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Breastfeeding. Pumping. Feeding. All of the above? Nourishing a baby and yourself can be hard.

Updated: Aug 14, 2021

The following is a personal account of breastfeeding. Every journey is different and not everyone will relate to this personal narrative. Seek individual feeding advice from your trusted care team.

When I was pregnant with my first-born child, I took every class the hospital offered, including baby care, and feeding. I listened to and read everything, and decided I was going to breastfeed my baby. I also had heard insurance might take a little while if I needed support with a breast pump, so I ordered one to have just in case, which they shipped a few weeks before my due date. After birth, immediately I initiated what I had learned in the classes and literature, skin-to-skin, and attempted a good first latch. It was painful, I cried, my baby cried, but we kept going. A nurse assisted me with some positioning and provided a nipple balm, but it still hurt, and I felt like I was failing already. My baby was born “small” and I was told the next day I was not providing enough to keep up with his nutritional needs and I asked for more support.

I was told I was doing great as a first-time mom, but my baby needed a little extra support and so did I. My baby had a couple of minor health obstacles so we consulted with our providers and decided supplementing with donated human milk would help us while I kept attempting chestfeeding. My nipples and my emotions were raw and I started feeling broken and like a failure. The next day, knowledgeable lactation consultants came in (I requested extra visits) as I was determined to master this and I learned new techniques and got a lot of encouragement. After a conversation on supply, I asked what else I might be doing and was told I could use a breast pump in addition to chestfeeding and it didn’t mean I was giving up on my goal. I wrote detailed charts about every chestfeeding and breast pumping, the volume, which side, color, and duration of the session. Soon, I realized I was meeting the volume expected to nourish a 1-week infant and I did a mini-celebration when we no longer needed donor milk while remaining grateful it was there when we needed it.

I learned a lot about my own body, breast, nipple size, and how they all play a part in lactation and healing.

A couple of weeks into this journey and my breasts were still sore, I was exhausted having to wake up frequently to pump and/or chest feed, and I was not feeling I was caring for myself as well as I should be. I went often to see Andrea Herron at Growing with baby and I learned so much more and found group discussions helpful. I also joined CCCN Member, Jennifer Stover’s 4th-trimester group and my mental obstacles with feeding seemed to ease as I learned confidence in my body's ability to produce the right amount for my baby and how to incorporate partner support. Over time, I needed to pump less and my supply was up with mostly chestfeeding. I felt validated at my baby's checkups, as he was thriving and growing. But I still had frustration when I occasionally pumped as months went on. I was happy to give my child breast milk but the electronic side of being connected to a machine, even minimally, made me feel like I was still failing. I began to resent feeding with a bottle and everything to do with pumps, parts, parts sterilizing, and efficient storage of milk.

A few months later, my milk supply decreased, I increased pumping and I only got more discouraged. My personal nutrition was suffering, and I felt insecure and frustrated. Baby also was growing frustrated with my flow and I stopped feeding in public because I felt “I was just not good at it”. I was fixated on milk supply for 12 months. Although I was able to feed my baby breast milk for the 1-year milestone I idolized, It felt bittersweet, and soon after, my chestfeeding journey dried up.

A few years later, I was pregnant with my second-born child and investigated pumps again, preparing to support my postpartum self with better tools and information to avoid the previous frustrations. Once again, immediately after birth, I initiated skin-to-skin and chestfeeding. My baby was determined and was able to nurse right away but the latch was painful. I somehow forgot “the latch learning curve”. I brought coconut oil to help soothe my skin and was more confident knowing my body can do this even if it needs a little more encouragement than other moms who seemingly breastfeed so effortlessly. This time around, I did not need donor milk, but I was still concerned with milk supply and I chose to initiate pumping a couple of hours after birth. This time I felt empowered because I knew my nipple size and the right flange, I found a good hands-free bra and an upgraded pump that was lighter and quieter than my prior model. I again joined feeding and postpartum support groups and had additional support from chiropractic care CCCN Member, Dr. Dan Bronstein at Beacon Chiropractic. I am so grateful for my providers and professional providers in these times.

I felt supported because my partner could assist with feedings more regularly because I had a good pumping and chestfeeding routine established.

This experience was not perfect, as I still had anxiety around pumping but I was overall more satisfied. This time I experimented and found hand-held single pumps to be helpful for on-the-go travel in the car when my baby was in the car seat or asleep, and I also liked the gravity/suction devices that collect letdowns while chestfeeding on the other side. Seeing the connections grow between my family members while helping feed my new baby was impactful for our family bonding. I felt confident feeding and pumping in public places, during travel, and my overall experience was improved as I shifted my perspectives on feeding and the entire process.

Many lactating individuals have similar struggles, and each baby may lead to a varying feeding journey. It isn’t a distance race or a volume contest, although I do know seeing friends producing after 1 year postpartum or having freezer stashes did make me envious that that wasn’t my experience. I did what I felt best for each of my children and myself with guidance from professionals and care providers who helped me grow healthy infants into healthy toddlers who are now healthy children. Both of my experiences are different but looking back, I am happy I was able to have any of it, as I know this is not a reality for everyone. A lot of feeding, nutrition, and care education I utilize today is rooted in the pregnancy and postpartum education and support I received early on.

Things I would have done differently in hindsight

  • Reminded me often that it was ok, I was doing amazing, and to not be so hard on myself.

  • Had a postpartum doula to help support me those first weeks and a little extra reassurance that I was doing a good job especially while healing from childbirth.

  • Asked more questions in the postpartum and feeding support groups about everything.

  • A hands-free pumping bra would have been helpful right away

  • Focused more on balance in hydration, nutrition, and stress and how it relates to milk supply, let downs and flow.

We know parenthood is hard, and we don’t always have to suck it up but can find support and encouragement in those open conversations. Also, thank you to the individual(s) who anonymously donated milk so my first born baby, and so many others, could have human milk nourishment in the early days of life

Every birth and feeding journey is unique and not everyone has the same expectation or outcome. If you are interested in additional information on providers who can support your individual goals and needs look to the CCCN Member directory for Doulas, lactation consultants, childbirth and parenting education, nutrition support, Midwives, and many more.

Personal Narrative by Susannah Brown

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