When Nothing Goes as Planned: Low Supply and Exclusive Pumping

(Mama Roo will be taking the reins on this post because she had a more difficult time with breastfeeding than Mama Seal.)

My morning pump. I produce half my milk for the day during this one pump.

I knew I wanted to breastfeed exclusively before I even got pregnant. In preparation, I found out as much as I could about what I was getting into. I read blogs, googled questions, and took a breastfeeding class, I joined breastfeeding Facebook groups. Once I started nursing and had several struggles, I paid out of pocket to see a lactation consultant (LC). I watched videos and read blogs. I took supplements and made lactation cookies. I did everything I could, but in the end I was unable to exclusively breastfeed. I’m 7.5 month postpartum and instead of exclusively breastfeeding, I have been exclusively pumping and supplementing with formula for the last 6 months. According to my pumps, I have spent 586 hours attached to a pump since Captain was born. (How insane is that?!) Here’s what I went through, what I tried, and what worked and didn’t work for me.

We had difficulty latching, so the nurse at the hospital gave me a nipple shield to use with Captain. The shield works by laying on top of the nipple and giving the baby something to latch onto. Mama Seal actually used one her entire breastfeeding journey and was very successful. I used the one in the hospital for a few days, then tried to go back to skin to skin when we got home. When I went to the LC she had me use another type of nipple shield that had a cherry end. It worked better for us but I kept wanting him to latch naturally, which he never really did. I’d still recommend a nipple shield if you are having difficulty nursing. Also, if you are able to nurse we highly recommend getting a Haakaa or similar silicone breast pump. Mama Seal actually introduced me to these. Suction it to the  breast you are not nursing from to catch milk that might otherwise leak onto your bra. Some women get several ounces during that time.

Nipple Trauma
Oh Lordy. I won’t give you details but I’ll just say that even the LC was a little shocked. If you have nipple trauma people will often recommend using a nipple balm. Balm is for your standard dry or cracked nipples; It will not help full blown trauma. For that, you need medication. The LC had me get Polysporin (not Neosporin) which helped immensely. (Just remember to wash it off before nursing or pumping.) If you do end up having extremely dry and cracked nipples you can also get a prescription for triple nipple cream. I called my OBGYN office and spoke with a nurse who had my doctor call it in. I didn't even have to go to the office. Let me tell you, this stuff is AMAZING! It was an absolute lifesaver and started working within hours! Fair warning though, the downside is you have to get it from a compounding pharmacy and your insurance won’t pay for it. I think it was $60 but I would get it again in an instant!

How I Started Exclusive Pumping
After visiting the LC we tried something called triple feeding. That is where you nurse, pump, and supplement with formula as needed. I would nurse Captain for 30-45 minutes and then pump another 30 minutes after. Then I would have to repeat this an hour later. We would also supplement during this time. Not only was this exhausting but I never knew how much he was getting from me which meant I never knew how much I needed to feed him from a bottle after we finished nursing. We did paced feeding which is supposed to mimic breastfeeding but I still had no clue if I was overfeeding him or underfeeding him. This is probably the number one reason I ended up exclusively pumping; I was just more confident that he was getting the right amount of food when I could measure it.

Multitasking at its finest.

Herbs and Other Supplements for a Low Supply 
First off, do not do what I did, which was to buy every supplement possible and take them all at once. That is one of the most unscientific things I have ever done and I’m a science teacher! By taking so many at once, I had no clue which one was helping or hurting. In fact, a few months into my breastfeeding/pumping journey I learned that fenugreek, one of the most widely touted breastfeeding supplements, can actually cause a decrease in some women. I had been taking capsules and drinking shakes with fenugreek in them almost the whole time I was nursing. After a night of intense googling I decided to drop all my supplements for fear that they were hurting instead of helping. My supply increased and I learned that fenugreek does not work for me. I probably have $100 worth of supplements still, several of which are unopened. C'est la vie.

All the supplements I've purchased.

The supplements I currently take, AKA the only ones that did anything.

