I wrote my nursing story with my 3rd child, but my experiences this time around were so different and extremely hard, I thought sharing it may help someone.
I’m writing it for many reasons. In the past I’ve been told:
- Nursing is more difficult for some people, so since it’s easy for me, I shouldn’t judge
- I’ve never experienced the feeling of starving my baby
- formula is there for a reason
Let me say, and I hope this story shows, that I know nursing isn’t easy. This is why normalization and support are so necessary!
I successfully nursed my first child, despite an exhausting labor, a c-section, and separation for 12 hours after his birth. I confused self-weaning with being an active toddler, and we ended the nursing part of our relationship at 10 months.
I semi-successfully nursed my second child, but due to lack of support and knowledge, I gave up after 4 months due to my body’s confusion with an odd work schedule and haphazard pumping in a bathroom stall at work.
I made it through extreme pain, engorgement, and mastitis with my third child and had a wonderful nursing relationship. It ended half-way through my pregnancy with his sister when my milk dried up and he self-weaned around 16 months of age.
So having experienced all of these challenges and having had a home birth and all the early nursing benefits that scenario gives to mothers and babies, I thought this would be a breeze.
It definitely was not.
She was my smallest baby, born just over 7 pounds. She successfully latched on and suckled immediately, but after that we had so many issues trying to get her mouth open wide enough to latch on properly with my inverted nipples, engorgement, etc. I decided to use a nipple shield to aid her latching, but that actually caused more issues with supply since we weren’t having that mouth to nipple, hormone stimulating contact.
Over the following weeks I found myself nursing non-stop. I couldn’t take a shower without her crying the whole time. My husband was stressed and tense while holding her while I tried to prepare meals. Even with feeding her right before putting her in the car seat, she would scream and cry with hunger 15 minutes later. We nursed all night. I took 1-2 naps a day, laying down and nursing her the whole time.
My bedroom turned into the school room. I could get her to nap long enough to bring all their work onto my bed, and I would have the kids alternate between working on my bed with me or working on the floor independently.
And despite all the non-stop nursing, she was not gaining weight. She produced a few wet diapers a day, but only 1-2 poopies a week (while that may sounds wonderful, it’s not a good thing). She was getting longer, but thinner. She was in the 0.3rd percentile for weight, and 50th for length!
And the worst part was having a formula sample that came in the mail sitting on my kitchen counter. It was screaming my name. But I knew that if I started supplementing, the situation would get even worse because I would be producing even less milk. Thankfully we have an amazing doctor who knew that the solution wasn’t formula. She supported my decision to try some supplements and try eating more fats and supply boosting foods.
I ate lactation pancakes (made with oatmeal and flax seed). I ordered a mother’s milk supplement. I started using fennel and basil essential oils topically on my breasts to boost my supply. I could tell it was helping a little, but she was such an inefficient nurser. I even tried pumping during the little naps she would take, but I could only get an ounce or two.
Then I got the flu! I’ve nursed through the flu with my babies before, but I could feel myself getting dehydrated. I was so weak I could barely hold my baby.
And I cracked open the can of formula.
And she drank and drank and drank.
An hour or two later she wanted to nurse, and I felt like I actually had some milk to give her since I’d had that time to build up some supply. And she nursed well.
The next next day around the same time I gave her another bottle of formula because I again could tell I had nothing to give her.
By the following day I could actually tell that I was producing more milk. She was almost 2 months old and my milk finally came in. But what was crazy was at the time of day when I had given her a bottle of formula over the previous 2 days, I felt empty. Talk about supply and demand! My husband was shocked, but I wasn’t surprised.
So I started pumping and giving her a bottle a day of my milk to keep her full and to keep my supply up. I renewed my use of the essential oils and milk supplements. It all worked, and within a week she was a much more efficient nurser.
But she still wanted to use that darn nipple shield. I had tried for weeks to get her to stop using it, but she refused to nurse without it.
Finally around 2 1/2 months old I weaned her of it. And my milk supply surged again! I was able to start pumping milk to store for later use.
There are many factors that I think contributed to her slow weight gain and my poor supply:
- I was still nursing when I got pregnant, therefore not building up those “maternal stores” you gain between pregnancies
- I did not eat the way I should have to provide nourishment for three
- While I definitely was not dieting, after her birth I wasn’t eating enough fat and protein to boost my supply
- The nipple shield, while helpful, kept us from that needed skin to skin contact
I am now a believer in not letting a newborn go too long between feedings. I used to think that a baby would ask to nurse when hungry. But in my case, I think she never experienced what a full tummy felt like until that bottle of formula around 6 weeks old. And until that point, she never had the energy to efficiently nurse, thereby creating a good milk supply.
So here’s the list of things I would have done differently:
- I would have worked right away at weaning her from the nipple shield (there really is nipple confusion!)
- I would have started my supplementation of milk boosting foods and oils much sooner
- I would have eaten more nutrient dense foods while still nursing my toddler and during the whole pregnancy
- I would have gotten more support
It was a learning experience I wish we wouldn’t have gone through, but I hope helps someone else. We made it to the other side. When I look at her now, I can hardly believe that just 3 months ago she was not getting enough to eat.