Milkmaker | Kelsey Bethune

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Coming off of an easy pregnancy and a difficult delivery, I had no idea what to expect from breastfeeding.

Much like all of the things about labor, I had done ALL of the research on breastfeeding prior to our arrival at the hospital. I read two books, attended free classes at our local breastfeeding clinic, took pages of notes during the breastfeeding portion of our child birthing classes, watched countless videos of babies crawling to their mother’s nipple moments after giving birth with my mouth agape in wonder, and joined a Facebook group run by a heralded IBCLC, which I had already perused for common difficulties and what to expect. I even had an app.

My baby was born via c-section, even though I had desperately fought for a natural birth. Exhausted and in need of a win, we were overjoyed when my son nursed immediately during recovery. That first success is one of the most fulfilling moments of my life.

The rest of our hospital stay was, well, weird. As so many new mothers can attest, eeeeevery nurse and eeeeevery lactation consultant had a different opinion on our nursing schedule, habits, methods. My son was big, and an overnight nurse (though good intentioned) terrified me into pumping with a hospital grade pump to make sure that my milk was coming in & I was producing enough. Her reasoning was that if he wasn’t eating enough, his blood sugar would be too low & he’d be taken to the nursery for monitoring. My instincts were screaming that I should stay away from the pump and let my body sync its rhythm to my baby’s, but we were already looking at additional time in the hospital because of the c-section, and there was no way I was going home without my baby.

Unsurprisingly, by the time my milk came in two days after we got home from the hospital, I had an enormous oversupply of milk POURING out of me. I was engorged, in pain as my son learned to latch, and my life was forced to revolve more around relieving my breasts than snuggling with my newborn. I had been so terrified of tongue ties, dairy intolerance, latching issues and not having ENOUGH milk, it had never occurred to me how difficult an oversupply could be. Coupled with being instructed to pump but not educated about allowing my supply to regulate, the struggle was very real. 

Much like complaining about a c-section feels selfish when other women struggle to become pregnant, complaining about an oversupply also felt selfish when other women struggle to produce breastmilk. I often felt like I wasn’t taken seriously when I tried to bring it up to other mothers or lactation consultants.  It felt like milk covered every surface of our home.  Breastfeeding was messy for months due to my strong letdown & I became engorged so quickly between feedings that I subconsciously avoided leaving the house. Breastfeeding in public was something I had been ready to proudly do, but it was honestly SO messy in those early months that we never really mastered breastfeeding anywhere other than a quiet, private place.

By 4 months, just like most of the books & websites say, we had it figured out. The more I researched, the more I realized how important it was to wean from the pump, as soon as possible. It was no easy process, but I finally felt my supply regulate & my strong letdown decreased. We were a functional breastfeeding duo, and it felt like being on top of the world.  

In all of these phases, my son was an absolute champion. He never failed to eat, & was never scared off from the waterfall of milk that often greeted his entire face as we sat down for a feeding. Because he was happy and healthy, I was happy, and it’s really only in hindsight that I’ve realized how many difficulties we overcame. Between his calm nature and healthy appetite and my propensity for research, we successfully nursed for one year and 2 weeks. I’m also happy to report that it ended in the exact weaning scenario I had hoped for.

As I look forward to an eventual second baby, I’m so grateful to know now what I sort of stumbled through then. (& also a little annoyed to hear that it’s just as painful in the beginning the second time around? RUDE.) Breastfeeding is such a personal journey, unique to each of us, and I am so proud to have nurtured my son in that way. Having also experienced some of the struggles, I also have SUCH a deep respect for every mama who, at the end of the day, is feeding her baby the best way she knows how. I am overjoyed to come alongside a new breastfeeding mother and offer what I know, and to put my arm around the mother that is walking away from breastfeeding for any reason and say, “I GET IT.”

What a beautiful journey to look back on already. Such a short chapter that felt. so. long. when I was in the middle of it. I’ll cherish the memories of those chubby thighs on my lap and chubby hands holding my hair forever. Such a gift.

Evian GranitzComment