Breastfeeding Journey

I have been breastfeeding Ellis for 14 months now. Its been a beautiful journey! We still enjoy snuggling up together to breastfeed morning, afternoon, and night. And honestly, I don’t see us slowing down anytime soon.

From the very beginning of my pregnancy I knew that I wanted to breastfeed my baby. My mom had breastfed me and my four siblings and other women in my immediate family had done the same. It was familiar to me and I knew I had a good support team of other mamas surrounding me.

Liquid Gold — The First Drops of Colostrum 

I started producing colostrum the day before I entered my third trimester. It took me by surprise! But I was so grateful that my body had already started producing food for my son.

I wondered if I would have a good milk supply since I started producing colostrum so early, but I tried not to place any expectations on myself and my body. I had started reading The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding per my midwife’s suggestion, so I felt like I knew a decent amount about breastfeeding. Still, I don’t think a book fully prepared me for just what to expect.

The First Latch 

I gave birth in the comfort of my own bedroom and was blessed to have skin-to-skin for the first few hours with Ellis before his newborn exam.

Sadly, I don’t clearly remember the first time Ellis latched on. I know it was within the first couple of hours after he was born, but that’s about all I can recollect. Both my midwife and doula helped me with getting Ellis to latch and showing me which positions I could try for nursing.

The next day when my midwife came back to do our 24 hour check, she asked how many times Ellis had eaten the day before. I don’t remember the number of times he fed, but I remember my midwife encouraging me to try and get him to eat more often. I felt so guilty when I heard her say that — I was worried that I was failing my baby and not feeding him enough.

The Early Weeks 

Right from the start, Ellis was a cluster feeder and loved to be held. And I chose to feed him on demand — no measuring or fretting about the time on the clock. When he was hungry, I nursed him. When he needed to be consoled, I nursed him. When he just wanted to be held close, I nursed him.

This worked really well for us and I enjoyed it.  The thought of measuring and feeding on a scheduled time stressed me out. It was much more convenient for me to just nurse him whenever he wanted and not worry about pumping or feeding him at a specific time.

That’s not to say that breastfeeding was a breeze.

The first few weeks were actually pretty uncomfortable and painful for me. My nipples were so raw and sore that it hurt when Ellis latched on. And since he was feeding so often, I felt like I never got a break to let my nipples heal. Both my midwife and my mom tried to help me work on getting Ellis to latch properly, but it just took us awhile to find our rhythm.

I was a little discouraged at first because the books I had read about breastfeeding basically said that if it hurt you were doing it wrong or baby wasn’t latching properly. But honestly, I just think my body needed time to get used to this new uncharted territory. I was hopeful after talking to my mom about it and seeing a few posts on social media where other mamas said to just give it a few months.

For me quitting wasn’t an option. Yes it was a bit painful those first few weeks, but I knew that there was a light at the end of that tunnel. And sure enough, around the 3 month mark breastfeeding became a lot easier and more enjoyable for the both of us. And at that point I was so grateful that I had pushed through and stuck with it.

Long Days and Late Nights

I think the hardest part of breastfeeding for me has been being needed so much. For the first couple months, I felt like I lived on the couch in the living room nursing Ellis and holding him while he napped. I watched so much Netflix that I became sick of looking at the TV.

The late night feedings were especially lonely for me. Even with Brendan asleep in bed right beside me, there was nothing to keep me company besides silly puzzle games on my phone and the low hum of the radio in the background. I would try telling myself that I would miss these moments with my baby once he was grown, but that brought me little to no comfort. All I wanted was somebody there with me, somebody to talk to.

Those lonely nights broke me. I would hold Ellis close and sob from shear exhaustion. There were times when I really thought I couldn’t carry on feeling the way I did (this was because of postpartum depression and anxiety, not just breastfeeding. But that’s a story for another time). But in those weary times, God was there with me and I grew closer to Him than I had in years.

While those nights were extremely difficult for me physically and emotionally, we eventually found our rhythm. And then I learned to nurse Ellis while lying down (game changer) and we all got a little bit more sleep at night. Those first few months were challenging, but we made it and I absolutely love breastfeeding now.

Breastfeeding Today

Breastfeeding for us has changed quite a bit over the past several months. What started out as being a time to cuddle close and nourish Ellis with my milk, has turned into times of playful giggles and acrobatics while he nurses. Even though Ellis still nurses throughout the day and nurses to fall asleep just about every night, its nice to have shorter feedings and longer stretches of time between feedings.

Now that I have been nursing Ellis for 14 months, I can say that all of the time, effort, and tears have been a million times worth it. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything and I am so grateful that I have been able to nourish my baby this way.

However, I understand that breastfeeding is difficult for many women. Mamas, I want you to know that no matter what your journey looks like, you are not alone and you are no less of a mother for feeding your baby differently than I have done with my baby.

Support is one of the most helpful things we can give breastfeeding mamas! So if you have friends, family, or know of new mamas in your community that are starting out on their breastfeeding journey, reach out to them and offer them your love, support, and encouragement.

I will touch on breastfeeding tips, advice, and resources in another post soon. But for now I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite breastfeeding photos from the past year!

Postpartum Healing

I’ve wanted to take the time to sit down and write an entire blog post devoted to postpartum healing and recovery since I gave birth back in September. My body continues to amaze me every day with all that it has been through over the last 15 months and all it continues to do to help feed and nurture my son all while healing itself.

