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.

Sleep, Eat, or Shower: Choose One – The First Month with a Newborn

I knew the first few months having a baby would be life-changing. I just didn’t realize how much; aka: you can shower, sleep, or eat, but you only have time for one, choose wisely. Needless to say, we didn’t have the easiest start to our little family, but we’re powering through.

Bennett was born with sever jaundice. He was born early (37 weeks). We (Bennett and I) have different blood types so his slightly underdeveloped liver had an extra difficult time processing my red blood cells. This led to him being “under the lights” for the first few days of his life. We also had to stay in the hospital longer.

The combination of the jaundice treatment (being away from me), a not great terrible nurse who advised me to “wait a long while” before trying to breastfeed for the first time, and his being born early, resulted in nursing challenges. I ended up seeing many lactation specialists, five to be exact. Who, all determined, I was producing hardly any colostrum and then later, I didn’t produce enough milk. Weight tests before and after feedings determined I was only making about half of what Bennett needed. So, all the lactation specialists and pediatricians advised us to supplement with formula. We needed to get the calories in so he could process the red blood cells and get the bilirubin levels down.

The next couple weeks were spent with daily trips to the doctors to get blood work done for his bilirubin tests and weight checks to see if he was gaining. Bad news for both, for a solid week. Bennett ended up losing almost a pound and his levels did not go down like we hoped. Not being able to produce the food my baby needed made me feel like such a failure. Breastfeeding was something I was passionate about. Eventually (after a lot of formula), we got his bilirubin numbers down (at about 2.5 weeks) and then finally at three weeks old, he passed his birth weight.

Despite everything, I haven’t given up on breastfeeding. It’s a long, hard, and tiring road, but I’m trying. I have modified my six month goal, to a one month goal. Then, I’ll continue to set manageable goals to keep my sanity. The feeding plan is as follows:

  • Breastfeed on demand (usually every 1.5 hours but can be up to three hours) this of course includes waking him up throughout the night. I was not prepared for that. At the beginning, he was nursing for 45 minutes to an hour. Around week three, we cut that time to an average of 36 minutes per session.
  • After breastfeeding, supplement with formula if he is still showing hunger cues and doesn’t seem satisfied. He never is satisfied after nursing. The supplementation started at one ounce, but has increased as he is getting older and growing.
  • After breastfeeding, I pump. Pumping started with 30 minutes after every nursing session. Then we cut it to 20 minutes after every daytime nursing. [I was dying with the previous schedule]. Then, after my body still wasn’t improving, the lactation specialists reduced the pumping to 10 minutes. I know they thought I would give up completely if I kept up with the previous schedules.

So, yes, that is a lot. The whole process takes about 1.5 hours. Yep, by the time I finish the feeding, it is time to get going on another feeding. All day, every day.

Feeding baby via syringe
Feeding via the syringe
At almost one month, we started with a bottle