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.
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.