The first time Paisley latched was a moment I will never forget. Nurses cleaned her up, weighed her and immediately stuck her on my chest. Within seconds she was rooting around and making the sweetest little noises to let me know she was hungry. I had never felt a love like this and it was overwhelming to say the least. My nurse and my doula helped guide her to my left breast and ease me into using a football style hold. And just like that she was latched and nursing like a champ. I felt a sigh of relief flush over my body. I had spent many months waiting for this exact moment and I wasn’t sure how it would all play out. After a couple of minutes we switched her to my right boob, but she didn’t want anything to do with it. My heart sunk and immediately my anxiety rose. What if this wasn’t going to work? What if this is a sign that she’ll never nurse from my right side? Honestly, I was freaking out. My doula tried to reassure me that sometimes babies have a favorite side and that it would take time for her to get comfortable on both. But the voice of doubt was already in my head and I heard it loud and clear.
I was only seven or eight when breastfeeding was first introduced to me. My mother and I were walking through our church and I saw a mom nursing her baby. Truthly, I was in total shock. What in the world was she doing? THATS what boobs are for? Confusion set in and I couldn’t hold back. Looking over at my mom I whispered “ewww, that’s SO GROSS!”. Her eyes got big and she held me close as she whispered back into my ear, “it’s not gross, the benefits for you and the baby are huge. Also, you create a really special bond from nursing.” In that moment my brain did a total 180 degree spin and I began questioning anything I had ever seen in movies or read in books. Boobs have for many, many years been viewed as sex objects and never really shown in a respectful way detailing their natural purpose. It was from that point forward I decided that breastfeeding would be something I wanted for myself and my baby—yearning to have that special bond that she had talked so about that same day.
Fast forward many years and here I was. Laying in a hospital bed feeling more insecure, self conscience and vulnerable than I had been my entire life. I was so scared of disappointing my baby. I was so afraid of failing her. Years were spent fantasizing of this exact moment but the pressure was so heavy and so real. A couple weeks before Paisley was born I started to use my breast pump at home after reading numerous articles about the benefits of storing colostrum in syringes and freezing them. The uses for that liquid gold were insurmountable. The first time I tried it out I was so excited, I only got a couple little drops but it could have basically been a gallon. With a smile on my face I peered through the clear plastic bottle and stared for what felt like 10 minutes at these tiny drops. I couldn’t believe that my body had made this perfectly formulated liquid just for my baby. It felt so strange and so perfect all at the same time.
Paisley was still having troubles staying latched on my right side and really wanted nothing to do with nursing that particular boob. I decided to be patient and just go with the flow. Everyone around me was telling me to do different holds—football, craddle, etc etc. It was overwhelming and I couldn’t wait to leave so that I could figure out what worked for us the best. I would stare down at her and just knew that we were going to get into a rhythm of it all eventually. Once we got home, I felt so much more at ease. Without people hanging over my shoulders I was able to relax and focus on perfecting her latch. You see, I have a larger chest. My boobs are saggy-ish and they have always been that way. Because of that she really had to work hard in order to get a good latch. We kept trying every hold I had ever been shown but nothing was really “working” for us. I finally sucked it up and decided to do a little bit of video searching on BoobTube, I mean YouTube. Finally I came across a video about lying back breastfeeding for moms with a larger chest and it truly saved our nursing relationship. I linked the exact video that I watched but there is so many more available as well! It not only helped my constant back pain from trying to attempt the holds that weren’t really working for us but it helped ease Paisley’s choking fits she would have from heavy, overactive letdowns. Those made me feel the worst. Each and every time I would feed her she usually would get a huge spray of milk down her throat and it ultimately ended up in a huge choking event that left me holding my breath until she stopped. By laying back in my bed on some pillows I was able to weaken the strength of the letdown and allow her to catch her breath and drink at a normal pace. This forceful letdown was the strongest in the first 6 weeks before my supply leveled out, but she dealt with choking until she reached 9 or 10 months old.
