My Breastfeeding Journey
Before I write this post I’d like to say that it has now been 11 weeks with our little girl. I’ve accepted the fact that I have tried EVERYTHING and our situation with breastfeeding is what it is. I may share some emotions that I was feeling below, but I promise I’m okay with everything now.
So call me crazy (or dumb) but I genuinely thought that because I had big boobs I would have a lot of milk. Truly the thought never occurred to me that breastfeeding wouldn’t work out, nor that there was a chance that it couldn’t. I assumed people who fed formula did so by choice (and maybe some do, you do you ladies) and thought “why? breastmilk is free!”
I didn’t take a breastfeeding class, but I’d seen enough people do it and figured it seemed pretty natural enough that I’d somehow figure it out. Our plan was to breastfeed and we didn’t have a backup because well… my mom breastfed, my sister-in-law breastfed, my sister breastfed and my best friends all breastfed. Sooo…. who was left to even ask about a back up option anyway?
As soon as Elisabetta was born they put her on my chest and she immediately latched and sucked. This seemed encouraging, at least to the nurses who knew what was supposed to be happening. I had no idea but it sounded good, haha! She latched for maybe 2-3 minutes on each side. As a first time mom I’m like “should I be tracking this in my app?” The nurses laughed. :)
After delivery I hemorrhaged, which means I lost a LOT of blood. Apparently it’s common for babies to swallow whatever fluids are present during delivery and may spit that up once they are out in the world. Typically, babies swallow amniotic fluid so if they do spit up, it’s clear. Elisabetta swallowed my blood which means when she spit up it was a very, very dark red. The first time it happened it was truly the scariest moment of my life. Imagine seeing a tiny baby just spitting up dark red fluids. The nurses explained that this is common, but as a result Elisabetta wasn’t really up for eating for pretty much the first 24 hours (upset tummy I guess). During that time I didn’t pump so my milk wasn’t stimulated. Not sure if this effected anything, but if I could go back I think I would have requested to pump even though she wasn’t eating just for peace of mind that my milk was being stimulated.
So now 24 hours has gone by, then 30. Still nothing was happening. She had no interest in eating and at this point we were working with the CLC (Certified Lactation Consultant) to try to get things going. It wasn’t until 36-40 hours after delivery that we had a successful latch and suck. I did pump once during that time and was able to pull some colostrum. We used the colostrum and sugar water as a way to entice her to eat and after (a lot) of attempt, we seemed to be in a pretty good motion.
They had explained to me that Elisabetta had lost some weight because she had gone so long without eating, but now that I was BFing successfully, we shouldn’t have a problem. It’s very typical for babies to lose 7-10% of their weight from birth in the few days following. Once we started nearing 10% we were talking about options and they gave us formula when we left the hospital just in case we needed it.
When we got home, we successfully nursed at least every 2 hours during the day and 3 hours at night. I thought everything was great because she was sleeping at night and needed to be woken up to eat. Babies are seen by their pediatrician within 24 hours of leaving the hospital, so the day after we got home we went to see ours. At this point, Elisabetta had lost 12% of her body weight. She was born 8 lbs. 12 oz. and now weighed 7 lbs. 11 oz (if I remember right, haha). Of course I immediately cried. Our pediatrician recommended that we begin supplementing with formula until my milk came in. The hospital had given us plenty of individual bottles of Enfamil so we used that and were told to come back the next day - and by then my milk would likely be in.
Many women talk about the “feeling” when their milk comes in. I often wondered how what they meant by that or “could it really be that noticeable?” Apparently it is. There is a “let down” that happens (typically) when your milk comes in. Between 3-5 days after you give birth you’ll feel this sudden rush and and then your boobs will feel like they are about 100 lbs. Women feel engorged, their boobs often leaking and it’s super painful. I kept waiting for this and waiting for this. Hoping even the smallest feeling would mean it was a sign something was happening!
We supplemented with formula for each feeding until our Friday appointment. When we went back Elisabetta had gained 5.4 oz! This was super encouraging but because it was a Friday (office is closed over the weekend), they wanted us to continue to supplement through the weekend and come back on Monday and by then my milk would definitely be likely to have come in.
