10 Things I Did to Take Stress Out of Breastfeeding

Before Alexander was born, the idea of breastfeeding creeped me out. Big time. I was up for giving it a shot but wasn't going to be heartbroken if it didn't work. Once he arrived, I found myself really disappointed that he wasn't latching properly but figured that at least the time I'd spend pumping would be good "alone and quiet time" which, as an introvert, I totally treasure and figured I'd need. After a couple of weeks, I realized that I was actually getting more anxious as the cycle of being "tied" to the wall and in one spot for half an hour followed by cleaning all my pump parts followed by bottle-feeding Alexander and getting him down for a nap followed by barely a moment to eat before it all started again (sigh) was sending me into a really negative place. No good. In time, three things happened that really shifted my whole breastfeeding / pumping / nursing experience into something positive and (cliche but...) special that I'm glad and grateful I get to (mostly!) enjoy!

Before we get into this though, I hope you know a few things:

1. Healthy baby AND healthy mom are what matter. Even if your baby is healthiest and happiest nursing or with breastmilk, it's not worth it if you can't make it work for you. Yes, motherhood is filled with compromises but if the stress and anxiety is getting to be too much, it is not just ok to back off a bit and reevaluate, it is critical for both you and baby! Your baby needs a healthy momma and that includes your mental health!

2. I hope these tips help but I'm certainly not a lactation consultant or other medical professional. If you can get to a lactation consultant, please do! The one I visited about a month after Alexander was born was a total Godsend and I would not be writing any of this if it wasn't for her.

3. Regardless of how your baby is fed, whether you use formula, you pump, you nurse, you create your own system with a little bit of everything, you are an INCREDIBLE momma and your little one is fortunate to have you!

So... on to the things I learned that made such a difference (and I wish people would have told me these bits sooner which is why I'm writing them down for you) - let's dig in!

On a side note, I thought this was going to be a short and sweet post with a handful of tips and encouraging words. As I started to go through pictures I've taken along our journey since November 2018, I realized how much I've learned so I've put as much as possible here because every momma needs help! PLEASE don't let the length of this overwhelm you and don't feel like you have to do it all! Use what's helpful for you, don't do what doesn't feel comfortable to you, and remember that your journey is YOURS!

In the hospital

In my case, we got a call from the insurance company not long after the hospital notified them that Alexander had been born and I'd be needing a pump. And by "not long after", I mean "the same day". They gave me options of three different pumps they would cover or mostly cover and I had to pick on-the-spot which brings me to tip 1:

1. Do some research on breast pumps ahead of time and, if you can, find out what your options will be! 

I had heard a little bit about pumps and brands so I made an educated guess but it was still a guess. I opted for the Spectra S2 because it's hospital grade and I'd heard great things about Spectra. To this day, I'm really happy with my choice. It's not huge or too heavy, it's super quiet, and has plenty of settings - plus a nice little light that I use WAY more than I thought I would. There was an upgrade charge of about $30 that wasn't covered by the insurance but I haven't thought twice about it and I'd highly recommend it to any momma. Also, Spectra makes a portable, battery powered pump called the S9 that I've heard goof things about which would (I think?) work with the S2 parts but I've personally not used it so I can't give you a first-hand account.

As soon as my L&D nurses knew that I wanted to try breastfeeding, it seemed that each nurse, consultant, and person who had ever nursed a baby in their life or watched someone nurse had advice. They meant well and I did end up using a lot of their advice but it was a LOT of information and started feeling overwhelming, especially since Alexander was in the NICU for 2.5 days and that was more than enough stress.

2. It's ok to take notes on or take note of the advice you get in the hospital and you should totally take advantage of any resources you can get and handle in the moment but I would plead with you not to judge your breastfeeding options by how things go in the hospital.

I gave myself a few days "off" of trying to nurse and keep up with the NICU feeding schedule when we got home before trying again and, even though it still didn't work right away, that little break was what Alexander and I both needed to avoid giving up all together.

Once you're home / Maternity leave

That little break was so worth it and it made me feel more sure of what I would tell the lactation consultant (LC) when I made that appointment. I was able to try a few of the suggestions and pieces of advice we got at the hospital, talk to our doctor, and feel a little more settled before calling the LC.

3. Take advantage of any LC benefits you have and get to them as soon as you can!

If your little one is struggling to latch, they'll have the insight to help you take steps forward. If you're struggling to produce, they can help with that. They're there for a reason and I didn't feel nearly as awkward as I expected to feel in that appointment. Remember, just because breastfeeding is natural doesn't mean that it'll come easily or naturally!

In our case, Alexander had a very severe tongue tie that was keeping him from latching. We had it snipped the day after my lactation appointment and while it was one of the most awful things I've had to do as his momma, I'm grateful we got it done. Within 48 hours, he was latching like a champ and while we were prepared to get him into some physical therapy to make the most of his "new" tongue, we didn't need it and we finally found our rhythm. For those not familiar, this is what a tongue tie looks like. (This isn't Alexander but his was a bit more severe than this)

Regardless of his ability to latch and nurse though, I still wanted to keep up pumping because I wanted to make sure we had a stash for a few reasons.
  • in case I had a dip in production and nursing wouldn't be enough on a given day
  • for the much needed night or afternoon out of the house
  • so someone could give me a break and feed him while I did anything... like take a long shower and finally shave now that I could reach my legs again...
  • to start building my stash for the unknown changes that would come with going back to work
(just a few things to consider as you nurse and debate pumping)

But pumping while also nursing meant two things: 1. I spent a lot of time nursing, pumping, and washing just to feel like that was allll I did and 2. I started to feel like I wasn't pumping enough to make the pumping and washing worth it. This is where two of the best pieces of fellow mom advice came in which give us tips 4 and 5:

4. Stop washing your pumps parts with every pump!

Store them in a tupperware box or baggie (you know I'm going to recommend reusable zip bags, right? #ecofriendly) in the fridge. Bottles of milk are safe for days in the fridge so why not your parts! Wash and sterilize once a day to save so much time and maybe even buy yourself some time to *gasp* eat!

