From Day One: a Nursing Story
In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I wanted to tell you a story.
This is the story of my own breastfeeding journey. If you are opposed to things such as nursing in public, nursing until two years old, or pumping at work, you may wish to turn around now.
It’s no amazing saga- really, we had it much easier than many mothers. I know women who nursed preemies, twins, even one mother of triplets (if you ever want to see a real juggling act…), and in my book, they are heroes for even giving it a go. But even when nursing goes well for mother and child, it isn’t ever something I’d call easy on the whole.
Our journey started while I was still pregnant with Moonbaby, I was doing the first-time-mom thing, reading and watching everything I could to learn about being pregnant, giving birth, and taking care of babies. Very early on I came across the breastmilk vs. formula world of feeding, and the more I learned, the more I knew I wanted to breastfeed our babies. Even though my PCOS may betray me with low supply, I wanted to try. The benefits are touted all over the internet, so I won’t go over them all again, but there were a few in particular that stood out to me:
- Healthier babies. They get sick less often because the mother’s antibodies are passed along in her milk.
- Quicker feedings. There’s no bottle to prep or formula to measure and mix.
- Convenience and cost. Boobs are free and available wherever the mother is. There’s no running to the store at midnight because baby’s crying and you realize, in your new-parent coma, you forgot the formula was running low.
And one that was very, very important for me, with who I am as a person: forced downtime. Though I did eventually learn to nurse while wearing her in our Moby, I wasn’t any good at it for about 6 weeks or so, which meant if she needed to nurse, I had to sit my butt down and feed that baby. If we had formula fed, I know I would’ve handed the bottle and baby off to my husband and gone to clean something- not nap or shower, I would’ve gone off to reorganize a cupboard or fold laundry or some other task that, surely, could wait while I was still recovering from birth. But I’m getting ahead of myself now.
The months rolled along, and with them, I gathered information and resolve. I knew when she arrived, we would be ready- my husband was reading and learning right along with me, and he was 100% behind our breastfeeding every step of the way.
After what I’d consider a long, but easy labor, our little girl arrived, and was nursing within minutes. She had a great latch, though I was awkward at holding her, even with the assistance of the nursing pillow I’d brought along. She fit perfectly along my forearm, her tiny little butt just reaching my hand as I cradled her. The in-house IBCLC (certified lactation consultant) came to check in on us, and delivered some much-appreciated lanolin cream samples. She nursed about every hour, sometimes hour and a half, in the hospital, which they had me tracking on a little worksheet so we knew she was eating often enough and wetting enough diapers. And she refused to sleep longer than 5 minutes anywhere but my arms, which terrified me after all I’d read about the dangers of sleeping with your baby, but the nurses never said anything, which helped to reassure me.
When we went home, she continued to nurse frequently, all through the night and day, sometimes stretching to two hours, sometimes wanting to nurse again after only 30 minutes. And I’ll be honest- it hurt. My breasts just weren’t used to it, and were tender from all the hormone fluctuations that go with giving birth and bonding. But oh, man- those lanolin cream samples the IBCLC had given me were a godsend! After the first two weeks, it stopped hurting, and we started to establish a regular pattern of feeding.
I went back to work when she was just barely 2 months old, and began the glamorous world of pumping at work. I was a fast-food manager, and though I had warned my general manager and district manager both well before I’d left on leave, it was a battle from the get-go. For starters, the GM (and assistant/second-in-command) I’d had when I left had quit during my leave- and word hadn’t passed to his fill-in that I was going to need pump breaks about every 2 hours, so it hadn’t really been scheduled in, which made it awkward for some of the rush times when I needed to get off the line. To the GM-filler (Jeremy)’s credit, he didn’t mind- he knew I physically needed it and was legally guaranteed it, and offline I’d go. To one of the other managers and my DM, though, it was a shock- especially the time I had to walk off the line at noon in the middle of lunch rush.
