When Nursing Is Not Enough: Kristin’s Story
When my daughter, Emma, was born, she was a 9 pound 3 ounce red chubby baby with a latch and suck the strength of a vacuum cleaner. Hickeys all over my breast, which apparently all the nurses were talking about at the nursing station. I called it “Hoover Latch.” She really loved to nurse!
Despite her enthusiasm for nursing and no obvious latch issues, problems soon arose. I had lots of pain with nursing (in retrospect I think it was due to a big tongue with lots of movement), and more critically — very little milk! In the first 4 days she dropped more than a pound and a half of weight and was dehydrated to the point of urine crystals in the diaper. She was getting sleepier and sleepier, screaming and wanting to nurse EVERY moment she was awake, yet falling asleep within a few minutes of latching on. No swallowing sounds even though she sometimes nursed for hours. I never had any feeling of my milk coming in and no engorgement. Not good!
Though I was heartbroken, I knew we had to start supplementing. I’d read up on breastfeeding a fair bit, met with no less than four lactation specialists, and knew supplementing could really be a slippery slope. In fact, at the time, I thought it was the beginning of the end! All the books and information I found made breastfeeding and formula feeding a black and white issue. They said things like, “if you start with formula, your body will never “catch up” and will slowly stop producing much at all.” Or other scary things such as “once the baby was taking a bottle, she may never want to nurse again.”
I was determined to give it my all. And luckily, I had plenty of support along the way — both online and in real life. There is no way I could have done it alone! My husband was my number one supporter. We persevered, we tried a million different things, we changed it up when things stopped working and followed Emma’s cues as closely as we could. I cried a lot. I researched a lot. I took it day by day, week by week.
Working with lactation specialists and our pediatrician, I tried everything I could find to help with my milk supply, while also supplementing with expressed breastmilk and (more often) formula. I tried pumping, herbs in capsules, tinctures and teas, lactogenic foods and drinks. Nursing frequently day and night, switching sides often, breast compressions, lots of skin to skin contact.
After finally figuring out my low milk production was probably due to mild PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), I opted to try prescription meds, too — Reglan and Domperidione — to help boost my supply. Like with everything, they helped some, but they were not the silver bullet. There was no silver bullet for this, unfortunately!
With some big ups and downs along the way (including a time when I stopped supplementing, thinking things were good, only to find she hadn’t gained for an entire month!), things gradually got easier. We were a team; we figured it out together. By six months, Emma was off the supplements and still happily nursing (frequently!). After another month or two, I was off mine too. Nursing her for the next year was an absolute joy.
And then! Round two! Times two! I was both shocked and thrilled to learn I was expecting twins, and also, early on, filled with regret that I would not get that “easy” breastfeeding experience I was so hoping for. This time, though, I was armed with info and experience. I found a great lactation doctor to help draft up a plan, both for me and the babies.
When Elsie and Delia were born, they were full term and both latched beautifully within the first 30-45 minutes of birth. They were nursing champs in so many regards; we were tandem nursing from day one. I know we were so very lucky to avoid the preemie nursing challenges so many parents face! Within a few days, however, there was just not enough milk. Hungry, hungry babies. We were back in very familiar territory.
We started in with our plan, we tried this and tweaked that. I nursed around the clock, but the girls got a lot of formula to — up to 50% at times!
We avoided bottles and pacifiers for the first two weeks, but after that they got them . . . and loved them (the bottles anyway — by then I was already the pacifier of choice). During that first hazy year with infant twins, we somehow made it through crazy sleep deprivation and reoccurring phases of bottle preference where I thought they might wean . . . but I was just not ready to throw in the towel, and neither were they. By about 10 months, I finally knew we had finally made it through.
Nursing my girls in the early days was not easy, and exclusive breastfeeding for us was never an option. But that was not the end of the world! It was — and still is — a wonderful comfort and connection for us, a great parenting tool, and often, for me, a reminder for me of those sweet but incredibly challenging early months. When I settle in to nurse my two cuddly toddlers, I feel so very blessed to be where I am today!
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