Jenna Rainey, Artist, Educator, And First Time Mama On Breastfeeding, Babies & Business

Jenna thought becoming a mom while running her biz, would be easy-breezy. However, as she’s learned, it’s been anything but.

Settling into new mom-hood (and loving it!) Jenna reflects on her experience. From popping nipple blisters with hot needles to birth plans gone array and severe post-birth recovery (try not being able to sit for six weeks with work deadlines looming!), she shares why her perspective on breastfeeding and momming has wholly changed. In short, she’s learned to let go of expectations. @jennarainey

Current state of mind?

These days, we’re in a flow…but it has taken us a minute to get there.

Oh ya, what’s your day to day like? Who’s taking care of babe?

For the past seven years, I’ve been running a design agency out of my home. What started as a custom stationery studio has evolved into writing “How To” watercolor books (published two bestsellers!) and licensing artwork for products with brands such as Target, Office Depot, and Staples. Plus, I offer quarterly online business courses that teach other creatives how to launch and build their businesses online.

However, the last five months have looked very different on the day-to-day and have been an enormous adjustment. Since having Miles, I have focused a lot more on building my passive income revenue streams through licensing to be more flexible. My mom comes up three days a week to help with the baby, and I’m able to get a substantial amount of work done during that time. On the days that it’s just John or me, we tag team. If he has things to get done for the business then I’m on baby duty, and vice versa. I am way more efficient because I have a finite amount of time to “get shit done.” Honestly, I don’t know what I used to do with my time before I had a baby! I feel like I wasted so much!

And, what’s breastfeeding been like?

It’s good. NOW. The first two months, however, were a mess. I was utterly taken aback by what had happened to me and felt majorly unprepared to care for a newborn. No one (and no book) can prepare you for the experience of becoming a mom. Breastfeeding was almost impossible in the beginning, and I wasn’t sure if I could do it. I struggled so much. The irony is that I was so gun-ho on “breast is best.” When I was pregnant, I was reading all the articles and thought it was THE way to provide nutrition to my baby. In this weird non-judgmental way I was adamant about not using formula. Of course, this was before I had any understanding of how difficult it would be. I’ve changed my tune since.

My supply was deficient from the start, and I had so much anxiety about it. Plus, the lack of sleep & stress was detrimental and took a considerable toll on me. Coupled with the pressure of going back to work and client deadlines, (even though I work from home), was weighing on me. I had expected to have a beautiful breastfeeding experience, and it just wasn’t that way. Plus, I needed to have the ability to have someone else feed my baby, and I couldn’t produce enough for that. It became this cyclical thing of not producing enough milk and then pumping at night when my baby was sleeping, which would leave me exhausted and lower my supply during the day. I kept going round and round. After much heartache and struggle, I decided if I had to supplement with formula to keep me sane, it would be worth it. At one point, we broke down and bought a box of formula, but in the end, never used it! I think that was the release I needed, the permission if you will, to let go of my tight grip on this idea of “ the perfect” experience. That alone made my milk supply come in!  “Fed is best.” That’s my new belief.

Oh ya! How long do you think you’ll breastfeed for now that you’re in the swing of things?

My goal is a year, but I would love to go longer. However, considering how the birth, breastfeeding, and motherhood, in general, have gone so far, I don’t want to set any expectations on myself. If longer, great, if shorter, that’s good too.

When we get back from Tulum (parents only trip!), we are going to start him on solid foods like avocado mash and sweet potato for the high-fat content. Plus, we signed up for a subscription meal delivery program called Raised Real, it’s all organic freeze-dried packages of small meals for babies. I have auto-immune diseases in my family and genes, so I have to be careful not to include anything GMO’d, wheat, or dairy into his diet.

Do you have any tips for women that are having a hard time breastfeeding?

