The Top 5 Reasons My Breastfeeding Journey Was Successful
Updated: Jan 21
I have been breastfeeding my son Forrest for over a year and half now (!!!!!!!) and there are no signs of stopping anytime soon. It’s been a great experience overall and has really added to my experience of motherhood. I have met my personal breastfeeding goals and wanted to share what I believe made me successful in doing so.
Before I get too into it, I did want to explain that everyone’s breastfeeding goals are different and there are A LOT of things that can get in the way of success. Unfortunately, not meeting your own breastfeeding goals is quite common. The purpose of this blog post is to give examples of what can help promote successful breastfeeding, not to make you feel bad about your journey. If breastfeeding is a sensitive topic for you, maybe skip reading this post.
My personal goals were to breastfeed my son with no formula supplementation and to breastfeed for at least a year. This is in no way saying using formula is “bad” or that if you didn’t breastfeed for a year or more you did something wrong. This was just my personal goal, and I understood that there was a possibility it wouldn’t be attainable. Supplementing with formula is sometimes medically necessary to keep baby thriving. Weaning early is sometimes necessary for mom’s mental or physical health and there are a million other scenarios that necessitate or can cause early weaning.
So here it is, the top 5 things that I think helped me the most to succeed:
1. I was very knowledgeable and motivated.
I had worked at WIC as my first dietitian job and a lot of that role was educating and supporting breastfeeding women. I had received formal education equivalent to a college level course about breastfeeding and actually had a special credential as a Certified Lactation Counselor (not the same as a lactation consultant). You definitely do NOT need that much knowledge to be able to breastfeed, but knowing some basics is important. The biggest key, in my opinion, is knowing milk supply is generally about supply and demand. The more milk that is “demanded”, the more will be supplied, therefore you will need to breastfeed and/or pump regularly to be able to keep up. So, if you’re supplementing with formula, breastfeeding on a rigid schedule, having someone else provide bottles during the night, or only breastfeeding/pumping when you feel up to it, you’re most likely going to have supply issues. Work with a lactation consultant if these are concerns for you! It’s a lot, especially in the beginning, but does become easier as time goes on.
I also went into breastfeeding knowing I was committing for at least a year. Often, when pregnant women talk about future breastfeeding plans, the thought is “I’m going to try and see what happens” or “If I can, I will”. I’m sure many of these women end up breastfeeding long term, but a strong conviction can really make a difference. If you go into something truly believing it’s going to work, I personally think that mindset has power. If I went into my dietetics program thinking, “I’ll try it for a year or two and see what happens”, I don’t think I would have ever graduated. I don’t think this part is make or break for everyone, but I think it was important for me personally.
2. I had fantastic professional guidance.
I had lots of help at the hospital and consistently asked to see the lactation consultants whenever they were available. I unfortunately didn’t get a ton of practice at the hospital as I had a pretty sleepy baby those first couple days. Challenges started to stack up after we were discharged. Latching wasn’t always great and Forrest kept falling asleep making initiating or continuing a feed nearly impossible. He ended up losing too much weight and we needed assistance catching him back up. Luckily, we had a knowledgeable and experienced lactation consultant that worked directly at our pediatrician’s office. She taught us how to “triple feed” him to help get his weight back up. This process involved breastfeeding him, then pumping and providing a bottle of pumped breast milk immediately after the feed. The whole process was completely exhausting, but it worked! We followed up with the lactation consultant regularly during and after that process to check his weight and keep working on a good latch. Time is of the essence in the early days, so make plans on which lactation consultant(s) you plan on contacting if you need help after leaving the hospital.
3. My husband was extremely supportive and had paternity leave.
When I first met my husband Tom, I was working at WIC, so he knew I was passionate about breastfeeding even before we talked about having children together. When I was pregnant, we went to a breastfeeding class together and honestly, he probably knew more walking in than all the pregnant women in that class. Again, I don’t think knowing this much is necessary to be successful, but I think it was helpful.
His support in the beginning was really make or break for me. I relied on him heavily, especially when we were triple feeding. It was quite the process! Tom would strip Forrest down to his diaper to help keep him awake and then pass him over to me along with my nursing pillow. Once Forrest and I were settled into nursing, Tom would take any snack and drink requests I had and bring them to me. I was crazy hungry the first several months, so he was bringing me food around the clock. He would literally be cutting up an apple and giving me juice at 2:00 am sometimes. He would then bring me any pump parts I needed and get a bottle ready. After that, I would pump while he fed Forrest a bottle. Once we were done, Tom would change Forrest’s diaper and get him dressed, then measure and store the milk I pumped and wash the pump parts. It was a crazy process and definitely a two person job. By the time everything was said and done, it was practically time to start the whole process again!
