Monday, August 29, 2011

Adventures in Nursing

"Imagine yourself as a fountain of milk." Yep, that's what Dr. Sears suggests (among other things) as a method for improving breast pumping efficiency. I think he might know my Bradley teacher, who told me to imagine my cervix was a flower. No wonder I would fail Attachment Parenting 101. I have yet to master the art of the ridiculous metaphor. I mean seriously? But I digress... (Disclaimer: I actually have no problem with AP--it's not a philosophy we choose but I don't think it's bad or harmful so more power to those of you who choose it! But really? A fountain of milk?)

Let me back up. How did I get here?

Ah yes. Milk issues. Breast feeding advocates will often list off reasons why "breast is best," among them being, "It's free! All you need is a baby and a boob! Think of all the money you'll save by not buying formula!"

Ah, but as we all know, my body doesn't like to do anything properly. Nope. Nothing.

We had trouble getting Matthew to latch right in the hospital. When he was under the bili-lights and could only be out for 30 minutes at a time and we were spending over half of those fighting with him to latch, the lactation consultant in the hospital finally gave us a nipple shield to make it easier for him. At that time, it really was best, because he could spend all 30 minutes eating, instead of only 10 or 15.  We tried to break him of it when we got home, and couldn't. I waited a few weeks again, and couldn't. Lather, rinse, repeat. He's now 7 months old, and still using the darned thing. And for a while, it didn't matter. It wasn't affecting my supply, or the amount of milk he was getting. He was growing and thriving, I was producing well, everything was hunky dorey. Woohoo!

That all changed about a month ago. I started noticing that at his evening feeding in particular, he was super fussy. He would pull off and cry, then nurse, then cry, over and over and over again. It wasn't the normal evening fussiness for babies. After an hour of this, he'd still act like he was starving. At one feeding, I weighed him, fed him, and weighed him again and he'd only taken in half an ounce after being at both breasts for an extended amount of time. I would pump until I ached, and only produce about 1/2 an ounce total, even if it had been hours since baby ate. It was time to call in some help. I had tried to help myself by taking fenugreek and pumping more, but something wasn't working. (Edited to add clarification: the nipple shield is not the cause of my supply issues. It may have a slight adverse affect, but it's not the primary problem. We're trying to eliminate it now to remove all negative variables, even though the impact of this particular one is relatively small).

I talked to some nursing mommy friends. I called the hospital and talked to the LC there. I read a lot online. One thing I decided to do was rent a hospital-grade pump. These pumps are usually stronger and provide a smoother suck, more akin to a baby's suck. Through a chain of referrals, I ultimately ended up at a wonderful little store (Modern Mommy Boutique if you're in the Phoenix area), and the owner there really knows her stuff. She experienced supply issues with her own daughter and had to go to great lengths to fix them, so she had a lot of ideas for me. I tried a couple of different hospital grade pumps, and ended up with the Ameda Platinum. She also suggested that I take More Milk Special Blend. She immediately asked me if I had PCOS. I said yes, and she said that I needed to rebuild mammary tissue and suggested that in addition to fenugreek, I take other supplements, including Goat's Rue. The More Milk Special Blend specifically contains those ingredients. It's specifically formulated for PCOS. More information on PCOS and supply issues can be found here. So I now drink water like a camel, take the supplement 4 times a day, and pump as often as I can, usually 2-3 times per day.  And I have noticed a difference. Now I can pump anywhere from 2-4 ounces per day, depending on how often I pump. And that amount seems to be increasing every day. That's not a ton, but it's enough that I can mix that amount in with his oatmeal or fruits for his dinner feeding and make sure he's still getting as much of my milk as possible. He doesn't seem to struggle quite so much in the evenings with his feeds.

I'm also having a very recent problem with pain. Nursing shouldn't hurt. After your first few days, it almost always indicates something is wrong. Something with position, with the latch, with your body--something.

Today, I  went to a breastfeeding support group led by an LC. We're still trying to break Matthew of his plastic habit, and she suggested I try a different shield, that's sort of between the size and shape of the natural breast and the shape of the old shield, to see if that can sort of step him down back to the breast. We'll see. She also made some adjustments to my positioning.

So, for me, breastfeeding isn't free. It costs about $150/month in pump rental, supplements, tax, and various odds and ends that come up (but yay! As of this year, things to aid in breastfeeding are tax deductible!) It may cost more if I decide to go with a private LC consultation.

I did everything possible to maximize my chance of success at nursing. We took a great class together before Matthew was born. I have the support of a hubby who is on board with it. I watched videos and read about latching and positions. I talked with nursing mama friends. I eat galactagogue foods and drink a ton of water. I insisted on seeing the LC every day I was in the hospital.

And you know what? Sometimes, that's just not enough. Sometimes, nursing is just HARD. In earlier times when we lived with our mothers and sisters and cousins and friends, a woman was surrounded by tons of built-in help. Now, in our single-family-home culture, you have to seek out help, and even then, it's usually in small chunks of time.

Why am I writing all of this? I guess to assure you that if you struggle with it, THAT'S OK. More women than you know struggle with nursing. A lot of women decide they have exhausted all their options and stop nursing altogether. I thought I was at that point--I didn't WANT to stop but I thought I had run out of options. If you need help, or if it doesn't come naturally, that's ok! Don't get down on yourself about it. I struggle a little with my attitude about it--one more thing my body can't or won't do on its own for my baby. But I am thankful that so far, there seem to be remedies.

