Monday, May 6, 2013

Breast Feeding, a real life story

I should warn you that this is a very long post without any pictures. And it took me 7 weeks to experience this story. But I learned a lot and I want to remember this information so I can be more successful when I breastfeed Baby #2 (in a few years). If you are just looking for tips or resources to help you through this experience, scroll down to the bottom. But there is a lot of story between here and there. 

There were a lot of things I was fully on board with conceptually before Eliana was born. Cloth diapers and breast feeding were up there on the list. Over the first 2.5 weeks, her weight surpassed her birth weight and then dropped, which was no good. So the pediatrician told us to supplement her with formula. It is more important that she is gaining weight than anything else. She needs to be healthy and the only way to do that is to feed her. 

So my story has ups and downs and more downs. But I have an almost complete understanding of what I and professionals think happened. So here goes. 

Eliana was born on March 13. She did not struggle to latch. She was a good eater (as good as I could tell). She struggled a little to eat on the left, but not at all on the right. But by the time we left the hospital, we were fine. 

Day 3. My milk showed up big time. During pregnancy, my breasts grew from a size B to a DD. When they were engorged, they were the size of salad plates and looked like Dolly Parton's. Eliana couldn't latch because they were too hard. I called the hospital and they taught me how to self-express my milk. So I sat there on the floor with a crying baby in my lap and milked myself until she could help me. 

Day 10. She surpassed her birth weight. She weighed 7 lbs. 

Day 14. She dropped 5 oz. Which, when you are only 7 lbs, is actually a lot of weight. She weighed 6 lbs. 11 oz. We started supplementing. I started pumping. I purchased a used pump from a friend. I bought all new accessory parts so there were no breast parts shared. But I am not sure that the motor was still good. In fact, I didn't feel like it was getting anything out of me at all.

Lesley & Steve came over for dinner. We talked about it. Lesley gave me the best gift in the whole world - she offered to share her breast milk with us. She had a ton of breast milk frozen at home and we could have it if we wanted it. Seriously this was unexpected and beyond what I could have ever imagined. Love.

Day 16. Back to the pediatrician to make sure she was gaining weight. She was. Formula was helping. We had to keep it up. I wasn't entirely on board with this at all. I was against it. I didn't like it. I didn't really know why yet. But the pediatrician gave me herbal supplements and the number of a lactation consultant and I started calling. They were able to get me a hospital grade breast pump.

Day 19. I picked up my new pump and learned how to use it. I was advised to keep the suction level low because it could "rip off my nipples" if I turned it up too high. So I was afraid of this machine. But I started pumping.

So imagine this setup. Every feeding went like this:
1 - breast feed Eliana
2 - bottle feed her another 2 oz.
3 - pump for 20 minutes

By the time I was done pumping it was time to restart the whole process. I was overwhelmed. It was so much. And I was supposed to try to pump 8 times a day. Who has time or hands for that crap?!?!!? I have a newborn. And only two hands!!!

Day ??. At this point I lost track of the days. But I can tell the story. I used Lesley's milk instead of formula until I ran out. Then I was gifted milk from another friend, Sarah. Again, I was beyond touched that they were able to help us. We used their breast milk for the next few weeks. I tried to pump as often as possible - generally 3 times a day. But it still wasn't enough.

Day 28. Back to the pediatrician. Eliana is gaining weight. Slowly but surely. They asked about the formula and I told them about the breast milk. Keep doing what I am doing. Okay can do.

Day 35. I went to support group. I had heard about this support group from way back before Eliana was born. In the weeks leading up to this I was rarely alone - Matt or my mother was around to help out. But at this point I was on my own and struggling to make any kind of difference in my breastfeeding abilities. So I went. I felt a lot of support in my story and my struggles from the other mothers who were there. They understood what I was going through and how difficult it was. Eliana weighed 7.5 pounds. However, the leaders of this group made me feel that what I was doing wasn't enough (as if I needed someone to tell me that - had it been enough I wouldn't have been there because I wouldn't have been having problems breastfeeding - DUH! - schmucks). I was told that I needed to pump 8 times a day or it wouldn't matter. Thanks. You are super helpful. I hate you. Focus back on the mothers - one of them gave me the number of certified lactation nurse who could come to my house and spend a few hours helping me breastfeed. HALLELUJA! This is what I was looking for back on DAY 16!!!

