S1E7 Sierra’s Story | New Little Life Breastfeeding Podcast

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Show Notes

In this week’s episode, I am joined by Sierra– a doula, childbirth educator, and mom to a sweet little girl. We talk about her experiences as an American living in the Netherlands, the mental and emotional difficulties of breastfeeding, breastfeeding in public, mom-shaming, overcoming challenges, and readjusting your goals and so much more.

Helpful Links

Research on breastfeeding in Netherlands: https://www.rug.nl/research/portal/files/20066414/Chapter_3.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2BH1wYYqI1d0drGu2CnOPHMOWZtiSL0ErirE7jNpiYeZdl9MBq9HlyoFs

Connect with Sierra

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Episode Transcript

Allison (00:00:07):

Hey everyone. It’s Allison here with New Little Life. I’m an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Counselor (IBCLC), a nurse, a doula, and a mom of three little boys. Here on the New Little Life podcast, we will talk with real moms about their breastfeeding experience– the good parts and the bad– and share real and practical advice about breastfeeding. Connect with and learn from other moms and professionals to help you meet your breastfeeding goals. Hey everyone. Welcome back to the New Little Life podcast. Today’s interview is with Sierra, who is a mother of one sweet little girl. She’s an American, living with her husband and baby here in Europe, up in the Netherlands. So I can really relate to her having a child and raising a child here in Europe. So that was fun. She’s also a birth doula and childbirth educator, which I think is how we met. This interview is a little bit different style. And I’ll tell you a little bit about that when we start chatting, but she has some really personal and real motherhood stories and advice to share with you. We talk about the mental and emotional difficulties of breastfeeding, breastfeeding in public, mom-shaming, overcoming challenges, and readjusting your goals and so much more. It’s a long episode. So I’m going to keep this intro short, but you’ll love what Sierra has to share. So here we go. Hi Sierra. I’m really glad that you’re here today. We were just catching up actually, before we started this recording and realized that I feel like we’re friends, but I don’t think we’ve actually ever met.

Sierra (00:01:42):

No, not in person. No. Which is stupid because we live pretty close. We should meet before. I don’t know if you guys are going to go back to the States or not.

Allison (00:01:51):

We are headed back to the States this summer. Yeah. We’re moving back this summer.

Sierra (00:01:53):

See? If they ever let down these lockdowns, then we should meet before you go.

Allison (00:01:59):

That’d be great. This is the digital age, where you just know people online and you feel like you know them. You’re a doula as well, right? Is that how we got connected was in a doula group or something?

Sierra (00:02:10):

I think so. I am a doula and a childbirth educator and I’m pretty sure I found you in one of those groups at some point.

Allison (00:02:17):

I think it was too. Anyway, I’m excited to be doing this interview in the morning because I usually have to record them at night with people in the States. So we’re on the same time zone. Well, I’m happy to talk to you today. You made a Facebook post the other day about your breastfeeding journey. And you kind of talked about the four things you’ve learned in the first year of breastfeeding and I loved every word. So I immediately messaged you and was like, “Hey, will you come on my podcast and share this?” Because you said things so well. So I think today what we’re going to do is I’m going to kind of remind you of those points. And I would love to hear you expand on them a little bit and just share your thoughts and experiences with more moms. I think it’s really valuable. So can you actually just start out by telling us a little bit about who you are, your family, what you do, anything you’d like to share?

Sierra (00:03:14):

Okay. So I’m Sierra, I am 22. I’ll be 23 very soon. Most people think that I’m quite a bit older than I am because of where I am in my life. I’m married. I live in the Netherlands, but I’m actually an American and my husband is Dutch. We have a one-year-old daughter and her name is Charlotte. And she is of course the star of all this breastfeeding. She has recently learned to pull off mom’s shirt. So that’s fun. My husband and I met in 2016 doing volunteer work for a Christian organization in Alabama. And we had both gone there for the summer to volunteer. I was the cook. I was like 18 at the time. And they said I was going to be helping in the kitchen. And as it turned out, I was like the only kitchen worker. I was feeding anywhere from 25 to 50 people every night. We would have volunteers that came through occasionally, but as far as regular people, I was the only one. Wow. But anyway Josh kind of stuck around the kitchen a lot and yeah, the fastest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. So we stayed in contact and we were in a long distance relationship for two and a half years before I came here. I came here in February of 2019, so we’re almost to that two year mark. We got married in the Netherlands, in a courthouse. And then in the United States in April 2019, we had a big church ceremony with family and friends and the regular party and stuff. Two days after arriving back in the Netherlands, like officially to stay in April, I found out I was pregnant. So that was a big surprise like “Okay. New country and new marriage and now, baby.” And it was not an accident. We definitely wanted a baby. She was not an accident at all, but they usually just say like three to six months or whatever, and totally not for us, like three to six hours. Yeah. It felt like more like it.

Allison (00:05:43):

I can really relate to you being in a foreign country and like trying to raise children. You have even less support than we do, like here in the military. So you’re amazing. Can I just say that?

Sierra (00:05:55):

It’s been a journey for sure. Eventually we actually want to move to a different city that has more of an ex-pat support group because it is really hard for me, it’s very isolating. We live in a really rural community. The nearest American I know lives about a half an hour away. And she has three kids and they’re a little bit older than mine, but we still get together for play dates and stuff sometimes. So that’s nice. Yeah. And then you throw Corona into it. And Charlotte was 11 weeks old when the first lockdown started. So like, I was just getting the hang of newborn and then there was a pandemic and it’s literally never stopped since.

Allison (00:06:40):

This has been really hard for especially first-time moms. Because I remember as a first-time mom, my lifeline was like other moms or like a little bit of adult interaction here and there. So this has been incredibly hard to be so locked down and so isolated. And then for you also in a country where you’re learning the language.

Sierra (00:06:59):

Absolutely. Where you already don’t know anybody.

Allison (00:07:02):

Right. And then it sounds like also your breastfeeding experience was kind of a little challenging at times.

Sierra (00:07:10):

Yeah, it was. They say it’s so natural and it should come natural, but it didn’t come natural for us.

Allison (00:07:16):

Did you take any like a childbirth class or like breastfeeding course beforehand? Or did you just know stuff? Like why did you decide to breastfeed?

