Breastfeeding, seeking advice, and finding your balance: a few things I’ve learned throughout my par
Hi everyone! My name is Jacki, and I’m a lucky mama to a sweet little lady who is getting ready to turn 16 months old (Gah! Where does the time go?!). We, along with my husband, currently live overseas in the coastal city of Cartagena, Colombia. We have been here for just over three years, and in a few short months will be making our maiden voyage back to the states. It’s been such an adventure, but we are excited to be coming home.
I am a big fan of YMS – obviously! I love the light that it shines on Mothers, and the encouragement, enthusiasm and support it offers for this wonderful, yet not always easy job. Most of all, I love the stance it takes on normalizing parenting, and the honesty that comes with it. So, when my dear friend, Kimmie, asked if I would be interested in writing a guest blog post, I happily and humbly agreed. I always appreciate and value sharing in other Mom’s experiences – sometimes you just need a little reaffirmation that you’re not alone. And, as the saying goes, I like to “keep it real” in this game of parenting and life. I think so many times, we enter into motherhood with this painted portrait of what having a baby is like (perfectly matched outfits, perfectly coordinated nursery, perfectly sleeping baby), and are left scratching our heads when it’s a much different scenario than what we’ve seen on TV or social media. At least, that rings very true to me.
Admittedly, I wasn’t always sure if I wanted children. Or maybe it wasn’t that I wasn’t sure, I guess I just never really thought about it. I grew up an only child and just didn’t have a ton of experience around kids. My Dad always told me he pictured me in a big city, carrying around my briefcase (total Dad term), sipping lattes. And I wholeheartedly agreed with him. Of course, this was in my early 20s when I landed my first corporate job and marriage and kids couldn’t have been further from my mind. Fast forward several years later to when I met my now husband…I started to envision the sounds of tiny feet running through the house over the noise of a big city. When I found out I was pregnant with Grace, I felt a mix of emotions, confusion being one of them. Not confused because I wasn’t sure how this happened, but confused in a “what happens next” sort of way. I had a fairly easy pregnancy, a fairly difficult delivery and at the end of it all, I discovered what happens next – a love like no other love, exhaustion, pure joy, frustration, feelings of accomplishment, feelings of failure, and everything in between. Once that euphoria that I’ve only ever experienced after giving birth wore off (no offense to my husband, our wedding was pretty euphoric – but this, this was something different), I was a regular mom with not the slightest idea of what I was doing. And it was rather terrifying. Finding my new normal didn’t come as easy to me as I thought it would, and reflecting back, I was pretty hard on myself and all of us, quite frankly. Now that we’re fast approaching a year and a half in, I think I’ve learned some things along the way. And once you know better, you do better.
Oh, everyone’s favorite topic and I’m not saving the best for last: breastfeeding. When I became pregnant, I didn’t know much about breastfeeding other than I wanted to do it. Lucky for me, Grace wanted to do it, too. She came out of the womb like a piranha. I will never forget when that delivery nurse handed me my baby for the first time. Leading up to the days of giving birth, I pictured us having that beautiful skin-to-skin first meeting, with my husband on standby to capture that picture-perfect moment of me gazing into my baby’s eyes for the first time.
Well…to put it bluntly…none of those things happened (after 20+ hours of being in labor that ended with a failed epidural and unplanned c-section, I was left feeling and looking like I got hit by a bus. Needless to say, photos were no longer on my mind). I met my baby with my head poking out from behind a curtain, and then they quickly wheeled her and my husband off to wait in the recovery room for me.
Once we were reunited, that nurse put my baby straight to breast and I had no idea what was happening. It was incredibly beautiful, but it was also incredibly foreign. Little by little, we got into our groove and it no longer felt foreign, it felt natural. We continued on our breastfeeding journey for the first 3 months without a hitch, and nothing up until that point had made me feel more accomplished. I was a Mother. But then, I had to go back to work and the reality of breastfeeding set in. It didn’t matter though, this is what I set out to do. I was going to exclusively breastfeed for a minimum of 6 months, no matter what – no formula allowed.
And, I did just that. But it was hard. Harder than anything I’ve ever done. Harder than running a 13-mile obstacle mud race, where being submerged in an ice bath left me breathless, and being jolted by electric currents made me drop to my knees. Much harder. Even after 3 months, Grace was still cluster feeding in the evenings, and consistently nursing every 2-3 hours outside of this. This means I was pulling morning, nighttime and (multiple) middle of nighttime duty. I was pumping after her first morning feeding, pumping two times at work, and pumping after I put her to bed. Some days, I’d throw in an extra pumping session because I was scrounging to make sure she had enough milk for the next day.
