I never thought about the logistics of breastfeeding before having my first baby. I quickly learned though!
You are signing up to have the baby with you or within approximately 20 feet of you every hour of the day when you first start off. It takes about 3-5 weeks to establish your milk supply and the best way to do this is nurse your baby every time they are hungry or even just a little hungry or fussy, even if they just nursed 10 minutes ago. You are literally within his/her physical presence ALL THE TIME. I am obsessed with my girls, so I am OK with this. Bonus, your baby will be obsessed with you. No one has ever been so dependent on me and it’s quite the ego trip!
A booby in the mouth instantly calmed my girls down and the bonus was I knew I was establishing my milk supply at the same time. It was so gratifying to know I could calm them in a millisecond! It’s a real superpower (sorry dads). Still, one of the best kept secrets of new mommyhood is breastfeeding is not intuitive or “natural” the way we initially picture it. Terms like “booby sandwich” and “football hold” do not connote images of mother earth. In reality, you are figuring it out just as your baby is figuring it out too – you’re learning together.
However, with the twins I experienced a totally different nursing dynamic (sticking with the overall theme of having two really different pregnancies and deliveries). Esther, my oldest, was a slooooow eater, so nursing her would take at least 45-60 minutes and she would enjoy a nice four-course meal. She ate from each boob twice. She savored her meal and still eats slowly at the table. She is a food lover and connoisseur. I didn’t know any different, so I just thought it was the norm.
Esther also didn’t take a bottle of pumped milk until she started daycare at three months. I did not know you could give a baby a bottle at three weeks and not worry about nipple preference (aka nipple confusion). In contrast, Miriam and Ilana nurse in 15 minutes or less (tandem-style), and we gave the twins a bottle at three weeks. Suddenly, I was able to go out for more than 1.5 hrs and not worry about coming home to crying and hungry babies. Freedom! A trip to Target and grocery shopping never felt so luxurious!
Being the main source of food for another person is a lot of work. I did not tire of having Esther with me (I suspect you’ll fall into this camp too), and I am blessed to have Miriam and Ilana who make nursing very easy for me. They are faster eaters compared to four-course Esther. They only require one side – I am not typically switching back and forth for them, and they take a bottle of pumped milk. However, even if I am not with them for a feeding, I know I need to pump to make up for missing a feeding. I need to keep my milk supply up, and frequency of pumping/letdown is the best way for me to do this.
My babies have never been given a bottle of formula and I have never personally given them a bottle of my pumped milk. I would feel very awkward giving a bottle. I just don’t know what to do with it! Some moms supplement with formula if they want to skip a feeding and get extra sleep. I have never skipped a feeding only because if they don’t get it straight from my boob, I’ll need to pump later and I would much rather nurse than pump. Also, milk supply is at its peak 1am-5am, when prolactin levels are highest. Babies are very smart and they know this is when mama has a lot of milk, thus the 1 am feeding, the 3 am feeding, the 5 am feeding. They do not want to miss the main course! Some moms worry they are not producing enough milk – you will always have enough milk for the baby as long as you remember it is supply and demand. The more the baby nurses straight from your boob, the more milk you will produce. Nothing is as efficient at getting milk out as your baby. Pumps do a decent job, but the baby is tops when it comes to suction and compression. Offer your little one boobie before a bottle and you’ll see how your body responds. It’s a simple concept – the more you nurse, the more milk you make (unless you have extenuating medical issues, which is rare and something an IBCLC can address).
Now, some random tidbits of information: did you know your milk is biologically designed for this baby? Your milk is genetically matched to this baby, and it will continue to change as your baby grows. The milk you provide for a newborn is different from the milk provided to the same baby at 6 months! The composition of your milk also changes throughout the day. The first feeding in the morning has more water compared to the bedtime feeding with more fat content. Also, your milk will be different for every baby you have. Your body tailors itself to each baby, their age, and time of day. Talk about designer food, “breast is best” for these reasons and so many more. Another interesting fact is moms who breastfeed have a lower risk of experiencing post-partum depression. This actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Our bodies physiologically have not developed to realize there are other ways to feed a baby than breast milk. When you deliver a baby, your body gears up to feed it (thus “milk coming in”). When you do not breast feed, you are not going to produce all the feel-good hormones following delivering and nursing a baby. Namely, oxytocin which is the bonding hormone you experience after orgasm – yep, you get a hormone high from breastfeeding, how cool! Anyway, without these hormones floating around your system from breastfeeding, your body chemistry responds as if there is no baby (ie. the baby did not survive birth) and you are more susceptible to depression. It’s sad, but true.