She Says… The Fire Hose and the Drippy Faucet

Let me tell you a tale. A tale of two boobs.

For those who care, an update on how breastfeeding is going the second time around.

The bottom line: It’s working…
It feels a little silly to still marvel that something so natural is actually working the way it’s supposed to, but after my traumatic experience trying to nurse Owen and a very rocky start nursing Emmett filled with cracks and blisters and pain of all kinds… I still marvel. It’s working. I still use the Brest Friend pillow for comfort whenever I’m at home (I like that I can essentially have my hands free and he stays in the right position), but we’ve got our latch down. I can nurse him wherever, whenever I need to.

… almost.
There are 2 times when nursing just doesn’t work, no matter what I try. One, when he is thrashing and shaking his head and wailing, most likely due to gas/stomach issues. This isn’t very often, thankfully. Rather, at least it’s not anymore. There was a phase when Emmett was around 6 weeks when it happened about once a day. I’m not sure what the phase was, but, like all things baby, it has passed and we are into a new phase now. The other time is when I feel like I am out of milk. More on this later.

I have achieved “Breastfeeding Nirvana”. For me.
For those times when nursing just isn’t cutting it (when it’s making one of us, or both of us, miserable, for whatever reason), Emmett gets formula. I knew from the start that I was NOT going to put the same “all or nothing” pressure on myself to exclusively breastfeed like I had with Owen. I think I created a lot of my own stress by using every fiber of my being to force breastfeeding on both of us, and as a result our health and happiness suffered. So this time around I supplemented with formula from the start. Around 3 weeks when my pediatrician and lactation consultant recommended introducing bottles, we made them bottles of formula.

This was, hands down, the best decision I’ve made for us so far.

Breastfeeding success, for me, this time around, is as follows: I would like Emmett to nurse from my breast whenever possible. Whenever that is not possible, I want him to take formula. So far, this is working beautifully. We are both so, so happy about it. I think allowing myself the “out” of offering him formula sometimes actually made me work harder at breastfeeding. I didn’t feel cornered or desperate. He doesn’t feel like food is scarce. Benjamin can easily take over if things are escalating or I need a break. I’m spending my time when I’m not feeding Emmett enjoying him. Being silly with Owen. Making dinner. Going to the playground. I’m not spending it pumping and washing pump parts and crying. It’s… glorious. And freeing. And awesome.

Supply and Demand
Hi! Nice to meet you. Let me introduce you to my boobs.

Rightie is my super-producer. She is, quite literally, a solid 2 cup sizes bigger than my left. It’s awkward. It’s totally normal for breasts to be different sizes and produce different amounts of milk, but this is pretty astonishing. When I have pumped in the past (like on Monday when I had to “pump and dump” after my surgery), Rightie makes easily 3x as much milk as leftie. Easily. For good reason, this is Emmett’s preferred side to drink on. However, she’s also quite powerful. My little fire hose, if you will. Her letdown is STRONG and often makes Emmett sputter and cough and gulp air as soon as the milk comes out. She’s a sprinter too. She sprays every which way for a few minutes, and then slows waaaaaay down. Emmett will gulp, gulp, gulp for 5-7 minutes, and then, nothing. Then he loses interest. If I keep him on there he can sometimes get a second letdown, but he doesn’t always have the patience for this. It’s efficient (he gets a lot of milk during these 7 minutes), but always leaves me wondering if he’s getting enough.

Leftie is more like a drippy faucet. She’s small and meek. I can barely detect her letdown. Emmett will give a few good sucks right at the beginning, but then quickly loses interest. She’s just too darn slow. It’s frustrating, because I know that Emmett’s short attention span for her speed is kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy — he doesn’t keep asking for more milk, so she doesn’t keep making it. I’m really not sure how much of the size difference/milk production is a result of him not drinking, or if him not drinking is a result of the slow drip. Chicken or the egg? One will never know.

Hungry for More
Overall it tends to work out — we nurse about 75% of the time on Rightie and 25% of the time on Leftie. For most of the day I’m making just the right amount of milk. I feel full when it’s nursing time and totally empty when he’s finished. I can barely squeeze out another drop when he pulls off. However, about once a day I find that he’s sucking and sucking and there’s no milk coming out. He’s sucking fast, waiting for a letdown that just doesn’t come. He’s hungry, and he usually grunts and furrows his brow and it seems pretty clear that he wants more than he’s getting. I can’t get anything out by hand expressing and only a few drops with a pump. At that point, I usually make him a bottle and he takes 1-2 ounces. And then in the evening at our bedtime feeding, I’m usually almost entirely out of milk. I’ll make him try and there’s just no letdown. Or if there is, it lasts 2 minutes or so before it slows to a stop. So I give him a bottle. At bedtime he usually takes 2-3 ounces.

