August is Breastfeeding awareness month and also the month that my family and I get to celebrate our youngest turning one. I thought it would be only fitting to share my breastfeeding journey with you. Typically I keep my posts very scientific/informational and I do want to share medical facts and helpful tips today as well. However, I want to share some real life stories I’ve experienced to hopefully help encourage new moms, moms to be, and women who may be struggling with breastfeeding right now.
Let me introduce myself. I am Carolyn Clark. I am a mom. Yes, I work as a family nurse practitioner as well, but my first, most important job title is “mommy.” I have two kids. My oldest is Riley, who is a fearless, persistent, ornery, joyful 3 year old. My youngest Conner, who is sweet, laid back, oh so cute, and turns one on the 18th of this month. Both of my kids have breastfed for their first year of life. However, both have been completely different experiences for me, much like their personalities.
I knew when I was pregnant with Riley that I wanted to breastfeed her. As they say, “breast is best,” and I wanted to do what was best for my child. It also doesn’t hurt that I like to be frugal and let’s be honest formula is EXPENSIVE! So I was determined that not only was I going to breastfeed my firstborn, but I was going to do it without supplementing. Not a drop of formula was going to touch her lips for the first year.
Much like many things in life, not everything goes as planned. I spent time reading about how to prepare for labor and delivery. But I honestly did not read a single thing on breastfeeding. But how hard could it be? It’s the natural thing to do, so it will come natural right? Boy was I wrong.
I had Riley by vaginal delivery. We did skin to skin. And then I put her to my breast. But it did not feel natural. It felt like I needed 5 arms to be able to latch her correctly and support her head and body all while holding my breast in the right hold. And it hurt. (can I get an amen ladies?) I quickly realized that my prep for delivery and my lack of prep for breastfeeding was a big mistake. I was lucky though and I had a baby that was naturally persistent so she persevered through my inabilities to nurse her well, especially in the beginning. I remember going home and feeling so overwhelmed with not only taking care of a new baby, but feeling like I had no clue on how to properly breastfeed/pump well. Yes, I saw a lactation specialist at the hospital. Yes, Riley had plenty of dirty/wet diapers. Her weight was fine. But I was going back to work by 2 months postpartum. So how do I know when and how much to pump to stock up milk? How do I even use a pump? (These are not things taught in nursing school or Masters of Science of Nursing programs, just FYI)
I honestly remember telling my husband 2 weeks in, “I just feel like a big boob.” All I could think about was when was I going to nurse or when was I going to pump. Just go ahead and send me to the dairy farm…
Luckily I had wisdom shared not only by my sister-in-laws, close nurse friends, and my momma. I figured out quickly that I needed to pump often in order to store up enough milk when I went back to work. So the day came, it was time to return to work and I was confident that I had enough in store and by this point nursing had became easier so the worst was behind us. WRONG. The milk supply soon dwindled. I wasn’t able to stop enough in my day to pump to keep up with the milk needs at home. I remember crying (multiple times) if I got home and would find out that she ate 12 oz and I only pumped 8. I also remember flipping out on my husband for accidentally wasting 5 oz of my “liquid gold” breastmilk (still sorry for that one Aaron). It finally came to a point that I had to allow my daughter to have formula be supplemented. To put this in perspective of how crazy a fanatic I had become on breastfeeding, she was probably 9 months old at this point. (go ahead roll your eyes.) Also, I was still able to pump enough that we didn’t finish a can of formula by age one. BUT STILL, in the beginning I was so determined. My determination became a completely awful obsession. And the obsession made me overly stressed (which does not help milk supply) and miserable. I did succeed in nursing for 13 months. But it was not a very proud success story. It wasn’t a happy go lucky no worries breastfeeding tale.
So when my pregnancy #2 came along I told myself, hindsight is 20/20. Go into this with a relaxed mindset that if you have to supplement at 2 weeks you will supplement at 2 weeks. Do NOT pressure yourself. And guess what? My story with Conner has turned out as the happy go lucky no worries breastfeeding tale I had always wanted. I learned from mistakes with nursing Riley. I pumped LIKE CRAZY before I went back to work. I made sure and set aside times in my work day to pump, no ifs, ands or buts. And I didn’t feel like I needed 5 arms to do the right hold and get him to latch. It came natural. So natural it was amazing.
