A Tale of Two Boobs

If this blog post were a book the subtitle would be: ...And a breastpump, and a bottle, and some formula, and a ton of herbal supplements, and how they all worked together to nourish my baby.

Gratuitous baby and me shot. This post is heavy on text, so enjoy this now! By BMW Photography

This week is National Breastfeeding week. Prior to last Saturday I had no idea such a thing existed, and certainly didn't know that it was THIS week, but hey! I have a story to tell, and this seems like a great time to tell it.

If you've read our blog a time or two you might remember my Birth Story- you know, the one where I had a baby, tried to breastfeed, had such low supply that she ended up in the emergency room for an IV the day after we brought her home from the hospital, then I pumped and supplemented, and finally after six sleep deprived weeks (and a move!) I gave up and formula fed her? No? Well that happened. And it was pretty heartbreaking to me at the time, but I came to terms with it and she is now a two and a half year old who is healthy as a horse and smart as a whip and I don't regret how things happened. I did what I needed to do under the circumstances.

BUT, when I got pregnant with baby #2 I was still hoping to be able to breast feed. I kept talking about things I'd need for nursing (clothes with easy nursing access, supplements to help with supply, etc.), but I also realized that my body just might not be capable of producing enough milk and I had to be ok with that. I did a lot of reading to brush up on my mammary knowledge, and I used an essential oil that my sister-in-law gave me to help my milk come in (Clary Sage, for anyone wondering), and then I walked through the hospital doors on May 8 for my scheduled cesarean and hoped for the best.

I'll share more details about the hospital stay in a future post, but for the purposes of my breastfeeding story it is worth noting that the hospital I delivered at was fabulous. Within 45 minutes of my surgery they had my sweet baby in the recovery area with me, with a lactation consultant, helping me to nurse my baby. Lactation consultants stopped by every day to see how things were going and gave me great support and resources, including a hospital grade pump when it became evident that once again my supply wasn't cutting it.

My milk came in before I left the hospital (hooray for second pregnancies and clary sage!) but my little one definitely wasn't getting enough. So began my journey of pumping and supplementing. The next two weeks were a journey of nursing, pumping, and supplementing nearly round the clock. I was nursing on demand hoping to increase my supply, but even that wasn't cutting it. Our pediatricians office has a lactation consultant on staff and we quickly became acquainted, Dawn and I. We had 4 visits with her in the first two weeks of my baby's life, each one with a weight check and often a feeding in office. My baby was latching great, but she'd barely suck and would fall asleep almost instantly. At first I'd nurse, then pump and feed her what I pumped, but by our third visit she had lost weight since she left the hospital and it became clear she needed more. We started adding formula to the mix and she quickly gained the weight back and started looking a lot better. Finally her jaundice was disappearing and her face was filling out.

To put everything that happened in those two weeks into the paragraph above is minimizing the crazy journey it was. At times I felt like I was thisclose to being able to nurse exclusively, then before I knew it she was getting almost all her nutrients from formula and falling asleep the second I brought her to the breast. She'd be naked, I'd put a fan on her, rub her back, tickle her head and feet, and still she'd sleep. I'd nurse, and pump, and bottle feed, and do it all over again and again and again.

Oh, and the supplements! Aside from the painkillers I needed for the post-op pain, I took all the herbal supplements I could stomach. Fenugreek capsules- two to three capsules six times daily! Alfalfa tablets- four times daily! Oatmeal for breakfast every day! I took them all and meticulously tracked my milk supply as I pumped and did it all over again all day every day.

I love this picture. I'm exhausted, but in bliss. A moment to remember.

Her two week check up came around and we saw Dawn before we saw the pediatrician. I nursed in the office and we did a before and after feeding weight check to see how much she'd taken in during nursing. She nursed a long time and Dawn and I put all we could in to keeping her awake, and she took in just under an ounce and a half. It was a vast improvement, but still not where we needed to be. A little defeated, I asked Dawn what else I could do. I almost didn't ask for fear that the answer would be that there was nothing left to try. She told me about a supplement tincture (Motherlove More Milk Special Blend) that would replace my other supplements that could help and I decided to give that a go. Then Dawn started talking about milk banks and donated milk and I realized where the conversation was headed- my milk just may never be enough. I started to tear up at the thought of once again failing at this, but then Dawn said, "Look, you are doing incredible. You are doing all you can to feed your baby, and if it turns out that you just can't get the supply you need, you can know that you did everything possible. Now it is just a matter of how long you can keep pumping and if you can keep it up long enough for your baby to figure it out."

And somehow, that was what I needed to hear.

