In motherhood, there are different challenges that are more or less difficult to take up. For some of us, pregnancy or childbirth might be the biggest, for me the number one challenge was breastfeeding.
I breastfed my two daughters: Ellis for 5-6 months (actually five, but I like to say almost six), as well as Panda. She is now 8 months old, breastfeeding her now, and I probably would have stopped breastfeeding her when you read this article.
I have a very ambivalent feeling about breastfeeding. I like it more than anything but sometimes, I hate it more than anything as well.
Breastfeeding is amazing. It's amazing because it's something very primal, animal and instinctive, but also because it's a challenger full of feelings and emotions, it exposes us to a very vulnerable moment in our lives.
We already put our body to work for 41 weeks to create this perfect little baby, then we are confronted with an incredible new experience, as compelling as it is enriching because it requires total devotion. Breastfeeding is like having a second job, in fact it’s being in addition to one’s job at the head of a multinational company, because during this period, there are us, our hormones, our baby and our breasts to manage. It's a lot of people!
We must remember that we have just run a marathon to give birth: fatigue, excitement, stress, but also all the hormones released when we delivered can create an explosive kind of emotional cocktail.
An instinct not so instinctive
I have the feeling that a lot of information is at our disposal (anything and everything sometimes!) about childbirth and pregnancy, but as far as breastfeeding is concerned, I think we don’t talk enough about it, or at least we talk about it badly and most of all, we are not given any right tip to be ready for it. Actually, it’s the way I felt.
However, I do not complain, I had two super easy breastfeeding experiences, I had enough milk for my two babies, my husband supported me (in every sense of the word) ... But it does not take anything away from the fact that breastfeeding remains a real challenge for many reasons.
Here are some of them, that came to my mind, and which punctuated the breastfeeding of my daughters:
First of all…
Nobody tells you that your little "85A" will become a "110 double D" in three days, that your breasts will be so big that you could almost put your head on it, or that more seriously you will not even be able to hang your arms along your body because your breasts will have (so to speak) taken the place of your shoulders.
Nobody really tells you what to do when your breasts produce nearly half a liter of milk a day while your newborn baby drinks just 100 ml (!!) on that same day.
Nobody tells you that each of these drops of milk are as precious as white gold and deserve to be saved.
I wish I had been given valuable advice. I pass on the one that midwives give that is to squeeze your breasts that are literally as hard as concrete, under a hot shower to relieve them. For me, it was like pressing hard on a hematoma or an open wound. It never worked, I just felt terribly bad, I’d rather bang my head against the walls because of pain.
Why are we also always advised to use this huge electric pump to rent at the pharmacy? It weighs 45kg, which would eventually replace your pretty bouquet of flowers on your coffee table, and trap you at home making the task as heavy as the machine itself?
Who explains you that your milk production can disappear as quickly as it arrived if you do not breastfeed regularly (or express your breast milk)?
Who tells you about breast engorgements and the pain they can cause?
On my side, nobody.
We all have our problems and our fears about breastfeeding, which is obviously a very personal experience, but it seems to me that we all have a common fear of not having enough milk to feed our child, right?
So, here's my story, not because it's more interesting than another, but because breastfeeding took a lot of space and time in my life, it aroused a lot of questions and taught me a lot about myself as a mother and as a woman, and I just wanted to share it with you.
I am very lucky that my twin sister Caroline (@threesevenparis) breastfed her first daughter Muse (6 weeks older than my daughter Ellis). She breastfed as a champion for 9 months.
Muse was that kind of "Michelin" baby, with milky skin and lots of little beads. I'm still stunned today when I think that it is the mini breasts of hers who have, alone, made such a big and beautiful baby.
But even for Caroline, who had a lot of milk, it was not always easy, especially because of a few engorgements episodes that put her down for 4 days with a strong fever.
The engorgement can happen either when the breast is too full (that's why it is necessary to express the milk with a pump), or if the breast is not sufficiently emptied (it can happen if you breastfeed on the side for example). You see, it's technical.
In case of engorgement, put rubbing alcohol on compresses, and put them in your bra or bandage your breasts, and keep expressing your milk / feeding your child. That worked for us anyway!
When our daughters were born, we were both living in New York City and used to meet with our husbands and babies, at each others’ places. This period was magical and they probably are the best memories of my life.
I admired how easily my sister breastfed her daughter.
For my part, it was a little more difficult because I had appointments everywhere in the city, and despite my good will to put my electric pump in my bag every time I left home, I have to admit that it was not easy to find several times a day to take 20-30 minutes to express my milk.
Very quickly, my milk production dropped, and Ellis got used to the flow of the bottle.
My technique was to pinch the nipple of her bottle to slow down the flow and claim that it was like my breast, it worked for a while ...
