Got Milk: My Breastfeeding Journey

In honor of breastfeeding week, which is now just ending, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to share this post, which I've been thinking about for many weeks. In the hopes that it may offer some insight and tips to those who are expecting and hoping to breastfeed, or who have just begun to breastfeed.

When I was pregnant with Baby E, there was a lot of reading and research, and a lot of worrying. As many mamas know all too well, it seems like there is a giant cloud of fear that hovers over all things pregnancy, and all of the things that can go wrong can easily get to you. There is, of course, also all of the things that can go wrong once baby arrives. For me, breastfeeding just wasn't one of those things to worry about. Despite all my reading, that seemed to be a topic that didn't come up very much. I presumed that breastfeeding was easy---a snap of my fingers, and all would be right with the world. End of story. Well, it did not end up going quite as I had anticipated, to say the least.

Baby E and I had the proper latch down from the very beginning. I was immensely sleep-deprived after giving birth, as I had been up for 27 hours straight by the time he was born (with another 13 hours to go before I got to sleep, by the way), yet that part came easily to us. The nurse told me my milk must have come in already, as Baby E was producing regular poopy diapers (and lots of them!), not meconium-filled ones. I was sent home without a care in the world. We were one blissfully happy (if not completely exhausted) family.

Our first day at home, he fussed quite a lot after the morning. Nothing seemed to console him, and I was nursing him constantly. I was so tired, it took me until 9 pm that night to realize I hadn't changed a single poopy diaper. There hadn't been too many pee diapers, either. The realization dawned on me: he hadn't had enough milk.

I had a miPump by First Years on hand for an emergency, so I decided to test how much milk I was producing. I started freaking out when I realized we didn't have batteries, and it took me a few minutes to realize I could plug it in instead (have to love newborn exhaustion). I pumped for a minute, and no milk came. Only a bead of colostrum. My baby was obviously hungry. What's wrong with me? I thought.

You see, I didn't know anything about colostrum, or that it can take awhile for milk supply to come in. Since we are in Canada, and a home nurse was scheduled to visit us in the morning. We decided to wait it out.

In the morning, he wouldn't stop crying, and he continued to try nursing non-stop. I completely fell apart. Why isn't there any milk? Oh my god, my baby's starving. I'm not going to be able to breastfeed. I'm going to have to formula-feed him. I have failed my baby. I've failed as a mom. I can only imagine how my husband felt as he sat there and tried to tell me it would be okay, attempting to get me to stop crying, while the baby was also crying. Eventually he succeeded, reminding me the home nurse would be there soon and would have the answers.

Answers, she had. My milk wasn't coming in, and he was pretty hungry, so the colostrum that's supposed to be enough in the meantime, was not. She said it would come in within the next day or two, and in the meantime, there was nothing I could do. My option was to tough it out, or give him a few ounces of formula to tide him over in the meantime. She left by 11 am. I contemplated giving him formula, but decided against it. By 3 pm, my milk came in. All was right with the world again.

Having read that a baby should not be given a bottle in their first 6 weeks if you intend to breastfeed, (because they may start to refuse the breast), I didn't. But when Baby E was 8 weeks old, my mother and little sister came up to visit from California. While they were here, I pumped milk so that they could bottle feed him, and soak up as much of him as they could in the two weeks they were there. One time in that two weeks, we even managed to have a date night!

The day they left to return home, I started getting back into my rhythm. But there was an unforeseen problem. Baby E didn't want to breastfeed. He wanted the bottle. It wasn't a fluke, either. I discovered over the next few days that while he wanted to only bottle feed in the day, he wanted to breastfeed to go to sleep at night. I kept trying to breastfeed him during the day, however, he simply wasn't interested. What's a mom to do? I did the only thing I could. I kept pumping. I pumped every couple of hours, and always had more milk than he needed, which I put into the freezer. About a month later, the pump suddenly stopped working. We had no choice but to buy another pump. So on his way home, my husband picked up the Medela Swing. Life proceeded in our new "normal."

