Other than the birth story of my son, this is probably my second most vulnerable post. Why is posting about breastfeeding vulnerable? I won’t get into that now, nor will I be suggesting how you feed your baby, but I will be diving into exactly how I nursed up until 17 months and what (if any) products I used during the various stages. I'll also describe our weaning process and while this post is extremely long, I didn't want to skip any details I thought would be interesting or helpful for readers.
Prepping for Breastfeeding Before Baby:
Before having my second child, I was determined to give breastfeeding a really good try since I didn’t have luck with my first child past the first few days. My doula was also a lactation consultant so we planned on when she would be available to get involved. My prayer leading up to delivery was that God would create our bodies to work well together (perfect latch, good supply, and so on).
The items I had before baby was born: a plug in breast pump, a hands-free pumping bra, a hand-held pump, haakas*, nipple shields*, nipple balm, nursing bras, breastmilk storage bags, bottles, sunflower lecithin, mothers milk tea, and a boppy nursing pillow.
Breastfeeding During the Newborn Stage:
My baby latched within the first hour of birth and I would put him to feed every 2 hours or so (when they’re newborns they don’t give you cues until real hunger). I was ready for the pain that I remembered having with my first but contrary to that, I felt no actual pain other than the slight uterus cramping that comes with nursing post-birth. My first concern was, is he actually getting anything? This was because I truly didn’t feel anything (the latch felt like pins and needles with my first).
From my research, my goals were the following: latch him often and on both sides to encourage milk production, and to keep his blood sugar and hunger stable. Note: linking a few podcasts at the end of this post that helped my preparation.
I had him on a Monday and by Wednesday I started having trouble. LONG emo story short, my body was changing making it difficult for him to latch, so in order to actually feed my baby and satisfy his hunger, I gave him a few bottles with formula to hold him over. Thursday morning I had a lactation consult and by the time that appointment came around I showed my doula my method I developed: first, I would express milk with the hand pump which would help ease the latch for my baby, while I did that - I usually started giving a bottle (with formula, because I had no stash) to the baby to begin his feed and satisfy his initial hunger. After just a few sips on the bottle I would transfer him to me where he'd finish off the feeding. Weird, I know - but hey, it worked...and we did this for about 2-4 days before he adapted to my changing body and then exclusively breastfed...for the next 6 months...more on that later.
One piece of advice that helped me with fears of nipple/bottle confusion and supply is my doula reminding me that the baby was eating 10+ times per day and if he received a bottle for a few feeds, it wasn't the end of the world.
The item I wish I would have started using sooner was the elvie curve to begin stashing let down instead of feeding formula, so I could use my breastmilk for my little 'trick' I developed. I also initially had signs of mastitis starting in week two so I began taking that sunflower lecethin and using a massager.
Breastfeeding Changes During 0-3 Months:
By week two of breastfeeding, I was like, wow - this is cool! I didn't have this experience with my first, and altogether found it easier on myself, my husband and the baby. I did not attempt any feeding schedule (throughout my whole journey) and fed 'on-demand' which just means whenever the baby wanted. Stress on your body can easily deplete your milk supply, so I prioritized *REST* during the first couple of weeks. I knew my body was working extra to heal from birth and produce milk so I had clear expectations with my husband around why I would be resting and I'm thankful for his support with my older child.
During those initial night wakings, my baby would still fall asleep within a few minutes of nursing, making it impossible to get him on both sides or even a long enough feed to encourage continued milk supply. Because of this, I started utilizing the electric breast pump at night if he had a really short feed, and soon started using the Elvie Curve on the opposite side of his feed to catch let down. By the end of month three, I didn't need the electric pump at night anymore and would solely rely on the Elvie Curve for catching let down OR the hand pump. During each nighttime feed I'd switch sides (ex: baby on left, elvie on right...next feed: baby on right, elvie on left).
In hindsight, I wish I would have given him a bottle at least once per day or every other day. As a stay-at-home mom it is very easy to slip into nursing on-demand (which is what I did), but I was not expecting to exclusively breastfeed for months on end which ended up happening. By month three I remember experiencing these somewhat frustrating situations: he would prefer to nurse to sleep but hated actually drinking milk while trying to fall asleep (yes, he used me as a pacifier), he would not take a pacifier (I tried at least 10 different ones*), and he stopped taking the bottle which meant he was my permanent sidekick considering his longest amount of time without eating was around 2.5 hours. The conclusion of the newborn phase was a upon us, a few reflections from that time are detailed here.
*this pacifier is the closest he got to actually taking, it's very unique!
