Breastfeeding Strategies for Returning to Work

I haven’t been very active the past few months, but life got very busy! I may have a few more updates soon, but I make no promises! I did a write up for a friend on what was successful for me to breastfeed/pump after I returned to work, and have subsequently shared it with several work colleagues, who then shared it with their friends and so on and so forth. Anyhow, I thought it might be useful to stick it on the internet for anyone with a search engine to have a chance at finding! Returning to work was one of the most stressful things about my breastfeeding goals, because I didn’t have a clue how it would go – but Kerrigan is now 14 months and still nursing every night!

Supply Strategies

 Feeding – Nursing and Bottle

Here are the things that I have done to ensure that my supply remains strong even while working and pumping:

  • I nurse Kerrigan four times a day – I imagine this will drop to three at some point, but we aren’t there yet.
    • She nurses right before I leave for work. I leave at 6:15 am, so I get up at 5:00 and shower and then feed her about 5:30.
      • I really stressed about this right when I went back to work, but have learned to relax some. If she gets up at 4:45, I feed her and don’t stress over the fact it’s not the “last thing I do before leaving”.
    • She nurses as soon as I get home at 5:00. To accommodate this, we request that she is not fed after 3:00 in the afternoon so that she is hungry when I get home. If she is SUPER fussy, and nothing else will soothe her, she is allowed to have one ounce of milk to tide her over until I can nurse.
    • She nurses again before bedtime, after her bath at about 7:30-8:00.
    • We give her a “dream feed” at 10:30.
      • This will be the first feed that we drop, but since she occasionally will wake herself up hungry at 10:30, we continue to offer it to her every night.
    • Early on, I’d offer her both breasts each feeding. Now she generally gets what she wants from one – but I will still offer both if she seems hungry.
      • Once she went down to just nursing from one side most feedings, I figured out what worked best based on the way my breasts produce (i.e. my right is my big producer, so I made sure it’s the one she gets at the dream feed so I don’t wake up super engorged).
    • Kerrigan gets three bottles a day on weekdays – 8:30, 11:30 and 2:30
      • The times are somewhat flexible, but she generally sticks to that schedule for her bottles.
      • She will get a 1 oz snack after her 2:30 bottle if she seems fussy and hungry after 3:00.
    • We keep pretty closely to this schedule on the weekends, which sucks a little bit because it means I am up at 5:00 on the weekends, but it’s been successful so I stick with it. Sometimes if I’m extra tired I go back to bed after her 5:00 nursing and Robert will get up if she doesn’t go back to sleep, but nine times out of ten she will go back to sleep for us.
    • Once I went back to work, if I am home (i.e. weekends, holidays, vacation, etc.) Kerrigan only gets the breast and never gets a bottle to help keep my supply up. If I choose to go out I will time it so that I only miss one feeding and I’ll pump while I’m out (or in the car on the way home, etc.).

