I made it.
Its taken a lot of time, sleep-deprived nights, some tears, a few galactagogue experiments and time in a window-less closet of a room at work, but I made it to my goal. Michael hit the six-month mark on July 1, which means I hit the six-month mark for breastfeeding, which was the minimum goal I had. It was not easy going at times, especially after returning to work, but now it feels a little more like smooth sailing. Except for the sleep-deprived nights.
Shall I share my challenges? I shall. That’s what this blog is for, after all.
However, I have to preface my sharing with the fact that I had a bit of an advantage over other moms in the race to breastfeed Michael when he was newly born. Michael was born small, 3 pounds 7 ounces, and had been affected by the medication I was given to keep me from having seizures. For at least the first week, Michael was fed through a tube — first formula, then milk I pumped when I was released from the hospital. The second week, the nurses encouraged me to begin practicing with Michael as he began to gain weight and nipple (the combination of sucking, breathing and swallowing). First, it was non-nutrative nursing (I’d just pumped, so Michael could practice latching on), then a few sessions of actual nursing.
So, on to the challenges.
Lack of sleep: This is the issue I continue to deal with. The lack of sleep is killer the first month, but it gets better as you approach three months. But my husband and I are playing with the idea of giving Michael formula, if just to get him to sleep longer than nine hours a night. Nine hours sounds like a lot, but when the baby’s waking up at 4:30 or 5 a.m. when mom’s alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m. — it sucks. Besides, I know he needs a lot of sleep, so the trick is trying to fill his tummy enough so that he’ll sleep until 6:30 a.m….
Lack of education: My husband and I were scheduled to attend a feeding class at the hospital I delivered at about a week after Michael was born. In fact, I think I canceled our spot in the class as I was discharged. Big mistake. In the early months, Michael would fall asleep as he nursed from one side, and I thought that was OK. What I didn’t know is that I should have offered him the other side, to keep the flow going. Later, it became difficult to maintain a supply in my freezer because I wasn’t pumping enough from both sides.
Stress from going back to work: This was the most frustrating of my challenges. I’m the first among my immediate coworkers to have a baby, so even though I work with mostly women, I got some weird looks and questions like, “So, how many times a day do you have to do this?” one of the first days I was back at work. One coworker — a gay man — got a bit freaked out when I put down my water bottle on his desk, initially thinking it was breastmilk. We all tend to eat our meals at our desks and not take breaks (Internet work, what can you do), so I felt like I was being looked at weirdly for having to disappear for about 20 minutes, three times a day.
The initial stress and frustration, plus my reverting back to pre-pregnancy habits like drinking full-caffeinated coffee in the morning and then drinking a Coke at lunch (which I adopted while I was pregnant), all led to me producing less milk for a few weeks.
So what did I do? Well, as for the weird looks and attitudes, I had to develop a thick skin and just not care about it. I gravitated toward the other moms at my workplace, even though I don’t work as closely with them.
As for the low milk production, I think that ended up stressing me out more, leading to a few tearful conversation with my husband, who exacerbated the situation by saying, “you can supplement with formula, too.” It was frustrating, because I wanted him to support me in reaching my minimum goal of six months. I tried galactagogues — first, Mother’s Milk tea, then More Milk Plus capsules. The Mother’s Milk tea helped, I think, partly because I was ingesting more water. But I’m not a tea drinker, so I had to readjust.
So I did a combination of things. I’d been sending Michael to daycare with three bottles a day, and one full bottle always made its way home, prompting me to use it before bedtime. So I began sending him with two bottles, lessening the pressure on me to produce more milk, and also allowing me to nurse Michael before bedtime and all the time we were home. There were a few weekends I nursed Michael exclusively. And, I had to remember to guzzle water. Maybe the water intake doesn’t necessarily increase milk production, but it does prevent me from drinking caffeine, which is dehydrating. And I switched to decaf coffee, although we recently mixed regular beans with a whole lot of decaf beans.
There was only one day in the first six months where his daycare lady had to give him formula, and it happened to be a day where I’d been unable to nurse him before we went to work/daycare, so his feeding timing was off.
So now what? I’m willing to try to go for the full year, but my husband says he thinks Michael should be weaned as soon as he starts walking — he doesn’t want a real life version of the “Grownups” trailer, where the preschooler walks up to his mom and nurses as she’s talking to friends. LOL.
What I’m wondering is — do some moms wean from the breast, but continue to pump breastmilk to give to their babies in a bottle? That’s something I’d be willing to do, although it would create more bottles for me — ugh. I guess I have time to decide though. On an average day, lately, I’m producing a good 12 ounces from three pumping sessions (which is a good thing, since Michael’s bottles are up to 6 ounces each now) and I’ve got a good supply of breast milk in the freezer.