So over the course of the day, I’m finding I have to supplement anywhere from 1-4 ounces of formula because I just don’t make enough milk. I know lactation consultants and websites always say, “So many moms worry about their milk production when really their production is just fine”, but I actually think I’m in that minority of women who honestly can’t make enough milk (I recently found some evidence to suggest this is common for women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, which may be an explanation for me).  I’m pretty much ok with this, but I do wish I could just squeeze out those last ounces so I could feed my kid without having to give him bottles. I’m eating oatmeal, taking a fenugreek blend pill (that seems to help a little) and drinking a ton of water every day. I’m doing everything I can think of to boost my supply, short of pumping. See above for how happy I am NOT pumping.

In the end, Emmett and I have found a system that works really well for us. A few weeks ago, in the throes of blisters and shooting pains, I wouldn’t have thought we’d still be going now. But thanks to a tube of All Purpose Nipple Ointment (APNO) and resources like my lactation consultant and Isis Parenting (find their breastfeeding articles and videos here), we’re here. Finding our own Breastfeeding Nirvana.

*Please note: Breastfeeding is still a very personal topic for me. If you’re going to leave a comment that is negative about my decision to give my baby formula, or telling me if I “just work harder, breastfeeding will work out”, just don’t. I will delete it. I do not write this to open myself up to criticism; I do it to share my story and possibly validate the others out there who experience a rocky road to feeding their baby.

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19 responses to “She Says… The Fire Hose and the Drippy Faucet

  1. Go you. GO you. I’m so happy for you that you’ve given yourself the freedom to continue to nurse without making yourself crazy. YAY.

  2. Rule #1 of parenthood is “feed the baby.” You sound like you’re doing a stupendous job!

  3. I never made enough milk either. To the point where 3 lactation consultants finally said that to me too. I always blamed the PCOS.

  4. Angie All The Way

    I had a very similar experience with Cameron. Only with me Leftie is the bigger one. Unfortunately, I never EVER had anything I could identify as a “letdown” even once. I’ve heard about the fire hose/spraying experiences and it never happened with me. My milk supply was just too darn low. Before being discharged from the hospital when he was born, my doc left me with the prescription for Domperidone BECAUSE of this common problem with low milk supply & PCOS. At the time, I thought, “Wow, what was kind of presumptuous and drug pushy to give me the script without even had the chance to let my milk come in.” I filled it, just to have on hand, and sure enough around 10 weeks, he needed to nurse one night and I was EMPTY! Nothing to offer! He was always a baby who nursed (really) frequently anyway, but in retrospect, it was because he wasn’t getting enough from me. I supplemented him for the first time that night and started taking the Domperidone. It helped bring up the supply somewhat, but I still supplemented whenever my tank was empty until he stopped rooting for the breast entirely at 9 mths, then it was all formula. I hated that no one ever believes you when YOU are in that minority of low milk supply people. It was me too! Next time around, I will skip the useless heartbreaking guilt when I need to supplement with formula. Your outlook on this, this time around is spot on in my books!

  5. This is gonna sound CRAZY, but after you nurse and give Emmett his bottle. Pump for 5-10 minutes on leftie. This will hopefully send a message to your body that baby needs more milk and Leftie will start producing more.

    Hope this helps! You’re doing great momma!

  6. Kate, I’ve read since Owen was born, but I rarely comment. I just want to applaud you for this…the post and making the decision not to put so much pressure on yourself. I get it….sometimes there are people who could try harder to make breastfeeding work. But, aren’t most of us trying our damnedest to do the very best for our kids? In the quest to be perfect mothers, we often overlook how important it is for a child to have a healthy mother as well. With my daughter, we exclusively breastfed until 9 months, at which point, my husband practically begged me to supplement a few ounces so that I could get some sleep. We experienced the same blisters, cracks, etc. in the beginning before finding the sweet spot. Once I returned to work full-time, it was a constant struggle to pump enough for daycare. I was up during the middle of the night to pump, and put so much pressure on myself to just keep going with the exclusive breastfeeding. I cried a lot and was sick constantly. It affected my mothering in ways that made me question whether the benefit of breast milk was worth it. In the end, she took a few ounces of formula a day from 9-12 months and we nursed just past a year. Instead of feeling good about exclusively breastfeeding for so long, I felt guilt and regret for putting that kind of pressure on myself. For baby #2, we’ll work to find some blend of breastfeeding and supplementing to keep everyone healthy. Thank you for your honesty and insights. They’ve been helpful in my own journey.