Sierra (00:07:27):

I was a know-it-all. Cause I was a childbirth educator and a doula before I got pregnant. I had already done that training. So I thought, “Oh, I know all this, I don’t need that.” I probably should have listened to someone else because I was kind of in the parent shoes and not the educator shoes, but that’s a different topic.

Allison (00:07:45):

We talk about that almost every episode. Like “I’m a professional, I should know this.” But when you’re actually doing it, it’s a different ball game.

Sierra (00:07:53):

For sure. I did have a doula. And that was like my non-negotiable. I told my husband, “Listen, I don’t care how much it costs. We’re going to do this because I don’t have anyone here. I need to have someone in my corner who I know who it is. And I love you, but I don’t know how you’re going to react to me being in labor because you’ve never seen me in pain before. So we’re getting a doula.” And when I was 36 weeks, my doula actually had to have emergency surgery and could not do our birth. So that was a lovely surprise. We ended up having her backup, who I got to meet and it still went well. Her backup was able to come and but it was a whole thing.

Allison (00:08:44):

Yeah. Change your plans. Here we go.

Sierra (00:08:47):

Yeah. But as far as childbirth classes, I did a little bit of prep with my doula. But like when she would go into this or that, like for breathing exercises or want to practice, I’d be like, “Oh yeah, no, I don’t need that. I’ll be fine. I’m trained in this.” And looking back, I should have done it. But that didn’t happen.

Allison (00:09:06):

So breastfeeding. Okay. Let’s just start with number one here. You mentioned here that breastfeeding is hard and specifically mentally, can you expand a little bit on that? Tell us what you mean.

Sierra (00:09:21):

So I think the biggest thing I was unprepared for was the mental drain that breastfeeding is. My whole pregnancy, actually I didn’t question breastfeeding. I thought I would be fine. That was like the one thing I never questioned was I’ll be able to breastfeed that won’t be a problem for me. My mom breastfed. So I remember watching her breastfeed my brothers and I guess I just never even questioned it. I never even thought like “That might be a difficult thing for me.” And so it was a difficult thing for me. And I was not prepared to handle that because I didn’t think it would be. And it was difficult physically, but the mental load of breastfeeding is like something nobody talks about and you cannot understand it until you’ve done it. Like my husband has seen me do it, but he’ll readily admit, like “I still don’t understand completely because I’m not the one that has done this. I’m not the one who has fed this child every three hours for a year”. And people say like, “Oh, well you can pump and give a bottle.” And like, yes. But if I pump and give a bottle, I still have to pump. So I may as well just feed the child. It’s a huge, huge mental burden, I feel like. And not that it’s not worth it and not to like, I don’t say this to like discourage anybody who’s listening. But it is something that you need to take into account– is that it will affect you more than just physically, because it’s just a lot on me. Like even now, like we’ve finally night-weaned her. Hooray, she’s still breastfeeding. But we’ve night-weaned her. And that makes a world of difference.

Allison (00:11:00):

Isn’t that huge? I love that phase.

Sierra (00:11:03):

Yeah. That was the best. Cause I finally get some sleep now. But before we night-weaned, I remember I got to this point where I was just like, and we were like nine months in, at this point. And I was just crying because I was so tired and she wanted to nurse and she was twiddling the other boob while she was sleeping. So she was fast asleep. My husband was asleep and I could not sleep. And I just started crying and I was so tired. And usually I wouldn’t recommend anyone night-weaning as early as we did, we did it about nine months. But it was because we were at that point where she was like latched the whole night and twiddling my boob and I was getting no sleep. And I basically told my husband, “Listen, we’re either night-weaning or I’m weaning. So we’re going to night-wean or I’m going to wean completely.” Because I was not getting any sleep. And that mental burden of just knowing that not only was it going to be through the night, but it was going to be in the morning and it was going to be the next day. And if she went to her nanny, then I was going to have to pump. And that’s really heavy on your mind. Like, honestly, I feel like it was heavier mentally than it was physically for us.

Allison (00:12:17):

Yeah. Babies can sleep through the night at nine months, like physically. So I don’t even feel like that’s that early, but it all depends on your family dynamic. Like you said, whatever works best for you and your baby.

Sierra (00:12:31):

She would occasionally sleep through and give me like five or six hours at a time. So what we ended up doing was I would put her to bed at like 7:30 like normal. And then when I went to bed between 10 and 11, I would nurse her one more time. And she would like to sleep through that, like dream feeding. And then between 11 and 5, she was not allowed any milk. If she woke up, of course I would still go or rock her or comfort her or my husband would, or he’d try. But usually she’d just scream more because she wanted me. So at first, like the first week I was like really thinking “is this even going to help? Like, I’m just rocking a screaming child now and she’s mad that I’m not nursing her.” But yeah, it did get better after that. And actually she started basically sleeping through the night once she realized that she was not going to get milk during those hours. And then after five, we would allow her to have milk again. Because I wasn’t going to expect her to go 12 whole hours without milk or something. But we just gave myself that little six-hour block that I could get some sort of a decent stretch of sleeping.

Allison (00:13:40):

And it makes a world of difference.

Sierra (00:13:42):

It improved my mental outlook. And honestly, I don’t think I would have been able to continue breastfeeding at that point if we hadn’t done that. When she was younger we would co-sleep and she would just nurse and we’d both sleep through it and it was fine. But once she got older and she started doing the twiddling and she wouldn’t let go, that was when it was time to night wean. I’m sorry. I’m like going on this whole tangent about night weaning.

Allison (00:14:09):

No, it’s perfect. This is the kind of stuff moms need to hear– like the real life and not be afraid to pivot when stuff isn’t working for you, you know? Maybe that wasn’t your goal to night wean her that early, but stuff wasn’t working.

Sierra (00:14:23):

I was actually convinced that if I night weaned her before a year, that I would end up not being able to breastfeed anymore. I don’t know why. I don’t know why I believed that. I know that’s not true, but in my head it was, “You have to wait until she’s a year and then you can continue breastfeeding and it will be okay.” I don’t know why.

