I had the unique experience of exclusively pumping for 1 year with my first baby and exclusively breastfeeding for 1 year my second baby. There were pros and cons that came with both experiences, but they each shaped me as a mother and drove a lot of my choices. In retrospect, I’ve realized 6 things I would do different if I could do it all again.
A little back story … I spent 11 months exclusively pumping and supplementing my breast milk with my first child. Breastfeeding got off to a rough start with my first-born. I ended up with an emergency C-section and he was rushed to the NICU for 5 days. During that time he was being poked and prodded every five minutes while I was trying to recover from major surgery. I couldn’t hold my son for the first 12 hours because I was so sick from the pain. I started pumping right away at the hospital. I would pump and get 1 drop of colostrum, which my husband would run it down to the NICU to rub it on my son’s lips. Needless to say, nursing never clicked at the hospital. I nursed 8 weeks before I had to call it quits. It got to a point where I cried just thinking about having to nurse. My son’s cries for hunger triggered my own tears. I dreaded nursing, but wanted to be able to give my son ‘the best’ like we are taught. I was so stressed out by nursing that a lactation consultant finally told me it was better for my son, and for me, if I stopped trying to nurse. I felt like a failure. At that point I decided to do the next best thing and pump exclusively. I ended up feeling happier, sleeping better, and bonding more with my son during feedings.
Things I would do different if I got the opportunity:
- Get help from the start. I would ask for help RIGHT AWAY before any small issues become big problems. I would have asked for more help from the lactation consultants in the hospital, and continued to see them after being discharged to correct anything they see wrong with technique or the baby’s latch. I found out that my second child had a tongue tie and once that was snipped nursing became easier. Make sure you find support from those around you. Talk to your mommy friends or attend mommy groups (like La Leche League or community based programs to help new moms) to see what works for other people. Realize that not everything will work for you but you might learn a lot. Watch videos. This may seem funny but the first two months of nursing my second child I spent hours on YouTube watching how people nurse newborns, get them to latch, practice different holds, troubleshoot issues, etc. trying to figure out what I was doing. Make sure to tell your husband or support system how they can help you. Most people have no idea what you need or what they can do to help you, so be open and honest. My husband helped me those 1st few weeks by changing my son’s diaper and getting him ready for me while I got set up to nurse. He helped me get my son latched on, brought me water or food while I nursed (since I was always thirsty and ravenous during nursing sessions), but most of all he let me cry and vent about my struggles. Reach out to your support network as much as you can during those challenging periods, having someone tell you that you are doing great helps you through those times when you feel ready to give up.
- Allow a pacifier or a bottle. When my second came along I was so determined to make breastfeeding work that I refused to even try a bottle or a pacifier in times of need, as I was told those would set us up for failure with nursing. I know some kids won’t take either or that many parents don’t want their kids to rely on them. I was in that camp. Looking back though I can see where it would have eased some very stressful times at home and in public. My husband felt like he had no way to calm our son down if I wasn’t there. There are times I would get stuck running errands longer than I planned or my meetings at work went late and my poor husband would be doing all he could to calm my starving son down to no avail. If I could do it over I would still wait a month to introduce either, but personally I would start using pacifiers and bottles if I felt the situation called for it-without thinking it would ruin everything. Nursing is such a blessing for moms but it can be hard for our partners who want to experience that wonderful bond during feeding as well. I would make sure my husband was able to give our child a bottle regularly so he felt involved and could enjoy bonding the way I got to.
