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!

Emma on her Birth Day

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.

Attempting a successful tandem feed in the hospital!

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.

E & D on the nursing pillow, age 2

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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About The Author: Kristin

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You can find Kristin at Intrepid Murmurings, where she blogs about embracing creativity, urban homesteading, dairy-free cooking, twin-parenthood, and three amazing girls every day.

22 Responses to When Nursing Is Not Enough: Kristin’s Story

  1. Charise@I Thought I Knew Mama  

    Wow – Good for you! Your dedication to breastfeeding is really admirable!

    When my baby finally gained back all of the weight he lost after birth, I felt like a breastfeeding champion. It was seriously one of the proudest moments of my life.

    After all of your obstacles, you are a super breastfeeding champion! 🙂

  2. Lorien

    Mama, I commend your dedication. Your hard work has obviously paid off! I wish more mamas realized the benefits to be had by sticking at it during the hard parts, and realized that even with breastfeeding challenges, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. That said, we also need health providers to support mamas to reach their full BF potential, what ever that looks like, instead throwing up the (very real) booby traps in their way that *do* reduce supply and create nipple confusion. You have done this wonderfully and my hat, were I wearing one, is off to you!

    • Kristin  

      Thank you! It really doesn’t have to be all or nothing, though so often the breast vs formula debate feels so polarizing!

      While things did work out for me, I know its not always possible, or feasible, or even desirable for all folks. It’s such a fine line between supporting and encouraging folks to keep at it through the rough parts (which I really needed and wanted when I was in the trenches!, but also being sensitive to each mother’s specific situation and not pushing it and making folks feel bad when it doesn’t work out. It’s such a sensitive and emotional topic for so many of us!

  3. Ashley  

    You’re amazing, and I’m so impressed that you not only kept with breatfeeding, but kept it up for so long! Well done, and congrats — you should absolutely be proud of all the hard work. 😀

    • Kristin  

      Thanks! Once we were over the early months of struggles, things have really gone smoothly, and its been a joy and a really great parenting tool. I know not everyone loves toddler nursing, but I do (as do my girls) so for now we continue! I feel lucky to be where we are.

  4. birthsister

    Besides the twins, your story is mine. Tears began to well in my eyes as i read. Thank you. I tried everything to fully exclusively bf my daughter…i even went to see Jack Newman in person. We worked very hard to get her what she got.

    We made it 9 months with supplementation. Congratulations on your victory!

    • Kristin  

      Oh, thank you! I am sorry to hear of your struggles, though so glad to hear you were able to get through them as well!

      And wow, Jack Newman is kind of my hero! His work online really helped me in the early days. That’s great he was close enough for you!

  5. Lauralee

    You should be so happy with yourself! What an inspiring story. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Momma Jorje

    Good for you! Being so committed to nursing is admirable indeed! This is why I think many women don’t try “hard enough,” but I bite my tongue because you rarely know ALL of anyone else’s story.

    I’m so glad you made it into extended nursing relationships!

  7. Mama Mo @ Attached at the Nip

    What a fabulous story! I know a mama of twins who thinks she can’t call herself a “nursing mama” because she has to supplement. I am going to send her here to read your story… thanks for sharing, Kristin!

  8. raquel

    Thank you for sharing this! I had similar experiences with both my babies (in their first weeks/months) and went on to breastfeed my first for 24 months and now nursing my second at 9 months (after pumping/supplementing for his first 6 weeks). I love your point about the trap of thinking it is an either/or decision. Sometimes you need to do both! I was also worried that supplementing would cause various problems from latching to supply. But when you’re already facing both of those issues, and your baby is dehydrated, you need to do whatever you can for your baby – even if it includes nipple shields and supplementing. I’m proof that these can be aids to successful exclusive breastfeeding.

