Okay, so I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but for the sake of being real (that’s the point of this series, right?), I have to admit something I’m not very proud of. Before Owen was born, I thought that moms who didn’t breastfeed were lazy, or didn’t try hard enough. Now that I’m on the other side, I can’t believe I ever thought those things. I debated whether or not to keep that admission in this post because I felt so terribly about it, but I wanted to be honest with you guys. Who knows, maybe someone else out there has thought the same thing?
Since his birth, I’ve learned two major things that have forever changed that early, uneducated opinion of mine. One, there are lots of medical reasons why a baby has trouble breastfeeding. Everything from a tongue tie to cleft palette and plenty more I’m unaware of can keep a baby from not being able to properly breastfeed or get enough calories. And two—breastfeeding is hard. Which is incredibly frustrating because it’s something that seems like it should come naturally, but it often doesn’t. Even if your baby latches fine in the hospital, you might get home to find out he no longer does. It’s exhausting—mentally and physically, and any mom will tell you that.
Now, after going through it all, I totally understand why some women choose to not breastfeed, and at the end of the day, a fed baby is best in my opinion. Formula, bottle, breastmilk—whatever it is, your baby simply needs to be fed.
So, now that I’m in the thick of it, I wanted to share my experience, while it’s fresh on my brain. My original plan was to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months. Ha! I look back and laugh a bit now at my naivety. Not that it’s impossible, I just had no idea how hard it would be!
I remember calling my mom about three weeks in, delirious from sleep deprivation and sheer exhaustion and telling her I was ready to throw in the towel. Or at least start supplementing with a bottle so a night nurse could feed Owen while I slept for a glorious 8-hour stretch! The craziest part of it all, was that breastfeeding wasn’t that hard for us. Owen latched just fine, ate well and was gaining plenty of weight. I was just really really tired. I was also getting ahead of myself with the whole night nurse, but it did sound pretty nice, and honestly I would 100% consider getting one for a few days a week for any future babies, especially around 3-4 weeks. I was fine those first few weeks, but at the 3-4 week period, I think the adrenaline started to wear off and I was wiped out. Plus, our family had gone home and Rob had gone back to work, so it was suddenly all on me which can be so stressful.
Thankfully, that low and desperate point passed I kept trudging on, exhausted, cracked nipples and all. Then at about 5 weeks, everything changed.
We finally found a good stride & Owen was sleeping longer stretches at night. I also started pumping once or twice a day so that Rob could give him his bottle before bed while I showered and took some time for myself. Please, don’t forget to do something for yourself during this time! You’re still the person you were and it’s easy to push all your needs to the side, but the better you’re feeling, the better a mom you’ll be to your baby. I was amazed that just a quick break in my day to shower, wash and dry my hair could make me feel so much more human. And, slowly, I continued to feel more capable, confident and less tired (though that still hasn’t gone away). Six months of breastfeeding, though maybe not exclusively, might actually be possible, I thought!
Several of you asked to break down how I’m feeding Owen and I’m happy to share! By no means is this the only way, but it’s working for us. Our feeding routine and methods have shifted a lot since he was born. It takes a while to figure out what works and as soon as you’ve got it down, something changes—babies, right?! Anyway, I wanted to share how it’s changed since he was born to give you a better idea of what we’ve been doing.
For the first 9 1/2 weeks of Owen’s life, he got exclusively breastmilk—both from a bottle or straight from the source. I started to pump more frequently around 5 weeks so that I could have a store of milk in the freezer and so Rob could give Owen a bottle at night while I took my much-needed me time! Then out of no where, Owen started eating a lot more—like 6-10 ounces more a day. I quickly found that I wasn’t making quite enough, or just barely meeting his needs and it started to really stress me out. And, when you’re stressed, you produce less milk, so it was vicious cycle there for a while. I didn’t want to dip into my freezer stash just yet, so we finally decided that for my sanity and stress levels, and Owen’s needs, we’d start giving him one bottle of formula each day.
I won’t lie, I did feel guilty. Something in me felt like I’d failed a bit or I didn’t try hard enough, but ultimately, everyone was happier. Owen had a full belly and I was able to relax a bit, knowing he was getting plenty of calories no matter what. And, my doctor told me that some breastmilk was better than none and he is still getting mostly breastmilk, so that definitely eased my concerns.
Now that he’s 11 weeks old, I wish I could tell you that I have it all figured out, but I’m still trying new things all the time as his needs seem to change often. Last week, I had a couple of stressful days and noticed a huge drop off in my milk production. I was also pumping almost exclusively at this point and started to think that might have something to do with it, though I really have no idea. Either way, I decided to start breastfeeding him more, and pumping less, in hopes of getting that milk supply back up. If you’re planning on nursing and looking for a good bra, these wireless nursing bras I talked about in this post have been my favorite! At night I wear these nursing bras and nursing tanks. They run small! I have a small and really wish I’d gotten a medium. Even if you’re not nursing that much at night, they’re thick and help with leaks. I also have these nursing pads in my bras 24/7.
I should also mention that the whole reason I was pumping and bottle-feeding more than breastfeeding was because it was more efficient. I’d pump for 15-20 minutes and he’d drink the bottle in 10-15, so 35 minutes tops. Breastfeeding him was taking nearly an hour and was making my back and arms hurt. Now that he’s bigger, he’s become a lot more efficient at breastfeeding and it only takes him about 20 minutes to fill up, so as long as he can stay focused while he eats (he tends to get distracted and pull his mouth off), this is now more efficient, so I’m trying to breastfeed more often.
A few readers requested a schedule of our feedings, so here it is—loosely! And, you’ll also notice that his schedule has changed a bit since this post! So, this has been our routine for the past six days, but before, I was feeding him a bottle, then pumping as soon as he went down for a nap!
7am: Breastfeed—sometimes it’s tough in the morning because my boobs are really full and he has a harder time latching. If he doesn’t eat for too long or doesn’t eat equally on both sides, I’ll try to pump the less full boob and use that milk to freeze or for later in the day.
7pm: Bottle of formula (I usually pump while Rob feeds him)
10-10:30pm: “Dream Feed” Bottle of Breastmilk (I pump again just before this). He usually doesn’t fully wake up for this dream feed, and if I try to breastfeed him against my warm body, he just goes straight to sleep—can you blame him? Giving him a bottle means he’ll actually drink a good amount, usually anywhere from 2.5-4oz. which helps keep him full longer! Which really means we might get an extra hour of sleep.
If we’re going to be out in public and I need a bottle, I’ll switch up one breastfeeding session for pumping, but just play it by ear.
For now, I’m not holding myself to any specific timeline. Some mornings I wake up and think I can definitely do it for six months and other mornings I wake up and decide I’m going to quit at the end of the month—ha! I’ve learned that the best thing you can do is to just take it one day at a time and to not put too much pressure on yourself. At the end of the day, you’ll figure out what works best for you and your baby and whatever it is, it’s perfect!
Did you have any thought about breastfeeding before you did it? What worked for you and your baby? I’d love to hear!