Allison (00:14:41):

It’s a legitimate concern. Like “If I stop this now, is she going to not take it at all? And I’m not ready to be all the way done.” Babies don’t usually do that if you night-wean, you could definitely still breastfeed in the morning, but that’s a real concern for sure. Alright. The second point you made in this post that I loved was really interesting. And you talked a little bit about shaming and breastfeeding– especially like in public or things that people have said to you. I’m really interested to hear what you have to say about this, especially where you’re living in the Netherlands. But yeah. Have you been back to the States at all since your baby has been born?

Sierra (00:15:22):

I have been. We went back in November, which was like right before they started requiring the Corona test to get back home. Which is good because right now to reenter the Netherlands, you have to have a negative test 72 hours before, but the tests take three to five days in the States. So basically there’s no travel. So I’m really glad. We went back in November for two weeks and we went for Thanksgiving and my mom’s health wasn’t very good. So we went to go help her and just check in on everybody. It had been more than a year since I’d been back to the States, had been a year and a half actually.

Allison (00:16:00):

So tell us a little bit about some of the experiences you’ve had, especially breastfeeding in public or comments from other moms. Either there in the Netherlands or in the States.

Sierra (00:16:10):

I thought that we, as a society of so-called civilized people, had moved beyond shaming mothers for feeding their children. And some moms will say, “Yeah, no, I’ve never had a problem.” And I am so happy for them because that was not my experience. Like I said, my husband is Dutch, I’m American. We live in a rural city in the Netherlands. There’s a lot of old-fashioned mentalities here. Some of those being like that breastfeeding is…I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t completely understand. I still don’t completely understand it. Like, do they think it’s shameful or do they think it’s private? Like I’ve been told it’s intimate and you need to be doing it away because it’s intimate between you and your child. And I’m like, that’s just creepy. I’m just feeding her.

Allison (00:17:00):

It’s a little weird.

Sierra (00:17:01):

Yeah, it’s really creepy. I always joke that when I moved here, I moved back to 1950. Like we have cobblestone streets, nothing is open on Sunday. Everything closes at 5:00 PM. You can’t go shopping at six because it’s all already closed. So you see the old-fashioned mentality, not just in this. But like my husband was formula-fed. His brother was formula-fed. All of the mothers were formula feeding because that mentality that started in the fifties and it lasted longer here– that formula was better than breastfed– because they’re not fast to change their ideas here. So when formula was introduced in the fifties and it really became more readily available and they started offering it as the solution for the modern woman. And that phase lasted longer before we started to realize the different benefits that breastfeeding has. And so my husband and all of our generation here was primarily formula-fed. Outside of that, the formula rates are still really high here. Over 80% of mothers will actually initiate breastfeeding at birth here. But by three months old, that’s dropped to 30% and by six months old, it’s only 13% and that’s pretty low. I can send you the link. That’s actually according to a study from the University of Groningen.

Allison (00:18:41):

That’d be great. We’ll put it down in the show notes. I’d love to read that.

Sierra (00:18:43):

That’s actually, because our maternity leave ends at three months here. You actually get four months, but it’s four weeks before the birth and then 12 weeks after. And those breastfeeding rates instantly start declining when mom goes back to work.

Allison (00:18:59):

Yeah. And a lot of moms work there. Correct? I know a lot of moms do here in Belgium.

Sierra (00:19:04):

Yeah. Primarily it’s two-income families. The fact that I stay home and we have a child and my husband and I are both very young. My husband is 26 and I’m 22. And so people look at us and they’re like, “Wow, you have your own house. And your husband is the only one that works. How do you do that?” Because that’s really not common here. I have never met another first-time mom, my age, never. Not here. Like I met someone and she was like 10 years older than me, but she has a baby the same age and she lives nearby. So she came for a play date. But there’s no one my age here.

Allison (00:19:44):

It’s different. I mean, we can have a whole other episode on the cultural differences of mothering. Like it’s so crazy. It’s so crazy. Yeah.

Sierra (00:19:53):

I’m trying to lay the foundation as to how breastfeeding is perceived here. Because as far as how my experience has been, it was really unfortunate. Like you have something called “kraamvisite” here. If you translated it directly, it would just mean postpartum visit, I guess. It’s basically a standard thing to do when a baby is born. And family or friends or whoever you send out your little birth announcement cards and they can text your husband or your partner or the father or whoever to make an appointment, to set up a [inaudible], a visit. And that’s just to meet the baby. And at first I was like hearing this and I’m like, that kind of makes me uncomfortable because I don’t want to be like hosting a whole bunch of people right after I’m handed this whole little person to take care of. But actually I did prefer that system because that way you could say like, “Yeah, you can come in a couple of weeks or whatever.” It’s not like in the US, where you have people showing up in your hospital room. Which I think that’s a different argument. Right? For example, we had some friends of the family, that I don’t really know them honestly, but they’re friends of my husband’s family that had wanted to come. And later on, she told another close family member that she was horrified when she saw me pull my breast out in front of her husband. And they would not have come if they knew there would have been open breastfeeding. And I was just like floored by this. I was like “I did not pull my breast out in front of your husband. I fed my child. There’s a difference. I’m not a stripper.”

Allison (00:21:39):

Right? I wonder what they expect. I wonder what the norm is there.

Sierra (00:21:44):

I don’t know. I’ve been told before that you should go upstairs. But that’s so horribly impractical with a newborn. They want a nurse like every five minutes sometimes.

Allison (00:21:56):

And also it’s your house.

Sierra (00:21:58):

Exactly. It’s my house. That whole argument and that side, it’s just not practical because you’d be up and down, up and down, up and down. Or you could just live upstairs when you have guests over. Like with a newborn, that’s just not going to work. And then they’ll say like, “Oh, well you should use a cover.” I remember when she was two or three weeks old, I wanted out of the house. So we went to Zwolle, which is another city, about half an hour from here. And it’s a little bit bigger. There’s more shopping and stuff. And we just went to like a big shopping center and we had done some walking and we stopped at McDonald’s for lunch. Now I hate McDonald’s in the US, but European McDonald’s is actually pretty good.

Allison (00:22:38):

It’s better. Isn’t it? Yeah.

