Tag Archives: expressing breastmilk

Nurturing Without Nursing

mommy and allenMy son, Allen, is one week shy of 9 months. He’s spent almost as much time outside of me as he did growing in my belly. And for the last two nights, he has refused to nurse.

I’m itching to post something to the mommy boards I’m on for advice. I’m thinking about frantically texting other mommies with sad-face emojis to ask what I can do. I’m considering all the things to try. But honestly, I’m pretty spent on trying different things out when it comes to nursing. And so I’m writing this blog post instead of launching another investigative campaign to figure out what I/we could have done differently.

A Rocky Start
In the first few hours after Allen was born, he latched on like a champ. Only it hurt. So badly. The lactation consultant at the birth center said his latch looked fine, and it shouldn’t hurt. Within 12 hours, my nipples were swollen and several blisters had developed. Within 18 hours, the skin was open and I shuddered every time he latched on. But I was determined, and he was hungry. So we kept at it.

When we got home, I reached out in desperation to several local lactation consultants. I eventually connected with Jenn Sullivan at Waddle N Swaddle, who connected me with an amazing community of mamas during WnS’s free, weekly nursing circles. I quickly found out that I wasn’t alone. I had been feeling like an absolute failure — shouldn’t this part of momming come naturally? Easily? It made me feel a million times better to know that it was anything but easy for quite a few new moms out there.

For the next few months, Allen did well and rode the 50th percentile growth chart line, right where he was born. He hit cognitive and motor development milestones on target, and the moment he started smiling, I melted. He was doing great.

And then I went back to work.

Allen’s weight dipped around the 6-month mark. I had been back at work for about a month, and was struggling with making enough milk to leave for him the next day. I tried everything from eating galactagogues to massage techniques, and event rented a hospital grade pump and tried to pump while nursing to squeeze out a few extra ounces. It was acrobatic. Exhausting. Mind-numbingly hard. I gave it my all, but nothing seemed to help boost my pumping output.

So we turned to donor milk.

Really? Donor Milk??
At first, I was weirded out by the idea. Accepting donor milk that’s not screened through a milk bank is like accepting a blood transfusion straight from a stranger’s arm. But this was our dilemma: 1) nutritionally, breastmilk is superior to formula, 2) Allen was showing signs of a dairy sensitivity, and most formula is a derivative of cow’s milk, and 3) formula is expensive.

We did our research. And in what felt like an act of serendipity, an article featuring milksharing was published in a local magazine right around that time. We talked to our pediatrician, who suggested that as long as the donor(s) tested negative for Hep C and HIV, it was no problem. So we took the donor milk plunge.

New Challenges
The anxiety of not being able to produce enough milk was quickly replaced by the anxiety of watching the donor milk stash diminish every week or so. Thankfully, there are a few places to connect with mamas who donate milk — I’ve found several through a local mommy board and Eats on Feets, both on Facebook. About a month ago now, we hit the mother load (no pun intended) and found a donor a few hours away who said we could take as much as we could fit in our car. We filled the freezer to the tippy top.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief that day. I knew that nursing had a shelf life, if you will, but also knew that no matter what my breastmilk supply did, my son would be easily nourished for the near future. We have a few more weeks before I have to worry about where the next stash will come from…

A Slippery Slope
In theory, when a baby gets more bottles than breast, their affinity for the former grows. There are ways to prevent this from happening quickly — you can make sure that nipples for the bottles you use are the lowest flow and are replaced frequently, and you can use a paced feeding method. We have done both. But despite our efforts, Allen stopped nursing during the daytime about a month ago now. I’ve continued to offer, but when your little one repeatedly arches his back away from you and screams when you try to nurse him, it’s tough not to take no for no.

Until a few nights ago, he nursed at night still. Last week, it dropped to only once a night. Two nights ago, he refused to nurse at all. He latched on for a few seconds, and then cried his little heart out. He wouldn’t settle until we gave him a bottle.

The same thing happened last night.

And here I am, exhausted, sad, and feeling a little jilted because I didn’t get to have input in the decision that our nursing relationship is (probably) over.

