In honor of World Breastfeeding Week I thought it would be a good time to finally share our breastfeeding experience. I have drafted three posts on this topic, dating all the way back to when the boys were just four months old. But since our breastfeeding “situation” was so ever-changing, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t get around to finishing or posting any of those.
I’m going I try my best to keep this brief but that’s never been my strong point and this is a pretty hefty subject.
The boys were born six weeks early. I birthed them on an operating table (just in case an emergency c-section was necessary- it wasn’t) and they were immediately taken to the NICU so we didn’t get the opportunity for the immediate skin-to-skin, natural rooting and latching that I had so dreamed of. Feeding tubes were placed and they were given donor milk until my own came in. I started pumping about four hours after their birth and proudly carried my tiny droplets of colostrum, and eventual ounces of milk, to the NICU each time I visited.
With all of the tubes, wires, closed bassinets, and bilirubin paraphernalia, it never once crossed my mind that I could actually attempt to nurse my babies in those first few days. A lactation consultant was brought in on day 3, to coach me through my first attempts. They were failures. We kept trying, but as the boys quickly met all of the other criteria to be released from the hospital, I decided to go full steam with bottle feeding, in order to get them home. They had to take 48 hours worth of consecutive feedings, via breast or bottle, to earn their NICU diploma.
I continued to pump around the clock, still took advantage of plenty of skin-to-skin time, and attempted nursing whenever it felt natural. The forcing it, with an audience, just wasn’t working for us. But every once in a while one of the boys (almost always Nolan) would find his way and latch for a bit.
My milk came in plentiful and I had quite the stash going in the hospital freezer. When the boys were 19 days old, my appendix decided it needed out of my body so I spent a long Saturday in the ER, followed by a quick 16 hours in surgery and recovery. My pumping schedule got totally messed up and I dumped much of what I pumped because of the yucky chemical stuff I had to drink before my CT scan to determine that it was, in fact, my appendix that was desperately begging to get out. I tell you this because the next part of our story is where I had to give up hope that my babies would be exclusively fed breast milk, even if not directly from the source.
We started supplementing with some formula around the one-month mark because their demand outweighed my supply. Even though I was spending more than three hours of each day pumping, I wasn’t able to keep up. We mixed a portion of formula into each bottle of breastmilk, the amount varied depending on how much milk we had in the fridge. It was important to me that they get the benefits of breastmilk over an extended period of time, rather than just running out and completely switching to formula.
I cried, a lot, when we started doing this. I had only ever imagined exclusively breastfeeding my babies. Even when I found out we were having twins, which I knew would present some challenges, I still only ever imagined exclusively breastfeeding. And so to not be exclusively breastfeeding, but now to be giving them formula too?! It was just more than my exhausted, emotional, momma heart could handle.
But you know what? It was fine. They are fine. They are healthy. In retrospect, it took a lot of pressure off me because I didn’t feel the need to pump between feedings. I didn’t feel the need to have that thing attached to me at all times. I didn’t feel so terrible if I slept through my middle-of-the-night pumping alarms when the boys started to sleep for longer periods.
So we continued on, attempting to nurse often. Nolan was much more into it, latching and nursing quite often, actually. Then there was Theo, who, at times, would scream anytime my nipple came close to his face. There were tears. Lots of tears. From all of us when we were frustrated with it. And from me during those rare tandem nursing successes. When it was just as I’d always dreamed it would be, even if briefly.
Ultimately, neither of the boys ever seemed completely satisfied with nursing and were always screaming out in hunger ten minutes after a nursing session so we continued with bottle feeding. I give my husband serious props for getting up for every single middle-of-the-night feeding in those early months. Every. Single. One.
Nursing, for us, was for comfort. For closeness. For snacks. For emergency “why don’t we have any clean bottles?!” and “oh crap, it’s meltdown time“ situations.
And even though it’s not how I had imagined it would go, it was what worked for us. It was our version of natural and I’m so grateful that we got the opportunity to experience it at all. While I know they didn’t really care how they were fed, I wanted what I felt was best for them and never gave up on doing my best to provide that. Lucky for me, they were troopers and let me continue trying. Between 9 and 10 months they really lost interest in nursing. They could now maneuver their own bottles and liked the independence of doing so. I’d grown very tired of pumping around the clock, and thus, had dropped a few sessions. We had a vacation coming up and while fully prepared to bring along my pump, the timing just sort of naturally worked itself out so I was able to stop pumping about a week before and didn’t have all of that extra stuff to take along. I continued to hand express daily, both before our trip, and on vacation. I had so many mixed emotions about completely losing my supply! Upon returning home, Theo enjoyed a couple last nursing sessions and then both were totally over it. There was something poetic about him being the one to get in those last couple of sessions. My strong-willed boy, who resisted nursing for so long! It was as if he just wanted to say, “thanks, mom”.
Or, he was just hungry and knew where he could find a good snack. 😉
Rock on, mommas. Do what works for you and your littles. And most of all, support and normalize breast feeding!!! It’s the way nature intended it to be and it’s a darn shame that people can’t just let mommas and babies do their thing!