If there’s one aspect of motherhood that I was “above average” in, it’s breastfeeding. In honor of today being my first day in forever wearing a regular bra (GOODBYE NURSING BRAS!!), I thought I’d take some time to reflect on the journey and share whatever tips I can think of that could help a fellow mommy who is just starting out.
I have now successfully breastfed and pumped through each of my kids’ first years. GO. ME. I know that for some mamas (including some of my close friends and family) it just didn’t work. So let’s begin there, shall we? You don’t have to breastfeed. You don’t have to pump. I’m cool with formula. If you can’t breastfeed, or don’t want to, that is absolutely okay. You won’t find judgment here.
Ok. So. Back to it. When I had Harlyn, I just knew I would breastfeed. Because both of my sisters-in-law were able to nurse and/or pump, that was my norm. Maybe it was that mindset of “I will absolutely make it one year” that got me through when there were other moms talking about weaning earlier. Even my OB was shocked at my 6 week postpartum checkup when I said I would breastfeed for a year and pump while working. Throughout that year I was able to donate almost 1000 oz of milk to our local milk bank. Then I had Maverick and again I was ready for the yearlong commitment. I have only donated 100 oz at this time (I have a little bit more in my freezer to give-we’ll see what my final total is soon), but Mav just took in way more milk than Harlyn did.
I think the most important thing early on is to just feed on demand. There were days with both kids where even though it hadn’t been 2-3 hours, they were on the boob. In those first couple months, there was no easier way for me to calm my baby than nursing. Plus it really helps your supply.
Another thing that really helped me was having 1-2 designated spots in the house to breastfeed. For me, it was my bed and the living room couch. I know some people like using rockers/gliders, but it just seemed difficult for me!! I think having certain spots also set up my kids for success—if we were settling into either of those places together, they knew it was time to eat!
On to supplies!
- Nursing Bras-you’ll definitely want some. I had 2 sleep bras and several daytime bras. I always opted for Target because they seemed to hold up, can be easily replaced if you have one too many spit up experiences, and they are a great price. I think I spent around $20 (maybe $22.99?? That seems like a Target price!) for each bra. I did replace my daytime bras during round #2, but the sleep bras I had from Harlyn I used again with Mav.
- Nursing-friendly Clothes- You know what I did once? Wore a dress to church that wasn’t easily undone from the shoulder. So once Mav and I settled into the Mother’s Area, I was like…oh wait….I can’t just lift this whole dress up!! LOL.
- Nursing Pillow-Some moms don’t need one. But I can’t LIVE without the Boppy. I seriously would take it in the car with me when Mav was younger because I didn’t want to be caught out and about without my pillow.
- Water Tumbler-Stay hydrated. Like, drink water before, during and after you breastfeed. All day, every day. I basically carry my tumbler around at all times anyway, but I make sure to really guzzle water when I am a breastfeeding mama.
- Nursing Pads-I prefer the cloth, washable kind, but I know lots of moms like the ease of the disposables. Whichever way you go, protect yourself from leaks!
- Nipple Butter or Cream-I didn’t need this nearly as often this time around as I did when I was breastfeeding Harlyn, but especially in those first weeks and months, this stuff was my jam. Even when I knew what to expect with #2, I still needed some relief early on. I liked the Walmart brand (Parent’s Choice I think?) butter and the Lansinoh Lanolin Cream.
Now for Pumping STUFF!!
(In addition to the supplies above)
- If you are going to be pumping regularly, you pretty much can’t live without a double electric breast pump. I used Medela both times, but a lot of mommies on the Internet say Spectra is better. I never had any issues with Medela, so I just busted that sucker back out of my closet when Mav arrived on the scene.
- Nursing cover-You don’t want to be caught somewhere where you need to pump but don’t have a cover. There’s no baby to cover you up! When I knew I’d need to pump on the go (in the car, on an airplane), I made sure to stick my cover in my pump bag.
- Cooler/ice packs-for any time you know you’ll have to pump away from home and won’t have access to a fridge for a while.
- Book/E-reader/phone-A lot of times this didn’t apply to me because I was just working at my desk while I pumped. But if you don’t have the luxury of a private office with a door that locks, make sure you bring something to do for that 15-30 minutes. I loved the occasions where I got a chance to read while pumping!
Now that we’ve covered supplies, we can talk pumping schedules. This is geared more toward moms who work outside the home or moms who exclusively pump. Once I went back to work I had to figure out a schedule. For me, up until the kids were each about 9 months, I stuck to the following schedule (once supply regulated and babies were mostly sleeping through the night):
6 AM: Breastfeed
7-7:30 AM: Pump
10-10:30 AM: Pump
1-1:30 PM: Pump
4-4:30 PM: Pump
6 PM: Breastfeed
9:00 PM: Pump
On weekends, most of the pumping was replaced by nursing, so I got a little break from the pump then.
Then at about 9 months, I’d drop the 4 PM pump because that was my hardest one to keep up with and the one I’d miss on really super busy days. Then at 10-11 months I would drop the 10 AM pump. Then right at 12 months I’d drop the last work pump, and be down to only the morning and night. Then about a week later, I dropped the 9 PM and then a week later, 7 AM. So by 12.5 months, no more pumping! With Harlyn I think I did this just a bit quicker. Right now with Mav we are at 12.5 months, and I have officially put away the pump and he no longer gets bottles. He is drinking whole milk out of a sippy cup and doing wonderfully. I am still nursing first thing and last thing (so 6 AM and 6 PM), but we’ll drop that morning breastfeeding in the next week or so, and then the night will follow suit.
I have not had any issues with weaning from the pump or the breast because I did it gradually with both kids. I didn’t have engorgement problems or get infections while weaning. If I ever started to get too uncomfortable, I just pumped a tiny bit or let Mav nurse. Lots of moms say cabbage leaves in your bra will help dry you up, or taking nasal decongestants. To date, I have not tried these strategies so I can’t really comment on them, but it could work if you need help drying up!!
There were definitely times when being a breastfeeding and pumping mom were the pits. Like when we went out for each of our birthdays, and instead of just going and having fun, I had to pump in the movie theater parking lot! Or dragging all my pump stuff every single day to work, sometimes forgetting supplies, and ALWAYS having a sink full of pump parts and bottles (no matter how much we washed them!). Or getting an infection when Harlyn was a baby and having to deal with that. Or getting a cold and worrying about medications and just deciding to suffer through because who the heck knows what Google result was correct. Or trying to breastfeed when the kids just WILL NOT COOPERATE and wondering if they are starving, or sick, or the milk somehow dried totally up in the last hour. Yes, sometimes it did seem hard, but it also seemed worth it. And free.
I know how lucky I am to have had two positive breastfeeding experiences. I did have some challenges at the beginning with Harlyn, just being a new mom and getting into a groove. But we both got it down eventually! Then with Mav I wasn’t nearly so intimidated and anxious, and we were able to hit the ground running.
If there’s anything I didn’t cover here or any questions you have, please let me know! If you don’t want to leave a comment about boobs here ;), you can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to help in any way I can!