My breastfeeding journey may resonate with many fellow moms. It is one of the hardest yet most rewarding mothering experiences. It is a whirlwind of emotions with the highest of highs and lowest of lows. One moment you’ll be in total bliss staring into your baby’s eyes, and the next you’ll be wondering if you can stand to breastfeed one more second. Since August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month, I’d like to share my journey with you. As well as the struggles and benefits of breastfeeding. I hope this inspires you on your breastfeeding journey.
I. Making the Choice to Breastfeed
Making the choice to breastfeed was one of the most important and thoughtful decisions I made as a first-time mom. As any first-time parent, I bought all the parenting books, read articles, and consumed as much information as possible. Throughout all my research, I kept reading about the amazing benefits, health and non-health related, breastfeeding provides to both mom and baby. I knew that breastfeeding was an experience I wanted to try even though I read it’d be challenging. Breastfeeding was not as popular when I started as it is now. Luckily, there has been a strong movement towards breastfeeding. Breastmilk contains the perfect components of proteins, fats, and nutrients for developing brains and bodies. Therefore, the health benefits for mom and baby are many.
A. Health Benefits for Mother and Baby
According to the CDC, Infants who are breastfed have reduced risks of:
- Type 1 diabetes.
- Severe lower respiratory disease.
- Acute otitis media (ear infections).
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
- Gastrointestinal infections (diarrhea/vomiting).
- Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) for preterm infants
Health Benefits to the Mother include lower risks of:
- High blood pressure.
- Type 2 diabetes.
- Ovarian cancer.
- Breast cancer.
For more information on the CDC’s recommendation for Breastfeeding, visit this page.
B. Other Benefits of Breastfeeding
There are benefits beyond the health-related ones that make breastfeeding the best option for you and baby. First, breastfeeding your newborn provides an incredible bonding experience between mom and baby. As stated by WebMD, “The physical closeness, skin-to-skin touching, and eye contact all help your baby bond with you and feel secure.” Second, it can help you save money! Yes, the cost of formula can definitely add up. Especially if your baby develops aversions to formulas and you have to try different kinds. Third, breastfeeding moms need a strong support group to get through some of the challenges. In turn, moms have an opportunity to cultivate some great friendships and bonds with other breastfeeding moms. Finally, some studies have shown an increase in IQ in breastfed babies. Cheers to your future little genius!
II. My Breastfeeding Journey with Three Kids
A. First Baby Breastfed for 14 Months: Low Milk Supply, Supplemented
In 2014, I had my first daughter and embarked on my first breastfeeding journey. Before I gave birth, I hired a lactation consultant, believe it or not! I needed some idea of what to do. When she arrived at our house, expecting to see a newborn, she was quite surprised to see my pregnant belly instead. But hiring her to give me the class was a great idea that helped give me some confidence. The consultant’s instructions prepared me for the first few critical hours of nursing my newborn.
Therefore, my first piece of advice, if you are able to hire a breastfeeding consultant before and/or after baby comes home from the hospital, it’s a great investment in your breastfeeding journey.
My second piece of advice, if this is your first baby, be prepared for different birth scenarios. Accept that your delivery may not go exactly how you expect. It is important to be flexible keeping in mind that the baby’s health and well-being come first. I was expecting to have a beautiful natural delivery, Sade playing in the background, and cue the flying white doves upon her arrival. Instead, it was a 21-hour labor that ended in a c-section at 2:00 a.m. So, roll with the punches, keep your goal in mind, stay committed to your decision to breastfeed, and try your best!
Hospitals are much better prepared now than in 2014 to help mothers who intend to breastfeed. A family-centered delivery program that provides care for mom and baby in-room together is a wonderful advantage to nursing moms who need to feed the baby on demand in those first few hours. Even if you are not intending to breastfeed long-term, those first few days of colostrum provide a huge advantage to your baby. Hospitals are also providing lactation nurses to help mom and baby achieve a good latch and start their breastfeeding journey on the right foot.
Common Breastfeeding Struggles:
Most of my struggles with breastfeeding came during my journey with my first baby. Everything with the first baby is new, scary, and hard, including breastfeeding. Struggles including:
- correcting her latch,
- determining how much milk she was drinking,
- poop color,
- coming on and off the breast,
- refusing a breast,
it all required a lot of Google searches, reading, learning, and asking fellow moms questions. This is normal! If you find yourself calling the pediatrician often during that first year, do not feel bad, most of us have done the same. I never read as much as I did with my first baby that first year, and I went to law school! Reading and seeking out resources (listed below) will help you on your breastfeeding journey. You’ll find many moms have experienced your struggles and offer different advice and techniques that you can try. Third piece of advice, read, research, and reach out to other moms, you’ll need many sources of information and a strong support system. Create a strong support system that will see you through your struggles and help answer your questions.
