When I was pregnant, I was often involved in discussions about breastfeeding—was I planning to breastfeed, have I heard about XYZ problem, technique, etc.
Then, a friend asked me if I was committed to breastfeeding and I gave my usual answer that I was definitely going to try. And then she asked, “But are you committed?” She caught me off guard because once I thought about it, I realized that there is a real difference between being committed to trying and being committed to breastfeeding.
Being committed to trying gave me an “out” if it got hard. And as many mamas know, it gets hard. Being committed to breastfeeding put me in a mindset that while it might get hard, I was committed to making it work.
I am in no way suggesting that simply being committed to breastfeeding will lead to success in breastfeeding. I know there are many, many reasons as to why it doesn’t work, and it almost didn’t for me.
In the last few weeks of my pregnancy, I decided to be committed to breastfeeding no matter what happened. What I didn’t know was how big that “no matter what” hurdle would be. But I really believe that making that slight adjustment to my mentality helped me persevere.
(There is a lot to say about breastfeeding, so hang in here for this very long post!)
A Rough Start
As I wrote previously, I had severe hemorrhaging after giving birth that landed me in the ICU, away from my baby for her first 24 hours. I was able to nurse her about an hour after she was born, and then again about 8 hours later after I had emergency surgery. Once I was transferred to the ICU, she came to visit three times in 24 hours, and I nursed each time. Obviously, she needed to eat more often than I was able to see her, so my husband or mother would give her a bottle of formula in the nursery.
So, after all of my research and preparation to exclusively breastfeed, to keep all nipples except for my own out of her mouth, I went home with a breast/bottle and milk/formula-fed baby.
I thought I knew everything I needed to know about breastfeeding—all of a sudden I knew nothing.
Because I was in the ICU, I was about two days behind my baby in terms of production—I still had colostrum and she was ready for milk, and wanted a lot more of it than I had. Additionally, the second day at home, we developed a latch problem to the point where I couldn’t even get her to nurse for a minute.
I didn’t know much, except that if my milk wasn’t used it would go away, so I borrowed a pump from a friend to hold me over until I could get a lactation consultant to our house to help me correct the latch and rent a hospital grade pump. A borrowed pump and supplies are a huge “don’t,” but I was panicked. Pumping was painful at first—really painful—but I suffered through, thrilled to get even a half ounce to give my baby.
In the meantime, my husband was tube-and-syringe feeding her with formula because the nurses told us that we needed to retrain her tongue if I wanted her to nurse. Apparently eating with a bottle requires a different tongue position so by holding her tongue down with a fingertip and inserting a tube alongside a finger, we were supposedly simulating what it would be like for her to nurse. This was ridiculous. It was like feeding a baby bird. My amazing husband was dedicated to it and for her first three days at home, that was how she ate—whether it was formula or the small amount I was able to pump.
Finally, on day 4 at home, we were able to schedule a lactation consultant. At this point, my hormones were in overdrive, I was crying all day every day, and was convinced that the baby wouldn’t nurse because she was rejecting me, as a person. I hated that she would rather have the fingertip or bottle than me.
Three hours later, and too much information to process, the consultant had us back on track. She reassured me that my baby wasn’t rejecting me, but that my technique needed adjustment because the baby literally couldn’t see my nipple and was getting frustrated. So I learned how to let her smell it, and then anticipate it by opening her mouth and leaning in.
The consultant wrote a schedule that included pumping, breastfeeding and bottle feeding, with roles for both my husband and myself. To this day, I credit my husband for being a major reason I am still breastfeeding. He knew I wanted to do it, and when things started going downhill, he was the one found me a temporary pump, called the consultant, watched the feeding lesson, rented a long-term pump, generally supported me when I wanted to quit (which was all the time) and gently reminded me of all the reasons why I wanted to breastfeed.
That kind of support, whether it’s from a relative, a friend, a lactation consultant, a partner, or all of the above, is critical to breastfeeding success. You can’t do it alone!
I felt encouraged, but it still took about two more weeks to really get the hang of it. When Magic Baby was three weeks old everything started to click into place—I felt more confident and finally in control.
What Works for Us
As I grew more comfortable with pumping and nursing, I slowly realized that I didn’t find breastfeeding to be the intense bonding experience I had heard others talk about. I like cuddling my baby close and sharing that time together, but Magic Baby is very inefficient at the breast and I am somewhat impatient. At 6 weeks, she would nurse for 20 minutes and only take in 1 ounce (according to the lactation consultant and her very sensitive scale). Over time, I have moved more to pumping—it makes me feel better to know that she is getting enough; I never liked that I couldn’t tell how much she was getting from the breast.
Today, my Magic Baby is 15 weeks and eats 24-26 ounces a day. Despite my best efforts to increase milk production, I never get quite enough for her daily intake so I supplement with formula, usually 8-10 oz., which works out to about 14 ounces of breast milk and 10 ounces of formula daily. I basically pump her next meal throughout the day—I just can’t get ahead to where there is some to store in the refrigerator!
I know there are ways to increase milk supply and I’ve tried all of them, except for the biggest one, which is waking up to pump in the middle of the night. I thought about it and decided I’m a better mom (and human being) with a full night’s sleep, and am comfortable with the amount of formula she is receiving.
I came home from the hospital with a breast/bottle, milk/formula-fed baby and that’s still what I have today. She moves seamlessly between all of the methods without complaint—she’s just happy to eat! There are still times when I want to quit, like when I want to go out for the afternoon with my family and not have to worry about having a place to pump or trying to feed her in public (because we don’t nurse that often I’m not very comfortable doing it out of the home). Or when I get frustrated because I’m not getting a lot of milk and think, “Well I might as well just stop doing this then.” But then I remember how far I have come, or I think about the commitment I made three months ago, and it’s what I need to keep going.
In the end, I have settled into a feeding schedule that I am comfortable with, that meets my baby’s needs, and mine. It may not be what I envisioned, and certainly isn’t something I set out to do, but it’s what works for us.
Our Current Feeding Schedule
6 am: Magic Baby wakes up, we cuddle in bed and she nurses for about 20 minutes and falls back asleep. This is generally the only time I nurse her and I love this time. It’s dark, quiet and we are both sleepy.
6:30 am: After she falls back asleep, I pump.
7 am: I fall back asleep with her for an hour.
8 am: Baby wakes up, ready to eat, usually 5 oz. (all breast milk)
10 am: Baby takes a nap, I pump
11 am: Baby wakes up, has a bottle, usually 6 oz. (4 breast milk, 2 formula)
1 pm: Baby takes a nap, I pump
3 pm: Baby wakes up, has a bottle, usually 6 oz. (4 breast milk, 2 formula)
5 pm: Baby takes a nap, I pump
6 pm: Baby wakes up, has a little snack – either 3 oz of formula, or if we are both in a good mood, she’ll nurse. My supply diminishes throughout the day, but it’s enough to hold her over until the bedtime bottle.
7:30 – 8 pm: Start bedtime routine with a bottle, 6 oz. (3 breast milk, 3 formula). Magic Baby sleeps 10 hours! She wakes up sometimes, not every night, but just because she wants the pacifier that she has spit out—my next challenge that I am not ready to deal with yet!
8:30 pm: I pump, but don’t get very much
10:30 pm: I pump one more time right before bed
What works for you? Is your breastfeeding/bottlefeeding schedule going according to plan?