I went home from support group in tears. The leaders had pulled the rug out from underneath me and made me feel horrible about not being able to feed my own daughter. And they made me feel horrible about using my friends' breast milk - because it wasn't pasteurized. Skeptical face here. I wasn't pasteurizing my milk either FYI. Back to the tears. Lots of them. All afternoon.

Then I made a decision. SCREW them all. I would quit using supplements 100% and feed Eliana every time she was hungry from my breast. No pump. No supplement. Even if it meant every hour. At some point my body would get the memo and up the production. Starting immediately.

Day 36. I stuck to my guns and did it. I didn't sleep very much. But I fed her every time she asked for it. No problem (in my head). And the nurse called me back.

Day 37. Margaret (the nurse) came and spent 3 hours feeding Eliana with me. We learned a lot. Eliana is a lazy eater. Based on the beginning of my story, when my milk came in, a lot of it came in. So Eliana didn't have to work that hard to eat. Milk just spilled from me with minimal effort. She unlearned how to suck efficiently. Great. So I had to reteach her how to breastfeed almost 5 weeks in. Awesome. But Margaret gave me a lot of information and tips to help us work on this.

  1. I learned how to massage my breast while she was eating to help stimulate the muscle and help her along. 
  2. I learned how to use a feeding tube while she was breastfeeding to combine breastfeeding and supplementing. And in order to get milk from the bottle, she would have to be sucking correctly on me. 
  3. I learned how to tap her lips and get her to tug on my finger to strengthen her mouth muscles and make her a better eater. 
  4. And I learned how to use my hospital pump effectively. 
Remember when I was told not to turn up the sucking on the pump because it could hurt my nipples? I had that pump for 19 days at this point and hadn't been using it right! Because that crazy woman scared me out of using it correctly! What a waste. So we turned up the sucking and voila - there was milk in me that wanted out. Shocker. 

Day 40. I went to a new mother support group. This was a pivotal morning but I didn't know it yet. This support group was different from the one 5 days ago. We were 10-15 moms and babies and we went around the circle and talked about our week and what we were going through. I met 3 moms who were formula feeding because of their own circumstances. 2 had milk that never came in and 1 was like me. She was supplementing and breastfeeding. She felt overwhelmed and made the switch. And then she was able to spend time playing with her baby instead of feeding and pumping and feeding and pumping. Imagine that. And when it was my time to tell my story, and I started to cry about how difficult it was, the mother next to me told me it would get better. And no one told me I wasn't doing enough. Pivotal. Eliana weighed 8 pounds. 

I had spent the last few weeks feeling awful that I couldn't feed my own child. When in fact I could. Just not from my own body. 

Day 42. I drove up to visit my family and surprise my father for his birthday. I couldn't bring breast milk because it would thaw during the drive and I would have to use it in 24 hours. I would be with my family for 5 days. Breast milk was out. Formula was back up. So I brought everything I would need to pump and formula feed. 

Over the next 5 days I reevaluated everything I knew about feeding my daughter. And I gave myself an exit. I told myself that I had until week 8 to get my milk up or leave the game and be okay with it. I paid attention to feedings over the next few days and learned that formula feeding was so much easier.

Day 47. I went back to the new mother support group. NEW MOM'S CLUB! I weighed Eliana. Eliana weighed 8.5 pounds. She gained half a pound in a week - we were finally on track. 

Day 48. 1 day shy of 7 weeks. I looked at what I was doing and decided I didn't need another week to make my decision. I was done. I really tried to make it work. I had 3 breast pumps sitting next to me and realized that while I finally had all the tools and knowledge I needed to make it work, I was fighting a battle that I had already lost. And I had already come to terms with it. I knew I was going to quit in another week. Why should I punish myself? I fed Eliana one last time before bed. I kissed her on her forehead. And I started feeding her enough. From a bottle. 

I haven't looked back.

This was a long 7 weeks for me. It was emotionally difficult with very high highs at the beginning and very low lows afterwards. I felt alone and like I was doing something wrong. However, Matt supported me throughout the entire process. He hated to see me struggle and beat myself up emotionally about my struggle, but he wanted me to do whatever I needed to be happy. He was shocked when I told him I was done. I honestly don't think he believed me when I told him. 