The weekend we spent supplementing was pretty emotional. At this point I didn’t have much sleep, we were waking Elisabetta up every 3 hours to eat at night. Each feeding was taking well over an hour because (I didn’t know it at the time) she was using me as a pacifier. She was nursing for 40-60 minutes and then would still take the 2 oz of formula. By the time I got her back to bed and would fall asleep myself it would be time to start again. On Saturday, the nipple confusion set in. We just could not get her to latch. She was screaming and crying and burning more calories doing so than I wanted her to be because I was so afraid she’d lose weight all over again. At this point I was pretty much a walking waterfall of tears just feeling like I was completely failing. I didn’t know anyone else who had (a) struggled to breastfeed at all but (b) feeling like my milk still hadn’t come in and wondering what in the hell was going on. On Saturday I decided to pump, thinking whatever came out I would just put into a bottle so at least she was getting that and I’d figure it out later. One of my best friends only pumps (doesn’t nurse) so I knew this was an option if I needed to go this route. When I sat down to pump… MILK CAME OUT.
WTF!!! I didn’t feel any different. My boobs didn’t feel heavy, I wasn’t leaking, etc. I was so confused by this! My sister-in-law told me that some women just don’t feel the let down but judging by the picture of milk I had sent her, she agreed, my milk had definitely come in. I was able to pump maybe .05 oz on each side but everyone said that it was normal and the more I stimulated my milk either by Elisabetta or by the pump, I’d get more and more milk as time went on. I kept pumping through the day on Saturday but mostly got .05 oz. or less each time.
On Saturday I shared my story on Instagram. My inbox became flooded with tips, encouragement, suggestions, etc. from so many people. I was already emotional but even more so now, haha. I know some women feel shamed by using formula but that was not the case for me. EVERYONE was letting me know that at the end of the day “fed is best.”
Tips from other mommas:
a gallon of water per day
body armor drinks
mothers milk tea
Guinness beer - didn’t try this bc I hate it but I’ll share haha!
On Sunday, for whatever reason, she started latching again. I was so excited because I knew she would be more successful at getting milk out than the pump, so if I was relying one something to stimulate my milk, I wanted it to be her.
**Side note: I used the Kiinde pumping system which I loved. You pump right into the bag and then you can store them or put a nipple top on it and give it right to your baby that way. No extra bottles to wash! However, the bags are difficult to measure what’s truly in them. I would pump what I thought was 1 or 2 oz. and then convert it to a plastic bottle just to check and it would be about 1/2 of what Kiinde said I was getting. Just something to be cautious of! Here’s a picture of what I mean:
On Monday we went back to the doctor and she had gained an additional 4.5 oz - at this point she had gained about 10 oz. total and was close to her birth weight again. I was thinking MAYBE we were out of the woods! I had shared with our pediatrician about the small amount of milk I was getting (at this point Elisabetta was one week old so my milk had been consistently stimulated for a few days) and our experience with not consistently latching so I was sometimes pumping to try to help Elisabetta get milk and me to stay stimulated. We decided to continue supplementing for an additional week to make sure that Elisabetta could be satisfied and continue growing, but that the more my milk came in the chances were that she would take less and less formula with each feeding.
Through the course of the week we seemed to get into a really good groove. We consistently nursed for 20-30 minutes per session and would do the formula after each nursing session. Since we were going to continue with formula for a full week I started doing some research. We had still been using the Enfamil formula that they gave us at the hospital, but just in case this was going to be a long term thing for us, I wanted to make sure I was giving Elisabetta (what I felt) was the best option out there. We ultimately settled on HiPP Formula - Dutch. You can read all about the differences of European and American formulas here! I paid for overnight shipping and we started using the formula on Tuesday. Luckily it was a smooth transition for us because our doctor had explained that switching formulas often can upset the baby’s tummy. Elisabetta was consistently pooping/seemed content and not constipated so we felt good about the transition!
Unfortunately Elisabetta never look less than the full 2 oz. of formula being offered to her, even though we were nursing for 20-30 minutes before each formula offering. By the end of the week we were actually up to 3 oz. of formula because she just wasn’t satisfied with two. We went back to the doctor on Monday (Elisabetta was now 2 weeks old) and she had gained around 6-7 oz (I don’t remember exactly), but I do remember when we left she weight 9 lbs. 1 oz. We had decided that this week we were going to try to ween from the formula and see how Elisabetta would do with just nursing. If we were relying on just my milk I would have more chance of being stimulated and maybe we could make this work full time!