Now that’s not to say that I still didn’t feel like a dairy cow. Because let me tell you I did. I’m not sure how you couldn’t. But there was no stress. It was so easy compared to my experience with Riley.
I remember having a friend recently say, “Ya know everyone always acts like breastfeeding is SO special, but I’m like it hurts, it’s SO hard, and what is so special about it?” My answer was “It is TOTALLY hard. But it is so special in the end, just not at first.”
I think we have promoted, not only as a society, but as health care providers the “breast is best” motto so much that we have sort of created a monster out of women now. I see numerous women in my office now who I have to encourage them when they feel like complete failures because they didn’t succeed at breastfeeding. If you are one of those women please hear me on this: As a mom, you are to do your best at providing for your kids. This means trying to help them grow and develop in your best effort. If you gave your best effort at breastfeeding but your child needed formula to get enough to eat because of low milk supply, poor latching, etc. Then guess what? You are being the best mom you can be. That’s all God requires. And you should be a proud mommy that your child is growing, whether by formula or by breastmilk.
Thanks for reading my story…
Now for some tips and medical facts:
Tip For all the mom’s to be: READ up on Breastfeeding. Don’t skip over it. Stop worrying about what sleep method you’re going to use to get the little booger to go to bed on a regular basis and instead read up on how to successfully nurse your baby. You won’t regret it.
Tip for current moms who are struggling with nursing: Don’t give up. But don’t stress. Stress will decrease your supply and then only lead you to stress more. Trust me, I’ve been there and done that. Instead call the lactation consultant. Phone a friend. Or come see me. I’ll be glad to help in any way. But it is hard. It does get better. And those painful latching moments in the beginning where it hurts so bad DOES GO AWAY. I promise. And formula is NOT HARMFUL. For goodness sake, if you need to supplement, you go right ahead. Do not beat yourself up.
Tip for the working mom: Pump. Pump. Pump it up. But really, you need to pump as much as possible! It will be a labor of love. And it will take pressure off of you in the long run. I promise. If I could change that with my first I would have. Take breaks at work. Don’t skip pumping. Finally, make sure your kid is ready for that bottle before returning to work. At our house we make it our first fun date night. We let Grammy give the first bottle at 1 month of age while we go have a quiet dinner. This way mommy is not around for distraction.
Tip for moms who failed with Kid #1: Please do NOT go into pregnancy #2 with the mindset that since nursing didn’t work with Child #1 it won’t work with Child #2. It’s so untrue. First off, you will feel like a pro the second time around compared to the first. And child #2 may have a completely different style that will make nursing so much easier. So keep your head up and try again!
Tip for general population: Do NOT guilt moms who do not breastfeed. Please, just stop. It is so much harder than it sounds and there are so many reasons some women just can’t do it successfully. Encourage them. If you’re a woman who struggled share your story with new moms so they don’t feel inadequate and alone. And finally do not judge women who nurse in public. How would you like to have to go sit somewhere like a nasty bathroom to feed your kid when they’re hungry? If you don’t like it, then look away. No one made you watch.
Tip for choosing formula: READ THE LABEL! Try to stay clear of high fructose corn syrup. I used this brand:
Now for the science…
- Breastfeeding (with NO food/supplementation) for the first 6 months of life is recommended for the following reasons:
-it helps develop appropriate probiotics for the infants stomach
-it helps decrease their risk for certain infections such as ear infections and respiratory infections
-it helps decrease the risk for diabetes, leukemia, high blood pressure, and asthma
- Breastfeeding decreases risks for developing medical problems for mothers as well. There is a decreased risk for developing the following in breastfeeding mothers:
-high blood pressure
- Breastfeeding is low cost. The average cost of formula for the first year of life is close to $1200.
The best website I recommend for patients who are breastfeeding is Kellymom.com. Check out her article on breastfeeding in the first weeks by clicking here. She has a variety of sources such as what medications you can take for colds while nursing, and how to know you are producing enough milk etc.
Finally, I truly hope I can help anyone who needs it with nursing. If you need some help please don’t hesitate to call our office for an appointment, or feel free to set up an E-visit with me by clicking here.
As always, I hope you stay happy and healthy.
Carolyn Clark, NP-C