He was 4 weeks early and I never made enough milk after trying countless strategies to increase my supply. I wanted to breastfeed so badly and although I knew how blessed I was to have a beautiful, healthy son, I couldn’t get over the emotional aspect of not being able to exclusively breastfeed. He was supplemented from the beginning in the NICU and eventually quit breastfeeding at 5 months after he realized the bottle was faster and easier.
Looking back, I really believe now that my low supply was the entire reason I ended up with postpartum depression. I felt like such a failure – my body let me down. I also felt judged by others and felt like I had to defend myself every time I pulled out a bottle for Graham. (In hindsight, no one cared how I fed my son. During Graham’s entire first year of life, I only had one instance of someone judging me and making me feel guilty about not breastfeeding.)
After I came to terms with the fact that I was never going to produce enough milk for Graham, I started thinking about what I would do differently when I had a second baby. I was SO determined to make breastfeeding work the second time around and dreamed about sharing my success story of exclusively breastfeeding a second baby. Breastfeeding was one of the things I most looked forward to when thinking about having another child. After my failure with Graham, my heart just couldn’t heal – every time I saw someone else breastfeeding, I was sad. As my friends had babies and were able to breastfeed, I was happy for them. I truly was. But my heart still ached. Why wasn’t I able to produce enough milk? Was it because Graham was early? Was it because I wasn’t able to hold or feed him for 12 hours? Does my body not respond well to the pump? Do I have insufficient glandular tissue? Was it because I was on birth control for so long? Is it a genetic issue? Hell, was it the type of deodorant I was using during pregnancy?!
Well, the second time around I had a beautiful, term, perfect baby girl. And…I was STILL not able to produce enough milk.
But even with a low milk supply, Maddie nursed until she was 17 months old. And I couldn’t be more proud of what we accomplished.
Our sweet Madeline Rose was born 4 days past her due date. Her birth story is an interesting one – she was a surprise breech baby. We didn’t find out she was breech until I was at the hospital in labor. Even still, I was able to deliver her vaginally and without any medication, as I had hoped. Her birth was awesome – such an amazing experience. And I get to tease her for the rest of her life about how she came out butt first!
Making sure I had a natural, un-medicated birth was just one of the many things I did to make sure I’d have enough milk this time. I spoke with a lactation consultant and a midwife early on in my pregnancy and they both gave me some great tips. I also did tons of online research. During the last few weeks of my pregnancy, I took two herbs – GoLacta and goats rue. They both can increase milk production and are considered safe to use during pregnancy. I also took a magnesium supplement called Calm to “calm down” some Braxton Hicks contractions I started having in my second trimester. My midwife suggested using it, hoping that it would prevent me from having a preterm baby again. I also tried to eat lots of protein, drank red raspberry leaf tea, and took a probiotic. I wanted to make sure I did everything possible to carry my baby at least 40 weeks.
As soon as Maddie was born, she was put on my chest. She bobbed straight over to my breast and latched on right away. And then she stayed there…forever. I swear I nursed her almost constantly for the first 24 hours of her life! Which is what I had hoped for. But I won’t lie – it was exhausting. I don’t think I slept at all that first night. Even still, it was a sweet time. All the newborn snuggles and the sweet bonding. It was such a contrast to when I had Graham. He was taken away right after he was born and spent a week in the NICU. I spent the entire first night of his life without him – crying in my hospital room and pumping every 3 hours.
With Maddie, we left the hospital after 24 hours. And she was nursing like a champ. She started to get a little sleepier, so I would wake her every two hours to nurse. I did all the suggested things to get her fully awake to eat – undress her, rub her with a wet washcloth, etc. But she was a sleepy girl!
Her first doctor’s appointment was 3 days after she was born. The doctor was a little concerned that she hadn’t gained as much weight as they like to see. I knew my milk still hadn’t come in, so I was starting to get a little worried too. The doctor mentioned supplementing with formula, but I said I wanted to wait a little longer before we started down that road.
On the way home from that appointment, I broke down and cried. I could already feel my emotions slipping out of control. I didn’t want to end up down the same road as before. I wanted to breastfeed! I didn’t want to end up with postpartum depression. Why was this happening all over again?!
That afternoon, my husband drove over to Babies-r-Us to rent a hospital grade pump and I started pumping after each feeding. (I had MUCH better results using the Medela Symphony hospital grade pump than I ever did with my Pump-in-Style.) I started taking fenugreek and blessed thistle. We also received my encapsulated placenta pills and I started taking those. (Yeah – I know – kind of weird. But I was willing to try anything!)
