Our Breastfeeding Journey

The ever-present Boppy nursing pillow, inherited from my sister, which can also be used for tummy time.

Anna Gazdowicz:
This might sound weird, but I get a lot of satisfaction when I measure out/divide up evenly my pumped milk at the end of the day

Anna Gazdowicz:
and it also continuously weirds me out that breastfeeding reminds me that I am in fact a biological formation, and a mammal that produces milk

Anna Gazdowicz:
like, that is fundamentally a weird thing to process

Anna Gazdowicz:
anyway

Jeffrey Faden:
yeah given we’ve been drinking cow’s milk our whole lives it’s really interesting to think of expressing/handling human breastmilk to be a very similar endeavor

Jeffrey Faden:
it is a bit “dehumanizing” in a more literal, less negative way

The above is a conversation that Jeffrey and I had on October 3rd (Mean Girls Day). This still weirds me out/fascinates me. I am a mammal who produces milk for my offspring.

Patrick turned 6 months old yesterday, which is milestone in many ways on its own (1/2 a year old! He can almost sit up on his own! He makes lots of cute noises, and he might be teething!). But it’s also a milestone in that we made it to 6 months of breastfeeding. And I can say, with confidence and gratitude, that breastfeeding has been pretty darn easy for me. The next goal is 1 year, and we’ll stop around that time (maybe we’ll go 1 or 2 months longer than 1 year, but that’s it).

Here’s why I’ve been an extremely fortunate breastfeeding mom:

  • From the beginning, we’ve experienced no major issues when it came to breastfeeding. Any problems we ran into can be attributed instead to the fact that taking care of a baby is challenging, which includes feeding a baby.
  • Patrick breastfed easily from the beginning, and after some persistence on our part, he also took to the bottle. Now he does a combo of both without issue. He hasn’t been finicky about bottle/nipple type or anything along those lines.
  • Now that I’m back at work, I regularly use the available lactation rooms that come with hospital-grade (i.e., powerful), multi-user breast pumps (these pumps cost upwards of $1,000). This is extra awesome because it means I don’t have to lug a pump to work every day. At home, I have a very good personal electric pump that I inherited from my sister (so I didn’t have to cough up $200+ for a decent pump). I have another pump that was provided to me for free by Kaiser as a backup (it’s a semi-decent pump, but wouldn’t cut it if I had to use it every day).
    • I want to emphasize that many women don’t have this. They might get a pump through their insurance, but it might be a not-very-good one, so they end up having to pay out-of-pocket for a good pump that will keep up with multiple pumping sessions on a daily basis. They also might not get their own room at work to pump in, and instead have to sit in a closet or a bathroom to pump their milk.

I’ve been back at work since August 1st. We have fallen into a semi-regular feeding pattern with little Patrick: On the weekdays, he breastfeeds in the mornings and in the evenings while I’m at home, and gets bottles during the day, and I pump 3x a day while at work (hopefully I can pump less once he gets a little older and starts eating more solids). If we go out in the evenings, he gets another bottle and I pump before bed. On the weekends, I’ll pump once or twice depending on if we give him bottles while out and about (we’ll breastfeed in public if need be, but it’s physically uncomfortable, so I prefer not to; plus it gives Jeffrey the opportunity to feed him). If need be, there’s a few days’ worth of pumped milk in the freezer, and we have some formula samples on hand.

The above probably isn’t all that interesting to someone who isn’t me, to be honest. But I bring it up to provide an example of what it’s like these days for some breastfeeding moms.

Before Patrick was born, I didn’t do a ton of general childcare research. We inherited a bunch of baby stuff, and we did some research as to the rest of the physical items that we might need. We took a class called “Caring for a Newborn” offered by Kaiser (which provided the fundamentals), but otherwise, I didn’t read any books or spend all that much time reading online articles. I figured that it would be better to just learn as we go along, and for the most part, this turned out to be true.

What I ended up learning a lot about beforehand, not purposefully, was breastfeeding. It seemed like any resource I did consult (such as online “gear guides” for which items we might need) also included very detailed references as to how to prepare for how difficult breastfeeding was likely to be. There were all sorts of horror stories about bad latch, cracked and bleeding nipples, engorgement, plugged ducts, mastitis, tongue and lip ties – you name it. As I got closer and closer to my due date, I became more and more fearful of how breastfeeding would go.

