Ever since before I was pregnant, breastfeeding my children has always been my deepest desire. I’d done all the research and had a preference for breast milk over formula for a very long time. My biggest reasons for wanting to breastfeed were very superficial: It saves money, and it smells better! I have a sensitive nose and something about the scent of formula always makes me gag. It’s also easier to get breastmilk stains out of clothes than formula. The poop is also slightly less stinky (depending on what mama eats of course).
I couldn’t deny the health benefits of breastfeeding for both myself and my daughter, so I was pretty set on breastfeeding no matter what.
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Unfortunately, we had a bit of difficulty with breastfeeding in the beginning. The nurses made me wait to breastfeed because it had been so long since I’d eaten anything. They wanted me to eat first. Understandable, I guess, but I think this decision impacted a lot of why we struggled so much in the beginning. Anna came out ready to nurse and rooted right away. I feel like forcing her to wait gave us both anxiety and apprehension when it came to it.
Our first nursing session was successful. Anna latched to my left right away with no issues. When it came time for her next feeding, however, we couldn’t get positioning right. No matter what I tried, I could not get her to latch to my right. She screamed and screamed and had a lot of difficulty eating, even with assistance from the nurses. Every feeding after this was pretty much the same reaction which made me increasingly discouraged. I mean, no one feels good when the sight of your breasts causes a traumatized screaming reaction.
Ultimately, in the hospital, I decided to try a few bottles of formula to give my bloodied nipples a break. So I had to pump instead to establish my milk supply. My Earth Mama Nipple Butter was a lifesaver when it came to healing. The nurses brought me a hospital grade pump to use after I gave her each bottle of formula. They recommended pumping both breasts at the same time. Mind you, no one told me to pack a pumping bra for this possibility. I literally had to hold both bottles up to my boobs to do this and felt ridiculous. Learn from my mistake: pack a bra that works for both nursing and pumping, like the sublime bra by Kindred Bravely. It’s been my favorite bra.
Later that night, a lactation consultant came in and we had another successful nursing session. I was elated and so happy seeing my baby happily nursing. She taught me a lot! I was so tired, though, that when it came time to replicate it for her next feeding, I had trouble. I couldn’t get Anna to latch again.
I left the hospital feeling very defeated and discouraged when it came to breastfeeding. But, I was still very determined for Anna to continue with breast milk.
I started researching exclusively pumping and got ALL the things. For the first month of Anna’s life that’s what I did was exclusively pump and give breastmilk. When my supply came in I had an abundance! I was able to pump and store more than she was eating. This ended up being a blessing for not only us, but also a friend whom we were able to donate some milk to.
As far as storing all that extra milk, I used all of my different sample bags first. I found that my favorites were Medela and Target Up&Up brand. The medela was sturdy and didn’t leak which was great! But, I did not like how they didn’t lay very flat when freezing them. The Target Up&Up have been great for laying flat and no leaks!
So, I’ve had three different breast pumps as well as a milk catcher. I was given a Spectra S2 breast pump from a friend. I got a Medela Pump in Style through insurance. And I ultimately decided to buy the Elvie breast pump.
I liked the convenience of the Medela pump. I felt like it was easy to use and easy to clean. But, I personally did not feel like it was very efficient. In the same amount of time, using the Medela versus the Spectra, I would get much more milk using the Spectra. The Spectra pump has been amazing as far as efficiency and comfort and is totally covered by insurance. If you’re able to get a breast pump through insurance, I highly recommend the Spectra! The S1 and S2 are the same pump. The S1 is battery operated, while the S2 is plugged into the wall. I still use my Spectra at night before bed. I stopped using my Medela after 1 month.
Exclusively pumping was exhausting, not only physically, but emotionally as well. I not only had to spend the time pumping every 3 hours, but also had to bottle feed. All on top of taking care of Anna. It was a lot. With the added stress of not getting any help the first 3 months of her life due to the pandemic, I was struggling to keep my sanity. That’s why we decided to purchase the Elvie breast pumps at around 3 weeks postpartum.
I’d intensely researched the Elvie versus the Willow. I ultimately decided the Elvie breast pumps were the most practical and cost efficient for what I needed. Especially if I was going to continue exclusively pumping. The Elvie pumps come with 2 sets of reusable bottles that you can both pump and store your milk in. You can also transfer to a different bottle to wash and reuse. Using the Elvie pumps was a total game changer for me. It gave me the freedom to pump while I drove, did housework, fed her a bottle, and so much more.
I recommend the Elvie pumps even if you are planning to only pump when going back to work. They are super discreet and no one will even notice you’re pumping!
After about a month of exclusively pumping, I was encouraged to try nursing again by a friend. I attempted it using a nipple shield and was completely shocked that Anna did it! We’d attempted using a medela shield in the hospital when my nipples were chapped but she didn’t care for it. I decided to try this one because the nipple was shaped like a bottle. I truly think this made the transition from bottle back to breast easier for both of us.
After about a month, Anna realized it was frustrating to use the shield. She’d have to suck the milk from the breast into the shield and then from the shield into her mouth. She’d get frustrated and pull the shield off which would make a big mess, hah! One day we decided to just go straight for it without the shield and to my surprise, she did it!
“Breastfeeding is natural like learning to walk”unknown
As we got the hang of nursing directly from the breast, I was able to slowly transition my body away from overproducing. At first I would pump the side that Anna wasn’t feeding on with the Elvie or Spectra (using my kindred bravely bra). Eventually I was able to start using the Haakaa pump to catch the let down milk from the side I wasn’t nursing on. Here we are now at 5.5 months and I have finally stopped leaking and needing to express milk from both breasts at each feeding for about a month now. Thank goodness!
I was super emotional with each of these milestones in our breastfeeding journey. I’d wanted and prayed for this so much and it’s been my biggest success story so far in motherhood. I share this to hopefully encourage another mama who wants to breastfeed but is finding themselves having trouble getting the hang of it.
Breastfeeding is natural, yes. But just because it’s natural doesn’t make it easy. I saw a post once that said: “breastfeeding is natural like learning to walk”. I thought:wow what a great comparison. How many times do we fall down when we are learning to walk? But we don’t give up, we keep trying and eventually we get the hang of it. I’m so proud of myself for not giving up when it got hard and for having the courage to try just one more time. That one more time made all the difference for us.
I in no way want to discourage formula or bottle feeding, however. For some moms I truly believe this is the right choice. Our mental health matters so much. If breastfeeding is negatively impacting your mental health, there should be no shame in choosing formula.You are doing what is best for you and your baby. If your baby has a negative reaction to your breast milk and you’re encouraged to switch to formula, that is 100% okay. You are doing what is best for you and your baby.
And for the exclusively pumping mamas, I see you. I see how hard you’re working. I know how hard it is to pump and bottle feed your breast milk. You are still breastfeeding even when it looks a little different than you’d pictured. You are doing what is best for you and your baby.
There is no shame in giving your baby a bottle. Ever.
Breastfeeding is hard. Feeding your baby at all is hard. Motherhood is hard. We are all doing the best we can with what we’ve got and our best is pretty darn amazing.
Here’s are quick reference of all my recommendations in this post
in case you want to add them to your registry or grab them before your baby comes:
- Kindred Bravely Sublime Nursing & Pumping Bra
- Earth Mama Nipple Butter
- Target Up&Up Storage bags
- Spectra S2 Breast Pump
- Elvie Breast Pump
- Nipple Shield
- Hakaa Breast Pump