Fed is Best

I will breastfeed

Throughout my pregnancy, I was confident of one thing: I would breastfeed. I did all the research. I read books, took an online breastfeeding class, bought a pump. I researched how to build a freezer stash and the best way to store pumped breast milk. I knew breastfeeding could be challenging, but I was going to make it work. Then I had my baby…

I admit, I wasn’t an expert on infant feeding or breastfeeding. My experience included my mom and my aunts who all breastfed and then a few friends who chose to formula feed. I thought there were three groups of infant mamas.

  1. Those who choose to breastfeed
  2. Those who choose to formula feed
  3. Those who decide to try breastfeeding but are cool with formula if it doesn’t work out

I have no idea there was a fourth group. A group that wants desperately to breastfeed, but cannot. I always thought if a mama didn’t breastfeed, she either didn’t want to, or gave up. She gave into the exhaustion, or pain, or difficulty. She didn’t want it enough. I honestly don’t write that with judgement. I just knew I would do whatever it took to be strong enough to give my baby the very best. I was so passionate about this. After all, “Breast is Best.”

I WILL breastfeed

I literally gave blood, sweat, and tears to breastfeeding. I did everything I could. I took fenugreek. I pumped nonstop. I drank gallons of water. I took brewers yeast, mothers milk tea, lactation cookies. I fed on-demand around the clock. I met with five lactation consultants. I did it all. [Read more about my breastfeeding journey here].

I gave my best to breastfeeding. I lasted three months. During all three months of my son’s life, I also gave him formula. I did this to keep him alive. My son was born with severe jaundice. I nursed all the time. I started pumping in the hospital. At first I got some colostrum, then nothing. I still pumped. I pumped after every feeding to try to get something.

I am so thankful for one lactation consultant, who, on day two suggested we supplement with formula. My baby’s pediatrician adamantly agreed. This saved my baby. He needed to process the red blood cells. He needed to have food. I wasn’t producing for him. Even when my milk came in, it was only half of what he needed. I pushed myself so hard I sank into PPD.

Fed is Best

This is why I love the Fed is Best movement. I still believe breast milk is the natural best choice if possible. However, I see NO problem in combo feeding. If breastfeeding doesn’t work, give that mama a break! Celebrate her for trying. Don’t shame her for stopping.

I still cry thinking about how I failed my son. How I couldn’t give him what is best. “Breast is best.” – See, it’s still ingrained in me. – How I couldn’t do the one thing I felt I should as his mother. I feel this shame because of the Breast is Best pressure. I want to take that away. I don’t want a single mommy to feel bad for trying her hardest.

My son THRIEVED once I stopped forcing breastfeeding. I thrived once I stopped forcing breastfeeding. I could finally breathe. He was finally no longer hungry. He started growing quickly. He became happier. I became happier. He slept better. I slept better. We bonded. Once I embraced formula feeding, we were best.

My Breastfeeding Journey: Low Supply

I 100% planned I would breastfeed. I read the books (lots of books). I bought the travel pump to take to work, I bought the accessories, I got the clothes, set up my nursing spot, I was ready. Then I had the baby.

Bennett and my nursing journey didn’t start as planned. We didn’t get to start during that magic first hour due to a nurse’s advice to “wait until he’s really ready.” Then, we were separated a lot because of severe jaundice treatment. More here.

I saw multiple board certified lactation specialists. Five to be exact. They did assessments and weight tests to determine I have low supply. I’m producing about half of what my baby needs. That was heartbreaking. However, I knew I wanted to give my son everything I had.

I breastfeed my baby as often as he wants (on-demand) which is usually every 1.5 hours. During the day for as long as he wants. During the night, I cut him off at 20 minutes so I can get some sleep. (Once he started sleeping a bit longer, I stopped cutting him off and let him eat.)  After nursing, I supplement with formula. At first this was with a syringe to avoid nipple confusion (really bottle preference).

Daddy finger feeding with the syringe

Then, we used comotomo bottles.

The first month was hard, really hard. It was also painful.

how breastfeeding really looks at the beginning
How breastfeeding really looked at the beginning for me: 3 am swollen face from crying, semi dark room, struggles, pain, determination

Typically it was only painful when he first latched on because we worked hard on getting a good latch, but it still didn’t feel great. (It did start being easier around 2 months.)

Then there were the challenges:

  1. Sleepy jaundice baby – I’d have to wake him constantly while nursing
  2. Fussy – he gets frustrated during letdown and then when I run out of milk so he whips his head around – again, painful
  3. Not enough milk – this meant pumping and herbs and lactation specialists for me
  4. Learning to latch – standard challenge for all breastfeeding mommies and babies

To try to increase my supply, the lactation specialists prescribed I:

  • Feed on-demand around the clock
  • Feed both sides each time
  • Take fenugreek and brewers yeast
  • Pump after every feeding for 20 minutes
  • Supplement with formula as needed

This plan was literally sucking the life out of me. So, after a month, my husband and I modified it:

  • Feed on-demand around the clock but try to keep night feedings under 30 minutes
  • Feed on both sides
  • Take fenugreek and brewers yeast
  • Pump after daytime feedings for 10-20 minutes
  • Supplement with formula

After a month, the lactation specialist confirmed I was producing more but my baby’s appetite increased too, so, I was still at about half what he needed. She told me to keep with the plan.

To stay alive, at around two months, I started the following:

  • Feed on-demand around the clock but try to keep night feedings under 30 minutes. If I had someone here to help, I would nap after nursing for up to 3 hours and let them give him a bottle of formula while I slept
  • Feed on both sides
  • Take fenugreek and brewers yeast
  • Pump if my baby had not eaten in an hour and was sleeping soundly – this was always a gamble
  • Supplement with formula

If I had listened to the books,  the online forums, and the breastfeeding groups, I would have just breastfed on-demand as much as my baby wanted. That should have increased my milk and given him everything he needed. That is all true if my body worked properly. However, I have low supply. So, I would have starved my baby.

Not being able to exclusively breastfeed like I planned killed me. However, I know I’m doing what is best for my baby. Getting support from lactation consultations at the beginning is key for a good latch and to identify any problems early on. If you do have low-supply, morn the loss of your breastfeeding dream, but do what is best for you, your baby, and your family.

Fed is best.