[stop right here if you don't want to hear about the ins and outs of breastfeeding. I'll keep it as simple as I can, promise. ;)]
First of all, I should say that this is solely my experience. I made the decision to breastfeed from the start and I am thankful that I had little to no complications and was able to continue with my choice from the beginning. I'm somewhat passionate about my decision to breastfeed but I respect all women and their choice (or sometimes not much of a choice) to go a different route. Everyone leads a different life and all of our stories are unique.
From the time I found out I was pregnant, I was pretty sure I wanted to breastfeed. My sister did, my mom did, cousins and friends and friends of friends did, and it was just the natural choice for me. All throughout my pregnancy I read. I read A LOT. I mostly read in online forums (the bump and babycenter) but I had a few hard books at my disposal, too. The horror stories for breastfeeding are out there and they are out there in DROVES. It isn't hard to get spooked by the stories of mastitis, tongue tie, cluster feeding, you name it.
I was blindly and overly optimistic about breastfeeding, so much so that I didn't register for bottles or bottle cleaning supplies and I never bought a box of formula. I saved the sample box that was mailed to me but otherwise, I was leaning on breastfeeding and counting on it to work. There were multiple times during my pregnancy that I told my husband "I really hope breastfeeding works out because I haven't budgeted for formula". I can't say whether that determination helped me succeed or not, but I'm glad that I was successful!
So fast forward to Beau's birth. Through all my reading, I decided I wanted to do delayed cord clamping - google it if you need to, but basically we waited about 3 minutes for Mark to cut the umbilical cord. It's most common in premies but it's helpful for all babies because it allows the umbilical cord to pump all the good nutrients it's been supplying to the baby over the last 9 months until it quits pulsing. It helps the babies to breathe, their skin to get nice and pink, and of course that extra punch of nutrients is nice. Then, as most hospitals recommend now, we did skin to skin time. We had about 30 minutes of that so Beau could smell me and feel me and we could bond. This is typically when the baby first nurses (google videos of babies instinctively scooting over to breastfeed for the first time - it's amazing!) but Beau had some breathing irregularity at first so the nurses suggested we wait a little longer.
My family came in and met him and then I nursed him. He latched right on and away he went! It really was that easy. Of course, it stung when he nursed for the first couple of days, but that gradually went away over the first month. While we were in the hospital, I noticed that I had a few blisters from him but I just asked the nurse and she corrected his latch. We didn't have any other issues after that.
Beau was born on a Tuesday and my milk came in on Friday night. I did get a bit engorged and it was pretty uncomfortable so I pumped just a little bit that weekend to ease the pressure. I didn't want to pump everything out because that would signal my body to replace what I was pumping so I just did enough to give me some relief. Luckily that helped!
At home, I used lanolin cream and nursing pads (ugh!) for about the first two months until things evened out. Your body will figure out pretty quickly what it needs to supply for baby and it will level out and change with his growth spurts. From the beginning, Beau was on a 3 hour nursing schedule and he continued that a bit past the introduction of solids (We started spreading out the feedings around 8 months). There was a day or two that he wanted to cluster feed but I just went with his signals and by the next day, he was back to normal. He slept in a rock n' play next to our bed for about 10 weeks and it was so easy to feed him at night. I would turn on the lamp next to my bed, scoop him up, and feed him and then change his diaper and set him back down. I never had to hear him cry much or wake up Mark and it worked great for us. Once he started waking up less during the night, we all slept better and I learned how to feed him without even turning the lamp on. Even better, I learned how to nurse on my side laying down and that was great! He was always a big baby and I rarely fell asleep so I wasn't too worried about that - but definitely evaluate yourself honestly if you consider doing that, for safety!
With all the fuss about nipple confusion, I have to say we didn't have any issues. We gave him a couple different pacifiers in the hospital which he took but didn't seem too interested in. When we got home, we tried the MAM brand and haven't turned back since. He LOVES them. He has never refused me and they have been the perfect soothers for him when he just wants to suck (this is a natural need for babies and why I'm completely okay with using pacifiers...because the alternative would be me!). We also tried a bottle on him when he was 3 or 4 weeks old. I had no idea what I was doing so I just used the Munchkin Latch bottle (it came free with our swag bag for registering at Target) and it's been his favorite bottle. We tried introducing him to a cold bottle but after some trial and error, we learned that just made him mad. Even now that he is on cow's milk at night, he will only drink it down if it is warmed.
I never had a big freezer stash of my milk, but I always had about 5-6 bags on hand. It's hard to devote the time to pump and deal with the oversupply and I just never had the need for a large quantity in the freezer.
