What I Learned My First Year of Breastfeeding

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I hit my breastfeeding goal on Sunday when my first child, Avery, turned one. It was Mother’s Day, and a perfect time to reflect on my time as a mom.

The last 12 months have been exhausting and rewarding; lonely and full of companionship. I'm ready to have my body back but will miss that skin to skin. Looking at this little girl who’s grown from 8 to 24 pounds, gone from barely being able to hold her head up to walking, I realize that I’ve not only fueled her growth; I’ve grown too. A lot. As this first year comes to a close, here are 8 things I've learned.

1. Get a lactation consultant.

I took full advantage of the lactation help available at the hospital, calling a nurse into my room every time Avery latched. I asked, “Am I holding her right? Does this latch look good? Does she have enough of my areola? What is an areola?” They watched as we learned this breastfeeding thing together, reguided us as needed, and helped me understand multiple positions and how to hand express. They also gave me two bags worth of free gear. Even though it was just some oversized pads, disposable underwear and a hand pump,I felt like I’d won the lottery. Your company's insurance may cover a lactation consultant service and your OBGYN office should have names on file. Definitely a good time to ask a friend for her recommendation!

2. Build your village.

Identify the people in your life who can support you. Engorgement was no joke for me, I looked like I had BAD implants and could only sleep on my back somewhat upright and constantly felt like I was forcing Avery to do a breastmilk shotgun. When I could stand it no longer, I texted a bunch of mama friends, and a phone explosion of support later, I was in the side-lying position while my husband fetched  cabbage and frozen corn from the grocery store. Sweet relief!

3. Rent and borrow gear when you can.

I cannot wait to get rid of the nursing bras I have been wearing for the past year. I plan to store them in my attic—or burn them!—but I would also happily lend them to a new mama.

4. Set up a nursing zone (or two).

My husband rigged one side of our couch as a nursing zone. He ran an extension cord with a surge protector to the side table and plugged in my pump, cell phone, and computer charger. He filled my huge water bottle up each morning before leaving and placed it on the table with a healthy snack:a cup of nuts, peanut-butter filled pretzels or a  granola bar. (In early months, I kept the pain meds and nipple cream there, as well.)

5. Schedule date nights, workouts, “you time.”

Budget for, or enlist the help of friends/family, for a couple hours a week for a date night with your partner, to work out with a friend (or solo), to sit on a park bench, embracing the silence and your unburdened arms. Heck, have the babysitter take the baby on a walk and do crazy things like shower or go to the bathroom without an audience. PARTY ON, MAMA!

6. Take all advice with a whole cup of salt.

This rule perhaps applies most strongly to advice found on the Internet. “The squeakiest wheel gets the oil” definitely applies to Mommy boards. I’ve found that the loudest, most opinionated mamas—not necessarily the wisest, most helpful, or most calming—are the ones posting the most. Also, most mamas are visiting those boards in desperation so it’s always the worst story. (Side note: If you’re worried something might be wrong, don’t Google your child’s physical symptoms. Just don’t.)

7. Practice going back to work.

Get up in the morning, pack your lunch and your pump bag, etc. Run through your new routine. You will feel like a sherpa the first few weeks but at some point it will become your new normal. 

8. Plan ahead for travel.

Always carry a hand pump in case of emergencies, have the TSA guidelines on traveling with breastmilk bookmarked on your phone, and download the Mamava mobile app to help you find dignified, clean places to pump/nurse along the way. If you're with your baby, an extra set of clothes for both of you is always a good call, as well. When you’re traveling for work or for personal reasons, knowing where a Mamava suite is so you can pump or nurse in a quiet, private place can be a lifesaver. I got my baby to fall asleep before we boarded the flight, making it the easiest trip in the world, or I got to pump my bottles away from my baby and knew they were safe and clean. Godsend.

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