This week brought a lot of stress, it felt like week 1 all over again. We were pretty much nursing around the clock. At one point she had nursed for an hour and 46 minutes in a two hour span. We were supposed to be nursing every 2 hours, so this meant I literally had a 14 minute break before we started again.
**For those of you who don’t know, when they say you nurse your baby every 2 or 3 hours, it’s 2 or 3 hours from when you STARTED not from when you finished. So if it takes 30ish minutes, you only have an hour an half (for example) before you start again. This is part of what makes the first few weeks so challenging because you really can’t do much else in between these feeding sessions and you’re exhausted. Breastfeeding takes a lot of work mommas!
Okay so back to my story, this week it just didn’t seem like our Elisabetta. She was fussy non-stop, we were nursing as much as humanly possible. We were cutting back on offering formula but it was clear she wasn’t satisfied/full. It was Memorial Day weekend so we weren’t doing our weigh in until Tuesday this week instead of our normal Monday appointment. On Sunday I reached out to my friend who’s a nurse who works at the same office as our pediatrician. She encouraged me that '“momma knew best” and if it seemed like Elisabetta wasn’t satisfied, to trust my gut and offer formula if I thought that would help. I did and she immediately stopped crying. Let my tears begin again. Could my milk just not help my baby grow into a strong and healthy baby?
When we went back on Tuesday for our check in, Elisabetta was now 3 weeks old so consistent weight gain was obviously very important. When they weighed her she weighed exactly 9 lbs. 1 oz. Which meant she had not gained even .01 oz. from the previous week. This was concerning because my pediatrician said she should be gaining an oz. per day. We didn’t really have the luxury of taking the time to continue to see what would work at the risk of her not gaining weight and would need to go back to formula for the foreseeable future.
In my mind I knew the appointment wasn’t going to go well because of what a rough week we had. I knew that they were going to tell me we had to keep doing formula, but hearing the words was really emotional for me because at that point I just knew we’d never be able to rely on just nursing. I wanted it to work so badly, I wanted to overcome this obstacle for my daughter and watch her gain weight and look at her and think “I DID THAT.” I knew I’d never have that true sense of accomplishment because she’d be gaining weight from formula, not me. After the appointment, I ordered a bulk supply of the HiPP formula and got busy making bottles. Elisabetta was nursing for an appetizer and having formula as her meal after. We were feeding every 3 hours during the day and 4 hours at night. Through the course of week we were able to successfully nurse and do formula with each session.
We had to go back for another appointment the following week for a one month well check and to do another weight check. Elisabetta was now 4 weeks old and at the appointment weighed 9 lbs. 14 oz. This means she had gained almost a pound in a week. I did have some relief knowing that she had gained weight, but I did cry at the appointment because part of me felt just sad that formula was doing what I couldn’t. But whatever - SHAKE IT OFF MOMMA!! She gained weight and I was able to celebrate that, but I did just have a few tears to get out, haha! This also meant for the first time we didn’t have weekly doctors appointments and I didn’t need to bring Elisabetta back for a WHOLE MONTH. In a way it felt like the training wheels were coming off. I definitely felt a sense of relief going to the doctor every week because I could sneak in questions and have them check things for me haha. What could really go wrong in one week? But one month - HOLY MOLY!
Between month 1 to 2 we got into a great rhythm and started working on establishing a schedule. I was still feeding every 3 hours during the day. I was waking her if she was sleeping during the day every 3 hours to eat because I wanted to get as many calories in during the day as possible and then letting her go during the night until she let me know she was hungry. Elisabetta has been a great sleeper from the start, so she was giving us good 5-6 hour stretches at a time and that gradually increased each week. By 2 months she was consistently giving us 10-12 hours at a time, but I never let her go even 3 hours and 5 minutes during the day without a meal. If she was sleeping, I’d wake her ass up to get that feeding in! Not all moms agree with waking a sleeping baby, but the truth is, I want the stretches at night - not during the day! I don’t want to celebrate a 4-5 hour nap knowing that it may compromise my sleep at night. Luke and I LOOOOOVEEEE our sleep! I’ll share more on our schedule and stuff in a post about life with a one month old - coming soon!
**Keep in mind that Elisabetta is formula fed, so it’s easier for her to be on a schedule because her stomach stays fuller longer.
