By Taryn Lagonigro
When I was pregnant with my first daughter in 2011, I set zero expectations for myself for breastfeeding. I knew I wanted to, but I just wasn’t sure what to expect and how it would go. Fortunately, she latched right away and after a painful first few days, we established nursing fairly easily. I started out by setting a three-month goal for myself, bringing me to around when I would be returning to work. I had a busy job as a project manager at the time and I didn’t expect to be able to pump on the go. When I got back to work I was put on a large long-term project for one customer, so I was able to pump twice a day at work. Thanks to some supplemental formula, we were able to breastfeed until she was ten months old when she, an independent lady from the start, decided she was over it.
My second and third daughters were about the same. Other than stressful “bottle bootcamp” transitions when I went back to work, we had relatively easy journeys until they were each a year old. I loved that special time with them and was always sad when our nursing journey would come to an end.
When I got Rhea’s diagnosis of Down syndrome, and her subsequent heart diagnosis, I was basically convinced we wouldn’t be able to breastfeed because of things the doctors said and things I was reading on Dr Google. I was told that her low muscle tone would make breastfeeding a challenge, and her heart defect could mean she might need help feeding early on. This was a heartbreaking reality for me. If she was my first child, I might not have taken this so hard, but because I had that experience with each of her sisters, it was really important to me, but I obviously would do what was best for her.
When Rhea was born, she was immediately whisked off to the NICU. After carrying a baby for 9 months, it’s very hard not to have them with you in those precious hours and days after birth. As I was recovering, if I wasn’t in the NICU, I was pumping to establish a supply. My milk came in fairly quickly and we were able to give that to her through the feeding tube and ultimately the bottle. When she was discharged, I asked if there was any reason I couldn’t try nursing. At the moment there was no medical reason she couldn’t, but I was told it might be difficult once again.
When we got home, she latched! I was full of joy for this moment. For those first couple days, we did a mix of pumped milk and nursing. When she went to her first pediatrician appointment, however, we learned that she didn’t gain any weight since leaving the hospital. We decided to put her on fortified breastmilk, meaning adding some formula to pumped milk to make it high calorie. Because of Rhea’s heart defect, she burned a lot of calories naturally because her heart was working harder. So for two months, until she had open heart surgery, I exclusively pumped to give her the fortified milk through a bottle. This was hands down the hardest part of my long breastfeeding journey. I felt like I was never not pumping or feeding! But during that time, I would nurse her for a few minutes each day. I was hoping to exclusively nurse her after surgery, so I wanted her to have an established latch.
A few weeks after her surgery, we got clearance to stop the fortified milk and we were able to start nursing throughout the day. I was overjoyed that this thing I thought wouldn’t be possible was now our reality. Having that time with her, the same as I had my other girls, meant the world to me.
When Rhea was about 15 months old, we stopped nursing. As with my other girls, it was Rhea’s decision! I was sad when it was over, because it was also the end of my overall breastfeeding journey. I am so grateful to my body for being able to feed all of my babies, with the help of formula along the way and a lot of hard work!
Here are some of my tips for anyone approaching a breastfeeding journey:
· See beyond the first few days. The early days of breastfeeding are HARD and often painful. That is rarely how it always is, but it’s hard to see that the first few days. When you are full of hormones and completely exhausted, you might think this is always how it’s going to be. If you are committed to breastfeeding, try to take it one day at a time and know that it generally gets easier.
· Do it for you and baby, no one else. Maybe your sister-in-law perfectly breastfed for 2 years and your cousin’s wife was a natural too. That’s great for them! But don’t feed into pressure. If breastfeeding isn’t your thing or isn’t working for you, don’t do it to keep up with those people. Stressing yourself out isn’t helpful for anyone.
· Set small goals – take the pressure off and don’t look at breastfeeding as a mountain to climb. Start out with whatever you think is realistic, like breastfeeding until you go back to work or pumping for a few months. If its working, keep going!
· If you have to pump, make it fun! I did not enjoy pumping, so I incorporated things into that time that would make me look forward to it…like reading, podcasts, or a favorite show.
· Get help! Reach out to local lactation consultants or breastfeeding groups. Often these are covered by insurance and can help you with latching issues, tips for clogged ducts and other common issues in the early days.
And remember, however you are feeding your baby is the right way. Good luck mamas!