OMG yes. There are so many things I would say to myself if I could go back in time. To begin, say YES to help. I felt I had to do it all alone, when in fact that’s not the case! Say yes to your mom holding the baby for an extra 15 minutes, it could mean all the difference in your day. 15 minutes could be the nap that restores your energy, the shower that refreshes you or the time to put on a bit of makeup that makes you feel a little more like yourself.

And, nipple butter is a life saver! Lanolin is the primary ingredient. I had a baby with a perfect latch, and everyone applauded that. But guess what, it still hurt like hell, and I was bleeding. At one point, I had a blood blister on my nipple for weeks! I even tried to pop it with a hot needle — didn’t work!

I would even suggest taking a warm washcloth and rub your nipples while pregnant to prep them for the constant friction that’s to come with nursing.

Did you have a birth plan?

Well, that was thrown out the window! We were planning a natural home birth. Around 39 weeks, the midwifery flagged that legally they cannot birth a baby past 42 weeks, but not to worry as only about 4% of women experience this. Figuring this rarely happens and the odds were in our favor, we proceeded. Well, weeks went by, and he never came. We went everyday to the midwifery, each visit paid out of pocket including additional ultrasounds and a full catheter. I was so committed to my birth plan which was meant to be this idyllic all-natural, water birth. I was so full of expectations. At 42 weeks, the midwife told me that I was only 2 cm dilated with no movement. It was devastating. The next day I had to go to the hospital and be induced as they could not go any further.

That was my first lesson in letting go of rigid expectations.

Have you had any time for selfcare?

I certainly have room to grow in this arena, but making progress. These days I’m prioritizing a 15 min stretch or workout every morning. Since starting to do this, I am feeling much better. It changes my entire day. Yes, I could opt to use that time to answer pressing emails instead, but it doesn’t serve me nearly as much mentally and physically.

Post-birth I was doing a ton of Epsom salt baths to heal my 3rd-degree tear, and I referred to the First 40 Days book religiously. The meals and ways she talks about nutrients, warming foods, and how to feed a new mom were so inciteful. I also had this local woman, Postpartum Bites deliver a ton of meals for me in the beginning. While I could have cooked these meals myself, I also couldn’t stand for long, so my form of self-care was to hire someone to prepare meals for me.

Did you take a maternity leave?

I wish I had truly checked out as I think it would have helped with my milk supply. I remember telling people that I was going to take a month off (which didn’t end up happening because he was so late). Looking back, even the notion of a month of maternity leave being enough is ridiculous. I thought that was ample time before I had a baby!

There’s a photo of me on Instagram painting to meet a deadline while laying down because I couldn’t sit for two months with my tear. I’d committed to the project before knowing the reality of new motherhood and had to complete seven prints during his naps from a horizontal position. Looking back, I wish I had said no to that job or that I would deliver it later.

It’s crazy to think in America maternity leave is unpaid. It’s one thing to be a business owner and have the choice, but to work for a company and be required to go back to work immediately after having a baby makes zero sense! Even for me, I literally couldn’t sit for two months. I don’t know how I would have gone back to an office in that condition. I had people messaging me saying they had 3rd-degree tears plus bleeding, and were required to go back to work four days after they had their baby. One woman said she had the baby on Friday and went back to work on Monday. Physically, there’s NO WAY I could have done that!

Books and podcasts as of late?

Reading: Everything Is Figureoutable. And listening to: Goal Digger by Jenna Kutcher (my current fave) and Pursuit With Purpose. 

A habit you’ve picked up in the last few years that’s made a positive impact?

Most of what I do with my time revolves around my business. One major shift I began a few years ago was time batching. Every week I dedicate my days to different projects or types of work. For example, Mondays and Wednesday are devoted to book-related things, and Tuesday plus Thursday is licensing and client work. It’s made me considerably more efficient with my time.

Any advice… 

If I could go back in time to when I was pregnant, I’d say, “don’t set any expectations!” It’s OK to have overall goals but don’t expect anything to work out precisely the way you’ve envisioned.