Pumping – Work and “Insurance Pumps” at home

  • I pump three times at work: 7:30, 11:00 and 2:30. The times don’t have to be exact and can be flexible, but I usually try to keep them within 30 minutes of my intended time.
    • Pumping is the first thing I do when I get to the office (I imagine you could probably get to work early if needed or pump on the way in the car for your first pump). This first pump is always my biggest pump by far – partly because she hasn’t nursed on it since 10:30. Sometimes if I am REALLY full when I wake up, I will hand express a little in the shower and wear my theragels on the way to work.
    • I pump for 15-20 minutes each session, until my breasts feel empty. Sometimes my morning pump will take a little longer if I am really full.
      • I will hand massage when I start each pump to help with letdown, and if I am REALLY full, I will massage the entire pump to make sure I get completely empty. (I use a hands free pump bra – I linked it below!).
      • If you notice your flow is slowing down, you can hit the letdown button on your pump again and let that run for a minute or so to try and stimulate another let down. You can also add more massaging while you pump to help stimulate production.
        • Apparently there are studies done that show actual physical contact with your breasts help make pumping more successful – it’s like the manipulation your baby offers when you nurse.
      • Sometimes looking at pictures of Kerrigan or listening to a recording of her crying can help stimulate letdown. I have both available to me while I am pumping.
      • I know it’s easier said than done, but relaxing really helps! I will browse facebook/Instagram, write blog posts/emails or chat with friends via text so I don’t focus on pumping.
        • If you find you are really stressing over how much you are pumping, a suggestion I was given was to put a sock over the bottles while you pump so that you can’t see how much is being pumped.
        • Now that pumping at the office is second hand, and I have the luxury of my own office, I just work through my pumping session. But if I’m having a particularly bad day, I still use the above to help relax while I’m pumping.
      • You do not have to wash/sanitize your parts after every pump. You can just toss them in a ziplock bag and keep them in the fridge/cooler bag (with ice block). I do this at home now too, and it save a lot of time! I just wash and sanitize at night when I am done with them for the day.
      • As an aside, one of the mom’s in my group is a teacher and has been foiled by fire drills in the middle of her pump time. She has since requested to be given advanced notice of the drills so she can plan her pumps around them.
      • Be liberal with the lanolin! I find that pumping is rough on the nipples, so I use lanolin after every session.
    • The standard flanges that come with the medela pump don’t fit most women. I asked my lactation consultant to size me, and I actually needed a different size for each breast! So don’t hesitate to ask to be sized or to experiment with a size that works well for you – the medela flanges aren’t very expensive and places like Amazon, Target, Babies R Us and Buy Buy Baby carry them.
    • When I am at home (weekends/holidays/vacations) I will pump for 15 minutes after my first two nursing sessions – my 5:00 am and my 8:00 am, unless I’m just flat exhausted and then I go back to bed and pump at 8:00 and 11:00.  You really do get better production if you can do it after your first two, because your prolactin is higher (it peaks at like 3 or 4 in the morning). These pumps do a few things:
      • It helps keep your supply up without having to add extra pumps on the weekdays.
      • It helps to build your freezer stash.
      • It gives you fresh milk for Monday morning, if you’d like to offer fresh instead of frozen milk.
      • I know it’s tedious, and kind of sucks, but it is really worth the time and effort!
        • I would add that I also did this on maternity leave and returned to work with something like 600 ounces of milk in the freezer (I had 3 months of leave, and did it from the start, so don’t stress if you don’t have as much!).

Nursing and Pumping Bras for Work

  • If you haven’t yet, I’d recommend investing in one or two hands free pumping bras. I really like the simple wishes one and it’s the one most of the ladies in my moms’ group use. The only thing of note is that you shouldn’t wear it for anything other than pumping, it should be snug fitting and extended wear will cause your supply to drop.
  • If you want to buy underwire nursing bras for going back to work make sure to go get fitted for them so that they are a proper fit (i.e. not too tight), so they don’t cause your supply to drop. I have a couple of the Anita underwire bras and was fitted at the mom and baby center at my hospital by someone that is certified to fit nursing moms. Make sure to get fitted right before you need to nurse so that you are full, and can get an accurate fit.
    • If I have a very casual day, I will just wear my regular bravado nursing bras. Unfortunately, they just simply don’t offer me enough definition for my business attire. Your mileage may vary!
    • Nursing bras are expensive, but I really have found that it’s one of the best things to splurge on – I purchased two of the underwire ones, a nude and a black. Good quality bras are really comfortable and I find make a huge difference.

Misc. Tips

  • Take extra snacks to work! I find I am STARVING all of the time. I keep string cheese and little individual Colby jack pieces handy. I also have Cliff/Luna bars handy because they are high in protein. Peanuts and Almonds are also good! I also keep things like pretzels, wheat thins, fruit (clementines, apples, etc) and graham crackers in my desk.
    • Don’t let your calories drop when you go back to work! How much you eat will affect your supply! I am constantly snacking.
  • Don’t skip breakfast! I usually have a bowl of oatmeal or peanut butter toast, along with some fruit to start my work day.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink more than you think you should! I keep a large Nalgene bottle at my desk at work to track my water intake, and fill it up regularly.
    • I do notice that it’s easy to forget to hydrate when you get busy, so I try to make it a point to think “empty bottle by lunch, refill and empty by the end of the day”.
    • I also find drinking a Gatorade or Vitamin Water helps keep my supply up and I drink one a day. I think the electrolytes really help with keeping my hydrated.
  • I eat lactation cookies every day (recipe below). They are yummy and freeze REALLY well and I still eat them every day at work.
    • If you have supply issues, your LC can help you with supplements to help. I have an oversupply, so I didn’t use any, but did a lot of research because given my age and some health factors I was at high risk for supply problems.
  • Your supply will probably drop when you start your period, and subsequently each month during your cycle. Mine bounces back afterwards, but it is a little panic inducing each time it happens!
    • I find my supply takes the hardest hit in the week leading up to my period, and then comes back up once my period starts. Other ladies I know see their supply dip during their period and it comes back for them once it’s over.
    • Some of the ladies I know will take supplements (like fenugreek) in the week leading up to their period to help offset the drop. I haven’t needed to do this, but it might be an option you could explore.
  • Hand express a little each day – there have been studies that show your supply will be better if you hand express. I usually do a little bit in the shower each morning and after each pumping session.
  • If you end up with a cold do not use Benadryl or Sudafed! Both are not good for your milk supply. Taking a Sudafed is basically flattens your prolactin for 24 hours, or something akin to that.
    • My LC recommended using: Cough Drops (I like the burt’s bees ones), plain Claritin (not Claritin D), Plain Robitussin (it should NOT have a decongestant), Flonase.
      • If you use cough drops, be careful not to chow them. Peppermint and menthol can diminish supply!

