During pregnancy you hear all about the magic of breastfeeding. You hear that baby should latch on right away and it will be this incredible bonding experience for you and baby.
I sure wish that was true for everyone, but I can tell you from firsthand experience, that that is not always the case. I definitely felt bonded to Hendrix right away, but breastfeeding was NOT easy, and for me, it was more of a source of stress and anxiety than a magical experience.
Nursing was a struggle for us from the very beginning. We actually had the option to go home from the hospital the day after he was born, but I chose to stay an extra day just to get some extra help with nursing. But even with that extra help, I still felt lost when we got home. It was a struggle to get him to latch, every single time. He would just scream and cry and shake his head. Even when he did latch, he wasn’t latched correctly, and there would be more milk going all over both of us than was actually going in his mouth. The day after we came home, I finally just gave in and pumped and gave him some milk from a bottle because as much as I didn’t want to feed him from a bottle right away, I knew he needed to eat.
At his first pediatrician’s appointment two days after we came home (which was on a Friday,) she was pretty concerned because he was still losing weight rather than starting to gain it back. She checked him for a lip or tongue tie, but couldn’t find any issues. She suggested that I keep trying to nurse him, but after every session, go ahead and feed him some pumped milk from a bottle as well so that we could make sure that he was getting enough to eat. Since he was struggling so much with his weight, she wanted to see him back the following Monday to make sure he was gaining. So over the weekend, I basically nursed and bottle fed him every two hours around the clock, and thankfully at his appointment on Monday, he had gained around four ounces. We also talked with the lactation consultant at that appointment, and she suggested I try using a nipple shield.
So on our way home from that appointment, I stopped and bought one, and it was a huge help. He was able to latch on much easier and seemed to be getting a lot more to eat. However, I knew that I would eventually have to wean him off of using the shield, and the thought of trying to do that really stressed me out. But I decided to just not worry about that for a while, and just focus on getting my baby fed.
Also, the hospital that Hendrix was born at offers lactation clinics a couple times a week where you can just stop in to get help with nursing, but the lactation consultant at our pediatrician’s office said that the people that run those clinics are really against using nipple shields, so if I went I should be prepared for them to try to convince me not to use it. I was already super stressed about how difficult nursing had been so far, and I really didn’t want anyone giving me any kind of negative feedback like that, so I never ended up going to the clinics.
So, while the nipple shield was a pain in the butt, (I was always forgetting it when we sat down for a session, and it would fall off a lot) I stuck with it. We were still feeding him from a bottle some as well, just to make sure he was getting enough, and so my husband could help out with feeding him, but I was trying to nurse as often as we could. Things were going pretty well, but it was still pretty stressful for me and I was already thinking about how long I was going to be able to keep it up.
Then, when he was around six weeks old, he started refusing to nurse, even with the shield. He was crying and shaking his head like he had done at the very beginning, and either wouldn’t latch at all, or would only latch for a couple minutes, and then just pull away and scream and scream until I gave him a bottle. I knew he was hungry though, because as soon as I would give him the bottle, he would down the whole thing in just a few minutes. I read online about nursing strikes, and thought that was what we were going through, but those usually only last a few days, and he just seemed to keep getting worse.
I fought him on it for a while and just kept trying to nurse, but eventually I just decided it wasn’t worth it. I was starting to dread feeding him and it was giving me a lot of stress and anxiety, and I knew he wasn’t enjoying it either. So after a couple weeks, I gave up nursing completely, and have been exclusively pumping ever since. I told myself if he ever tries to nurse again I will let him, but so far he hasn’t shown any interest.
We’ve now been doing it this way for about 12 weeks, and we’re both much happier. Exclusive pumping is HARD. It’s time consuming, I basically have to plan my days around being able to pump every 3 to 4 hours, and it’s a huge pain to have to sit and be attached to a pump for 30 minutes at a time when you have a baby that constantly needs your attention. But I’m making it work.
I currently pump six times a day, for 30 minutes each time (except my middle of the night session, which is usually only 20 or 25 minutes because I’m tired and just want to go back to bed.) During the day I try to pump every 3 or 4 hours, and over night I go 5 or 6 hours so that I only have to get up to pump once. I’m also in the process of trying to drop from 6 to 4 sessions a day, and just making those sessions a little longer so that I don’t lose any of my supply. I am prone to getting clogged milk ducts, so I’m having to take the process of dropping sessions very slow, but I think it will be much easier when I don’t have to pump so many times in a day. Once I get down to 4 sessions, I’m going to work on moving the times that I pump around a little bit so that I don’t have to pump in the middle of the night.
The majority of what I pump in a day goes straight to him to eat that day, but I’m also working on a freezer stash. My goal is to give him breast milk until he turns one, but I’m hoping by building a freezer stash that I will be able to stop pumping by the time he’s 6 to 9 months and just give him what I have stored in the freezer.
He’s a bit of a snacker and likes to eat smaller amounts more often, but he typically eats between 3 to 5 ounces at a time. So after each pumping session, I will put 4 or 5 ounces of what I pump in a bottle for him to have that day, and then whatever I have left from that session will go into a separate bottle. I will add my extra from each session to that bottle throughout the day, and once it reaches about 6 or 7 ounces, I will pour it into a storage bag and add it to the freezer stash.
I use an app called Pump Log to track how much I pump at each session, as well as how much is in my freezer stash. It also has a cool feature where you can put in approximately how much baby eats in a day, and to what age you want to feed them until, and it uses that combined with the average amount I pump in a day to determine when I can stop pumping. So as of right now, I will have to keep pumping like this until June, but I’m hoping that as I add more and more to the freezer stash that I’ll be able to stop a little sooner.
He also gets just a few ounces of formula a couple times a week, which we have been doing since he was probably 3 or 4 weeks old. The main times we use formula are when I’ve gotten a little behind on pumping his milk for the day, when he’s super fussy (because it seems to calm him,) or when he’s just having a complete meltdown and we don’t want to wait for a bottle of breast milk to warm up. He definitely prefers breast milk over formula, but it’s good to know that if for some reason we ever have to switch to formula only, he will still be happy.
One thing that has recently helped to make this whole pumping journey easier is the Elvie pump. The other pump I have is the Spectra that has to be plugged in. I like that one a lot, but sometimes I just need to be hands free. I’m a stay at home mom with a baby, pets, and housework to take care of, so having to sit through six sessions a day was getting really difficult. So I decided to make the investment and get an Elvie pump, which you just put in your bra and it’s completely hand and tube free. I only got one since they are so expensive, which means I can only pump one side at a time with it, but it is still so much more convenient. I still use my Spectra quite often, but it’s nice to be able to pump sometimes while I cook, clean, or take care of the baby. I’m going to share my full thoughts on the Elvie on my story over on Instagram (@the_bohobeachblog), and I’ll save it to my highlights, so if you want to know more about it, head over there!
Everyone’s breastfeeding journey is different, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However you feed your baby, whether it’s nursing, pumping, formula, or some combination of the three, you’re doing it right. FED is best, and as long as your baby is healthy and happy, that’s all that matters!