Breastfeeding: One Mom’s Journey

You may have gathered from the Tag Line of my blog, “Living Life With One Boob Out”, that I am a breastfeeding mom. To be clear, breastfeeding is not necessary to be a good mom. I know many amazing moms who I look up to and admire who have never breastfed their little ones. As a breastfeeding mom, I have a confession. I don’t love breastfeeding. In fact, there were days in the first few months of Baby E’s life when I down right hated it.

I have overcome obstacles to continue breastfeeding Baby E, and there were and are still days when I really want to throw in the towel and buy some Similac. If you’ve ever felt this way, or do in the future, it’s OK. It’s normal. You are not a bad mom. Here is my journey thus far in the art of breastfeeding.

We were blessed to give birth at a Baby Friendly hospital, where what is best for baby, like breastfeeding, is taught and encouraged. In the first days of Baby E’s life we learned together how to help her latch on to the breast. After some failed and some successful attempts we got a rhythm down and she was happily nursing. Sadly things changed when we got home and my milk came in. My once well fed baby was now unable to latch and was screaming desperately for food.

1st Obstacle: Small nipples. My milk had come in, my breasts were engorged, and subsequently my absurdly tiny nipples became increasingly hard to find and feed off of.

It is in situations like these that the collective knowledge of the moms that have come before you becomes indispensable. Jer was on his way to Target to get newborn clothes for our peanut (everyone tells you to never invest in newborn clothes. Get a few newborn items just in case) when he was instructed by my mother, who had conferred with my sister, to “GET A NIPPLE SHIELD!” She may or may not have been in a state of extreme panic at her newborn granddaughter unable to feed. To clarify, a nipple shield is a silicone piece, shaped like a large nipple, that goes over a woman’s own nipple to help baby latch more easily, and as a bonus also prevents chaffing. One Medela nipple shield later and Baby E was enjoying the newborn equivalent of Thanksgiving Dinner and my swollen boobs were comfortable deflated.

I am forever indebted to Medela and their nipple shields for allowing me to breastfeed my baby. However, breastfeeding modestly in any public location with a nipple shield is near on impossible. Not only are you trying to keep a wriggling baby contained under a cover of some sort, or at the very least latched on, but now you have to strategically place a nipple shield on your breast and get said infant to latch on without knocking it off onto the inevitably unclean floor or ground below, resulting in not only a dirty shield but also a frustrated, angry and hungry baby who just wants to breastfeed.

2nd Obstacle: Public breastfeeding with a nipple shield.

I wouldn’t consider myself to be a terribly modest person. I have been known to wear some revealing tops, and may or may not have been a member of a streaking club at one point in my life. Even so, breastfeeding in public uncovered is a stressful proposition. Making other people uncomfortable makes me even more uncomfortable than them, and in turn becomes a awful for me. After many attempts to breastfeed in public with a shield under a cover or scarf, all resulting in an either frustrated mom or baby, sometimes both, I learned how to successfully pump and Baby E learned how to switch between breast and bottle.

Your body has a certain rhythm when it comes to milk production. For some women, mornings are the optimal time to pump and get the most milk, for others it is in the evenings. I am a morning girl myself, so I made it a habit to pump after her second morning feed. After a few days my body got the message, and I woke up each morning with enough milk to feed Baby E and pump out an extra feed. Luckily, Baby E was a pro at taking a bottle. She’s clearly my daughter. If there is food involved, she’ll find a way to get it. This allowed me to feed her a bottle while out and about. If we didn’t go out that day, or she wasn’t hungry, I bagged it and put it in the freezer for future use. Baby E and I now had the shields down for home, and she was a pro at switching between bottle and breast.

When Baby E was a little over two months old we ran into our next challenge.

3rd Obstacle: Extreme spitting up and gas (or, as we later discovered, gluten and dairy intolerances)

Just when I was feeling like Baby E and I really had this breastfeeding thing down, we hit a huge wall. She started spitting up large amounts of undigested milk on a regular basis, and was in severe pain every afternoon, all bound up with a tummy full of gas. I suspected it wasn’t Colic since it was starting at around the time when Colic tends to subside. I feared that if I brought it up to her Dr they would want to put her on Zantac and prune juice, or some other remedy to solve the symptoms. I was more interested in solving the problem, and started doing some research. It had been suggested to me by our hospital’s lactation consultant when Baby E was first born to check out the La Leche League in our area. I did just that at this juncture, and began my love affair with the La Leche League.

I went to a La Leche meeting at a library in the area. It was refreshing to be in a room of avid breastfeeding moms, where I could socialize, breastfeed uncovered, and discuss the highs and lows of motherhood and breastfeeding. We went around the table introducing ourselves and sharing our successes and questions, and before I could get all of Baby E’s new ailments out the words “gluten” and “dairy” were flying from all directions. I learned that nearly all babies have some sort of gluten and dairy intolerances as our bodies aren’t born ready to easily process these proteins, and that for some babies the intolerances are more severe. Like for Baby E. The next day I began a dairy and gluten free trial.

That afternoon she was like a new baby, no gas, no fussing, happily pooing. Her large spit ups subsided and within a week she had a small spit up once or twice a day, all digested food, no raw milk like before. I went back to the La Leche League and shared Baby E’s great improvements and thanked them profusely for their ideas and help. With this experience in hand Baby E’s Dr. agreed we had seemingly solved the issues and saw no need for medications. Phew.

And now…

Baby E learned to breastfeed without the shields at 5 months. The skies opened and angels sang. This was the most freeing event of my life as a mom thus far. I can breastfeed easily in public, I have no shields to wash multiple times a day, I have one less thing to worry about having in my diaper bag, I can use my morning pumping session supply for a late night feed, giving her a good, full tummy and me more sleep. Our 1st and 2nd obstacles are entirely overcome!

As for Baby E’s gluten and dairy intolerances, they are still in full swing. I ate a vegetable side dish with butter on it without knowing, and a painful gassy episode ensued. A week or two ago I tried eating a tablespoon of couscous. She had painful acidic spit up and a horrible diaper rash. I am still entirely gluten and dairy free, and I must say, I feel better. Thanks to Baby E I have shed the baby weight and then some, and I have less intermittent stomach issues and more energy. I do, however, REALLY miss the occasional delicious slice of pizza and homemade chocolate chip cookies with no substitutions. I plan on doing my best to keep up with my diary and gluten free diet post breastfeeding, with a few cookies and pieces of pizza mixed in from time to time.

Breastfeeding can be challenging for many reasons, including the ones Baby E and I have faced and overcome. It can also be an incredible bonding experience for baby and mother, regardless of how long or short of a duration. I have never regretted my choice to breastfeed, and am so happy that I fought the good fight and am still going strong. One of my favorite times in our days together are when we are up in the early morning, Baby E feeding and me knowing she’s getting the best nutrition she can possibly get, made exclusively by yours truly.

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