Bottle Feeding Strategies

I wanted to add this here, because I think bottles and how you bottle feed are important to continued success nursing. I followed my LC’s advice and Kerrigan still prefers nursing to taking a bottle. Some of the ladies in my mom’s group just picked whatever bottle – and several have now weaned because their babies started to prefer the bottle over nursing because it was easier to get milk from the bottle. Here are some of the things we found really helpful/valuable.

  • We didn’t introduce a bottle until Kerrigan was 4 weeks old and only Robert gave the bottle. I still have not fed Kerrigan a bottle (and probably won’t!).
    • While I was on leave, Robert gave a bottle once a day and I pumped while he gave the bottle (in addition to my two insurance pumps).
      • Your baby can smell you from 20 feet away. If he’s being fussy about taking a bottle, try leaving the house while he eats!
    • Now Kerrigan only gets a bottle during the week and she nurses any time that I am home.
  • We followed the instructions for bottle feeding a breastfed baby here:
  • We used the Dr. Brown’s Natural Flow Bottles that our LC recommended. They have a lot of parts, and are a bit of a pain to clean, but they really do have the best venting and help a lot with air intake and gas. If you’ve not invested in a lot of bottles yet, I’d really recommend these.
  • This next part is the most important – use a preemie nipple. Even if you use a different bottle, find a preemie nipple for the bottle. It makes the baby really work to get milk from the bottle, you want them to always get milk from the breast faster than they do the bottle. This is a VERY slow flowing nipple!
  • I make smaller bottles and leave a little extra milk to be added if Kerrigan is still hungry. She still prefers to nurse, and so usually doesn’t eat more than 4-6 ounces from the bottle. I leave three 4 oz bottles, one 2 oz bottle and then 4 ounces of “extra” milk in case she needs a little more. This helps us to prevent waste. If there is any milk left over (and it’s fresh), we use it as the first bottle the next day. She usually only eats 12-14 of the 18 ounces we leave.
    • Because I have high lipase, I only use fresh milk, since scalding milk removes lots of the immunities from the milk.
    • If you have a good freezer stash, you can use your oldest milk first, and freeze your freshest milk to keep your stash current. My LC recommended doing 2 bottles frozen 1 bottle fresh milk, for example.
      • We number our bottles to make sure that the oldest milk is being offered first. This is more important if you are using frozen milk since it’s only good for 24 hours after its thawed.
    • If anyone is sick (you, spouse, sister, etc.) use all fresh milk so that your immunities are passing to the baby!

Freezing Milk

  • I just wanted to add a quick note here that if you are freezing milk, make sure to pull a bag out at 2 weeks to thaw it and test it. You may want to do it another test at one month. Sometimes milk does not freeze well due to either High Lipase or Oxidation. It can gain a soapy taste or strong metallic taste/smell when frozen. The milk is fine, but your baby may not like drinking it.
    • We found out I had high lipase after returning to work and starting to use my freezer stash. I have replaced about 800 ounces of frozen milk as a result.
    • I included information on how I scald my milk before freezing it now below.
  • I really like the lansinoh storage bags, just because of how flat they freeze!
    • As a note, I’ve heard the Target brank Up and Up bags are very similar to the lansinoh ones and I have a lot of friends who swear by them.
  • I found cutting the top half off of a 12 pack soda box is a really easy way to store milk in the freezer. One box holds about 30 of the lansinoh bags. You can probably also google it and images will come up if this doesn’t make sense!

Scalding Milk

In the event you need this information, and I hope you don’t because it is a bit of a chore every night, I thought I would include it. We haven’t had to use any of our freezer stash since we started scalding, but we still do it each night just in case.

