"I need a SECOND freezer to store my extra pumped milk!"
Either you know this person or you ARE that person. (If you are, rock on!) Sadly, I'm not. I wasn't blessed with the gift of heavy milk production. In fact, having heard so many successful nursing stories (Thank you, Gisele), I was frustrated when I couldn't produce overflowing bottles of "liquid gold." Instead of dreamily gazing at Baby #1, I was hunched over a whirring pump, screaming obscenities at my poorly-producing milkers. It didn't help that our daughter also had reflux and colic. I wasn't producing a lot of milk and she hated being horizontal. Awesome.
Lesson #1: Do what's right for you. With our first daughter my sanity was stretched thin. When I couldn't successfully nurse, I was depressed. I felt broken. I cursed motherhood. Was I the ONLY mom on the planet that couldn't participate in this sanctified tradition? Two weeks in I caved. (Actually my husband caved.) One evening I walked into the living room and he was feeding our baby a BOTTLE. OF. FORMULA. I gasped. I cried. I crumbled. What happened next surprised even me. I felt... RELIEF. Baby was devouring the bottle. She was happy. She was satiated. Kissing her forehead and watching in disbelief, I suddenly felt free. Free to nurture what would blossom into a beautiful bond. I thanked my husband for seeing what I couldn't see. Newly empowered, I felt the need to encourage other struggling moms to supplement. "Why are you STILL nursing?" I would question. "Get on with your LIFE!" I would cheer.
Fast forward two years.
With Baby #2 quickly approaching, friends cautiously asked my breastfeeding plans. Naturally I felt trepidation. Conjuring up images of a screaming baby, a poor latch and of course the pump that mocked me --"You arrre sooooore...You arrrre soooore" -- clearly, I had baggage.
Fortunately, Baby #2 wasn't colicky. When we laid her in her crib, she slept. When we put her down horizontally, she was fine. Talk about night and day! Even so, early on we learned that she had a milk allergy. To continue nursing, I would need to give up ALL foods containing dairy and soy. (That meant NO ice cream, no lattes, no milk chocolate!) After a couple weeks on the new diet, I almost gave up. She wasn't gaining as much weight as the pediatrician desired, I was spending too much time and effort (not to mention money) on the new diet and my support network urged me to stop. "Why are you STILL nursing?" They questioned. "Get on with your LIFE!" They chanted.
So I considered quitting.
But I really REALLY wanted to nurse. I understood all the benefits for mom and baby. So I read. I listened to other moms' success stories. And I made the best decision ever. I contacted a lactation consultant -- Susan -- who ended up being a saint, at least in my eyes.
Just a couple hours in Susan's office changed my outlook and confidence. Her consultation was equal parts art and science. She listened to our struggles, needs, and yes, baggage. She watched and corrected my technique. She weighed my daughter before and after nursing -- calculating just how much she drank. So I now knew that (1) I was making enough milk and (2) baby was consuming it. To someone stubborn (err... determined) it was exactly what I needed to hear. Susan also told me that I could call or text her 24 hours a day with any questions. Compare that to waiting hours to hear back from a pediatrician's office -- I was sold. I hugged Susan. I thanked her endlessly. And she kept her promise: over the next few months she answered every (and I mean every) inane question I had. Bless "Saint" Susan!
Lesson #2: Find guidance. If you want to try nursing, go for it! If you run into trouble, talk to other moms. Talk to the La Leche folks. Hire a lactation consultant. Sign up for a breastfeeding class.
With my newly gained confidence and skills, I developed a very special relationship with Baby #2. We figured out nursing together. I learned her suckling patterns. She waited patiently for my letdown. With baby attached to me, I would lazily watch some trashy TV and devour my non-dairy ice cream (turns out almond is a great substitute). And I slowed down. I reflected. I finally understood what this whole nursing thing was all about. It IS beautiful. And yes, we do lose sleep, we do get sore, and it CAN be boring at times. But in the silence of my own thoughts I found peace. Through practice, we found our rhythm.
Lesson #3: Find your happy place. Happy mama equals happy baby. Keep a survival kit handy. In addition to the nursing pillow/glass of water/burp cloth, I kept my phone nearby. (Don't worry... I was fully in the moment. Promise.) I gazed so often at my baby I had a permanent crick in my neck. I loved seeing her eyelashes sprout overnight. I giggled when her little lips parted, indicating she was "milk-drunk." But wow, did I crave human contact, especially while on maternity leave. After the family had departed and visits slowed down, it became lonely -- especially in the wee hours of the night. My phone became a life support. I texted other moms to compare war stories. I made too many online purchases (you're welcome, Amazon). And I read hilarious articles like this one from Honest Toddler.
Armed with the skills and confidence, I found nursing more natural (and fun) the second time around. Did I ever get to rockstar "second freezer" status? No. But I sure worked hard at it. Do I regret anything? No way. Each baby was different, each experience beautiful.
In the end, you just do what's right for you.
From now on I vow to cheer on new moms with whatever their feeding decision is. Will you?