When Breastfeeding Doesn't Go As Planned...

We were grabbing doughnuts a few weeks ago when another mom struck up a conversation with me.  "How is it with two?" she asked "Because life with one is hard enough."  She seemed to be tired and stressed, to say the least.  Turns out, she had a 10-week old baby girl and the biggest of her struggles - breastfeeding.  Specifically, her low milk supply.  When I told her I had the exact same issue {with both of my kids}, I could see a huge sense of relief come over her face.  I'm pretty sure she wanted to reach out and hug me.  She felt such pressure by society to continue breastfeeding, yet that was becoming increasingly difficult because of her low supply.  On top of that, she hadn't known any friends to have the same problem, so she felt alone.  And it was very obvious.

Looking back to when Brantley was a newborn, I was in the same boat.  Sure, I had friends that had breastfed, friends that had expressed how truly difficult it was, and friends that had quit just a few weeks in, but I don't think I knew anyone personally that had a low milk supply.  (Or, at least, at the time and for no apparent reason.  I have since learned of others.)  This poor girl was practically begging me to tell her that formula-feeding her baby was a fine alternative.  And you know what?  It is.  In eighteen years, your child will not not be accepted to college due to lack of breastmilk.  And in thirty years?  No one's going to refuse to marry your son or daughter or deny him a job because he wasn't breastfed as a baby.  My husband didn't get one drop of breastmilk, yet he's one of the smartest and healthiest men I know.  And my first born?  Only breastfed for a few weeks, followed by a few more of pumped milk in a bottle.  I know he's only two, but he's a smart, compassionate, strong, independent, healthy, energetic, and inquisitive little boy. He's always met the developmental benchmarks, and even hit some before they were "expected".

Sure, we all want breastfeeding to work, and there are definite benefits, but life doesn't always go as planned.  If there's one thing I've learned about motherhood it's that everyone has their struggles.  Some women struggle with getting pregnant, others struggle while pregnancy, others have horrible labor and deliveries, yet others have colicky babies, or babies who don't sleep a wink for months.  I'm lucky in that I've had great experiences with all of the above...except for breastfeeding.  And if I'm being completely honest, at first I thought it was my fault.  I assumed it was something I was doing wrong to cause my low supply.  I tried pumping, I tried increasing my water intake, I tried supplements.  Though those options may have helped slightly, the plain and simple answer is that I had (have) a low supply.  You know, I actually despise the phrase "Breast is best" because it seems to belittle those of us who are physically unable breastfeed exclusively.  What about mothers who adopt?  It's sad to me that they are made to feel that they are doing the "second best" because they don't have that option.  It may be the best option for some mothers, but in my heart, I know it's not the best for all.

After Holden was born, I struggled with the idea of breastfeeding and pumping.  I was nervous, anxious, and exhausted.  Mainly because it hadn't gone well with Brantley.  And by "hadn't gone well", I simply mean he wasn't gaining weight.  He seemed to have a great latch and had the sucking down.  As did Holden.  When we learned Holden wasn't gaining either, I was ready to throw in the towel.  I was beyond frustrated and felt like a failure of a mom.  (You'd think it'd be easier the second time through, but nope!)  I could have easily given up at that point had the hubs not encouraged me to keep trying.  And since a baby #3 is in our future plans, I want to reflect on my experience.  After all, I'm almost 15 weeks in and we're still giving our baby breastmilk.  Granted, he's also getting a decent amount of formula, as well, but I am a-okay with that.

So this post is mainly a post to my future self.  My nervous, anxious, and exhausted future self who is mother to a newborn baby #3 (if that's in God's plans, I should note).  If it helps or encourages someone else out there, awesome.  I feel like there are a lot of blogs written in support of exclusive breastfeeding.  And though that's great, I would have loved to have come across a blog written by someone with problems similar to what I experienced.  Someone who had a few tricks of the trade up their sleeve to encouraged breastfeeding, but also someone who completely and fully supported supplementing with formula.  It would have been nice to not feel so alone.

First, a few notes about my experience with breastfeeding:

It hurts like hell.  It was a good two months (or more!) before it finally stopped hurting for me.  Sure, the first few weeks were the most painful (just plain excruciating), but it continued to hurt for some time.  Know that it will get better...and stock up on lanolin and Soothies to use in the meantime.

You won't necessarily feel that let-down feeling.  I never did.  Nor did my boobs ever hurt or feel full.  I can count on one hand the number of times they leaked, and it's been no where near enough leakage to require nursing pads.  None of the above are any indication that you can or can't breastfeed.  Which is what I always assumed.