  • I put all of my milk in a heavy bottomed stainless steel pan. The heavy bottom part isn’t necessary, but does help even out the heat and keep it from burning. I heat it on medium high heat (8 on my stove knob) until it starts to bubble around the edges. Sometimes it might start bubbling a little in the middle and I’ll pull it off at that point also. I use a stainless steel spoon to stir it while it’s heating.
  • Once it’s heated, I pour it into a stainless steel bowl (the ones I use are from Williams Sonoma, but I’ve seen lots at other stores). I put that bowl immediately in an ice bath to cool. Usually I have the bowl already sitting in the ice bath and just pour from the pan into the bowl in the ice bath.
  • Once the milk is cool, I pour it into a liquid measuring cup and use a bottle to measure out amounts to put into the storage bags. Then move the bags to the freezer.
  • I wash everything nightly.
  • You will lose about an ounce of milk in all the transferring between devices. I haven’t found any way not to have this happen.
  • I would definitely still do a few small test bags to make sure scalding fixes the issue. We opened one at one week, two weeks and one month to be certain. We also froze additional unscalded test bags in a different brand bag to be certain it was the milk and not the storage bags we were using.

Lactation Cookies

Here is the recipe for lactation cookies that I mentioned earlier.  I actually know Noel (the creator of the recipe) personally and she’s a very earth mama type of woman and phenomenal baker. Anyhow, I’ve made these regularly and they are very tasty.

A few notes on the recipe:

  • Brewer’s Yeast – I found mine at whole foods in the supplement section. I’d think any supplement store such as GNC might carry it as well. I think Mom might have found some at Hy-Vee but I don’t remember for sure. I use the Twin Labs brand, which is also available on Amazon. It is about $15-$20 a jar, but the jar is big and will make tons of cookies. I’m still using my original jar.
    • I use four heaping tablespoons in mine, since this is one of the ingredients to help lactation.
  • Ground Flax Seed Meal – I find this at the grocery store. We have a huge bob’s red mill display and I find it there. I’ve also seen it at target in either the baking section or the breakfast section.
  • Chips – I actually double the chips in mine. I do a bag of chocolate chips and a bag of butterscotch chips. Not the healthiest, but really tasty! You can use any ingredient you want here, it doesn’t have to be chips. It’s just for flavor. A friend of mine does walnuts and cranberries. Another uses raisins.
  • Freezing – these freeze REALLY well. I make a half batch every other week and freeze half of them for the following week. If make a full batch if I had enough room in my freezer. I usually eat four a day.



What a difference a year makes!

It’s been busy! Both at work and at home. My posting has slowed a little again, but should hopefully pick back up as things slow down a bit again. I won’t apologize, because I’m not really sorry! I’m just taking life one day at a time, and right now my days are just a little fuller than others. 

I love this side by side. Last year I was about 20 weeks through my pregnancy and growing very excited. This year Kerrigan has given us more joy than anything we could possibly put under our tree. I’m very excited about the year to come and looking forward to all of the adventures it’s sure to bring!


The Things No One Tells You About Your First Weeks as a Mom

I have learned that there are some things that people either sugarcoat or flat out just don’t talk about regarding those first few weeks after your baby is born. Which is rather unfortunate, because they are the things I think you really should hear to prepare yourself for your baby. To compound this, Hollywood and the media don’t do new moms any favors by glamorizing that time. I mean, let’s be real. You don’t pop out a baby and magically find the joy of motherhood and everything is perfect. It’s far from it! In fact, it’s completely normal and possible to not have an instant connection with your baby.

Here are some of the things that I wish someone had shared with me about those first few weeks:

