From the moment I knew I was pregnant for the first time I was certain I wanted to breastfeed. As a first time mom I thought it would be easy. Breastfeeding was supposed to be a natural process and a mother’s body was meant for this purpose right? I naively thought that just because I birthed a baby that my body would automatically produce as much milk as my baby needed for as long as I wanted. I expected blissful moments of easy bottomless feeding and bonding with my baby and even though I definitely had blissful bonding time that I will never forget, the feeding aspect was a little short of being blissful and bottomless. And breastfeeding, although natural, was not an easy process and I quickly learned that lesson.
My goal was to nurse my daughter for at least one year. I wanted all of the benefits of breastfeeding for both of us. I wanted to reduce my risk of having my breast cancer return and lessen my chances of postmenopausal osteoporosis. I also wanted to reduce her risk of SIDS and increase the antibodies from the milk that would help her fight off viruses and bacteria, lower her risk of having asthma and allergies and other health issues like ear infections, pneumonia, and chronic conditions, as well as give her a boost in her IQ level. Plus, I wanted to have a special bond with my daughter that I thought breastfeeding would lend itself to and also save money since breastfeeding was free.
From the moment I tried feeding her in the hospital, breastfeeding seemed like it was going to be everything I thought it would be. I felt very lucky that it seemed to be so easy for me compared to other moms I knew at the time. My daughter latched easily, didn’t have a tongue or lip tie, and didn’t need a nipple shield to drink. However, as soon as I arrived home, I had a little taste of how difficult breastfeeding could be. My nipples became dry and chapped and it was painful every time she latched. I had no idea my left side (the side that I didn’t have lumpectomies) would produce almost double the milk and leave her vomiting every time she drank from that side first thing in the morning because it was producing so much too quickly. And the side I did have my surgeries would make less than half of the milk of the other side and eventually almost none. You see, the tissue that was removed from that side impaired some of the milk ducts and I was warned from the doctors that my milk production on that side would be slim to none. But I was grateful to be cancer free and was willing to sacrifice breastfeeding on that side if I had to – well that decision is always easy and am fortunate beyond imaginable that I still have my breast and my life but the thought of not nursing on that side was much easier before I knew what it was like to be a mom and want to nurse my baby from both sides. I feel like I am not giving enough with only one side.
I also didn’t realize how helpless breastfeeding made my husband. He desperately wanted to help me more so I could sleep and envied the bond her and I shared. Sometimes it almost felt selfish to nurse her but I kept reminding myself that this was the choice we made as a couple and every parent I knew at the time was nursing their babies so it seemed like the only option. When she was awake I was feeding on demand and I pumped during her long bouts of sleep and things seemed to be going well overall. And after two months of being home on maternity leave I went back to work. It was then that everything changed. Little did I know that my milk supply wouldn’t be as bountiful and that if I didn’t keep up with feedings and pumping, it would soon rapidly deteriorate. I took for granted that it would always be there.
At the time I was managing a behavior program at a local non-profit and although I had an office on our main campus, I was often driving from meeting to meeting all over town. Most of the time I didn’t have a place to pump or I was too embarrassed to ask. Other times I forgot or time would just evaporate and hours would go by because I was so busy and wasn’t thinking about it. Because of this schedule, I often would go hours without eating or drinking, which I know didn’t help. I’m sure I was dehydrated and wasn’t consuming the recommended calories I should have. I was losing weight quickly and was back down to my pre birth weight in no time. It also didn’t help that my breasts didn’t get engorged or hurt if I went a long time between feedings or pumping so it wasn’t necessary to find a release as other moms did. I would sometimes go 5-6 hours without feeding or pumping. My milk supply may not have ever been very plentiful to begin with and even after going that long, I sometimes wouldn’t even produce much milk.
It was months later that someone suggested I get a car adapter so I could pump in my car to and from meetings and throughout the day with some privacy when I was on the go. Although this helped tremendously, it didn’t solve the problem. I ended up consulting with a lactation specialist when my daughter was 6 months old, and with her help, I was able to get a boost in my milk supply and continue nursing for a few more months. I was instructed to pump after every feeding and every two hours in between feedings as well as take supplements and it was just too much. My entire life was about breastfeeding and it often led to so much agony that my milk supply stayed low because of all the stress I was feeling. My schedule continued to be busy and it just wasn’t possible to keep up this routine as a working mom. If you’ve ever been a pumping mom, you know the set up, the pumping, and the clean up isn’t easy.
With the continued time lapse between feedings and pumping sessions, stress, and not eating and drinking properly, I lost my milk supply when she was 10 months old. I was devastated and remember crying after her final feeding. I felt like I was not a good mother and that I disappointed her (and me) somehow. I had so much guilt and so many regrets. But there was also a part of me that was relieved. I was prisoner to my pump and was happy to give it up. I wasn’t in fear any longer that she would bite me again as it hurt so much the first time since her first teeth came in around 5 months old! I could finally wear regular bras and clothes that didn’t revolve around making breastfeeding more manageable. I could sleep through the night and my husband could be more involved with the feedings. I felt like I was becoming “me” again and to a certain extent it was a nice feeling to get my life back as I once knew it. Luckily I had enough milk saved in the freezer that I was able to use half breastmilk and half organic formula until she was 11 months old. We then used organic formula for the next month or so until she switched to exclusively hemp milk soon after her first birthday.
I promised myself I wouldn’t let this happen again when I had my second baby.