Beyond all these technical aspects, breastfeeding is truly magical. It is an extremely privileged moment with one’s baby that we discover from a completely different angle and I hope I’ll remember forever all these moments. To see them turn into a thirsty little animal, and see their body curling with happiness when they swallow their first drop, in my opinion, nothing is stronger than that.
It is also very satisfying for us as a woman and a mother. We are in charge of feeding and therefore make our baby grow, and the more the beads form, the more it is a victory!
It took me a long time to understand why I loved and hated breastfeeding at the same time, and where this border was, which I thought was blurry, but I think I put my finger on it.
The "mood killer" of breastfeeding is to express your milk, here is the real constraint! Because when we use the pump, we are dealing with a machine and not with the wonderful babblings of our child, and all the satisfaction and the carnal bond disappear. It's a bit like a pain au chocolate without chocolate.
Sometimes at the end of the day, in New York, I was out of milk, exhausted to breastfeed, then it was my sister who was nursing Ellis. It was funny, and actually quite memorable.
Ellis seemed to appreciate and especially did not make any difference. And I remember Caroline saying that Ellis was completely different from Muse.
A funny little photo of August 2014, I had just given birth to Ellis and I'm feeding Muse, my sister's daughter, stuck in traffic jams.
Caroline had a second child 6 months before me. She gave birth to a little boy, Jack, and she breastfed again. When I got pregnant for the second time myself, I did not want to know the sex of the baby. I had meanwhile started doing yoga on a daily basis, so I suspected that my relationship to pregnancy and my body would be different (every pregnancy is different) but despite the challenge that this may represent, what I was sure of was that I would breastfeed this child as long as possible.
To be in two places at the same time!
How to breastfeed and work at the same time?
You got the point, breastfeeding is not obvious from a technical point of view, especially for those who go back to work immediately like me. How to organize? I will not lie to you, it's sport! It takes organization, time, motivation! In any case, it's the way I experienced it because, as I said, breastfeeding means pumping, and pumping is challenging.
The good news is (there are some!) that breastfeeding women generally tell you that the hardest part last during the first six weeks, because your breasts are not sure how often to produce, it explodes, it flows, in short, your body is looking for its rhythm. With a little luck, when we go back to the office, it's generally after that period.
For Panda, I left a lot of space and time for my daily breastfeeding. It became ubiquitous. My appointments, yoga sessions, all my daily agenda depended on feedings (or pump).
However, I live my breastfeeding day by day. My only fear? Missing a feed that could potentially slow down my milk production, or worse, cause me breast engorgements.
I never really stopped working before or after giving birth. Here's how I organized myself for breastfeeding Panda, my second baby:
Panda was exclusively breastfed the first four weeks, but I started pumping my milk 10 days after birth.
For my two breastfeeding I used this ultra-compact mini pump from AVENT.
My intention was to create a stock from the beginning and to increase my milk production to its maximum, so I breastfed Panda every two hours, then I expressed milk.
Regarding the pace of breastfeeding and feedings, I think that all children are different, so do not think that my calendar is valid for all babies!
At five weeks, I decided to spend more time at the office, and I started giving her my milk in a bottle, in order to get her used to going from one to the other easily.
The night Panda sucked several times: 23h, 2h, 4h, 6h. I nursed her but did not pump at night.
Here are three tips I applied to myself that can help you:
- To hold on, sleep while your baby sleeps, often so I went to bed at 8 pm, knowing that she was going to wake up around 11 pm. My husband was managing the bedtime of my oldest daughter, Ellis. As I told you, it's important that your lover participates and helps you.
- If you want your baby to sleep fast, never sleep with them in your bed. Once the baby has sucked, put him back in his bed (which may be in your room of course).
- Same thing, let the baby suck the time it takes, but when he is finished, remove him from the breast and get dressed. Do not keep it hooked like a keychain, we must quickly teach him that our breast is not a nipple. Believe me, your breasts will thank you.
Panda has been doing her nights when she was 5-6 weeks, she was sleeping from 10pm to 5.30am (from my point of view it's a night, we go to bed early and we get up early).
How? I do not know.
I think the three tips above worked pretty well.
As soon as she was a month old, I went back to the office about 4 hours a day, the rest of the time I was working from home.
Having milk in my freezer gave me a great feeling of freedom, I was able to live a little bit on my own again.
At the office, I had the same agenda. I pumped several times a day, I put an alarm clock each time I had to feed Panda (about every two hours). I put the milk in the fridge and went back home at night with my bags of milk ready to be frozen.
Very quickly the two floors of my freezer were filled with lots of small bags of milk.
I can’t tell you how much I used to pump, it was different every day. As I said above, I have never been stressed about this. Sometimes it was unbearable, I pumped only 40 ml, sometimes 150ml, I listened to myself.
