Oh, the new experiences that come with being a first-time mom. Coming home from the hospital with a bag full of pilfered bathroom supplies, including that incredibly necessary squirt bottle you use in place of toilet paper for a few weeks. Pumping in the car while stuck in Atlanta traffic (Kevin was driving, don’t worry!) and your baby is screaming in the backseat. Blogging about breastfeeding…
For me, thankfully, most things about being a new mom have been incredibly smooth so far. Maggie’s an easy baby, for one, which is enormously helpful, and I didn’t struggle with mood swings or baby blues after her birth. I mostly felt like me throughout, just with a new role, which was an unexpected but very welcomed discovery.
Many parts of breastfeeding have come easily to Maggie and me, too, but I’ve realized that even when things are going well on that front it’s still a huge commitment. I by no means have things all figured out, but wanted to share a bit of what I’ve learned about this new reality in the nearly four months I’ve been at it. (This is, of course, based on my experience, and I’m sure it looks different for lots of other mamas!):
- It doesn’t feel great at first (but it gets better quickly). Nursing Maggie in the hospital was no big deal from a pain standpoint, but once we were a few days in things definitely started feeling uncomfortable. I stashed this Honest Company Nipple Balm all over the house so it would be nearby anywhere I was nursing, and it was a lifesaver. Get some, and be generous with the application! The good news, though, is that this phase was short lived. Before long (after just four weeks or so, or maybe even shorter), I realized I wasn’t using the balm anymore. Now nursing doesn’t hurt in the slightest, which is awesome.
- You won’t always over produce (so take advantage of it). When my milk first came in, there was SO much of it! Thank goodness I had a Milkies Milk-Saver on hand, and was able to collect lots of extra milk to build up a solid freezer supply. Things eventually began to even out, and now I never use the Milkies, because I don’t need it. I feel like I’m much more in day-to-day maintenance mode, and haven’t been adding to my freezer stash much at all. I’m so thankful I was able to store so much during those early days of nursing!
- You don’t have to fill the bottle. When I started pumping, I hadn’t taken the time to read about how much a baby should be drinking in a sitting. I knew to try to stop her mid-feeding to let her see if she was still hungry, but I was using the five-ounce Medela bottles that came with my breast pump and was just filling those up and giving them to her. We’d pace her feedings, but Maggie made it clear she wanted THE WHOLE BOTTLE. Quickly, as I went back to work, that became impossible for me to keep up with. The first week I was back at work, she was going through four five-ounce bottles while I was gone, and I wasn’t pumping enough to keep up. We were dipping into my precious freezer stash already, and I was really, really upset about it all. Come to find out (once I took the time to actually read about it in The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding), she definitely didn’t need five ounces per feeding. Breastfed babies should get between two and four ounces per feeding, and they don’t need to start taking in more milk as they get older (they start metabolizing it differently). But Maggie got so upset if we stopped her at three or so ounces. What to do? Kevin then had the brilliant idea to only fill the bottles to about three ounces (turns out she liked eating until a bottle was emptied). That solved the issue, and now Maggie takes three ounces per feeding when she’s eating from a bottle and I feel MUCH less stressed.
- Fenugreek capsules can work wonders. During the whole “I’m freaking out because my baby is drinking more than I’m producing” phase (see #3 above), I started researching ways to boost your milk supply. In addition to some tasty lactation recipes (these bars and these cookies are both excellent!), I discovered that Fenugreek — a supplement that can be used to help with digestion, among other things — is also commonly used to increase milk supply. The articles I read said that you’d know it was working if your sweat and urine started to smell faintly like maple syrup. (Weird, but okay.) Sure enough, I did indeed start to notice a slightly sweet smell to my sweat soon after I started taking it, and I do think it helped boost my supply!
- Pumping at work is a job in and of itself. Between carting all the equipment and clean bottles and freezer bags to and from the office every day and having to carve out time in the day (three to four times per day) to get everything set up and then actually pump, the whole process is exhausting. Over the weeks it’s become more routine, but it doesn’t feel easier or less time consuming.
- Building — and keeping — a freezer supply is not for the faint of heart. This has been SO hard for me. Thank goodness I built a good freezer supply in those early days when I was overproducing (see #2 above), because lately it’s been hard to add to it. Just when I think I’m going to have an extra bottle I can freeze, Maggie ends up being extra hungry while I’m away, or I have a lackluster pumping session and need the extra milk. I feel like a squirrel with nuts, except my obsession is milk. I’m always aware of just how many bottles we currently have ready and where they all are (three in the fridge at work, four with the sitter…), and sometimes I open the fridge at home just to double check the inventory and make sure we’re in a good place. So yeah…it’s not always fun.
- I feel so fortunate to be able to do this for Maggie. Despite the stress and inconvenience of it all, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. I’m so very lucky that I’m producing enough milk for Maggie, and am aiming to keep breastfeeding her for at least a year. She’s growing and thriving, and is happy and content. Nursing her is such a special thing, and knowing she’s being nourished by my milk is so amazing. I know that, for a whole variety of reasons, this isn’t the case for all moms, and so I try to be aware of what a gift this truly is. (Also, in the scheme of things, I won’t be doing this long, and I know at times I’ll miss it when Maggie’s days of nursing are behind us.)