Sierra (00:22:40):

I like European McDonald’s. And I was sitting at the table and she wanted to nurse. I was so uncomfortable because of the other experiences I had already had to even nurse her that I remember, I was like hiding in the McDonald’s bathroom, trying to latch my newborn, struggling to hold her and latch her. Charlotte had a severe tongue and lip tie and it was undiagnosed until she was 10 weeks old. So we had a lot of struggles from that. But I remember like hiding in the bathroom, trying to latch her and then trying to cover her with a blanket to go back to the table to nurse her because there was nowhere to sit in the bathroom. And it makes me really sad that I felt like I had to do that. But I’m going to actually read a couple of quotes from my post. Just things that have been told to me. Yeah. I was told like, “Wouldn’t you be more comfortable in a private room? Like, wouldn’t you be like, hint, hint. I’m not, but wouldn’t you be?”

Allison (00:23:36):

Super passive aggressive.

Sierra (00:23:39):

Or “breastfeeding is too intimate to be done publicly.” “Your breasts are for your husband.” Yes.

Allison (00:23:47):

That’s my favorite.

Sierra (00:23:50):

I heard it from multiple people. I don’t want to get into who it was because that just would make things uncomfortable, but it was very close family members who didn’t need to be worrying about my husband and my breasts. Right? It made me very uncomfortable. “Well, if you come to my house, you have to feed her upstairs.” I’m like, “Okay, then we’re not coming.” And they got offended when we didn’t come.

Allison (00:24:17):

Of course, they did. Oh.

Sierra (00:24:20):

Yeah. “My husband was horrified when he saw you pull your breast out.” I mentioned that one. Oh, this one was good. “You shouldn’t breastfeed…” This one was told to a close family member by her cleaner. A close family member who didn’t approve of my breastfeeding was told by her cleaner, who she was discussing my breastfeeding with. And she said, “You shouldn’t breastfeed in front of your husband. He will lose interest. I won’t even pump in front of my husband.”

Allison (00:24:52):

What?

Sierra (00:24:54):

I don’t even know how to respond to that one.

Allison (00:24:57):

How shallow do you think these men are? Like I just feel like you’re not even giving the men a chance.

Sierra (00:25:06):

He watched me go through labor. I’m pretty sure he can handle watching me feed his baby.

Allison (00:25:12):

I don’t know. I mean like if you had had a discussion with your partner and they had told you they were uncomfortable, like that’s one thing. Like you should take into account your partner’s feeling, but just assuming that men don’t want to see that, I think is unfair. That’s totally unfair to men.

Sierra (00:25:26):

In the beginning, Josh was uncomfortable because he had never seen his wife pull out a boob and feed a child.

Allison (00:25:34):

I was going to ask you what your husband’s thoughts were, especially where he’s from– this culture.

Sierra (00:25:39):

So he’s never seen it before. It took him a while to get used to it. And the first couple of months, he was still a little like, “Well, hopefully she’ll use a cover eventually.” But he also knew that it was too hard for me to latch her with a cover. And then when she got older, she was too wild. I have a child who will stand– she will literally stand on my lap, and kick one leg up in the air, and smack my boob with the other hand. And she’ll be dancing and wagging her hips while she’s nursing. Yeah. There’s no getting a cover on this child.

Allison (00:26:05):

You’re not alone.

Sierra (00:26:07):

And so at first he was really like, “Well, I wish you’d use a cover or go upstairs or something.” He was really uncomfortable. And then he started to see the backlash I was getting from other people, and he saw how hard it was for me. And he ended up also like really upset. Like this is ridiculous. They are oversexualizing you. You are feeding a baby. And he’s actually a really big advocate for it now. And I think that’s normal. I think it’s especially common for first-time dads. I think it’s really common for them to be uncomfortable with it. Like not in that they even see it as a negative thing, but just as it’s a new thing for them and they’re not used to it. I mean, no, boobs are not just for my husband, but when he saw them before it was not with a baby on them. So it was a new thing. And I saw not too long ago, a post that it was a single mom who had found a guy who was really great and he was really supportive and they got along so well. And he was perfect and everything, except he was really uncomfortable with her breastfeeding. And he had asked her not to do it around his autistic brother, which I understand. My brother-in-law is actually the only person I will move upstairs for because he also has mental struggles and he could not handle that. It would be too much for him. And I do think that little bit of discretion, I think that’s valid. Like there are certain scenarios where I would. But I think in general as a society, we need to be more like, “She’s just feeding her kid. Okay. Leave her alone.” But all these women on that post were like jumping on this poor woman, like, “Oh, dump him, dump him, dump him.” And I’m like, “That’s not even fair. He’s not used to this. My husband wasn’t used to it either. Have open discussions and see like, where is the source of this?” Because I think most men, even if they’re uncomfortable with it in the beginning, they will be like, “Okay, I understand now” when they see why you’re doing this and how you’re doing this and how hard it is for you to do this. My husband made a complete 180 from being like, “Well, can’t you just use a cover or something” to “Wow. This is ridiculous. They need to not be expecting this of you. You’re already trying to get her to latch, or you’re already trying to get her to nurse, or you’re already juggling all these balls. And they don’t need to be worrying about whether or not you’re using a cover or if you’re going upstairs or in hiding in a McDonald’s bathroom.”

Allison (00:28:59):

I wish that your story was not the norm, but I’m afraid that more mothers experience this than we think. You know?

Sierra (00:29:09):

I know someone whose husband actually will not allow her to breastfeed without a cover. And it like makes me so sad for her. I grew up in the independent, fundamental Baptist movement. I know a lot of people who think I am really liberal now because I will wear leggings and not a skirt all of the time or something. Which is really sad to me because my faith is very important to me. And my faith hasn’t changed, but I see it a lot in those communities even. And like I think modesty can be an important thing for some women in how they dress. And I think that’s totally valid if it’s their choice. But I think shaming a mother for breastfeeding because it’s immodest is like, so, so inappropriate.

Allison (00:30:02):

I love that. I love that you just brought that up– that you can still be modest and use a cover or whatever makes you feel good. If that’s what you want. A hundred percent.

Sierra (00:30:12):

But it shouldn’t be this expectation from others on you.

Allison (00:30:16):

I totally agree. I don’t feel like we have to all go out and breastfeed our babies in public to like make a statement. I don’t think any mom is like making a statement. Like we’re just trying to feed our kids. Yes. And if you want to cover up, because you feel better that way, please do. And I’m not going to judge you for covering up either.

