This week is world breastfeeding week, and while I’m no longer a nursing mom, I couldn’t let it go by without acknowledgement. I wasn’t able to breastfeed as long as I wanted, and I often miss it – those sweet snuggles at the end of the day and knowing I was providing something essential for my daughter. I’m hoping future experiences go better for me, but I wanted to take a moment to share our breastfeeding story again.
When I was pregnant with Abbie, I always assumed I’d breastfeed. For some reason, I thought it would work without any issues other than the typical “starting out” ones. Oh, naive pregnant Jess.
If you’ve read Abbie’s birth story, you know that while I did have a vaginal birth, I also developed preeclampsia while in labor. Abbie’s birth is hazy in parts for me. While I know we did skin-to-skin, I don’t remember if I tried to nurse her right away. I was really out of it because of the medicine I was on, and because of that, Abbie wasn’t allowed to room-in with me as planned. Someone else had to be in the room and awake for her to be in the room since I couldn’t get out of bed.
That first night, we made the difficult decision to send Abbie to the hospital nursery. I was on a lot of different medicines and needed to recover, so I wasn’t able to nurse that night. Instead, Abbie got formula in the hospital nursery. I thought I had told the nurses I wanted her brought to me to nurse, but I’m not sure if that got lost because of the chaos or what. Either way, we didn’t really get off to a great start.
When I finally got off all the medicine, we got moved to a regular room and Abbie was able to stay with us full-time. Waiting for the nurses to bring her to us was the longest wait of my life! That day, we started to work on breastfeeding.
I’ve always been well-endowed (I was a G cup pre-pregnancy). Unfortunately, this posed a challenge for Abbie and her small mouth. We couldn’t seem to get comfortable. It was difficult to get her at a good angle, and she was hungry. On top of that, my milk wasn’t in. I may have given up (or just spent the entire time crying) if not for our hospital’s lactation consultant. She showed me how to switch to the football hold so Abbie and I both had more space, and a few drops of formula on the nipple helped Abbie find her way. I was relieved to feel her nursing and felt a lot better about our outlook at this point.
Then we went home.
Abbie was born on a Friday, so we went home on Sunday. The first night home was exhausting. She wanted to nurse constantly. At this point, my milk still wasn’t in (3 days postpartum) and Abbie kept falling asleep while eating. Her first doctor appointment was the following day. When we weighed her, we found out she had lost 14 ounces from her birth weight. I was worried, and our doctor noticed that she was still a bit jaundiced. She asked how nursing was going, and I explained how Abbie kept falling asleep. I wasn’t sure how much she was getting, or if it was enough (and my milk still wasn’t in at 4 days postpartum). She finally explained that in order for Abbie’s bilirubin levels to go down, we had two options: going back to the hospital to go under the lights, or start supplementing so she would eat more and get it out that way. Knowing we did not want our baby girl in the hospital on Christmas, she gave us a bottle of formula in the office to see if Abbie had an appetite and would take it.
She sucked down 2 ounces of formula in less than five minutes. I started crying. I was working so hard to get breastfeeding to work, and I felt like my body was failing me. My baby was hungry and my body wasn’t giving her what she needed. I felt helpless.
The good news was that since she clearly had an appetite, we wouldn’t be going back to the hospital. We were sent home with orders to nurse on both sides, then supplement with formula at each feeding. That way my breasts would still get the stimulation to start producing milk, but Abbie would get the nutrition she needed.
We did as told, and went back for another appointment 2 days later. Abbie had gained 10 ounces and was much less jaundiced. That night, my milk FINALLY came in (6 days postpartum). I never really got the engorgement most women talk about, but I definitely felt that Abbie was eating more. As the weeks went by, the amount she took from bottles dwindled and some days I was able to not give her any formula at all! Those were my favorite days. It was challenging at times – she fell asleep at the breast constantly, and was the slowest eater – sometimes taking 40 minutes to eat, then wanting to eat again in an hour. Finally, by about 2.5 months in, I felt we had really gotten the hang of things and Abbie was nursing well.
Then I got acquainted with my nemesis – the breast pump.
