Natural Isn’t Always Easy: My Nursing Story
Nursing is one of the most natural, beautiful, and difficult things I have ever done.
I am a mother of three, and each of their breastfeeding experiences has been completely different. My firstborn was breastfed until he was 10 months old. I tried and failed at pumping for and nursing my second. And I have a beautiful, continuing nursing relationship with my 11 month old.
I was very lucky with my first. I grew up in a large family with a mother who extendedly nursed all of us (though I was the only one she nursed until the next one was born). Breastfeeding was normal to me, I didn’t even consider formula.
Learning To Breastfeed
The nursing relationship with my son started very badly, which is the main reason why we were so lucky. I was not prepared for his birth, so I was easily talked into an induction when he went past 41 weeks. Even though things were progressing, I was uninformed and ended up with a c-section. And my son was separated from me for over 10 hours after his birth, under the reasoning of a low body temperature.
I also found out later that a well-meaning nurse gave him a bottle of formula despite him being “labeled” with my intention to breastfeed only.
Despite what should have been a failure, we were able to forge a nursing relationship. The hospital had a lactation consultant on staff, and I found out when my mom arrived later it was the same consultant that helped her with nursing me! I learned so much about how tiny a newborn’s stomach was, and why it was so important to offer the breast every 2-3 hours. She helped me get through all the initial difficulties of poor latch and inverted nipples, and gave me tips on how to avoid painful and cracking nipples. I am so thankful for her!
When I went back to work, my employer had a whole empty floor where I was able to go as needed to pump milk for my son. When I switched jobs a few months later, they had a room specifically for moms to express milk. I was very blessed.
The only hurdle for us was that very soon my son had a definite preference for the bottle over the breast. Right around 6 months we stopped our nursing relationship, and around 9 months I stopped pumping completely. We ran out of my milk stash when he was around 10 months old. My biggest regret with him is not pumping a few months longer.
Struggling With My Second
With my daughter, it went downhill fast. It all started with another c-section, though this time I was only separated from her for 4 hours (is say this in the most sarcastic voice you can imagine). I took for granted how well it went with my son, so I did not seek out any support this time around.
I “knew what I was doing” this time, but things were stacked against us. I switched jobs within weeks of going back to work. Instead of being in an office environment that supported the importance of breastfeeding, I was working at a fast food restaurant. I was working three 12-hour shifts a week so that I could be home more. But I only had one 20 minute break in which to eat and also pump in a bathroom stall. I could take more breaks, but I would have to clock out for them. The whole purpose though of this switch was to make the same amount of money while being away less, so I didn’t take extra breaks.
I didn’t realize until it was too late how confusing this was for my body. I would be leaking on the drive home, and then be trying to pump one side while nursing my daughter on the other. Four days a week we were feeding every 4-6 hours and the other three there would be huge stretches with nothing than pumping once for a little relief.
Within weeks I was supplementing with formula while I was away since I couldn’t pump enough to keep up a good supply. And soon after that I wasn’t able to keep up on my days off.
I wish now I would have just called a lactation consultant. Or heard of all the supplements and teas that were available. Or found a way to quit working.
But I decided to stop nursing. I’m still upset about this decision.
Preparing For Success
When I was planning for my third, I was determined. I had so many regrets with my first two: the induction, the c-sections, the early quitting, the formula. I switched obstetricians, which was the biggest step in my goal of no more c-sections. I researched everything. I read everything I could get my hands on about natural birth, nursing, and nutrition.
When I finally got pregnant, I prepared for everything. I hired a doula, which was a huge help in providing information, preparation for delivery, achieving a natural delivery, and initial nursing success. And I didn’t take my natural VBA2C for granted to give me a good start. And it’s a very good thing I didn’t!
My third was the first one to have a difficult time latching on. Everything I’d read had examples of immediate rooting and latching by the baby right after delivery. Not my son. My doula and I tried to get him to latch on, but he only wanted to lay there. We tried again every 30 minutes or so, but soon discovered the main difficulty was that he had a tiny mouth.
Thankfully at this point I wasn’t worried about showing it all with the nurses. And thankfully all of them were current or former nursing moms and experienced in nursing support. Every initial latch was difficult to achieve, but I soon figured out how to do it on my own.
The first few weeks at home were painful. Every time he latched on it would hurt. I experienced for the first time dry and cracked nipples and sharp pain until letdown. I was at my wits end, researching tongue-tie and other latch issues. Finally the pain ended around 3 weeks when he finally learned how to open his mouth wide and latch on his own.
I’m so thankful that throughout this I didn’t give up and that I never had supply issues. In addition to having a difficult start, this is also the first guy to bite me while nursing. We had several weeks of him biting me, and then thinking it was funny until I had to take him off and sit him down away from me. Thankfully the only time he bites me now is when he has fallen asleep. It is all I can do to not yell and wake him on these occasions.
There Are A Few Things I Attribute To Our Making It For Eleven Months And Counting:
- I was prepared. I researched everything I could and readied myself emotionally and physically.
- I had a goal. With my first two, it was just a normal thing and I wanted to make it to a year. With my third, I wasn’t taking anything for granted. Nursing for a year was a minimum, not the ending point.
- I am a stay at home mom now. Many women work for wonderful companies that support the breastfeeding relationship (I have worked for two of them myself), and there are rules in place now to support women. But there are many companies that follow by the bare minimum. Some companies are exempt (like fast food places). Plus, not having the bottle to compete with makes nursing so much easier! While I occasionally envy the moms who can get away for a while since their babies will take a bottle, I wouldn’t trade my nursing relationship for anything.
- I didn’t listen to the “world”. I ignored the formula companies. I surrounded myself with people who viewed nursing as normal. I sought out support when I encountered a hurdle.
So now I have a new goal. Since I know I’ll reach my minimum of twelve months I decided I would love to try out tandem nursing if God gives me another baby in the near future. If that doesn’t happen, 18 months is my new minimum.
Update: I am now pregnant with #4 and still nursing my 14 month old! God surprised us with this little one, after fertility treatments with the first 2 and months of trying with #3, it was quite a shock to become pregnant before his first birthday while still nursing regularly! We are down to nursing 2-3 times a day, but we still have a good, strong nursing relationship I wouldn’t trade for anything, even though I’m exhausted and starving all the time! I hope he still enjoys this for a few more months, and I would still like to try out tandem nursing!