Sunday, February 1, 2015

Our Breastfeeding Journey - A Rocky Road

Disclosure: What I'm sharing today is long and incredibly personal. I mean, you can't get a lot more personal than boobs and childrearing decisions. 

After successfully navigating the road to conception and carrying a beautiful baby to term, you don't think anything can get you down. Especially once you see that little pink baby in the flesh. I sure didn't. I have a ton of experience with children. I read all there was to read about caring for a newborn. I practiced swaddling until I got it just right. I researched different breastfeeding positions. We decided to bedshare and babywear to keep our baby boy close. I made plans to ensure he would be exposed to only the best - a top rated pediatrician, high quality cloth diapers, homemade baby food, and, the most obvious, his mama's breast milk.

Unfortunately, things don't always go as planned.

Within minutes of birth, Jasper latched right away; I was elated. He ate like clockwork at the hospital. Despite losing 7 oz in two days, I thought we were doing an A+ job. After all, he had several bowel movements and wet diapers and was the picture of newborn health.

When we got home, he ate round the clock. I thought we were really beginning to hit a stride. I made sure to do 'everything right.' But despite my best efforts, I got the feeling that something was wrong. While the little indicator on the disposable diapers would turn blue, they were barely wet despite eating every 1-2 hours. When his first doctor's visit came around on Tuesday, we got some unsettling news - not only did Jasper not gain any weight, he actually continued to lose weight (a pound down from his birth weight).

Our pediatrician was wonderfully supportive and didn't want us to fret just yet and instructed me to wake him for every feeding. She told me what signs of dehydration to look for besides lightly wet diapers: skin on hands losing elasticity (if pinched, stays pinched rather than bouncing back), soft spot on head getting sunken in, chapped lips, no tears when crying, and extreme lethargy. If we noticed any of these signs, we had to begin supplementing. No ifs ands or buts about it.

My heart sank. I felt like a failure. I was already emotional and this was news I wasn't prepared to hear. Nevertheless, I put my pride aside. The only important thing was for Jasper to be healthy and grow. She had me speak with the lactation consultant and we discussed everything. Her initial thought was that my milk just hadn't come in yet (day 4) but that it would happen 'any day.' She encouraged me to try hand expressing and feeding him with a 1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon. We scheduled a one week weight check for that Friday and went on our way.

When we got home that day, we immediately tried spoon feeding. Success! He took the milk like a champ. I soon realized that despite all of the work it required, hand expressing yielded very little. I could see that his little hands were beginning to show signs of dehydration. After a couple of spoon feedings, I decided it was time to prepare him a 2oz formula bottle. Jazz gobbled it down in a blink. I was both relieved and heartbroken all at once. As soon as he fell asleep, I pumped for a full hour. I was expecting to fill the entire bottle but all I got was a measly half ounce... TOTAL. A half ounce?! No wonder this poor child was not gaining any weight.

We continued this pattern for the next three days - 1.5 oz of formula and the half ounce of breast milk that I pumped during the previous feeding. On Friday we learned that he gained EIGHT ounces in those three days. This was an immensely positive sign. Our baby was finally on the upswing. Sure, he was still below his birth weight but we finally had a concrete plan that was working. As our pediatrician said - any breastmilk is better than none. We scheduled another weight check a week later and made plans to continue supplementing.

What a relief to know that things were getting better! While most pumping sessions yielded less than an ounce total, usually I could get 2-3 ounces during the first morning feeding. Enough for an entire bottle! Still, Jasper's total intake was about 75% formula. The two week weight check gave us additional proof that things were improving - he was gaining weight in leaps and bounds. We got the green light to continue on this path and were scheduled to return in two weeks for his one month vaccines.

I felt good. But, if I'm going to be completely honest, I hated pumping. Not the actual pumping - it was nice to see exactly how much I was producing (albeit a bit disappointing usually). The real issue was that I was exhausted. As a newborn, Jasper was feeding every 1.5 hours. He'd take a bottle for 20-30 minutes and then I'd pump for 45-60 minutes and just as I was getting the pump clean, he was up and ready to feed again. It was a vicious cycle and I felt like we were missing out on developing a bond during feedings as I was always rushing and too tired to be 'present' if that makes any sense. It was draining. I couldn't get anything done around the house while Joe was at work. I couldn't hold Jasper as he slept. I couldn't even sleep myself. Something had to give, so I called the pediatrician's office.

