A BREASTFEEDING STORY
Near the end of my pregnancy with Ellie, I went to a free one-night class about breastfeeding. I left this class feeling completely pumped (pun intended) to latch my newborn and reap all the benefits that breastfeeding provides. I decided positive thinking was the best thing I could do to prepare myself and felt confident and ready by the time I delivered. Delivery came and a couple of nipple shields and sleepless nights later we were facing our first night home with our little lady. It was that first difficult night that I found that my daughter wasn’t getting enough out of my breast and so, my loving husband made her a bottle while I cried into my pillow.
But then my milk came in and I had a renewed sense of hope that things surrounding meal-time would flow much more smoothly. Now it’s been a while, so the details of those short-lived couple of months breastfeeding Ellie are a blur, but just know it was a confusing and frustrating time for my newborn and me. She would spend for-ev-errr on my boob (sometimes up to an hour and a half) while arching her back and grunting the entire time. And just in case you were wondering, it’s super unsettling to have a tiny disgruntled newborn attached to you. In fact, it was downright depressing. She never simply unlatched and lied there content, like the instructor of my breastfeeding class said she would. Eventually I would pop her off of me and she would root around and start trying to eat her hands like a little crazy baby, so I would then go and make her a bottle of formula or pumped milk. Pumping was a whole other level of fun times, but I actually preferred it because 1.) No ticked of, red-faced baby trying to suck the goods out of me unsuccessfully, and 2.) I could tell exactly how much she was getting.
The bad news–I wasn’t a very successful pumper. I would get about 1.5 oz to 2 oz total if it was a good session, no matter how long I sat there. Google tells me this is normal, boobs often don’t respond as well to a pump as they do a suckling babe, and it is not indicative of a low milk supply. My gut told me otherwise, but I kept on trying. I tried three different pumps just to make sure. I drank my weight in water and ate all my calories. But really, the formula became more and more convenient and before she was 3-months-old Ellie started refusing to latch on me…which like, I can’t blame her, eating from a bottle was clearly much easier and nipple confusion and all that. So I stopped latching her and shortly after I stopped pumping. From thee months on Ellie was exclusively fed with formula.
I felt relieved to be done with it but also guilty and envious of my friends who seemed to have an endless supply of milk and excellent latchers. I reminded myself that I was formula fed and I turned out juuuusttt fine. Plus, it was super convenient that Michael could help with feedings, too. I made peace with it and moved on as best as I could.
When I got pregnant with Scarlett, I started thinking about breastfeeding right away. I guess there were still some guilty feelings lingering, because I committed to learn from my past “mistakes” and do better this time around. I started praying that I would have a generous milk supply and that my baby would be a good little latcher and sucker. Michael prayed and even fasted for this once a month my entire pregnancy also. It was my goal to stay away from the pump this time and to just nurse, nurse, nurse. I found out about a supplement called Fenegreek that’s supposed to boost milk supply and I started taking it a couple of weeks before delivery. My pantry was stocked with oatmeal so I’d be ready to eat up once it was baby time. It’s not like you can really prepare to be successful at nursing, but man, I sure tried.
Sometime after Scarlett was delivered, I was in pure bliss soaking up all the skin-to-skin time that I could when it became apparent that she was hungry. My sister-in-law Candice was to my left and my mom was on my right. I mumbled that she needed to latch and asked them if we should get the nurse. “Just try it,” Candice said, “You’ve done this before, you know what you’re doing.” But the thing was, I didn’t. I clumsily tried to latch her but was having little success. Then the nurse came in and helped wrestle my newborns head to my nipple. All of the anxiety and frustrating memories of nursing came flooding back to me in that moment. “Oh yeah, ” I remembered, “I totally hate this.” The delivery nurse gave me some advice and then a short time later I was moved to my room in the mother/baby unit. I explained my anxiety over nursing when they asked me what my “goals” for my hospital stay were, so they sent in a lactation nurse with a thick country accent who spoke quietly and quickly. I could barely keep up with everything she was saying and when Scarlett was latched on in a way that made me grimace and I went to unlatch her, she swatted at my hand and told me not to do it like that. My confidence was shot. For the next 24 hours, I needed a nurse to help me latch Scarlett every. single. time. What was really hard was that any time a new nurse came to help they showed me how to latch her in a different way. I had to remind myself over and over again that nurses are people (wonderful, helpful, lifesaving people!) who have opinions, just like anyone else. Just because a nurse said it, did not make it law. One nurse scalded me for using the pacifier and so I tried to do away with it when another nurse (Renee, my favorite!) told me that pacifiers are great and that I should go for it so that Scarlett could self-sooth. I chose to listen to her because…it made Scarlett stop crying.
