I am at the mercy of my low breast milk supply, sigh. We are having to supplement with formula and have been for the last 3 weeks, double sigh. While pregnant, I never really considered that giving my baby formula was a possibility. It didn’t cross my mind that I maybe couldn’t breastfeed. Until we established that I basically starved Cade for the first couple days of his life! What an awful thought, and I didn’t completely starve him, but he certainly lost more weight than he should have, and he certainly was not getting enough calories from my breast milk alone, which is why we had to turn to supplementing him with formula. For the first two weeks, we used a lactation aid (SNS – supplemental nursing system – a syringe with formula in it, attached to a tube which I placed beside my nipple after Cade latched on, to simulate breastfeeding and stimulate milk supply). I used the SNS at every feed, so approximately 8 times a day. It’s tricky to use as it almost takes an extra hand to put the tube in, so Kyle helped me with every feed, except of course when he was at work. When Kyle was at work, I somehow managed it on my own, or else I would finger feed (place the tube beside my finger and have him suck my finger and subsequently get the formula from the tube that way). I met with several nurses and lactation consultants, and they gave me another option for when I was on my own – use a longer tube and place one end of the tube into a bottle with formula, and then when Cade latched on, feed the tube in as per usual. This was supposed to be easier as then I wouldn’t have to worry about holding a syringe, etc. etc. It was easier, but it was also very frustrating at times because when I’d go to put the tube in, I’d find myself losing the good latch that Cade had, which was painful for me and not good for Cade! The frustration was even worse in the middle of the night when I was tired and half asleep, and my little guy was hungry hungry hungry and wanting to eat and I couldn’t get him latched on properly while using the tube. I decided then that I would first nurse him at every feed for 15ish minutes, and then give him a bottle with the formula, and then pump for 10-15 minutes. (I have been pumping after most feeds – about 5 or 6 times a day, for approximately 3 weeks). I’ve been doing this new nurse+bottle routine for about 2 days now…
So just to summarize my breastfeeding issues and what I’ve been trying to do to mitigate these:
- Low milk supply – unsure of the reason why. Could be that I received IV during my labour as well as afterwards – this caused edema (swelling) which can be a reason in low milk supply/delay in milk coming in. I got blood work last week to see if there were any hormonal/thyroid issues.
- For approximately 3 weeks I have been pumping after most feeds – 5 or 6 times a day, with a hospital-grade electronic rental pump. I don’t get much milk when I pump, MAYBE a teaspoon. When I pump in between feeds I get a bit more, so I know that there is milk, just not enough.
- I have met with the public health nurses (they visited us several times our first week home as Cade had jaundice and needed to get his biliruben levels checked often, and also they were providing breastfeeding support to me) and lactation consultants to come up with a plan. My plan is breastfeeding every 2-3 hours, using the SNS or finger feeding, switch nursing (switching back and forth between each breast, frequently), talking to my doctor about taking Domperidone (a medication prescribed for stomach issues with the wonderful side effect of induced lactation!) and/or herbs used for increasing milk supply.
I recently posted on a breastfeeding forum about my challenges and a member of the forum replied with several suggestions which have since made me feel like my decision to breastfeed Cade and then use a bottle is not a good one if I am still wanting to increase my milk supply and eventually even exclusively breastfeed, which is my ultimate goal. This member had some great suggestions (nurse frequently, pump frequently, do a pre and post breastfeeding weigh in with a lactation consultant to see how much breast milk Cade actually is transferring), however I was once feeling comfortable with bottle feeding Cade (sort of! – the tube drove me nuts and Cade took to a bottle very well, however I still felt like I was then not ‘doing all I could be’ by using the bottle), and now I am doubting myself again.
I’ve shed many tears over breastfeeding – not breastfeeding itself, but over the fact that I haven’t been able to successfully breastfeed Cade exclusively. I know I cannot necessarily have expectations when it comes to parenting, I’ve learned this over the course of my pregnancy especially. I love breastfeeding Cade and feeling close to him. It is an amazing feeling knowing that I can feed this little human being with my own body – but then there is the feeling that I can’t – that I’m not fully feeding him with my own body, and then I get sad. If I cannot breastfeed exclusively, I will need to grieve that. Throughout my pregnancy I had many dreams about my child, and in most of the dreams, I was always breastfeeding. It was strange and beautiful and wonderful, and now looking back, it’s interesting how those dreams have played out thus far.