So here are some things that I learned that I am going to take with me for the next time I have a baby who needs to be fed. 
  1. Two-thirds of women struggle to breastfeed. One of the hardest things for me was being surrounded by successful breastfeeders. None of my friends had struggled at all. I was the first. Being in the new mom club and meeting formula feeders killed the stigma for me. I was no longer ashamed of my struggle.
    And then I read this article and this article and they made perfect sense to me. Today's mantra is BREAST IS BEST, but not for me and my child.
  2. It is better to have too much milk than not enough. I was afraid to be making so much milk that instead I underproduced. I knew I should be feeding Eliana from both breasts at every feeding. But when I asked a nurse in the hospital if only feeding one breast at each feeding was a problem, she said "no, do what works for you two." Except that it didn't end up working for us later on...
  3. Call the lactation nurse early. I have her name and number saved in my address book and marked LACTATION NURSE. If I need help, I have help. I just have to remember to ask.
  4. Watch these videos. They have a lot of information about getting your breast milk up at the beginning.
  5. Remember that just because you are struggling to breast feed does not mean you are struggling to be a parent to your child. They are not the same thing. I am a wonderful mother. I am a wonderful person. I just sucked at BREAST feeding my child. But my instincts are great and I know how much she needs to eat and when. I've got this. I can handle this. In fact, I love being a mother. I hated breastfeeding, this time.
  6. Get help early. Find the support groups you like and go back. That is what they are for - SUPPORTING you in your decisions. Not pushing their decisions down your throat. Find your support and be supportive back. 
And here is what I really need to talk about - my feelings. :)
I really wanted to breastfeed. But it wasn't in the cards for me. In the very beginning I really enjoyed breastfeeding. I enjoyed sitting with Eliana and spending quiet time with her. I liked that it was just us. And I loved feeling like I was providing something to her that she couldn't get anywhere else. 

But then it got difficult. And I was struggling. And I hated that someone else had to tell me that my baby wasn't getting enough food. And what kind of mother doesn't feed her child? Shit like that raced through my brains. And formula has such a negative stigma these days that I felt ashamed that I needed it and was forced to use it by the Doc. 

The worst part for me was that I was am the only one of my friends who have struggled to breastfeed. All of my peers have been able to breastfeed and didn't have any supply problems. So how could they understand what I went through? They were supportive and I loved their support, but they couldn't give me tips to help MY problem. They just didn't know. And while it sucked at the time, it was what it was. They did their best. 

The best thing that happened? The moment that made me open to the idea that formula was when I branched out of my circle of friends and found other people who had survived formula feeding. And had made the switch already. And they survived. And they are not bad mothers. And neither am I. I needed to be surrounded by other mothers who were formula feeding. I needed to hear their stories and understand their choices. And it made my situation more manageable and more human. I wasn't alone anymore.

So that's my story. And we are in a great place. And here we are today.

TODAY - Day 54. Eliana weighs 9 pounds. And I am very happy! My little girl is growing, and fast. She has gained a pound in the last two weeks - and that is beyond fabulous. We are catching up and growing out of her clothing.

So to the women out there struggling - it is OKAY. Find people who have been through this and find your support group. Whatever you decide to do will be the best decision for you and your baby joy. And that is all that matters. 


  1. Great blog post! We all struggle with this general topic - as well as the million questions, considerations, factors, and debates we have on a daily basis. I was embarrassed about having to use a shield for 6 weeks until we both figured it out, and now I'm struggling with how to stick to my guns with #2. Throwing a 2 1/2 year old into the mix will change things and I'm not sure how I feel about it. You are an amazing mom, and you have a great amount of courage and honesty to put this out there. Thank you for sharing this. XOXO

  2. Thank you for being brave enough to put this out there. You are such a strong person and I am sure a wonderful mother!

  3. Good for you on all counts. You care enough and are strong enough to figure out what to do and smart enough to do it! And you can't take care of Eliana without also taking care of yourself. Love you! - DAD

  4. You may not remember me, but I am Dan's wife, Rebecca.
    I have three children now. Two were almost exclusively formula fed. Anna is the only one that breast fed for more than a month. She made it to four months, almost five before we switched to formula.

    I was horrible at breast feeding. I hated it. I was ashamed that I hated it. I was worried that I wasnt a good enough mom. Then I looked at Jonathan. He is six now. He breast fed for a week. He is in kindergarten. He reads at a second grade level, he loves math, science, reading, tae kwon do. There is nothing wrong with him. He is a good kid. I am a good mom. I made choices that were right for me.

    It is WAY more important that you feel happy. Your baby will know you feel happy and will be happy.

    You ARE a great mom. I know this because I know how you struggled to come to a decision that was best for your family.

    If you ever need anything feel free to contact me. Just know you arent alone!

    Mom of:
    Jonathan- 6 years
    Anna- 18 months
    Samantha- 4 months