Sierra (00:30:35):

I wanted to use a cover. I did. I felt more comfortable with it. But like I said, we had so many troubles with latching and now my kid will do like this whole dance while she’s trying to nurse and she’ll hang upside down to nurse. If I put a cover on her, she actually will not nurse because it distracts her so much. It’s totally okay to cover if you want to cover. It’s okay to go upstairs if you want to go upstairs. It’s okay to hide in the McDonald’s bathroom if that’s what you want. But it should never be a societal expectation.

Allison (00:31:13):

Along these same lines here, your third bullet mentioned how people will sometimes tell you. You’re lucky that you have been able to breastfeed so long. And I’d like to hear your thoughts on that kind of mentality as well.

Sierra (00:31:28):

Okay. So I have a hard time approaching this because I feel like it could easily be taken as insensitive to those who maybe did not breastfeed as long as I’ve been able to. Or they did use formula, and this is not a reflection on that at all. I know how hard it is, believe me firsthand. If you tell me it was too hard, I will believe you. I will not judge you. I’m going to be the last person in the world. Especially like I said, with the mental load that breastfeeding carries, and also the physical aspects, and maybe oversupply or undersupply or tongue and lip ties or all of the different things that can make it more difficult. But I get told that all the time because I have made it so long. And that’s not very common, but I’m lucky that I got to breastfeed so long and I’m like, “No, I am not lucky. This has been a battle that I have fought tooth-and-nail to continue.” I mentioned briefly that Charlotte was diagnosed with a tongue and lip tie when she was 10 weeks old. But if you rewind the clock a little bit further and look at when she born, I actually planned a home birth and I transferred to the hospital. And so that was not my plan. On my due date, I thought it was a great idea to be all over in all different cities and all different towns. And I was so busy and I was doing shopping and then I had managed to pick a fight with my poor husband, dealing with a very heavily pregnant cranky wife. And I was up until like almost one o’clock in the morning fighting. And then we had finally worked that out and went to bed and everything was better between us and I woke up at 2:30 in the morning. I woke up with strong contractions, like so strong.

Allison (00:33:33):

Oh gosh. And you’re already exhausted. That’s it? That’s was a rough way to start labor for sure.

Sierra (00:33:38):

All I could think was like, these contractions were already lasting a minute at a time and they were coming every two or three minutes straight off the bat. And so I was like, “What the heck is this? I need to slow these down. It’s too early for them to be this fast.” So I went and I got in the tub and I didn’t even wake my husband up. I went straight to the tub and I drew a warm bath and I was trying to relax myself so they would slow down. And while I was in the water, it helps. But my husband came a couple of minutes later cause he could apparently hear me. Because I was making noise through the contractions. It was like instant hard labor, fast labor. Oh yeah. And so he came and he was like, “Oh, should I call the midwife?” And I’m like, “No, don’t call her. I don’t think this is really it.” He’s like, “Well, are they more Braxton Hicks?” I’m like, No. He’s like, “Well then that would make it IT, wouldn’t it?” I’m like, “No, I don’t think so.”

Allison (00:34:28):

It’s too logical. Stop with the common sense.

Sierra (00:34:34):

I didn’t think it was actually labor. Yeah. So they said that after one contraction, every five minutes for an hour, we were supposed to call. But like I said, mine started over two or three minutes. And after an hour he’s like, “Well we should call.” And I’m like, “no, I want to wait a little longer. Cause I don’t think this is really it.” And so we waited another hour and he asked again, “I think we should call.” And I was like, “No, I don’t want to, I don’t think we should.” And so he ended up ignoring me and calling anyways, which was a good thing. Because it did turn out to actually be labor. But anyway, my water broke at three centimeters. So I had kind of lost that cushion that helps soften the contractions a little and they got even more intense and were still coming every two or three minutes. And after 12 hours like that, I was only about four and a half centimeters. I was utterly exhausted. I was like at the point of desperation where I felt like I was crying just because I knew there was another one coming and I couldn’t mentally handle. I did not want another one. I wanted a break. It got it kind of past that barrier from pain that I can get through a little longer to suffering where I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. And usually they say like, when you get to the point where you feel like you can’t do it anymore, you’re almost done. But it wasn’t, I was only four and a half centimeters. So we made the decision to go to the hospital. At the hospital, it was really busy. There were 15 babies born. It was Christmas. It was Christmas Day.

Allison (00:36:01):

Yeah I remember that!

Sierra (00:36:02):

And there were 15 babies born. So they were actually really amazing at the hospital. I had the epidural which is funny. Cause that was like the one thing I did not want.

Allison (00:36:12):

I did, you needed a rest though. You needed it.

Sierra (00:36:16):

And later on we found out that I had an velamentous cord insertion, which is when the cord is not protected by the Wharton’s jelly. It’s just unprotected veins that are running exposed through the water bag. And I found out I had minor vasa previa, meaning those unprotected veins were at the base of my cervix. So they were getting the brunt of that. I know not everyone has a faith, but I definitely do. And I thank God that my daughter was safe because the infant loss rate with those complications undiagnosed is 52%. If one of those cords had broken, they would have had six minutes to get her out. And I live 45 minutes from the hospital. So I thank God that He gave me that intuition that I needed to rest and I needed to go to the hospital. Anyway. We’re totally turning this into a birth story.

Allison (00:37:09):

No, I’m glad you shared.

Sierra (00:37:13):

After she was born, I did get the golden hour. I actually had her on my chest for two hours after she was born. And nobody touched her. Nobody took her, they actually let me push upright. And they shut off my epidural at the end because they wanted me to able to feel it, which is logical. It helps physiologically, but I didn’t have the hormones or the pain meds at that point. So it was rough. I didn’t know, they shut it off. And I remember thinking “If this is with pain meds, how the heck do women do this without?” Actually I didn’t have the pain meds. But I can also say that those early contractions were actually worse than transition. I don’t know how or why, but they were worse. It was insane. After she was born, she latched for two hours straight.

Allison (00:38:02):

Awesome.

