Feeding the baby: a breastfeeding story

First of all I want to say that I full heartedly believe that FED is BEST! As a mother who has both formula and breastfed my children, I believe that however you choose to feed your baby is just that, your choice. I don’t think any mother who chooses formula over breastmilk or nursing is making a bad choice regardless of the reason. This post is solely, as are all my posts, for information, comparisons, and at times comic relief.

So, once upon a time there was a little girl about 3 years old who had a baby sister. She loved her little baby doll girl and wanted to to help her mommy in any way she could. One day her sister was crying and mommy was taking too long in her eyes to come console her. So, as she had seen her own mother do throughout the day to put an end to the tears, she took off her shirt, bent down over that baby and proceeded to feed her.

That’s the story I have heard all of my life, how I tried to breastfeed my own sister at 3 years old. Now, I’m sure the act never actually happened. It couldn’t. I was three. But I do know that from a young age I wanted to be a mother and I wanted to breastfeed my babies for as long as they were infants.

Fast forward a few decades, I am now a mother and have successfully been able to breastfeed one of my three children. Hooray! And Ha!

Seriously, every mother who decides to breastfeed should get a medal. Not because you made the decision to feed your baby, formula fed mothers are amazing mothers. But because it’s freaking hard work! It hurts. It’s time consuming. And no matter how many books and articles you read, you will never be prepare for it. So to all of you boobie mommas out there, go to Hobby Lobby, find something that resembles a gold coin and buy it. That’s the closest thing to a medal that you’ll ever get, but you deserve it.

But. It can be done. If you really want it. So this is for all of the Mommas out there who really want to but have gotten discouraged or have been unsuccessful in the past. You still have a chance. I know, it took me three tries to get it right.

First, I had to get it wrong. My first two babies did get nursed and pumped milk at some point. My oldest was six and a half weeks premature and underweight at 3 lbs 8oz. One more week inside me and she would have learned her sucking reflex (and to breathe). She ended up on an NG feeding tube for the first two weeks and received pumped milk mixed with a special neonatal formula in the NICU (another story for another day). When she came home we saw a lactation consultant weekly to try to get her to nurse. The precious thing tried but just couldn’t handle it. The Dr. Brown’s bottles were much easier on her and helped her gain weight, which was our main goal. A trip to the NICU a second time took a toll on my supply too, happens when you are up for 72 hours straight. She took pumped breastmilk for 6 months because she had a milk allergy and never liked the specialty formula she needed. I ended up going completely dairy free and gave her every drop I had until it just dried up.

My second had multiple medical issues from birth that affected the way she ate as well as a more severe milk allergy (again, another story for later). I nursed and pumped for her until 3 weeks at which time it was deemed too dangerous for her to have breastmilk. If I got contaminated with dairy she would be hospitalized. At 2 months she ended up on a feeding tube until 6 months with a very specialized formula that broke down proteins to an amino acid level. The goal again with her was to stay stable, gain weight and work toward get off a feeding tube.

When we found out we were pregnant again, surprise, I had no agenda. If this child could just make it without a feeding tube and without a dairy allergy I would be happy. But I still, deep down, I really wanted to be able to nurse one of my babies. I still read everything I could about the subject with ‘first time mom’ eyes. I got everything ready for it beforehand. And to help with the dairy allergy I decided to go completely dairy free two months prior to her birth to get it out of my system and keep any problems from happening. Then, I just let what happened, happen.

Baby #3 was born at 37 weeks and while she ended up needing formula due to some breathing issues, a NICU visit, and low birth weight, she started nursing in the hospital. She is now four months old and nurses 100 percent of the time! It’s exhausting, especially with two other very small children to raise. But to me, it’s worth it. It’s what I’ve been waiting for since I was that 3 year old trying to figure out being a momma.

The top FIVE ways I made breastfeeding work the third time around and what I learned from two other attempts..

1. Stress Matters!

Really, I think the biggest reason I’ve had success this time has to do with my amount of stress. How in the world am I less stressed with three kids than one or two? See above. This one is easy and healthy. Also, I have made a point not to let the little things get to me this time. I have been focusing on nursing and allowing everything else fall into place (see below).

