You can find part 1 of my story here, I think I can aptly call that first week “the beginning” and what I’m sharing today will be “the middle”
My milk came in a week after Gretchen was born, but I was never engorged and never leaked. We could see and hear Gretchen swallowing and I was getting milk when I pumped, but even though I pumped after every feeding, I was only pumping about an ounce a day (on a good day).
Tyler was AMAZING through all of this. He got up with me for every feeding at night, holding a cold wash cloth on the baby to wake her when she fell asleep on the boob, holding her over a cold air vent to jar her awake, doing compressions while I held the baby in place (we needed 4 hands to breastfeed at that point!) I was exhausted and still waking to feed Gretchen every 2.5 hours. I’d breastfeed her for about 20-30 minutes, then we’d give her the bottle (which she took to easily thank goodness), then we’d burp her (which could take 5-10 minutes), then Tyler would put her down for a nap while I pumped. By the time we were done I had maybe 60-90 minutes before the next feeding would begin. This made leaving the house nearly impossible for me.
Gretchen really was never awake that first month, and I was rarely asleep! Maybe 20-30 minutes a couple of times a day she’d have her eyes open but otherwise she was sleeping. Everyone kept telling me to wait til her due date as she’d wake up then. I clung to that hope.
At her 2 week appointment Gretchen was just at birth weight and we got permission to stop waking her to feed so often. My pumping output was still dismal and I resented that pump so so so much. The summer Olympics were on during this time so I basically watched weird sporting events during the day while feeding Gretchen and pumping, and then cleaning my pump parts and starting it all over again. I went to the BF support group weekly for weighed feedings and they were depressing. One week Gretchen got 2/3rds of an ounce. Another week she got about 1/3rd of an ounce. The milk just was not there. I was taking the supplements, pumping, drinking a shitload of water, but to no avail. My milk supply was not increasing despite my best efforts.
We researched medications available to nursing mothers to increase supply, but found that the side effects of reglan are scary (severe depression, diarrhea, sedation, gastric upset, nausea, seizures and twitching). Domperidone has fewer side effects but isn’t FDA approved (and often has to be ordered from Canada!) I was not willing to take this step, it just seemed too drastic and too risky. This article came out around the time I was debating this issue and it really resonated with me and solidified my decision not to try off label drugs.
I cried a lot during those first weeks and wanted to quit breastfeeding so badly but held on to the advice friends gave me, especially “never quit on a bad day.” Tyler hugged me and gave me pep talks and finally Gretchen’s due date arrived. She did wake up some, but it wasn’t a drastic change. My pump rental was expiring and I returned it to the hospital. I was so done with that thing, it had done nothing to increase my supply and all the time and effort I was putting in for approximately 1 oz a day was not worth it. We needed much more than that to supplement so we had to rely on formula. We’d long since run out of the free samples from the hospital and switched from ready to feed ($$$) to powdered Similac ($$).
Bonding with my baby was extremely difficult that first month. I was growing to resent her and resent the pump. Tyler got to snuggle her and play with her and was clearly bonding with her and I was stressed out and in tears worried about how much she was eating. The grueling feeding schedule was taking its toll on my mental health. I remember crying while she cried during a feeding one night thinking “I just want to be able to enjoy my baby.” Breastfeeding was not the warm, lovey dovey, bonding experience the books had promised it would be. It was anything but. When I turned the pump in and accepted that supplementing with formula was just what we were going to have to do, things really started to turn around for me mentally and emotionally.
I don’t want to give the impression that I hated breastfeeding, I really didn’t. I loved the snuggle time, I loved that Gretchen was getting some milk from me, and along with it the benefits that breastmilk has to offer. Breastfeeding got much easier as Gretchen gained more head control and we were able to find more comfortable nursing positions. I spent the first 6 weeks or so nursing in the glider or on the couch with my brest friend pillow (so much better than the boppy for nursing!) but once she got better at nursing we would often nurse in the laid back or side lying position on the couch or bed. I got lots of smiles while breastfeeding her and she would just stare at me in amazement sometimes and it melted my heart. I really cherish the memories of that time in our breastfeeding relationship.
one of the only pictures I have of us breastfeeding, I experience bittersweet feelings when I look at it.
part 3 coming soon, I’ve decided it’s the hardest part to write about. (part three can be found here)