Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Tales of a Breast Feeder

I've missed you!  I wrote this post, like two weeks ago, but am only just now getting around to proofing and posting.  Please know I'm still following my usual bloggers and pulling for all of you in your cycles and your pregnancies and your lives.  And I'm going to try and get some commenting in today too to prove it!  Here's the post.

Hello!  I am so excited to be writing.  Max is napping for the moment and I found myself, for the first time in a long time, with no chores to do.  Usually I will elect to nap, or at least "rest" when that happens, but this morning Jeeves took care of Max for two beautiful hours while I napped and so I feel great and don't need to sleep right now.

So, I thought I'd share my breast feeding story in the event that it might be useful to someone else.  Max just turned 2 months and I'm still breast feeding him, which I consider a really huge accomplishment on both our parts because it was a bit of a challenge for us.

At the hospital, we had a lot of help from nurses and lactation consultants. From day one, Max has been a great little latcher.  I would say my initial problems were that a) breast feeding every 2 hours (and in the early days, it can even be every 1.5 hours) was exhausting; and b) my boobs hurt between engorgement and nipple pain.  Look, that's the first thing I would say - your nipples are probably going to hurt.  It's not horrible, and it's temporary, but I feel like people who tell you that breast feeding should never hurt at all are kind of lying to you, or at least speaking about a minority of people.  I feel like we should be honest - in the beginning, your nipples might hurt.  Sometimes that can mean there's a problem like thrush or bad latch.  But it can also be normal and will improve over time.  My nipples are still sensitive and it doesn't feel great when Max yanks on one or kicks one (yes, this happens), but mostly they feel fine now.

Initially I thought things were going well, other than exhaustion and general soreness.  I did note that Max was a very slow nurser - he would sometimes take up to 40 minutes to nurse on one breast, and even then he would keep going, but I broke him off because I felt like my boob might fall off.  We went to the pediatrician for a weight check when he was about 2 weeks old and his weight gain was normal, so I felt confident that breastfeeding was going well.  Our pediatrician said that for the time being, it was normal that Max was nursing for 40 minutes.

Then at the 1 month wellness check, we learned that Max had only gained 4 oz in 2 weeks - he was a month old and had only just gotten back to birth weight!  Not good.  Our pediatrician was unconcerned, but I knew that even La Leche League considers such slow weight gain to indicate a breast feeding problem.  So, I reached out to a lactation consultant.  Oh, and for the record, at this point I was feeding Max on demand, around 10 or 11 times a day.  

The LC, Sarah, was a lifesaver, and was definitely more concerned about our breast feeding issues than our pediatrician was.  She came to the apartment and weighed Max, then watched him nurse, then weighed him again to see how much he was taking in.  She agreed that his latch was great, but ultimately found that Max was a "disorganized sucker" and that my supply was low.  Basically he was easily distracted and he wasn't sucking in a way that was giving him enough milk.  And another part of the problem was that because he was not gaining appropriately, he was a bit weak and therefore unable to efficiently get milk from me.  So she set up a treatment plan - I was to limit Max to 10 minutes per breast and vigorously compress my breast while he ate to help him get more milk.  Then I would pump after every feeding for 8 minutes.  This was rough.  At that point, I was not used to letting Max fuss or cry at all.  So it was tough to feed him and then put him down and sometimes let him cry for a few minutes while I pumped.  Lastly, we supplemented Max with 4 oz every day - if I could pump enough breast milk, that's what we would use, and if I couldn't we would have to use a small amount of formula.

I got really bent out of shape about the formula supplement.  I felt like it made me a failure.  But I would pump after a feeding, and frequently I got just a few drops of breast milk.  Sarah, the LC, reminded me that the point of pumping was not to build up a bunch of extra breast milk, but to signal to my body that my breast was completely empty and needed to be refilled (since an empty breast refills faster than a partially full breast).  I knew Max needed more sustenance than what I was providing, but the whole thing felt so disheartening.  For several days I would pump and so little came out.  I couldn't remember the last time I had worked so hard at something and still felt like I was failing.  A lot of people, Kate chief among them, reminded me that I was doing a great thing for my kid, that formula is not poison and is perfectly good for babies, and that he was still getting breast milk from me. 

 I took Max for a follow up weight check a few days after we implemented the new plan and Max had gained 6 ounces!  Success!  So we've kept at it.  Two weeks ago I took Max for his 2 month wellness check and he gained over 2 lbs in one month.  This is a huge improvement - Max has gained over an ounce a day.

Since the implementation of the plan, I don't strictly limit Max's nursing to 10 minutes per breast.  But I do now know when he's actually done eating and is just "hanging out" on the boob (sometimes I let him just hang out for comfort purposes, but more often than not, he pops off when he's done within 15 minutes).  Most of the time it only take 20 to 25 minutes total to nurse Max, sometimes less.  Mentally, this has made breast feeding a lot easier on me.  I've been tracking breast feeding on an app from the start - in the beginning I was spending up to 6 hours a day nursing Max.  Now it's down to 3 hours per day, sometimes more like 2.5 hours.  Max has gotten better at getting milk.  And with all the pumping, my production is way up.  I'm still supplementing him with 2 oz of breast milk and 2 oz of formula, but I think we'll start tapering down on that.  

So that's my tale.  Breast feeding is hard.  But honestly, it's really getting easier, and it completely feels worth all the hard work.  I had set a small goal for myself from the beginning - get to 3 months and then reassess whether I should keep breastfeeding.  Max is 10 weeks old now, so in a couple more weeks I'll have reached my goal.  But because it's gotten so much easier, I'm pretty sure I'll stick with it and set another goal - get to 6 months.

I have to say I completely understand now why so many women switch to formula.  There are so many issues that spring up with breastfeeding, and I will never again judge anyone for any of the decisions they make on how they feed their baby.  But for me, I'm really proud I stuck with it and I'm grateful that our issues were "fixable."  A lot of people can't stick with it and don't have the resources that I've had to make it work.  And if you're planning to breast feed your baby and you have troubles - please know it can get better.  But whatever choice you make, you're doing what's right for you and your family and that's what matters most.


  1. Sounds like you got some great advice!

  2. Megs! Gosh, sounds like you endured tough times for a while. It is so emotional when you feel like you are failing, but you stuck with it. Thank goodness were able to get a rockstar LC to help you achieve your goal and get Max's weight up. You made it through the first 6 weeks and now into 2 months can come up for some air. Thanks for sharing your experience to help out the rest of us.

  3. I've never even heard of babies being "lazy" and not getting enough milk, even with a good latch. Definitely glad you shared this! It sounds like a rough time getting used to having to pull him off, but man did it work. Good for you! I hope this means you continue having a bit of extra time, and can even squeeze in a post here and there :)

  4. Anonymous10:38 PM

    So good to see a post from you, it sounds like the first couple have months have been very trying at times, you are such a strong woman to have stuck with it and made it almost to that 3 month mark! Love the idea of setting small goals and reassessing - that is how I get through most of life (with the exception of infertility where it seems like goals are a bit useless). And thanks for sharing all of your details with breast feeding - if/when I get to that point I want all the advice and help that I can get!

  5. That's great Megs! Like many things associated with parenting, it's hard work, ultimately rewarding and definitely not one-size fits all. Glad you are working things out and DAMN, wish I were closer so that we could have these talks over a stroll in the park with Mr. Max.

  6. Anonymous8:47 PM

    So glad to hear from you - and glad you stuck it out and it's working out for you. Take care of yourselves!