Monday, May 13, 2013

Mama Monday: Breastfeeding

I have a confession to make. When I heard all the horror stories about breastfeeding and how challenging it was for so many people, I rolled my eyes. I thought to myself, "Women have been breastfeeding babies since humanity began. How could it possibly be that difficult?" My first experience feeding Cal seemed to validate my confidence -- he latched on and fed effortlessly. However, after that, everything seemed to go wrong.

First of all, everything became very painful. I won't go into too graphic details, but just think blisters. I spent hours asking every nurse I could find what I was doing wrong, but everyone seemed to have different answers. In addition, Cal was always hungry, up constantly demanding food (which was painful). The nurses kept assuring me that I had enough milk, that it just needed to come in, and that it was normal for my baby to want to eat so much in the beginning days. They tried to teach me the signs of Cal being satisfied, and ignored my comments that he never seemed satisfied. The pediatricians assured me that Cal's weight loss was not too much and that once my milk came in, he would be a happy baby.

However, the day after we left the hospital and took Cal to the pediatrician, he had lost too much weight -- he had gone from 9 lbs. 9 oz. to 8 lbs. 10 oz. The pediatrician recommended that I give Cal formula, but I so desperately wanted to breastfeed him that I refused. He acknowledged that perhaps my milk hadn't come in yet, and said to feed the baby every two hours and come back in two days to have him weighed again.

That night was horrible. Cal refused to nurse on one side but was screaming with hunger. I knew this wasn't just my milk coming in late from having a C-Section -- something was wrong. I called a lactation consultant the next day, who, after observing Cal attempting to nurse, solved the beginning of the puzzle -- I simply did not have enough milk-producing cells. Cal had lost more weight the second day and obviously needed to be fed a new way. He was refusing to nurse because he was frustrated with the low amount of milk he was getting, but I didn't want to give up breastfeeding him -- I knew it was the best food he could get, and I also loved the bonding time with him. So Elena introduced a bizarre contraption called the supplemental nursing system. Basically, it held formula that went through a tube that attached to my breast, so when Cal sucked he could receive breast milk and formula at the same time, thus motivating him to suck more.

It was a little complicated using the SNS at first, and for a while my plan was to use it until the risk of nipple confusion was over and then just nurse and give Cal a bottle afterward. However, as we used the SNS, I realized that he was not going to be happy nursing without it. He was too impatient and would just stop nursing if that extra formula wasn't there. So we kept using it, up until he was 4 and a half months old. At that point, he started refusing to nurse again. I tried for about two weeks, but he was now too impatient even for the SNS, and in addition he kept pulling off the tape. I now pump for him and give him the breastmilk in addition to the formula. I only get about 5 oz. a day from the pump, but I figure it is worth it. I am going to stop pumping once he is six months old -- it is so time intensive for such a small amount of milk -- but I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to nurse as long as I did and provide breastmilk for my baby.

I wanted to write this post because when I was having trouble, I felt incredibly alone. I felt like I was the only woman in the world who was incapable of providing for her baby. I was jealous when people would leave meetings at church to nurse their babies, and I worried that people were judging me when I bought formula in the store and mixed it up in public. I obsessed about my milk production -- I remember crying over the tiny amount of milk that I pumped one day. It took time to overcome the feelings of inadequacy and to not feel jealous of women who were able to nurse without having to think about it. One of the biggest comforts to me was stumbling across a blog post written by a college acquaintance who had experienced similar problems, as well as talking about the situation with people who had experienced similar problems.

I also wanted to list the problems we discovered that we had that led to my low milk supply and what I tried to improve the situation, in the off-chance that it could help someone else.  We discovered that not only did I have insufficient glandular tissue, but also several other factors that led to low milk production, including:

  • Induction
  • C-Section
  • Traumatic birth experience
  • PPD
  • Cleft soft palate
  • Tongue-tie
  • Thrush
Some of the things that we did to improve the situation were:
  • Use an SNS
  • Pump after feedings (I will say that this was incredibly difficult in the first few weeks. I could not put Cal down long enough to pump. However, it did help later.
  • Take a supplement -- the one that was most helpful for me was "More Milk Plus Special Blend," which contains goat's rue, fennel, fenugreek, blessed thistle, and nettle. (I used to make fun of people who took supplements like this, but it really did help).
  • I also read a very helpful book, The Breastfeeding Mother's Guide to Making More Milk by Diana West and Lisa Marasco. 
I was able to come to a point where I was at peace with myself for the decisions I made. I did the best I could, and while things didn't go the way I had envisioned them going while I was pregnant, they were fine. I'm grateful for the time that I was able to breastfeed, and the perspective that I now have for future children. I did so much research about this while I was trying to figure everything out that I've decided to certify as a lactation consultant in a few years. Despite the difficulties, I learned so much. So to those of you struggling -- don't worry! Do what is best for you and your baby, and don't worry about what other people think.


  1. Thanks for this post, it gives me courage for the months ahead of me with a new baby here soon.

  2. I had no idea that the delivery and breastfeeding were so hard for you! I'm glad that it's all working out and I'm glad to have your advice for when I start trying to breastfeed.

  3. I am so glad that you write this post Lorren! I had a very similar experience with Max. I had the same painful nursing issues in the hospital and it was so bad that I would start sobbing as soon as Max latched and I couldn't feed him even though I knew he was so hungry all of the time. Two days after we got home he had lost more than a pound even though my milk had already come in. The pediatrician wanted me to start supplementing and I sobbed the whole way home because I thought I was the worst mother - incapable of providing food for my baby. So I did the best I could, I would nurse and then follow up with a bottle at almost every feeding. I could tell I wasn't producing enough milk for him, but I was still nursing as much as I could and thankfully he had no problem taking a bottle and latching. Then, when he was about 3 weeks old he started having reflux problems. He would latch and eat for a moment and then start grunting and screaming. I would get so frustrated that I would give up and just bottle feed him. I thought it was a problem with me, but then he started doing the same thing with a bottle. I tried to pump, but, like you, I couldn't set him down long enough to pump, and when I did, I got maybe an ounce or so total. It was heartbreaking, but I knew for my own sanity that I had done the best I could for my baby. I lasted a couple more weeks and eventually had to stop nursing because of his reflux. When I finally made the decision to stop I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I felt like I couldn't be the kind of mother that Max deserved when we would both end up in tears every time I tried to nurse. I applaud you for being so open in sharing your experience. You are doing what is best for Cal and no one can judge you or criticize you for that! You are such a good mom to him! Sorry I wrote a novel!

  4. Good for you for trying so long and hard--six months is definitely a success! I'm sorry it was such a challenge, but I think your experience and perspective will be a real blessing to others as a lactation consultant. Your boy is adorable!

  5. Lorrenzini. Good for you. You truly are awesome! I just wanted you to know that. And I feel you, nursing IS SO STINKIN HARD!!! Hope you are doing well, Cal is a beautiful baby.


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