Gin & Zin

Tillie’s Mom~ Adventures with Breastfeeding

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Meet Casey~

I’m a playful yet practical, outspoken yet introspective, courageous yet cautious gal who loves making things with my hands, planning parties, playing strategy games and drinking red wine (preferably a good Malbec).

I’m also a Mama to a 2 ½-year-old little wild child named Matilda, whom we affectionately call Tillie. She’s an extremely verbal, inquisitive and energetic little thing who is always two steps ahead of me – both physically and mentally. She is the reason I strive to be a better person than I was the day before.

Five years ago I married the boy of my dreams (who I met in 3rd grade) who makes the most delicious French onion soup you’ll ever taste and somehow manages to turn even the most ordinary days into adventures. Our little family of three lives in a teeny house in the county with our two cats and we are expecting our second (and final) baby girl this August.

After being a stay-at-home-mama for the first year and a half of my daughter’s life, I finally went back to work part-time. I find that working 20-hours a week helps me better manage my time and makes me appreciate the days I get to spend with my daughter all to myself.

My biggest strength as a mom is probably is my willingness to put myself in my daughter’s tiny little shoes and try to see the world from her perspective. I’m not saying I do this every moment of every day, but especially when we are facing challenging phases, new situations or just difficult moments. I try to take a step back from what is going on in my own mind, imagine how she must be viewing the situation and try to get on her level. I often think to myself, “How would it feel to be so small and have so little control over the things that happen in my own life?” Consequently, I try (as much as time and my patience will allow) to give her as much autonomy as possible. This is much easier said than done, but it’s something I actively work towards and try to be conscious of.

When time permits, I love to catch up with my girlfriends and have a REAL conversation without 27 interruptions. When not pregnant, these girl dates often include coffee, wine or cocktails that I get to sip (again) uninterrupted.  (Side note: I think my personal hashtag should just be #lifeinterrupted). I also love going out to eat with my husband and eating delicious food that someone else has  prepared off dishes that someone else will wash (it’s the little luxuries.) We cook at home A LOT so sitting down to a leisurely meal in a restaurant without trying to coax every other bite into our toddler’s mouth feels like a vacation. I also have wild dreams of holing up in café for an entire day with just my laptop and some NPR podcasts to work on finishing some very overdue photo books. A girl can dream…

When we discussed different topics, you had a few in mind, but this one bubbled to the top. What made you want to share your breastfeeding story with us?

When I was pregnant with Tillie, one of the very first vivid dreams I had about motherhood was nursing my baby. I had no idea how to do it, what it would feel like or what it would look like, but I knew I would love it. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world to me – something my body was quite literally designed to do. Soon after she was born, I quickly found out that although all the ‘equipment’ is in place for breastfeeding – boobs, nipples, colostrum, milk, arms, baby – it was not as easy as I thought it was going to be. It was a learning process for both me and my baby and I wish someone would have shared that with me in the beginning. As we progressed through our breastfeeding journey, different challenges and issues arose:  milk supply, latching, blisters, pumping, biting, pinching, weaning. But even with all the challenges, breastfeeding was without a doubt one of my favorite facets of early motherhood. I hope that our experience might resonant with other new mamas out there who are facing some initial challenges.

Share with us your story about breastfeeding your firstborn babe:

As a quick back story: Matilda was born in the tub at a birth center after 10 hours of labor. She was 9 pounds 7 ounces and looked like a (not so tiny) sumo wrestler.  We were able to leave the birth center and head home just a few hours after she was born. And while I had been able to get her to latch while we were recovering at the birth center, I felt a little adrift once I got home. It’s like all the information from our breastfeeding classes, the books I had read and all the instructions from my midwives went in one ear and right out of my vagina once she was born.

To be entirely honest, I was a painfully awkward breastfeeder at first. I held my baby in strange and uncomfortable positions to try to get the latch just right. I tensed my shoulders and kinked my arms with unnecessary effort. I need ALL THE PILLOWS in place to even attempt to nurse her and would get anxious if everything wasn’t *just* right. After about two or three months, I had developed de Quervain’s tenosynovitis (swelling of the tendons near the thumb) which was extremely painful and was caused, at least in part, from the awkward positions I was trying to nurse my baby in. I was also pretty obsessive about using the breastfeeding app on my phone, which tracked how long she nursed, how frequently and which side she was nursing on. To say that nursing my baby felt like a full-time job (and one that I didn’t particularly enjoy) is an understatement.

What ideas or instruction did you have regarding breastfeeding? Did you have other women surrounding you with their nipples out?

We were living in San Luis Obispo when my daughter was born and I was very fortunate to be in a community with so many wonderful resources for new moms! There were free classes on a variety of topics, organized gatherings, Nursing Nooks in lots of shops and businesses and tons of local online groups to join.

