August 1-7 is World Breastfeeding Week 2017 (aka International Breastfeeding Week), and this is my third WBW while nursing. I’m here to share with you Part 1 of my breastfeeding journey. I hope it’ll be a source of information and encouragement for others. I know not everyone chooses to or is able to nurse their babies the way I have nursed mine, and that’s quite all right.

This year for World Breastfeeding Week, I'm sharing my 29-month journey as a nursing mother. It hasn't always been easy, but I hope it'll encourage you!

This quote from another Mom I follow sums it up perfectly:

“Breastfeeding does not make me special, but it is special to me. It does not make my kids any better than anyone else, nor myself. It does not make me “cool” or “trendy” or “hip.” Breastfeeding my babies does not mean I look down on any other feeding method. Nursing does not have to be all or nothing. It is not the end-all-be-all. And while breastfeeding may not be the right choice for every family, it IS right for me and mine. AND THAT’S PERFECTLY OKAY. Breastfeeding is a part of who I am. It’s a piece of my identity. An act my body and soul will never forget. And an act I have been both shamed and applauded for. Above all, breastfeeding is one of the first things I have ever felt truly good at. My milk has fed more babies than my own, more than I can count on my two hands. Never easy, not always beautiful, but it is mine. Happy World Breastfeeding Week to all my milky mamas. No matter how long your journey is, was, or has been.”

A passion of mine, under the larger umbrella of my passion for mothers, is breastfeeding. I did not have an easy start to breastfeeding, despite my stubborn desire to be successful at it, and despite reading books and taking classes on it. I had a friend who was a lactation consultant (LC) who I should’ve probably paid in much more than a massage gift card, a pediatrician who didn’t have lactation support on staff (and who ended up not being supportive of our plans to breastfeed), and a Facebook support group.

Claire latched right away in the hospital, but it hurt from the first minute. The nurses brought in LCs, one of whom threw (yes, threw) a nipple shield at me and said “try this,” and then walked out. I watched videos. I read books. I tried all kinds of holds: the cradle, the football, the cross cradle, biological nurturing, side-lying, dangling, over the shoulder, you name it. No matter how she latched, it hurt. She took forever, had jaundice for a week, and my nipples were bleeding until she was almost 2 months old.

I dreaded every.single.feeding. I cried. I couldn’t sleep. I was afraid to shower because even water hurt. I had thrush almost from the minute my milk came in (we passed it back and forth at least 3 times before we finally kicked it). Nipple ointment, nipple shields, latch-assisters, soft shells, and pumping did not seem to help. I was blessed with a forceful letdown and substantial over-supply of milk despite my fear that I’d under-produce because of a thyroid condition. (4 years later it turns out that same thyroid condition was what ended up causing my overproduction of milk. Ah, the irony) She took forever to nurse (90 minutes PER SIDE every 2 hours, so I got a 30 minute break between feedings! If I cut her off sooner, she wasn’t satisfied or didn’t empty my breast sufficiently). I was exhausted. I didn’t know when they measured feeding times it’s from start to start, not finish to start!

At 3 weeks postpartum, I went to an in-person meeting of a Facebook support group I had joined (and 2 1/2 years later some of my best friends are moms I met there). I received confirmation, emotional support, solidarity, and confidence from that group. I was hungry for camaraderie and knowledge. I digested and absorbed everything, and was able to pass along my knowledge to other struggling friends. I attended that group nearly every Monday for over a year.

My nipple pain, her efficiency, and range of motion improved drastically between 2 and 4 months. By 6 months, she could transfer 3-5 oz per side in a matter of minutes (I can only confirm this because I religiously did weighed feedings at the support group). The average breastfed baby only needs to consume 1-1 1/2 oz per hour (so about 3-5oz every 2-3hr — see here).

I later learned Claire had a class 3 tongue tie, which contributed to the poor range of motion and weak sucking muscles, making her inefficient and unable to latch deeply. This was disconcerting because she was literally born with her tongue out–and it was a LONG tongue! I was frustrated that no one caught it sooner, but I was MORE frustrated at myself for not seeking out help. I didn’t tell anyone how much pain I was in until after it resolved. I toughed it out, my nipples healed, and she had no impact on my supply (in fact,  I was able to donate several times; I think I lost count around 4,500 ounces of milk. To my knowledge, my milk fed at least 6 other babies at one point or another. This was a huge blessing to me in the throes of my struggles, because I knew that my suffering was not in vain.)

Claire barfed ALL the time, after every feeding, for over a year. I gave up dairy from 3 months through 12 months to see if that made a difference in how much she spit up after each feeding. It didn’t always seem to, but at least when she was uncomfortable and spitting (she was mostly a “happy spitter”), I could rule out dairy in my diet as a factor.

I went on to nurse Claire through the 6 month mark, which in the beginning seemed an almost unattainable goal. When 6 months came and went, I said why not a year? At 12 months, she wasn’t interested in stopping, and neither was I. She was finally sleeping through the night by then, and it worked for our family. By that point, I became known as an “extended breastfeeder,” which was something I never saw myself doing. Not because I was against it, but just because I had limited expectations past 6 months (and when it was so hard in the beginning, thinking past the next day was hard enough).

At 16 months, I got mastitis. I dreaded it in the beginning, and part of the reason I pumped so often for comfort was to stave it off (I got regular painful clogs). When I finally did get mastitis, I was a bit surprised (and faced some opposition from my OB for “still nursing that long”). Luckily I’d been in the breastfeeding game for long enough to try all the recommendations I’d given to other mothers: antibiotics right away, lecithin, dangle feeding/pumping, Epsom salts, ibuprofen, etc. It wasn’t fun having a 103 fever with a 16 month old toddler in the middle of summer, but thankfully I was only uncomfortable for about 2-3 days. My OB did call in the antibiotics, and I lived to tell the tale!

At 18 months, I got pregnant again. I expected her to wean naturally because I’d always heard pregnancy dries up milk. When by 22 months (and 4 months pregnant) it didn’t, I bought a book on tandem nursing. This was now completely uncharted territory for me, and I found very little resources in my usual army of support. Tandem nursing is not uncommon, but rarely discussed (it is culturally not common in the United States to nurse past the 1-year mark, largely because of pumping laws for working mothers and other family leave provisions, or lack thereof).

I nursed her throughout the duration of my pregnancy, and after her sister was born. She helped bring my milk in quickly (her sister did not lose more than 2% of her birthweight), and helped with engorgement and oversupply.

Update: Claire later weaned herself with a little gentle guidance on New Year’s Eve. She was 33 months old, just 3 months shy of her third birthday. I’m proud of her for deciding she was a big girl, and so grateful that I didn’t let that rough start be the end of our journey.

How about you? What is/was your breastfeeding journey like? Were you able to nurse? Did you nurse for long/short/at all? What successes/struggles did you have? What were you most unprepared for? Share in the comments!

World Breastfeeding Week – Part 2