My Breastfeeding Journey

Caroline’s romper | my shorts (favorite denim shorts ever) | my mama t-shirt (only XXS left in stock)

I just realized that I’ve been a mom for a little over 2.5 years and have been nursing for 24 of those months.  Wow, that’s a pretty long time!  Because of this milestone I wanted to share my breastfeeding journey with you all, as I know it’s often interesting to hear how it goes for other mommas and babies.  It hasn’t always been easy or convenient, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world and it was definitely the right choice for us.  

Jack was born right on his due date (my water broke naturally but his birth ended up as an unplanned C-section…) and I was in such shock over how everything happened that I was terrified to try to nurse.  I felt clumsy, my mom wasn’t there to help guide me, and despite reading La Leche League’s The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding from cover to cover I had no clue how to get started.  Jack tried to latch over and over again but I could tell something wasn’t quite right.  My nipples didn’t cooperate and his tongue seemed to not be able to extend far enough to get a comfortable latch.  We finally got him to latch properly after trying the side lying position, but my gut told me something was off.  Once the lactation consultants finally came to see how everything was going I told them that I thought Jack had a tongue tie.  I had read all about tongue ties in The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and Jack seemed to be experiencing all of the symptoms.  After I mentioned this they decided to check and sure enough, he had a tongue tie!  The doctor snipped the little frenulum under his tongue on his second day of life before we even left the hospital and the latching problem was immediately resolved.  It was so amazing to see and that’s why I think it’s so important to read up on breastfeeding before you have a baby because I don’t think anyone would have identified it had I not mentioned it.  Unfortunately my nipples had already taken a beating and the next two weeks were excruciating.  I cried every time he’d lose his latch because I dreaded him latching again.  My toes would literally curl each time he would latch because it was such a painful experience.  I never thought about quitting, but something had to change if we were going to keep this up for the long haul.  At his 2 week appointment the doctor looked at my nipples after mentioning how painful it was and she immediately prescribed me Newman’s Ointment.  It’s a compound ointment that is mixed by the pharmacist and it made such an incredible difference (I had tried lanolin and gel soothing pads but they didn’t help heal the damage that had previously been done).  The giant cracks I had healed quickly after I started using the Newman’s Ointment and not long after that nursing finally became a natural and pain-free experience.

Jack was a great nurser but around 4 months he quit working to get the hind milk.  He got lazy and only wanted the fore milk which is easier to get and not nearly as fatty as the rich hind milk.  He didn’t lose weight but his weight went from the 90th percentile to the 40th percentile between appointments and he leaned out a bit during this time.  The doctor wasn’t overly concerned yet, but if Jack’s percentile continued to decline he would recommend supplementing with formula.  Thankfully Jack finally grew out of this phase and caught back up a few months later.  

When we moved from Maryland to Kansas when Jack was 8 months old I lost the freezer stash of breastmilk that I had built up, and upon our arrival to our new home I had to immediately complete 2 weeks of annual training for my Army Reserve job.  Thankfully I was able to do the training just a few miles from our house and got to come home every evening.  Since Tom was also working though, I had to take Jack to the hourly child care center on Fort Leavenworth every day, and they required one bottle for every two hours he was there.  I simply didn’t have the time to pump enough milk to meet that requirement so we realized quickly that formula was our only option.  I felt like a traitor at first for giving him something other than my breastmilk, but you know what?  He loved it and it didn’t phase him one bit.  I finally got over my silly hang up and it was freeing to not have to worry about pumping at random times to try to build up a stash.  I still nursed him when we were together (and I pumped when I needed to in order to keep up my supply) but the stress over the daycare bottle requirement quickly faded away.  We continued to use the hourly childcare center there whenever we needed it and I never fretted again about using formula for those bottles.  Most days he didn’t even finish all of the bottles anyway, and I’m glad it was formula that went to waste rather than liquid gold breast milk.
When Jack was almost 11 months old I had to go to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin for 6 days for an Army Reserve training conference.  That week was the most difficult time in our nursing journey and I had a really hard time keeping my supply up.  I pumped early in the morning in my barracks room, I pumped in my rental car in a parking lot at lunch time, and then pumped two more times after work and before bed.  I had to ask a stranger to store the milk in her office refrigerator and she kindly allowed me to do so.  I then flew back with all of the milk in a cooler with a block of dry ice.  It was a stressful experience and my supply really plummeted during that time.  I think that’s partly why Jack lost interested in nursing towards the end, because I simply wasn’t making that much anymore.  That week away from my baby made me feel so much respect for full time working moms who pump because pumping takes such dedication, time and hard work.  I honestly don’t think I could do it for a full year.   

I had planned on nursing Jack for at least a year and then continuing for as long as he was interested.  I got pregnant with Caroline when Jack was 13 months old and our nursing journey ended when he was 14 months old.  By the time he turned a year old he was only interested in nursing twice a day, and then for the last month or so he only had patience to nurse in the morning right after he woke up.  I yearned to keep going but one day it finally ended, and because it all happened so naturally the sadness wasn’t quite as intense as I had expected.  I didn’t even know that the last time he nursed was going to be the last time, and I think that’s how it was meant to be for us. 

