With Honest Feeding Stories, you’ll hear from parents like you about one of the most intimate and important experiences of family life. Happiness and heartbreak, serenity and struggle, joy and tears — it’s all here in their own words. Presented with our support and without judgment, these stories remind us that the choices we make to nourish our children are truly unique.
Breastfeeding is everything I imagined it would and absolutely nothing like I imagined it would be, depending on the moment and the time of day.
When I was pregnant last year and thinking about my parenting goals, I approached breastfeeding the same way I approached my plan for labor and delivery. My goal was (and is) to exclusively breastfeed for a year, but if I couldn’t attain that goal for whatever reason, to allow myself the space and support to make the decisions for what was right for my child and our family. I’m grateful that 7 months in I’ve managed to maintain my goal, but it’s so much more everything than I imagined it would be. It’s more gratifying. It’s more humorous. It’s messier. It’s more uncomfortable. It’s more comfortable (yes, those are contradictory statements — welcome to parenting). Sometimes it’s more painful. It’s more beautiful. It’s more challenging. It’s more logistically complicated (imagine, hooking up your double pump and hands-free bra in the lavatory of a 747 airplane on a five and a half hour flight to New York with a plugged milk duct coming off of a week of mastitis… more on that later). It’s more humbling. From day one it’s been a journey, one that continues to evolve with every passing day.
That first morning, minutes after my daughter was born, she inch-wormed her way on my chest and found my breast and latched, and I was astounded at how powerful nature is, and in awe of that first connected moment in the outside world as mother and daughter. But over the next few weeks, while there were moments of beauty and grace, there were many moments of pain and challenge. That second day in the hospital I was receiving conflicting advice from a few lactation consultants on how long I should allow her to nurse. My daughter, Evelyn, had been nursing so much and my nipples were in such pain that the thought of continuing to nurse her brought me to tears. My saving grace in that moment at 2am with a crying child was my best friend who had a son a few months older than Evelyn. She coached and encouraged me through those dark hours hours of the morning, helped me stand up for my nipples, while my husband and I tried every shoosh, swing, swaddle trick we could find. We came out the other side feeling so victorious for having made it through the night and even managed a few hours of sleep.
Those next two weeks were filled with so many things I didn’t expect. Molting nipples (yes, molting — at least that’s what it looked like). So. Much. Nipple. Balm. The engorgement that would wake me up in pain in the middle of the night. Rifling through my freezer for frozen packs of veggies to provide relief. There is something particularly unjust about finally being able to get an hour or two of shut eye when your newborn sleeps, only to be woken up in pain from your breasts. We’d had such a good relationship with each other for over thirty years, why now, breasts, do you treat me so!
But it was also filled with so much beauty. There was something so delicate, peaceful, and deep about those special moments. It was a time of quiet connection that I treasure to this day. Some of my favorite photos of me and my child are ones I snapped while nursing in those first few weeks.
I began pumping fairly immediately because my milk production was pretty strong and I wanted to avoid mastitis like the plague. That’s when a lot of humor entered the breastfeeding equation. I bought one of those hands free pumping bras so I could double pump (truly a lifesaver). I looked ridiculous, like a high tech femme bot. But I didn’t care. It was the ultimate solution to multitasking. Everyone, I mean everyone, saw me pump and nurse. You do it so often in those first few weeks, if you ever want to see anyone it’s impossible not to. Breasts lost all of their stigma for me. They had taken on an entirely new life of their own, one of practicality and logistics.
There was that moment that I answered the front door for a delivery with my breast out. The time (or many) that I forgot a nursing pad and sprung a leak through my shirt (basically every day). All of the places I never expected to find myself pumping — in a dressing room, in the car on the way to a holiday party, in an airplane bathroom, in a rental car on a way to a wedding, in the bathroom trailer at said wedding (a few times).
Those first few weeks were a little bumpy as I navigated the newness of it all, but after awhile, Evelyn and I got our groove. We learned together, and I grew to love our nursing time. As I approached the end of my maternity leave, I was both nervous and sad about what it would mean for breastfeeding.
While I’d been pumping almost daily since she was born, for the first time I’d be pumping more than I was nursing. I was nervous about a few things. Would my production go down? Would I be able to make enough milk as she was hitting the height of her consumption? Did I stockpile enough frozen milk if I wasn’t able to pump enough? How would I manage my schedule at the office having to pump three times a day? Would I lose that connection with my daughter? Would she be angry at me?
When I first returned to work it was easier to manage than I thought from a timing standpoint, but it’s become progressively more challenging as I’ve become more immersed and reintegrated. I used to look at my pump with joy for providing much needed relief in those early days of engorgement, but I now my pump and I have a love hate relationship. I love it for helping me to provide milk for my daughter. I hate it for all of the logistics and planning it requires. I hate it for running out of batteries or losing steam when I have a plugged duct and I won’t see my daughter for a few days. So many parts to wash, so many things to keep track of. I’ve left my milk in the office refrigerator a few times, and definitely had that moment of total defeat when I realize in the morning I forgot to refrigerate my milk the night before when I got home from work.
But with all new things, we found our groove to, me and my pump. We’ve hit some bumps in the road along the way — plugged milk ducts, milk blisters, and mastitis. (Side note: mastitis is no joke. I had no idea it was more than breast pain — the fever, the worst!) I discovered on my first weekend out of town that I produce more of the enzyme that makes milk taste sour when it’s frozen. But even with the bumps, I don’t regret my decision at all. If anything, it’s been an eye-opening experience that has been so humbling. No matter what your experience is, there are ups and downs, challenges and rewards, and none of it is easy. But for me, it’s been extraordinarily gratifying.
I’m proud that we’ve made it seven months. I hope we can make it five more. But if there is anything being a parent has taught me, it’s to take each day as it comes. Plan for the worst, hope for the best, and anything in between is perfect.
-Laurel, Santa Monica, California