The lactation specialist said that more than likely, he'd get more from the breast than the pump could and gave me the okay to stop pumping. Instead, I was to breastfeed BEFORE every bottle feeding. This was a game changer. My life improved exponentially. I was finally able to enjoy every moment with my sweet baby. I was sure I was producing more, I just had to be. I was in heaven.

At his one month visit, he had gained weight over the past two weeks but at a slower rate than the doctor's were comfortable with. We scheduled an in-depth lactation consultation to take place two weeks later. I decided that in the meantime, we'd have to revert to always offering formula in addition to the breast - even during overnight feedings when I was feeling confident with the amount of breast milk he was getting. I was counting down the days until our next appointment and subsequent weight check.

When we met with the lactation specialist, I feared the worst. I brought up the possibility of quitting. She had gotten to know us well in those previous 6 weeks. She knew our uphill battle and my goals to exclusively breastfeed. She encouraged me. If I wanted to quit, I could but if I still had the desire to stick to it, she wanted to help. Without a doubt, I wanted the latter.

She went through the whole kit and kaboodle. How much has he grown? How often are we feeding? What's my diet like? How's my sleep? She examined our latch - kid knew what he was doing. It was perfect. How about my positioning? Football, cradle, cross cradle - all were spot on. Do I leak between feedings? Never. Not once. Hmmmm. She had me feed him while we discussed everything and measured his intake and it was then that we realized, I still wasn't producing much. He got less than an ounce. There were a few other tests and then the final determination - a low milk supply.

This was hard to hear. I thought we had come so far. Was this a 'death sentence'? Did we have any hope? She was wonderful and put my mind at ease. The first obstacle - to keep my supply where it's at. Feed on demand. Drink at least a gallon of water a day. No slacking on the prenatals. Eat three well-rounded meals. Stock up on healthy snacks. Okay, that's simple enough. That I could continue to do.

But the more important question, how do I increase my milk supply? Is this even possible? Thankfully, the answer to that, in her opinion, is a resounding yes. I may never be able to exclusively breastfeed Jasper but there is hope to increase the ratio of breastmilk to formula. In addition to the above tips, she encouraged me to add five specific items to my diet:
Oatmeal / Old Fashioned Oats
Flax Seed
Brewer's Yeast
Mother's Milk Tea

She suggested drinking 2-3 cups of Mother's Milk Tea a day, researching a few recipes that could incorporate the oats, flax, and yeast, and taking fenugreek supplements in the morning with my prenatals. With this plan in place, I could hopefully increase my milk production to bring Jasper's intake to an even 50/50 breastmilk and formula within the next two weeks.

So where are we today? Well, it's been three weeks since that appointment and I can say without a doubt that I'm producing more. The combination has been my saving grace. Jasper, while small (5th percentile for height and weight) is on track developmentally and growing along his curve. I think we finally hit our stride. Sure, I never expected that formula would be on our grocery list or that I'd be sterilizing bottles daily but that's okay. A baby is full of surprises and no matter what you hope for, you get what you can handle.

I'll be sharing a couple of the 'lactation' support recipes that I've used to incorporate the above ingredients in my daily regimen. Check back soon!

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  1. Jess, I feel for you! Your story mirrors my same troubles with Logan and Lexi. It is too easy to feel shamed about breastfeeding issues in this day and age. The best advice i can give you is to stick with it until you can't do anymore. Your sanity is important too and only you'll know when you hit your limit. I hope things continue to get better.

  2. Drink more water! You should feel like a fish by the end of the day. It's really easy to overestimate how much you are actually getting. My ob suggested that I drink all of my water out of a 32oz water bottle so I could easily monitor my intake.

  3. Good luck with your bf journey! I commend you for trying so hard to get your supply up and sharing your story :)


Feel free to share your thoughts or questions. You make my day!

xo Jess

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