  • Lochia – Sure, you hear about it in your birthing class or read about what it is in your pregnancy books. But let’s talk about the reality of Lochia. You literally have shit falling out of your vagina every time you stand up, sit down or use the bathroom for the first few weeks. It is borderline traumatizing. In fact, the first time I got up to use the bathroom after my c-section and I sat down my first thought was what the fuck was that?! And I stood up and looked and I almost shouted “OH. MY. GOD.” The nurse assured me it was perfectly normal, but I wasn’t convinced. The truth is that you will bleed for weeks (I bleed for two solid months). It will get lighter, and you will overexert yourself, and it will get heavier again until it stops. You will be given this little bottle, called a peri-bottle and it will be your best friend.
  • Pooping – Everybody poops. But not everyone has experienced that first post-pregnancy poop. It’s almost as traumatizing as giving birth! Ok, not really. But it’s a challenge. And once you realize that, going to the bathroom is terrifying. Eventually things will work themselves out, but be prepared.
  • Motherhood is Lonely – Those first few weeks after the baby, when your hormones are all out of whack and you can barely move and you aren’t sleeping more than 45 minutes at a time, is a very isolating experience. It’s okay and it does get better. But you definitely feel like you are all alone and I wish someone had told me how lonely I would feel, even with a new baby and my husband right by my side.
  • Bonding with your Baby – Contrary to all of those movies you see, the first time you hold your baby in your arms the heavens likely will not open up and shine light upon you while a chorus of angels serenade you. In fact, you are likely to be out of sorts and things will be happening so quickly that you aren’t exactly sure what is going on. You know that you just had a baby. You know that you are now responsible for another life. You know that you will love this child. But you may not be awash with that love immediately. Most likey you will be in a stunned state of wtf just happened, and that is okay! It may take a few hours or a few days for your heart and your head to catch up. It doesn’t make you a horrible person or less of a mother. It’s normal.
  • You Baby will demand everything from you – Your baby will be very demading. Your relationship right now is give, give, give. There is very little return at this point. Sure, there are baby snuggles and they are glorious, but your baby simply doesn’t have the capacity to give back yet. It’s coming. But be prepared to give everything you have those first few weeks.
  • You will make at least one mistake a day – Yup. Every single day. Don’t beat yourself up over it. You are learning and your baby won’t remember or know the difference!
  • You will cry…a lot – It’s just a thing that happens. Your hormones are all over the place. You are exhausted. And your don’t know what the fuck you are doing. The tears will come for no reason at all or for the silliest things. In fact, sometimes just having a good cry will feed good! You aren’t broken, you don’t love your baby any less. The tears come and the tears go and eventually the tears will stop.
  • Be kind to yourself – You will be your own worst critic. Always. Remember to take care of yourself and be gentle to yourself. You are important, you just wet through a major change in your body and your life and you have feelings. Love yourself and be kind to yourself.
  • Those snuggles don’t last forever – Enjoy them! It’s okay to just hold your baby! Eventually she won’t want to be held all of the time anymore and you will miss those moments.

In hindsight, I’m sure someone probably mentioned one or two of the things on the list and I just didn’t pay attention (hello! of course angels will sing when my baby is born!). But I really do think there could be more done to prepare new mothers for those first weeks with their baby. It’s hard and nobody really tells you!

Postpartum Depression

When you are in the hospital having your baby, you will be inundated with pamphlets throughout your stay. Information on why your baby cries, how to handle your baby crying, taking care of yourself, etc. Undoubtedly one of those pamphlets will be on Postpartum Depression. If you are like me, you will take a look at it and tuck it away somewhere because surely PPD won’t affect me. I wanted this baby so badly, I tried for so long and so hard, I could barely contain myself waiting a whole nine months to meet her. There is no way I would now be depressed about her being here.

I had the same conversation with myself in the days following when I received similar information from the state – I flipped through it, read it, found it fascinating that PPD can occur when you stop breastfeeding and then again shelved it away. I don’t care that I cry all the time, everyone experiences baby blues I told myself. It will pass, and I will be fine. Everything will be just fine. I am not suffering any worse than anyone else.

But I cried. A lot. I was so anxious that something would happen to the baby and she would die if I fell asleep, that I hardly slept. Everyone kept telling me to sleep when the baby sleeps – but don’t they realize that’s impossible? What if something happens to her and we are all asleep? I was so exhausted, but sleeping simply wan’t an option. Which made me cry even more, because I was so tired and everything seemed so horribly overwhelming. Why does this baby want to nurse again? I just fed her. My nipples are cracked and sore, she can’t possibly want to eat again. Why is she crying again? I just fed her, and changed her, and why can’t I get this right? What am I doing wrong? Why am I cyring again?  

At some point in that first month I had horrible thoughts run through my mind and was terrified of sharing them with anyone – especially my husband. I became a mess everytime I thought she wasn’t getting enough to eat and wasn’t gaining enough weight – a direct result of the events of my last post on our breastfeeding struggles. I took a test and scored as a strong candidate for PPD. But I rejected that, because there was no way that is what was wrong with me. It’s just the damn baby blues. I’m fine. Everything is going to be just fine

And somehow I muddled through convincing myself of that.

My husband pushed and encouraged me to go to the new mom’s group sponsored by the hospital – but I didn’t need that. I had all the support I needed at home, right? Besides, I didn’t want these people I didn’t know to see me crying. They might think that I can’t handle this whole mom gig. I know that I can do this – I don’t need help. I wanted this for so long. I’m fine.

After four weeks my husband went back to work. I had one day between when he returned to work and my mom arrived to stay for a month. One day. But the Sunday before he went back to work I lost it and was an anxious mess and cried all day. What if I couldn’t do this? What if I can’t get Kerrigan to her four week appointment on my own? What if the car seat and stroller are too heavy? How am I going to manage?