A lot has changed since my daughter was a baby. I work from home now and don’t have as much stress as I had before. When I do work outside the home it is often nearby without a long commute and only once or twice a week for only a few hours at a time. I don’t go long periods without pumping and sometimes leave and come home before his next feeding and don’t have to pump at all. I can more easily feed on demand but I still need to be mindful and proactive. Plus my son is bigger than my daughter was and eats more often at higher quantities. I find though, even with all this new education, experience, and preparation, that my body still isn’t meant to have an abundant supply of breastmilk. As soon as my body starts losing weight and getting back on a monthly cycle, my milk supply takes a hit. I don’t need a freezer full of milk, but I need enough to fill up my baby and meet his nutritional needs. And sometimes I wonder if I make enough. It’s still a struggle for me.
I do feel much more educated and prepared the second time around. I was fortunate to again have a baby that latched well from day one at the hospital. Things were going well for the first few weeks and then I got my first clogged milk duct. I was in tears most of the day because I was in so much pain and my doctor thought it was mastitis based on my symptoms and ordered me antibiotics. Luckily I did a lot of massaging, pumping and feeding on the sore side and the symptoms disappeared in less than 24 hours and I have been fine since. And as soon as my son was a month old and sleeping for longer periods of time, I started pumping in between feedings in hopes to save up as much milk as I could for when I went back to work. I ended up saving a week’s worth of frozen milk and couldn’t have been happier. But now my son is six months old, the same age my milk supply took a huge dip with my daughter, and I wonder how much longer I’ll be able to nurse him. All but two bottles worth of the milk in the freezer has been used and when I pump now I’m lucky to make a full bottle worth of milk. Now instead of a one-for-one, I usually need two pumping sessions for one feeding of milk. Granted my son is eating pureed fruits and vegetables now and his feeding patterns are not as often as before, but I still want to make nursing his first form of food and nutrition. And remember the side that my breast cancer was on? That side is pretty much not making any milk anymore.
And my husband, although loving and wanting to help, keeps asking me if we should start supplementing with formula. As a human being that has never breastfed it seems like a logical solution but deep down it just makes me feel like a failure of a mom and as a woman. Can anyone relate? It breaks my heart each time he asks me because he truly doesn’t know how it makes me feel to want to nurse my baby with my own milk and not through another source, but if I am being honest, I have considered it, too. At the end of the day we want our baby to be healthy and if that means supplementing with formula, we will. But I am going to try my hardest to do everything I can before I make that decision. I’m not giving up without a fight!
I no longer view breastfeeding as easy. It is a 24/7 job. And although I have loved bonding with my babies and giving him all the benefits of my milk, it is hard work. Getting up throughout the night to feed is exhausting. Pumping is hard and inconvenient. Not being able to have certain freedoms can be frustrating. Having to wear specific bras and clothes in order to nurse easily is overwhelming. Using a nursing cover in public is awkward and irritating. And constantly having to keep up my milk supply is a never-ending task. It’s not as natural as I always thought. It takes work and I have to be mindful and proactive. But it is a beautiful gift and worth every feeding that I can give my baby. I wouldn’t change it for the world and hope I can inspire other moms to do the same.
Before my son was born I stocked up on various lactation drinks, foods, and supplements so I could be prepared to keep my milk supply up from day one. Some of these items weren’t even around when I was nursing my daughter so I was grateful for everything I could get my hands on! And although they were helpful at the beginning, I am now half way through my second breastfeeding experience I find myself desperately needing a milk boost! So my friends over at Oatmama recently sent me their brand new Blueberry Pomegranate Lactation Tea to try and it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time! I have been drinking it everyday since the package arrived and am almost in need of another shipment! For only $12 I can get 14 caffeine free tea bags. And the ingredients are Organic Hibiscus Flower, Organic Fennel Seed, Organic Raspberry Leaf, Organic Alfalfa, Organic Nettle Leaf, Natural Blueberry and Pomegranate Flavors. The tea also comes in Cherry Ginger Lactation Green Tea – which I want to try next! The tea is delicious warm but lately since it’s been so hot outside, I have been drinking it over ice and it is so refreshing! And I truly believe it has given me the milk boost I needed. I have noticed my supply increase – especially when I pump. I have been making at least one ounce more than I was making before I started using the tea!
In addition to teas, Oatmama also makes lactation granola bars. I first tried these bars at an event a few years ago, where I met the kind and talented mama owners, and not only personally fell in love with first bite, I have also given bars to the mamas at my local prenatal/postpartum support groups and they loved them, too! With flavors like Dark Chocolate Almond, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Almond Coconut (my favorite), Apple Cinnamon Raisin with Fenugreek, Cranberry Orange, and Nut & Berry you know you will fall in love with them, too! Can’t decide what flavor you want to try? Try a 10 or 40 Sampler Pack and try all of them! And stay tuned because they are always coming up with new and seasonal flavors!
And right now you have the chance to win a $50 shop credit to Oatmama!! You can get some tea, some bars, and even a #mothertogether tank (check out my latest Instagram post to see me wearing it). Proceeds from each tank benefit Every Mother Counts and Mother’s Milk Bank. Plus it has ample side openings for super easy breastfeeding access! Enter to win on Facebook or Instagram – or both places for double the chance to win! To learn more about Oatmama including the history of the company, the wonderful mamas that created it, and nutrition information please visit their website https://www.oatmama.com and to shop bars, tea and or the #mothertogether tee please visit their website https://www.oatmama.com/collections/all And make sure you are following them on social media for new products, discount codes, and giveaways! To follow on Instagram click here https://www.instagram.com/oatmama/?hl=en and to follow on Facebook click here https://www.facebook.com/oatmama/