Milkmaker | Amanda K.

I was lucky enough to have some pretty great breastfeeding trailblazers in my family, which definitely helped prepare me for my breastfeeding journey. My mom exclusively breastfed me and my 3 other siblings, and my sister exclusively breastfed her son several years ago. I always knew I wanted to breastfeed, but the most valuable guidance I received from them was not about how, or when, or why. Instead, their advice was more about setting my expectations for the experience. “The first 6 weeks are not easy. You have to commit and get through it, and then it will be so worth it”. I remember my sister imparting this advice on me as I entered my third trimester, as I was self-educating on new, foreign objects such as breast pumps, nursing tops, and nipple creams. I listened to her advice, and stored it away in the skeptical part of my mind, thinking “They’re exaggerating. I’m sure it won’t be that hard..”

 
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Fast forward to the day of my daughter’s birth, four days after her due date. After a delirious 20+ hours of labor, my midwives handed me my beautiful baby girl. They encouraged skin to skin contact, and I held her on my chest. They asked if I would like to try nursing, and so I tried. I had no idea what it was supposed to feel like, or if I was doing it right. My mind raced – what do I know about nursing?? I remembered reading something about how the first few days you only make colostrum, and your milk doesn’t come in until a few days afterwards. Throughout that first night, whenever my daughter cried, I nursed her. Or, again, I tried to nurse her.

Sometime the next morning, a nursing consultant came to see how breastfeeding was going. “Great, I think..” I said. “But my nipples are getting scabbed, but I’m pretty sure that’s normal, right?” The consultant gently assured me that, “No, dear. That is not ‘normal’”. She observed me nursing and quickly detected that my daughter was not fully latching on, because of how I was positioning her head. She also showed me a few tricks, and how to detect the sound of my daughter efficiently swallowing milk (a faint “cah” sound). At the same time, another consultant came in, and observed my daughter’s latch. She very abruptly declared “Oh, I am calling it now that she has a tongue tie, and that’s why she isn’t latching properly.” I thought, what the heck is a tongue tie? What does this mean? Is my baby OK? Thankfully, as the not-so-friendly nurse left the room, the consultant said that I just needed to try a few new positions, as she showed me and walked me through it. It took some practice, and we didn’t fully hit our stride until a day or two later, but we DID hit our stride. And no, my daughter did NOT have a tongue tie. We just had to figure each other out.

I remember coming home from the hospital and having to deal with the reality of cracked, scabbed nipples, and nursing through that pain. Suddenly, the advice from my sister came rushing back. “Oh, THIS is what she was talking about”, I thought. “Ok, well, it is going to get better. I can do this”.

Not only did we get through those first 6 weeks, but I ended up exclusively breastfeeding my daughter through 14 months. It became one of the most special experiences of my life, and totally deepened our bond. It was the one way I knew I could always comfort her, and sometimes felt like an inside joke that we shared. It was also empowering to know I could provide unique, specially formulated nutrients that would not only help her grow and thrive, but would also protect her from potential illness. When I went back to work at 4 months postpartum, I made pumping a priority and a non-negotiable element of my job. I knew I wanted to exclusively breastfeed until she was at least a year, or until both of us were ready to stop. There were definitely struggles, such as lowered milk production and clogged ducts, but I was on a mission. Some nights I would need to wake up 1-2x in the middle of the night to pump enough milk for the next day. But it was so worth it. I would do it all again. To this day, my now 20 month old daughter still refers to my breasts rather fondly. If she catches a glimpse of them, she points, and smiles, and laughs, and sometimes wants to hug or kiss them. It was our inside joke, our special moment, our original connection for those magical 14 months.

To all of my mom-to-be friends, my main advice is to stick with it. Give it a chance. Don’t let the learning curve be the reason you stop, because it will get better. SO much better.