Friday, November 20, 2015

My breastfeeding journey

Breastfeeding is something that has become extremely near and dear to me.  I have exclusively breastfed 2 babies for 12+ months and I feel that that is my greatest accomplishment to date.  I always knew that I wanted to breastfeed simply because of all of the positive things I had heard about it.  Before I had Loyal, I read so many blogs and personal stories about others experiences in breastfeeding and I knew that I would one day want to share my journey as well.  Both of my experiences with breastfeeding were very different and I feel that I have gained so much knowledge along the way, some of which was googled through moments of desperation and tears. :)  Breastfeeding can be incredibly difficult and incredibly rewarding all at the same time so here is my contribution to providing support, knowledge, encouragement and anything else you may take from this.

My breastfeeding journey:

My first time breastfeeding Loyal was shortly after he was born.  It was encouraged by the hospital staff that babies begin nursing very soon after delivery to ensure that they get colostrum right away.  I was ready!  I remember being a little nervous and didn't really know what I was doing but the nurses were so great.  They guided me through the steps and he latched right away.  I distinctly remember him nursing that very first time and feeling that instant bond that I had read so much about.  I nursed him every 2 hours or so throughout the length of my hospital stay.  He continued to do really well with latching and nursing and much to my surprise, my milk came in the morning that we were able to go home.  The lactation consultant that I met with gave us an A+ for what she had seen so far and sent us home with a few instructions and guidelines to follow:

1. Nurse every 2 hours (This is according to my personal situation.  Make sure to check with your doctors and/or nurses to be sure that this will work for you.)

2. Strive for 15 minutes per side for one feeding

3. Alternate which breast you nurse first

4. Keep him awake for the entire feeding.  Otherwise, you may end up with a "snacker" who wants to nurse every 15 minutes.  This was probably the best advice I received from her.  I remember Loyal wanting to fall asleep so often in the beginning and I would do everything I could to keep him awake.  I would tickle his feet, nudge his chin, undress him, etc.  Anything that worked.  I quickly saw how easily they can become a "snacker" and how exhausting it would be to have a baby that wanted to nurse every 15 minutes.

Once I got home from the hospital, I started tracking his feedings.  Trust me, when you are tired and delirious, you have no idea which boob you started with on the last feeding.  This is how I kept track of mine:

8:00 - L15 R15
10:00 - R15 L15
12:00 - L15 R15

I should note here that when you nurse every 2 hours, it is 2 hours from the beginning of one feeding to the beginning of the next feeding, as shown above.  Let me also add that when you are nursing 15 minutes per side, burping in between breasts, burping again after the second boob and then a diaper change after that, that routine takes about 45 minutes - an hour.  Then you have an hour off and you start the process all over again.  It is extremely demanding in the beginning, I'm not going to lie.  For some, that may be too much but I really enjoyed that time together with him.  (If that freaks you out, I'm sorry!  It gets better, I promise!!!)  Back to keeping track of feedings, I chose to write mine down on paper.  I know that there are TONS of apps that help you keep track but this is just what worked best for me.  Go with whatever works for you!

After a few weeks had passed and nursing became much more established, I noticed that Loyal wasn't nursing for the full 15 minutes on the second breast.  This is because babies become more efficient at extracting the milk and are able to consume a greater amount in a shorter time period.  This is why it is very important to alternate which side you begin with.

There are 2 parts of breastmilk, fore-milk and hind-milk.  The fore-milk comes out when they first begin nursing.  It's consistency is thin and watery.  The hind-milk comes after, is much thicker and packed with calories, fat and protein, all being extremely good for the baby.  You want to make sure that your baby is getting enough of the good hind-milk.  If they do not nurse long enough to get hind-milk from the second breast, they will get it during the next feeding when you start with that breast.

Back to the timing, once he was consistently nursing for less time on the second side, I would adjust the time of the first to even them back out to being the same amount of time on each side.  At first we went down to 13 minutes on each side, then 10 and then we eventually worked all the way down to 5 minutes on each side (that wasn't until several months down the road).

For the first couple of months, Loyal was nursing about 8-10 times in a 24 hour period.  He first started to drop feedings around the time that he started eating solids (5/6 months).  This was also around the same time that he fell into a good nap schedule taking 2 two-hour naps a day.  He continued to wean himself throughout the remainder of his first year and at 1 years old, he was nursing just twice a day.

When Loyal was about 8 months old, I wanted to increase my freezer supply of milk.  I had plenty of milk to nurse Loyal for all of his feedings throughout the day but when I would try to pump, nothing came out.  I tried drinking Mother's Milk tea and although I had heard that it worked well for others, I still wasn't getting any milk when I pumped.  I think that Loyal had become so good and forceful at extracting the milk that my body was no longer responding to the pump.  After getting pretty stressed out about it, I decided that it was becoming a lot more work than it was worth.  I packed up my pump and decided to nurse Loyal for the remainder of his first year.  This was definitely a commitment because I didn't have much milk in the freezer at all.  Everything ended up working out and I was able to nurse him past him first birthday.