B. Second Baby Exclusively Breastfed for 18+ Months: Case of Mastitis
Having had to supplement with my first baby because of 1) jaundice in the hospital, 2) low milk supply, and 3) simply not knowing what I was doing, I was determined to exclusively breastfeed my second daughter. She was born in 2017, and I felt much better prepared the second time around to exclusively breastfeed. Her delivery was a planned c-section. It was a much more relaxed scenario than the first delivery experience. I was able to exclusively breastfeed her without any problems in the hospital.
However, my challenging moment with my second daughter began when I was over-eager with my milk supply. I wanted to exclusively breastfeed and create a generous milk stash from the outset. Well, that plan, unfortunately, led me to develop mastitis for the first time. My mastitis required an Emergency Room visit and prescribed antibiotics. Furthermore, the ER physician erroneously told me that I could not breastfeed while taking the necessary antibiotics. When I double-checked with my daughter’s pediatrician it turns out I could breastfeed while taking the antibiotic. So I was able to resume my breastfeeding journey and I breastfed her for 18+ months. Takeaway, be sure to double-check with your doctor and baby’s pediatrician when it comes to health concerns.
My second challenge with darling daughter number two, weaning her off the breast at 18+ months!
C. Third Baby Exclusively Breastfed 3+ Months: Low Blood Sugar, Supplemented in Hospital
My third daughter was born at 36 weeks, a complete shock and surprise! She was born in April of 2021, and it was a crazy and hectic emergency c-section. I did not even have my hospital bag prepared, relying on my other two pregnancies being full term. Fourth piece of advice, do not procrastinate, prepare, prepare, prepare, each pregnancy journey is different! She was born technically a preemie and the hospital needed to follow a blood sugar level protocol. She ended up needing formula to elevate her blood sugar levels the first two days at the hospital. Since then, she’s been exclusively breastfed. One of my nurses gave me great advice, she said, “A few bottles of formula, does not a formula baby make.” So if you find yourself in a situation requiring supplementing with formula, do not give up on breastfeeding. A minor hiccup at the beginning (or middle) will not ruin your breastfeeding journey, no matter how long or short you intend it to be.
Finally, I learned that however much I would have loved the ideal situation, to have exclusively breastfed my three babies without any hiccups, it is not reality! Each breastfeeding journey has been completely different, difficult, and rewarding in its own way. No matter how difficult the struggle has been, there is a solution to every problem. I would not have chosen a different path for myself and my three girls. Breastfeeding them has brought a special closeness and bond that was worth all the challenges.
Know that breastfeeding requires:
But in the end, it is one of the most selfless and important things you will do for your baby. It is an accomplishment to breastfeed. And I give special credit to the working moms that pump their milk for their babies. Although I did not pump very much milk, I tip my hat to the moms that do pump exclusively. There are many ways for you to feed your baby that golden breastmilk.
III. Breastfeeding Journey: Resources, Tools, Tips
- A baby scale will help you determine how much your baby is drinking and if he/she is gaining weight properly in those first few months.
- Invest in a breast pump or a handheld such as the Hakaa to ease engorged breasts and create a stash of milk for a) emergencies, b) Dad or other person to feed baby, c) bottle-feeding your breastmilk.
- Invest in good-quality nursing bras and/or tank tops. A good nursing bra will make a huge difference in your comfort level with your new breast size.
- A breastfeeding pillow can make breastfeeding comfier and easier.
- Have nipple cream and heating pads to help with the first few days of discomfort.
- Find a lactation consultant near you, this is a wise investment if you’re struggling or clueless!
- Have a support group to keep you committed to breastfeeding, whether it is your spouse, relative, or friends, you’ll need a shoulder to lean on during the trying times.
- Drink lots of fluids! I found that chicken soup, oatmeal, and electrolyte water were my best friends during those first few weeks of nursing. And don’t forget to take your prenatal vitamins!
- Skin-to-skin contact with baby during the first hours after delivery (and days if possible) will help your milk come in quicker.
- Have baby latch onto the breast as soon as possible right after delivery, within the first few minutes is ideal.
Inspire Other Moms to Start their Breastfeeding Journey
Thank you for reading about my breastfeeding journey with my three girls. I hope you were able to relate to some of my struggles and experiences. My journey helped inspire other moms to start their journey as well. Now we have bonded over our breastfeeding experiences. Share your story with us in the comments, it may help or inspire a mom in our tribe! Wishing you the best of luck in your breastfeeding journey.