I don’t want to give up but I don’t know how long to be persistent. I know stress and anxiety do not help with milk supply, so is using the tube and possibly creating stress and anxiety going to ‘hinder my milk supply’ more than using a bottle is – if it actually is? I don’t really know. I wish there were more clear cut answers but that I guess is the beauty of being a mommy and of nature’s processes in general. I want to say that I did all I could to try and exclusively nurse, but at this point can I say that? I guess ‘all I could’ is really relative to each individual. It’s tiring doing ‘extra’ – pumping, using a tube, sterilizing the tube, sterilizing water for the formula, sterilizing nipples and bottles for the formula, and then nursing on top of that. They say breastfeeding requires approximately 500 extra calories a day, well I may as well add another 500 on top of that! I somewhat feel like I have adapted to this routine that our breastfeeding struggles have presented, but like I said, I don’t want to give up. I have talked to my doctor about the issues as well and she has reassured me that even by Cade just getting a slight amount of breast milk, he is getting my antibodies and that is great.
I feel like there are options, I just don’t know what to make of them. Keep doing what I’m doing right now. Revamp our routine and try a bit harder with the tube, be it trying to find a way that it will work better, or by using finger feeding and maybe just using a bottle when we’re out and about. Eventually exclusively formula feed. Eventually exclusively breast feed (obviously this is the option I would choose I am just not sure if this is going to be realistic as I am not sure if Cade will ever be able to receive sufficient nutrition and calories from my breast milk alone.) There are no clear cut answers as I said – there is no specific time line where if the milk isn’t in, it ain’t coming in. I know I have some, I just know I don’t have enough.
I don’t want to ‘give up’. Ever, really. But for my sanity and for Cade’s health, we may have to figure out something different eventually. I’m worried about being judged by people for reverting to formula. I don’t even know why I care. People that I love and care about and vice versa, are aware of the issues we’ve had, so why would they care? It’s strangers I’m more worried about, which is totally bizarre to me that I am actually going to care if someone who I don’t know passes judgement on me for feeding my baby formula. Formula isn’t breast milk, and I want the best for my babe. Formula is expensive. We’d be looking at probably $120 a month. Formula is not as convenient as breast milk. Formula requires preparation, utensils, and sterilization. I don’t have to boil my breasts in hot water, THANK GOD.
I need to figure this whole thing out and figure out what would work best. I think that I am going to make another appointment with the lactation consultant and go over these struggles once again. I thought I had it figured out, and since there was really not much more they could do for us, they left it in my hands. I’d really like to do the pre and post breast feed weigh in for Cade, just to get an idea of how much milk he is getting from me. I am hoping the lactation consultants will be up for it. They have watched him feed, watched him latch, and have agreed that he has a good latch and we have good positioning, the issue is simply my milk supply being low. They have also evaluated his suck (had him suck on their finger) and that is good as well. I was worried that his tongue tie (it’s very slight) was affecting his ability to suck, but both the lactation consultant and our doctor do not think it is affecting that at all as there is not much of a tie at all.
I just needed to write about these issues and try to sort them out, though I think I just created more questions and things to ponder for myself than I did sorting. That’s alright though. Parenting, and especially the first few weeks of being a new mom, is about sorting things out. And sort we will do. It will just take time. I have really learned patience from this process as well, though there are days and nights where the patience wears thin because I get frustrated and upset about the struggles. Oh and I don’t get frustrated and upset at my sweet dear son, I get frustrated and upset in general because I am not able to fully do what is best for my son. It’s HARD but we are trying. I have tried to be positive because I know that consistently being upset and sad about it is definitely going to hinder the process. I am so glad to have great supports all around me, my family, friends, lactation consultants, other people who have gone through it who are basically ‘on call’ to me to provide words of encouragement, our doctor, Kyle. Thank you thank you, we will get through this one way or another, one option or the other.