I had planned to pump when I could to build up a freezer stash, but we were preparing to move the last month of my maternity leave, and pumping was constantly pushed off in favor of more pressing tasks. When I was able to, I pumped, usually getting about an ounce per session. I was worried – I wasn’t getting anywhere near what I was expecting and what I heard other women could get. People assured me it was normal – after all, I was nursing full-time and probably just didn’t have extra milk. When I was away from Abbie, I’d surely get more, and everything would be fine.
When Abbie was 15 weeks old, I went back to work.
The first day I went back was stressful on both of us. I sent Abbie to daycare with two bottles of breast milk and one bottle of formula. She would only take the formula that day. (She later did take the breast milk from a bottle, just not the first day). I pumped three times…and only got 4 ounces all day. I was instantly stressed, disappointed, and worried about the whole situation. I wanted so badly for Abbie to have breast milk, and it seriously depressed me to think it wouldn’t work. That first day, I contemplated giving up and going completely to formula during the day…but I’m stubborn, and I didn’t.
From that day on, I spent every spare moment reading about breastfeeding, making more milk, and pumping. I did online research. I watched webinars. I read books. I bought multiple different flanges and heating pads. I drank Mother’s Milk Tea and tons of water. Oatmeal became my best friend. I took every supplement I could find – fenugreek, blessed thistle, goat’s rue, and a few others. I even made lactation cookies. The only thing I didn’t try was a different pump.
The result? An average of six ounces per day from pumping three times a day. The most I ever got in a day was 9 ounces. Needless to say, formula was quickly back in the picture…for good.
As for the little bit of frozen breast milk I had? It ended up going to waste – Abbie wouldn’t drink it. The few times she did, she was really fussy all day, like her stomach was bothering her. I did some more research (because apparently that’s what I do…) and found information about lipase. It turns out some women have too much lipase in their breast milk, and it can affect their milk after freezing, making it taste different or even causing gas. I don’t know for sure if that was the case for us, but Abbie wanted nothing to do with the frozen milk. It turned out to be a good thing that I didn’t build a freezer stash!
Thankfully, Abbie remained a great nurser when I was with her, and we didn’t really have to supplement when I wasn’t at work. Because of the issues I was having with production, I chose to introduce solids on the early side – at 4 months. She mostly played with it at first, but I was glad we had started the process.
When Abbie turned 5 months, I made the difficult decision to go from pumping three times a day to twice a day. I wrestled with my decision. Should I persist? I was getting more and more discouraged as the days went on and I was getting less and less milk – my average was 5 ounces a day rather than 6. I was frustrated and something had to give – so I cut a pumping session.
I pumped twice a day for the next month. I had planned to pump twice a day for as long as I could – I averaged about 2 ounces/day for a while. I tentatively thought about dropping a session at 6 months, but then decided to keep going…until the day I looked down and only had ¾ of an ounce total for the day in my second pumping session. Something clicked, and I knew I couldn’t do it anymore.
So today I cut another pumping session – to make it once per day. I’m going to pump once a day for the rest of the week, then stop completely next week. Abbie will still nurse morning and night, but will get formula during the day. When she seems ready, I’ll fade out the nursing as well. I cut down to one pumping session for a little while before cutting it out completely.
We continued to nurse first thing in the morning and before bed for a little while. Finally, on Independence Day (of all days – Abbie’s an independent girl for sure), Abbie refused to nurse at night. Flat out wouldn’t do it. Chris made her a bottle of formula…and I bawled. I was devastated. It was not the ending I ever saw for myself and Abbie, and I wasn’t anywhere near ready, but Abbie was. I think that’s why I still miss it.
In the end, I was able to give Abbie about 95% breast milk for her first 3.5 months, and 60-70% for another 1.5 months. She got tons of benefits from it, and I think every challenge was worth the effort.
I’m hoping things will go easier with our second child (when we get there). I’m working hard to be healthier going into our next pregnancy. I’d like to avoid the blood pressure issues and preeclampsia. I may pump in the hospital to get my milk to come in faster – 6 days postpartum was way too long to wait. I’m planning on trying a different breast pump. I’ll go in better prepared, and hopefully come away with a better experience.
How was your breastfeeding experience? Did you have the same supply issues I did, or problems pumping?