Jessica’s Breastfeeding Journey
When I found out I was pregnant with my first baby I was 22, recently married, a new college graduate, and had just started in my career. I was living in the US and had joined OB/CNM care until 27 weeks. Not once during that time period had breastfeeding been brought up or discussed with me, but at some point early on in my pregnancy I had made the decision that I wanted to have a natural labor and birth. So, it just made sense for me to want to breastfeed as well.
I grew up in a family of almost exclusively formula feeders. I always bottle fed my dolls and honestly grew up believing that that was the only way babies were fed. Obviously in high school I learned about the primary function of breasts, but I think I always believed that when I had children that they would also be bottle fed.
Breastfeeding was not normalized for me. The first time I saw a woman breastfeed I was about 20, and it totally threw me for a loop. She used a cover so I couldn’t actually see anything, but I didn’t know what to do. Do I give her privacy? Do I look at her? Do I continue to talk to her? Thinking back, it was really sad. I didn’t know what to do simply because breastfeeding was something that I had never been exposed to.
When I moved to Ontario I switched my care to midwives. I was planning a natural hospital water birth and I planned to breastfeed. But, I was scared. I was scared to fail- no one I knew had ever really been successful at it. My mom had always told me that neither my sister nor I ever latched.
I had many conversations with my midwives about how important it was to me to breastfeed and my birth choices (no drugs, immediate skin to skin, nursing within the first hour) reflected our best shot at being successful.
Because I was planning a natural birth, I started looking into birthing classes. I settled on Hypnobirthing and contacted an instructor. As it turned out, she was also a Doula and a La Leche League leader. Having her support and guidance was beyond amazing. She helped me believe in my body and in myself. She gave me the support and encouragement I needed and I am forever thankful for her time and friendship.
When Annabelle was born, we did skin to skin for about an hour before we nursed. She latched on pretty well, but I didn’t really feel comfortable with positions and knowing if I was doing it right. After my midwives left, I was in the care of the nurses at the hospital. While they were friendly, I was told that the way my midwife showed me was not good and to do it another way. So, it created some confusion and frustration for me.
On the night that Annabelle “woke up” also referred to as baby’s second night- I wondered what I was doing wrong. My thoughts went like this, “Why is she crying? Is she getting enough milk? SHE IS STILL CRYING! I must not have enough milk.” If you look up information about baby’s second night, and realize they aren’t in the womb anymore, you will find that this is very common. So, now I try to tell all expectant moms about that night, because like me, many moms will doubt they have enough milk and that their baby is starving. I knew what to expect with baby number two, so I just bed shared and actually got a good amount of sleep!
We discharged the morning after she was born. That evening, our La Leche League leader popped over for a visit and really gave me some amazing tips. I did end up with some breast and nipple tenderness. But, doing bath soaks and nipple cream and ensuring she had a good latch helped fix that within a few weeks.
Especially with my first, La Leche League played such an important role in my breastfeeding success. I didn’t have any family or friends to talk to or ask for help. Having that peer to peer support and friendship really made a world of difference. At a meeting you are pretty much guaranteed to meet a mom who has gone through what you are going through, and it is a reassuring thing to be able to have that connection and to get help from another mom.
Anna nursed A LOT in the early weeks. She would nurse about every 90 minutes. She also comfort nursed and clusterfed in the evening. At night, between the hours of 6:00 until 11:00 I had to sit on the couch while Anna nursed and suckled continuously. This went on until she was about 10 weeks old. It was very, very hard and I was thankful when she finally grew out of that.
My Annabelle was definitely a challenge. She didn’t start sleeping through the night until she was about 20 months, and would get up in the range of four to five times a night. She more than gave me a run for my money. There were many times I wanted to give up, I was so exhausted. There were times I felt resentful. There were times I wished I had just bottle fed. But almost all of those negative thoughts came at around three in the morning, and by the time the sun was up and I had a coffee, I was able to get my bearings and make a decision with a clear head. I didn’t want to end our nursing relationship on a bad note.
When Annabelle was just over two years old, I really felt like we were in a good place. She nursed twice a day, before her nap and before bed. If she did wake in the night, sometimes she would nurse, but sometimes she wouldn’t. I decided to see if I could gently wean her. I discussed with her, and told her that instead of “milks” tonight, we would have lots of cuddles instead. She was 100% okay with it and was happy to have cuddles. She did ask to nurse about a week after that first night, and then again about a month later. I gently reminded her that Mommy’s milk was all gone, but I would happily give her extra cuddles instead.
I was so worried that I would feel guiltily for not allowing her to self wean. But I feel so happy and proud of our breastfeeding relationship and how it ended, even a year later. It was always my goal to be able to look back fondly on nursing, and I truly believe that if I had ended it on one of my bad nights, I would have regretted my decision.
My second daughter, Emilia is now 11 weeks old, and breastfeeding is going very well. Both my girls seem to drop a lot of weight in the beginning regardless of how often I nurse. Both dropped over 9% of their birth weight on day three even though I was nursing upwards of 15 times a day for as long as they wanted. But they both gained weight like champs once my mature milk came in, so with Emilia I wasn’t worried when they said how much weight she dropped.
I don’t have a particular goal in mind with Emilia, other than to be happy with our breastfeeding relationship though I hope to make the two year mark again!
I think what I am most proud of in my breastfeeding relationship with my girls is that I am normalzing it for them. It makes me happy to see Annabelle nursing her baby dolls and encouraging me to give Emilia my milk. I hope they grow up with the knowledge that breastfeeding is both natural and normal, and that a baby can be fed in many ways.