I had made it very clear that I would need to pump an hour and a half after my shift started (I fed her before I left, and had about a half-hour drive) and every two hours after that, and that they should schedule me appropriately. So when I started a shift at 10am, that meant I was going to need to pump at 11:30. Now, if we were slammed, I could usually put it off for about 10 minutes before it started to hurt, which, that day, I did. At the point 12:00 rolled around, I was close to tears from the pain and I just had to go- so I told the opening manager I was going offline and she’d need to coordinate. She said “Alright,” and took over. The DM happened to be on sandwiches at that point, and she didn’t notice me leave the line, but DID notice me sitting in the office about 5 minutes later and started yelling. I ignored her- since she never would have heard my response anyway -and just continued pumping. I was done about 15 minutes later and returned to the line after putting my milk in the fridge. After the rush had passed, the DM pulled me back into the office for a conversation, where she proceeded to chastise me for leaving the line and tell me she “didn’t care that [I] needed to pump, there was a rush!” So I proceeded to educate her on the law, my rights, and the company’s legal requirements to comply- including the fact that I was already being nice about letting them slide on not having a specific, interruption-free, non-bathroom place for me to pump- and that if me leaving the line at noon was a problem, they should schedule me and other labor appropriately. She huffed for a while, but I wasn’t concerned- I was right, and federal law had my back. On a later pump break, I took the opportunity to print off two copies of the fact sheet on the law and highlight the parts we’d discussed- one copy to hang in the office, and one for me to keep in my pump bag. I never got hassled for my pump breaks again, even after we got yet another GM.
And that was my first lesson in standing up for myself and my child- at two months, a mother’s supply is still regulating, and it is absolutely crucial that she pump when she needs to- especially with a fed-on-demand baby at home. A single missed pump session can signal the body that she needs less milk, and a pattern of them surely will, leading to supply problems from which she may not recover. I was not about to let that company sabotage my child’s food supply.
Moving forward, Moonbaby nursed and nursed and grew and grew- from her daddy-fed bottles and my breasts, and she was a chunky baby, much to my relief. When I asked her pediatrician after her 4-month checkup how I could be sure she was getting enough (she’d hit a growth spurt and was seemingly feeding all the time again), he said “Well, you can always go back to charting feeding times and wet/dirty diapers- but she is happy and she has rolls for days; I’d say that’s a well-fed baby.” Which was very reassuring. I think if she had been a skinny baby, I would have had much more anxiety over my supply keeping up with her demand- as it was, I worried on and off if we were going to make it to a year- my goal for breastfeeding. But we carried on, even through a move and a new job (well, same job, different franchise) for me, where I’m happy to report I had nothing but support for my pumping needs, beside a couple crew members who grumbled and even sent in a “customer complaint” about it, but my fellow managers adjusted amicably as far as I could tell, and with their scheduling structure and business flow it worked out that I never (except in extreme and exceptional circumstances, for which usually had labor scheduled anyway) had to leave the line during a rush.
Punctuated through all this were various occasions of nursing in public. I had to leave the house, obviously, and for a long while, if I was leaving other than to go to work, she had to come with me. Which was great- I loved taking her out. She was the epitome of portable in the infant seat, and if I didn’t want to deal with that or the stroller, I could always wrap her up and wear her on my chest, which we both enjoyed. Now, I understand that this is a hot-button issue for many people- well, I should say, I understand that it is; I do not understand why it is. But that is a rant unto itself, really. I don’t nurse with a cover- I did, at the very beginning, solely for the comfort of specific people, and then Selenia decided she would NOT tolerate the cover any longer. She would sooner throw up crying and wailing and thrashing than she would nurse with anything over her head. So we saved the cover for my pumping at work, and I will say I did not miss it. I was only ever hassled for it once, in Meijer, when she was just about 2 months old. The lady hadn’t even noticed I was nursing her until she came up and put her hand on Moonbaby’s head- for which I would have smacked it away if she hadn’t pulled it back so quickly herself. Who does that- just touches a stranger’s baby?! She chastised me for “being so bold” (really, baby-toucher, really?!) and quickly moved on.