I called my midwife and got a prescription for domperidone. (Domperidone is a drug that has a side effect of increased milk production. I took Reglan without success after I had Graham. Reglan can increase milk production too, but also has scary side effects, including depression.) I tried not to get too stressed out about everything. I was hopeful that my milk would come in soon. It’s worth mentioning that I never actually felt my milk come in with either of my babies. I had some slight leaking, but never the pain and engorgement that most women talk about.
We also arranged for a lactation consultant to come to the house. I was having some severe nipple pain and blistering on my left nipple and wanted confirmation that my latch was good. She confirmed the latch was fine and gave me some tips on position to help with the pain. She also suggested I get a prescription for APNO (all purpose nipple ointment) to ease the pain I was having and to help with the blister. That stuff was a lifesaver! Seriously – everyone should get some when they leave the hospital!
The doctor wanted us to come back again that week for another weight check. We loaded up and headed over. And got the same news. Maddie had still not gained “enough” weight. She was gaining, but had dropped down in weight on the percentile chart. Our doctor pushed supplementing on us a little more strongly, but I still refused. I asked if we could wait just a little longer.
The next weight check was the same. She was down to 7% for weight, from 14%. I was devastated. After everything I did during my pregnancy, the birth, and the first week of Maddie’s life, my body still failed me. I still wasn’t able to make enough milk. I cried. Right there in the chair in the pediatrician’s office, in front of Maddie’s doctor.
Her doctor gently urged us to supplement, just to make sure her issue with gaining weight was a supply issue and not something more serious. I was still hesitant to supplement, but gave in when I saw how worried my husband was getting. For a few weeks, we worked on figuring out exactly how much supplement Maddie would need. 8 to 10oz a day seemed to be enough to see a positive weight gain. I didn’t want to give her too much so that I could keep what supply I had. I also refused to supplement with bottles. Instead I used a Supplemental Nursing System, which is basically a feeding tube device that you attach to your nipple. I used it for a month before I got frustrated with it and finally switched to bottles.
My amazing friend who donated milk to Graham after he was born had just given birth to her third child, so she offered to donate again to Maddie. Another friend also reached out and offered to donate milk as well. We were blessed with so much donated breastmilk that Maddie was almost exclusively fed with breastmilk until she was 4 months.
When we reached the 6 month milestone, I was so, so happy. Graham stopped nursing at 5 months, so I was so proud Maddie and I had made it longer. At that point, she was still breastfeeding every 3 hours during the day and getting around 8 to 10 ounces a day of either donated milk or formula. I feed her on demand during the day and also nursed her to sleep for naps and bedtime. So all in all, I probably nursed her about 8 to 10 times a day a a couple of times during the night.
With Graham, I was super nervous about nursing in public. I always felt like people were wondering why I breastfed and then gave my baby a bottle.
But with Maddie, I was so proud of what we accomplished that I never minded breastfeeding her while we were out. I nursed her all the time, no matter where we are, usually without a nursing cover. Plus by then Graham was an active 2-year-old, and we had to keep busy. I didn’t have a choice – we couldn’t sit home all day!
The bond that grew between Maddie and me was amazing. I love Graham with all of my heart, but I always feel like I missed out on something with him. He’s always been independent and I felt like he never really needed his mama. I worried it was because of our separation right after he was born. But Maddie is a total mama’s girl. She has healed the place in my heart that was broken. I no longer feel like a failure, even though I still never made enough milk. I’m proud of sticking it out and I feel very grateful for all the help I’ve had and the knowledge I was able to gain. I feel like I know a great deal about low milk supply – much more than I knew when I had Graham.
Maddie continued to breastfeed until she was 17 months old. We probably could’ve gone longer, but we moved and I guess all the excitement during that time distracted her. She wasn’t asking to nurse as often, so I went with it and was able to wean without any issues. I loved breastfeeding a toddler. She was always on the go, except when she wanted to nurse. Then she’d walk over, climb into my lap, snuggle with me a bit, pull down my shirt a little and I’d let her latch on. Her body would relax and her eyes would close. Sometimes she’d smile or laugh at me, and play with my hair. It was the sweetest and I’m so glad I got to have that experience with her.
I hope my story will help other mom’s out there. I’m no expert, but please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about anything I’ve mentioned. (The Supplemental Nursing System, Domperidone, Go-Lacta, Calm, APNO, etc.)