No one tells you shit about breastfeeding. It’s all “natural” and you’ll just figure it out, except you just don’t.
You picture this:
But instead you get this:
(I laughed so hard at this gif I cried. I probably was also just crying at the accuracy. But it’s so damn funny).
I always pictured myself breastfeeding my baby. Maybe because I was breastfed, not sure really, but it was just what I pictured. I had this vision that the baby would be born, they’d put them on my chest and voila the baby eats. I’m sure a tad naiive, but you don’t really hear about people’s trials and tribulations until you’re in the trenches having them yourself.
I also had the added challenge of having a preemie and one that was in the NICU, so that does throw a monkey wrench in things. I am sure I would have learned some of what to expect had I taken a lactation class. Oh wait, I signed up for one but it ended up being was AFTER the baby was born while we were still in NY. Not exactly helpful.
Still. Aside from knowing I needed to get a breast pump through my insurance (which I thought I would only use when I went back to work-HA). That was basically all I knew. I had what they called “meet and greets” in the NICU where Liam would test out breastfeeding for about 5 minutes or so a couple times a day just to kind of get the hang of it. You had a specialist there helping you position and giving you tips. But it was more important that he ate so he mostly had expressed breastmilk from a bottle.
When we got home though, I was supposed to work our way up to breastfeeding by adding duration and frequency each day. Well, instead of that, we had mostly episodes of us both sobbing-him in starvation and me in failure and disappointment. We just couldn’t get it no matter how hard we tried. But, I didn’t want to give up, I felt that for us, breastmilk would be the best nutrition for him if we could make it work. Some choose not to breastfeed at all, and luckily there are some great formula alternatives out there. But I can see why some who do want to breastfeed end up stopping for so many reasons. It has not been easy for me. It has not been fun. It’s not some warm and fuzzy bonding experience for us. It just isnt. Some people do have this magically easy breastfeeding journey. Baby gets right on there, knows what to do, supply is good and they’re off and running. But, nay, not I.
For those of us who didn’t/don’t have that, here are some of the things I experienced so we know we’re not alone.
- Supply and Demand
- After I gave birth, the NICU sent a lactation specialist to my room to explain the pump they were lending me. They ran through the parts, how to use it, how to clean and sanitize, how often to pump (every 1-3 hours) to get your supply up since I didn’t have the baby with me to creat the supply. When you start breastfeeding with a full term baby or one not in NICU, every time they eat your body makes more milk. But if you don’t have the baby with you, you have to fake that by using the pump very often. I was “allowed” one 4 hour break at night (YAAAAY) but otherwise 1-3 hours and I needed to get hooked up to the machine and watch as after 30 minutes only tiny droplets came out. But I still filled out the labels and brought them down the hall because something is better than nothing. But 30 minutes, 8 times a day for DAYS on end to get drops into a tiny bottle was brutal and felt fruitless.
- Manual Expression
- This is when you give yourself a handcramp “massaging” the milk out of your breasts. In the hospital I had more luck with this than I did with the ginormous pump machine. When you’re only getting drops, every drop matters, so watching as they painstakingly drip into a mini bottle was exhausting and satisfying at the same time. Plus, bonus, my hands are ripped now.
- Hospital Grade Pumps
- Because I was going to have a delay on actual breastfeeding the nurses recommended I get a hospital grade pump so that I could have a stronger machine to get the supply up. But you have to rent them weekly or monthly, they legit are not for sale, it’s so strange. Felt strange paying $80 a month to rent a pump when I already got one for free. But, when I returned my NY rental and drove home with my own small pump and had to wait several days to get a MA rental, I learned why. My supply dipped significantly and it was so frustrating. Pumping the same amount of time for the same number of times a day and getting half as much was so maddening that I actually lost my mind on the phone with a durable medical equipment company who was the 5th from the list I received FROM MY INSURANCE company to tell me they don’t rent those. After many phone calls we finally found one nearby and I (thanks to my mom’s quick thinking) called my cousin who lived around the corner begging her to run over there before they closed at 4:30. Life. Saver. This thing is a beast but I kind of don’t want to return it so I’m still paying the monthly rental fee. I’m afraid, if I am being honest, that the other one just won’t do the trick.
- When you’re trying to breastfeed directly, and your supply isn’t enough to feed your baby, your baby gets very frustrated. On top of any mechanical issues that might be present, a supply problem will leave the baby hungry and frustrated. The only way to get it up, feed more and pump more. But sometimes that just doesn’t cut it. In comes Lactation “treats”: Cookies, bites, smoothies, tea, supplements. And I’ve tried them all. The teat tastes like garbage, FYI. Turns out the magic trio is oatmeal, flaxseed and brewer’s yeast. All of these lactation snacks have the three of these ingredients camouflaged by other things to make them taste good. You can also take herbal supplements like Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle. What are they you might ask? I have no freaking idea. But I am taking 3 of each 3 times a day like a champ anyway. If you want a good cookie recipe tho, hit me up.