Not the End of the World
I had no idea how long I wanted to breastfeed — I just knew that I wanted to have input in making the decision. When we hit 6 months, after all the struggles we had, I was amazed that we’d made it that far. When things slowed down at 8 months, I knew the end wasn’t too far away, but figured we would make it longer than this. And I figured it would be more of a negotiation, and that it wouldn’t end so suddenly.

There are a lot of posts on the mommy boards I’m on about mamas and babies making it 12 months, 18 months, 24 months, and beyond. It’s unlikely I will be posting about any of these milestones. It’s more than a little bittersweet — the fact that I didn’t get to have a say in the end of our nursing relationship has me a little down today. But…I also know there are tons of mommies and babies who simply cannot nurse. Others who don’t have access to help when a latch isn’t working. Others who struggle so much with being touched constantly and can’t wait for nursing to end. And others still who have not thought twice about nursing as a challenge because it’s been smooth sailing from the start.

As the breastfeeding trend turns upwards again — which I wholeheartedly support!!! — there are those of us for whom it doesn’t come easily. For whom it always felt (and probably looked) awkward. For whom it was really, really challenging. So I write this post for those mamas — the ones who have struggled before me, alongside me, and those who will after me. For the mamas who have lost countless sleep, work, and self-care hours trying to express milk (or heal from trying to express it). And, of course, for the mamas who have donated all the milk and nourished my little one in the last few months when I couldn’t. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I know there are others out there who are wondering about donor milk, or who think they might be the only ones who feel a mixed bag of relief and sadness when their little says thanks but no thanks to nursing. You are not alone! I write this blog post for you.

6 Months

pumps and partsAs many of my regular readers might have noticed, these last few posts have been a departure from my usual musings about education, technology, and all things related to those fields. As a new mom, all-things-baby have (understandably, I hope) taken over. I’m managing to be back to work full-time, but the priorities in my day are, well, rearranged. Especially given that I need to express breast milk at least every two to three hours I’m away from my son (usually three times per work day). So for now, being back at work also means pumping. Which, for this mama, has been beyond challenging.

Yesterday marked 6 months of breastfeeding my son. Six months. I can’t quite believe it. Before I had my baby, I chose 6 months as a goal for breastfeeding, based on things I’d heard and read. After all, everyone says “breast is best.” But until you go through it, there’s no way to understand how breastfeeding will (or won’t) fit into your life.

Anyone close to me (or anyone who has kept up with my pregnancy- and postpartum-related posts) knows that breastfeeding has been difficult for us from the start. My son had a lip- and tongue-tie, which made it feel like a vice grip was clamping down on my breast every time he latched on. I bled almost every time he breastfed at first. I spent many nights wide awake those first few weeks — not because my baby wouldn’t sleep, but because I was in too much pain from breastfeeding to get sleep in between his feedings. My anxiety was through the roof, and I found myself counting down the minutes until the next time we would attempt a latch. I sent late-night texts to my lactation consultant and posted questions in desperation to Facebook mommy boards. It was more painful than I ever could have imagined, and nothing like what I’d expected. I attended a nursing circle once a week, where new mommies would go around and share their latest trials with breastfeeding. Having that once-a-week contact for a while kept me sane.

Many people suggested I give up. And I tried at least once to stop. But on top of knowing that breast milk is the healthiest thing you can give a newborn, we quickly realized that my son is sensitive to dairy and soy. Whenever I ate cheese, milk, or ice cream (the worst offender), his reflux would flare up, and other things would happen that I’ll spare you the details of here. Needless to say, going into a store and grabbing formula off of the shelf wasn’t going to work for us: most formulas are dairy based. Those that are dairy-free are soy based. So for my son, breast milk is literally the only thing he could consume.

Since it was summer, and I’m a teacher, we had the luxury of time to figure this all out, together. So despite our struggles, we kept at it.

Sometime over the summer, I began to suspect that I might not be responding to the pump as well as other mamas who pump. I would get anywhere from .25 to 2 ounces, total, in one pumping session. I pumped religiously at the same time every day, but it took a very long time to build up a freezer stash of milk in 1- or 2-ounce increments. When I returned to work, I quickly realized my suspicions were true: I was not responding to the pump well at all, and along with the stressors of returning to work before I was ready to, I now had to deal with not expressing enough milk for my son to eat the following day at daycare.

