breastfeeding round two8:10 AM
I have been pretty open about my breastfeeding journey with Birdie here. Two years ago I shared about my genuine desire to have that amazing experience that all the books talk about and you hear about from women who get all misty eyed when describing the feeling they get from feeding their child. I got none of that. I wanted so badly to feel all the feels like everyone else but it just wasn't there. Instead, for me, there was a lot of heartache, gilt, anger, frustration and sadness. So when Birdie turned four months old I threw in the towel. I let it go and I tried not to think about it. She grew healthy, happy and big and made it easy for me to forget that I was doing anything differently than I had imagined.
When I became pregnant with Teddy I began to let the dream of a good breastfeeding experience enter my consciousness one little tiny glimmering "maybe" at a time. When papa bear would ask me what my expectations were I would cooly tell him that "I'll just be happy regardless" when deep down I hoped and prayed for something different this time. As I entered my third trimester I began to hold my breath. Then everyone and their grandma started to "help" me temper my expectations by telling me that generally speaking c-section babies tend to not nurse well. The day Teddy was to be born my mind was a foggy mess from anesthesia and the exhausting game that is convincing myself I don't care so that what I care about so deeply can happen "naturally."
Then came that moment I waited for for nine months - they placed his warm squirmy body on my chest and we gave it a try... He latched on instantly, perfectly, as if he had been doing nothing but nursing for nine whole months and began to nurse. But I still held my breath. After all the first time I nursed Birdie was magical and wonderful too. Four days later my supply came in I got two new babies to coddle and take care of as I was blessed beyond measure. I had supply issues with Birdie from day one so this was such a welcome change and yet still, I held my breath. We went into our second month nursing happily, though around the clock, and still I continued to hold my breath. I kept waiting for that "itch" that I had with Birdie, those feelings of resentment followed by gut punches of guilt. The third month went by and we were happier than ever when cocooned together during feedings.
Now Teddy is about to turn five months and I can honestly say I've finally allowed myself to exhale. I've finally allowed myself to relish the fact that this time around this really is different and it's a blessing I don't take a single second of it for granted. Just the other day I was driving back home with him sleeping soundly in his car seat after a doctor's appointment that confirmed that the poor guy is in fact just teething and I felt what can only be described as "homesick." I tried to figure out what this meant and soon I realized that I felt "off" all morning because it was almost one and he hadn't nursed since seven that morning when he woke up. I missed it, terribly. I missed our snuggle time that I have now become so accustomed to. Whereas with Birdie every feeding left me feeling tense, exhausted and wound up, nursing Teddy has become my time to relax and unwind during the day - to just gaze at his sweet face and trace those features of his that have become familiar to me over these last few months. And I am blown away by these feelings.
Interestingly enough being able to happily nurse Teddy has made me feel so much better about my experience with Birdie and let go of a lot of the guilt I was still holding onto. For a solid year I wondered if I had done something wrong - did I pump too early, not early enough, too much, not enough, should I have never given her the bottle or pacifier, was I holding her wrong, should I have used that stupid boppy pillow after all? I could whip myself into a frenzy worrying about all the things I possibly did wrong. But Teddy showed me that none of it really matters. He was a c-section baby and wasn't "supposed" to nurse well. We gave him formula at the hospital (lots of it I might add). He has reflux and a slight dairy sensitivity and I still haven't bought a boppy pillow. And yet the boy nurses like a champ! For the first three months he nursed every two hours on the DOT. Now we're doing every three, four and sometimes five and let me tell you I am happy to get a little bit of a breather every now and again.
What I'm saying is it's not you and it's probably not him or her either. It's just fate, timing and I don't know but perhaps a dash of magic?? My two babies have proven to me that sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't and it's perfectly fine either way. For all the flack that formula feeding gets I'll tell you one thing - Birdie is by far the healthiest member of our family. I can literally count on one hand the number of times she's been sick. We also like to think that she's pretty bright and all around awesome, but as you know with things of that nature parents can be slightly biased. As they say - she turned out ok. I just want to remind you to enjoy your baby - whether you are breast or bottle feeding because that's the best thing about babies: they are the LEAST judgmental people on earth and love you to the ends of the earth no matter what, shouldn't we love ourselves at least to one tenth of that degree??
I also want to be clear that it hasn't been perfect, even with Teddy. There was a lot of cluster feeding going on those first few months and I legitimately thought it might kill me. There were a few times where he refused to nurse at all for almost an entire day and I thought that this was the end. There were several horrifying engorgement episodes and just plain feeling exhausted. And having the experience of giving up before, there were many moments where I wondered if I should. So for those of you finding yourself in the same boat and trying to get through those doubts and worries here are just a few things that I found extremely helpful:
- get yourself a breastfeeding buddy: for me that person was my mum. My mum had your average breastfeeding experience with both my brother and myself - it wasn't terrible but it wasn't magical either. This proved helpful as she wasn't militant about breastfeeding with me but would gently help keep me on course. On the days when I would call her completely frazzled she would calmly tell me to wait it out, three days max, and then we would reassess and every time by the third day things would be just fine again. She never pressured me and instead was a steady support, always there to tell me it's going to be ok and I'm doing great regardless.
- resist the urge to watch the clock, use an app or time the feedings. This is not for everyone but I found that with Teddy truly unplugging during his feedings and enjoying the moment even if it seemed shorter, longer or different. Looking back I feel that I drove myself bonkers with apps, timers and just worrying that she wasn't nursing long enough or in the correct sequence. It became a horribly stressful experience and just progressively got worse. I've had several pediatricians tell me "Is he happy? Is he peeing enough? Good. You're doing great." I've found it to be so much less stressful and enjoyable this way.
- invest in good nursing bras, tanks and tops. I didn't do this with Birdie and realize now just how silly this was. As if feeding wasn't stressful enough I added uncomfortable clothing to the mix. I'm convinced that having a comfortable nursing-friendly outfit makes the job infinitely easier and more pleasant for all involved. And yes, this is another way of saying I live in sweatpants and nursing tanks six days out of the week. Ok, fine, seven.
- know when to take a break. When Teddy would cluster feed for an entire 24 hour period I would often pump enough for one or two feeds and just seclude myself and rest. I think those periods of recharge were part of the reason I could keep going. Nursing can be exhausting regardless so be sensitive to when you feel like you're hitting your breaking point and give yourself some grace.
- don't be shy about giving them formula at the hospital. Take a deep breath. I know, I know. I've read it too but hear me out. Both with Birdie and Teddy the nurses cheerfully told me that my three drops of colostrum a day were MORE than enough for my baby. They used marbles to tell me about the size of their tummies, patted me on my head and waltzed out of the room just as my babies would start to scream from... hunger. Both of my babies would scream until they were purple and until I wanted to shove those little marbles where the sun... You get what I'm saying here. If the colostrum was enough then why as soon as we would feed Teddy half a bottle of formula he would pass out and finally go to sleep?? And he would down three to four ounces easily! Per feeding!! Putting him two my breast every hour or two hours only to have him scream and thrash frantically was not going to improve the experience for either one of us. Instead I would allow him to get full with the formula and top him off with the colostrum. It made things so much more pleasant and satisfying for us all. And by the time my milk came in on the fourth day he refused the formula completely and we transitioned into nursing full-time seamlessly. When I shared this with my mum she said "Well some people's babies won't nurse after taking the bottle or after trying formula." I'm sure that is true for some people so I am not a pediatrician or lactation expert or telling all of you to go do this immediately. I am simply saying that this was my experience with two kids and for me - doing this made things easier. Period.