My husband gave me the idea for this post, and I thought it was an excellent one. A year and a half ago we began this crazy journey of parenthood with a pregnancy. Of course this pregnancy led to the birth of our Bitsy Girl, and her subsequent growth, development, and breastfeeding. Lots and lots of breastfeeding. Although I am not an expert on this topic at all, I have learned some things about breastfeeding and a woman’s body that I would like to share in hopes that it helps to inform other nursing moms.
**(Before I continue, I would like to state for the record that breastfeeding was right for our family, but it isn’t right for everyone’s family. I make no judgments on those women who do not breastfeed because they cannot or do not want to.)
I’ll basically just walk through some of my experiences with breastfeeding, but if there is anything that you have a question on that I haven’t touched upon, please comment, and I’ll try to answer it the best I can or direct you to someone who can.
First, I was fortunate enough to nurse the Bitsy Girl within half an hour of her birth, and that first time she nursed she was a natural! She was able to find “the source” and latch correctly. This little miracle can only happen within an hour of birth, I’m told. Although the next time Bitsy Girl nursed she didn’t do as well as that first time, she had a head start. Many nurses told me that babies unable to nurse within the first hour of life have a more difficult time getting used to latching on and nursing.
My milk took a few days to come in. What I mean is that for the first few days, Bitsy Girl was feasting on colostrum, the first milk-like substance produced by a mother. It is high in fat and nutrients, so the baby doesn’t need much of it. When my milk came in, oh boy did I know it. For anyone who hasn’t breastfed, I can only equate this feeling to having to use the bathroom, but in your chest rather than your abdomen. My breasts felt very full and at times hard in some spots. I noticed that when I felt hard spots I had much more milk to give, sometimes too much for Bitsy Girl. In order to prevent mastitis (a very painful infection of mammary glands that results from incomplete emptying of the breasts) I would expel whatever milk my daughter didn’t want into the sink and rinse it down. In hindsight I probably could have used a breast pump, but I wasn’t thinking ahead. 😉
In order to expel the milk I simply pressed or squeezed the hard spots on my breasts. Yes, sometimes it was uncomfortable and a little painful, but I found a lot of relief in emptying my breasts once my daughter had finished eating.
The next major milestone I hit was the point when breastfeeding no longer hurt. There are plenty of women out there who tell you that if your baby is breastfeeding correctly it won’t hurt at all. This is simply not true. A woman’s nipples are not accustomed to the type and amount of stimulation they receive from a nursing infant, and so they often become sore, red, chapped, or even bleed.
That being said, the pain was not unbearable for me. It was uncomfortable at times, yes. I found that lanolin helped me to lessen the pain and to heal quickly. Within about five weeks I felt no pain at all while nursing. It was wonderful. From then on I have not had any discomfort while breastfeeding.
I enjoyed an abundant supply of milk for the first 6 months or so of my daughter’s life. I was working full-time, and I was pumping milk to bring home to my daughter. Each day I would bring home much more than she needed. Around her 6 month birthday, though, I noticed my supply begin to diminish. This correlated with two things: first, it was around that time that we began to supplement with some “solid” foods, and second, it was around this time that I noticed my fertility return. I track my fertility using the Fertility Awareness Method, and am usually able to determine when I ovulate. I noticed the dip in my milk supply just after I ovulated for the first time after having my daughter, and my supply didn’t return to normal until after I had my period. This made sense to me: when my body was housing the eggs it wasn’t able to use as many resources on milk production, but once the egg was out of my body, milk production resumed as normal.
Bitsy Girl is now just over 8 months old, and I’ve noticed a steady, albeit slow, decline of my milk volume. As my daughter added more solid foods to her repertoire there was little nutritional need for as much breastmilk, so my body produced less. I hope to breastfeed until Bitsy Girl is 12 months old because it is at that age that she will be able to drink cow’s milk. Of course if she wants to continue nursing her I don’t intend to stop her (within reason of course; Beard says breastfeeding a 12 year old might be awkward).
I have tried to include all that I have learned so far about my body and it’s journey through breastfeeding. I will, of course, add new posts or update this post as I learn more things, and if you have any questions for me that I haven’t answered or some different information about breastfeeding, please leave me a comment. I’d love to keep teaching and learning about this wonderful stage in a mother’s relationship with her baby.