These are my favorite sterlization bags! You can use each one several times over and they make santizing your parts so easy. They were also recommended by our NICU nurses so that added to the trust factor for me!

Just like this, add lid, and into the fridge they went! 

As a side note, these are the bags and freezer storage systems I've been using. The Milkies Freeze has a tray that helps freeze your milk bags nice and flat which makes them easy to store. I have two of these plus a set of these bins because my stash kept growing! The Lansinoh bags haven't failed me yet and they freeze up to 6 oz at a time which is about perfect for a bottle!

5. Don't be afraid of supplements - bring it up with your lactation consultant and / or doctor!

A friend of mine recommended this go-lacta all natural supplement and it definitely did the trick for me. Be prepared to have to pump more starting within the first 12 hours or so! I didn't take it for long but it helped me get back after a dip in supply and I built up a fairly nice little stash with it!

Taking Care of Yourself

This is going to feel impossible some days but it is CRITICAL to remember that if you're not sleeping, eating, staying dehydrated, and managing your stress, your production and ability to take care of your baby are going to suffer. To me, this boiled down to three daily goals which are now tips 6, 7, and 8:

6. Goal One: Eat at least a little something any chance you get even if it's just an apple with peanut butter over the sink while your pump parts are sanitizing in the microwave.

Cottage cheese, kefir, superfood smoothies, eggs, and avocado were my go-to foods because they are quick and easy to prep and eat, and packed with tons of nutrition and healthy fats that helped me keep up my production and energy. Plus all of these are found at Aldi and, at least in our area, can be delivered with Instacart.

Above: Super Easy Keto bagels with everything seasoning topped with egg and avocado | Egg and avocado sprinkled with everything seasoning - and half the avocado goes back in the fridge protected by these reusable food huggers | Superfood shake made with coconut milk and peanut butter to get all those nutrients plus fat! | Mixed greens, apple pieces (good with pear too), pecans, blue cheese crumbles, and Panera Fuji Apple Dressing - easy to throw together but felt so fancy! | Kefir - for when I needed to grab and chug! Love the Aldi raspberry kefir!! | Just an easy one: cottage cheese with black pepper, cucumbers, and clementine pieces. Fresh, fats, protein, veggies, energy. 

7. Goal Two: Read and move every day.

Even if it's just a few pages while pumping or a short walk to get baby to nap, read and move daily. It's a good way to help your brain "reset" a little and take care of yourself.

Now I'll admit. I wasn't perfect about this. But I found that by setting myself up with my Kindle (the waterproof paperwhite... just in case), water, tea, and a snack to pump or when I nursed and held him as he napped, I was able to relax a little more and feel a little more human. I also chose to do postpartum workouts in our basement (once I was cleared) and take short walks close to home just to get out and get moving a little. I certainly had to temper things and I was really slow to get moving again as I focused on the extra healing and physical therapy I had to do but I'm glad I at least starting do the little things as soon as I could!

8. Goal 3: Shower more days than not. 

Some make this goal "shower every day" but that started to feel impossible so I stuck with "more often than not". Set baby up in their seat or on a blanket or whatever right next to the shower if that helps you get it done without letting baby out of your sight but it's amazing how much more you'll feel like yourself with clean hair.

9. Eating, reading and relaxing while pumping are impossible without a good hands-free system!

I love my Sarah Wells Pumpease because it's pretty and comfy and easy to pack and washable plus it matches my pump bag, pumparoo, and cold gold AND my Brauxiliary set-up. Both make it easy to pump hands-free and comfortably. I'd also add these to your list of things to buy and pack for the hospital so that you can start using them right away! I didn't have them until a couple weeks after Alexander was born and I so wish someone had told me to get these earlier!! If you don't need much support during the day, I also recommend this relaxed pumping bra that's also great for nursing and sleeping!

Preparing for back to work and sending baby to daycare

So I've decided that I need to do another little post about how I got Alexander all set up for daycare but there's one seemingly little but important thing I did during maternity leave that I think really helped us with this transition and also helped take some of the stress off of breastfeeding and, well, me!

10. Start using bottles and letting other people feed your little one a couple of times a day if possible.

If you're able to nurse, that's awesome but if baby will be going to daycare, they're going to need to be able to take a bottle as well. We've had great success with the smilo bottles! They're easy to clean, we haven't experienced any nipple confusion, and he hasn't had any major gas / air intake / colic problems. And when you get to the solid food phase, their bibs are pretty awesome too!

I hope these tips help you on your helping journey! Can you do me a favor? If you've got any other tips or tricks that a fellow breastfeeding momma could use, could you drop them in the comments here so that others can learn from you too? Thanks!

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