It’s International Breastfeeding Week! And Mothering is asking folks to blog about breastfeeding to celebrate it,
so what better time to look back on four and half years of nursing?
I didn’t think much about nursing when I was pregnant. Like a natural birth, I assumed that’s what I’d do. Of course. Right? Because breastfeeding is easy! And every mama has enough milk to nourish her babies! There’s no excuse for low supply. Low supply is a myth. Formula is for ignorant people who don’t understand that breastmilk is absolutely best for baby. There is no excuse for formula. Certainly not if your an attachment parent. Gasp!
Well, Esmé was born and placed on my breast immediately, where she latched on easily.
After a few days in the city and the midwife’s assurance that we were doing great and my milk would come in soon and don’t worry about Esmé’s weight loss, we drove back to Pemberton with our brand new baby, where the health nurse checked in on us because there are no midwives up there. You’re not supposed to birth babies north of Squamish. Tell that to the seven women whose babies I caught while working on the ambulance there. But that’s another story.
Back in Pemberton, Esmé continued to lose weight. She was only six pounds and change to begin with, and soon enough, she was down to almost five pounds.
Cue epic weeping fit by me, due to that lovely cocktail of postpartum hormones combined with a massive and overwhelming sense of FAILURE.
The local health nurse set us up with a temporary supplemental nurser, using a 5 cc syringe and a narrow catheter. Over the phone, our Vancouver midwife told us about the milk bank at BC Women’s Hospital, where we ended up having Esmé after being risked out of homebirth due to pre-eclampsia. The midwife prescribed donor milk so that we’d be eligible, and we arranged to pick up some donor milk to top Esmé up with at each attempted feed, while I pumped like an empty heifer hooked up to a war-grade milking machine. I hated pumping. I hated every wretched second of it as I watched the bottles fill up with nothing. Not even an ounce. Not ever. Instead of boosting my supply, it sucked my soul out through those wretched flanges. I’m sure of it.
We were given a Medela SNS (Supplemental Nursing System) and tonnes of advice, both to ditch my hopes of exclusively breastfeeding for the first year and to soldier on and keep Esmé exclusively at the breast at all costs. Use a bottle. Don’t use a bottle. Use a pacifier. Don’t use a pacifier. Finger feed only. Check for a tongue tie. Arched palate? Low muscle tone? Use an SNS. No, don’t! Pump more. Pump less. Try a different hold. Take these herbs Take this drug. Take hot baths. Nurse lying down. Have you checked for retained placenta? Eat your placenta. Eat oatmeal. Drink nettle tea. Switch sides. Block nurse. Keep a diary. Don’t over think it. Give her formula. Go see this lactation consultant. Talk to someone from La Leche League. No, avoid LLL and talk to a lactation consultant. Stick to donor milk.
“Don’t worry,” they all said. ”Every mother makes enough milk for her baby.”
Well, not this mother. Off we went to the pediatrician for what everyone very politely did not refer to as failure to thrive. Which is exactly what it was. Supplement, the doc said. Feed your baby.
So we kept supplementing.
After I threw the Medela SNS across the room in a fit of frustration, I ordered a Lact-Aid SNS. The Medela was cumbersome, awkward to use, and not discreet in the least. The LA had a bit of a learning curve, but once I got the hang of it, it changed everything for the better. Jack got used to filling up the bags each morning, so I wouldn’t have to do it. With each feed, I’d slip the LA into my tank top and nurse. Easily. Supplementing whilst keeping baby at the breast and maximizing what supply a mama does have. Genius! With the LA I was able to side-lie nurse, nurse without getting out of bed (kept the supplement in a thermal bag beside the bed with a wee ice pack for good measure), nurse in public without anyone having a clue that I was supplementing at the same time, and all without needing to use a bottle. Neither of my kids ever had a bottle, and that’s a pretty neat thing for a low-supply mama to be able to say.
That simple, fiddly little tube and plastic bags saved my nursing relationship with my kids. That, and donor milk. Hallelujah for donor milk! We used formula too, which I am also thankful for. It’s awesome that there is a way to feed your babies when you do not make enough milk and have exhausted all options to boost your supply. That’s exactly what formula is for, and so that’s how we used it.
We used the LA for about eight months with Esmé, and about six with Hawk.
I assumed Esmé might wean when I stopped using the LA, but she didn’t. She went on to nurse until she was about three, through my pregnancy with Hawk, mostly because I’d heard that doing so would preserve and potentially boost my supply. It worked! Thanks to Esmé, and all that I learned, I had way more milk for Hawk. Still not enough to stop supplementing, but way more than I ever had with Esmé.
Hawk is almost two years old, and he’s still nursing. If you had told me that when I was in the throws of low-supply with a scrawny infant Esmé, I might have asked you to leave and never spoken to you again. But here we are. No more supplementing, and with two kids who took to whole foods and open cups earlier than I would’ve liked. Yay, avocado! Yay, squash!
To all the mamas out there struggling with nursing … I get it. I understand the sense of failure. The sadness and grief at not being able to nourish your child the way you hoped to. The pressure and guilt to do it a certain way. The pressure and guilt to not do it a certain way. However it gets resolved, it’s your journey. Like birth, we all have an idea about how it will go. How it should go. We all have opinions of what is best, and what we want. And like birth, it rarely turns out to perfectly match that ideal, but it is what it is and it’s yours. Your story. Your journey. Your baby.
Happy International Breastfeeding Week!