(Side note: One of the most helpful resources I found, actually, was the two-part podcast episodes from Stuff You Should Know: Feeding Babies Part 1 and Part 2. I found both episodes to be really informative, and I definitely recommend for anyone interested in learning more.)

Patrick arrived, however, and breastfeeding proved to be relatively easy. He latched without an issue (meaning, he kept his mouth wide enough on the nipple/areola to not cause pain for me) and had a healthy appetite. In the hospital, the biggest problem was him getting impatient for the colostrum to come out – he would latch, but then would cry because there wasn’t immediately anything there. This caused some stress (and tears on my end – postpartum hormones are no joke). Thankfully, a nurse in the hospital showed me how to hand-express some colostrum onto my nipple first, so Patrick could get a taste and keep feeding from there. The rest of my milk came in, on schedule and in abundance, within a couple of days.

From there, our journey was pretty straightforward. Patrick kept gaining weight as expected, and I didn’t experience anything out of the ordinary. My biggest challenge was just not getting many breaks for the first 7 weeks or so.

In the newborn phase, babies eat often, and if you’re breastfeeding, that means lots of time with baby on the boob. However, we ran into problems with Patrick’s naps – it became really challenging to get him to sleep during the day starting around week 4 or 5. When he would finally sleep, it would only be for brief periods. The situation slightly improved in that he was able to go to sleep a lot easier, but he would still only nap for brief periods (30ish minutes). So, I didn’t get very much time sans baby, between a steady cycle of feeding him and then just trying to get him to sleep and stay asleep.

I wanted to pump more milk, so I didn’t have to feel so trapped, but I couldn’t find time to pump in the midst of the above cycle. After some time, however, I was able to figure out a decent schedule, build up my freezer stash, and we started giving Patrick one bottle every day to get him used to it. And I was able to get out of the house more as a result.

But otherwise, everything else has been fine. My supply of milk has always been relatively steady (I have to work a little harder now to keep it up now that I’m pumping more and breastfeeding less, but it’s not too bad), and Patrick continues to grow and be happy with what we’re feeding him (which now includes some solid foods).

But here are some real-life issues that I’ve since learned have happened to other new moms that I know:

  • Oversupply. There are two “stages” of breastmilk. The milk that initially comes out is the “foremilk,” which is thinner and more carbohydrate-rich. After the foremilk, the “hindmilk” kicks in, which is thicker and more golden-colored, and has more of the fat and other rich nutrients. When a woman has “oversupply,” she has more milk than her baby needs. Her baby then gets too much of the watery foremilk, which can result in constipation, gas, and green, foamy poops. It’s not fun, from what I hear, and not easy to fix.
  • Low/not enough supply. Some moms just don’t produce enough milk for their babies. Some are able to get hospital-grade pumps to help increase supply, and/or take fenugreek and other milk-increasing supplements, and/or supplement with formula.
  • Slow letdown. The “letdown” is the release of the milk from the breast into the baby’s mouth. For some moms, this letdown takes awhile to happen – the baby will suck for a long time and only get an ounce or so, which means it takes a really long time to get the baby adequately fed (and the baby might get frustrated in the meantime).
  • Overactive letdown. The mom’s letdown is really fast, and shoots forcefully into the baby’s mouth, causing them to sputter/cough/etc. It can also cause bad gas.
  • Baby doesn’t latch on to the breast. There’s lots of reasons for this that I’m not super clear on, but there are times that the baby just doesn’t latch, and the mom is stuck with having to pump like 12 times a day in the beginning and bottle feed the baby, or use plastic nipple shields to get the baby to latch.