Birth is such a magical experience, but it does take a toll on our bodies. Not only do we need to recover physically, we also need to make sure we are mentally and emotionally recovering. I wanted to share a few of the steps I took to let my body heal itself naturally during the first few weeks postpartum.

Thanks to some wonderful advice from my amazing midwife and doula, I think my body healed very nicely.  I do want to point out that I am not a medical professional and it’s important for you to talk with your doctor or midwife to find what your body needs. What works for me might not work for, or even be healthy, for you!

Healing Physically

While my birth was an all-natural, non-medicated home birth, I did end up having a few set-backs that were not in my birth plan. I ended up having to be catheterized and I had an episiotomy that required suturing (I talk more about that in Ellis’ birth story). Due to these things my body was more prone to infection after birth, so my midwife suggested a lot of natural supplements I could take to make sure my body stayed healthy and healed properly.

As soon as my baby was born and in my arms, my midwife wanted me to eat something. I wasn’t hungry, but did as she said and ate a little something right away. Next thing I knew my husband and my birth team were taking turns getting me to sip various different drinks and take tinctures.

The first thing I was offered to drink was a homemade labor aid I had made ahead of time mixed with liquid chlorophyll. I was also given blue cohosh tea and cotton root bark right after Ellis was born. One was in the form of tea, the other a tincture.

Here’s a quick look at everything I’ve been taking to help my body heal naturally:

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  • Liquid Chlorophyll — My midwife recommended I have a 16oz bottle of liquid chlorophyll on hand for after the birth. Liquid Chlorophyll is known to build red blood cells and can help speed the healing of wounds. I lost a lot of blood during labor (half a quart is normal for a vaginal birth, I lost at least twice that much) and my midwife said I handled it very well. She recommended that I drink the whole bottle by the end of the week. Brendan mixed it into orange juice for me, and I drank that three times a day.

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  • Arnica — To help with the pain of cramps and bruising, I took 3 small tablets of Arnica every 4 hours. I had a bit of internal bruising and had some slight cramping of the uterus while nursing, so the Arnica was a homeopathic medicine to relieve that.
  • Motherwort Tincture — A Motherwort tincture by the brand Wish Garden was included in our home birth kit. I took this tincture to help with the cramping of my uterus, and it also helped with mood swings due to hormone imbalance. I took half a dropper full of this tincture a couple of times a day. I simply held the tincture under my tongue for 30 seconds and then swallowed. After I finished this tincture I started taking a Baby Blues tincture by Wish Garden, which has Motherwort and St. John’s Wort.
  • Vitamin C — There’s a lot that goes on in the body right after birth, that’s for sure. To make sure my immune system stayed strong and healthy, my midwife recommended I take 3,000mg of vitamin C a day. This was especially supposed to help keep my immune system functioning properly so I didn’t catch any illnesses.
  • Garlic — Garlic has natural antiviral properties and helps to strengthen the immune system to keep illness at bay. My midwife told me that I could eat foods cooked with garlic cloves, but I knew that I wouldn’t be in the kitchen with a newborn, so I opted for the garlic in supplement form and took that 3 times a day.
  • Goldenseal Root — Goldenseal Root is used for internal bleeding, bleeding after childbirth, and vaginal pain and swelling. My midwife had me take this 2 times a day.
  • Echinacea — My midwife told me to take an Echinacea supplement 3x a day for 5 days. This was to help strengthen my immune system so that I didn’t get sick.
  • Phytolacca Decandra — My milk came in 3 days after I had Ellis. My breasts were so swollen and engorged during those first few days and it was very uncomfortable. I have a lymph node on my underarm that is very sensitive to hormone imbalance and will become swollen when things aren’t right in my body. When my milk came in my lymph node became swollen right along with my breasts. My midwife recommended that I use a warm compress on it and also for me to take Phytolacca Decandra to help with the swelling and draining of the lymph node. Thankfully my local health food store had it on hand!

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  • Herbal Sitz Bath — An afterbirth herbal sitz bath from the brand Lucy’s Garden was included in our home birth kit. My midwife recommended that I get a sitz bath that I could put on the toilet and use. I took a sitz bath 2x a day for 15 minutes.

Aside from the above, I did lots of resting, iced my perineum using frozen maxi pads that had aloe vera and witch hazel or raw coconut oil on them, and I used a natural cooling perineum spray by Earth Mama Organics.

The only non-natural things I used for my healing were an over-counter numbing agent my midwife used when she did my sutures, and then I think I took 2 ibuprofen within the first couple days of giving birth for the swelling. And that’s it. No epidural, no IVs, no numbing perineum spray, etc.

Brendan took such good care of me in the first two weeks after having Ellis. He cooked for me, did laundry, changed so many diapers, brewed my herbal sitz baths every day, made sure I was keeping up with all of my supplements, fixed my chlorophyll orange juice, and made sure I was eating and drinking enough water.

I think we mamas underestimate how important it is to simply rest and let our bodies heal after giving birth. I followed my midwife’s advice and stayed inside and didn’t drive for 2 weeks. If you are able to stay home and have someone care for you during the first 2 weeks (or the first month) after giving birth please do so! In doing so you’ll be able to give your baby the attention they need while also giving your body time to recover. Take this time to focus on healing and getting to know and bond with your baby.