But somehow I did manage. And I continued to ignore all those pamphlets about Postpartum Depression.

The next month my mom was here. I don’t know if her pressence made me feel better, or if I was trying really hard to hold it together in front of her, but during that month I seemed to cry less and feel a little more like myself. She and I got out of the house more, I was walking daily as my C-Section recovery progressed, and I almost felt, dare I say it, well

At least until the heat came.

Seattle had the hottest summer on record this past summer. And like most homes, we didn’t have air conditioning. How could this be happening? Doesn’t mother nature know that the ideal temprature for babies to sleep is a cool 68 degrees? My baby was surely going to die because I couldn’t keep her cool enough! And just like that, I stopped sleeping again. It was too hot to take the baby out for a daily walk. So I stopped exercising again. Kerrigan cried non-stop in the car; leaving the house was so incredibly stressful. And so I started crying a little more again.

After enough hot days passed, and we were able to keep the house cool enough, and the baby didn’t die, I was able to relax some. Little things still sent me into a whirlwind of emotions and tears, but that was normal. Wasn’t it? I asked about baby blues at my six week follow up – but maybe I underplayed how I was feeling. Or maybe I wasn’t feeling as low at that point since it was halfway through my mom’s visit. I’m not sure. The midwife just told me to keep an eye on it and call if I needed more help – there were options available.

Well, I didn’t need more help. I was fine. And I wasn’t interested in taking additional medication because I was a little sad now and then. It’s just hormones evening out. Everyone experiences this and eventually it resolves itself and life moves on like one perfect postcard.

My mom left after a month. I was finally going to be all on my own with the baby. I was excited for the bonding time and the down time of not having anyone else in the house so that I could have a few minutes just to myself when the baby was sleeping. It was going to be glorious. A whole month to spend with Kerrigan before I had to go back to work. I couldn’t wait!

Except on the eve of that first day alone with the baby, the awful thoughts came back. They kept me awake and I couldn’t sleep. It seems that my mom leaving triggered all of the anxiety that I was able to hold at bay while she was here. She gave me both courage and strength, but she wasn’t going to be here anymore. I was going to be all alone, no one would help me. That first day by myself wasn’t the enjoyable bonding I thought it would be at all. It was hard and the baby cried. A lot. I screamed at her, and then felt like the worst mother and most awful human being on the planet, so I just held her and cried with her. I met my husband at the door sobbing, asking him why he took so long getting home from work.

I can’t remember if it was that night, or one of the nights following that night, but I finally admitted that something wasn’t right. I finally admitted that I needed help. That I thought I might be suffering postpartum depression and had been trying to convince myself that surely it wasn’t happening to me. How could it? 

I asked my husband to call the OB’s office. I knew I needed help, but also knew I wouldn’t be able to ask for it myself. I told him I didn’t want medication – I was on enough medication already. Ask for a referral to a therapist, schedule me an appointment. I’ll go. I can’t feel like this any more.

That day we had our 8 week checkup. The pediatrician asked how things were and I fell apart. We assured him we already had a call into the OB. I was having a rough go, but I was going to get help. He was compassionate. He handled me with the same care he did my daughter, and for that I am still grateful. My favorite nurse from the OB’s office called in the middle of that appointment and my husband took the call. He got the names of several therapists and  the nurse told him to stress to me that this wasn’t my fault or anything that I’d done wrong. It’s all hormones and it’s completly out of your control. It happens.

You are not a bad mother, he was told to assure me.

That night I researched the list of therapists and selected one for my husband to call and schedule me an appointment. I also registered myself to attend that new mom’s group. Both of which ended up being vital to my recovery. By the time my maternity leave was over and I was ready to go back to work I was feeling better. Not fully like myself, because I still cried more easily that normal, but more like the person I was before having a baby.

At my final new mom’s meeting I was a little sad that the 3-6 month mom’s group meets during the day, because it meant I couldn’t go and the support was surprisingly healthy for me. To the point I wished I’d had gone earlier when both my mom and husband encouraged it. Since then I’ve looked for a similar evening or weekend support group, but haven’t succeeding in finding one. I remain hopeful that I’ll be able to find some local mom friends – even though I’m a bit introverted when it comes to that sort of thing.

