Crying Over Spilt Milk

I have done this. Literally. As an adult. More than once. I have cried over spilt milk. My breast milk. I really struggled with supply when I was breastfeeding Madison, along with immense pain in the early days with her latch. I saw a consultant and tried so many tips and tricks of hers I can hardly count them. I supplemented with formula, I pumped and I collected milk with a silicone manual “pump” sometimes referred to as a haakaa. Mine is made by Nature Bond, not the Haakaa brand, but I’m pretty sure they’re the same. Anyway, if you’ve never seen this thing, it’s very top heavy and topples over really easy if you set it down. And if you struggle with supply like I did, every drop counts and when that thing tips over, yeah, you cry.

Breastfeeding was far more traumatic to me than giving birth. That’s a realization I had recently when talking to a friend and she was surprised. And I think other people would be surprised too because you hear a lot about births but not a lot about breastfeeding, in my experience. Both my girls’ births were pretty straightforward but breastfeeding was anything but that.

In earlier posts, I covered some of the history of my breastfeeding journey, that I saw consultants, that my girls had lip and tongue ties, that those were clipped and with Mallory I saw improvement and with Madison I did not. Here I’m going to delve deeper into all the efforts I went to for supply with Madison in hopes that it may be helpful to somebody else. And bonus for me, maybe it will be cathartic to write it out.

As a newborn, Madison had a tendancy to fall asleep feeding. I tried tickling her feet, putting cold soda cans on her skin, stripping her down to cool her off, jiggling her, talking, etc. Each of those techniques were only effective for a few seconds and then she would tune them out and slumber. I was in a vicious cycle where she would feed for five minutes, fall aseep, nap for twenty and then feed for five and so on. She was too tired to eat and too hungry to stay asleep.

I never knew how much she was getting either. The amount I got when I tried exclusively pumping was not a lot but I read that the baby usually gets more than the pump can. I tried weighing her before and after feeds with an infant scale but she wriggled around so much I couldn’t be sure down to the ounce. She was consistently a little below average for weight at her regular checkups and the doctor advised me to “feed her as much as she wants”. It was immensely stressful to think she might not be getting enough. So when she was a couple days old I began to supplement with formula. But I really wanted her to get all the benefits of as much breastmilk as possible so here are some things I tried, in no particular order.

Tongue Tie and Lip Tie Release

The ties were thought to be affecting Madison’s latch so the hope was that releasing them she’d get a better one. The result would be less pain (or zero pain) for me, and an easier time getting milk for her. She was potentially falling asleep at the nipple due to the exhaustion of the effort involved with a poor latch. However, her latch didn’t noticably improve after her lip tie release or her tongue tie release. There was still often a clicking sound as she sucked. She still fell asleep. And it still hurt like hell, at least until my nipplies toughened up (which took a surprisingly long time).

Haakaa

The precious few drips collected during a typical feed.

I like the haakaa / hand pump. You hang it off of one boob while baby is on the other and it collects the drips, or in some cases drizzles. I used to suction it pretty loosely while Madison fed on the first side, then when she would switch to the other side I would attach it with higher suction on the side she was “done” with and it would get a little more out of me. This was sort of like pumping after feeding (another technique to increase supply) but it is done simultaneously, soundlessly, and with only one silicone part to clean. I started with this early on and used it the whole time with both girls. I don’t think it’s an effective way to boost supply because it doesn’t do the pulsing actions that a proper pump does so it will only get so much out. But it’s pretty convenient and saves those precious drips (unless it spills)!

Syringe

The breastfeeding consultant recommended a syringe of breast milk with a long skinny tube that pokes in through the corner of her mouth while she’s on the boob. When she drifts off during a feed the idea is to squirt a little bit of breast milk from the syringe so that she would get an encouraging burst of milk and get going again. The bursts did get her going but she would still drift off after it stopped. Even if I kept it going really slowly, applying steady low pressure she would eventually drift off or the thing would run out and she’d have put very little effort into the boob. It was incredibly hard to align the tube properly in her mouth with her latched. It was hard to clean the thing. I gave up on this method.

Nipple shield

The nipple shield was more to help me than her. It was supposed to reduce pain. It didn’t. It still hurt, and she didn’t keep a better latch and it was a pain in the ass to get it on, keep it clean and keep it handy. Gave up on that too.