About a month later, I found out that I was pregnant with Roman.  Breastfeeding is pretty exhausting to begin with but breastfeeding while pregnant is exhaustion like no other!  Aside from have no energy in my first trimester, my pregnancy didn't effect breastfeeding at all.  I have read and heard stories about some mothers who's breastmilk dries up when they become pregnant but I didn't notice a difference in my supply.  Loyal was also nursing much less at this age so not needing as much milk as I did in the beginning may have been a factor to that.

When Loyal turned a year old, he was nursing twice a day, first thing in the morning and right before bed.  After his 1 yr check up, the doctor gave us the go ahead with whole milk.  He dropped his evening feeding around the same time but we held onto his last feeding for a couple of weeks past his birthday.  Right before he turned 13 months, we stopped nursing.  You can read about that difficult day here.  I was a little sad to let that chapter go but he did really well without it and didn't even miss it!

Because I was pregnant when I stopped nursing, I didn't really notice a difference in my breasts when I stopped nursing.  I would have continued to nurse Loyal but I wanted to give my body a break and a chance to rest before I had Roman.  I am really glad that I did that because I needed it.  It's a lot on your body to breastfeed for a full year so taking a few months off before nursing for another year was well deserved!

I am so incredibly fortunate at how well my breastfeeding journey went with Loyal and how easily we both took to it.  I have definitely heard so many stories of people who have struggled with nursing and I absolutely sympathize for those who have.  If you are reading this and thinking "well that must be nice," wait!
For there is Roman...

I remember nursing Roman for the first time, which is pictured above.  He latched right away and started off just as well as Loyal did.  After having such an easy and successful year breastfeeding Loyal, I felt so confident and comfortable with nursing the second time around.  My milk came in very quickly with Roman.  While we were in the hospital, I noticed by the way he was swallowing that he was gulping the milk down rather quickly.  I didn't remember that happening with Loyal until we were well into nursing so I found this a little strange to be happening at one day old.  I also noticed that Roman was spitting up quite while we were in the hospital.  Loyal rarely ever spit up so this seemed to be different as well.  When we got home, Roman fell into a 3 hour schedule opposed to 2 like Loyal.  I figured that he would eventually adjust once we got past the super sleepy first couple of weeks.  During that time, Roman continued spitting up and it was becoming more frequent.  After some feedings, he would get the hiccups, look really miserable, and eventually throw up everything I just fed him.  I knew that something wasn't right but I just couldn't figure out what it was.  I quickly turned into the panicked mom who was in tears frantically searching Google.  At times I felt so helpless, thinking to myself that this is why people give up on breastfeeding.  It's hard!  There was no way that I was going to give up on this after breastfeeding for a full year once already.  I jut had to figure it out.

After a lot of internet research and speaking with my doctor, we finally realized that I had a lot more milk this time around than what I had with Loyal in the beginning.  Every time I nursed Roman, I was over feeding him by a significant amount.  Once finally sat down and pumped, I was shocked to see 5 ounces come out in just 5 minutes.  This was too much too fast for what a newborn could take.  I think that because I was pregnant when I stopped nursing Loyal, my milk never went away and just kind of picked up where it left off when I started nursing Roman.  Obviously a one year old and a newborn can't handle the same amount of milk so I had to come up with a new system for Roman.  I tried nursing him for 5 minutes on each breast but he was still spitting up.  I became concerned that he wasn't getting enough hind-milk.  About 3 weeks into nursing, I finally figured out that nursing on only one breast per feeding for 10 minutes was perfect for him.  I had to stop him half way through to burp him because my milk was coming out so fast that he would often choke on it.  The spitting up began to subside and eventually stopped all together.  I knew I just had to stick it out until he became a little more efficient at nursing, which he did around 6 weeks.

The first 6 weeks of nursing Roman was absolutely BRUTAL but, I never gave up!  After that, it was pretty much smooth sailing.  He followed the same path that Loyal did, weaning himself gradually.  At a year old, he was down to one feeding a day.  Right after his birthday he was beginning to become less interesting in nursing and as soon as I gave him whole milk, there was no turning back.  The last few times I nursed him felt forced on my end and pretty much consisted of him slapping me in the chest and trying to spin around while still attached.  It wasn't fun and it was time to let it go.  We stopped earlier this week and he didn't seem to miss it at all just like Loyal didn't.  This time around wasn't as sad for me knowing that I had reached my goal.

I feel very lucky to have breastfed both of my kids over a year and I am so grateful for the memories I have nursing them.  Breastfeeding is so special to me and by far the most rewarding thing I have ever done.  The best advice I could give to someone is to educate yourself.  There are a lot of possible hurtles to get through and without knowledge, it's too easy to give up.  Believe in yourself and if you have doubts, find someone that does believe in you.  A great support system is necessary!   

I apologize for such a lengthy post!  When I was learning about breastfeeding, I was so thankful for any and every bit of information I came across.  This is my way of giving back.  If this post helps just one person in their own breastfeeding journey then this was all worth it.  Thank you for reading and if you have any questions, feel free to ask!

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