I’d built up a respectable freezer stash, but that was not to be used until I could no longer keep up with her demands of our refrigerator supply. I heard of people who had to buy a chest freezer because they had run out of room in their regular freezer. How were they doing this? I was lucky to pump 2 ounces in one session some days. I would sit at my computer at night researching “how to increase your breast milk supply”. Drink Mother’s Milk tea! Eat oatmeal for breakfast! Take fenugreek supplements! Eat lactation cookies! Look at pictures of your baby while you pump! Pump after every nursing session to trick your body into thinking your baby still needs to eat! It was all so overwhelming. I vividly remember the day I pumped a whole 5 ounces in one sitting. I was so excited that I took a picture of the bottle and sent it to a friend. Yes, I actually did that. It was consuming my every waking moment. I was going to make those 6 months if it was the last thing I did; I wasn’t going to give up.
But what I didn’t realize at the time, is that it was taking away from the joy of having a baby. A tiny little baby who fit so perfectly in my arms. I felt alone, and I was starting to resent it all. I wasn’t sleeping. I felt like a zombie at work. If I wasn’t breastfeeding, I was pumping. Come the weekend, I was too exhausted to do anything – showering was sometimes an accomplishment. I didn’t want to get out much, because that meant I’d have to pump while away and the last thing I wanted to do after a week of pumping, was pump. Taking her with me meant I’d have to feed her in public, and we live in a very hot, humid climate with little to no personal space.
And this was now 5 or so months in. Every night, I’d sit in that rocking chair with my peaceful, nursing baby, googling “when will my baby sleep longer stretches at night?” I wasn’t worried she wasn’t getting enough to eat – everything I read told me that if my baby was gaining weight and thriving, it didn’t matter that I only pumped an ounce of milk per 20 minute session – “breast is best”.
Come to think of it, I remember reading somewhere not to keep formula in the house because then you’d be tempted to use it in a fit of sleep deprivation. And speaking of sleep deprivation, having my husband give a bottle in the middle of the night with my pumped milk was out. Along with the lactation consultant at the hospital telling me not to give a bottle to avoid “nipple confusion”, it was also a word to the wise in everything I read. I played by the rules early on, and as a result, Grace wanted nothing to do with a bottle. Thankfully, she happily accepted one from our nanny, so I could at least have peace of mind while at work.
When she turned 5 months old, she showed signs of being ready for solids, so I thought “Here we go! A new food source!” That idea was quickly squashed, literally. She balked at real food (another thing I was determined to do: make my own baby food. None of that store bought stuff). When the real food wasn’t happening, I caved to the store-bought organic baby food pouches. She would take some of it, but not enough to cut out a milk feeding just yet. We started supplementing with formula around 6 1/2 months because the freezer stash was gone, and I couldn’t pump enough to keep up with her. I felt a little disappointed when I bought that first container of formula, but at the same time, I felt relieved. We eventually figured out the solid food feedings, and I completely weaned from breastfeeding at 10 1/2 months.
In all honesty, I was ready to be done much sooner than that. But I landed a strong-willed baby who wasn’t taking no for an answer (no idea where she gets that from), and in more ways than one, I kind of set us up for this. It was right around that time that I made a trip back home and visited with one of my best friends, who was 6 months pregnant. She was telling me about her plans to breastfeed, and without saying too much, I softly made her promise me that if it ever got to be too much, that she wouldn’t do what I did to myself. I got an email from her not too long ago saying that she breastfed for a few weeks, but that it got to be overwhelming and she remembered what I said. Getting that email from her truly brought me so much joy.
This idea that breastfeeding is above bottle feeding is so unfair. At the end of the day, a happy and healthy baby and a happy and healthy mama is what matters most. Of course it’s not always going to be easy, but it should never take away your joy during those early months. You will never get that time back. So please, go easy on yourself in the feeding department, mamas. Your baby will be ok, if you’re ok.
It is truly remarkable how many books are out there regarding how to care for your new baby. Our mothers, and mother’s mothers had no manual. No Internet. It’s a wonder any of us are still alive. And while most reading material is intended to be helpful and informative, it has been my personal experience that sometimes too much reading can start to make you question the God-given motherly instinct that comes with a new baby. The same goes for asking a trusted mama friend. Remember earlier on when I mentioned I didn’t have much experience around children? Well after Grace was born, I truly surprised myself with how much came naturally. I felt like Mama bear taking care of her little baby cub.