After a few months, I noticed my supply had dwindled greatly from those first pumping sessions. My Medela Swing started getting very loud, so I called Medela's customer service. A very kind and informative lady was very helpful. She told me what try doing to fix the pump's noise. Then she asked how often I was pumping. I said 3 to 4 times a day. She informed me that the Medela Swing was not designed for daily use. It's not that I couldn't use it daily, but the motor wasn't designed to handle frequent use, and, more importantly, it was not designed to maintain supply. The light bulb went off in my head, and it explained everything. How I had gone from having an excess of milk (even after my supply regulated), to having so little I was worried it wasn't enough. I had to get a new pump.

Some frantic research and a few hundred dollars later, I had the Medela Pump in Style Advanced. I pumped longer than needed and increased my pumping sessions by an extra one a day to try to get supply up. But it wasn't having a significant impact. I researched and researched ways to get my supply back to where I wanted it. I started drinking a cup of Earth Mama Angel Baby's milkmaid tea every day. and it was increasing my supply just enough that I knew Baby E was getting what he needed. But then, when a friend was also having supply issues, I found the motivation to try something new. Lactation cookies. I was skeptical, but helpful they would at least help my friend a little. I made a batch of lactation cookies for her with a few tablespoons of brewer's yeast, and the recipe yielded so many cookies, I figured it couldn't hurt if I kept half the batch and tried them myself.

Well, let me tell you. Those cookies are something else. I had about 8 cookies that first day, and the next day I noticed an extra four ounces from one pumping session. Just one session! It was like magic! I ate up all of the cookies over 3 days, and the increase in supply got me back to the comfortable oversupply I had been hoping for for weeks. My friend also got back to where she wanted to be with just the one batch of cookies. I will forewarn anyone making these cookies, they are so strong, it may suppress your period! When mine was a few days behind schedule (and it's never behind schedule---it's like clockwork), I took a pregnancy test. I held my breath, worried we'd be expecting a baby #2 far ahead of schedule... but it was negative, and my husband and I both sighed a breath of relief. I confided in my friend what had happened, and she confessed the same thing had happened to her. But, I didn't eat any of the cookies again, and the next month, my cycle was back on schedule. It was, without a doubt, the cookies.

I had finally gotten into a routine of pumping and bottle feeding. It wasn't ideal, but it was working. Then, when Baby E was 7 months old, he had his first cold. My husband, J, caught it at work, and the baby caught it from him. Suddenly, Baby E didn't want the bottle. In fact, he wholeheartedly refused it, day and night. The only thing that consoled him in his sniffling misery, was nursing. So he breastfed, frequently, for the 4 days it took him to get better. Even once better, he no longer had any interest in a bottle. His cold turned out to be a blessing in disguise!

Of course, it wasn't exactly all unicorns and rainbows after that. Despite my own mother's reassurance that letting the baby know biting while nursing hurts (by more or less yelping "OW!" when it happens), Baby E seemed to actually find this entertaining. He started to bite on purpose just to achieve this reaction. What did work, was pulling him off and laying him down on his own. He was always unhappy to have been pulled away before he'd decided he was done nursing, and after a few weeks of persistence, he learned. And with the help of a lot of Earth Mama Angel Baby nipple butter, I survived. With the exception of a case of food poisoning I had when he was 8 months old, where he was distressed with my inability to care for him that day, and he bit me quite hard, it hasn't happened again.

Baby E is now only weeks away for his 1st birthday. I'm happy to report that since he went back to full-time nursing in February, he's never gone back. In the last month, he occasionally likes to have a bit of water in a sippy cup, but even then, he shows an obvious preference for nursing. It was a bumpy road, but we've finally gotten to my idea of an ideal breastfeeding journey, and we're still going strong! It has finally become the "happily ever after" I had hoped for from the start.

What were your expectations vs. the realities of nursing for you? What was your breastfeeding journey like? What are things you would tell to an expectant mom hoping to breastfeed?

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