We walked across the hall to the exam room and waited for the pediatrician. Once she came, we talked about the visit with Dawn and the plan going forward. She shared with me her own struggles with breastfeeding, which were similar to my own. Knowing she'd be going back to work after a few months anyway, she started almost exclusively pumping after a couple of weeks. She said that by two or three months her baby just "figured it out". "By the time she is that age, she'll be a completely different baby", she said. "She'll be more awake and it may just take time to figure it out."

Going home I formulated a plan. I knew with my first breastfeeding experience the pumping and nursing was extremely time consuming and really took an emotional toll on me, and I knew this go around I had the added responsibility of not only a baby, but a toddler to watch after. I thought about what Dawn said, about it being a matter of how long I could keep it up, and what my pediatrician said about her baby just "getting it" at 2 or 3 months after being mostly bottle fed. I also thought about the fact that I really had two problems: a sleepy baby who wouldn't suck, and low supply. Even if she suddenly "got it", I was going to have to supplement until my supply increased. My supply wasn't going to increase without a machine. Priority #1 became supply. I'd nurse once or twice a day, take my supplements, and pump my little heart out. I'd keep close tabs on what my supply was doing and compare pumping after nursing to times when I just pumped to keep tabs on how much she got when we nursed. I'd do this as long as I could and hope for the best.

Fast forward two weeks to her one month check up. I met with Dawn and told her all about my plan and my meticulous milk tracking. Between the pumping and the new herbal I was taking my supply had increased from about 10oz per day to 17oz. In two weeks! She was eating about 21oz per day on days that I didn't nurse her at all, so I knew I was really only a few ounces per day away from what she needed. BUT, she wasn't nursing much better. She usually got between 1 and 2 ounces when she nursed- and bottle fed another 1 or 2 after that. Dawn was encouraged though and the plan was to keep on keepin on.

Over the next month I did just that- kept on. The first time I pumped 3 ounces in one sitting I nearly jumped for joy- I even sent this celebratory picture to my husband at work.

We had a two week vacation to visit family for my brother's wedding during that month. I was nervous about finding time to pump whilst on vacation, but I'm proud to report that I did it. I managed to maintain my supply through a wedding, lake trip, lots of day trips, and staying at two different houses. I pumped as we drove down the freeway, I pumped with a cover while reminiscining with my siblings, and I pumped in a locked office during the wedding reception. I nursed maybe a dozen times (maybe) over the course of that vacation, but I maintained my supply, and I'm really proud of that. It helped to have a ton of willing hands to hold my baby and read stories to my toddler and in general just be super helpful so I could duck out for a moment to pump when I needed to. During this time my baby also had a crazy huge growth spurt. She started eating 5 or 6 or 7 ounces in a single feeding- and not being satisfied until we gave that to her. All of the sudden the gap between my production and her consumption was growing, and that upset me. I felt like I'd never be able to catch up.

Shortly after we got home we had her two month check up. I hoped I'd have great news about how things were going when we met with Dawn, but really things seemed the same. As I settled in to her office, arranging the nursing pillow and getting situated to nurse, I explained what the last month had been like, how I felt pretty pro at pumping and felt like I could probably sustain that long term even if I couldn't nurse her, and how I didn't think she was nursing much better. Dawn commented on how she couldn't believe she was keeping her eyes open the whole time she was feeding and that everything looked really great, and then came the moment of truth. We put her on the scale and I silently chanted "big numbers, big numbers" as the digits changed on the display. She calculated the difference- nearly THREE AND A HALF OUNCES! I couldn't believe it. No really, I couldn't. Dawn was ecstatic- "That's awsome mom! I think she's at least as efficient as your pump now- I bet you could stop pumping, even if you still have to supplement with formula for a while.I think you are a success story!" And I really just didn't believe her. It was probably a fluke. She was still eating more than I was making (although the gap had closed some as she came off of her growth spurt) and I didn't see how I could increase any more than I already had. I humored her in her optimism but in my mind was still resolved that I would probably be pumping for a long time.

And then, a few days later, I nursed her in the morning like I often did, and she was satisfied. I didn't pump. I didn't make a bottle. I just waited. And three hours later, I nursed her again, and she was satisfied- even happy. No bottle, no formula, no pump. Just me and my two boobs and my baby. All day, every few hours, I nursed my baby. And she was happy!

That day was nearly two and a half weeks ago. I'm happy and relieved and proud to report that I feed my baby with my own two boobs now. We aren't perfect at it. I'm clumsily navigating nursing in public with an almost three month old who is much more wiggly than a newborn. I still pack a bottle for emergencies when we go out for the day, thinking there will come a time when my milk won't be enough. I'm coming to terms with the fact that I no longer have the sense of control that I had when I could quantify the milk I made and the milk she drank. Nearly every day I wonder "Is she getting enough? Should I give her a bottle?"

But you guys, I'm doing it. I am a breast feeding success story.