A Sign of Things to Come?
From the first latch during that golden hour, Sage went straight for the boob, no real issues. Although I had flat nipples, my midwife helped me work around it during her follow up visits. All in all, he seemed to be knowing where to go. I had tried to express some colostrum before hand, but only managed to get maybe a couple mLs. Maybe that was a sign for things to come?
I remember laying in the tub, staring at my boobs the week before my due date thinking, ‘omg, there’s going to be milk coming out of these.’
My midwife recommended the watching the Stanford University video on hand expression. Over and over I replayed it, trying to get the technique right, but nothing was happening. It was so surreal, when I saw that first drop of liquid gold beading out. Of what seemed like endless kneading and squeezing of my breast, it finally happened. It was a relief, but short-lived. I tried again the next day and the next day. Every time I tried, it became more painful and I just couldn’t get anything. I was certainly disappointed, but didn’t stress too much about it. Breastfeeding is so natural, it’ll come in time. I mean, how hard can it be?
Ready, willing and regret.
I was stocked with plenty of nipple cream, ointments, nursing pads and a couple not-so-great fitting nursing bras. My sister gave me a hospital grade Medela Freestyle breastpump, one of the best on the market at the time. It had a slough of incredible reviews. Because of this, I wasn’t worried in the slightest about getting a supply going. I was ready to get pumpin’.
If there is one thing I could have taken a prep class for, it would have been breastfeeding. Even over a birth prep class, for what turned out to be a 3 day labour. That paled in comparison to the months and months of tears, stress, self-pity, frustration, shame and anxiety with breastfeeding. How naive I was to think that it was easy, simple and effortless.
Supply and (lack of) Demand.
If you follow me on Instagram, you know that Sage was born SGA (small for gestational age), after a 3 day home delivery. We were supposed to take him to the NICU for monitoring, but he was too small for his carseat. Fortunately, we could stay at home, but had to start him on formula, immediately. Given the pitiful amount of colostrum I had frozen, I didn’t give it a second thought. Although, hindsight is 20/20 now. NICU instructed us to feed him every 3 hours, without exception and our midwives would carefully monitor his weight gain. But, I was dead-set on getting him exclusively breastfeeding as soon as his weight stabilized.
Typically, I would breastfeed for at least 20 minutes each breast (as recommended), before topping him off with the bottle. I honestly didn’t know if much was coming out because he would gobble down so much formula. His appetite was wild, I had to top him off with more and more formula than I was told to. They said that was a good thing and Sage’s weight gain was magnificent. After two weeks, we weaned him off of the formula. Which wasn’t that hard, because he was starting to reject it anyways.
You Gotta *clap* Pump it Up
I’ll forever hear the wha-whuh-wha-whuh in my dreams. This oscelating noise still plays in my head whenever I see a photo of a breast pump. One of the few funny breastfeeding moments was when I strapped myself onto the pump for the first time. Samer and I were in tears laughing on the couch. I highly recommend to record reactions or take pictures of that moment, it’s priceless.
Now, Samer has a thing about milk. Ever since I’ve known him, he detests milk. When he was bartending and I was serving, he couldn’t even pour the milk in paralyzers. So me sitting beside him with my breast pump hooked up and milking certainly made for some good entertainment. The first time I went for about 20 minutes and collected about 20 mls in total. Not very much at all, but I thought, ‘ahh I’m just getting used to this machine.’
Every time I strapped in, it took longer than before to get enough to transfer to a milk bag. I finally realized the flange was too large and bought smaller ones. They were so much more comfortable, but still… I didn’t express nearly as much as I was expecting. Maybe I’m doing it wrong? I’ll just YouTube it… and this was the start of the self-deprication.
All By Myself (don’t wanna be).
The first video I clicked on was about how this one mama pumped 1200ml a day. I watched with awe. Most days it was between 10-60mL, that's total, not just from one breast.
I drank tons of water, took out things like peppermint and other ‘supply inhibitors’ from my diet. Added in plenty of oats, avocados, and other rich foods that helped promote lactation. I drank lactation teas and breastfed on demand, in addition to every 3 hours. Supplementing with bottles, even top ups, really took a toll on my supply. It was like my body knew, he was going to get food elsewhere, so it didn’t try to produce. Even when I would top him off with my own expressed breastmilk in a bottle, my body knew it.
