Spilling the Milk: Reflections on Our Breastfeeding Experiences (Part 1)
[Note: Welcome to the first installment of Spilling the Milk, Orchid's 3-part series on breastfeeding. We honor and acknowledge everyone’s journey and know that each experience is so different (as is evident with our own stories!) Through these stories, it is our intent to not only share our individual journeys, but also to continue the conversation in highlighting the inherent diversity in others' experiences with breastfeeding.]
I've been doing some reorganization lately — packing up all of the tiny pumping supplies, some of the bottles that somehow missed the first pass this Spring, and the like. I'll keep a pump and one set of spare parts at the office for good measure (though I'm not sure what a pumping emergency might constitute at this point); the rest will get one last loving washing by hand before they go on a brief sabbatical in a plastic tote in our quiet basement. It's funny to think about how we lived for so long in 3-hour increments. Nursing or pumping, it didn't matter to my body, so long as we kept things moving.
Then, all of sudden, one day I stopped to realize that this feverish pace had slowed considerably. I suppose it started with eliminating one of the pumping blocks on my schedule, to then getting busy enough to "skip" that second one and continually forgetting my pumping bag before leaving for the office anyhow. Don't get me wrong — at almost 17 months, my daughter still shows zero interest in stopping breastfeeding — but like all aspects of parenting, we appear to have entered this new phase with little notice on my part until much after the fact. I'm not far enough along into the parenting experience to know such things for sure, but I imagine this is how most of parenting goes. One day you're in the thick of it (whatever that it may be at the time), and then before you realize it, you've entered completely different territory. As a way of organizing thoughts on an adventure I've still yet to fully process (or to finish, for that matter), here are some of the highlights of our journey so far:
- Pregnancy, Week 40: (a.k.a. Colostrum — I'M MAKING IT?) The final weeks of pregnancy were...rough. I was doing Pre-Birth Acupuncture, taking stairs in twos, circles on the birth ball, even doing full-on lunges as my husband and I navigated the exhibits of the Milwaukee Public Museum just one last time as the two of us. (The visual of that is quite laughable in hindsight.) Attempting to just nudge things along a bit more though on the oxytocin front (and to get into the swing of things with this new pump), I set it up the evening of my due date and sat down to watch a movie. Lo and behold, I looked down 15 minutes later and colostrum was actually coming out. Again, not expecting an immediate win on the breastfeeding front, this was a happy, albeit small, victory. My milk did come in (fully, ouch) the day after our daughter's birth, and I credit this, at least in part, to pumping colostrum in the days that followed up until she was born. (Note: Given the action of this stimulation on the uterus, please discuss with your provider before attempting in late pregnancy. More info here.)
- All in all, nursing has come quite easily. (I did not expect that! As we help many new moms with acupuncture and Chinese herbs for concerns such as low supply, blocked ducts and recurrent mastitis, perhaps I was more likely expecting these scenarios than how things did actually unfold for us. Not to say that they each didn't occur, at times, but with some work they have been able to resolve.) I also acknowledge fully that the ability to have a less than full-time schedule of patient hours, and the access to strong resources, healthy foods and the support of my husband have been invaluable in not only establishing but also in keeping my supply up while nursing.
- We discovered a tongue and upper lip tie during my daughter's newborn exam & screening. (Yay for midwife care!) To her credit, she didn't let this hold her back from getting to that milk one bit, but this latching with gusto was incredibly painful. I'll never forget bracing myself for every nursing session that first month or so.
- We had her tongue and lip revision performed at 5 days old. (Perhaps that belongs in the Wins column, too.) However, peak new mom hormones added an entirely new level of heartbreak to the procedure itself, and having to do the stretching "exercises" for the month to follow made me feel like the worst person ever. While we were told that the latch often improves "immediately" after the procedure (laser, in our case), I did not find this to be true. It took around a month for her to re-learn to latch without using using her cheeks.
- Oversupply: too much of a good thing? Kind of. I was able to temporarily implement some block feeding, and we found gripe water to be very helpful with the discomfort during the transition.
- Shortly after transitioning out of the oversupply stage (and possibly masked by this, in part), it was determined that our daughter had terrible reflux and vomiting resulting from a cow's milk protein intolerance. Within 2 weeks of total elimination of dairy on my part, her symptoms resolved. Not easy by any stretch, but so worth it. Navigating this and looking into alternatives brought to focus how challenging it can be for new parents trying to find formulas that work when breastfeeding isn’t an option and there are allergies/sensitivities. (And as a formula baby myself, it sounds as if I might have had these same sensitivities in hearing my parents talk about the early days.) After we determined that my going dairy free worked, I had just over a month's worth of pumped milk in the freezer that was no longer of no use. Having worked hard to bank this before going back to work made this a bit emotional on my end, but the feelings did soften as the milk found its way to another new family!
- Reverse cycling started when I came back to acupuncture from maternity leave and never really went away, complicating an already difficult transition. #enoughsaid
- I enjoy breastfeeding. (Or, more accurately...I enjoy breastfeeding?!) Hear me out: I was 100% committed to breastfeeding our daughter in principle, but was not exactly...looking forward to it? (In all fairness, I hear a lot of mothers-to-be sharing a similar sentiment for various reasons.) Still, it's so funny to say that in hindsight, when in reality it's been my absolute favorite aspect of motherhood. I am infinitely grateful to what my body has been able to provide for her in these early days. Breastfeeding has been so many things — a much needed moment of respite for just the two of us, a quick spot of comfort in times of need, a way to slowly reconnect after we've been apart for the day, and so much more. But my favorite piece (and the most unexpected) has been in discovering our daughter's personality from the earliest moments, played out perfectly in how she nurses. She is determined, always persistent, she does things her way, and all of this became apparent in those very first latches.
I think I've put a bit more effort into this farewell to all these tiny little pumping parts as a small ritual of sorts. I didn't exactly realize we were passing out of this leg of the journey until well after, and now it's time to mark the occasion with a bit of gratitude for not only their role in that, but also in what my own body has navigated these past 16-plus months. It doesn't seem that an official weaning period is in the cards just yet, but this first of tiny goodbyes will inevitably help prepare for that next transition...
Ready for more? Stay tuned as we join Theresa for Part 2 in our breastfeeding series, Spilling the Milk, appearing next week!