Mary-ed Life

Thoughts on love, marriage, children, and random trivia.

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Breastfeeding Through Hard Times: How I Survived Low Supply

I always knew I wanted to be a mother and when I got pregnant with my first daughter, I was thrilled. It was a hard pregnancy, fraught with morning sickness and blood pressure problems, but my beautiful girl was born perfectly healthy.  I named her Ariana and she was perfect in every way, except one. She would not latch.

I really wanted to breastfeed. I have food allergies and breastfeeding is one of the best ways of preventing food allergies in your children. I didn’t know much about breastfeeding and Ariana was born on a holiday weekend, so the hospital’s lactation consultant was not there. When latching problems presented, a nurse gave me a nipple shield. I continued to use a nipple shield, each time I breastfed my daughter, for the next year.

Yes, I used a nipple shield for a year. It was annoying and often frustrating. No matter how hard I tried, my daughter preferred the nipple shield to my bare breast. I wanted her to have the breastmilk, so I persevered. She nursed exclusively for six months and I weaned her at thirteen months. She is now a healthy five-year-old and I don’t regret the difficult times I spent nursing her one bit. However, when I got pregnant with my second daughter, I vowed I would nurse her without a shield, somehow.

My second pregnancy was worse than my first. I had morning sickness, heartburn, and severe asthma problems. At fifteen weeks gestation, I developed appendicitis and had to have emergency surgery. Despite all this, Lorien was born beautiful and healthy, completely naturally, on her due date. I immediately started nursing her after birth and for the first two days she did very well. Then, we came home and the problems started.

My milk took forever to come in and my supply was very low. Nursing was uncomfortable. Lorien would only nurse if I lied down, which made nursing outside the home impossible. We began supplementing with formula after each nursing session, and, after a week, a lactation consultant realized the problem. Lorien was “tongue-tied.”

“Tongue-tie” or tight frenulum is a rare mouth defect that prevents the baby from latching effectively. A small flap of skin under the tongue prevents the tongue from moving as much as is necessary for a baby to nurse. A simple procedure, called a frenotomy, removes this flap of skin, allowing for proper tongue movement. Lorien had this procedure at ten days old. I attempted to nurse her an hour later and she latched properly for the first time. I was so happy and relieved. My baby could nurse! I just burst into tears. We are going to be okay now, I thought.

But, it wasn’t that simple.

I still had very low supply.

I still had to supplement.

I felt lost and hopeless. I wanted my baby to have breastmilk, but how would I ever get my body to produce enough for her to not need formula? Well, this is how I did it:

I started meeting with my lactation consultant EVERY week. I needed the support. She guided me and encouraged me through the toughest stages. I wasn’t nursing for the first time, but I hadn’t had supply issues with my first baby. This time was different and it was very much like starting from the beginning. My lactation consultant gave me some suggestions:

Nurse as often as your baby wants.

Supplement with as much formula as your baby will take after nursing, but don’t replace nursing with formula.

Pump as often a possible after nursing to stimulate your breasts. (After all, you are never truly empty.)

Give your baby supplemental feedings while you pump to save time.

Use any extra milk that you pump to supplement as well.

So, eight or so times a day, I would nurse Lorien. Then, I would hook up a double breast pump (using a pump bustier to hold everything in place). While the pump stimulated milk production, I would give Lorien her formula supplement.

In the beginning, Lorien would take four to eight ounces of formula after each nursing. I pumped and supplemented every daytime feeding. At night, I nursed and supplemented with prepared bottles in the fridge, but skipped pumping if I was too tired. Also, I couldn’t pump if we had a feeding outside the house.

I averaged at least four pumping sessions a day in the early weeks. It was hard. Feeding took forever, sometimes as much as an hour from start to finish. My whole day seemed like nurse, pump, wash bottles, repeat. It felt interminable at times, making the visits from my lactation consultant even more important. She reminded me why I put myself through it. She reminded me of all the benefits I was giving my baby. She reminded me that it would get better. She told me over and over: it won’t last forever.

As time went on, I noticed that Lorien started taking less formula. I also noticed I was getting more milk from the pump (even though every pumping session was after a nursing session). You see, all the pumping was signaling my body that more milk was needed. After three months, Lorien’s pediatrician told me I could try stopping the formula. The test would be Lorien’s weight gain. If it remained constant while she drank only breastmilk, then the formula was no longer necessary. We closely monitored Lorien’s weight gain over several more weeks. Success! She gained weight normally without any formula.