  7. If you haven’t tried Milk Makers cookies yet, they are also worth a try to help with supply. I struggled to keep up while pumping at work, and noticed a difference when I ate 1-2 cookies/day. They supposedly combine everything that is meant to increase supply and taste good!

  8. XOXO. You are an amazing mom. Hooray for doing what you have to to make things work for you and for Emmett.

  9. You and I have very similar BFing stories. My experience with my oldest was a disaster, and I promised myself with my second I would give it a shot, and let whatever happened happen. She is 7 months old now and gets both BM and formula- I do not pump, and truly feel like we have the best of both worlds. I love nursing her, but also love formula and the freedom it provides. So happy for you that you are have found your nirvana. Your boys are the cutest- love your blog!

  10. I understand not wanting to open yourself to criticism about breastfeeding or formula feeding (or both, as it stands) but I’m slightly concerned about how one-sided the comment moderation is going to make it seem (the side that’s a proponent of formula use, that is). I think it’s great that you’re making whatever you’re doing work for you. Happy baby, happy mommy, happy all around…but is there a way that you could possibly consider more open conversations about breastfeeding? It would be really nice to see something normal (by normal people) about nursing instead of the media rampage about nursing discrimination and nurse-ins or “horror” at extended breastfeeding.

  11. I am so happy for you, Kate! I did the exact same thing with Jack & I was so much happier. We nursed about 90% of the time, and the rest of the time, he got a bottle. Like E, he was getting all of the benefits of nursing without all of the pressure on me that made me crazy with Liam. Best of both worlds!!

    To address onesosmall’s comment above, I don’t get the impression at all that you’re not open to discussions about breastfeeding– obviously, you’re a huge supporter of breastfeeding, or else you wouldn’t be trying so hard to make it work! I hate that mothers seem to be split into two camps– either exclusively breastfeeding or exclusively formula feeding. Reality is, many moms are happy with a mix of both. And nursing your baby (in public, through the toddler years, etc) doesn’t make you crazy any more than formula feeding (however often), makes you a lazy parent. I feel like the two sides are constantly in opposition.

    I see that several ladies have left a few suggestions that might help your breastfeeding experience, and you’re not deleting those– But I can totally understand why you would delete any insults or criticisms about your choice– what you choose to do is not up for discussion! I’m so glad you’re happy, K!

  12. Stef, to put this as delicately as I can, there are a lot of people who are very passionate about breastfeeding or formula feeding and in general it’s incredibly difficult to get a point across when there is already so much defensiveness present. No one can counter the argument that breastfeeding your child (if possible) full-time is the best thing you can do for the baby in terms of nutrition and, in some cases, emotional well-being, but then it’s entirely possible to be involved in a gray area of sorts: what if trying to breastfeed exclusively prohibits the mother from achieving a proper emotional balance? Most people will acknowledge that a stressed mother can have a negative impact on the newborn (and their relationship), so a lot of people are fine with this combination feeding method. Then there are the others who think that even a drop of formula is poison. I am definitely in the camp of breast is best, no matter what (even donor milk is nutritionally superior to formula–I don’t think anyone can argue that; breast milk from a human is, in fact, specifically formulated biologically toward nourishing our human infants and cow’s milk isn’t–hence the added vitamins and minerals in formula) but I would never go so far as to say that formula feeding will harm your child (most instances of infant fatalities are centered around formula marketing in places without a clean water supply and rarely–very rarely–contaminants in the formula itself).
    I suppose my point is that by neglecting to feature a dissenting opinion on what I think is still a relatively popular blog it provides a one-view perspective (obviously most of these comments are “Way to go FORMULA!”). If Kate responded to these comments anymore it would be one thing to say she’s just too busy/tired to engage anyone in a debate of that sort…but in my opinion comment moderation in this subject specifically is harmful to both breastfeeding knowledge and support. I think that her readers are definitely smart and strong enough to hold their own, and hey, someone might learn something.
    And for the record, I nurse both of my kids–my eldest is nearing three years old and I’ve been EBF’ing my second for nearly a year–and I do it in public without a cover. I’m only addressing this because I want to make it clear (evidently I didn’t) that I DO NOT think these things are crazy. And who could think formula feeders are lazy? They have to wash and sterilize bottles, purchase the formula (work more to afford it), prepare the bottles, etc. just to feed their baby! That doesn’t sound like it’s easy to me!