My nipples became sore, they cracked, and were so painful to touch. Sage’s initial latch was toe curling, teeth gritting and breathtaking. I wouldn’t dare to shower with the water hitting my front for many months. I’d apply ointment with the lightest of touch, but it still felt like I was rubbing sand in an open wound. Breastfeeding was an all day thing… and I mean ALL DAY, for hours and hours he wanted more, more, more. I would call Samer in tears.
Pouring myself into breastfeeding websites, I read articles, blogs, and books. I needed to know as much as I could about what I previously thought would be so natural and easy. Foremilk, hindmilk, nutrients, fat content, how breastmilk changes by day, night, baby, diet, stress and hormone levels. I’d read stories about struggling women, but I never knew any. There was not one person I talked to during my pregnancy or postpartum who shared the other side of breastfeeding. Not even in the La Leche League support groups. I knew mamas who used formula, but they said it was either by choice or their milk didn’t come in. I was in this grey zone, all by myself.
My Supply Dipped Lower.
It was about the 3-4 month mark when I noticed a huge dip in my already frivolous ‘supply’. I was breastfeeding now for at least an hour at a time, and topping up with bottled breastmilk at night. Demand and scheduled feeds happened at least every 3-4 hours. Mostly the breastmilk bottle top up happened about 1 am. The thought was, if he drank a ton of milk, he’d be satisfied and sleep for longer and 3-4 hours (hah, insert eye roll here). I only gave him a bottle at 1am because, well… it took me at least a day or two to collect enough!
When it would take almost 2 days to get 6oz (~180mL) I knew I was really in trouble. I wanted so badly to sleep for more than 2 hours at a time, but absolutely refused to let Samer feed him in the middle of the night to salvage my supply. It was then, that I made the decision to stop the bottled breastmilk top up and go full on exclusive breastfeeding, no matter what.
Stubborn and Obsessed.
Now I was waking every 2 hours for feeds and demand feeding through the day. It seemed like I was feeding him more now than when he was first born. For such a little man, his appetite never waned. Samer offered to pick up formula so many times just to ‘give me a break’, I flat out refused. It was not up for debate, and I was so offended that he couldn’t see how hard I was working. I was struggling to find support.
“You have to sleep babe, just let me feed him at night with some formula so you can rest.” I thought this was code for, ‘listen, you are irritable, sensitive and cranky… you need to sleep, I want the old you back’.
Looking back, it must have been hard for him to see all this and be utterly helpless. But I wouldn’t budge. If I wanted to help my supply, the only one who could do it was me. Sleep will happen one day, but breastmilk only lasts so long and can’t come back.
I wouldn’t leave the house for more than 2 hours at a time. Whatever supply I had in the freezer (all of 6 bags max) was rationed. Every time I left the house, I’d remind whoever was watching Sage, “whatever you do, please try not to use this milk! I just fed him, but I can be home in 15 minutes. Only use if you really, REALLY have to”.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried over wasted breastmilk. Panic thawing by a caregiver was the hardest to deal with. Sage started to refuse the bottle all together at this point. Even when I couldn’t make it home in time before using the milk, he would push the bottle away anyway. And I shed more tears.
Where Were You 4 Months Ago?
I became obsessed with breastmilk, breastfeeding and supply. One of the greatest purchases I made (aside from my amazing nursing bras) was the Haakaa. The Haakaa is a silicon handsfree milk collector that suctions onto one breast, while you nurse on the other. It was genius and definitely a ‘saviour’ buy for under $30.00. The Medela Electric Pump was just not for me, my body and breasts did not agree with it. The Haakaa was another story though, I couldn’t believe how easy it was to catch milk. I’d move it to the other side when Sage switched and caught even more. I even collected almost 150mL a few times! Oh, how I wish I had it from the beginning. I used it so much, I ended up buying multiple.
Eventually, I found that my supply started to pickup again. I had done the impossible. Everything I read said that there was no way to get your supply back after that long. When it’s gone, it’s gone. But with the combination of the Haakaa and relentless demand feeding, it was building. I started to feel more confident.
Inspiring and Helping Others
Just over 4 months postpartum, I enrolled in school to be a Maternal Support Practitioner (Doula) and Breastfeeding Educator. Because when you’re already lacking sleep, stressed out with a newborn and felling pretty anxious about being a good, nurturing mother, what else is there to do?