But somewhere in there, I started doing a lot of reading (probably during those hour-long nursing sessions), and it was making me second guess everything we were doing. Which led to me asking my fellow mama friends what they were doing. Which made me start comparing. And worrying. And before I knew it, I was stuck down this never-ending rabbit hole of doom. The truth is, all babies are different. As long as your pediatrician visits are checking out ok, and there’s no real cause for concern (again, trust that mama instinct), there’s no need to consume yourself with spending a bunch of money on books or spending too much time on google. And while seeking advice from your trusted bestie can offer you some much needed reassurance (hello mama tribe!), comparing can – and will – make you crazy. It took me awhile to figure this one out, but once I did, it was so liberating!
I remember feeling so frustrated when I introduced formula and Grace wouldn’t take it, or when we started solids and she hated real food, or when it was time to make the transition from milk in her bottle to milk in her sippy cup and she acted like she was being poisoned. I was reading and asking questions, and it really only made me feel worse about it all. The answer was simple, really: my sweet Gracie baby takes a little time to warm up to new things. And while this all felt so frustrating at the time, it’s one of the things I absolutely love most about her. She proceeds with caution, and needs some time to analyze and process what it is that’s changing. We take things a little slower these days, and the frustration levels have nearly diminished. So, if you must, read the books and ask the questions. But please remember what I said. Your baby isn’t like the next baby, and that’s what makes this all so magical.
Finding your balance…
If you haven’t gathered by now, I’m a bit of a control freak. And a neat freak. Sometimes I’ll try and make the bed while my husband’s still in it. OK, not that extreme. But pretty close. With that being said, I was extremely protective of Grace during the first year. If she wasn’t down by 8:30am sharp for her morning nap, or in bed by 7pm, or if lunchtime was at 11:45am instead of 12pm, I was an anxious mess thinking the whole day or next day would be off, and then we’d have to re-learn this schedule all over again. And although our general rule of thumb is to adhere to the schedule – I really think it’s the only thing that keeps us all afloat somedays – children are incredibly resilient creatures. Because of our current living situation, we’ve spent a lot of time in airports and sometimes having multiple days in a row of being off schedule. But as soon as we get home and into our normal routine, we bounce right back, and it’s like we were never gone. So venture out sometimes, see where the day takes you, if even just every once in a while. Your baby – and you – will appreciate the change of pace.
OK, somewhere in there I veered off course and started talking about schedules, when I really want to talk about finding a way to balance it all. Kimmie had an IG post all about balancing the day, and when I read it, it was like a lightbulb went off for me. It’s so true, there really is no balance in this game of parenting. Trying to do five different things at once is multi-tasking, not balancing. If I’m trying to make dinner, clean the kitchen, research our upcoming move, all while entertaining my daughter, it’s a recipe for disaster. Instead, I’m learning how to find a way to designate time for each. Our weekend ritual is a trip to the park first thing in the morning, followed by banana pancakes, followed by Grace watching a little Baby TV or having independent playtime, so that I can clean the kitchen and put dishes away. And although I used to feel super guilty about using the TV as a distraction or leaving her to entertain herself, those 15 minutes to get everything cleaned up really sets the tone for the day, and after, I can just focus on her. I’ve tried cleaning the kitchen with her hanging from my legs (doubling the time it takes to get it done), leaving the dishes until naptime, leaving the dishes until the end of the day…but then I’m just thinking about the dishes being there and it drives me crazy! So this is where we’ve landed and it totally works for us.
The same is true for the million other things you have on your “to-do” list. When I try and simultaneously juggle all of these things, I find that I have a bunch of unfinished jobs, and I haven’t truly given the attention to Grace. I try to have a game plan for the day when I wake up, and stick to it as best as possible. It’s inevitable that parenting takes a great deal of multi-tasking, but if you can find a way to prioritize those big ticket items and designate your time accordingly, it’s a game changer! It’s especially challenging in those early months, so even if you can find time to do one thing that makes you feel accomplished (even if it’s as simple as tidying up the house or going for a 30 minute walk), it will undoubtedly help you to feel refreshed so that you can be present for the rest of your day.
So mamas, try not to worry about getting everything done at once – it’s rather impossible. Map out your day and figure out how you’re going to spend your time. And if you’re anything like me, a made bed and clean kitchen can really send you on your way. 🙂