Between month 1 and 2 I would nurse and do formula. I called nursing our “appetizer” and formula our “meal”. We got into a great habit of doing both but it was difficult for me to not question how much she was actually getting from me. During this time Elisabetta was eating 4 oz. every 3 hours, which was normal for a formula fed baby her age. However, I had NO IDEA what she was getting from me so I often found myself being concerned if we were now overfeeding her? There was truly no way for me to know because everyone says babies get more than a pump so even if I pumped I still wouldn’t truly know what SHE was getting.
As we neared the 2 month mark, Elisabetta was completely over nursing for her appetizer. She would cry, fuss and kick her legs the whole time and once I offered her the formula bottle she’d chug, chug, chug. Some of this might have to do with her just being lazy and knowing the bottle was coming anyway and not wanting to work for it - but it was becoming increasingly difficult for both of us. I had decided to start pumping right before her 2 month appointment and quickly realized why Elisabetta was getting so frustrated. After 20 minute pumping sessions every 3 hours, I was barely getting anything. Over the next few days, I increased her formula to 5 oz. per feeding and then it was time for her 2 month appointment!
The 2 month appointment means SHOTS! It actually wasn’t too bad. I went to the appointment with a pumped bottle and a formula bottle. As soon as they gave her the shots I picked her up immediately and put a bottle in her mouth. She went from screaming to instantly calm. I was so focused on getting the bottle in her mouth that I didn’t even have a chance to process what had happened - which was a welcomed distraction for momma. If you’re bottle feeding or nursing - BE READY with whatever you have as soon as the shots are done!
At her 2 month appointment, Elisabetta was 11 lbs. 7 oz. which means she’s growing beautifully.
Around the 2 month mark I had decided I was going to stop pumping. I was getting less than a tablespoon per pumping session and it’s tricky trying to pump and feed her / coordinate, etc. If I was getting a lot out I would have MADE IT WORK but to be getting so little out it just didn’t feel like it was worth the time to me. I weaned myself in 3 days. I do NOT recommend this for momma’s who produce regular milk. I planned to get down to 3 times per day, then 2 times per day, then 1 time per day and then stop over the course of a few weeks. But on day 3 I pumped for 20 minutes and the bags were completely empty. I literally just never pumped again and had zero issue. I assume this relates to how little milk I was producing.
Now my baby girl is strictly formula fed and it’s a little easier for me to be at peace with because I do know exactly how much she’s getting. I’ll always feel a ping of sadness when I see chunky babies who are growing because of their momma’s breastmilk (and not formula) and know that I don’t feel that same sense of pride for helping to make my little girl grow big and strong - but she’s growing and momma needs to celebrate that regardless!
Breastfeeding mommas, don’t feel like you can’t share your joys or struggles of nursing with your friends who formula feed because you feel guilty. One has NOTHING to do with the other! You’re doing such a beautiful thing and just because it doesn’t work for some people, doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate what does work for you. Formula mommas, celebrate that you’re doing what’s best for your baby, no matter what it took for you to make that decision! Maybe you never wanted to nurse, maybe you couldn’t nurse - who cares. I feel like so many formula mommies are so defensive feeling like someone is judging them or they have to justify their choice. WHO GIVES A SHIT!? Just love that baby and DO YOU! What we’re doing is beautiful too, because our babies are growing and let’s be honest, formula ain’t cheap. haha!
This literally is the longest post I’ve ever written but if you took the time to get all the way down here, CONGRATULATIONS! You deserve a cocktail after all that haha! Being a mommy is the greatest blessing I could ever ask for, but I had no idea it would come hand in hand with so much emotion. I’m actually tearing up a little as I finish this because I feel like I was putting it off knowing this was the last thing on my list of my breastfeeding journey and now it is completely over.
In conclusion, I wish people talked about EVERYTHING that came along with being a momma more. I had NO idea that breastfeeding might not work for me. No one told me that. I do share a lot on IG stories, but (a) that’s just me and it’ll never change and (b) I want people to see what it’s really like. Your baby WILL poop on you and guess what? You’ll literally fall in love with your baby EVEN MORE when they do. I just hope that my sharing creates less surprises for you and more normalcy when these things do happen because being a momma isn’t perfect but it’s the freaking best!!!
K - love you all!