While this story is still very much one in progress, I am going to share my breast-feeding success story today. Without spoiling the ending, I will tell you that my story does not end in my child happily nursing or with me producing dozens of ounces of milk each day. Our story is a success, because my son is healthy and I am happy. Over the last few weeks, my social media feeds have been inundated with graphics of milk bottles filled to the brim with breastmilk. Targeted ads for coconut water that supposedly turn you into a milk-making goddess. That isn’t our reality, and I know it isn’t for many women. So, if you are reading this and struggling with breastfeeding, I encourage you to take a minute to define what ‘success’ looks like to you when it comes to feeding your baby. Most mothers would agree that their child’s physical health and their own mental health equates a success.
How It Started
My first attempt to feed Benny was upsetting. It was shortly after he was born, and we were doing skin-to-skin. A nurse came in and announced that I needed to try to feed him. He was asleep, and I tried to encourage him to my breast. After several unsuccessful attempts, the nurse proclaimed, “He is lazy! He was born too early. Babies at this gestation are extra sleepy. He doesn’t know how to do it. You have to show him.” For the record, Benny arrived in his 37th week- at term. I tried to be confident as I held him up to feed. He screamed. “If he cries. Stop. You don’t want to traumatize him!” the nurse said to me. I looked at the nurse and asked if she thought everything was okay with his mouth. It just felt like he couldn’t even get on at all. “He’s just lazy,” she repeated again. The nurse left, and at this point, I immediately started crying.
After the nurse left the room, I looked to Ben and could tell he felt completely useless. He didn’t know how to help me. I had no clue how to help Benny. The following day including having a wrong-sized nipple shield given to me and a hospital-grade pump wheeled into the room. I was overwhelmed and clueless. I was able to express some colostrum using a hand pump and feed it to Benny with a spoon. I asked for help, but help never came. Our hospital had no lactation consultant at the time. This is something I was unaware of until after we had delivered Benny.
What came instead were tiny bottles of formula and directions to “feed him this or he will dehydrate.” I felt a lot of things while we were in the hospital. I was embarrassed at how clueless I was. I don’t blame the nurses as they were overwhelmed and breastfeeding isn’t a medical emergency. It’s unfair to expect them to provide the services a lactation consultant should. I was disappointed and confused. I remember saying to Ben, “I will not allow this to get me down or put any sort of damper on these first few days. How silly. He is finally here. He is healthy. We made it to term.” While truly nothing else matters, I was definitely disappointed in those early days. So, we gave him formula at the hospital.
The First Five Weeks
When I was pregnant, I was super grateful to connect with a wonderful lactation consultant, Beth. She came to our house the day after we got home from the hospital. At this point, Benny was having formula and random spoonfuls of breastmilk or whatever I was able to hand express. Upon looking at Benny, Beth noticed his tongue tie and that he was quite jaundiced. The subsequent days included going back to the hospital for bilirubin level monitoring and a frenectomy with a wonderful local pediatrician. As soon as Benny’s tie was released, he was able to feed from the bottle much easier and latch with lots of encouragement and the help of a nipple shield.
To put it bluntly, we worked our butts off for those first five weeks. Every feed was a ‘triple feed’ situation. I would nurse Benny for 15 minutes on each side and then offer him a bottle. After a weighted feed, we determined Benny was able to get about 1/2 an ounce of milk after nursing for 30 minutes. Needless to say, as time went on, he got more frustrated. I can relate to those feelings when I’m at a restaurant and it takes too long between the appetizer and main meal. (Side note- we had to work hard to maintain a sense of humor during these weeks.) Additionally, I was pumping afterwards. The problem was this, Ben returned to work when Benny was eight days old. I didn’t physically have anyone to hold Benny while I pumped. But, we made it work most days. My milk didn’t arrive until about 6 days postpartum. At that point, I was able to pump a few drops of milk and found my body responded best to a Medela hand pump. I tried the Hakaa and caught literal drops with each feed. But, every drops counts I guess. I gradually started to become more comfortable with the electric pump, but I was still pumping drops.
I’ve always had rolled oats for breakfast. I added in six capsules of Liquid Gold each day, a gallon of water (literally), a postnatal lactation multivitamin, and shatavari powder. I maintained a plentiful diet. Truthfully, I really wasn’t stressed out or feeling too down on myself during this time. I was disappointed for sure, but was starting to come to terms with what my body could do. During this time, I never saw my body produce more than an ounce combined.
When Benny was about five weeks old, I looked down at him as I tried to get him to latch during one of our 2am feeding sessions. He was fussy and struggling to stay on to feed. I could tell he was frustrated and hungry. Why the heck are we doing this? I thought. In that moment, I threw away all my breast shields. I gave Benny his formula bottle that he happily sucked down. I gave up nursing as I realized it was no longer an enjoyable experience for us. .
The next morning, I told Ben I wanted to focus on pumping. No more triple feeds. I would focus on consistently pumping and giving Benny whatever milk I was able to pump. I would work my butt off to increase my supply, but I wouldn’t make my mental health suffer over it. So, here we are at just about 8 weeks, and we’re making it work. Benny gets two breast-milk bottles a day and the rest of his diet is formula. I pump about 8 times a day including in the middle of the night. Sometimes I pump 1oz combined on both sides and every-so-often I’m able to gather 2oz during a 20-minute pump session.
“Fed Is Best”
Insert the eye roll. While it is 100% true, it can often be hard to hear when things aren’t going the way you envisioned. That being said, I fully realize we are the luckiest- Benny was a healthy baby born at term. I know that many women have traumatic deliveries that lead to them not having the option to breastfeed at all. I thank my lucky stars that was not our situation. The challenges we encountered during our pregnancy helped me gain the utmost perspective. Ideally, I wanted to breastfeed Benny for at least the first 6 months, but I’ve come to terms with our reality. I will continue to work my butt off for the 10-12oz of milk I’m able to produce on most days. Maybe my supply will magically get better in the coming weeks. Maybe it won’t. Either way, it is okay. Maybe I will continue pumping like a maniac until he’s six months old. Maybe I’ll stop in a few weeks.
For any moms out there who are encountering obstacles as they work to feed their little ones, you are not alone. In the last few weeks, I’ve had the honor of talking to moms with all different stories. Moms like me who produce drops to moms who overproduce a painful 70oz per day. We all share one thing in common- feeding journeys not going the way we anticipated. I’m here to remind you that if your kid is fed, that truly is what matters as annoying as it can be to hear. Life is too short to stress over what’s for dinner- for you or your baby.