I cannot help feeling disappointed, for both mother and baby, when friends either don’t start breastfeeding or switch to formula in the first few months. Usually the story of ‘not enough milk’ is told with regret, but also with a definite belief that there was nothing they could do.
Circumstances led me ‘not having enough milk’ myself. My daughter was three weeks old, losing weight, and only getting 200ml of breast milk each day. I ended up feeding her until she weaned just before my second daughter was born at around 15 months of age. Here is my story:
DD fed for 2hrs after being born. I now know that she was not really ‘feeding’, just sucking, bonding and having cuddles, which was lovely. The various midwives in the hospital popped in to see ‘that baby that’s still sucking’ and laughed at her appetite. We thought it was funny too. Unfortunately she was not properly attached and grazed both nipples. I felt I was not ‘getting her on’ properly, but every midwife who checked in the next few days said she was fine, that I was doing well and that was correct. By this stage each nipple had a scab covering the entire top of the nipple, which would come off each time I fed and bleed. My daughter would vomit bits of blood and scab after feeds, but the midwives weren’t concerned, so I persevered, and was sent home. Needless to say, feeding was very painful and not that enjoyable though of course I enjoyed the cuddles and the wonderful feeling that comes with being able to feed your baby and help her grow.
When DD was born, she was wide eyed and placid. Within 24 hrs she was screaming her lungs out and this continued for 3 weeks. She rarely slept; about 3-8hrs in 24, the rest of the time screaming. I now feel she was hungry but I was so reluctant to feed her because of the pain. I tried to keep her to 3 hourly feeds recommended by the Child Health Nurse and the hospital midwives. We actually took her to hospital at about 10 days old because she was ‘too placid’ – we thought there was something drastically wrong with her!
Our GP sent us to a paediatrician and she was diagnosed with lactose intolerance, colic and reflux. She was prescribed medicine for the reflux and he suggested feeding her a combination of lactose free formula and breastmilk to see if that would calm her and help her sleep/relax. Neither of us were really happy with this diagnosis and treatment, but we were exasperated and didn’t know what else to do.
I was not overly pleased with the course the Paed. had set for us. I knew this path would lead to DD being fully weaned and formula fed in a very short space of time. I was determined not to give in, and to breastfeed my daughter. The medication and formula didn’t help not matter how much we wanted it to, so after about a week, we stopped the medication and took her to the Breast Feeding Centre at a nearby hospital. The lactation consultants there were amazing. I had laser treatment on my poor nipples, which helped them heal and they were able to see that yes, she wasn’t attaching properly and helped me sort it out. DD refused to attach in a manner that was totally comfortable, it was much better and obviously my nipples hardened up and got used to ‘her way of doing things’. In fact, as soon as I relaxed about trying to get her to attach properly and just let her do her own thing, it hurt a lot less. I stopped the lactose free formula and started exclusively breastfeeding again. This was against the Paediatricians wishes, but with the support of the lactation consultants at the BFC. She was still screaming a lot and not sleeping and by this stage, about 3 weeks old, she had started losing weight.
The penny finally dropped that she wasn’t getting enough milk, so I convinced the BFC to lend me their scales so I could weight her before and after feeds to work out how much milk she was getting each feed and in a 24 hr period. This confirmed my suspicions – she was getting 20-50mls per feed and under 200mls in 24 hrs. Failing to demand feed from the beginning and switching to formula had severely depleted my supply.
When I was at the BFC I met a woman who had 5 children. She had come back to catch up with the midwives with her bubba. After feeding her first 4 kids, the 5th simply refused to take her breast. So she expressed for 6 months and kept trying until finally her baby agreed it was better from a boob than a bottle. At the time I was pretty ‘woe is me’ about my situation, so it was great to have a reality check in the form of this amazing mum, who committed to express every day, in between getting 4 kids fed, dressed, to school and everything else, so that she could breastfeed. If she could do it, so could I.
With the fantastic help of the BFC, I started using a ‘supply line’ to increase my supply. It is a tiny tube that you put into a bottle of expressed (I had to start with formula) milk and stick the other end to your nipple, so that when the baby sucks your nipple they get milk even though your boobs are empty. The extra sucking stimulates extra supply and the theory is that it slowly increases your supply. On the paperwork that came with it were details of how to use if for mothers who are breastfeeding adopted babies, which I found so interesting.
I spent the next two weeks in the following routine, 24hrs a day:
-Feed DD from my boobs
-Place supply line with expressed milk (formula for the first day or so) on nipple and let DD have that as well
-Settle DD to sleep
-1 hr after end of feed, express (luckily we hired an electric pump!) milk for next feed
-crawl into bed for 45 min sleep at night or do a chore/sit down with a cuppa in day
At night I would normally set my alarm for 1 hr so that I could sleep in between feeding and needing to express, then express, then crawl back to bed
My partner was amazingly supportive, cheering me on from the sidelines. I must admit though, that he just didn’t understand my determination to breastfeed and would regularly reassure me that it would be OK to ‘give up’. In fact, everyone around me seemed to be trying to convince me that it was OK to stop breastfeeding. The only people who seemed adamant that I could do it were the midwives at the BFC. They were supportive, but at no stage did they suggest formula, and I really looked to them for support as a result.
I felt every emotion under the sun: Desperately tired, extremely proud of myself, completely overwhelmed, angry about the events that lead to the situation to name a few. Every night I would cry saying ‘I just can’t do it anymore, I’m going to give her formula’ and every morning I would wake up saying ‘I’ll just do it for 1 more day’. I lasted 14 days, by which time I had increased the feeds to 60-90ml on average, but at times 120ml. This was pretty exciting as you can imagine.
I had done it. And it was so very worth it.
DD will be 7 this month. She grew out of the lactose intolerance at around age 5, although she is still reactive to cow’s milk protein. I had no difficulties feeding my second daughter and she has no allergies or intolerances.
If you’re reading this feeling it’s all too hard and that there is nothing you can do about your low supply, I am living proof it can be done. I’m not superwoman or super anything, just a normal person.