BREASTFEEDING EXPECTATIONS AND ADVICE
Breastfeeding is such a beautiful thing as it best displays the bond between mother and child. At least that’s what it seemed like. During my pregnancy, I became almost obsessed with the topic. I went to breastfeeding classes, talked to lactation consultants and pestered my mommy friends about their experiences. Everyone had a different opinion on breastfeeding.
Doctors and pediatricians were all on the breastfeeding bandwagon, insisting that breast milk was the absolute best. The lactation consultants informed me that there is absolutely no reason why any woman cannot breastfeed or not have enough milk to satisfy her baby.
On the other hand, I had mommy friends who told me otherwise: They had to stop breastfeeding because they had no milk to start with or that it went away by itself. Half of my mommy friends that didn’t have problems with milk supply told me that it was excruciatingly painful in the beginning. Other mommy friends expressed annoyance at the thought of breastfeeding. Some said that ‘it wasn’t for them,’ others said, ‘oh geez, I took the pill right away to get rid of it’ or ‘it was too much trouble.’ When I heard those comments, I thought to myself, “Why would you ever choose to deny yourself this unique bond?” I thought it was crazy to not want to breastfeed. It turns out it’s not such a crazy idea at all.
PROBLEMS WITH MY MILK SUPPLY
If you’ve read my past mamma blog posts, you’ll know that I had serious problems with breastfeeding. My first problem was milk supply. It’s not a big deal if your milk doesn’t come in at the hospital. It usually takes 3-5 days to come in.
Colostrum (initial fatty, dense milk) should be enough to satisfy your newborn. At least that’s what the lactation consultants told me. I don’t want to point any fingers here, but you guys are wrong. My baby was famished and I couldn’t satisfy him. I had nothing in my boobs. NOTHING. Even if I did have some colostrum, it was not nearly enough because my baby was the loudest, angriest chapped-lip newborn in the hospital. Poor guy.
I tried my best to adhere to the lactation consultant’s advice but, after three days of baby screams and a total of one hour of sleep in 10 minute intervals, I hesitantly gave into the idea of giving him a bottle of supplement. A nurse secretly suggested to give him at least 1oz/30ml because he was obviously hungry. She wasn’t supposed to give me the milk because I stated I would breastfeed but she was feeling human and helped me out.
Every day that passed, I grew more and more stressed about the fact that my milk was not coming in. When other women in the hospital told me that their milk had come in or when I saw their babies sleeping peacefully in their cots, I wondered what was wrong with me.
On the third day, my husband had to go out and buy milk because we were headed home. The thought that I couldn’t feed our baby made me feel inadequate – I couldn’t do the one thing that a mother is supposed to do. I also felt like I was costing our family money. I felt like crap.
HOW I INCREASED MY MILK SUPPLY
On the fourth day, my mom arrived from Canada. She tried to console me by telling me that I was also partly raised on formula because she also had supply problems. Then, my mom gave me the first bit of GOLDEN advice when it comes to milk supply issues: RELAX.
“If you want your milk to come in, you have to relax.” I cannot emphasize this enough: Stress will hinder your milk supply. It’s a chemical reaction that you need to get under control if you want your milk to come in. That chemical reaction is the release of oxytocin (the love hormone) that will stimulate your milk supply and signal your body to produce and send milk to the nipple. Oxytocin cannot function when stress hormones are around. So meditate, breathe and RELAX.
To help me relax, my mom gave me a shoulder, neck and head massage. It was so wonderful. I realized how tense I was and finally let my muscles relax. After she finished, I sat up and we started to chat. Five minutes into our chat I felt something wet on my hand and shirt. I looked up at the ceiling to see if it was leaking. Then I looked down. OMG!! It was a miracle! My boobs were leaking milk!
Do what you have to do to relax and eliminate the stress. Maybe a hot shower will do the trick. Try getting your mind off the milk issue by watching a movie, listening to music, a guided meditation, calling a friend etc.
KEEP FEEDING KEEP PUMPING
Now, that my milk was in, the problem was keeping up with my hungry little baby who at that time, was already downing 60ml every 2 hours. Meantime, I was struggling to pump out 30 ml.
I despised my breast pump in the beginning because it was like proof of my inadequacy. Even though my milk came in, I was only pumping out 30 ml and it was taking me forever. I painfully watched every tiny drop go into the bottle while squeezing my boob like a lemon. When I finally pumped 50 ml, I knocked over the bottle and spilled everything. I cried.
