Five years ago, when I gave birth to our first baby I was completely clueless as to how to breastfeed or if I even wanted to. I decided that I would try it. I did some research, and it seemed simple enough. Place baby to breast. Baby latches. Baby eats. Easy, right? Ha! For the most part our breastfeeding journey was pretty smooth at the beginning. Our son latched right away but that first night home I was ready to quit. My nipples hurt so badly, and I had no idea how painful breastfeeding could be. No one let me in on this secret! I didn’t quit although I really wanted to, but there was somuch guilt in that decision for me. So many feelings. I was able to nurse our son for 4 months exclusively and then had to start supplementing with formula due to supply issues. Breastfeeding our daughter three years later was a completely different experience that came with its own struggles. I was able to breastfeed her exclusively for 20 months.
In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I’ve compiled a list of things that helped me survive and continue my breastfeeding journey with both of my kids.
- Nipple cream. Get it! My sister-in-law got this for me and I thought it was the weirdest thing because I didn’t see how I was going to need this. I couldn’t get to that stuff fast enough the first night home with our son. I was ready to send my husband to the store for formula because the pain was so unbearable. This is what saved me that first night and allowed me to continue breastfeed. It’s $10 at Target and it’s the gift I give moms that plan to breastfeed. I also needed this after having our daughter. Only this time I needed an ointment with a steroid in it that my OB prescribed. That stuff was even more amazing.
- Motherlove More Milk Plus capsules. This was a supplement that a lactation consultant recommended when my milk supply was going down when my son was four months old. I’d never heard of all things you could try to increase milk supply until this time in my life. I was willing to try anything. So while in tears and feeling like I was failing and starving my baby, my mother-in-law took me and my baby to the other side of town to the one store that sold this. I was surprised by how much this helped and took it until our son was eight months old when he stopped nursing.
- Hot/cold breast gel packs. I had no idea how much I’d use and love these. I bought the Lansinoh Therapearl 3-in-1 breast therapy gel packs. I could refrigerate/freeze them when I felt engorged, and I microwaved them to use warm when I had mastitis and clogged ducts. The relief was amazing.
- A good electric and hand pump. I hated the pumping process but I loved my electric pump. Since nursing went well and I was a SAHM with my son I didn’t think to pump more than immediately needed. When my supply went down I didn’t have any milk frozen to give to him because I had no idea that your supply could just drop! I learned to build a supply when I had my daughter so if she no longer nursed, I would still be able to give her breast milk in a bottle. I never would’ve thought to also have a hand pump, but I used it so many times. It was so convenient when I woke up full but baby wasn’t ready to eat. I was able to pump and set it on the nightstand for an hour without getting out of bed. This was something I could easily take with me and use it on the go if needed.
- Knowledge. Education. Experience. Breastfeeding is hard work. I thought it would be easy since it was a natural thing women’s’ bodies were biologically made to do. It may be natural but it is NOT easy. I had lots of resources and support. My husband was always encouraging. He refilled my water and brought me endless snacks. He listened to me cry while he tried helplessly googling solutions to my pain. I was able to see go to a lactation clinic for free as many times as I needed. That was a privilege. That’s right. Being able to successfully breastfeed is a privilege. Not many moms have access to such resources. I was fortunate to get that help when needed.
I could not have breastfed successfully as long as I was able to with each baby without all of these things that were so vital to me. It’s such a temporary time in life that can be both really difficult but also amazingly rewarding. If you know a breastfeeding mama, bring her a snack and tell her she’s amazing.