The next afternoon they sent in a new lactation nurse who, like all the nurses before her, started shoving an insane amount of pillows under all of my arms and waist and helped me latch Scarlett. She latched beautifully that time and I started crying. The sweet nurse thought I was crying happy tears, but no. I told her, “It isn’t realistic that I’m going to have someone helping me and shoving pillows under my arms at home.” I was panicked, how was I ever going to do this on my own? But after that 24 hour mark, something clicked and I was able to do it. And she even came off of me and looked content after feedings! HALLELUJAH! We were in a good little rhythm.
Once we got home and my milk came in I exclusively breastfed. Even though things seemed to be going great (other than she would only latch with a nipple shield) I dreaded nursing every time. It wasn’t that I was in pain or anything while she was eating, it just made me feel deeply depressed, but only when she was actually nursing. (Apparently there is an actual condition that causes this called Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex. Who knew?!) Those first few days seemed great, but I was disappointed that Scarlett had dropped below the weight she was when we left the hospital. I kept breastfeeding for those first two weeks and hoped that she would get back up to her birth weight, but at her checkup, I was sad to see that she had even dropped down one more ounce. That’s when the pediatrician set me up with an appointment to see the lactation consultant.
At my appointment they weighed Scarlett, (she’d lost even more weight in those three days since my doctor’s appointment) and then had me feed her on each side. This nurse was the most aggressive yet, after Scarlett was latched she would shove her head further into my boob and tell me that it needed to be in there deeper. I just felt like such a little nube! Nube with a boob, ha. But anyways, she weighed Scarlett after the feeding and was able to extract about an ounce from each side. She said most babies her age seemed content after that, but Scarlett was clearly still hungry. She drew up what they call a triple feed plan for me. I would breastfeed, pump for twenty minutes, and then bottle feed my expressed milk to Scarlett in hopes of tricking my boobs and boosting my supply. I knew this would be an hour long ordeal so I started crying right-a-friggin way when she told me this. I told her that I have a toddler at home and I didn’t see how this was at all doable. “Try it for a week,” she said, “and see how it goes.”
I did try it for a week. And it was hard. Pumping takes both hands and it seemed like Ellie was always having some crisis the second I turned the pump on. If I needed to go somewhere I always had to make sure I planned it just right or had the pump with me. If I wasn’t feeding my baby I was sterilizing bottles and pump equipment, entertaining Ellie, and trying to keep the house looking halfway decent. I was very irritable and at a loss as to what I should do. Michael prayed for me and said that I would get a lot of advice from a lot of people, but that I would be able to decipher what would work best for my baby. I have held onto that line every since I heard it. Sometimes I think we feel like maternal instincts are going to shout at us, but I think they are a lot more subtle than that.
A week went by and my boobs deemed themselves untrickable. I still only got an ounce or so out when I pumped after feedings. After a week and a half on this schedule I ordered a baby scale off Amazon so that I could see if Scarlett was getting anymore. She had still not gained weight and only getting an 1.5-2 oz when she was breastfed, and still clearly hungry afterward. A few more days passed and she arched her back and grunted the whole time I was breastfeeding her. I knew I couldn’t keep living the triple-feed schedule, so I decided to do away with breastfeeding. It made her miserable, it made miserable, breastfeeding was out and pumping was in. I was happy that I was getting about 3.5 oz and sometimes (in the morning) even 4 oz! This was almost double what I got when pumping for Ellie! Thank you, Fenegreek and Gatorade. I mean, some of my friends have super boobs and get 8 oz from each side during each pump session, but still! I was thrilled. I could mostly stay ahead of her and I was only having to supplement with formula at night time.
However, the past two weeks my milk supply has dropped significantly. I get about an ounce and a half during pump sessions now, and Scarlett has been taking in mostly formula. Of course, she doesn’t seem to mind, in fact, lately when I offer her my breast milk she acts like she doesn’t want it. I have a theory that it’s because my milk is like skim milk. Seriously, you can practically see right through it.
I think I went in to breast feeding with the wrong attitude this time around. I felt like I had made some rookie mistakes with Ellie, but I realize now that I didn’t do anything wrong. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out! And it sucks, but that is okay. Why do we moms feel the need to feel guilty over every single thing? I put a ton of pressure on myself to make it work, and I tried everything (multiple pumps, supplements, power pumping, EVERYTHING). But when all is said and done, you can’t work with what you don’t got. I truly believe the same hormone imbalance that makes it hard for me to get pregnant makes me have low supply. (I have found that many PCOS patients struggle with this.) And while I am disappointed, I am not disappointed in myself. I tried hard, and really, what more can you do?