If you had told me a year ago I’d write a blog post about my experience with breastfeeding and using a breast pump, I would have called you crazy. But here we are, nearly six months in my motherhood journey, and this is a post about breastfeeding and pumping. I am not an expert, but I have had, and continue to have, a very positive, pleasant experience with nursing and pumping. Even though my pregnancy and delivery would anger most women — it was tremendously easy-going — my breastfeeding journey has not always been rainbows and lollipops. The first two weeks of Kamden little life was more exhausting than I could have ever imagined. He had a moderate case of jaundice, which led to us visiting the pediatrician’s office and hospital for blood work multiple times. He nursed on demand, which meant he was constantly attached to my breast. He also fell asleep easily which meant he’d wake up a half-hour or hour later wanting to eat again. I was a living, breathing, walking vending machine. It was exhausting on so many levels. I cried more in those two weeks than I have my entire life. I cried tears of joy, tears of frustration, tears of heartache, and tears of jubilee. Thank God for an amazing, supportive husband, family members, and lactation nurses available around the clock. Not only did I have the hospital’s lactation nurses on speed dial, but Kamden’s pediatrician’s office also has a certified lactation consultant on staff and I’d call her too. I experienced the panic of every mother trying to breastfeed her baby: the fear of not producing enough milk. The majority of time, barring a more serious condition, this fear is irrational because our bodies produce exactly what our babies need. The human body is an amazing piece of machinery.
Since the moment Kamden was born and put to my chest for skin-to-skin contact, he has been an excellent eater with adequate wet and dirty diapers. In fact, his pipes work really well and they always have, if you know what I mean! Because he had adequate dirty diapers and gained weight, I knew he was eating properly. The problem was in my own head. I convinced myself that my boobs and body were boycotting my desire to breastfeed my newborn baby. I know, it sounds ridiculous because it is but new mothers can have some crazy ideas post-partum. I blame part of my shenanigans on being sleep-deprived but the rest comes naturally! The wonderful nurses and lactation specialists listened to my fears, dried my tears, and gave me practical advice that I still use today and happily share with mothers who ask my advice:
1. The more you nurse (or pump), the more you will produce. Nursing (or pumping) stimulate your breasts, telling your body to produce more milk. Instead of the traditional “supply and demand” model, breast milk is produce based on the “demand and supply” idea. The more milk your baby (or pump) demands, the more your body will produce.
2. Don’t stress. Seriously.
3. Eat a bowl of oatmeal every day and drink plenty of water.
I have a Medela Pump In Style breast pump that I received from our insurance company free of charge. (If you are pregnant or had a baby recently, check with your insurance provider about a free breast pump. Laws have changed for the benefit of lactating women and their newborn babies.) I was skeptical of the ‘free’ idea but a five-minute phone call to Aetna yielded a pump worth about $250. I researched pumps for several months before deciding on the Pump In Style. Luckily, it was a model option provided by insurance and it was one less thing I had to buy before Kamden was born. I didn’t use it at all until Kamden was about a month old. Remember my earlier comment about him sleeping at the breast? The habit became progressively worse. I would nurse him for as long as he’d stay awake then pump while he slept, an hour or two if we were lucky. The pump didn’t yield a tremendous amount of milk, but it slowly added up throughout the day and night. Eventually, I started producing more milk and was able to fill several bottles with two or three ounces of milk. One particular night, when Kamden was about six weeks old and I was physically and emotionally drained, Husband deemed it an appropriate time to experiment with bottle-feeding. After giving Kamden a bath, massaging him with lotion, and dressing him for bed, I carefully fed him using a bottle filled with three ounces of expressed breast milk. It was messy at first, but Kamden quickly adjusted and did well. Of course, immediately after finishing it, he fell asleep. Two hours later, he woke up fussy and hungry. At the next feeding, I fed him three ounces again and he went right back to sleep afterwards. By the time Kamden was two months old, he was eating four ounces by bottle every two hours during the day and sleeping 8-10 hours at night. Husband and I felt like idiots, but we had finally figured out why he had been so fussy: he was hungry! Falling asleep at the breast proved he was content, but contentment didn’t fill his belly! And as much as this kid loves to sleep, he needed more milk to sustain him. At three months, he was eating four to five ounces every two to three hours during the day and, by month four, he ate six ounces every two to three hours during the day and slept 12 hours at night. Now, at five months, he drinks six ounces of breast milk every three to four hours and sleeps 10-12 hours at night. Kamden’s also a religious nap-taker, at least an hour and a half, every afternoon. Husband and I are SUPER BLESSED to have a child that loves his sleep! It took us a while, we endured some growing pains, but we finally figured out that Kamden needed/wanted more milk and, as a result, he began to sleep longer. Kamden is a very content, happy baby but he’s just like the rest of us: he gets fussy and irritated when hungry and tired! We recently introduced solid food purees and he LOVES them. So far he’s had homemade applesauce, avocado and banana, sweet potatoes with cinnamon, and the next mixture he’ll try is kale, spinach, and avocado.
