate to wear in public), and two nursing tanks that are like crop tops and I only wear at home to go to bed. I honestly could do with a few more, because they get soaked in milk or spit up so quickly, but they make nursing so easy because they just snap down and snap back into place.
- Boppy pillow. I didn't even register for one of these because I assumed a regular pillow would be sufficient, but I'm so glad I received one (actually two!) at my baby shower. I only use it at night now, but it's wonderful. I keep it right next to my bed, pull Marshall out of his cosleeper, settle in (two regular pillows supporting my back), throw the Boppy on my lap, and lay Marshall across it. I barely have to hold him up, which is great at 2 am! Plus, if it gets milk or spit up on it, no big deal--the cover is washable, and I'm not sleeping on it.
- Water bottles. It's easiest for me to have big Nalgene bottles filled with water. This way I don't have to refill often and I can close the top so it can tip over (Marshall kicks a lot while eating!) without spilling. I go through about five 32-ounce refills per day!
- Burp cloths. You all know Marshall spits up like a fountain, so this one's obvious. But I use burp cloths for a variety of reasons: stuffed into my bra to prevent leaking, between my arm and Marshall's face when it's hot so I'm not sweating all over him, etc. We have no fewer than 45 burp cloths, you guys, and we go through them approximately every three days.
- Smart phone. I know, I know, I should just gaze lovingly at my child while he eats. But sometimes he falls asleep while eating, and then I can read an article or check e-mail. We also used the Feed Baby app (for Android) to track Marshall's feedings for the first three months. (Now that he is the size of a Thanksgiving turkey, I've decided he's eating well enough.)
- Breast pads. (See above.)
Breastfeeding Marshall has been a wonderful experience for me, and I truly appreciate the gift of being able to feed him. I'm sure I left some stuff out, so feel free to ask me any questions or e-mail me at abetterlifewithburgers [at] gmail [.] com.