Caroline’s birth was a completely different experience (you can read the full story here).  I went into labor naturally and was able to have a successful VBAC.  It was a healing experience and I was able to hold her immediately after she was born.  And she latched perfectly from the very beginning.  I still had to go through the pain of getting used to nursing again, but it was a much less painful experience than it was with Jack.  Plus I knew there was light at the end of the tunnel, which was really reassuring for me.  Jack was a really good nurser but Caroline is a fantastic one.  So good in fact that the girl won’t take a bottle (insert eye-roll emoji here).  She also had no interested in eating any food until she turned 9 months old.  She seriously lived off of breastmilk straight from the source for 9 whole months, and it was pretty exhausting and stressful at times.  Whenever I’d have to go somewhere I could never leave her with a sitter or Tom for too long because she would flat out refuse a bottle from them.  (We have tried countless different kinds and nothing has worked.  She’s a stubborn girl!)  She is now almost 10 months old and still won’t take a bottle, but she’s an enthusiastic eater now which makes me very happy.  

We are currently back on the mainland visiting family, and next month I have to go to West Point for a week for my Army Reserve job.  I’ll be going alone so Caroline is going to have to figure out how to take a bottle, or else she’s going to be pretty hungry.  I’m a bit anxious about it, but I mostly feel bad for my parents because I know they are the ones who will have to deal with the difficulties.  Caroline is such a momma’s girl and loves to nurse for food and for comfort, so it’s going to be a big adjustment for her.  We will go the formula route because I have no interested in trying to build up a freezer stash this summer before I leave.  She will be 3 weeks shy of her first birthday at that point and I plan on pumping the whole time I’m there in order to keep up my supply.  I just don’t think I’ll be ready to end this journey with her, and I know she definitely won’t be ready either.  Since she’s not crazy about bottles I do not plan on bringing the milk home with me.  I plan on seeing if the local hospital will take my donated milk so that it will at least go to good use.

After two years of nursing I can say that it was certainly the option that made the most sense for us.  I’m a (mostly) stay at home mom, I hate pumping, I like that it’s free, my supply has always been on the high side, I don’t like to deal with bottles and both my babies and I enjoy the experience.  It isn’t always easy, but in the long run I’m so thankful it worked out for us.  I’d love to have my body back to myself and wear dresses more often, but I know this is all such a fleeting stage that I’ll likely miss once it’s all over.

I hope this post encourages you if you happen to be on the fence about nursing or if you’re struggling with it in the early days of motherhood.  It’s a big sacrifice but it can be so rewarding!  (And if you’re a formula-using momma then that’s ok too!  Fed is best in my book and formula saved us a number of times.)  Thanks so much for reading and if you have any questions or just want to chat breastfeeding I’m always here ­čÖé

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Katie Vail
Katie Vail

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Leave a comment

  1. July 3, 2018 / 4:36 pm

    Thanks for sharing your journey, and what has and hasn't worked for you. I always enjoy hearing other mom's experiences!

  2. Christian
    July 7, 2018 / 12:07 pm

    If you don't qualify for the hospital's standards (as I didn't since I was born in Germany) you could check the state's Human Milk 4 Human Babies page via Facebook. There are tons of moms out there requesting and donating milk to others when they don't qualify for hospital donor milk, everything from moms with adopted babies, babies who can't tolerate formula, and even just moms who are trying to help their babies get to a year on breastmilk. In any case, good on you for working to nurse your babies and also being willing to donate that gift to others!

  3. Kim
    July 7, 2018 / 12:07 pm

    Have you tried an open cup or sippy cup yet if Caroline won't take a bottle? I've heard of some babies who refused bottles doing well with that option. The open cup would be a little time consuming for your parents (and possibly messier).

  4. Anonymous
    July 7, 2018 / 12:07 pm

    Thank you for sharing! Haven't gone down this road yet myself but I appreciate your honesty and candor! – hrplo

  5. July 7, 2018 / 12:07 pm

    If you can't donate you may want to look up the Human Milk for Human Babies Facebook group to donate where you're traveling. Lots of mamas looking for donor milk for their little ones! My breastfeeding journey wasn't what I thought it would be (dealing with low supply, tongue tie, poor latch/transfer) so it's always good to hear that experiences can be so different if we decide to have another child. Formula saved us this time (I can only pump about 30% of his intake) and he's thriving which is the most important thing!

  6. July 7, 2018 / 12:08 pm

    Thanks so much for taking the time to read!

  7. July 7, 2018 / 12:10 pm

    We've tried the sippy cup option and she seems to be figuring it out slowly but surely!

  8. July 7, 2018 / 12:12 pm

    Thank you for sharing that resource! I didn't know about that group and will look into it. I was actually able to find a friend who lives at West Point who recently had a baby and has to go back to work soon. She said she would be happy to take my milk so that she can help supplement her own pumped milk. So glad it won't be going to waste.

  9. July 7, 2018 / 12:12 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to read!

  10. July 7, 2018 / 12:16 pm

    Thanks for sharing that group with me! I will definitely look into it. Thankfully I was able to find a friend at West Point who is going back to work soon and can use my milk to help supplement her own. I'm sorry your journey wasn't exactly what you had pictured. It's so hard to know how births and breastfeeding will go and it seems like you're thrown for a loop no matter how prepared you are (Jack's birth was nothing like what I had pictured either). Every experience is different so you never know once you have a second child! You're doing a great job!!!

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