Stress can be a major deterrent for a nursing or pumping mother. It’s certainly an issue for me as I’m a stresser-outer and worry wart. In the early weeks, I wore myself out trying to pump a gallon in order to feed my newborn baby. Hindsight is 20/20 and my expectations were WAY too high! Newborns’ stomachs are really small, about the size of a marble, which requires them to eat small amounts frequently. Plus, breast milk digests faster than formula, leading to more frequent feedings. I knew these facts as I had been a good breastfeeding student reading all kinds of material and attending a lactation class, but during some point in the days and weeks after bring Kamden home, my brain shut off, my memory got fuzzy, and common sense went out the window. Sleep deprivation will do this to a new mama. I’m telling you, post-partum women are nuts! I realize the severity of post-partum depression and I’m not degrading its seriousness because I have absolutely ZERO experience or knowledge of the condition and encourage you to seek professional medical help if you think you might suffer from it, but motherhood is seriously tough work and the first few weeks as a new mom made me more crazy than usual. The stress I added to the situation by worrying about milk supply only made things worse. I know it’s easier said than done, but stressing about your milk supply won’t make things better. Another “fuel to the fire” moment occurred when we received formula samples. Having two sample-size bottles of formula on the counter, staring at me every time I poured expressed breast milk into storage bottles gave me hope there were alternatives available in case breastfeeding didn’t work out and it stressed me out because I worried about failing my son for not providing his natural source of sustenance. Finally, I had to put the samples in a cabinet drawer … out of sight, out of mind.
Before you get your feathers ruffled about the formula versus breast milk debate, you should know I was a formula-fed baby and I turned out reasonably well. I don’t have anything against formula. I decided as soon as I learned I was pregnant that I wanted to do everything in my power to TRY to breastfeed Kamden for six months, preferably a year or longer. Part of my decision was based on the health benefits, short and long-term, for both of us. Another stemmed from my severe allergy to cow’s milk. It is my biggest prayer that Kamden does not inherit my dairy allergy. I know there are dairy-free formula options available, but we chose the breast milk path and will do everything in our power to keep cow’s milk out of his system until he is two years old and able to be properly tested. Who knows, he might be like me and be diagnosed with an allergy when he’s 20. I can’t control the situation entirely, but I can give him good beginnings.
Oatmeal is a lactating woman’s best friend. When I came home from Sam’s with a 10-pound box of old-fashioned oats, Husband looked at me like I was crazy. I’ve eaten more oatmeal in the last five months than I have in my lifetime. Every morning, I combine oats and soymilk, microwave on HIGH for six minutes, then add dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, etc.) and a tiny bit of agave syrup. Lactation specialists encourage women to avoid “instant” oats because they’re over-processed and lack beneficial nutrients. Whole oats and steel-cut oats are best for lactating women looking to boost or maintain their supply. Personally, I don’t really like steel-cut oats and they take for-evuh to cook! I buy organic whole oats in bulk at my local grocery, as well as dried fruits, and a 10-pound bag of raisins at Sam’s. When I bake lactation cookies, I add whole oats and whole flax seeds as well. Some women take milk-production supplements such as fenugreek, Mother’s Milk Plus, or brewer’s yeast but I do not because my supply is steady and supplements are not allowed in donor milk. I became a registered donor at the Mother’s Milk Bank of North Texas in May 2014. As a bonus, due to my dairy-free diet, my milk is in high demand for the most critical NICU babies with really sensitive digestive systems. I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish in five short months feeding Kamden exceptionally well and I’m even more blessed to have an abundant supply in order to donate my breast milk to babies in need.
When someone asks me how to increase or ‘boost’ their breast milk supply, I tell them to drink lots of water. I sincerely believe part of my breastfeeding and pumping success is due to adequate hydration. I’m not exaggerating when I tell people how much water I drink a day … no less than 150 ounces, usually closer to 200 ounces. I keep a 20-ounce Tervis bottle with me at all times and refill it throughout the day and night. Since April, when I renewed my gym membership and exercise at least an hour every week day, my water intake has increased even more. Because of this, I’ve seen a dramatic difference in the amount of breast milk I collect on a daily basis. On average, I pump approximately 45-55 ounces of breast milk every day. If I’m diligent about drinking water, I can pump as much as 60 ounces. However, the opposite is also true: if my water intake decreases, so does my milk supply. One day in particular, when Husband and I were visiting family and friends in East Texas, I got distracted (lazy) and did not eat breakfast or drink enough water. I also skipped a pumping session. As a result, I barely pumped enough milk to fill bottles for Kamden’s next day’s feedings. Eating a bowl of oatmeal and drinking LOTS of water really make a difference in my supply!
Other points of interest from my breastfeeding and pumping journey:
- NO CAFFEINE // I have not had caffeine since May 20, 2013, the day I found out I was pregnant. I used to drink sweet tea religiously, like a good Southern woman, but decided my health, and the health of our unborn child, was more important. I switched to decaf tea and eliminated sugar too. Lately, though, I prefer plain ice water over decaf tea or natural fruit juice.
