In honor of National Breastfeeding Awareness month, I have torn down my walls, dug deep, and opened my soul! Ok, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but I’ve decided to share my experience with breastfeeding with all of you. Even typing it makes me cringe, and I have to stop myself from a quick ctrl+f and replace
breastfeeding, with nursing. I’m not a prude; I’ve just always been a more private person about certain things. For me, breastfeeding falls into this category. But my experience was a little unique, filled with cluster feeding, and lots of panic about what the heck was going on. So to all you mommas out there afraid to leave your house, stuck on the couch, or hiding away in your nursery rocker for hours at a time – I see you and send you all the love and encouragement in the world.
There were some issues trying to nurse that first time, just after delivery, with a tiny newborn and an overwhelming amount of nausea that I couldn’t knock, but eventually, we (sort of) got the hang of it.
Honestly, that first week was terrible. Breastfeeding is supposed to be a beautiful, natural, miracle… it felt anything but. It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do as a mother. Was he latching correctly or was he losing weight? Why did it hurt so badly? What are the right and safe products to use for pain? Is this mastitis? How often should he eat? How many diapers was that? Is this getting harder? When do I start pumping? And for the love, but mostly WHY IS HE EATING SO MUCH?
It’s so hard to know what is “normal” because everyone’s normal is different, but I (thought) I knew something couldn’t be right.
My son was a fussy baby for sure. He couldn’t be put down for more than a few minutes and he almost never slept without being held (during the day). On top of that, one of the only things that ever calmed him down was nursing. I had no way of knowing if he was comforting himself or actually eating, but I figured that nursing for 2-3+ hours at a time, multiple times a day was not normal. The times he didn’t nurse that long; he would only space feedings out by about 10 – 15 minutes. I never knew what to expect. I knew he wasn’t losing weight, but I was worried that something was wrong.
He would nurse and nurse and nurse, and I was scared to leave the house or have anyone over, What if I had to find a place to nurse him for THREE HOURS? What would people think and how enjoyable would that be? Oh don’t mind me, you go ahead and shop, I’ll just be sitting here for the next year with my kid attached. I mean seriously, the emotional toll this took on me, on top of the hormones, was exhausting.
Sidebar: Husbands are great, you guys, for some things.
They can help change diapers and hold crying babies and when they get home from work they can be a magic handoff to give you some time to cry and compose yourself and jump back in, but guess what? Husbands have no idea about breastfeeding. They can’t be your voice of reason or give you advice. I mean they could, but let’s be honest, they have no idea.
So here’s what I did…
So I sucked it up and called our pediatrician. That’s when she said the two most glorious words I’d ever heard: cluster feeding. That doesn’t sound glamorous? Oh believe me it was everything I ever wanted in life at that moment. An answer to all of my questions. An explanation that things were fine, actually great. This was “normal.”
Making that first step to call the doctor, pushed me to the next critical one: I called my sister. She had two kids, one was just 3 months older than my son, and she showed up to my house that same day during her lunch break. She helped me figure out when to pump and a better feeding schedule. We had a known 2-3 hour block in the morning and afternoon (some evenings) to work with, so things suddenly fell into place. She told me her go to for creams and relief when things started to feel “off” or painful and how to make sure I nursed or pumped enough.
After just those 2 conversations, it was like a switch was flipped.
Around week 4 I felt like I knew what I was doing. At week 8, the cluster feedings had drastically decreased, and my son started taking an occasional bottle. By the time I went back to work (12 weeks) I was a pumping machine by day and a nursing machine by night and cluster feedings were gone! Not that pumping at work several times a day was enjoyable but I made it work and we got into the swing of things.
We were so comfortable with things that at his 6-month checkup when our pediatrician recommended weaning him off his now only once a night feeding, I actually came home and cried. Not that he wasn’t ready, and I wouldn’t LOVE a full night of sleep, but I had learned to love those midnight feedings. They were just a short, 20 minute, once a night snuggle I could squeeze in. I’d sit in the rocker in a completely silent house, snuggling that boy while he slept in my arms, and I never wanted to leave. I had figured it out, we’d done it, and it really was a beautiful, natural, and crazy miracle.
What to know about cluster feeding:
- ALWAYS talk to your doctor first. Never assume that your baby is actually feeding. Make sure you track baby’s weight or visit a lactation consultant if you’re worried baby isn’t eating enough. I knew my baby was gaining weight, so there wasn’t a “serious” reason for all the nursing.
- Cluster feeding can look different for everyone. It can be a single, long nursing session, or multiple feedings very close together. Sometimes, it’s both.
- Cluster feeding is a phase. Sometimes it lasts weeks or sometimes it can last a day or two during growth spurts.
- Take care of yourself – make sure you’re drinking enough, getting breaks, and resting when you can. It’s actually not easy to just sit on the couch for hours on end. Make sure you have books or a TV remote close by.