  9. Suzanne

    This is, play-by-play, exactly what happened to me (minus the twins, LOL!). Thank you so much for sharing your story. It helps to feel like I’m not alone and that I’ll be able to keep going. We’ve made it six months so far and I would love to be able to nurse her well beyond her first year if my supply will last. When we made the discovery that I had low milk supply and would have to supplement, it was devastating. I felt like my body had failed me. It triggered a bout of PPD that I’m still dealing with, though to a much lesser degree now. Again, I thank you for sharing your story because so few people understand how difficult life can be with a low supply (supplements! herbs! oatmeal! Domperidone! extra pumping! middle-of-the-night pumping! the SNS!) and how much we love our babies to do what we do to feed them. Kudos to you and your beautiful babes.

    • Kristin  

      Congrats on making it to 6 months! It is very possible to make it beyond a year, if that is what you want! I found that my supply mattered a lot less, not more, as my girls got older and transitioned to eating solids — nursing is more comfort and connection at that point. I am sorry to hear about the PPD — though I can totally see how this can trigger it. Hope everything continues to get easier and more joyful for you!

  10. Linda

    You mentioned Reglan and Domperidione for boosting supply, but has anyone suggested Glucophage for overcoming the insulin resistance?

    I’m a midwife and an LC, who also happens to have PCOS. The low milk supply of the equation with PCOS is due to insulin resistance. There is a lot of research being done on this by7 Linda Smith and some other LCs. When all the other things that you mentioned have been tried,and not succeeded, Glucophage can make a huge difference. It isn’t about increasing your supply it’s about moving the obstacles that are keeping all these other things from working.

    • Kristin  

      YES! Good point about Metformin and PCOS! I didn’t talk about it in this article, but I did take it! Not the first time, since I didn’t know I had PCOS until a few months after Emma’s birth, and at that point my REs were not willing to work with me (lame!).

      But with my twins, my fabulous lactation Dr. suggested Metformin and I had a prescription that I filled the first week postpartum. I’ve heard it can also be useful to use during pregnancy to help with normal breast tissue growth (I’d consider it if I got pregnant again), though many Drs seem to not be up on the research and tell folks not to take it when pregnant or nursing!

      As with everything I tried — I think the Metformin/gloucophage helped some, but didn’t correct my problems entirely.

  11. Stephanie  

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I feel as though I know exactly how you did. I wanted to EBF so bad but tried everything to bring up supply and nothing seems to work. Supplementing to me made me feel like such a failure (and I cried LOTS) but now I see it as something I have to do to feed my baby. Today I celebrate 5 months of breastfeeding with supplementation. This inspires me to keep going. <3

  12. Julia Zurbrugg

    Reading your story was like amirror to mine minus the twins! With my first 2 daughters (now ages 7 & 4) my milk never came in. With my 3rd Daughter who was born on September 13, 2010 I was determined to nurse. She now 5 1/2 months old we nurse & supplement with formula. I have high hopes that oncesolids are fully incorporated we will be done with supplementing!

  13. Heather

    WOW! Breastfeeding my daughter was so similar in the beginning. It’s not always easy for some. We have went through a lot of supply issues, and I did the same thing you did. I learned everything I could about nursing, I educated myself, and heck by 8 weeks I was probably a nursing professional. Because this I became my best advocate against any doctor or person who didn’t believe nursing was the best option. Its amazing how even some health professionals first resolve is to just quit.
    I just couldn’t imagine nursing twins! I bet its a joy, I love nursing my beautiful 6 month old and I hope to continue to do so far into the future. By the way your little girls faces are priceless waiting for mama! So precious!

    • Kristin  

      Thank you! I also found some doctors to a LOT less informed about how breastfeeding works (and things you can try to help it) than I expected. There’s so many great research and tools out there, but they seem to either not know or care! Though I also understand them treading lightly on this issue, not wanting to add more pressure to an already emotional issue. But knowledge and facts really can help, here! I can’t believe how much I learned about breastfeeding and my own body in general when dealing with all of this. Which is good, I guess!

  14. June

    You are inspirational!!! Thank you for sharing.