My breastfeeding experience as a first-time mom
There is a photo of me as a toddler, holding a teddy bear up to my chest. I’m cradling it in my arms, looking down at it with concentration. I am nursing it. Yes, even as a baby, I liked to breastfeed. Where did I pick it up from? I don’t have a clue, as I was not breastfed. As my dad calls it, I was an “Enfamil baby” from day 2 of my life. I remember my mom explaining to me the reason why she didn’t breastfeed me was because apparently I never latched.
There’s a lot to unpack there. There were no lactation consultants back then, and formula was pushed hard by doctors on new mothers. Also, my mom gave birth in a foreign country. She did not have a lot of support and did what she was told. Since I had my son, I have learned so much. It really does take a village! Below is a little bit about my journey.
Education and preparation
When I was in my twenties, I lived with a woman who ran a natural birth supply store online. She ran the business with her sister who was a doula. The two of them taught me so much about pregnancy, birthing and postpartum recovery. Thanks to their recommendation, I watched the documentary “The Business of Being Born”. It taught me so much about the industrialization of birthing in our country. Though the odds were against me because I live in America, I vowed to have a natural birth and exclusively breastfeed. Thankfully I did both. If you are preparing yourself to exclusively breastfeed, an awesome documentary to check out is “Milky Way”.
Before I had my son, I had never heard of tongue and lip ties. There are many educators on the subject on social media and podcasts. I first got a hint about his ties in the second week of nursing after a week of success. My nipples started hurting at an unbearable level. I bit down on my tongue so I wouldn’t scream every time I nursed. And that was every 2 hours, 24 hours a day for my newborn.
Though I had heard that breastfeeding can be painful at first, I thought something must be seriously wrong since my nipples were also bleeding. Anything that came in contact with it (like my shirt) would make me wince in pain. So I got on the internet and started looking for lactation consultants.
Work with a Lactation Consultant
Luckily, the one I really wanted to work with got back to me 2 days after I called. When she asked me how it was going, I broke down crying. “He was latching okay in the first week, but a few days ago he lost it,” I bawled to her between gasping breaths.
Then she asked me to describe the state of my nipples. Because they were bleeding, she wanted to prevent any chance of infection ASAP. She instructed me to stop using the nipple balm I had and to switch to coconut oil and salt soaks. I had to soak my nipples in warm water with a tablespoon of table salt for 5 minutes, twice a day. This helped my nipples heal very quickly.
It’s OK to change course!
She also let me know that it was fine to exclusively pump for a week so my nipples could heal. Hearing this from someone who knew that my goal was to exclusively breastfeed was so vital to my mental health. It was like receiving the validation that I needed so badly to heal. Looking back, I don’t know why I was so rigid about my plan to breastfeed. The fear or failure was very real as a first-time mom, and I think many can relate to this.
My lactation consultant observed how we breastfed. She taught me different positions (side-lying is such a lifesaver). We did weighted feedings which let us know how much milk he was getting. Lots of reassurance was also provided so I knew that we were doing well.
She also taught me how to use a nipple shield which helped him stay on the nipple without hurting me. Luckily I got some breast shells at my baby shower, so I used these to collect milk that would leak throughout the day and it protected my nipples from making physical contact.
During her assessment of my son’s mouth, she observed that his tongue was majorly tied. This meant that the flap of skin that attaches his tongue to the base of his mouth was so thick that his tongue was restricted. She referred a pediatric dentist and helped me get an appointment that week.
I was in over my head. I was so new to the world of breastfeeding, ties, newborn care, infant feedings, all of it! But I trusted my LC and went to the dentist. She right away told me that my son had a major tongue tie and a lip tie. We then booked a frenectomy which we got done the following week.
The frenectomy is a quick procedure (like 5 minutes) which lasers away the frenulum under his tongue and top lip. The aftercare exercises are crucial, as a newborn’s growth hormones are like “on steroids”. To prevent the frenulum from growing back, you need to swipe those areas of the mouth with your finger every 4 hours.
There are many advantages to releasing oral ties, and there’s a lot of info out there. Even though I was afraid for my 2 week old, I trusted my LC and the dentist.
Sure enough, he was able to nurse so much better after the revision. We stopped using the shield after a while because he was able to stay on the nipple without it. Though our insurance did not cover it, it was definitely worth it for us.
One of the perks of breastfeeding is getting to snack all the time! You burn more calories breastfeeding than you did when you were pregnant. They say up to 500 calories which is why you are now really eating for two. I’m at a point now, 8 months postpartum, where I need to eat 4 meals a day. I have breakfast around 8, lunch at 11:30, afternoon snack at 3:30, and dinner at 5:30. Below is an example of what I eat:
For breakfast I usually have 2 slices of sourdough toast with 2 eggs and a chicken apple sausage.
For lunch I will have leftovers from the night before. This can look like a bowl with rice and orange chicken, a quarter of an avocado and an orange.
I need my afternoon snack to hold me over until dinner. Today I had a chocolate mousse from the Metabolic Meals Made Easy cookbook. Other days I’ll have some fruit with cheese or roast beef and sliced cheese rolls.
Dinner is usually rice or potatoes with a protein like chicken or beef. I only cook with ghee or coconut oil. Save the olive oil for salad dressing. I don’t shy away from having a big enough portion to truly satiate myself.
I have no idea how many calories I eat in a day. My aim is to eat until I’m full and my milk supply has been great. At first, I ate a lot of snacks like lactation cookies and protein bars and nuts. But I find that eating 4 square meals a day works better for me. I just don’t require the small snacks anymore.
A word of caution on lactation cookies when you have a newborn! When I was in my third trimester, I watched a YouTube video on “how to prepare for breastfeeding”. The mom stocked up on lactation cookies to make sure her supply was adequate. I copied her and got the box of cookies from Amazon. They are expensive, but delicious. I ate a bag of these cookies every day, and it worsened my situation because they work really well and I already had an oversupply.
In retrospect, I believe that having an oversupply was what contributed to my getting an abscess down the line. When you give birth, your body usually makes an abundance of milk. It does this to be safe. It doesn’t know if it just had twins or not. The supply will stabilize at around the 3 month mark. If you observe that you have a lot of milk, do not eat lactation cookies, because they work well! Having an oversupply can cause difficulties such as the inability to fully drain your breasts. This may lead to things like clogged ducts, engorgement and milk stasis.
There were many bumps in the road for us. From tie revision to abscess to sleep deprivation, I feel like my breastfeeding journey so far has been monumental. This has been one of the most challenging things I have done in my life. Yet, simultaneously, it’s been one of the most rewarding things I have done. My son will be 9 months next week. I am so grateful that we made it this far. There were so many times when I came close to quitting because it got so hard.
Breastfeeding may not be possible for everyone. Yet, we have so many tools and resources available to us now. My number one advice for anyone who plans to breastfeed is to work with a lactation consultant. Work with more than one if you want to. In this case, it really is “the more the merrier”. The more advice and information you can receive, it will enrich your journey that much more. Even though without breastfeeding, none of us would be here today, it did not come naturally to me. In fact, it was a huge learning curve. Many moms have told me they felt the same.
I wish you the best on your journey! Cheers to breasts!