Sierra (00:38:02):

She wanted her milk. Well, normally that would be awesome. But like I said, she had an undiagnosed tongue and lip tie. I think they were so busy at the hospital. They did check her. I remember seeing them check her mouth. And I don’t know if they weren’t properly trained in that, which is also possible. Or if they just missed it because it was so busy. Like my midwife, I remember I was pushing like she was crowning. And they were actually amazing. I was still a little bit tingling in my legs. My pain meds were off, but my legs were still jelly. And so they lifted me onto a birthing stool so I could sit upright, which was like amazing. Because they knew I didn’t want to birth on my back, but I remember her getting called to another birth while I was pushing and her saying, “No, I’ll finish this one first. She will go faster.” And that was like the biggest like, “Okay, I can do this. I’m going, I’m going, I’m going, I’m almost there.” But after she was born, we did get those uninterrupted skin-to-skin and the initial latch was, I thought good. It didn’t hurt at first, but I was also like on a Whoo! birth high. But within 12 hours after the birth, my nipples were cracked and bleeding and purple and like the size of a golf ball. I didn’t know that could happen. Once again, I was like “I’m a doula, I help people latch their newborns. Like I know how to do this.” It was not good.

Allison (00:39:41):

So who diagnosed her tongue ties? You said it was about 10 days?

Sierra (00:39:48):

Ten weeks. Yeah. She was almost, she was two months old already.

Allison (00:39:52):

Wow. Did you have it revised as well?

Sierra (00:39:54):

We did. We took her to a tongue tie clinic. It actually specializes in it. There was a pediatric dentist and an IBCLC we saw there. And they both looked and agreed that she had a severe tongue and lip tie and we had them laser revised.

Allison (00:40:13):

And was breastfeeding a little bit easier for you after that?

Sierra (00:40:16):

Well, if you go back to the first week I was using nipple shields. Which I was worried. They always say like in the really pro breastfeeding groups, skin-to-skin and latch the baby as long as they want and never use bottles or nipple shields or pacifiers or blah, blah, blah. But we were using nipple shields. And also because I could only handle her nursing about 15 minutes at a time while I was trying to heal up my poor nips. And so we were using a pacifier because she was a newborn and she wanted to suckle. But I couldn’t give that to her. I had to supplement her also. When she was four days old, she was showing signs of pretty, pretty severe dehydration. And so it wasn’t like my milk wasn’t really in yet. It was still so painful to breastfeed. And I remember like the third night I was crying in the middle of the night because I have to breastfeed her, but I didn’t want to because it hurt so bad.

Allison (00:41:17):

The third day is traditionally hardest for a lot of moms. If you can make it through day three, you got it. I put a video on my YouTube channel about every day, for the first week of breastfeeding. Day three. I’m like you can do this. This is the rough part. Hang in there. You’re milk is transitioning, it’s not in yet.

Sierra (00:41:38):

Before she was born, I did not have formula in my house. Cause I knew if it was an option, I’d want to use it. So I didn’t have it in my house. We did end up having to get some and we supplemented her on day four. I spoon-fed her only 10 or 15 milliliters after I breastfed her. And we did that, I think two times. And then one more time on day five. And then by then my milk was really in and she was doing better, but she was showing such strong signs of dehydration. And that’s a big thing for any mom who’s listening to this. Don’t be afraid to supplement, just make sure you do it properly. And like topping off of the bottle after every feed is not necessary, usually. It depends on your scenario. You need to work with someone. It’s not often though. I cried and cried when we gave her that formula because I thought that I wasn’t gonna be able to breastfeed if I gave her supplements. And supplements have a time and a place, you just have to make sure you’re using them correctly.

Allison (00:42:41):

I totally agree.

Sierra (00:42:43):

As she got older, when she was 10 days old, I think we were able to get rid of the nipple shields.

Allison (00:42:51):

Wow. Even with her tongue tie? That’s amazing.

Sierra (00:42:55):

Yeah. I don’t know exactly what, but I guess she just started compensating. We had gone to Amsterdam when she was nine days old, which is stupid with a newborn, by the way, very stupid.

Allison (00:43:11):

That’s a big city to navigate.

Sierra (00:43:12):

We went to the airport in Amsterdam and this was actually the first week of January of 2020. And the reports of the Corona virus were just starting to flicker in from China. It was not in Europe yet. But I remember we were in this international airport and I just started crying because I was convinced my child was going to get the scary new virus that came out of China because I was going to bump into someone who had just shown up in Amsterdam from China. It was mostly hormones. I was really struggling, but I had this very tiny new person that I wanted to protect. And I remember putting her into her car seat and I was crying next to her because I didn’t want to touch her because I thought my hands were dirty. And she was just crying and crying and crying. And I knew she was hungry, but I wouldn’t touch her until we got to the hotel later and I washed my hands and then I fed her. My mom and her boyfriend were staying in Amsterdam for the night, but they had come for after the birth to help me. My mom was here for the first two weeks. And so they were staying the night in Amsterdam and we drove back home. It’s about an hour and fifteen minutes. When we got home that night, we couldn’t find the nipple shields. And so she was crying and crying and crying and so I kind of just laid on my back. I can’t even remember the official name, but tummy-to-tummy. And she kind of just latched.

Allison (00:44:45):

Like a laid-back nursing position.

Sierra (00:44:47):

Yeah, exactly. She just kind of latched. And so I was watching like, “Okay, is this going to work?” And I was like really scared. “Am I going to start bleeding again? This doesn’t hurt. Is it going to get worse?” But she was able to compensate and nurse with the tongue tie and lip tie. What ended up having us revise them? We wouldn’t have revised them if there weren’t significant concerns. I suspected she had them, but since nursing was going okay, I thought it would be okay. We ended up reaching out to a lactation consultant. And of course there’s none in my town. We went to an IBCLC in Zwolle. Actually, I tried to make an appointment with her, but she ended up helping me over the phone, which was amazing. It’s normal for a newborn to be gassy, which I think also most mothers don’t know. It is totally normal for your baby to be gassy and maybe a little crampy. And that’s because their digestive system is learning to work. But if it’s excessive, then it can be an issue. She was crying all day. She was uncomfortable. Constantly we were doing bicycle kicks and tummy rubs and there was so much gas. You could tell this was more than a new digestive system learning to work. We found out I had an oversupply. Basically she was getting too much foremilk and not enough hindmilk. Now the foremilk is very hydrating– mostly water, but it’s very hydrating to your baby and important. It’s like a thirst-quenching thing. And the hindmilk is fattier and it’s more nutrient dense. I had an imbalance because I had an oversupply and so we started block feeding. And so basically she got one breast for three hours at a time and she couldn’t have the other one until the next three hours. She could still breastfeed as much as she wanted, but that kind of helped with the oversupply instead of feeding on both breasts every time.