Before she reached four months of age, Lorien was completely breastfed. I continued to pump a couple times a day. I froze the pumped milk and used it later when my husband or another family member wanted to feed her. I made more milk than I ever thought was possible. My personal best: ten ounces of pumped milk! (That was after nursing a full feed.)

Lorien is twenty months old now. She still nurses. I know that she will wean soon, maybe in a month, maybe longer. It is very bittersweet. I love nursing her. After all I went through to make sure she could have breastmilk, it’s hard to think about not nursing anymore. I know she will always be my baby, but for all these months, we have had this special bond. We will never have a bond like this again. One day, she won’t want to nurse anymore, and that’s fine. We will cross that bridge when we come to it.

I hope reading my story gave you some comfort and hope. If you are struggling with nursing, please call a lactaction consultant, or a friend who breastfeeds, or your pediatrician, or even your mom. Support is so important. Surround yourself with well-informed, supportive people, take a deep breath, and remember that these hard times won’t last forever.


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Surviving Pregnancy: A List of Items To Ease Those Nine Months

flip flop

For some women, pregnancy is nine months of awesome. They have great hair, great nails, glowing skin, and the perfect excuse to not count calories. Along with this, some women have no morning sickness, or stretch marks, or varicose veins, or fatigue, or any of those other frustrating pregnancy symptoms.

Well, good for them. I’m happy for them. Now, I will address the rest of us.

Some women describe pregnancy as nine months of frustration mixed with nausea and near irrational hormonal mood swings. For some, like me, it’s even worse. I’m writing for you, oh pregnancy sufferers who can’t get through these nine months fast enough.

Here are some of the things I have found that really help make pregnancy less of a struggle:

Belly Band

They come by many names, but all are essentially a stretchy band worn over your non-maternity pants to make them last a little longer in those first few months of pregnancy. You remember those days. You don’t have enough belly for anyone to even notice, let alone call cute, and maternity clothes fall off of you, yet you can’t button your favorite jeans or any other pants. Belly Bands discreetly solve this problem. I had two, one white and one black, and used them for the first four months or so of my first pregnancy. Now that I’m expecting again, I have actually used my belly bands for this entire pregnancy, due to my need of a maternity support belt. The belly bands make wonderful, comfortable, thin layers for underneath the belt.

Maternity Support Belt

Speaking of which, I could not have survived this pregnancy with a maternity support belt. I never used one during my first pregnancy, but this time around I had abdominal surgery at fifteen weeks gestation (stupid appendix), and started to suffer a lot of pain in the scar tissue as my belly grew. Around twenty-two weeks, I invested in a maternity support belt and it really helped. As a bonus, it also relieved strain on my back and pelvis.

Granola Bars

They are individually wrapped, fit nicely in a purse, come in a variety of flavors, and are fairly healthy. I carry a couple of granola bars everywhere I go. If low blood sugar fatigue hits, I just eat one in four bites and continue on with my day. The only downside, my daughter loves them, and knows I always carry them, so she is always asking for one.

Flip Flops

I tend to wear flip flops any day the temperature is above forty degrees anyway, because I really don’t like socks. Still, when you are pregnant, and you can barely reach your feet, you can’t knock the convenience of flip flops. You can get them in any color. You can get them in casual and more dressy styles. They easily remove when you want your husband to give you a foot rub. Oh, and one more thing, they are comfortable. During pregnancy, comfort is the key. (My personal favorite brand of Flip Flops is Yellow Box. They have wonderfully foamy, squishy, comfy soles.)

Panty Liners

I’m mentioning them, but going into no detail. You can figure it out.

Soft Bras

Again, it’s a comfort thing. I personally prefer Motherhood Sleep Bras. They hold me up pretty well without underwire, and I am quite ample.

Baby Oil

I have never actually used baby oil on a baby, but it is a wonderful moisturizer for my skin. I use it every day when I step out of the shower to keep my skin soft, supple, and stretchy. I can’t say it prevented my stretch marks. That was probably genetics, but it really helped the itching and dryness associated with stretched skin. Oh, and it’s cheap, way cheaper than body lotion.

And finally…

A Smart Phone or a Good Old Fashioned Pad of Paper and a Pen

Because you can’t remember anything when you are pregnant. Seriously, I just forgot the point I was trying to make.