After every feeding, I waited a bit and then pumped again. Even if barely anything came out, your body receives signals to produce milk. Sure enough, within a few days (which seemed like an eternity at the time), my milk production went up. I wouldn’t say I was at cow-status but I was on my way.
Pretty soon I was able to feel the milk ‘let down’. Basically, I feel cramps around my breasts that travel to the areola. When that happens, a fast flow of lighter milk comes in and is then followed by more fatty milk (hindmilk).
My advice here is to keep pumping and keep feeding as often as possible. You have to train your body to keep producing milk. If your body receives signals that your baby needs to feed more often, it will adapt accordingly. Even if you don’t think you are making progress because you don’t see a lot of milk coming out, do it anyway. Keep in mind that your baby is a much more efficient feeder than the breast pump. Your baby is probably eating a lot more than you are able to pump.
It’s easy to forget to drink water when you are feeding and changing the baby so often. Luckily, my mom was constantly handing me my thermos of hot water whenever I had a free hand. I was always drinking water.
I also had a lot of tea specifically for breastfeeding mothers. It didn’t taste that great but it was all natural and it claimed to help boost milk supply, so I jumped on it.
To make sure that you are drinking enough water, check that your pee is absolutely clear. That’s my rule anyway. Don’t try to cheat yourself either and drink juice or coffee and mentally substitute that for your water intake. Just drink pure water and a lot of it.
A few days after we got discharged from the hospital, I had to come back to have some routine tests done. I ran into some nurses that recognized me and before I left the hospital, one of them gave me a food supplement that was supposed to help me increase my milk production. I was so thankful to her and couldn’t wait to see if it would work. One thing I noticed on the package was the word, “galactagogue.”
A galactagogue is a substance that helps to increase milk production. It could be in the form of medication or herbs. If you are interested in trying out some of the herbal galactagogues, you could try Fenugreek, Fennel, Red Raspberry Leaf or Alfalfa. My mother also told me that back in the day, nursing ladies used to drink beer to increase their milk supply. I laughed at the idea but there is some truth to it. In fact, hops is also a galactagogue. However, not every quality of hops is effective. The correct quality of hops to increase milk supply are found in dark German beers, apparently. Read more about galactagogues here.
PROBLEMS THAT MADE ME WANT TO QUIT
If my only problem was milk supply, it probably would have taken me about two weeks to be able to breastfeed with no problem. However, low supply was not my only problem.
My nipples were not only sore, but cracked, blistered and bleeding. It was worse than the walking dead. I didn’t understand why it hurt so much. Wasn’t it supposed to be natural? I showed my latch to so many nurses and every single one said that our latch was fine. From the outside, everything looked fine but I was absolutely NOT fine. The level of pain + frustration was higher than my contractions. I’m talking, toe-curling, teeth-clenching pain. I was terrified of latching on and I had to feed every thirty minutes the first few days. It got to the point where I would shake in fear of the pain every time my baby cried or if I knew it was time to feed again.
This definitely did not help me relax, nor could I continue feeding as often as I wanted to in order to increase my milk supply. All I could do was pump and supplement. Then, when my nipples weren’t so cut up, I would get up the courage to breastfeed again.
THREE THINGS THAT GOT ME THROUGH THE PAIN
- My friends that went through the same thing. All of them told me to tough it out for a good six weeks. It seemed like an eternity but it helped to have a goal.
- Distractions: All my evening and night time feedings were done while watching Netflix series. I went through seasons of Modern Family, Suits, Jane the Virgin… They helped me forget about the pain.
- Making peace with formula: It wasn’t the end of the world if I couldn’t breastfeed. There are plenty of healthy kids that grew up on formula. The important thing was that my baby was fed and loved. I had to be the best mother I could be and that meant that I had to be serene. If breastfeeding was going to drive me nuts, that wouldn’t be good for me, my husband nor my baby.
Through sheer determination, Netflix shows and being okay with formula, I became more calm and happy. Everything just fell into place after that. My milk supply went up so much that I had to wear those milk pads and start stocking milk in the freezer.
If you’re pregnant and reading this, you might not have problems with pain nor milk supply. Not everyone suffers. If you do end up with some problems, you need to find a way to stay serene for your baby. If that means giving him formula, then just do it. However, if you can stick it out without going crazy, try your best to breastfeed. In my experience, it was totally worth it.
Check out this infographic by momlovesbest.com for more ways to increase your milk supply
How To Increase Your Milk Supply Without Losing Your Mind (By Mom Loves Best)