Don't be afraid to breastfeed immediately after pumping.  Again, I just assumed that since I had just pumped, my boobs were empty.  However, after a little research, I learned this wasn't necessarily the case.  The baby's sucking can stimulate another letdown.  And it seemed to be true.  Whenever I fed Holden immediately after pumping, the little babe was as content as could be.

Don't stop feeding from the boob.  Even if you decide to pump and give baby a bottle six out of the seven feedings per day, breastfeed at least once.  This will ensure he doesn't forget how, and in the case that he's super fussy or you don't have a bottle on hand, you can resort to breastfeeding.  This was the biggest difference between Holden and Brantley.  I breastfed Brantley for about three weeks.  From that point on, I pumped and gave him bottles.  With Holden, I breastfed (followed by a bottle) during each feeding up until about ten weeks.  At ten weeks, we started traveling a lot, so a bottle it was.  To this day, I still breastfeed him each morning when he awakes.

Find a support system.  Though I would get frustrated with my husband for not giving me the okay to quit, looking back, I'm appreciative that he didn't.  I also stumbled across this blog series - The Breastfeeding Diaries.  Though many of those women breastfed exclusively for a full year or more and very few had issues with a low supply, the stories are inspirational and a good reminder that many moms struggle with breastfeeding in one form or another.

Notes about pumping:

Turn the pump to its max.  Sometimes it hurts (try maximizing gradually), but I am shocked at the increase in volume I get on max vs. medium.

It can be a pain in the booty to have to sit hooked up to a machine for fifteen minutes.  Find something to distract you during that time.  I often used that time to catch up on social media or compose blog posts.  I also became addicted to (and finally beat) the game 2048.  Because this was sometimes the only time I could sit and relax, I came to look forward to those fifteen minutes of "down time".  And make sure to buy a hands-free pumping bra so that you actually have the hands to do the things that distract you!  Another tip--if you're not leaving home, just pull the bandeau-like bra down around your waste and you can save some time and energy putting it on each time.  (Just don't forget to take it off when you go to the pool like I did!)

Don't freak out when your supply fluctuates.  Mine dropped drastically about a month in, but it quickly came back.  To this day, it still fluctuates quite a bit.  On average, I get about five ounces per session, but have gotten as little as one ounce and as much as eight.  Likewise, don't freak out when the ratio of breastmilk to formula decreases.  As your baby grows, he or she will need more to eat.  For me, that means more formula and less breastmilk.  It is what it is.  Try to remind yourself that each bottle of breastmilk is one fewer bottle of formula (and a penny saved).

Don't compare yourself to others.  It can be hard not to.  Especially when exclusive-breastfeeders brag about it constantly.  Remember, EVERYONE STRUGGLES with some aspect of motherhood.  You're doing the best you can.

You don't have to pump overnight.  Lactation specialists will probably tell you otherwise, and I'm sure I could increase my supply by doing so, but when my baby sleeps through the night at one month old, there's no way in hell I'm going to set my alarm just to pump!

Don't allow pumping to run your life.  I've had to remind myself of this on more than one occasion.  If it's "time" to pump, but you're unable, push it back an hour.  Life will go on and one missed/late pumping session won't deplete your supply.  Once my routine was established, I pumped a max of four times per day (morning, noonish, 5ish, and before going to bed), but I was always okay if our day only allowed for three sessions. (Note: When I first started pumping, I did so after every feeding, which was 6 to 7 times per day.  I only did that for about a week.)

As if washing bottles isn't bad enough, pumping every few hours means you have to wash pump parts, too.  I kept mine in a plastic Ziploc in the refrigerator between sessions so the leftover drops of milk wouldn't spoil, and only washed (and sterilized) parts once per day.  Lazy?  Maybe.  But when you have two kids, you don't have time to wash parts all the time.  Besides, when your boobs and/or nipples hurt, the cold parts feel rather nice against your skin. :)

And finally some notes that apply to both breastfeeding and pumping, in general:

Drink lots of water.  This was an issue for me because I just don't drink that much, period.  I carried around my hospital cup everywhere and had to consciously force myself to drink water.  I aimed for three to four hospital sized-cups per day (84 to 112 ounces total).  I always made sure to sit down with a full cup when I started feeding and/or pumping and sipped the entire time.

Eat lots, including protein.  Eating is one of my most favorite things to do, so naturally I loved having an excuse to eat.  Five cookies?  An extra large piece of cake?  Ice cream every few nights?  Ummm...yes! :)  I also ate a Fiber One Protein Bar almost every day.  Fiber bars were part of my daily pregnancy diet, so I just switched from my regulars to the ones with protein. 

