My son turns one this month and we’re still breastfeeding. I also work 45-50 hours per week. While he does eat solids like a champ, formula has never touched his lips. I am very proud of that and for good reason. It wasn’t easy and I put a lot of work into making our breastfeeding relationship work. But please don’t interpret this as bragging. I’m not.
I’m writing this with the hope of inspiring other moms to breastfeed for as long as possible. It can be done. While there will always be situations preventing moms from breastfeeding as long as they thought they could (medical reasons, stress, etc.) a lack of confidence in the ability to breastfeed should never be one of them. And to be honest, in the beginning I was very anxious about my ability to provide for my son. It was this anxiety coupled with determination and the belief that if millions of mothers worldwide have provided milk for their babies, I could too, that sustained my breastfeeding efforts over the months.
It started with buying the best pump I could find. I encouraged family and friends to skip buying me cute baby clothes and instead, to pool their money and buy me an awesome breast pump. They bought me the Medela Symphony Hospital Grade pump. It was expensive but very effective at drawing out milk while also being relatively gentle on my breasts.
Next, I started pumping the same day I got home from the hospital. I was still only producing colostrum and I didn’t get much, but that day, I committed myself to always producing more milk than my son needed. Every day while on maternity leave I would nurse him in the morning (while shoveling food into my own mouth) and then while he napped, I would pump. In the mornings, I always seemed to produce as much milk as was demanded of me so I took advantage of this fact and squeezed out whatever extra milk I could. At first, it was only one extra ounce. By month 5, it was five or more extra ounces. I never stopped trying to stay ahead of his demand curve, and it paid off.
Next, I focused on my food and water intake. I drank bottles and bottles of water and ate like a teenage boy. I always seemed to be thirsty so this wasn’t very challenging and my body literally demanded food. I would nurse and immediately thereafter, I felt a compulsion to find food to put in my mouth. But despite all this eating, the weight kept falling off. I wolfed down whatever was put in front of me because, with a new baby, time is of the essence. Often if I stopped to think about what it was that I really wanted to eat or should be eating, my son would thwart my meal plans within minutes. Eventually I became very good at eating with one hand while nursing with the other.
I also didn’t get wrapped up with “losing the baby weight” as I figured it would take care of itself. Providing milk for my son was the first priority for me; losing weight was secondary. Besides, my policy was that if it took 9-10 months to put the weight on, it should take me at least as long to take the weight off. I didn’t realize this immediately, but this paid dividends when it came to breastfeeding. Anecdotally, there were a couple of women in my lactation room at work who prided themselves on not gaining too much during the pregnancy and then bragged about how their low carb, healthy diet helped them shed the baby weight within weeks. However, when these ladies’ babies were around 6 months old, these moms had to supplement with formula because their breastmilk was “low fat” and their babies weren’t thriving. Now, I’m not a doctor nor a lactation consultant (yet) but I will relate that one of them admitted to me that her doctor identified her low carb diet as a potential reason for her “low fat” milk. I offer this as food for thought only, and not expert advice (I’m not an expert). Personally at 11 months postpartum, I still have 20 lbs to lose compared to my prepregnancy weight but frankly, I have never been more proud of my figure and what my body is able to do.
In the early days, what also helped were the home visits that my midwife made in the first two weeks postpartum. During those visits, she watched me breastfeed, offered advice, listened to my questions, addressed my fears, and reassured me when I doubted myself. Every breastfeeding mother doubts herself. My doubts centered around the fact that, in my late twenties, I decided to get breast implants (saline) and the incision had been made around the areola, not in the armpit or in the breast fold. I was concerned that this procedure had compromised my ability to produce milk and, in the early days as a new mother only producing colostrum, this concern seemed very valid. My midwife was wonderful and I credit her support early on, as well as the support of the lactation group I visited a couple of times while on maternity leave, with instilling in me the confidence to breastfeed like it was the easiest thing in the world.
Next contributor to my breastfeeding success was that my son never received a bottle if I was around. Did that mean that our road trips included a lot of breastfeeding stops? Yes. Did that mean that I did a lot of breastfeeding in public? Yes. Did that mean that I bought a lot of nursing tops for easy access? Yes. It was all worth it. And frankly, the breastfeeding in public isn’t that big a deal with a big, airy nursing cover like the Balboa Baby Nursing Cover that I bought on Amazon. It has an arched, wire reinforced neckline so that baby can breath and can look into mom’s eyes while nursing. In fact, later on these covers were very helpful in getting my distracted, then- 6 month old to nurse despite whatever was going on around him. All in all, I’ve found nursing covers very useful and even used them to cover up while pumping in bathrooms when traveling for work.
