Happy World Breastfeeding Week, everyone! As a breastfeeding mom, so far I have spent 39 months and 2 weeks breastfeeding my kids. Zoe nursed until 18 months, Finn nursed until 21 months, and my newborn, Emma, has been nursing for 2 weeks. Breastfeeding is a big deal to me personally. I’ve learned SO much about motherhood and myself from my breastfeeding journey. Allow me to walk you down my breastfeeding journeys so far. And stick with me because I want to do a big giveaway at the end to one lucky reader!
When I was pregnant with Zoe, I literally thought breastfeeding was as easy as “Baby, boob. Boob, baby. Baby nurses. Pump when you need to have milk on hand.” The end. Oh how wrong and naive I was. Breastfeeding in the hospital, I asked for a lactation consultant at every single feed. I remember them saying it was like you needed 4 sets of hands to feel like you’ve got the hang of it. And indeed, I felt like if I had 8 arms like an octopus then I could master it. Then we went home from the hospital. My milk came in with a vengeance on Day 3. I’m talking literally rock hard boobs three to four times their normal size. These were not the same breasts I had been working with for the last two days. The “sandwich technique” they give in the hospital was suddenly impossible. There was no squishing these things to get Zoe’s latch right. I did the best I could and latched her on at every feeding. I curled my toes when she would latch on because it hurt so badly. I was leaking milk because I was so full. I was in considerable pain and that coupled with the feelings of Baby Blues/Post-Partum Anxiety were overwhelming. It all came to a head when my sister, Jill, cheerfully called to see how I was doing and how breastfeeding was going. I surprised even myself when I broke down sobbing on the phone to her. She told me she would be over as quick as she could. She helped me work on some things and encouraged me to go to the lactation circle offered at the hospital I delivered in.
I got some help that I needed at the lactation circle and nursing was just slightly better. But I was still in great amounts of pain. Around that time, I visited my other sister in the hospital who was on bed rest pregnant with her third at the time. When she mentioned to the nurses that I was having trouble breastfeeding, that I had dry, cracked, bleeding nipples, they had a suggestion. It was a nipple shield. It’s a clear silicone super flexible piece that goes directly over the nipple and has holes for the milk to come out of. In my state of desperation to make it even a little bit better, I sent my husband, Tony, out for one. He brought it back and it was a little slice of heaven. I could nurse without pain and I decided I didn’t care how long I had to use this thing for, it made my life as a breastfeeding mom about 100 times better. We used it until Zoe was about 4 or 5 months old. One day she went to latch on and the shield fell off. She managed to successfully latch without it and I said goodbye to my trusty shield. We went on to nurse until she was 18 months old and weaned herself. In that time, I played the pumping game at work — I pumped at least twice daily for 30 minutes each time. It was a huge commitment but I was determined to make it work. It became one of my proudest accomplishments considering the rough start. By the end, I never even had to think how to latch her, where I would latch her, or how I would cover. It was our every day and it was our norm.
My second baby, Finn, came along and I knew nursing may have its challenges, but this time we had a whole new set of challenges. Little baby Finn decided he wasn’t going to ever take a pacifier and never did want a bottle. Nursing started off with a similar start, but one I was now prepared for. And in the same fashion that Zoe’s started out, he ate great in the hospital but when my milk came in on Day 3, I was again left with different sized breasts than I did in the hospital. I very distinctly remember needing to pump to relieve some engorgement. It was maybe day 5 and in about 3 minutes time, I had two bottles with about 4 oz each in them and I was still FULL of milk. I was engorged, I had clogged ducts, and his latch wasn’t great. After nursing him, I was left with nipples that looked like a new tube of lipstick, which is a sign of an improper latch. He was only getting the nipple and clamping down his gums thus causing a distinct line of pain, soreness, and bleeding. I again went to lactation circle and received help. I very distinctly remember a 3am feeding with him where I begged and pleaded with him out loud, “Please don’t hurt me. Let’s just get through this one feeding without hurting me.” I cried, I curled my toes, and I bit my lip. And then by some miracle, his latch was better, and we were off on our nursing journey and it was amazing! During our 21 months of nursing, however, I was met with a variety of challenges. I had clogged ducts, I had mastitis, he and I both developed thrush multiple times, and as I mentioned, he would NOT take a bottle.