Drink a beer, or two.  The brewer's yeast in beer is said to increase milk supply.  In fact, that's one of the key ingredients in the lactation cookies you can buy.  As for pump and dump - I've not once done that.  I read that if you're sober enough to drive, there's no reason to throw out your breastmilk.  And since that stuff is liquid gold, I took that advice to heart.  I limit myself to two beers, but have no shame in drinking (and enjoying) those two.

And while you're at it, make some cookies!  I mentioned lactation cookies above, and though you could find a recipe for such, I suggest something more yummy.  Just make sure the cookies have oatmeal.  It's said to increase milk supply.  (I can't say as if it did for me, but it was still an excuse to chow down on sweets!)

Try Fenugreek.  It's an herbal supplement that is said to increase milk supply.  I tried it with Brantley and didn't notice a difference.  However, I tried a different brand (Nature's Way) with Holden and may have noticed an ever-so slight increase--not overnight though, that's for sure!  I took two capsules three times per day, and it was probably a good week or so before it "kicked in".

If you're supplementing anyway, use formula to your advantage.  Use it when you're out and about so you don't have to worry about bottled breastmilk going bad.  Use it in public so you don't have to feed from the boob and make others/yourself uncomfortable.  Use it overnight so you can have the unmixed powder and water waiting in the little one's nursery.  Use it before bed.  It's said to be more filling and can help your baby sleep longer.  And my most favorite thing about using formula is that anyone can feed the baby.  You are not solely in charge, which was always a great feeling for me.

And remember, sometimes you have to put your happiness and health above everything else, including a breastfed baby.  If you are miserable, stressed out, exhausted, and in pain, your baby will sense that and things will likely be downhill from there.  If you're pumping and only getting an ounce, ask yourself if it's really worth your time?  For me, it wasn't (with Brantley) so that's why I quit.

Breastmilk isn't the end all, be all.  It's 2014.  Science is amazing.  Formula is just as nutritious.  Your baby will be fine.  Smart, healthy, and best of all, full.  Speaking from experience, you will have no less of a bond with your baby because he or she was formula fed.

With that being said, I've got just over a week before I return to work.  Though I had full intentions of being done with breastmilk by that time, I'm contemplating the idea of continuing to pump.  On one hand, I say absolutely not.  It would mean waking up even earlier than I already have to, and trying to find a place to pump and store my milk at school sounds like an absolute pain in booty.  Not to mention, I have all new preps this year and will be busier as a teacher than ever before.  I don't want to waste my valuable time pumping.  On the other hand, I would only have to pump once at school per day.  And miraculously, I was blessed with third block plan (the block around lunchtime), so I could make it work.  And the amount of money we could save is very tempting.  Not to mention, it's kind of addicting.  Now that I'm this far, part of me wonders how long I can actually go.  It's like a game for me, seeing how much breastmilk I can get per day and figuring the ratio of breastmilk to formula.  (Math geek, I know!)  I know in the end, I'll be okay, and happy, with whichever path I choose. 

My advice to others (and my future self) - do what feels right.  Breast doesn't necessarily have to be best.  Let's stop bragging about it, let's stop judging others, and instead let's remember that Mother is the one that knows "best".


  1. The only way I got through it the first time was going to SMMC and their Tuesday morning breastfeeding group. It's literally the best support group with new moms and a lactation consultant!! I'm going with Maddie too and I'm still learning things bc every baby is different :-) you rock mama and it's good to know after 15 weeks with 2 you still want a third babe ;)

    1. I had planned to go to that with Holden, but life always got in the way. I always wondered how it worked though. I envision a group of girls sitting around in a circle breastfeeding together (even though I know that's probably not the case) and it kind of intimidated me! :)

  2. You are such a great mom, and just as important, a great encourager (did I make that word up?) to other moms! You'd be such an asset to our MOPS group where connecting and encouraging are what it's all about! :)

    1. Thank you, Jana! You are Supermom, as well! When and where does your MOPS group meet? Are you able to do it even during the school year?

    2. Your latest post made me think I should check back to see if you responded here. :) I am clueless as to the settings on the blog. I'm impressed with all your fun fonts and graphics and tabs on the top...I can't figure any of that out!
      Our group is one of the few evening MOPS groups and most of the moms work (several are teachers). We meet at Olathe Bible Church (151st & Pflumm) on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays from September-May. I'm hoping Jamie does it again this year and I need to invite Whitworth too! I've been in it for the last 3 years and I've loved it more each year!

  3. We have a 3 week old and I'm struggling with breastfeeding/bottle feeding. THANK YOU for this post. Just what I needed to read as I sit here and pump ;)

    1. So glad I could be of help! In the long run, you will be happy with whichever route you decide on because looking back, it will seem to be the best one. Congrats on your 3 week old and best of luck to you!