It still shocks me that it’s been almost 7 months since we welcomed Baby M into the world. I actually wrote this post roughly a month ago, but I wanted to share an update—one I originally thought I’d never achieve: 6 months of (nearly) exclusive breastfeeding!
Early in my pregnancy, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. While I believe every mother has the right to choose how to feed her child, I do believe that breast milk is the better nutritional choice when possible. Emphasis on those last 2 words.
I’m not writing to criticize or imply that my choice is better than another mother’s. Each mother knows what’s best for her own child (and for herself). All I’m saying is that breastfeeding Baby M was very important to me, and I’m grateful I’m able to do it.
Having said that, let me tell you—it has not been a walk in the park. Pregnant women are always told that breastfeeding is hard work, but you don’t often hear (or maybe you filter it out) just how excruciatingly difficult it can be.
Right now, I am absolutely in love with nursing my son, but I definitely struggled—almost to the point of quitting altogether—in the beginning.
Baby M was only 6 lbs 1 oz at birth but was perfectly healthy. My hospital and nurses were very pro-breastfeeding, so I had the opportunity to breastfeed shortly after delivery and throughout my hospital stay. Things seemed to be going well (what did I know except that I was following “instructions” so to speak?) although I did have trouble getting him to latch occasionally and stay awake during feeds.
Flash forward to our first weight check—5 days after birth—when we found out Baby M was only 5 lbs 6 oz. Although the nurse didn’t seem extremely concerned (most babies lose weight), I of course began to panic after she mentioned we’d need to think about supplementing if he hadn’t reached birth weight by 2 weeks.
There’s nothing, I repeat, nothing, wrong with supplementing, but being in that newborn-mom-stupor, all I heard was “failure.” I naively thought, since I had a perfect pregnancy and wanted to do “all the right things,” that I’d have no trouble breastfeeding. Later that evening, I lost it. I was putting so much pressure on myself and got so worried about his weight and how “I was starving him” that we went back to the pediatrician’s late night clinic to see an actual doctor.
Well, the doctor reassured us that he was fine and exactly where she’d expect him to be. She said he looked healthy and happy but did give us some sample formula and encouraged us to top him off after feedings.
Because I really wanted breastfeeding to work, I continued nursing Baby M while feeding him some formula, too. I had some breakdowns to be sure, but after talking it over with Mark, I’d finally reached a point of acceptance and peace. Once I realized it was about Baby M’s health and not about my success/failure, I felt at ease. I was open to whatever happened, but I wanted to meet with the LC the following Monday before throwing in the towel.
If you’re ever in the same boat as I was, please reach out to an LC! She was so comforting (even as she manhandled my boobs!) and encouraging—and an absolute godsend. Based on her before and after measurements, Baby M was drinking just shy of 2 ounces, which was a bit less than he needed. She encouraged me to continue breastfeeding and supplementing afterward.
Flash forward to Thursday—our 2nd weight check—where he had gained up to 5 lbs 15 oz, just 2 oz below his birth weight! I was ecstatic and felt so relieved.
The next few weeks are foggy, but I followed the LC’s advice religiously, and almost 7 months later, I’m nursing and pumping regularly. Because the pediatrician advised us at Baby M’s 4 month appointment to increase his bottle size from around 4 oz to 5-6 oz (as much as he’ll take—just short of “popping” basically!) while I’m at work, we’re also giving him a few ounces to one bottle of formula, since I pump just shy of that recommended amount. I will say that pumping is an absolute drag (though it does break up the day!), but as long as I eat well, stay hydrated, avoid stress, and remind myself that this is temporary and is 100% for Baby M, it continues to go well.
Below are the things that ultimately enabled me to breastfeed my son.
1. Support from my family and medical team
If you don’t have a support system in place, then forget about successfully breastfeeding! Some women have easier times than others, but for those who do struggle, you’ve got to have encouragement. If your loved ones don’t understand why breastfeeding is good for the baby or question whether you’re providing enough nourishment for your child, then your supply will suffer. Luckily my husband has been my champion and friends with similar struggles have offered great advice and encouragement.
2. Pumping to stimulate
When I first tried my breast pump, I literally produced droplets. Of course I panicked and thought that Baby M was drinking the same, which was not the case. Babies are usually much more efficient at removing milk, and some women never respond well to pumps. I’m able to pump enough milk for most of my son’s feedings while I’m at work, but it took a lot of practice to get there. Keep at it. My best recommendation is to pump for about 10 minutes after feedings (just a couple a day) to tell your body to produce more milk. In time, it will help, and you can freeze whatever small amounts (even if it’s barely an ounce) you do produce. While I used the Medela Pump In Style Advanced, I’d recommend renting a hospital-grade pump if you’re really serious about pumping.
From the beginning, I’ve been eating oatmeal, flax, and brewer’s yeast to increase my supply. I often eat oats for breakfast and snack on lactation cookies during the day. For whatever reason, these foods—as well as a host of others like fennel—help stimulate milk production. I also drank Mother’s Milk tea and took fenugreek capsules daily. It helped tremendously.
I drank—and continue to drink—around 90 ounces of water a day. I also drink coconut water and limit my caffeine and alcohol consumption (never feed your baby while drunk, but it is ok to strategically have a glass or wine or a beer so long as you time your feedings right) so I don’t risk lowering my supply.
In the beginning, I was not sleeping at all. Couple that with my stress/blame, and you have a recipe for disaster. It’s crucial to relax and allow your body to work how it should. If possible, take a “nursing vacation” on the weekend; stay in bed with your baby close by and nurse him on demand while relaxing. I never did this, but I can imagine how helpful it would be.
Once I accepted that all would be fine even if I had to switch to formula, I began to stress less and enjoy feeding my son. Eventually, my milk came in with abundance (over-supply!), and I’m now taking things day-by-day, week-by-week. I’ve met my official goal of 6 months, but I think we’ll continue nursing and introducing various solids on a week-by-week basis, for as long as he’s interested. 9 months or even a year would be incredible, but I don’t want to stress over it. In fact, I’ve already noticed he seems to be drinking less since he’s started eating more solids.
I never realized how much I’d truly enjoy nursing—the bonding, the closeness, the feeling of being able to comfort and nourish my son—so much. There’s nothing like hearing his sweet little gulp and having him fall asleep on my chest.
Breastfeeding is difficult, but it’s also natural and normal and something most women can do with determination and will. I’m so glad to have this relationship with Baby M, and I’m so grateful that I stuck with it despite the challenges and frustration.
The absolute most important thing, though, is that I’m feeding my son and taking care of us both. If you struggle with breastfeeding/pumping due to low supply and/or stress or if you simply choose to feed your child formula from the beginning, my hats off to you! You should never feel guilty for your choices because you’re doing one of the most difficult, important, and rewarding jobs in the world!