When the big things happen, like illnesses or child number 2 jumping off the couch and hitting her head, I’ve taught myself to just accept it. Things are going to happen that I have no control over but I can control how I react to it. Worry, fear, anger and sadness are normal feeling, let them happen. Practice breathing exercises, use counting techniques and close your eyes to allow yourself to mentally rest every now and then throughout the day.

2. Go with the flow

My first two children were on strict schedules. My oldest had to be fed on schedule due to weight issues. We kept a strict nap time schedule as well or she wouldn’t sleep at night. We followed a similar plan to what she had in the NICU. My second was on a feeding tube and before than ate every 2 hours around the clock. Again, her schedule was based on survival and maintaining her health. The more children, makes it harder to follow a strict schedule and luckily we didn’t have a medical reason to need one this time. That really helped this time. She eats when she cries and sleeps when she is tried (and whenever the older kids let her).

The greatest thing about nursing is the bottle is always ready! The milk is mixed and warm enough and the nipple is clean. I may not have had a shower in a week but they are always clean. So they are ready whenever she is. This also helps with milk production. I noticed when I tried to follow the every 3 hour schedule they got used to it and were only ready every 3 hours. This time around they have milk whenever she wants it, they are prepared.

3. Get the right tools that actually help

There are a million baby products that supposedly make life easy when in actuality they just cost more money. I think I own half of them. With my first two I pre-bought everything that I could find that would “help.” When it didn’t, I got frustrated and thought it was me and I was just doing it wrong. Turns out I was just stressed out. No amount of money could solve that problem. This time around I waited until I had my baby and tried nursing again to buy anything. I spent my money on things I needed and knew I would use instead of potential items. See my post on what tools I used the third time around and what tools I didn’t need.

4. Nursing comes first: Plan everyone else around nursing

Just like the schedule for the baby, the schedule for my others kids had to change. Nursing was very important to me so we planned everything around it. Now a lot of people would say this is crazy but it doesn’t last long. Once you establish good nursing routines, the proper latch and an even supply everything else will fall into place.

So I made sure my other kids had things to do or ways to stay busy while I nursed, whenever I needed to nurse. Interior design went out the window in my house when baby number 3 was born. We have a huge pink slide in our living room! I also had a 15 month old when she was born so I had to put gates and baby fences everywhere. I needed to be able to nurse without needing to save a baby from falling off the fireplace. Things still happened but they were less likely and only because #2 is Houdini.

My older children learned a lot of patience when their sister was born! We also allowed way more screen time than I’m proud to admit but again, you have to decide what’s important to you and make it work. A few months of bad habits was worth the year of breastmilk that my little one will receive.

I also let go of my plans to focus on nursing. As much as I needed to finish painting my house, feeding my daughter was more important. So I never started a huge project or made sure I always had a easy stopping point in case I needed to nurse. There were many days that I simply didn’t get anything done because she would cry and want to nurse all day. On those days the laundry had to wait and we had take out. I knew those days were the exception and just stuffed my OCD down as far as I could!

5. Eat and Drink

This one is super important. First, milk is made no mater what or how much you eat or drink. My OB reassured me once saying there are many women in poverty stricken countries that struggle to find food and clean water but their babies survive on their mother’s milk, they have to. While that’s a really sad thought and makes me want to start a campaign that sends fresh food and water to nursing Mommas around the world, it’s true. Milk is made when a baby is hungry and wants to nurse. Supply is created by the demand. Nursing on demand protects the supply. If your baby is gaining weight and having wet diapers you know your supply is good. Just because they cry doesn’t mean they didn’t get enough. But you also have to take care of yourself. Eating enough throughout the day keeps your body functioning. You can’t make milk if your own body can’t function. Fresh fruits, vegetables and protein are the perfect ways to get nutrients but in the beginning eat what you can. Stock up on bars and snacks and keep them in your purse. Eat when you get hungry. Drinking water is also key, you have to keep your body hydrated to function. Water is best but get your non-caffeinated fluids anyway you can. You’re going to feel dried up when you start nursing so keep a water bottle with you are all times.

Bonus:

Every baby and every Momma is different. You can read 100 articles on breastfeeding and none of them work. The key is to be consistent, have confidence in yourself, and try to worry less. Enjoy this time with your baby, you will never get this chance or time with them again (as an individual). The first three months are hard, they are a learning experience for both of you. Bare with it and keep on going. It will all even out. Good Luck Momma!

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