On day 4 my milk came in and my boobs were heavy….so, so unbearably painful and heavy. I texted my midwife and my doula and they both told me the same thing— do NOT pump them out. They had me convinced that it would be terrible for my supply and I ended up listening to them. I'll be doing a separate blog detailing the strained, mess of a relationship I had with my midwife and my doula, but for now I'll keep it to breastfeeding. The next day I was so full that Paisley couldn’t even latch. When she did my nipples were so cracked and bleeding that each time she did latch I would burst into tears. I wanted to give up. It was all just too much and too painful. Finally, I remembered that a friend of ours had been a lactation consultant for many years and I decided to give her a call. She told me she’d be over right away and within a couple hours she was there. She said to me “first things first, you have GOT to pump those things out”. At that point my boobs were starting to become covered in patches of red as I got clogged ducts and borderline mastitis. Within minutes of pumping I had filled both bottles with 12 ounces of milk. I wish I could explain in words just how relieved I felt. Imagine having two huge sacks of potatoes hanging from your chest and then just throwing them as far as you possible can? That barely scratches the surface of what I experienced. She stayed for about an hour and she showed me other holds and reassured me that I would be able to figure everything out. There is something so special and unforgettable about receiving support, especially when you’re so unsure about basically everything in the beginning. She left me some Lanolin for my cracked nipples (its magic in a bottle by the way), gave me a few more pointers and told me that I could contact her if I ever needed anything else. I don’t know where we would be today had she not come over to help me and for that I will always be so grateful.
I ended up putting the milk I had pumped into some storage bags and stuck them in the freezer. I made a decision that day that I would be more picky about who’s advice I’d be listening to from that point on and knew that needing to listen to my gut was the most important part if I was going to be the best mom possible for that little girl. That pumping session ended up leading to months and months of pumping my extra milk and storing it in the freezer. Within the first week I donated over 100 ounces to a mom who was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer and the feeling I got from helping her out in that way was the most rewarding experience ever. In the course of 5 months I donated almost 2000 ounces to other mothers and babies in need. From the very beginning I had an oversupply and that was perfectly okay with me. I felt like it was my calling to give it to mamas that truly needed it. During the first week or so Paisley seemed to always have a witching hour that was full of gas, screaming and colic. I couldn’t figure out why. After doing a little bit of elimination from my diet we discovered that dairy and chocolate were the culprits (sad, right?). I was hooked on baking chocolate cupcakes and topping them with homemade chocolate cream cheese frosting so this was definitely a problem for me. But nonetheless, eliminating them from my daily intake elevated not only her tummy problems, but mucousy, poopy diapers that wreaked havoc on her cute little outfits. She luckily outgrew this sensitivity after 6 months but it felt like forever. I definitely gained so much respect for moms who have babies with allergies after that experience. There's nothing worse than seeing your child in pain.
Another hurtle we had to overcome was never taking a bottle. She always refused a pacifier as well but that wasn’t really a big deal. To this day she has never actually taken a bottle more than maybe 2 or 3 times her entire life and only for my sister. When she was about 3 weeks old we attempted a bottle so that I could get a little bit of sleep because lets face it, I was exhausted. She refused. She knew what the real thing was and didn’t want anything to do with a phony nipple. So when she was about 4 months old she started reaching for things, specifically cups that had straws in them. One day I was drinking from my Yeti cup which had an acrylic straw in it, she reached out and grabbed it. I said what the heck and let her try to take a sip. Sure enough, she sucked water right up into her mouth. I was shocked. This baby who had refused every bottle under the sun (including one that cost $40!) was drinking from a straw like a champ. Within the next month I had purchased these sippy cups that have silicone straws and before we knew it she was getting her pumped, thawed milk and drinking it like a champ! This was only when we were away for the evening or if I let someone watch her while running errands, but it was a relief nonetheless. I felt myself exhale for the first time since we had attempted a bottle. I could see naps and the possibility of some me time off in the distance; yay!