Breastfeeding Continued...4-6 Months:
Things started to get more regular and we found our rhythm and ease with all things nursing....then my baby became increasingly distracted by his environment. There was a shift around four months where I literally had to be standing up and walking while nursing, in order to feed my baby (only at nighttime did he let me sit while he took a feed). The good thing is from my research I was expecting this distracted phase, so I just rolled with it and within a few days/weeks (?) he was back to nursing while I comfortably sat :). My encouragement to any moms going through this phase is to be grateful your baby engaging more with their surroundings and while it may get frustrating, know that it will most likely pass.
At four months I still had a heavier milk production so I pumped when needed and did not try to reduce the amount of milk I was making. Baby started taking solids and my body eventually leveled off by six months when something glorious happened...he took a bottle! Thanks to my doula, she suggested this Lansinoh bottle which worked. Although a miracle in the name of a bottle feed happened, on the other hand, we began co-sleeping due to frequent night wakings to nurse, more on that in the next section.
For more of my experience with the first six months of my second child, I share some reflections here.
Breastfeeding Continued...7-9 Months:
There is nothing monumental to share for months seven and eight, but then came month nine. I was running on little to no sleep (literally, I think I was getting 3.5 hours a night at best going on weeks on end) with a co-sleeping baby who loved to comfort nurse his way through the night..yikes! I was starting to struggle with milk supply (sleep deprivation! no energy!) and was regularly taking this supplement and shoving calories into every meal. It was hard. I was contemplating the end of the nursing journey but wanted to make it to one year.
Out of the full 17 months nursing, this was the roughest it got for us so I ended up making the decision to stop co-sleeping. It wasn't easy at first but after a few nights he was used to his crib and it helped us both get a little more sleep.
Breastfeeding Continued...10-15 months:
By month 10 I remember feeling grateful we were inching closer to the one year mark. He was still nursing to sleep until around 14 or 15 months when we decided to have my husband put him to bed to see if it helped him not nurse as much through the night (this might work for some, but didn't for us). Can I be honest here and say I cried that first night I didn't nurse him to sleep? Something I didn't realize I'd get so attached to was the last feed before bed...the one where we would sit still (rare for us), together, cuddled up, warm, and we'd just stare at each other as he'd drift off to sleep. If you've ever fed a baby to sleep (with a bottle too!) it is the most precious warmth as they end their day in your arms.
Around 15 months I decided I wanted to begin weaning him. He was getting more handsy and since I was never truly comfortable nursing in public without a cover, it was becoming inconvenient for me(my decision to wean was solely mine). I'm happy with the way we did it - gently and with time. My first step was to not offer nursing unless he wanted to. You might be reading this like, duh?...but any nursing mom will know the moment you hear that fussy cry or whining from your baby, the easiest thing to do is offer.
The End of Breastfeeding...15-17 months:
Weaning also meant night weaning. With my first, we sleep trained her around 5 months, so this was a little different. Since we hadn't sleep trained my son, it wasn't a linear process and I gradually dropped his feeds over a course of 3 weeks.
If you're curious, here's how I did it: he was waking up ~3-4 times per night. I set 3 alarms at intervals throughout the night that aligned with when he normally woke up (those alarms were silent vibration to not wake him/any other family members up), I'd go into the room and dream feed him (feed while he slept) and I counted, yes COUNTED, how many seconds I fed him. Over the course of the three weeks I reduced the feeds and amount of time I fed him. This allowed him to 1) adjust to more daytime calories 2) not cause as much crying (there were still tears involved). This gave me a chance to also see he wasn't actually hungry at night, since he slept his normal intervals.
We neared 17 months and traveled one weekend to visit family. Whenever we travelled he hardly nursed because he was so stimulated by his surroundings. I used that weekend as a jumping off point to significantly wean. That Monday I only nursed him once before bed (while in the living room and not nursed to sleep). That was also the first time putting him to nap without nursing which was surprisingly easy, I just held him differently. I found the morning feeds the hardest because he was adamant, but we switched to my husband getting him from the crib and this helped a lot! I also used the bandaid technique...and to my shock it literally worked the first time. He looked at my chest, looked back at my eyes and said "done". "Done" is a word we've used for awhile and he was right, we were done. I used the bandaids for a few days and he never asked again.
Because I gradually weaned, I didn't have any engorgement issues. By body quickly adjusted and it was not as emotional as I know it can be for others. Sure, I can say I somewhat miss those sessions, but even after experiencing his first illness where he couldn't nurse all night, I realized the timing was good for us. He honestly did "better" with getting rest that night because he didn't constantly nurse and just relied on the comfort of being in my arms, or sleeping with me.
If you've made it this far thanks for reading along. As I was on my own journey I always sought out information from people's real-life experiences to encourage or inspire me, so I hope this did that for you.
MOD MIDWIVES PODCAST: Normalizing Breastfeeding or Breastfeeding Problems?
MOD MIDWIVES PODCAST: Babies After Dark
For more day-to-day inspiration, find me on instagram at @allaroundgoodness_