The Heimstone team is made of five girls and we all work in the same space. I immediately put everyone at ease by telling them that I would breastfeed (so pumping as well) for a few months, and that I would do it at my desk in front of my computer, so in front of them. Pumping is compelling in many ways, I think it's important to be able to do it where you feel comfortable.
After seven weeks, I felt a real difference. My milk production had stabilized, my breasts were less painful, Panda was asking for breastfeeding more regularly.
Sometimes she was waking up at night, of course I was feeding her if she needed to, but I was making sure before I fed her that she had not woken up for any other reason.
At eight weeks old, Panda was no longer sleeping with us, but in her sister’s room. I was afraid she would wake Ellis up, but my sister Caroline reassured me that on the one hand, a little girl of three and a half years old who goes to school every day would not wake up so easily, and that on the other hand, I was also going to have more peaceful nights because I would no longer wake up for the slightest Panda’s chirp.
The first week, I found Ellis in Panda's bed every time I went to see her.
Panda was still 100% fed with my milk, either at the bottle or at the breast.
No problem to report, apart from this constant anxiety about not having enough milk .... Fortunately, one of my friends (@ audrey5October), advised me to take Fenugreek pills (100% natural, available in pharmacies). It produced miracles in terms of lactation.
I took these pills until 7 months and some of breastfeeding.
Fourth and fifth month
From the beginning of the 4th month I started giving Panda a baby bottle per day of milk powder, I wanted her to get used to it little by little. I told myself that I would soon stop breastfeeding "officially" (not to mention every time I told Onur that I was stopping next week!). She accepted it very well, and for my part I continued to express my milk every 3 hours even when I did not spend my days with Panda. I could not do it when I was with her, because Panda turned into a little ogre and both my breasts were empty after each feeding.
It was during these two months that I used or even emptied my stock of frozen milk the most. Panda needed to eat more (normal) and my milk production also started to drop slightly because sometimes I admit it, I'm a little lazy when I pump. I really try not to stress myself...
Around 5 months and a half, Panda started to eat mashed vegetables for lunch, which I cook in large quantities at once, then freeze (like my milk finally), (look at our special baby recipes),
As these mashed vegetables skipped the bottle of milk powder, I went back to exclusive breastfeeding the rest of the time and especially 100% breast milk.
Then, I found myself at the head of a dairy factory logistics! What I pumped in two or three times during the day in the office, she was drinking it in one time in a bottle at night. So at that time I had trouble creating a stock.
Breastfeeding has never prevented me from having a personal life. I mean that at this time, I went on a yoga retreat for three days, without a Panda of course.
How? I simply pumped my milk on the spot. If Panda sucked 6 times / day at that time, I pumped 6 times a day and put the milk in the freezer of the hotel. When I was away, Panda stayed with her father who fed her 100% with milk powder.
Did it bother me? Not really, and I do not feel like it bothered her either. Again, breastfeeding is compelling, especially for us, so let’s try to make it the easiest as possible and to go through this experience as best as we can, with the most flexibility as possible. I needed this moment, I allowed it to myself.
I was only afraid she would not want to be breastfed anymore, but she threw herself on me when I came back!
I was supposed to stop breastfeeding at the end of July because we were going on a cruise with my husband and some friends (link the refreshmentcruise.com) in Turkey while our daughters were staying with their paternal grandparents. At that time, I still had plenty of milk, Panda was very at ease to be fed either with a bottle or to be breastfed, and I found it a shame to stop whilst everything was going on so well.
My husband, very concerned, asked me why I was not pumping during our 10 days of cruise? At first, I said no, it seemed impossible to me. Then, I tried to change my mindset, to consider it as a challenge, as a game and see if it was possible.
And I did it, I pumped 4 times a day for 10 days on the boat, and honestly it was not that hard. Finally, it was nothing but a personal investment. I prepared myself well psychologically, I had made up my mind, so my body and my head, again, worked together as one.
The funny thing is that I realized that it was hard to "cheat" on your body.
On the boat, I couldn’t hear any baby crying around me, I didn’t have Panda’s little sweaty hands leaning on my breasts either. My body knew it and I was missing it. Onur called her mom who was babysitting our daughters, and asked her to send me videos of Panda crying to stimulate my lactation.
10 minutes before pumping I used to go in a quiet room on the boat, I watched and I listened to this video to stimulate my milk. I can’t tell you it was easy, nobody likes to hear his baby crying. However, it worked INCREDIBLY well, I pumped 30% more each time!I gave my bags of milk gradually to the cook of the boat who, despite his large hands, held my bags of milk like a precious jewel. Onur used to come to see me regularly to keep me company, and my sister Caroline took the opportunity to make me hairstyles!
So I had pumped about 40 bags or just over 3 liters of milk.