Allison (00:47:02):

It’s a great idea.

Sierra (00:47:04):

And that was a tip that the IBCLC had given us. And after we switched that her symptoms lessened, but she was still struggling. And so that’s when we kind of started to think, “This could be from an improper latch. She’s swallowing too much air.” And by then she was two and a half months old and we took her and had the tongue and lip tie revised. And I’m very grateful because they said that hers were very tight. And while they can get looser later, they said it also could’ve caused severe dental or speech issues.

Allison (00:47:34):

Yeah, for sure. That’s always a concern.

Sierra (00:47:39):

Because of how tight it was. The first week after we had it revised, I regretted it because I felt like we were learning to breastfeed all over again. Her mouth felt like, I don’t know how else to say it, like loose. She was loose. But we were seeing a chiropractor who was certified to work with babies. It got really better after the first week. And then her gas issues also started getting better. She was still gassy, but like normal newborn gassy, not excessive like it was. So we had a lot of mountains to get over. At six months I had depression that really started kicking in and I’m still struggling with that.

Allison (00:48:21):

You’re not alone. Many moms are in that same place. And a lot of it’s hormonal, situational. Mom life is hard and your hormones are just crazy. Yeah.

Sierra (00:48:33):

And Corona and a newborn and we were in lockdown by then. And it was just insane for me. And so the depression really kicked in then. I got into counseling and they said that I just have depression that was worsened by postpartum because based on what I was telling them, I already had it. It just got worse. It wasn’t official postpartum depression. I don’t really care about the label. It was just, it was awful.

Allison (00:48:56):

You needed help, and you got it. Good for you.

Sierra (00:48:56):

It was really hard then. I’m still in counseling and that’s still something I’m working through because new moms are forgotten so easily. And it’s really sad, but I wanted to give up. But I all I could think that whole time was, “You have made it six months. If you stop now, you will regret it. Because you can’t just stop for a week. If you stop, you’re done. You can’t start again next month if you change your mind.” And so I really persevered, even through the really dark moments of that depression, because I knew just make it. I originally had the goal to breastfeed her until she was two to three years old. And at that six month point, I altered it to say, I want to get to a year. I just want to get to a year. And I was able to get through those really dark, dark weeks. I’m getting a little bit emotional talking about this.

Allison (00:49:53):

No, I’m so happy you’re sharing though.

Sierra (00:49:56):

It was really dark times for me. But we got through it and at nine months old– this was probably way TMI– but I had to have a colonoscopy because I was being tested for Celiac’s and Crohn’s. And I have a family history of both, and I was having some pretty bad intestinal issues. So I needed to be tested. A colonoscopy for anyone who has not had the delight– you have to drink this really disgusting colon prep. It’s so nasty. And it basically cleans everything out of your system until there’s water coming out of where water should not come out. It’s nasty and it burns and it tastes awful. But it completely empties your digestive system until there’s no food left. Because of that, my milk supply tanked– like bad tanked. I was crying because I thought I didn’t have any left. She was crying when she came off the breast and she was nuzzling and swatting and she wasn’t getting anything and she would switch sides and it was the same thing. And I had to start supplementing. I started at nine months old using raw goats milk in place of a formula. I had access to it and I felt like that was a little bit of a better option, but do your own research because people will get on you for raw milk.

Allison (00:51:26):

Not for everyone, but yeah, I don’t judge you for what you feel like is best for your family.

Sierra (00:51:31):

It depends on what you like. But anyway, my point being, I had to feed her a bottle of milk and I cried and cried. And I think we did that for four days after she breastfed, I’d have to give her milk. And I was bringing her to the breast every moment. I was baby-wearing. And I was trying to get that milk supply back. And I was so scared it wasn’t going to come back. Like I was so scared because I wanted to make it at least to a year. It’s a stupid thing because you should never feel like you failed if you stopped sooner. But I knew for me, I would feel like I failed and I didn’t want to have that feeling. So I gave her the goat’s milk, but after about a week in, my supply came back up and I stopped supplementing. I was so relieved.

Allison (00:52:18):

Yeah. That’s a rough little little moment there.

Sierra (00:52:23):

It was scary. I can’t describe the feeling. I think until you’ve breastfed and you’ve been through that, where suddenly your milk has dropped significantly. Like that’s a horrible feeling, like you don’t want to stop before you’re ready.

Allison (00:52:37):

Yeah. It’s all about choice. Like you said, if you end in a scenario that wasn’t your choice, those feelings that come with that are hard to get through. I’m impressed that you persevered and refused to quit because that’s what your goals were. Wow. That’s amazing.

Sierra (00:52:57):

Yeah. I was really glad.

Allison (00:53:00):

Alright. Your fourth one, I loved. And you said after all this hard stuff, you’ve talked about some really real moments, some really raw parts of motherhood. And then you said breastfeeding is amazing. Can you tell us more?

Sierra (00:53:14):

Yeah. Breastfeeding is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s like the best thing I’ve ever done too. I can’t describe the bond that it gives you with your child. I know if you formula feed or if you bottle feed or if you pump and bottle feed or however you feed your baby, I know you still get that incredible parent-child bond. But when you breastfeed, it gives something different. Like you are your child’s comfort. Your child doesn’t come to you for comfort, you are their comfort. I remember the first weeks, I have so many pictures of a little milk-drunk newborn.

Allison (00:54:01):

Those are the best!

Sierra (00:54:01):

Oh my gosh, so cute!

Allison (00:54:02):

It’s like dripping out of their mouth and their eyes are rolled back and they’re like, “I love you Mom”

Sierra (00:54:08):

Their mouth is wide open and there’s little dribbles, and they’re just like passed out on your boob. And it’s so cute. When she was even just a couple of days old, she was smiling out of reflex when she breastfed. And that was the sweetest thing. As a first-time mom, I didn’t even know that a newborn couldn’t smile. I didn’t know that they didn’t have the knowledge on how to socially smile, but she would smile when I breastfed her. And so that was like the most special thing for me to get to see her little smile and the milk dribbles. When she did learn how to socially smile, when she would stop nursing and grin at me and the milk would dribble all over. You better get used to milk dribbles because your clothes are going to be covered in milk for as long as you breastfeed.