I am still seeing my therapist – almost six months after Kerrigan’s birth. I know treatment would have been easier if I had just taken the prescription that was offered to me by my OB, but I wanted to try to make it through without medication. I think I have and that I’m better for it. I’ve learned a lot about myself through my therapy sessions. I’ve learned a lot about controlling my fears and my frustration. I’ve learned a lot about why these things affect me. I’ve learned a lot about who I am and who I want to be. The only regret I have about therapy is that I tried to convince myself for so long that I couldn’t possibly need help; that I wasn’t suffering.

I just recently discussed starting to wind down my sessions because I am starting to feel like I might be able to cope on my own again. Of course, I had a complete melt down during Pregnancy and Infant Loss month/day and spent an entire hour crying in her office, but I managed to pull myself back up. My husband has also recently commented that I still fall down sometimes, but I’m much quicker to recover. Instead of taking days, it takes minutes or hours. I spend more time enjoying my baby than I do crying. I’m finally healing from what ended up being the hardest part of birth – coping with my emotions.

Postpartum Depression is real. It’s terrifying, it hurts and it affects even the strongest women. The next time you see a new mom, make a point of looking her in the eye and asking her how she is really doing. If she breaks down, hold her up. Because that’s what she needs, to be caught in your loving arms, even if it’s just for that moment. This shit is hard – and there aren’t enough villages available to take in most new moms.

Early Breastfeeding Struggles

At some point during my pregnancy, I had decided that I wanted to breastfeed. Knowing that it was possible I might face some challenges with this given my “advanced maternal age” and PCOS, I did early research, sought help before the baby was born and requested a lactation consultant visit me when I checked in at the hospital. When I decided to breastfeed, knowing in advance that I might not be able to, I told myself I would try but I wouldn’t be upset if it didn’t work out.

Well, somewhere between that conversation with myself and the birth of my daughter I became passionate about breastfeeding. I think it was because so many things about my pregnancy and birth experience didn’t go as I’d expected that this one thing became so important to me. I didn’t get my skin to skin right after my c-section, they gave our daughter to my husband and I barely got a glimpse of her. Despite that, as soon as she was with me she latched and started nursing immediately. And in my mind that seemed to seal the deal. I had to do this.

During our two day stay in the hospital, Kerrigan wanted to nurse very frequently. Because of her size her blood sugar was monitored during the first day (it was fine). She cried a lot, slept a lot and nursed a lot. That was the extent of her existence during those early days. When they checked her weight the day following her birth, the doctor commented that she’d lost more than expected but didn’t seem to worried about it. The doctor the following day also commented on how much she’d lost, but didn’t seem overly concerned and signed off on discharging her. We had a follow up appointment with the mother and baby center at the hospital four days after her birth, and they would recheck her weight then. We didn’t think very much of it as they discharged us and sent us on our way.

In the days following our discharge, Kerrigan nursed constantly and continued to cry a lot. Being new parents, we just assumed that this was normal for babies. I mean, they are hungry and they cry, right?

Fast forward a couple of days to our follow up appointment at the hospital. That morning my milk had FINALLY come in! We could tell because I looked like I’d exploded overnight and when I hand expressed there was finally milk instead of colostrum. Hooray! Unfortunately, that excitement was short lived. At our appointment we learned that Kerrigan had lost too much of her birth weight and there were concerns about how much she was getting to eat. We were immediately scheduled appointments with our pediatrician and a lactation consultant for the following day. We were also told we needed to supplement.

I was devastated.  

Robert and I stayed firm that we didn’t want Kerrigan to have formula. My milk had just come in, we told the nurse. We were confident that she didn’t need formula. We didn’t even have bottles other than those for the pump. Since Kerrigan received enough during her weighted feeding the nurse agreed we could try without formula, but that the pediatrician may advise us differently the following day. If we were sure we didn’t want to supplement with formula (we were sure) we needed to supplement with breast milk. She put us on a feeding schedule that had us feeding Kerrigan every two hours for the next 24 hours. I was to give her ten minutes on each breast and then pump for 15 minutes. We were to save the milk that was pumped and my  husband was to give it to her in a bottle after she nursed the next session, while I was pumping. She gave us a nipple she recommended instead of the ones that came with the pump bottles and wistfully sent us on our way.

The 24 hours following that appointment were probably some of the worst of my life. The entire feeding cycle, that we followed to a tee, took about an hour from start to finish. After nursing, I was able to pump an ounce of milk each time. If we were lucky we were able to rest for an hour before starting it all over again. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. And trying to recover from major surgery. 

