How I Succeeded: My Breastfeeding Journey

Megan Church HeadshotMeagan Church is a writer, children’s book author and the brainpower behind Unexpectant.com, which explores the realities of birth, babies and beyond. She lives in the Midwest with her high school sweetheart, three children, two cats and one dog. Her passions include running, black coffee, and simple, yet intentional living. Connect with her on Twitter @unexpectant or Facebook/unexpectant.

As I discussed in a previous post, I was prepared for cracked nipples and poor latching. But I wasn’t prepared for the mental fortitude that was necessary to reach my breastfeeding goal.

Even though breastfeeding my first two children was more mentally exhausting and demanding of my time than I could’ve predicted, the mechanics of it went smoothly. From the start, both were great nursers with a naturally good latch. I never experienced soreness or difficulties with them. I credit that to a few factors:

Megan Church

Pre-birth education

Knowing I was absolutely clueless about how to breastfeed a baby, I signed up for a class at my local hospital. I took the class, while I was pregnant. This helped me understand what to look for in a proper latch, positioning and more. Sure, it was odd practicing with dolls, but when it came time for the real thing, I at least had some idea of what to do.

Immediate skin-to-skin contact

After my babies were born, they were immediately placed on my chest for skin-to-skin contact. We enjoyed an hour or two together, just getting to know one another without a lot of intrusive examinations getting in the way of the most precious bonding moments. This allowed both babies to root and follow their natural instincts for nourishment and comfort right after birth. I still remember how amazed I was after all three of my babies began to nurse on their own within the first hour of their lives. That wouldn’t have been possible without that skin-to-skin time.

Lactation consultants

Before having a baby, I was a pretty modest person. I wasn’t sure how I would respond to people seeing all sides of my body. But, in the throes of labor, discretion sort of goes out the window. And, I found that to be true, while nursing as well. Our hospital had great lactation consultants on staff who answered any and all questions. They would come watch me breastfeed to make sure the latch was good and that baby was feeding well. As a newbie with no expertise in breastfeeding, this feedback was a beautiful thing.

Supportive husband

I am blessed to have a supportive husband who also believes in the benefits of breastfeeding. After doing our research during pregnancy, we knew we wanted to not only give our babies the most natural entries into the world as possible, but we also wanted them to be nourished by the most natural food possible. He was always a great supporter and, while he might not have gotten to spend time bonding with the babies during feeding sessions, he bonded in many other ways instead (such as middle-of-the-night diaper changes, rocking to sleep, baby wearing and more). He respected the importance of breastfeeding and he’s an encourager for other moms to breastfeed as well.

Examples of others

By the time I had my first child, I had watched both of my sisters-in-law nurse their babies. While I wasn’t eyeing their latch and getting an up-close-and-personal view, their example still showed me that it was possible and that, while struggles might occur, patience and dedication can get you through.

The will to not give up

Natural birth taught me that I’m a lot stronger than I realized. Before giving birth, I did my homework. I knew the benefits of breastfeeding and I knew I did not want to give my babies formula. So even during those moments of exhaustion and times when I struggled with always having to be the one to feed the babies (my first two rejected any sort of bottle), I still knew that I didn’t want to give up. I knew it was a season of life and that weaning would eventually occur some day. I knew that my top goal was to get them through their first year without formula. And, we made it. With each of my three babies, we made it that first year…and even a few months beyond.


Mixed Feeding – Using Formula & Breast Milk

Mixed Feeding with Formula and Breast MilkMany mothers decide that while they want to provide breast milk to their baby, they won’t be able to provide enough milk for full or exclusive breastfeeding.  There are a variety of reasons for this: low milk supply, higher order multiples, early return to work or other separation from baby where mother is unable to pump adequate amounts, desire for others to help feed baby, etc.

Breast milk is unique and unlike any other mammalian milk or infant formula.  Any amount of breast milk a mother is able to provide her baby is a wonderful gift and should be celebrated.  There are many health benefits for both a mother and baby.  Even some breastfeeding will help with maternal-infant bonding and decrease feeding costs, visits to the doctor, time off work for illness, allergies, and health care costs both in the short and long term.

It is completely possible to have mixed feeds; here are 5 tips to help you succeed.

  1. Establish your milk supply
    During the first six weeks following birth a mother’s body is laying down prolactin receptors (hormones intimately involved with milk production) that will affect her milk supply for the duration of breastfeeding.  If her milk supply is built up strong in the beginning, it will be easier to decrease her supply and maintain lactation.  Conversely, if she never develops a strong supply in the initial weeks following birth, she may be forced to supplement which could further reduce her supply.  It is common for this cycle to continue until a mother is no longer producing any breast milk for her baby.
  2. Allow baby time to attach well to breastfeeding
    The sucking action at the breast as well as flow of milk is different at the breast and with a bottle.  To demonstrate this, try placing your clean index finger half-way in your mouth and notice what your tongue does.  Now, place that same finger all the way back in your mouth to where the hard and soft palates meet – just before you “gag” – and note your tongue movement.  Breastfeeding is similar to your finger being in the back of your mouth, and a baby’s tongue will extend down and out past his bottom gum line.  Alternatively, when a bottle teat is placed in a baby’s mouth his tongue bunches further back in his mouth.  A disorganized suck and/or nipple preference can develop if babies are introduced to an artificial teat (whether bottle or pacifier) before breastfeeding is well established.  Just as importantly, the flow of a bottle nipple is constant whereas a baby at the breast must suck-suck-suck to have a let-down which lasts a minute or two and then there’s a pause before another let-down. These subtle differences can cause confusion in babies until breastfeeding is well established.
  3. Slowly decrease the amount of breastfeeding sessions
    Once you have developed a strong milk supply, you may now choose to slowly introduce formula.  It is best to eliminate only one breastfeed every 2-3 days so that your body adjusts to making less milk.  Introducing formula more quickly and eliminating breastfeeding sessions more than one at a time could lead to engorgement, plugged ducts, mastitis, or even a breast abscess.
  4. Continue to nurse enough to maintain supply
    Watch your body closely and if you notice your milk supply diminishing more than you need it to, add in another breastfeeding session.  Every woman is different and even each breast on the same mother has different amounts of milk.  While one woman may easily maintain milk just nursing once or twice a day, another mother may need to nurse three or four times a day minimum to maintain a milk supply.  If your supply does begin to decrease, make sure to eliminate some of the formula feeds and increase breastfeeding sessions to help build up your supply.
  5. Have partner give bottles while mom breastfeeds
    Many moms who partially breastfeed find it easier of they are responsible for breastfeeding and then baby’s father, family, or friends give the formula feeds.  This is not a must, but it can make it easy for your baby to associate mom with breast milk. This is also a matter of convenience – breast milk doesn’t require mixing, heating, cleaning bottles, etc. so if mother is available to feed it just makes sense to feed baby in the most convenient way possible.

Whatever strategies you find that work for you and your situation, you have much to be proud of providing your breast milk for your baby.  Every drop is a gift and should be celebrated!