If you want to keep nursing, keep at it. Seek out help. You may have to get creative. Keep your spirits up and your patience long. If you have exhausted your patience or your will or your resources and you've reached the end of your nursing journey, that's ok, too! Thankfully, we live in a country with several great options of formula alternatives.

If you do seek out help, I guess, just take it with a grain of salt. There are some real breastfeeding nazis out there, which is honestly, the reason I didn't seek professional help sooner. I've been judged for my use of the shield.  I've been judged for preferring to nurse under a cover or in the privacy of a dressing room or even in my car while away from the home (one person called me a pervert who must secretly find breastfeeding to be dirty, and another said I must be ashamed of it. I assure you, neither are the case. For modesty's sake and for preserving what I believe to be private between my son and I, when I am around strangers, and/or men who are not related to me, I choose to cover up). For some people, breastfeeding is a cause. For me, I just wanted to be able to feed my son. So, as long as you can ignore or blow off the activists and militants, the help out there can be wonderful.  Your hospital where you delivered may offer free help. You may have a breastfeeding store near you like I do. There are tons of books and websites. You can find a support group. You can hire a private LC. You can hook up with the La Leche League if you're really brave.

And like I said, if you have gone as far down the journey as you are able or willing to go and end up closing the book, that's ok too. I am definitely NOT an activist and how you feed your child is none of my business. But if you ARE struggling and DO want to continue, just know you're not alone and you don't have to throw in the towel if you don't want to. There's nothing inherently wrong with you if it doesn't come as easy as the sing-songers say it should. Sometimes you DO need more than a baby and a boob, and that's ok. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

Infertility makes it even tougher when something else goes wrong (pregnancy, birth, nursing, or in my case, all 3!) and part of me is like, "Seriously? I have to fight for THIS, too?" But it's also been a good reminder to me that that's what's in store for me as Matthew's mom. It's my job as a parent to fight for him to bring us to what we think is best for him. I had to fight to bring him out of the freezer and keep him safe in my body. I had to fight to deliver him, and now I'm fighting to feed him. It's HARD. But, it's my pain, my job, and my joy, all beautifully and inextricably interwoven together. I will encourage my IF friends, that the fighting now is a little easier. It's the same fight as before, but with a baby in arms, it's easier to see the forest for the trees. Easier to look down and see WHY you're fighting. Easier to look back on previous battles and go, "ah, now I see why." So if you're in the midst of a fight for your kids, either future kids or those already in your arms, be encouraged. You're doing something right! Every mom has to fight for her kids. We just get a little extra practice :)

If you ARE pregnant and plan to nurse, see if you can't find a breastfeeding class (ours was offered through the hospital). I learned a TON. And beyond the practicality, it's just plain COOL. The way God designed it is really amazing and incredible. Both DH and I were enthralled at the sheer intricacy of all the details.

Anyway, that's my PSA for the day, and one of the posts I referred to last week in my previous post. I've been working on this for days, but my aggressive pursuit of these things this week delayed me.

And in Matthew news, we finally have our first tooth. It poked through on Friday (8/26) during naptime. It's a bittersweet time for this mama, who already misses his gummy little smile. It's also made all these nursing issues super fun ;)

And on another note, I'm so glad I've been keeping this blog because I hadn't been recording the dates he learned to do things or developed new things. I had to fill out an update for Nightlight last week and it was nice to have this to go back and refer to when they asked me things about when certain things occurred. I also used it to finally fill in my baby calendar. So, if I include dates on things from now on, it's not that I think you're all so intricately hung up on the details of Matthew's life--it's so I can retrieve them later!

Anyway, toodaloo!


  1. I am so laughing at the ending paragraphs! That will so be me too!
    As far as your PSA, that was very encouraging! I know many moms or soon to be moms will be able to glean a lot from your story. I have EBF all 4 of our kiddos, and all were not straight forward "easy" by any means. I love you Matthew updates! Praying he doesn't "use" that new tooth on you. I hated when my babies did that ; )

  2. Kudos to you for sticking it out this long (and counting!) even though it has been tough. I know I would have quit a long time ago (oh wait, I did quit while still in the hospital - haha)! :)

  3. Thank you for this post. It helps to know I am not alone in my struggles. So many women make it sound so simple.

  4. i just shared this post with a friend of mine who has PCOS. she is pregnant with her 2nd baby and struggled with supply with her first and she was so happy to read what you have much of it rang true for her. I am so happy too that I am able to help her by loaning her my pump. I have a hospital grade Medela Lactina so I really am hoping her experience with her new baby will be better.

    thanks for posting and for the research and I am happy to read you are seeing good results.


  5. You are doing an awesome job, Jen! I am so amazed at all that you have done and learned! And you are so right - nursing is HARD. I never would have believed it, but it's so true.

    I wonder if the class you went to was led by the IBCLC that helped us - Debbie?

    I had hoped that nursing issues had passed you by - especially since you had such a rough birth. I'm so sorry that you've had such a struggle! You are doing an amazing job.