At the end of the cruise, it was 40 degrees, Onur went to deposit our treasure in the freezer of one of his friends in Bodrum, in which we already had some other bags that were waiting for us before the cruise.
Then we bought a cooler, ice cubes and drove the 500 kilometers that separated us from our girls.Panda was fed for a week again at 100% with my milk.
I could not stand pumping my milk anymore. I decided to stop pumping and feed Panda only in the morning and in the evening.
My milk production has therefore dropped a lot, and I told myself that I have the right to take a little break.
In the evening Panda grumbled a little because my milk flow was too slow for her, and several times in the evening breastfeeding could become a stressful moment.
So I decided to breastfeed her only in the morning and after that, I spent two or three nights sleeping badly, waking up stressed without knowing why. Then I realized that it was because I was not ready to stop breastfeeding yet. My body was tired of pumping, but not breastfeeding.
I backed off: Fénugrec pills and pump twice a day in addition to breastfeeding in the morning.
Panda turned 8 months on September 25th, I left my pump again, something tells me that the end of my breastfeeding is near.
Panda still likes to be breastfed in the morning, except this morning. To be followed…
The keys of the (milk) bar
After breastfeeding my two children, as well as the two of my twin sister, I have the feeling that I had the chance to grope (enormously), observe (a lot) but my experience turned out to be efficient. Considering that, I thought I would have the right to give you my version of the recipe, which I think in any case be the key to success: boost your milk to the maximum, and as soon as possible, your breasts are in factory mode of production and you do not want to break the chain. Pump and freeze.
Why? Imagine that there are only good reasons:
- This allows you to relieve the pain while your newborn decides to sleep for 4 hours straight.
- This also allows you to go back to your own life (as soon as possible) to finally enjoy a glass of wine with your lover and find a little bit of your life as a woman, VERY important (we will talk about it later).
- It also prevents you from having a heart attack in your elevator when your husband sends you a text message to tell you that your baby is starving and screaming for 10 minutes.
- Finally, if you decide to stop breastfeeding after a while, you may have been able to produce enough milk to breastfeed your baby for a few more weeks!
The other secret and advice that I could give, which is just as important, is to take the subject as much as you can with humor and lightness. In the end, we do what we can and I do not think there is any point in putting pressure on our shoulders. Stress will only deteriorate our milk production. Think of the chocolate Milka ad in which farmers give massages to their cows to make sure they will give a good milk (so get your husband to work)!
Joking aside, it's also important to try to make your partner invested in breastfeeding and especially not to build a wall between you and him pretending we are the breastfeeding ones.
Probably easier said than done, I know, but I must say that my husband Onur has been my greatest support throughout my breastfeeding.
I always talked to him about the evolution and showed him the transformation of my body during my pregnancy. I did the same thing during breastfeeding. I explained to him how I felt, my fears, my fear of not having enough milk, I always ask him to look at the head of Panda when she grabs herself to my breasts, because I want him to remember that too.
For Panda, in eight months of breastfeeding I had to tell Onur about 10 times that I thought I would stop breastfeeding "very soon". The first time was only after 5 weeks. What made me hold on was his unconditional support. He knows it's difficult, he realizes the sacrifice it may represent, but he appreciates so much that I do it for the good of our child that it encourages me to continue. And finally, that's what motivates us, the well-being of our child.
To be perfectly honest, I do not know if breastfeeding for eight months is better than just three months, but I do believe that what our body creates is stronger than anything. So I like to think that yes, eight is maybe better than three.
"Onur, girls, and Elliot" August 2014 at nap time.
Alcohol and breastfeeding
This is a very serious kind of subject, but also one we should keep life simple about.
I decided to have one rule while breastfeeding:
Before a dinner or going out for a drink, I breastfeed then / and I express my milk the most I can then I freeze.
When I come back from my dinner / drink, I express my milk, and I throw it away.
You cannot have your cake and eat it too. If by chance Panda wakes up in the middle of the night, I do not take any risk either, I defrost a bag of my milk, I give it to her in a bottle. You see, it's easy and 0 stress.
Forget the unnecessary bottle warmer, grab a bowl, put your bag of milk in boiling water, at least your kitchen would not look like a nursery.
When Panda wakes up in the morning, I normally breastfeed her.
Our breasts after breastfeeding
Once again, all women are different, so I will only speak for myself.
If I can give you some advice, continue to apply anti-stretch mark oil throughout the breastfeeding period. Do everything you can to save your breasts!
I'll tell you what I REALLY think: I do not think breastfeeding in itself really affects the breasts.
What destroys our pretty little breasts is to pump, I have no doubt on that.
After 14 months of breastfeeding and breast pump (Ellis then Panda), I have to confess that I would love to buy me a new pair of breasts.
But finally, is it better to have beautiful, well-fed babies or a nice pair of breasts?