Non Exclusively Breastfeeding

“Exclusively breast feeding.” Even the word “exclusive” sounds snobby. Why do the questions about how and what we feed our baby make us feel self conscious about how we answer? Why does “exclusively breastfeeding” feel like the only heroic response to these questions? I know it can’t just be me. This is my breastfeeding journey which brought me to today, when I’m really proud to say that I’m both a breast feeder and formula feeder. 

I swear that going into pregnancy and childbirth, I had no idea if I would breastfeed and I didn’t place much emphasis on it. Friends of mine were researching pumps and supplies, I just ordered what the first friend told me to get. I thought if breastfeeding worked, it worked, if it didn’t, oh well. That mentality all changed the absolute minute Tess was born. If you read my birth story, one of the first things I asked when she was born was a question about breastfeeding. When I found out she had to be brought to the NICU, I was fixated on being able to attempt to breastfeed. Is there an innate trait that some of us have that make us more inclined to be breastfeeders, or rather, more inclined to be really enthusiastic breastfeeders? I’m not sure, but all I know is that not only did life change as I knew it because the most important thing in the world to me was now out of utero but life also changed drastically because I was one of the breastfeeders. 

Breastfeeding is probably the biggest commitment of my life. I mean, it’s more of a commitment than marriage. At least in marriage, you don’t have to renew your vows every 2 hours at first, and then, if you’re lucky, 4 times a day longer term. I HAD. NO. IDEA. 

Breastfeeding tricks you, when you first give birth you think “oh I guess ill try it” and then you get home from the hospital and your baby is hooked, and then you become hooked and then it can be an uphill battle from there (or downhill, or both, but either way, you’re hooked). I had heard so many stories from friends how nurses and doctors and lactation consultants pressured them at the hospital, but no one even asked me about it. Instead, I actually felt really unsupported. I remember that as I was laying on the table after my C-section, I kept asking about how I’ll breastfeed her, the response was “don’t worry, her stomach is the size of a pea right now.” I didn’t understand. The next day, I continued to ask when I would get to try to breastfeed her, when I could see a lactation consultant, and when I could try pumping collostrum. Everyone kept placating me and telling me not to worry and to focus on resting. I was so confused and remember thinking “what about the moms who aren’t literally campaigning like me? do they just give up because no one is supporting them?” It made me really sad and encouraged me to be even more of an advocate. After about 6 hours, I was finally allowed to visit her in the NICU. I was alone, because they only let one visitor go in at a time. The nurses took her out and handed her to me. I was sitting in a wheelchair in the NICU, connected to my IV pole and they just handed me my baby. I had no idea what to do besides what I had seen a few friends do when I visited them at the hospital, and so I gave it a try. I cradled her, opened my robe, put a hand behind her tiny head and held my boob with the other, and she latched. At that moment, I understood why it was so special. That’s not to say that those who don’t breastfeed don’t share special connections with their baby. All I know is that, I was nursing my daughter, all on my own, in the NICU, clueless about it all, and somehow knowing exactly what to do. From then on, I just got more and more into it. I didn’t care who was in the room visiting, if it was time to feed her, I just was all about #normalizebreastfeeding and did. There was one time I woke up in the hospital to Matt trying to feed her a bottle of formula and I went ape shit on him (to be fair, he had no idea I had become the biggest breastfeeding proponent of all time as it literally happened over night, and she had been given formula in the NICU). All of a sudden I was a breastfeeding mom

So that’s how I became a breastfeeder. Even when many issues arose from breastfeeding, I stuck with it and so I’m writing this to say, don’t give up unless you’re really ready to. 

Here are some of the issues I faced that I wish I knew even existed.

1. I had almost too much supply and quick let downs. Sometimes my milk would come out so much and so fast that it would choke Tess and she’d get so upset. Instead of giving up, I pumped for 10 minutes before nursing her and I ended up feeding on one breast each feeding. That way the flow would begin to slow throughout the feeding and we didn’t need to switch to start over again. This definitely helped.

2. Tess had mild colic, silent reflux and major gas issues. I ate WHATEVER I wanted for the first    month and a half of Tess’s life. Then suddenly, we entered the 6 week old gas phase, except hers was extreme. She started to have such bad gas that she lost interest in eating. I showed up at the pediatrician in tears after having tried endless gripe waters and was told to “reset” her stomach by going on formula for at least 48 hours. This would have been the “perfect” time to stop breastfeeding except I wasn’t ready to stop. Neither was Tess. 36 hours in and Tess fell asleep on me and started aggressively trying to nurse through my shirt. I remember looking at my husband and saying “we’re both not ready.” I fed her then and remember feeling reverse guilt. I felt guilt FOR breastfeeding. I slowly started reintroducing my milk but kept her night feeding to formula since she slept so much better with it.

3. I changed my diet. I remember telling the moms in one of my classes how I was trying to “quit breastfeeding” and they’re like “you don’t need to stop! Just change your diet!” I learned that some of the top ten things you SHOULDN’T eat while breastfeeding were the exact things I was eating. Beans, lentils, juice, and salad. I’m 5 months in and still won’t touch any of those things. You could say I’m a bit traumatized.

4. Mastits and clogged milk ducts. If you miss a feeding, you have to pump, if you miss a pump, you have to feed. Slowing down your breast feeding needs to happen gradually, getting mastitis was as painful to me as contractions but it did calm down my production and I was able to go down to pumping/nursing 5 times a day instead of 7. 

5. Tess refused my frozen milk. She drank some then suddenly some she wouldn’t touch. I looked it up and realized that it was the lipase issue. There’s an enzyme in breast milk that, over time, can affect the taste of it. I had no idea about this which is why I’m mentioning it here, because you can actually scald your milk BEFORE freezing it to avoid this. Once its frozen, its too late. The solution for me has actually been mixing the frozen milk with fresh milk to somewhat hide the taste and also get her used to it. This is working so far! 

You’re either reading this thinking “wow, that’s crazy, thank god I’m not breastfeeding” or “wow, that’s crazy, I totally know how she feels” or, you’re simply breastfeeding and not dealing with any of these issues. No matter what, I’m writing this to say that I am a breastfeeder and formula feeder and I’m proud as hell of being both. So to all the breastfeeders, formula feeders and dual feeders, just know, we’re all fucking heroes.