I honestly credit breastfeeding to the massive shedding of weight during the first month post partum. I was sweating SO MUCH (and my hormones are still wacky so I'm always hot) and I lost 20 pounds of baby weight in the first 4 weeks after Beau was born. I did nothing else to do that and I really think it was all the calories being burned in the process of nursing that helped me lose that weight.
I came across this article on facebook and while it's taken me more than a month to get through it (it's LONG), it boggles my mind and just reinforces so many of the reasons why breastfeeding was important to me. Our bodies were SO made to do this and it's just amazing, really.
From the beginning, Beau was a quick nurser. I learned within the first couple of weeks that I really only needed to feed him from one side. Since I knew about fore milk and hind milk, I knew it was important for him to drain one side and that took about 15 minutes. By that time, he was full! So I only fed from one side (alternating each time) since then. I can assure you that once your body gets used to it, there are no weird side effects ;).
I nursed in public but I always used a cover. Beau did all he can to uncover himself but he was usually not successful. I used a cover more for myself than for others, but I imagine the general public appreciates it. There is a LOT of talk out there about nursing in public but luckily I've never had any negative experiences (except for the fact that most stores don't have a place to sit down and nurse.) I've realized that most people don't even realize you are nursing as long as your baby is quiet. When Beau was 6 days old, we were checking out at the pediatrician and I was nursing standing up (because that's when he was only about 10lbs) with my cover on. A woman about 45 came up to me and was ooh-ing over Beau's tiny feet sticking out. She made a little small talk about babies and how little they are and how her son used to be that little (he was with her and about 11) and then she asked if she could peek at Beau. I hesitated but for some reason said yes and she started to peek into my cover BUT before she did so, she realized I was nursing! She said "OH! Are you nursing?!" and I laughed and said yes. She thought he was sleeping and I was just covering him with a blanket. Too funny! Awkward encounter avoided.
I thought I was going to be very emotional when weaning Beau but I have handled it well. I think I spent the last couple of months coming to terms with it and when I nursed him for the last time on the night of his birthday, I was happy with how far we have come. He is now fully on cow's milk and has not nursed since September 8th. We had 3 bags of milk left so we gave them to him for the three nights following his birthday but since then, it's just been a sippy cup of cow's milk before bed. I started weaning him around 10 months. We slowly went from 4 to 3, to 2, and then finally to 1 feeding per day. At 11 months he was nursing in the morning and at night and then halfway through 11 months we dropped down to just at night. The hardest feeding to drop was his afternoon feed around 3pm because that was when he got fussy. Now we just have a snack or nothing at all and he is fine. Other than that, he never acted liked he missed nursing and it was smooth sailing! After I nursed him for the last time, I had Mark give him his milk for the next three nights so he could get used to a bottle. It's so great letting Mark put him to bed now (freedom!!!) and I think that helped him disassociate bedtime with nursing. I am so happy we made it to 12 months, my original goal, with no issues! It's a great feeling.
Another time, when Beau was about 4 months old, we were at Emporium Pies and it was PACKED. Baby was hungry, though, so I whipped out the cover and fed him quickly. When we were leaving, a girl with a tiny baby strapped to her asked if I "just nursed in public". Of course I said yes and she started praising me and saying how "cool" that was and that she didn't have the nerves to do that yet. I made light of it and was just like "pssh, yeah, it's no big deal" so even though I didn't get to really talk to her about it, I hope I gave her some confidence to do so! I can't imagine not being able to nurse wherever I am and then continue on with my day.
It's kind of a shame, but I feel like I should end with some big disclosure about how my experience doesn't necessarily mean that you'll have the same experience and while that is 100% true, I know that it IS possible to have a happy nursing story. I never thought that I necessarily enjoyed nursing, but I considered it a necessity and my body did what it was supposed to do and followed through. I don't have some secret to nursing successfully...all I can say is to relax, trust your body, and put your mind in a place to nurture your baby the best you can. I think new moms underestimate their natural instinct and the confusion can lead to a snowball effect of failure. Anyway, I just know that nursing was a positive experience for Beau and I and I am happy that I was able to nourish him for 12 months of his life.
If you are thinking about breastfeeding your baby, I know it can be hard to see all of the different experiences out there. I urge you to do a moderate level of research, ask for help, and really consider the benefits and downfalls of each option. Money, time, sleep...all of these are factors in nourishing your baby, whether you breastfeed or use formula. Just make the best decision for you and especially for your baby! And as always, please email me with any questions you need answered. I'm an open book and will gladly share my experience!