- Lactation Consultants are Angels
- They are weird experts in breastfeeding that totally deserve the $300+ a pop per visit (most are covered by insurance thank GOD). I went to three appointments in an office in the first couple weeks we were home. Problem is, apparently Liam is a performer. Every time we went he would somehow eat a full feed with basically no issues whatsoever. The consultant was like, boom, you’re good to go. Send me home with confidence only to have him snap his jaw down on my nipple like a crocodile or just root around like a weirdo while crying but definitely not eating. Then I got one to come to my house and thank goodness for her. Her expectations were realistic and she focused on my comfort first, because if you’re miserable you’re likely not going to want to keep doing it.
- Nipple Shields
- These things. Thank goodness for them. Some people are anti. And I can say it is difficult to transition off of them. But when my in home consultant came over she gave me absolution for trying them and they worked wonders. Especially when you’re in so much pain!
- Everything you see or read says breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt if you’re doing it right. Cool. But what if it does hurt? What if you get excited he finally latches, but it hurts so bad you cry, but also don’t want to stop because it took so long to get there. What if you cry in the shower when the water hits you or if you accidentally graze your boob with your elbow. When I went to my 6 week appointment I pointed out the cracked redness and she said “yeah it kind of just comes with the territory”. GREAT. Highly recommend coconut oil before pumping btw.
- Luckily the same day as my 6 week appt the lactation consultant came to the house, took one look at my milk devices and said those are infected, you need APNO (All Purpose Nipple Ointment). I was so annoyed my doctor didn’t pay attention to me, but so grateful she did. You have to get it done at a compounding pharmarcy. Won’t get into the annoying-ness that is my insurance trying to tell me I had to get it done at a send away pharmacy only to find it wouldn’t be covered regardless. Luckily I could swing the $44 because it saved me. Within a few days I learned I could actually not want to chop my nips clear off. What a novel concept! APNO 4 LYFE.
- What the eff is a flange you ask? The cone-like things that act as a funnel for your milk and simultaneously make you look like 80s Madonna. There are different sizes and a super vague description of how to tell if they fit properly. Even if it hurts you do kind of get numb to it, so it was weeks of using the wrong size before I was corrected and given the right ones. Amazing. If you’re interested, check out Pumpin Pals, they’ve worked much better for me than the ones that come with the pump.
- Let Down
- The feeling you get when you try to breastfeed again and it doesn’t work. Or…when the milk comes down from your glands and gets ready to come out. I use the former definition more often, but you know, to each their own.
- Before this when I heard the word latch, I thought of a good jam feat. Sam Smith. But now the word latch was the bane of my existence. The consultants have you form your nipple/areola area into a “sandwich” and then super quickly push the baby towards it all while holding the baby horizontally with knee, hip and shoulder in alignment, making sure your hand isn’t too close to their mouth, that their nostrils are exposed (cuz, you know, breathing), that their tongue is down and the nipple is facing towards the roof of their mouth. And while you’re doing this you should be relaxed and enjoy this 1 on 1 time with your baby. Wait, where in this itinerary is the relaxation supposed to be? Picture this line up of tasks for 45 minutes while never latching. That was the first few weeks of our breastfeeding attempts
- You will drip milk all over things. Also, breastmilk is very fatty aka oily aka it stains things. Also things that stain, Lanolin (the cream you can put on for comfort post feeding). You should just know this, exhibit A:
- Two months into pumping I found out there are storage bags you can pump directly into. Legit life changing. I had been washing and sanitizing 16 bottles a day NOT including the ones I was using to feed the baby. Pumping directly into storage bags has honestly improved my quality of life. 10/10 Highly recommend.
This list is kind of all over the place, but it boils down to this: Breastfeeding is nothing like what I pictured. The nurses in the hospital kept complimenting me for being dedicated to it, but I never felt like I had a choice. If you don’t get your supply up right away, you kind of can’t. So, I guess I was dedicated?
We’re still working very hard at this. There is nothing that feels natural or relaxed about it, even though we’ve gotten much more of the hang of things, especially as Liam’s gotten older and his muscles are developing. I envy the women and babies for whom this comes naturally. And I completely understand the women who decide not to keep doing it. It is a whole damn thing. And people need to know it is not all gumdrops and rainbows. For me, it was mostly tears and, well, tears.
Also, if you don’t get the title of this blog post, please look up Cardi B.