    Either way, we’re all doing the best we can as individuals. If some people hit their limit before another, it’s no one’s place to judge. That’s really what I’m saying here–no judgment, just discussion. I’m sorry this was so long!

  13. Sorry to post again, but I just wanted to say that I know that donor milk might not be easy to obtain in certain areas but I would be absolutely willing to donate my breast milk to anyone that wants or need it! I actually live in a small community where several of our breastfeeding mothers reach out to those that are struggling with nursing and offer their milk bank, so if anyone has any questions or wants to express (no pun intended!) a desire for it my email is onesosmall1@gmail.com

  14. I nursed all 3 of my kids exclusively but I wonder, now, if my eldest would have done better with a little formula? He was a colicky baby and fussed a lot at night but maybe it wasn’t colic – maybe it was just hunger? (Of course, he did have a zillion allergies so it may have been colic. I was just so young and inexperienced back then that I did not know.) We didn’t have lactation consultants back then – we just had La Leche League and they were adamantly against supplementing so I probably did not get unbiased advice.

    My daughter is still nursing her 18 month old but vows that Baby #2 will be supplemented because she hates being so tied down and toddler WILL NOT WEAN! I keep my mouth shut because it is her decision but I must admit that it would be easier to babysit my grandson if he were weaned or took a bottle because they are restricted in how late they can stay out (not very late!)

    I was bottle fed and (apparently) turned out fine. My eldest, exclusively nursed, had endless allergies, colds, ear infections, etc. – all of which I was told would not happen with BF babies!!

    Mothering is hard and guilt ridden enough without beating up on each other. We should just be grateful that we have choices and our babies aren’t starving.

  15. Thank you all for your support and stories! It is incredibly helpful to know I’m not alone in navigating this wonderful world of breastfeeding.

    @onesosmall, Thank you for your perspective. I agree that if I were deleting comments that were intended to be part of a respectful discussion that would be unhelpful and biased. However, I haven’t deleted a single one. The real impetus behind putting that disclaimer was not to discourage people from commenting, but rather to protect myself from criticism directed at me personally.

    When I blogged about breastfeeding Owen I remember receiving some comments that were far from respectful of the struggle I was going through. That criticized me as a mother for making the decisions I did. Even though I have a thick skin and I bring this public scrutiny on myself by blogging, I am still a person. I left them up in an effort to maintain a “fair” discussion and they ended up making me feel horrible.

    When it comes down to it, this is my personal blog. It is not a public forum to debate the merits of breastfeeding or formula. I am not claiming to have any more information than anyone else; I am simply sharing my story and my experiences. I don’t owe it to anyone to leave up comments that are disrespectful to me.

    That said, I do value hearing about others’ perspectives, so thank you for sharing your story here.

  16. I just want to say how inspiring I find reading about your breastfeeding experience. I couldn’t get the hang of breastfeeding with my first and the pressure was the reason to a great extent I think. This time round I want to try but, like you, I am not going to pump (I hated it). I just really think that some formula can be beneficial not only from the perspective that someone else can step in but also nutritionally. In any event it is not the evil substance one would think it was from hearing the way people speak about it. I feel like there is such a lack of perspective with regards to formula these days and it is stifling. Your approach sounds very healthy and sane and balanced to me, and I hope I can emulate it when our little boy comes out. Kudos to you and thank you for sharing.

  17. So funny- this whole passion about breastfeeding. I’ve nursed both of mine exclusively because they were great at it and I made a lot of milk. But I was always a bit jealous of moms who could leave their kiddos with a bottle and some formula and put the ball in someone else’s court for a minute. 🙂 Mine also didn’t like bottles, so I couldn’t leave them with expressed milk. I strongly believe that both sets of babies turn out fantastic and you obviously are doing a great job with the boys. I’m also embarrassed to be in the EBF camp because women are SO judgemental and holier-than-thou. 🙂

  18. I’m glad breastfeeding is going better for you this time around! I was so overwhelmed with my first and it was so painful, I dreaded every session those first 6 weeks. After that we were golden until I weaned her at 22 months because my nipples were screaming thanks to pregnancy.

    This time around, it’s been so easy breezy. I’m very lucky that with both kiddos, I’ve had a healthy supply. I never thought I’d become passionate about nursing but as it turns out, I am. I just wish all women had access to the education and support they needed to be successful because it can be hard, painful and exhausting.

  19. Thanks for your breastfeeding story, I’m in the same boat (not enough milk) but have succumbed to pumping. Hopefully next time around night be better!

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