Allison (00:55:02):

But yeah, and the bed and the rugs and everything.

Sierra (00:55:08):

The sheets, the couch, all of it. It’s milked, but it’s like the sweetest thing when all of a sudden they pop off and they grin at you and then they lay their head on you and then they start nursing some more. I have a friend who actually has a baby who’s seven weeks younger than Charlotte actually. And so we kind of went through this together. She’s also breastfeeding. And she had a home birth and she had struggles also with her supply and I put her in contact with the same IBCLC I used. But where I had an oversupply, she had an undersupply. And so she was able to work through that also. But for me, I would have like a shower head if Charlotte would nurse and then she would stop before the letdown had stopped. It would be like a shower head and I would be spraying her all over her face and I would laugh so hard and I would be yelling for my husband like, “Grab me a towel!” And that happened for the first couple of months. It doesn’t happen anymore, but it’s like a really fond memory of breastfeeding I have because it’s just so ridiculous.

Allison (00:56:34):

Oh, that’s funny.

Sierra (00:56:37):

Another thing I had talked about was when your child gets sick. Breastfeeding actually creates a su..ction on the breast and when it creates a suction and there’s like a little bit of backwash sort of thing going on. And I know that sounds really nasty, but that’s actually adding biofeedback to your body on what your child needs. So every time you feed your baby, it’s going to have this special biofeedback. And that’s even special specifically for breastfeeding and not pumping is you have this special biofeedback and your body will react to what your child needs. She was actually sick on her first birthday, which was also her first Christmas, poor baby. But she was sick and I could see the difference in my milk. It had changed from like this almost white or blue creamy milk. My milk turns blue sometimes. It’s weird, but I guess that’s normal. It had turned from that back into this thick yellow, like colostrum type milk, like from the first milk from when she was born. And I know because I do have some sort of training, that was actually the antibodies coming back through my milk because she was sick. So it was literally like the breast milk had transformed not only from food, but also into medicine for her while she was sick.

Allison (00:58:08):

That’s amazing, what a cool way to think about it.

Sierra (00:58:10):

It’s just so awesome. After she was born, I learned about the microbiology of birth. I took a course in infant, the infant microbiome, and I read a couple of books on it. And it was just so interesting. Like I was so grateful that we had a vaginal birth and that I was able to breastfeed her right away. That seed and feed and to feed the gut flora. And the more I learned about breastfeeding, just the more amazed by it I am. And I’m so proud and happy that I got to make it this far. And again, I don’t say that to say anything against someone who did stop. Your battles are not my battles, but I’m so glad I got through my battles.

Allison (00:58:55):

Yeah. I’m proud of you too. You really went through a lot of different things at once. You got a handle on the new thing, another one came up. I’m proud of you too. And I think it’s absolutely fine to be proud of yourself and to say “I’m excited about what I was able to accomplish” and it shouldn’t make anyone else feel bad if their story looks different because their story a hundred percent does look different. I haven’t met a mom yet who had the same experience.

Sierra (00:59:27):

When I said I’m not lucky, some people say that and it’s because they stopped breastfeeding sooner. And it’s not a reflection on you. It’s just, for me, I wasn’t lucky. I worked really hard for this. Luck implies that it’s just some cosmic thing I had no part in, but this was something I worked for. One of the reasons I worked so hard for it and I kept going when it was hard. But when she was 10 or 11 months old, I actually found out that my mom, I thought she had breastfed all of us. And my mom got pregnant with me when she was 16. I was born when she was 17. And I thought that she had breastfed me the whole time, and that was what kept me going. “My mom was 17 with a newborn and she breastfed– if she did this, I can keep going. I can get there. If she did this, so can I.” That was the biggest motivator when it was hard for me was if my mom did this, so can I. I found out when my daughter was 10 or 11 months old, that my mom got mastitis when I was two months old and stopped breastfeeding. So that was kind of like, wait, what?

Allison (01:00:55):

Come on. This has been my motivation.

Sierra (01:00:58):

I’m not sure what she did with my sister. I think she said, she breastfed my sister until she was four months old or something like that. And then I have two brothers after us. I’m the oldest. And then there was my sister and my two brothers. My brothers were breastfeeding, I think until they were like two. So that was what I saw with it. They breastfed until two. And I thought like, of course I don’t remember. I thought we all did that. So I laugh now looking back. That was such a big motivator for me. So it was a little bit like, “Oh, okay. I didn’t know that.”

Allison (01:01:34):

Thanks for not telling me that until I already made it this far.

Sierra (01:01:38):

Thanks for not telling me though, because that was my motivation.

Allison (01:01:42):

Well, Sierra, I have loved talking with you today and I so appreciate you sharing your story, especially some of the harder moments. I think a lot of moms can relate with you and you have a lot of good information to share. Is there anything else you’d like to share with new moms, expecting moms? Any words of motivation as we kind of close out this interview?

Sierra (01:02:03):

Okay. I think the biggest two things were have faith in yourself. You can do it. It’s hard. Believe me. I know I’ve been there on like multiple different fronts. It is hard, but if you want to do it, you can do it. So just persevere, you can do it. And the other thing is have snacks. Cause it midnight after your baby’s born, you’re going to be hungry.

Allison (01:02:27):

Have snacks? Title that for the episode. This was by Sierra– have snacks.

Sierra (01:02:34):

I actually had like those little Belvita breakfast bar, I kept them in my room for the first couple of months, because like I could not get through the night without a snack. Nobody tells you about the breastfeeding munchies.

Allison (01:02:47):

Exactly. Right. Have snacks. If you took away nothing else from today, get your snacks bucket for your breastfeeding station. Thank you so much, Sierra. I know you’re busy. You’ve got a lot you’re working on, but I appreciate you taking the time with us today and sharing your story.

Sierra (01:03:04):

Yeah, it was fun. I hope I didn’t wrap a trail too much.

Allison (01:03:07):

No, it was perfect. You can see all the links and stuff we talked about from today down in our show notes. And you can also go and check my website, newlittlelife.com for all the stuff that is over there. For an online breastfeeding course. Some other helpful resources for you there too. So that’s it for today and thanks again, Sierra.

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