The next couple months were spent getting into a routine of feeding times and pumping, all of which were day and night. I would
sometimes pump at 3am after I fed Paisley in order to extend the amount that my body would make the next day. At first I used a Medela Advanced Style pump but after about 8 weeks it was causing more pain than productivity. I had heard so many amazing things about the Spectra S1 pump and so I decided to make a small investment in myself. I’m so glad that I did. It was wireless so I could charge it up and take it wherever I wanted to, no longer strapped to the wall I was able to pump and do things. It's also hospital grade so that was a plus. Pumps of the same quality are thousands of dollars while this one was just around $200. If you're going to request anything at your baby shower, you need this. I promise. The suction from the pump was so close to Paisley’s latch that letdowns happened almost instantly for me. I didn’t hurt anymore after pumping and was able to collect so much more milk. Truly a lifesaver. None of this is sponsored whatsoever, I just think it’s so important to share what works especially if you’re a first time mommy! I’m going to link everything throughout this post as well as on the bottom so you can check everything out for yourself. Side note: the Spectra S1 and S2 are usually covered by most insurance policies so definitely check that out before purchasing one! I spent 15 minutes pumping during each session, I couldn’t handle doing it for much longer than that because I usually pumped while Paisley was asleep and I didn’t want to waste precious relaxing time. Haha. On a normal day I would pump 4-5 times a day, each session bringing about 4-12 ounces of milk. I was a milking machine but with a steady oversupply, happy was an understatement. Nothing filled me up with joy more than stocking up on frozen milk, knowing that I had that stash on hand for any kind of just in case moment that may arise.
*Not so fun fact: during Hurricane Irma we lost power for 4 days and I almost lost my entire deep freezer (yes, I had to buy a deep freezer because my fridge freezer ran out of space) full of milk. Luckily after we came back from evacuating we were able to hook up the generator and save it before it was too late. I don’t know what I would have done if I had lost it all. Probably faded into oblivion.
Around 12 months old I made the decision to donate every ounce of milk I had left to another mama that received most of it previously and I started supplementing with formula. Most of the time that I gave Paisley pumped milk she would just end up wasting it, like she knew the difference between that and what was on tap. I hated having to refreeze the milk (to use for milk baths for diaper rashes, etc.) or needing to dump it out if it went too far past a usable date so I knew I needed to do something different. I wasn’t really torn making this decision because I will always and forever do whats best for me and my baby—I’m so glad that I did. My favorite brand so far is the Happy Baby Organic Formula and truthfully, she loves it. We still nurse 3-4 times a day, usually its for bonding or if she needs to find some peace and calm. With that she receives about the same amount of sippy cups as well. Some days if I’m working the entire day she doesn’t nurse at all and so far that’s been perfectly fine too. My boobs don’t really seem to notice so I’m not in pain and she doesn’t really act very differently either. I’m planning on transitioning her to almond milk within the next month or so to wean her from the formula, but for now I'm loving the limbo we've been in. I could do without the twiddling and the biting though if I'm being honest.
Fast forward to 16 months of nursing and the end doesn’t look like it’s anywhere in sight. I’m not sure when she will wean but I’m not too worried about it. She will let me know when she’s done. Now, will I be nursing her till she’s 5 or 6? Definitely not. But if she nurses till she’s 2 or 3 I don’t think I’ll mind. She has her entire rest of her life to be a big kid and then eventually an adult, but these couple precious years will be spent nurturing her and bonding as much as possible. It’s so so important.
I feel like I’ve jumped around a lot throughout this story, but truthfully this entire journey has been such a blur—time really does just fly by. The beginning was so difficult but I am so glad that I stuck with it and pushed passed things even when they were a challenge for me. I’m thankful to have had the support that I received from my lactation consultant and my husband because without them I really don’t think I would have made it through the hard times. I hope that from my story you have left with a positive outlook on your own journey, whether it be in the future or the past. We all have so many amazing stories that need to be shared with other mothers because we all need to feel less alone. Breastfeeding can be difficult, it can be tiring and sometimes you might feel like just throwing in the towel but I can promise you that it is so, so worth it. Always reach out for help and never, ever let other people try and tell you how you need to feed your baby. Talk to someone, share your story and remember that no matter what, you can do this mama!