Things started to change for me when I began attending a mama-meet-up group which was geared specifically toward breastfeeding. It was a very comfortable environment and was led by a registered nurse and lactation consultant. At the meets ups, mamas had the opportunity to weigh their naked little babies on a scale, nurse during the meeting and then weigh the baby again when the meeting was finished. Because exclusively-breastfeeding mamas never really know exactly how much milk their babies are getting, this was a nice way to measure the intake on a weekly basis. In addition to the technical aspect of these meetings, the questions and conversations we had in this group, coupled with seeing all these lovely mamas nursing together in one room, really helped boost my confidence. I realized that many of the struggles I was having were quite universal and I also realized that many people had it way harder than I did! It really helped me put things into perspective.

I ended up scheduling a few private sessions with the lactation consultant which was the best decision I could have made. She taught me about ‘laid back breastfeeding’ which both helped me relax while nursing and regulated my strong let down.* She showed me how to effectively hand express my milk, which helped with my extremely over-producing right boob that would literally fire hose my daughter in the face with milk when she tried to nurse from it. And most of all, she helped build my confidence and made me trust my intuition as a mama. She helped me stop stressing out about numbers: minutes of feeding, number of feedings, ounces gained, ounces lost, diapers dirtied.

I am forever grateful for those sessions and my only regret is that I didn’t do them sooner. I highly recommend meeting with a certified lactation consultant – either in the hospital or birth center or finding one in your community. Their knowledge and expertise is unmatched and I think all new mamas could benefit from it, even if things are going smoothly.

What are you most proud of about the feeding journey? Is there anything you would have done differently?

After Tillie and I found our breastfeeding groove, I enjoyed nearly every second of breastfeeding! I loved the heavy weight of her on my chest or snuggled up beside me. I loved the little sounds she made. I loved her sleepy little milk-drunk smiles and how she would drift off to sleep when she was full. After gaining my confidence and becoming more relaxed while nursing, I found I could do it anywhere and didn’t need all those silly pillows or that phone app. Tillie and I were both much happier when I was nursing whenever and wherever the need arose, which in turn improved other aspects of those early months.

I had no plan or expectation about how long we would breastfeed. I trusted both my baby and my body to tell me when it might be time to wean. By six months she had started to experiment with solid food and a little after a year she was getting most of her nutrition from solids, so nursing was more supplemental. But emotionally we both still needed it. So we nursed at nap time and bed time. We nursed if she got hurt or scared. We nursed (A LOT) when she was sick.

About a month after Tillie turned two years old, nursing somehow stopped being enjoyable for me. She started being very distracted and rather rough with me (more biting, more stretching of the nipples, more scratching) and I started resenting our nursing time instead of looking forward it. So I started to wean her, offering cuddles and singing when she asked for milk. I’m not going to lie, it was awful! It was heartbreaking and I felt like a bad mom. I questioned myself. I wondered if I was being selfish. I felt like I was depriving her. But slowly, she started to getting used to our new routines. She slowly stopped asking for milk as often. As the realization set in that we would probably not go back to nursing, I regressed a few times and let her nurse. And then I immediately remembered why I stopped. It just wasn’t working for me anymore. What I didn’t know at the time was that I had become pregnant during this weaning transition and I often wonder if the pregnancy hormones somehow sent a signal that it was time to be done. She stopped nursing at 26 months.

All in all, I am very proud of our breastfeed experience: Of overcoming challenges. Of supplying her with both nutrition and nourishment for as long as I did. Of trusting my body and my intuition.

How will this experience impact your second time breastfeeding?

I hope, hope, HOPE that nursing my second babe will be a bit easier this time! While I know all babies are different, I just feel more confident with the knowledge that I gained with Tillie and the experiences we went through and I hope that will translate into a more relaxed ME this second time around. I will also know to reach out for help sooner if things prove to be challenging.

Tillie is still very interested and curious about nursing. She asks about my boobs and milk all the time. She often walks around with her baby doll to her chest saying “baby’s having milk right now.” She very interested when she sees other moms nursing their babies. I tell her when her little sister comes, I will have milk again because that’s the only things babies know how to eat. She asks if she can have some milk too. I tell her of course, that babies LOVE to share (HA!). We’ll see if she actually wants to nurse again when that time comes, but I’m open to the idea!

* You can also learn about “laid back breastfeeding in La Leche League’s book The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, which I HIGHLY recommend.

Casey and her growing family!

Casey, It is so refreshing to hear that you had a wonderful outcome after many weeks of challenges! Best wishes to your baby girl #2 coming up soon!

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