I will add I have no problem with mothers who choose to and whose babies tolerate being covered while nursing- just as I have no problem with mothers who simply whip it out and feed their child. A mother and child should nurse however they are most comfortable. I have found, in my personal experience, that I’ve gotten fewer looks and gathered less notice uncovered than I have wearing a nursing cover. It’s like the cover is a giant flag that says “NURSING MOTHER HERE! I HAVE A BABY ON MY BOOB!” I’ve had people walk up and have entire conversations with me before realizing we were nursing- so obviously, it can’t be all that scandalous.
I am proud to say that we did make it all the way to a year- though I was pressured around 9 months by my aunt, Moonbaby’s primary caregiver while I was at work -to supplement. I took the question seriously, researching and polling my mother friends, and I decided not to. I pumped extra for her at home to get her through the spurt, as my supply caught up, rather than introduce formula and potentially end our breastfeeding. It was well worth the extra effort, in my opinion, especially because I didn’t really have the money for formula anyway.
Besides that, I found the thing I needed to emphasize most with her caregivers was that her bottle size would not change- she would always be drinking about the same quantity of milk, as opposed to formula which would increase as the child grew. Breastmilk adjusts to the needs of the child, so while the amount of milk will remain mostly unchanged, the caloric and nutritional content changes to fit the child.
I pumped for her just past a year- we moved again and I left that job last September.
It is worth noting, also, that for this entire span- all the way until she was about 14 months -she did not once sleep through the night. She, and thus I, was awake every two hours like clockwork, and so she would nurse. She was so regular I often used her as my alarm clock. I was amazed at how my body didn’t seem to care- I was no more tired than I had been before having her. I still got 8 hours of sleep; they were just a little punctuated. I think it was because she was so regular about it that it didn’t take a toll on me.
When I went back to work at a greenhouse in January of this year, I worked split shifts around my husband’s school and work schedule, working a couple hours in the morning, coming home for a couple hours, and going back for whatever remained of the evening. I was surprised to find that I didn’t need to pump- her nursing had spread out enough that it was unnecessary both for her nutrition and for my comfort. My body had, once again, adjusted to her needs and our relationship.
And we are still going, 16 days before her second birthday. Our nursing relationship has changed- as she got older and more busy, ate more food, she asked for it less and less. Around 14 months, she was only asking for “booby” before naps and bedtime, which meant only 3 times per day, and the next month, she went from two naps to one, and down to two nursing sessions per day. Occasionally, if she is ill or very upset by something, she will ask for extra sessions, but those are few and far between. And if she for whatever reason misses a session- if Daddy does bedtime, or she falls asleep in the car, she doesn’t usually mind.
One thing that does make me sad is that, despite our nursing journey being such a large part of our relationship and her growth and my growth as a mother, there are very, very few photos of us doing so. I couldn’t find a single one before she was 9 months old- 9 months of nursing every 2 hours, and not a single photo! Part of this, I’m sure, is that I was usually the one to be taking pictures, and most of the family would probably be embarrassed to take a photo then. But really, folks- don’t be. I’d rather have those photos!
This one is the first one I found that someone besides me took- I asked Ryan to take this as I was nursing her to bed in late September, just after we’d moved. Remember how I said she once fit neck-to-rear along my forearm? Here, at 13 months, she hardly fits neck-to-waist!
It’s not a flattering photo for me- just look at that nose! -but it is a beautiful photo to me, a rare capture of one of the most amazing things I have ever done and will ever do. A moment in a bond between mother and daughter that I will cherish always.
Our relationship is evolving further, now, as well. I am 17 weeks into my pregnancy with her first sibling, and may end up tandem nursing my toddler and my newborn. A new challenge and a new adventure!