Demand Feeding

I was demand feeding from the beginning. But as I said she was falling asleep. Letting her feed sleepily for long periods of time was further hurting my very sore nipples. Her latch was lazy when she was sleeping, too, so worse than normal. I fed her super frequently, far more than my peers were feeding their babies. I was exhausted, couldn’t go anywhere and it still wasn’t bringing up the supply.

Skin to skin

I would strip Madison down and pull my shirt up to ensure as much of our skin touched as possible while she fed. I also spent a full day in bed with her, at the consultant’s suggestion, feeding as often as she wanted, both of us mostly naked to encourage her to latch. I only got out of bed to use the bathroom and I had food and drink brought to me. It was a painful day. She did latch more and that didn’t help my nipples. I was crying halfway through but I stuck it out. It didn’t bring up supply.

Pumping

I read that you can boost supply by pumping after the baby feeds. I tried that. I would get very little milk (because she had just taken what was there) and the pump further irritated my sore nipples. I gave her the pumped milk in bottles after she would breast feed in the evenings to top her up before bed. The most annoying thing was washing all the pump parts. And if I hadn’t gotten them washed in time I was washing them and then also pumping while Madison was awake and waiting for me to play and she did not like being out of reach that long. It was very stressful, pumping while singing to her and/or listening to her cry. Further fun was that although she would drink breast milk I’d stored in the fridge for up to a day, she would NOT drink it thawed from frozen. Breast milk has an enzyme called lipase that can have higher activity for some women than others that will give it a funky taste and smell when it’s frozen. Some babies don’t care. Mine both did.

Galactagogues

Foods and herbs that can be ingested to boost milk supply are called galactagogues. They are more anecdotally effective than medically proven. I didn’t try everything but I did try blessed thistle, Guiness beer, fennel seed and fenugreek. The fennel seed and fenugreek are used in a recipe for lactation cookies that my mom so kindly baked for me throughout a major chunk of my time breastfeeding both girls. It was hard to tell if they really boosted it but they did taste good, and eating them felt like a treat and a good thing to do for baby at the same time. And they were baked with love. She also made me muffins to satiate my hunger in the middle of the night when I was up to breastfeed which is unrelated to supply but still worth noting. Thanks mom. I took fenugreek in pill form as well and I can’t say for sure but I have suspected that when I miss a dose it seems like I don’t produce as much a few hours later. I don’t even know if it can work that fast but it sort of seemed like a pattern. But even taking them at max dose I didn’t feel I had enough to stop topping Madison up with formula.

Domperidone

The breastfeeding consultant considered this a last resort and I went on this prescription drug. I started at the minimum dose and gradually increased. I did find I had a small increase in supply but it also gave me diarrhea. And I still found myself topping Madison up. Once she was well into eating solids and I felt milk wasn’t as vital to her caloric intake I weaned myself off the drug and accepted any reduction in supply as a result.

The Actual Solution

There wasn’t one. I never saw a significant boost in supply. I never felt that my milk production was enough to get Madison all she needed for a healthy weight. I supplemented with formula the whole time that she was breastfed. I carried expressed milk around. I carried formula around. I washed and sanitized bottles, pump parts and haakaas like it was my job. I was constantly putting stuff in and out of fridges and cooler bags. It was exhausting. But she was fed. And she was getting lots of breastmilk benefits. So that kept me going until she was almost a year old and then I called it quits.

With Mallory I didn’t face the same struggle with supply although I had all the pain of latching. I actually collected quite a bit of milk with the haakaa and froze a bunch in the first couple months before finding out she rejected my lipase funk as well and overall didn’t take well to a bottle, despite a lot of effort and patience on my part.

So I guess my advice is this: there are a lot of tips and tricks you can try. There is a lot of information out there. There is also support. But in the end you might not find a solution. And I hope that you can find a way to be okay with that. I hope you can do that faster than I did. I went through a lot of emotional anguish over this. I was angry with Madison and angry with my body and angry with nature for this discrepancy being possible. Looking back on it, I don’t think I would change anything other than my anger and sadness about it. I tried everything I could. I gave her the best that I had and it was more than enough. It’s okay to give your baby formula. It is not a failure. It’s some people’s first choice! It’s not your baby’s fault and it’s not your fault. And you don’t have to do it anymore. If you want to keep trying then go for it but please give yourself grace.

Whelp, look at that. It was cathartic for me and I cried a couple times writing this. Mamas, if you’re reading this and going through a breastfeeding struggle, you’re not alone. You can message me. And if you live in Ontario you can get free support from a breastfeeding consultant. Feel free to reach out. ❤

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