- Never stop giving a bottle once it is introduced. I introduced the bottle when I went back to work after my 3 month maternity leave. My son fought it and spilled most of every bottle we gave him. After 1 week of trying to get him to take a bottle my work allowed me to take my breaks to nurse (I work from home which helped a ton!) so we stopped giving him his nightly bottle. The next time we needed to introduce a bottle was when my son was 7 months old and my husband and I took a trip to Boston for our anniversary. We were gone for 4 days and my in-laws were patient enough to get him to drink a little from a bottle but he didn’t love it. It didn’t help that I hated pumping those 4 days on my trip! It brought me back to the days when I pumped exclusively. So when we got back from our trip I decided I couldn’t pump again – even the sound of the pump made me cringe at this point. So I stopped giving my son bottles AGAIN and worked my whole schedule around being able to nurse him. It was selfish on my part to refuse giving my son a bottle, but for me it was the only way I could stay sane. The challenge I ran into then was that it restricted me so much. It dictated when I could be out of the house or away from my son. It also put pressure on anyone who watched my son while I was gone because they had no way to calm him down if he got hungry. I was ruled by my son’s nursing schedule. I made it to 1 year of nursing and had another major trip I was taking so I decided to start the weaning process. I was so proud I made it a year, but when I went to wean him he wasn’t having it. He was so used to nursing he wouldn’t drink anything at all. We bought every kind of sippy cup or bottle out there. It was a long, painful transition. We were so worried he was going to get dehydrated because he wouldn’t take liquids. We resorted to only feeding him food that had liquids in them like fruits and vegetables, or stage 2/3 baby food meals that were pureed. We fought him for 2 whole months before he finally started drinking milk from a sippy cup-and not very well either. He soaked himself every time he drank before he got used to the concept. Looking back I see we would have struggled a lot less if I had just let him continue to having a bottle a 2-3 times each week to keep him accustomed to drinking from something other than me 🙂
- Push myself to learn to nurse in public earlier. I would care less about what others think and figure out how I could be at ease nursing in public. For the first few months of nursing I scheduled errands or play dates around when I might have to nurse so I could be home when my son got hungry. That limited what we were able to do. I am a very modest person and the idea of nursing in front of other people stressed me out like crazy. I was constantly worried people were judging me. Or worse yet was trying to figure out HOW to nurse in public with a flailing baby who didn’t care if I flashed anyone or not. Once I got the hang of nursing (around 3 months in) I pushed myself to try nursing places other than our big comfy chair at home with a boppy pillow within arm’s reach, and let me tell you it wasn’t easy. I finally got bold enough to really give nursing in public a try around 6 months and it opened up my whole world. All of a sudden I was able to enjoy meeting up with people or going out to eat. I started enjoying my days again and didn’t feel rushed when my son got hungry. It took me a long time to get there and I wish I would have pushed myself to try it and practice it earlier. I’ve seen mommy friends prove it can be done from very early on so that would be what I would strive for next time.
- Buy clothes that make nursing more convenient. I was cheap and decided I could get away with using all of my normal clothes while pumping and breastfeeding. The problem is that normal clothes are not meant to make nursing or pumping easier-in fact many of my outfits made it so much more difficult. I ruined all of my clothes by stretching them beyond repair either getting access to the breast or because I hadn’t lost the baby weight yet. Then there are all the stains you get from being a nursing mom, like my milk leaking or the baby spitting up for the tenth time that day. I would suck it up and spend money for clothes specifically made for nursing mothers. Particularly, nursing bras, tank tops and a nice dress I could wear (because there will be a lot of events you will need to look nice for while you are nursing and you should not have to pull you dress up over your head to get access to the good stuff).
- Realize that supplementing with formula isn’t the end of the world. My 3 month old and I got the stomach flu at the same time. We came back from the hospital for my son and I immediately started throwing up. I didn’t have any breast milk saved up at this point and my son was so sick he wouldn’t take a bottle anyway. I was trying to sleep in between nursing every 1-2 hours. I wasn’t getting any rest or getting any better. Worse yet, my breast milk was drying up because I wasn’t able to keep any food or liquids down. My son started feeling better and got his appetite back full strength. I had no milk in me at that point and I remember sitting on the couch sobbing with formula in my hands, worried that if I gave it to my son he wouldn’t like the taste of my milk anymore and we would be done nursing. It was an all-time low for me-I was miserable and because I was so focused on nursing I was terrified to do what probably would have been best for both myself and my son at that point. If I could do it over again I would realize that formula is there to help and be more open to it.
These are just a few of the things I would do different based on my experiences. Everyone has a different journey and we all need to support one another-whatever choices we make. In the end we are all just trying to be the best parents we can be-I know I was just doing my best when I made all of my decisions (good or bad). What would you do different if you could, I would love to hear!
Here are some great websites for information on breastfeeding: La Leche League (http://www.llli.org/resources.html), Kelly Mom (http://kellymom.com/).
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