Manual Labor or How I Increased my Supply
Any lactation consultant will tell you that the breasts work in a supply and demand manner. As long as the baby is demanding milk, your body will make more. Well, that wasn’t happening for me even though I was nursing and pumping. I also never had that empty feeling that women talked about when nursing. Eventually, during one of my late night nursing internet searches, I came across some videos of how to properly empty the breast by massage during pumping and then hand expressing after. I began doing both of these things every time I pumped and I believe this is the number one thing that increased my supply. This does mean that I can't really multitask while pumping since my hands are busy. I like to say that for me, pumping is a two-hand sport.

Clogs and How to Deal with Them
You’d think that with an undersupply I wouldn't have to worry about clogs but that was not the case. I’m not sure if it’s because I have large breasts or because my breast tissue is fibrous, but I dealt with weekly clogs for the first 5 months I was breastfeeding. I don't think I went for longer than 5 days without a clog and I did everything I could to try to work them out. I massaged my breasts, took hot showers, used ice packs, and even filled up old gym socks with rice so I could microwave them and put them on my chest while pumping. It would take 2-3 days for a pump to clear and I don't know if these tricks worked or if the clogs just needed time. Through more research (read: googling) I learned about the most amazing supplement ever, and the only one I still take (besides prenatal vitamins), sunflower lecithin. Lecithin composed of phospholipids that are thought to decrease the viscosity of the milk, allowing it to flow out better. Not only did it help with my clogs but I noticed within two days that my milk was flowing out faster which also may have led to a supply increase.

Silver Linings
Not being able to nurse as I intended and not making enough to feed my child has been extremely difficult at times, especially at the beginning. I spent many nights sobbing into my husband's chest because I couldn't do what women have been doing for tens of thousands of years. It's been almost 8 months though and I have made my peace with it. In fact, I have come up with some silver linings to being an undersupplier or exclusive pumper.

Who says you can't bond with your child if you don't nurse?
  • Husband and others can bond- Feeding is such a magical time with a baby. Yes, it's amazing to nurse but it has also been wonderful for my husband and our families to be able to bond with Captain while he eats.
  • Looking child in the eyes- I know you can also do this while nursing but for me his face was more buried while nursing. When I bottle feed him, he rests in the crook of my arm and just stares into my soul. Even though he can hold his bottle and feed himself now I still make sure I hold him for the majority of his feedings so I can enjoy our time together.
  • Letting child feed himself- Being a parent is hard and you are constantly busy. Sometimes it is so nice to prop Cap on his Boppy and give him a bottle so I can wash dishes or use the restroom.
  • Formula is fine- Now that I have to supplement with formula anyway, I don't mind if I need to give him some extra from time to time. If we are running errands or go to dinner and it lasts longer than expected,  I can just give him some formula. We always keep some pre-mixed formula in the diaper bag for this exact reason. 
  • He is still getting some breast milk- I had no idea exclusive pumping was even a thing and from what I've heard from others, they didn't either. Most women think if you can't nurse then you just need to switch to formula (not that there's anything wrong with that.) But exclusive pumping means I can continue to make milk and give my child those nutrients and antibodies that he wouldn't get otherwise. Shout out to technology!
  • Pumping during traffic- My commute is horrible; It take me 45 minutes to go 12 miles. I started pumping during my commute home and I no longer hate traffic. If I spend ten more minutes in traffic then I get ten more minutes on my pump. I now get home with something to show for my time in traffic.
  • No leaking- This doesn't apply to every undersupplier mom but it applies to me. I don't have to worry about leaking through my bra and onto my clothes. I will leak a drop or two in the morning before I pump for the first time that day, but I don't have to worry about leaking in public.
Our first attempt at going hands-free. I remember very clearly that I was able to brush my teeth and get dressed while he ate. It was a lifesaver!
Captain last week. I still hold him for most feedings but it's nice to be able to do chores or get myself ready while he eats.


Popular posts from this blog

Comparing Pregnancies

Car Trips with Baby

Update on Baby #2