And then there was the example of a poor mom experiencing a whole mess of issues all at once. A week or two before I went back to work, I was at one of Kaiser’s weekly “Baby & Me” support group sessions (which were AWESOME, by the way; I miss them now that I’m back at work), and there was a brand-new mom there with a 10-day-old baby. She described her breastfeeding journey thus far:

  • Her milk came in late;
  • Her baby had a tongue tie and had trouble latching;
  • When her milk did come in, she got plugged milk ducts and her breasts became painfully engorged;
  • Her baby lost too much weight in the meantime, so they supplemented with formula;
  • Her supply dropped;
  • Her baby didn’t want to breastfeed became he had started to prefer the bottle, and would cry (a lot) whenever she tried to have him breastfeed.

So, at the time, she was trying to breastfeed, dealing with her baby crying at the breast because he didn’t want to breastfeed, and then pumping after every feeding to get her supply back up. All while sleep-deprived and riding the postpartum hormonal wave. I don’t know what she ended up doing, i.e., if she was able to get past these hurdles, or if she chose to stop breastfeeding and instead either exclusively pump or feed her baby formula (or a combination of both).

Which brings me to my next point. I have zero patience for the “breast is best” crusaders. For one thing, formula is the most heavily researched and regulated food product on the planet, and is a totally valid and healthy option. For another thing, it’s none of your business whether a woman has chosen to feed her baby breastmilk or formula. I have actually had more than one person ask me if I was breastfeeding, and when I said “yes,” they said “good” in response. (…what?)

The only reasons we haven’t yet given Patrick any formula yet is because:

  • Breastfeeding has been easy for me;
  • Breastfeeding is cheaper and we have bills to pay;
  • We haven’t had him try any yet to see if he has a reaction (some babies do have some negative reactions to some formulas; there’s a Reply All podcast episode about breastmilk that tells a story about a mom and how her baby had a terrible reaction to all formulas, and she couldn’t breastfeed, so she had to buy breast milk from other moms);
  • Lately I’m focused on keeping my supply up, since it tends to dip if Patrick breastfeeds less and/or I pump less (I can get the supply back up, but it’s annoying).

But if we hadn’t had an easy journey, then we certainly would have switched to formula. And who knows – hooking up to that damn breast pump, while an amazing invention, as often as I do is a major chore. If it starts looking like I’m going to lose my mind as a result, then it’s time to try some formula.

Instead of guilting women into breastfeeding, more support should be provided for moms instead. Kaiser provides drop-in breastfeeding support for their patients, as well as individual appointments with lactation consultants, all included with the Kaiser insurance plan. This is huge. People pay good money (out-of-pocket) to get help from lactation consultants otherwise. And while breastfeeding was relatively easy for me, I still had questions during the first three months of Patrick’s life, and I found the drop-in support sessions to be super helpful. But what about moms who don’t have this sort of support? And moms should never, ever be pressured into breastfeeding to the point where they fear for their child’s health (e.g., not gaining enough weight), especially in those early days, when the baby’s health, the mom’s health, and the mom’s mental health are so fragile.

At the end of the day, the parents know what’s best for their babies, and for the moms’ health and well-being. Also, if the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) and the WHO (World Health Organization) are going to recommend that women exclusively breastfeed for at least 6 months, then why are women expected to go back to work after 6 weeks? And if they’re lucky, with a decent place to pump and an adequate breast pump (covered by insurance or provided by their employer)?

Anyway. That’s enough from me on the subject. Here’s some odds and ends:

  • We use the Kiinde system for pumping/feeding, and definitely recommend it (with some caveats). Here’s my Amazon review for more info. (Thanks to Tyler and Ashley for gifting it to us!)
  • My right breast is the true workhorse. It produces the most milk, has the faster letdown, and only leaks sometimes if it’s really really full. My left breast, on the other hand, produces less milk, has a slower letdown, and leaks often. It’s weird. I’m right-handed, so I wonder if that has something to do with it.
  • Breastfeeding tends to make women really hungry. It certainly does for me. So I eat a lot. No shame.
  • Jeffrey keeps us stocked in delicious lactation cookies at home. They’re just cookies with lots of lactation-friendly ingredients in them (oats, flaxseed, brewers yeast), so really, it’s just an excuse to have homemade cookies around the house all the time.
  • Jan Leder

    I was so very lucky also to find breastfeeding easy and natural, and neither of my children had formula. Thanks for a great share! (Did I mention they’re both very successful adults? ;))