In the third trimester I spent much of my time watching YouTube videos on what to expect in labor and delivery. I also read countless blog posts and made a list of what to pack in my hospital bag based on dozens of videos I had seen. But there was one area of parenthood I didn’t learn much about: breastfeeding. I had heard both that it was “natural” and that it was challenging. I wondered if I should take a breastfeeding class at the hospital before giving birth, but I was told to wait and see how it goes.
I was not prepared for just how difficult it would be.
As soon as Adelina was born, she was placed on my chest and she latched soon after. I felt relieved and took it as a sign that breastfeeding might not be as hard as I thought. Later, in our recovery room, a nurse tried to show me how to express colostrum, which I found to be painful. I would try to do it myself and just couldn’t get anything. The nurse also showed me how to position Addi over and over again but I could never get comfortable. It seemed like I got the hang of it when the nurse was in the room but as soon as she left I felt lost. I called the nurses in for help so many times that first night in recovery. On top of that, I was exhausted from a 39-hour labor and being checked on every hour.
The next morning, I attended a lactation class at the hospital where we were given lots of information that I quickly felt overwhelmed by. The class didn’t involve actually feeding our babies, which I would have found more helpful, but I did learn that I could rent a hospital grade pump for a while to help. That night was more of the same. The nurse brought in a pump for me to use, and I did get a tiny bit of colostrum that I placed on my finger and fed the baby. I was told this was all the baby needed for now. But I never quite felt like a had a good latch at the hospital when I was by myself, so a second lactation consultant came in the next morning to help and said it looked OK. Again, I got too much information that I was completely lost in, though I appreciated her encouragement and guidance.
Adelina was quite the sleepy baby when we brought her home. She had to have the jaundice screening a couple times at the hospital and at home she constantly fell asleep at the breast. The first two nights at home were a whirlwind and I just couldn’t get the hang of what I was supposed to be doing. How often was I supposed to pump? How long should she be nursing? I knew nothing and thus I now know I didn’t do enough.
The Monday after being discharged was Adelina’s pediatrician appointment. She weighed 5 lbs 9 ounces; she had lost a full pound since being born, or 15 percent of her birth weight. I felt like such a failure. It’s normal for babies to lose weight after birth, but not that much. The pediatrician immediately suggested supplementing with formula until my milk came in. She sent me home with a box of Enfamil and I tearfully started feeding it to her. To clarify, it wasn’t upsetting that I had to use formula, but that I had allowed my daughter to lose that much weight. There is obviously nothing wrong with formula feeding, I just felt like I had chosen to do something and then failed at it. That was my hardest day since her birth. My pediatrician referred me to several lactation consultants in the area, and I contacted one of them that night and set up a time for her to visit us in our home the next day.
The lactation consultant has been a godsend.
She first weighed Adelina and then observed as she latched onto my breast. She determined exactly how much she was getting from each side (not much – only 2 ml on one side that first day she helped!) and gave me tips to keep her awake while feeding. She wrote down exact instructions for how and when to feed her, how much formula to supplement with, how long to pump and when, and more:
- Offer 1 ounce after breastfeeding, either pumped milk or formula.
- Used paced bottle feeding.
- Pump both breasts for 10-15 minutes after nursing.
Overnight the plan was:
- Offer 2 ounces pumped milk or formula.
- Use paced bottle feeding.
- Pump for 20 minutes to drain well.
As you can imagine, this took up all of my time. It could take up to 30 minutes just to breastfeed, plus the time to change her diaper to wake her up and then pump. Feedings were every two and a half to three hours from start to start, and it took about an hour for one feeding. My full-time job was breastfeeding. I could do little else, which for me was extremely difficult and defeating.
Note: I am not suggesting this plan is necessary or for you. Please consult a consultant or your pediatrician for help with breastfeeding if you need it.
The consultant even boiled my bottles for me on that first home visit since I had not already done so. (Adelina was early so I had not gotten to that yet.) She showed me how to clean and store my pumping parts, and she helped me find the right positioning for nursing at home. She suggested a pumping bra, baby carrier and other products (like Vitamin D drops), and she came up with a plan to have Graham feed her at night while I pumped. She suggested storing pump parts in the refrigerator so I don’t need to wash them after every pump and I can instead clean them once a day.
It was several days before my milk finally came in. At Adelina’s next appointment she had gained a few ounces, but we had so much more work to do. I continued to struggle because Adelina got sick in her second week of life. I have also suffered from low milk supply from the start. The next week I attended a lactation clinic where again the consultant measured her weight and how much she gets from each breast. The plan was altered because Adelina didn’t have enough energy to stay awake at the breast:
- Breastfeed twice per day, offering each breast for 5-10 minutes.
- Supplement with 30-45 ml (1 ounce to 1.5 ounces) after nursing.
- Pump for 10-15 minutes.
- At all other feedings, offer 60 ml (2 ounces) milk or formula and then pump for 20 minutes.
- Apply generous paced feed.