I sobbed the first time my husband gave Kerrigan a bottle, as I sat there connected to the pump hoping to increase my supply. We’d always planned to have him give her one bottle a day, starting around 4 weeks, but it wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Getting to nurse her was supposed to be my thing, dammit. I didn’t get my immediate skin to skin – that was given to him. I didn’t get the birth I was hoping for – that was dictated by her. But nursing was supposed to be in my control and now these moments were also being ripped away from me. I felt horrible for being upset. I felt horrible for resenting my husband for feeding our child. But I couldn’t stop the emotions or the tears. I was her mother. I was breastfeeding. This was supposed to be my experience.
Despite never having any problems latching, after her third bottle that night I strugled to get her to latch. I cried even harder. Despair set in and I was convinced that was it, I was done. I was a failure at breastfeeding, let’s just go buy the kid some formula and be done with it (the exact reason we specifically got rid of that freebie formula that was sent in the mail!). But knowing this was important to me, knowing it was best for Kerrigan, my husband pushed me to keep going. “We aren’t quitters in this house” he told me. And he was right. We didn’t quit trying to conceive when it got hard – why should I give up on this? And I am so grateful for that moment. I don’t think I’ve ever told him that – but I’m so glad that he held fast when I didn’t and pushed me to be strong.

Somehow we made it through those 24 hours, and despite our sleep deprivation, made it to the pediatrician’s office. The preceeding 24 hours were awful, and we both headed into the pediatrician’s office with the mindset that we were going to tell him we didn’t feel it necessary to keep at the pumping/bottle feeding. It was causing stress. My milk had just come in yesterday morning, we are sure she is getting enough to eat! The first thing they did was weigh Kerrigan, and then double checked her weight. The doctor came in and told us we could stop the feeding schedule the nurse the prior day put us on. He didn’t think it was necessary. In fact, he even went as far to say that he thought the scales at the hospital may have been off! Either that or Kerrigan had gained five ounces over night!

He agreed that she was getting enough to eat and told us if our appointment at the hospital had been a day later we probably wouldn’t even be sitting in his office because her weight would have been fine. We did admit that there was a positive to thse past 24 hours, and that was that we got to experience our baby with a full belly. And that she was actually a pretty content baby. And that was both great news and a hard pill for me to swallow because it meant that the reason she had been so upset before had been because she was hungry and not getting enough to eat. That realization broke my heart and still upsets me to this day.

We met with the lactation consultant later that day – and she was also amazed at how much weight Kerrigan had gained seemingly overnight and even more impressed that we supplemented with breastmilk and not formula. She admitted to having been prepared for problems with me breastfeeding, and had shared that she’d put a few red flags in my file: Age, PCOS, C-Section. But she was thrilled with how successful we’d been and was happy with how much Kerrigan was getting during her weighted feeding. She encouraged me to hold onto 2-3 of the pumpings, but indicated we didn’t need to provide extra milk after nursing sessions. She also requested that we come in and weigh her weekly over the next four weeks.

After that appointment we had two more appointments with lactation consultants. We also had an evaluation on a posterior tongue tie. But Kerrigan continued to grow and do very well. As it turns out, my supply is fine. In fact, I am blessed with an over supply such that I have a 900 ounce stash of milk in my freezer in case of an emergency. It seems that it was just the circumstances that I was presented with that caused our struggles – an almost 10 pound baby and a c-section delaying the arrival of my milk. In hindsight, I see now that Kerrigan likely never got enough colostrum to fill her belly. And was hungy for the first four days of her life. But I can’t change those things.

To this day I still have anxiety about Kerrigan gaining enough weight and getting enough to eat. I still take her regularly to the mom and baby center to use their scales and weigh her to ease my mind. I still worry about my supply, and anytime I have a lower pump at work I panic a little. I was unsettled when she dropped a feeding. I still pump after nursing twice a day on days that I don’t work. I do everything that I can to protect my supply at all costs. To say that this experience left a lasting impression on me would be an understatement; but I don’t have regrets about it. 

I am grateful that I am able to breastfeed. I am grateful that I overcame those early challenges and had a support system that helped me through those difficult times. Breastfeeding is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, but I am so grateful for the bond that only I have with my daughter when she nurses. As it turns out, I did get to keep this one thing. And it has been worth every tear shed and every struggle we endured.

20 Weeks In, 20 Weeks Out

This is actually from a few weeks ago, but I realized that I never shared it here. It was a lot of fun putting it together, and it’s amazing how quickly the time passes and how much changes along the way! The 39th week of my pregnancy seemed to take forever; and despite knowing I had an end date with the c-section, I felt like the baby was never going to arrive. But these last 23 weeks? Holy moly has it been a blur!