Our two children were raised a bit differently: Jackson has been breastfed exclusively for almost six months, and will be for another six more. Avery was not so easy, and he had to switch to formula around three months old. We also did not discover cloth diapering until Jackson was three months old, and not at all with Avery, so he wore disposables until the day he turned two. My kids slept differently, started eating differently, and had very different temperaments. Avery cried constantly, wouldn’t sleep more than two hours (and took two years to start sleeping through the night!), and was always a very serious baby, not smiling often until he was about six months old. Jackson is easy peasy, always smiling (and smiling early, only a couple of weeks old), only cries when his immediate life needs aren’t met, and came home from the hospital sleeping five hours at a time (all night by 2-3 weeks old).
All of these differences can probably be attributed to basic personality differences, but not all of it. It’s possible that Avery is my high-strung, terrible sleeping, overly analytical little miniature; Jackson could be Big Daddy’s free-wheeling, optimistic, everyone-loves-him, Mr. Popular, little counterpart, but I like to think that we at least learned a thing or two between our first and second babies. Here’s what we did differently:
With Avery, I was very self-conscious about breastfeeding. I tried using blankets and stuff to cover up, but you can’t really see what you’re doing with a blanket over the baby. And a first-time breastfeeding mama really needs to see what’s going on down there. At first I tried to go into a room away from everyone else (or a bathroom if I was out in public), get Avery latched on, cover up with a blanket, and then join the rest of my family or friends. This didn’t work very well, because every time Avery broke his latch, I’d have to get up, leave, relatch, and return. It was exhausting and I eventually took to just going someplace else to nurse my baby. I missed a lot of family functions and get togethers with our friends that way.
After awhile of this, I started pumping all the time instead. I was literally so self-conscious (and in so much pain!) that it was easier on my mind and my nipples to just pump and bottle-feed Avery. To this day, I don’t know why breastfeeding him was so much more painful, it just was. But my breasts didn’t take well to pumping (still don’t) and I started pumping less and less each day. Eventually, there was nothing to pump and that was the end of breastfeeding for Avery. He was about 2 1/2, maybe 3 months old.
What we did differently on the second go-round
For Jackson, the differences started in the hospital. I packed my Medela hand pump with us in my hospital bag and starting pumping (not much came out at first, but then again that wasn’t the point) to trick my body into thinking I had a super hungry baby. The more you nurse (or pump, or both) the more milk your body produces. By starting that process right after Jackson was born, I set myself up for huge milk production.
My milk came in after Jackson was born before we even came home from the hospital. And once we got home from the hospital, I was producing ridiculous amounts of milk for a tiny baby that didn’t need hardly anything to satisfy his tiny tummy yet. One day I pumped and bagged 24 ounces of milk, in addition to still nursing the baby! (Not with a hand pump, of course. I’m not that strong. At home I use the Medela Pump in Style.)
A week, maybe a week and a half after Jackson was born, the nipple soreness really set in. But since we weren’t struggling so hard to breastfeed, and I had plenty of milk, it was easily cured this time! Air drying (yes, that means walking around with your boobs out for awhile after every feeding and wearing only baggy shirts without bras, every moment that it’s humanly possible), a little lanolin, and I was good to go.
Another reason my boobs didn’t give me so much trouble the second time around is because I nursed all. the. time. I only pumped extra milk to store, I never fed it to Jackson at all if we were together (which was always until he was a couple months old). I was able to overcome my self-consciousness breastfeeding in public by one essential addition to my diaper bag: a nursing cover.
When Avery was a baby, I thought that nursing covers were a silly waste of money. It works the same as a blanket, right? Well, it doesn’t. With a blanket, you can’t see what you’re doing. Unless you’re experienced and can latch your baby on without seeing what you’re doing, a blanket is definitely not the same thing. With a nursing cover (a good one, anyway), there is boning at the top in the shape of a semi-circle that keeps the top of the cover held back just enough so that you can see your baby, see what you’re doing when you’re trying to latch, but doesn’t stick out far enough to show your boobs. This meant that I could breastfeed anytime, anywhere, without worrying about who was going to see me. And being able to nurse exclusively meant that breastfeeding came easier. More nursing, more milk. Less stress, more milk. It’s like magic!
Eventually, though, the milk did start to wane. I think I just don’t naturally produce the amount of milk necessary. I have to work for it. So I do. I work hard. I pump after nursing, to send that crucial message to my body that my baby is still hungry. I do all the kooky breast massage that the books talk about. And when I see milk production still drop, I drink tea.
I had seen this tea after Avery was done breastfeeding, but I figured it wouldn’t work – plus we hadn’t nursed in a month or so already – so I skipped it. But after Jackson was born, I asked the hospital’s lactation consultant about this product. She sort of gave me a wink and said something like, “It’s policy that I not recommend herbal products. But I can tell you that it might be helpful.” (Wink, wink.) So I had my grandmother buy some for me to be waiting when we got home. I can’t tell you for sure that it works, because more than one factor is at play, but I’m pretty sure that it does. I definitely feel more engorged first thing in the morning if I drink this stuff at night. And there are other options, too. There are fenugreek (that’s the main lactation-supporting herb in the tea) tablets and some other herbs, too. But I actually like the taste of the tea, with the addition of one Splenda packet, so I stick with that.
I can’t say exactly which of all these things made breastfeeding easier, but my guess is all of them, at least a little bit. If I had to pick one single difference between Avery and Jackson’s newborn and infant phase that really made the difference – it would probably be the nursing cover. I really think that one simple purchase made all the difference. I hope it carries us through Jackson’s entire first year of breastfeeding!