Which brings me to my next point, pumping at work. I was religious about it. I pumped three times a day and, when my milk supply started dropping from what it was before I returned back to work, I pumped four times a day. These were not long pumping sessions. I was in and out in about 15 minutes. My co-workers took longer smoke breaks! Now, granted I had to make some concessions of my own: as a sign of goodwill, one of my pumping sessions was during my lunch break. Fair, right? And most days, I skipped my workout (I preferred to take long walks with baby or do my ab workout while he was doing his tummy time anyway). Also, since my pumping sessions were so short (it’s the frequency of pumping that keeps milk supply up, not the duration of the session as much) I started pumping in the bathroom by my office instead of trekking 10 minutes one way to the pumping room in my office building. That change alone freed me up so much that it barely mattered if I was a nursing mom or not, as far as my office could tell. Now granted, the bathroom I used was very clean, it had a long, uninterrupted countertop where I could set my pump, my accessories, my bottle of water, my storage bags, etc. and zone out while pumping. Lots women using the bathroom gave me uncomfortable glances but honestly, who cares? I didn’t. I was relaxed, reading my iBook, thinking about my baby, comfortably covered by a nursing cover, and happy to have figured out a way to combine nursing and working successfully.
So, the big “secrets” to my breastfeeding success were buying a great pump and increasing demand early on, eating heartily and drinking lots of water, taking a chill pill with regards to losing the baby weight, never giving my son a bottle if I was around, frequent nursing when at home and frequent pumping when away, and enlisting the support early on of a lactation expert (my midwife). Other little things I did were drinking Mother’s Milk Tea, taking More Milk Special Blend herbal supplements, and looking at photos of my little man while pumping. These things helped as well, but I credit my other actions more with prolonging my breastfeeding relationship. There’s no amount of Mother’s Milk Tea which can help you produce enough milk if you’re not drinking enough water or not eating enough nutritious food. There’s no herbal supplement out there that can make up for only pumping once every six or eight hours. The breast is a demand/supply system and demand is king regardless of how many tiny pills you pop.
Ladies, this is my story and it is still unfolding. I will take stock again as my son reaches 18 months and, hopefully, two years old and we’re still nursing. Our breastfeeding relationship will obviously change as he gets older and eventually, it will end, but while I can provide him with comfort at my breast and he still wants to nurse, I see no reason to end such a mutually beneficial relationship.
Many of you have probably already read these snippets of breastfeeding advice before, but they are so important, it’s worth repeating them here:
1) Drink plenty of water. Lots and lots of water. You should never feel thirsty during the day!
2) Eat oatmeal every day. But remember, not all oatmeal is created the same. Steel cut (aka Irish Oatmeal) is king.
3) Drink fenugreek tea. As much as you can stand. This stuff works.
4) Nurse frequently. That means pump frequently too. Ideally, pump 2-2.5 hours after the start of your last pumping session.
5) Pump for 5 minutes after nursing your infant. You may get next to nothing in terms of actual production, but your body perceives this as an increased demand signal which will translate into more milk production over time.
6) Introduce one extra pumping session into your day. That means if you currently pump twice during the day, pump three times instead.
7) When you’re not drinking fenugreek tea, drink raspberry leaf tea. This is not the same as drinking raspberry herbal tea. Drink tea made from the leaf of the raspberry plant.
8) Don’t give up the night nursing. The nighttime is when your body produces the most prolactin, the hormone of lactation and, feeding at least once between the hours of 1 am and 5 am is a great way to keep those crucial hormone levels up. Co-sleep with your child to make it easier. This does not necessarily mean sleeping with you child in the bed with you. It means sleeping with your child to the level of closeness that feels appropriate for your family (but at a minimum, in the same room). Co-sleepers and bassinetts are great for this.
Monica is a Certified HypnoBirthing® practitioner serving the Northern Virginia area, DC and some parts of Maryland. Her practice is called NoVA HypnoBirthing® LLC and she provides group as well as private classes.