I want to be clear that not everyone’s breastfeeding journey is going to be this complicated! Don’t let this story scare you! Many people have a much less stressful experience and every mommy/baby pair is different. We had a baby that lost too much weight and we needed to do something about it. From my understanding, triple feeding is not always necessary with excessive weight loss, but we were well beyond the stage of just monitoring and seeing how things go. I believe we only triple fed consistently for a few days and then gradually stopped the pumping and bottle feeds. If we didn’t do this though, Forrest wouldn’t have gained the weight back or we would have had to supplement with formula. As previously stated, supplementing with formula is sometimes medically necessary and totally OK to do, but it can potentially put your milk supply at risk if you’re not pumping. I think many partners would have said “are you sure you want to do this?” while watching the struggle and finding out how much work triple feeding was going to be. Despite my high motivation level and determination, I think if Tom asked me that question, I would have crumbled and said maybe we should just give up. I was frustrated, sleep deprived, hormonal, anemic, scared and in a lot of pain. If he gave me the OK to quit, or hinted that he was tired too and didn’t really want to continue, I think that would have been the end. Instead, he just kept us going and never even talked about straying from the plan as he knew what my goals were. He was just like, this is what we were going to do, no questions asked. I am forever grateful for that.
Tom also had two weeks paid paternity leave from his job. Due to Forrest coming early at the end of 2019 rather than the beginning of 2020 when his due date was, Tom also had some holidays off as well as some PTO to use. He had 3 whole weeks off total and I’m not sure how things would have gone if he only took off a day or two. He was my main source of support and I really needed a lot of help around the clock in the beginning.
4. My friend gave me her My Brest Friend Nursing Pillow (yes, you read the name of that product correctly).
When I was nursing in the hospital, I was able to get in a pretty good position because the hospital bed adjusted and I had lots of pillows. When I got home, pillows didn’t seem to work right so I starting using my beautiful Bobby Original Nursing Pillow. I was so excited when someone bought it off my registry along with the cutest covers for it. Unfortunately, I had terrible luck with it, and it basically turned into a cute piece of junk for us. I thought it was really uncomfortable to breastfed with, even with stacking several pillows underneath it. I just wasn’t able to get Forrest in a good position to be able to latch well. I remember crying in the middle of the night our first night home, because we just couldn’t get a good feed in. We tried so many different positions and nothing was working. It was the only moment I had where I was like – maybe I just can’t do this. Luckily, my friend was coming over the next morning so I texted her to bring over her nursing pillow, the My Brest Friend, for me to try as she was no longer using it.
This thing honestly looks as ridiculous as its name. It’s this big piece of foam with a cover that you strap around your waist. It really ruined this vision I had of me and my baby breastfeeding so beautifully like the pictures I saw of celebrities. Well, I’ll tell you that ugly, successful breastfeeding went WAY better than any other option. This thing really turned things around. I relied on it for quite a while and then eventually used it just for night feedings. Once he started sleeping in his own room, it was put away for good. I can’t say enough good things about it and I am forever Team Brest Friend over Team Boppy.
5. A Pandemic
We were lucky enough to be pregnant and deliver a healthy baby before COVID-19 was ever a thing. We had some time to adjust to parenting life in the pre-pandemic world, but when Forrest was about three months old everything started shutting down. Obviously, it was a scary and weird time, but it actually provided us with a lot of benefits, especially regarding breastfeeding. Since there were no date nights, out-of-town weddings, or other social or public gatherings, we just stayed home the three of us. Breastfeeding at home is generally easy once you figure it out. When you’re out and about or away from baby, that’s when things get complicated. I can see how it would be easy to delay feedings when out in public, or skip a pumping session when hanging out with friends. I didn’t really experience these things that could potentially affect milk supply.
I continued to work and Forrest continued to go to daycare so we weren’t together during the day, but my work schedule was definitely slower for a period of time. With a less busy schedule, I never missed a pumping session when working. I was able to schedule it in along with appointments without too much stress. Pumping at work has its own challenges for sure, and I could see how trying to get pumping in while having a full schedule could be extremely overwhelming.
Obviously, millions of babies have been successfully breastfed while not in a global pandemic. I think slowing life down for a little bit with a newborn does have a lot of benefits though. No matter how you feed your newborn, that early postpartum time is exhausting. Think about how you can scale back and keep things simple.