As it turns out, I had something called excess lipase. Lipase is an enzyme in everyone’s breast milk. I happened to have it in excess, which meant when I pumped my milk, once it had a chance to break down (in the fridge or freezer), it would develop a rancid/soapy/sour taste. Nutritionally, it was fine. Taste-wise, it was awful. I found out one day in an attempt to try to understand why Finn wouldn’t take a bottle. Prior to that day, we thought it was that he didn’t like the bottles we were using and because of it, we tried about 15 different brands of bottles. And then I decided to taste the pumped milk I was giving him. I gagged and gagged again. I suddenly understood why he was refusing my pumped milk. It tasted terrible. And from then on, it was like he thought that anything but mom was going to be awful and he wouldn’t take it. So, I fed Finn for every single feeding until he started getting solids a little after a year old. I felt fortunate that since I was staying home with my kids that I didn’t have the additional burden of going to work and wondering how he would eat. I was his food source. It was tiring and I often felt like my life revolved around a 2-3 hour window. But the best part was that I never had to worry about forgetting a bottle at home. I was his food source, and it just became a way of life for us – the every day. And my favorite part about this journey was that all of the milk I had pumped (prior to realizing the lipase issue), I was able to donate to a couple different local moms. One had triplets and the other one had a desire to breastfeed, but her body didn’t want to cooperate. Her little guy didn’t mind the excess lipase and took my pumped milk just fine! It was definitely the silver lining in all of it. At 21 months, Finn weaned himself on our vacation in Gulf Shores. We came back from vacation and he woke up crying one night. I went to comfort him like I usually did— with nursing. I picked him out of his crib, sat him in my lap in the glider, and said, “Finn, do you want some milk?” to which he shook his head and replied, “No.” and just snuggled into me so tightly. And that was the bittersweet end to our nursing journey. I nearly cried in *his* arms that night because it was just so definitively over.
Now I’m two weeks into my journey with my youngest, Emma. I have already gotten to the point of the new tube of lipstick shaped nipple from a poor latch. She latched on wonderfully when we were in the ambulance ride to the hospital, and nursed for what seemed like HOURS. She had a perfect flange of her lips and her latch looked great. When we packed up to go home, I put my bra on and didn’t think about it until we got home and Emma needed to eat again. Suddenly I realized my nipples were basically glued to my bra and right there on my very first day after ripping my bra off, my nipples were bleeding. I couldn’t believe it. So, out came the lanolin, the All Purpose Nipple Ointment, and the reusable nursing pads. I was determined to heal and to heal fast. One night I went to feed her before bed and the pain wasn’t gone in the three-second time span that it should be. It lasted and finally I had to unlatch her. I was in tears and it was then that I thought, “Oh my god! I have my shield! If I can just get through the night with that, we can work on her latch thereafter!” I grabbed it from the baby items we had tucked away and voila! Pain was gone and she was eating well. I went to the lactation circle at the Mercy Birthing Center a few days later and they helped me with positioning. She latched well and it was pain free. We are still occasionally using the shield until I can completely get her latch right every time, but nursing is going well and she’s gaining weight appropriately. I call that a success. Who knows what will come for the rest of our nursing journey, but for now, I am thrilled with what we’ve accomplished so far!
For me, breastfeeding has been: hard, draining, rewarding, a learning experience, and one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. I’ve learned I have grit I never knew existed in me. I have perseverance. I’ve learned how strong I am. I’ve learned I have will power beyond my own expectations. I’ve learned my body and mind are capable of being pushed to the brink and able to overcome challenges I didn’t know I would face. I’ve learned about character and how to truly support other moms in their journey — whether that journey was for a week or for 4 years or more.
I absolutely love hearing about a woman’s breastfeeding journey —their triumphs, their perceived “failures”, and their drive. With my documentary photography, I aim to tell a story — a story of the seemingly minute, the every day, the tiny details that are all too quickly forgotten in life but encompass so much of our every day. Breastfeeding became the norm for me with each of my kids despite the challenges we met along the way. I didn’t think twice when my little sweet babies or toddlers would need to nurse. I knew I was giving them the best start I could. It can start to seem like “just another thing” you do which is why I only have a few nursing photos over the 39 months and two weeks of me breastfeeding (which I aim to change). Breastfeeding can look so different for each of us, but it is something to be documented and to be celebrated just like the other details in life with kids.
I encourage you to have some of your “normal” documented and I want to start with you, dear readers. In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I want to hear your breastfeeding stories. Comment on my blog and tell me your story or your partner/wife’s story about breastfeeding. Have you offered support for a breastfeeding friend or relative? I want to hear about it!
At the end of World Breastfeeding week, I will draw one lucky winner who will receive a complimentary 1-hour documentary photo session* with yours truly! I want to document a slice of your “everyday”! What does that look like for you? Is that breastfeeding 12 times a day? Is that coloring, playing Play-Doh, riding bikes, shooting water guns, taking baths, making pancakes with your kids? Is that playing with your dogs, spending time with your already grown children, or spending time with your grandkids? This is open to everyone who is a proud supporter of breastfeeding with a breastfeeding story whether you breastfed your own kids or not! Comment below with your story!
*Session must take place in St. Louis, MO. Session will take place within 2 months from date of issue.
As a St. Louis Documentary Photographer, Katie Gaeta Photography aims to capture and nurture your every day life as it unfolds in messy, chaotic, beautiful ways in relationships among your family, spouse, loved ones, kids, friends, and pets.