My experience with breastfeeding has been really great for the most part. Having a larger baby (8 lb 5 oz at birth), I had to be cognizant of the fact that she was starving for the first two days before my milk came in. Of course newborns get the nutrient-dense colostrum in the first few days, but bigger babies often want to feed constantly until the real stuff comes in. After the first night (where I didn't get any sleep because I was just staring at her, not because she kept me up), she wanted to eat pretty constantly. This happens all the time with my patients and often times the moms get so frustrated they end up begging for formula or a pacifier. I knew, or hoped, that all that stimulation would theoretically make my milk come in faster so I just tried to embrace it. Plus I loved being able to nurse her. Yes, it hurts. For a year and a half I felt like I had been lying to my patients telling them, "It shouldn't hurt if the latch is correct." That is a bunch of B.S. If you have a little creature tugging at your nipple for 8 hours a day, it's going to hurt! Lanolin cream, soothing gel pads, and letting colostrum air dry on them all help, but just know that it does hurt. You just have to differentiate whether or not the pain you're experiencing is just your nipples getting used to it or whether it is a latch problem. If it is a pinching or stinging, it is probably a poor latch. If it is a painful soreness, that is probably what I experienced and it gets a whole lot better once you and your baby get the hang of things and your nipples adjust. It took us about two weeks.
My milk came in the second morning just as we were leaving the hospital. All of a sudden as I was trying to get one last feed in before our drive home, she started gulping while I was feeding her and got this look of euphoria in her eyes like "FINALLY! This is what I've been asking for!" Subsequently, my breasts became giant painful rocks over the following day or two as the milk continued to transition and come in. That initial engorgement was definitely the worst part for me. I have to say I never really got stretch marks throughout the pregnancy but once that engorgement kicked in, my breasts were covered in them! Eh, the price of liquid gold I suppose.
The first two weeks are crucial for establishing breast milk supply. Research shows that this time is so important as your body is learning to produce exactly what your baby needs. That is why you should not supplement with formula (unless of course you need to for your baby's weight gain or if you have a physiological reason). I can't tell you how many patients I have had that said they "just didn't produce enough milk" when referring to previous babies. Nine times out of ten, sure enough they had introduced supplementation before it was necessary so of course that told their body to produce less milk than their baby actually needed, perpetuating the cycle. After about six weeks, milk supply is less impacted by hormones and more reliant on demand and supply. If you tell your body to produce more by adding a pumping session, it will. I would often pump about thirty minutes after a good feed just for added stimulation.
I worked pretty hard to try to feed every two hours in the beginning during the day. If your little one gets most of their calories during the day and is gaining weight just fine, you are probably good to go for longer stretches at night without having to wake them to feed (of course at the discretion of your pediatrician). I remember cluster feeding in the evenings a lot per Charley's request. We followed Dr. Harvey Karp's methods as outlined in the Happiest Baby on the Block books, basically following a wake, feed, awake time, sleep which worked really well for us. By 2.5 months, she was sleeping 9-11 hours a night consistently and was >70% for weight. Of course that changed around 4 months when she cut her first two teeth and totally sleep regressed.
Going back to work is definitely a huge hurdle while breastfeeding, obviously. I had introduced the bottle intermittently starting at about 3-4 weeks once my supply was pretty well established and she didn't mind it at all. I worked hard to pump and store enough prior to work but I still constantly worried if there would be enough for her. On work days, I would feed or pump immediately before I left and tried to get in three pumping sessions while at work. Sometimes it would be too busy and I would miss a session or pump late and I would get crazy engorged and uncomfortable. Also, I would notice if I messed up my pumping schedule, I would have less milk by the end of the day. I know I've said this before, but I know how lucky I am to have a work environment that is so supportive of breastfeeding. It makes all the difference in the world. Plus I have the added benefit of having my husband stay home with her while I work and my mom on days when my husband and I both work so I find comfort in knowing she is with people who are just as, well almost as, in love with her as I am. We've established a pretty good system!
The first time I went away from Charley was on a quick weekend girl's trip to Nashville when she was eight and a half months old for three nights with the girls I went abroad with in college. By then she was of course eating solid foods in addition to breast milk. I had pumped like crazy for the preceding three months in preparation for the trip. I would often pump right before I went to bed (around ten or so) and sometimes even in the middle of the night to ensure I had enough saved up for the trip. I have to say it is hugely challenging traveling without your baby while still breastfeeding! The preparation that goes into saving enough milk is daunting in itself. I was very emotional leaving her for the first time, even though I knew she was in great hands between my husband and my mom.
During my travels, I awkwardly had to pump in the middle of the Atlanta Airport. Sidenote: This airport has frequent smoking lounges throughout but nowhere to pump!! I just used my breastfeeding cover and pumped in front of dozens of people. Super awesome. I was pleased to see Nashville Airport actually had designated Lactation Rooms. Throughout my trip, I tried to pump every four to five hours when possible. I ended up having to throw away a lot of what I pumped during the trip because I didn't have enough storage to bring it all back with me. Talk about crying over spilled milk: try pouring a couple dozen ounces down the drain!!! It is an awful feeling.
Charley is now just over nine months and we're still going strong. We've gone through biting fazes right before she cuts a tooth which definitely hurts a lot but it only lasts a few days. I have to try hard not to scream when she does it because she thinks it's absolutely hilarious. She now likes to do what I call the windmill at my breast where she will literally kick and maneuver every possible direction while still managing to be latched on.
After all is said and done, I absolutely love breastfeeding and feel so bonded to my daughter. It is hard work, there is no doubt about it. You have to be totally committed to it, especially if you go back to work, because it takes A LOT of effort. But it is so worth it and it is the best thing you can do for your baby. I once read an article that said that the reason moms are naturally inclined to kiss their baby is to pick up germs that their little ones encounter and create antibodies which are then supplied through their milk. How cool is that?! The milk changes based on the development of the baby so it is literally the perfect food for them. Plus, it reduces incidence of all kinds of diseases like asthma, ear infections, and many more. At over nine months, Charley has never been sick or had so much as a fever. I attribute this 100% to breastfeeding.
My breastfeeding experience is a really good one and I know it is not this easy for everyone. There are so many challenges nursing moms face and they are not often well-known. My friend Jessica has an excellent blog post that I encourage you to read. She faced countless obstacles while breastfeeding her son and she persevered through them. (http://jessiemaes.blogspot.com/2015/01/my-unnaturally-natural-breastfeeding.html?m=1)