With this plan I was able to get Adelina’s weight up to 7 pounds, 2 ounces at her next appointment, which was a gain of 14 ounces in eight days! We changed the plan again to breastfeeding three to four times a day since she was feeling better and was more awake. Plus, thanks to breastfeeding she was getting my antibodies.
- Breastfeed three to four times day for 10-15 minutes per breast while compressing to increase milk flow.
- Supplement with another ounce after nursing.
- Pump for 10 minutes after nursing.
- At other feedings, pump for 20 minutes.
My lactation consultant has continued to help by calling and texting to check on us. After each call we reassess the plan. It’s been more than a month and she continues to call every week. She is one of only a few people to truly give unconditional support for breastfeeding, and if it wasn’t for her help I would have quit in that first week. (In case you’re wondering, I paid $225 for her service, but I submitted a claim to my insurance. Check to see if your insurance covers this and take advantage if so. If not, it is definitely still worth it if breastfeeding is important to you, because she has worked incredibly hard to help us.)
Thanks to some products I have found as well as the help I received, Adelina weighed 9 pounds, 6 ounces as of yesterday’s lactation clinic.
My current game plan from the consultant is to breastfeed at least five times a day and bottle feed for the other feedings. She doesn’t get enough for a full feeding from my breasts, so I must supplement with either my pumped milk or formula each time. Sometimes I have enough of my own milk to give her, sometimes I don’t. I keep telling myself not to compare myself to women who pump 5 ounces from just one breast, because I’m doing the best I can.
I haven’t given up on breastfeeding because I want to be able to tell myself I have tried everything I could to feed her the best I can. I also want to bond with her since I didn’t get this experience with Victoria. I produce just enough milk for her, which is enough for me. If I have to stop breastfeeding in a month or two, I know I have done everything I could. I am proud to have done it even this long, though, because I know not everyone can turn it around or find the support she needs.
Products That help/A Giveaway! (CLOSED):
Getting my daughter to a healthy weight with my own breast milk took nonstop sleepless nights, lots of pumping and persistence to get there. It also took research into products to help me with my milk supply. That’s when I came across Colson & Joe, a breastfeeding subscription box. I wanted to help moms like myself who have struggled with nursing, so I reached out to them for a complimentary box to gift to one of you!
Update: As of June 2019, Colson & Joe has shut down. It is no longer available.
My hope is that it can help a mom who wants to breastfeed (exclusively or not) and just doesn’t have the support she needs. I received the May Colson & Joe breastfeeding subscription box, which contained:
- The Shea Buttercream Diva: This brand also makes soaps, emulsified sugar, scrubs, massage oils and more.
- Hyperbiotics Pro prenatal supplement: Probiotics encourage regularity along with proper nutrient absorption, according to the company.
- Super Mama More Milk Please Teas: Super Mama also makes teas for other mommy needs, like morning sickness.
- Wishgarden Happy Ducts herbal supplement: I keep this in my bedside basket full of postpartum and breastfeeding essentials.
- Stork and Dove Lactation Cookies: I’ve tried these before getting the box and liked them.
- Nomi + Sibs Silicon Bottle Holder: These are made responsibly and are designed to be used from infancy to tween years. They can be customized for labeling your beverages and snacks.
- NurseMeMama Busy Tabs: Attach to your shirt or bra as a reminder, and baby can pull on it to play as well.
- Motherlove Diaper Balm:Made with 96 percent organic ingredients.
- Grey’s Cowbell Muffins (chocolate chip):These were filling and tasty. You can also purchase dough or mixes instead of cookies and muffins.
I had already tried the lactation cookies, so I was excited to get more of them in the box. I have enjoyed the tea with honey and feel like it did work for me. I like the idea of the Busy Tabs, which you clip onto your bra so you know which side to feed from. The Grey’s Cowbell Muffin was quite tasty and filling. I also immediately started taking the Happy Ducts supplement. I’m excited to continue to try these products on my breastfeeding journey and can’t wait to give a reader a chance to try similar products in a box of her own!
Rules: Open to U.S. and Canada residents age 18 or older only. Winner will receive a coupon code for a free box worth $29.99 and $5 PayPal cash to cover shipping. In order to receive the box, winner will visit Colson & Joe’s website and fill out a survey to determine needs. Winner may choose to continue subscription at his or her own cost. Giveaway entries must be received by May 29, 2018, at 12 a.m. This giveaway is not affiliated with, administered by or sponsored by Instagram, Twitter, or any other company.
Colson & Joe Gives Back
I love it when companies give back, and Colson & Joe does that. A portion of the proceeds of every box goes toward supplying free boxes to mommies facing the challenge of nursing their baby in a NICU. Helping others is something I can get behind, which is why I reached out to them to do a giveaway.
Other Breastfeeding Resources:
- Kelly Mom: Both lactation consultants have suggested this site for breastfeeding and overall parenting help. I have found myself reading it on many late nights.
- Stanford Medicine page on newborns
- Video on paced bottle feeding