- DIET AND EXERCISE // My pregnancy jump-started the lifestyle changes I needed to make for my own health. In addition to regular exercise, eliminating caffeine and excess sugar, my diet improved too. I limit high-fat foods and eat more fresh vegetables, fruits, and lean meats. I lost 35lbs while pregnant and my weight-loss journey continues today. Breastfeeding definitely burns calories (approximately 20 calories for every ounce produced) but I am constantly eating and snacking. I continue to struggle with being overweight, but I’m taking the steps necessary to improve my health, lose weight in a healthy way, and making better choices every single day. Not only do I have Husband’s support, but friends, family, and Jessica, the most amazing personal trainer. She’s from North Dakoooooota and makes me do extra sets of push-ups or squats when I laugh at her adorable accent. It’s totally worth it!
- TAKE COVER // This is a random, personal preference but I only nursed Kamden in the privacy of our home, or the guest room at someone else’s home, or a public bathroom stall. No, a bathroom stall is not the most glamorous of places to feed my child, but I’m not the kind of person to whip a boob out in public either. Even with a nursing cover, I would never – EVER! – subject strangers to witness the act of me feeding my child. I’m not ashamed of breastfeeding, and Kamden certainly has to eat when and where we are at the time, but I prefer to keep my private parts private. I know some women are not bothered by public nursing, and that’s great if you’re comfortable, but I am extremely modest and it just never happened. For the record, I nursed in a bathroom stall ONCE and that was the beginning of the end for my breastfeeding “career” and the time I got serious about pumping and bottle-feeding.
- THE RULE OF SIX // Most articles you read about safe breast milk practices preach the rule of six: breast milk can be kept at room temperature for six hours, six days in the refrigerator, and six months in the deep freezer. I, on the other hand, follow and don’t follow the rules. All of the expressed milk I collect during the day (and night) is kept in Mason jars until I’m ready to wash and refill bottles for the next day. I keep two quart-size Mason jars in the fridge, they take up less space than a bunch of smaller collection bottles anyway, and they have tight-fitting lids. If you want to see a lactating woman cry, spill some milk. The milk that remains after I’ve refilled the next day’s bottles is poured into sterilized breast milk storage bags, labeled, and placed in the deep freezer. Since Kamden drinks six ounces every feeding, I put six ounces of milk in each storage bag. Some people say breast milk is fine up to six months stored in a deep freezer, while others, including the Mother’s Milk Bank of North Texas, accept milk that is one year old or less. To date, I’ve donated approximately 730 ounces of breast milk to the donor bank and anticipate making another donation in the next week or two because I’m running out of freezer space. I donate 50 bags (approximately 300 ounces) at a time, making sure to keep an adequate amount of milk for Kamden in case something happened to me or my supply.
- OTHER MOMS // As much as I love Husband, he’s a man and men are weird and loud and stinky. Did I mention stinky?! They don’t always “get” women experience and they certainly don’t understand our emotional roller coasters. A lactating lady needs other lactating ladies in her life to discuss the ups and downs, celebrations and defeats, the funnies and not-so-funnies, and just plain gross and weird things associated with breastfeeding and/or pumping. I am blessed to have a personal cheerleading squad of moms that I can call, email, or Tweet at all hours of the day or night with questions, celebrations, or rants. It also helps that I am a blogger. There is seriously something in the blogger-sphere because lots of bloggers are pregnant, just had a baby, or have a house full of kiddos already. It’s really great to be part of a community with amazing women who are willing to share their struggles and celebrations with one another without fear or hesitation.
- HANDS-FREE BRA // I refused to spend a ridiculous amount of money on a special bra that I could build myself. Basically, I repurposed an underwire bra but cutting an “X” in the front, assembled the pump attachments and TA-DAH you have a hands-free bra to wear while pumping. As I type this blog post, I’m also pumping. It’s a great way to multi-task!
- CONSISTENT SCHEDULE // As an exclusive pumper, I have a consistent pumping schedule. I’m not saying I pump at the same exact time every single day, but I regularly pumping six times in a 24-hour period, at least 20 minutes per session. That’s roughly every four hours, which is close to Kamden’s feeding schedule. Yes, it requires me to get up at least once in the middle of the night but that’s when I produce the most milk (and work on blog posts!). I’m not bothered at all by the time commitment of pumping. It’s become a new way of life and I don’t let pumping get in the way of doing things I enjoy. I took my pump and accessories with me to a golf tournament and pumped right before play started and again after the front nine. My teammates understood the situation and were completely supportive. They even birdied the 10th hole without me!
However you feed your baby, whether it is at the breast, or by pumping and using bottles, or using donated milk, or formula, or a combination of these, know that you’re doing a fine job. Breastfeeding is really difficult and it’s not for every woman. Sometimes complications arise – supply or latch issues, illness, etc. – making it virtually impossible but you endure and your baby is nourished and, most importantly, loved. As mothers, we all make sacrifices for our children and try to do everything in our power to take care of them the best we know how. I feel incredibly special when moms (and moms-to-be) contact me with questions about breastfeeding or pumping. There’s already too much pressure and negativity placed on moms and how we choose to feed our little ones, I’m fortunate to have a positive story to share and I do so willingly. I don’t have all the answers, and every woman and baby is different, but I’m happy to share what works for our family.