I spent the first few weeks back at work stressing out about how this would all shake out. Clearly, my dwindling stash of frozen milk would not last very long. My pumping sessions at work have amounted to an average of 2 to 6 ounces, total, for the day. My son eats a minimum of 12 ounces per day. So I’m thawing 6-10 ounces of frozen milk per day to supplement. You do the math: it’s not sustainable!

There are many amazing things about breast milk. Like the fact that it’s literally tailor-made to your baby. If you’re exposed to an illness, you immediately begin producing antibodies in your milk so that your baby gets some protection from that illness. Crazy, right? You also produce more milk, the more the baby nurses. The production part has been tricky for me — Monday through Thursday, my son nurses only in the morning, overnight, and at bed time. During the day, I have to pump. But since I’m not responding well to the pump, by Thursday my supply has dropped dramatically (since I’m not able to express as much as I am when I’m nursing full-time, my body doesn’t think it needs to produce as much). Friday through Sunday, my son nurses every hour or two, and by Sunday night my supply goes back up. It’s an unfortunate cycle that will continue until he/I/we decide it’s time for him to wean.

In the meantime, I’ve tried all sorts of things to help boost my supply. I’ve eaten scads of oatmeal and quinoa — two grains that allegedly help your milk supply. I’ve made lactation cookies (which are full of oatmeal, flax, coconut oil and other goodies to help boost caloric intake and milk production). I’ve resisted the urge to diet (despite being two sizes bigger than pre baby) since breastfeeding mamas need more calories to make more milk. I’ve pumped on one breast while nursing my son on the other (which, if you haven’t tried or witnessed it, is as acrobatically challenging as it sounds). I’ve tried hand-expressing, reverse pressure softening, and the massage-stroke-shake method. I’ve taken fenugreek, blessed thistle, and other supplements. I’ve consumed gallons of water. I’ve sniffed my baby’s worn clothes, watched videos of him, and looked at photos to encourage my milk to let down while attached to the pump. I’ve listened to meditations and visualized milk flowing into the bottles. I’ve tried all kinds of different pumps and parts (see photo above for a visual, which is only a sample of what I’ve bought or rented).

Speaking of pumps, I have two Medela Pump In Style pumps (one that my health insurance covered the cost of, and one that my mother purchased for me so that I wouldn’t have to lug one back and forth to work every day); I have a manual pump, which I’ve found to be most helpful when pumping-while-nursing; and I recently rented a hospital-grade Ameda Elite, in a last-ditch effort to try and produce more milk.

Sadly, none of the different pump parts, sizes, styles, or brands helped me produce any more milk. I am one of the unlucky few who just doesn’t respond well to the pump, period.

But for now, let’s focus on the positive: WE MADE IT TO SIX MONTHS!!!! It feels like a huge feat. Because it really, really, is.

As I conclude this post, I just want to acknowledge a few things: first of all, I realize that not all mamas can breastfeed. Sometimes the milk ducts just don’t work. Sometimes previous surgeries, illnesses, or other treatments prevent nursing. Sometimes physical disabilities or injuries make it simply impossible. And while I feel like someone should pay me a million bucks for how hard these last six months have been, I respect and understand that breastfeeding doesn’t work for everyone. And there’s no judgment in that. We went this route for a variety of health and philosophical reasons — but it was also an option that was available. If I had to go back to work at 6 weeks, there’s no way I would have been able to keep at it.

Which leads me to another point: clearly, working women were not built to return to work so soon. Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Pediatric Association (APA) recommend exclusively breastfeeding babies for at least six months. After that, the APA suggests continuing breastfeeding for at least a full year; the WHO suggests the same for up to two years and beyond. Wouldn’t you think our policies for working moms would work around these research-based recommendations? I mean, if we’re so concerned about autoimmune disorders and other diseases that might be linked to our diets — health issues that cost individuals (and the healthcare industry) billions of dollars every year to treat — shouldn’t our daily practices help support the WHO and APA’s recommendations for health when a human’s life begins?

I am currently imagining a society in which women make as much as men for the same amount of quality work. A society in which breastfeeding moms don’t feel apologetic for feeding their children in public. A society in which working moms are afforded the ability to take as much time off as they need to nurture their new babies in that first year. A society that takes care of its people over profit. A society that puts health and wellness first. That would be an amazing society in which to live…