So I have decided to put together s series of posts called “What I Wish I Knew” which will feature several topics that I started out very uneducated on, but now feel as though I have amassed a small amount of wisdom that I would like to be able to:
- Recall for baby #2
- Share with other parents who may find some value in it
I definitely don’t have all of the answers (yet…I’m working on it 😉) but I’ve encountered a few cool tricks and learned a few hard lessons that have helped to make me a stronger, happier, more efficient mama.
First up is breastfeeding.
Which has pretty much been the bane of my existence for the last 8 weeks.
My breastfeeding journey started about 2 hours after I gave birth when a lactation consultant showed up in my hospital room wheeling a hospital grade Medela pump and a roughly cut piece of stretchy fabric that she made into a makeshift hands-free nursing bra. She instructed me to put the conical breast shields over my nipples, followed by the fabric which she cut holes into so the shields would poke out and could be connected to the collection cups so I could pump without having to use my hands to hold everything up.
Lesson #1: Pack a hands-free nursing bra in my hospital bag.
While I am planning on addressing all of the “things” I have found that have proven to be wonderful and helpful in another blog post, I do absolutely love the Lanisoh Simple Wishes Hands Free Pumping Bra and actually bought two of them so that I had a backup handy for when the first was dirty.
The lactation consultant also gave me a sterile kit of brand new medela accessories which I was able to take home when I left the hospital along with two small, plastic basins to use to wash and rinse the parts, a small bottle brush, and a travel sized bottle of dish soap. It was kind of amazing. It got my wife and I used to the process of cleaning and caring for the pump parts before we left the hospital. I dont know if every hospital offers that and I dont plan on giving birth anywhere else in the future, but it may be worth checking to see what your hospital offers and packing some of that if they don’t. I dont know what we would have done without those things (probably not pumped and if we did: probably not effectively clean the parts).
Of course, the plan was to feed baby directly from by breasts, but her NICU stay threw a wrench in those plans.
I wasn’t able to hold my daughter for the first 13 hours of her life, let alone feed her. So I did the next best thing: I pumped:
- 15 minutes
- Every two hours
- On the highest setting
Which brings me to lessons two and three:
Lesson #2: Power Pump
Lesson #3: Chill on the crazy high pump settings. This isn’t 50 Shades of Grey. Your nipples will thank you.
So I didn’t find out about power pumping until my daughter was about a week old. The premise is: you pump several times throughout a one hour period with breaks in between (the schedule I found and used is: pump 20 minutes, rest 10, pump 10, rest 10, pump 10). The idea is that it tricks your body into thinking that baby is cluster feeding so you produce more milk. I wish I knew that in the early few days so I could have worked on boosting my supply a little sooner. I don’t know when you’re SUPPOSED to introduce power pumping, but since I didn’t have access to my own little cluster feeder I’d imagine it would have helped.
Instead, I pumped every 2 hours…scraping the insides of the cones and cups when I was finished with a spongy swab to make little colostrum-sicles to rub inside of my daughter’s mouth because I didnt make enough drops to even fill a silicone nipple, let alone a bottle.
I also wish I had relaxed a bit on the pump settings. In the first few days, I could pump on the highest settings with no problems. I don’t know if I was working on adrenaline and didn’t feel the pain, or if perhaps my nipples were just too naive to know what was coming, but after the first few days I began to get blanched nipples after each pumping session and I was in pretty intense pain. I even had to stop nursing temporarily because the pain of my daughter’s mouth touching my nipples was enough to make me cry.
I thought the issue was a poor latch, but after multiple meetings with a lactation consultant, we realized that she was latching fine and I learned that I was pumping at too high a setting (though “too high” is different for everyone. Bottom line: do what FEELS right. Not what you think you are obligated to do).
For what it’s worth, I use a Spectra S2 pump and operate it on Cycle 54, Level 5 for the most part. I switch it around a little and start it out on Cycle 70 Level 3 (its the “massage” mode that is supposed to encourage your “let down” (milk release) but I don’t really think I have a “let down”. Milk never really flows freely: my pump has to work for it.
Which brings me to:
Lesson #4: Boosting your supply by finding the right foods/supplements
My sister in law gifted me with Mother’s Milk Tea and some Munchkin Milkmakers Lactation Bars (in the mixed berry flavor if you’re wondering). The tea was…meh. The bars were not my favorite (they tasted like something I’ve eaten before…maybe some kind of cereal bar). And neither seemed to increase my milk supply.
Then I tried lactation cookies: Munchkin Milkmakers Chocolate Chip cookies. While they tasted PHENOMENAL (for store bought cookies) I also didn’t notice a big change in my supply.
Then I tried a homemade recipe that I found online:
A few changes I made were to use two full eggs (something a reviewer suggested), I used a flax/chia blend in place of the flax seed (only because it was all I had on hand), I cut the sugar down by 1/4 cup, and I swapped Whole Wheat Pastry Flour in place of the white flour (it’s all I really bake with anymore, and it swaps pretty beautifully into almost any recipe that calls for white flour in my opinion). The cookies are delicious and they are probably more nutritionally dense than a lot of store bought sweets, so I’ve decided to keep making them to keep around when a craving hits, even though I also haven’t noticed a big difference with them. I figured: it can’t hurt.
I also eat oatmeal for breakfast. (no change)
Quinoa for lunch (also nope)
I occasionally enjoy a dark beer as a treat (nada).
Salmon, spinach, blueberries (no, no, no)
Then I tried fenugreek/blessed thistle supplements. I *MAY* have had a slight increase from them. Jury is out. Still working on finishing the bottle.
Then as a last resort I tried a supplement called Goat’s Rue. I think I have finally had an increase, but not like the photos online depict. I didn’t go from pumping 1 ounce to 4 ounces. I went from pumping maybe half to 3/4 an ounce per hour to *maybe* a full ounce an hour during certain pumping sessions. Nothing major.
I’m going to finish the bottle and decide whether I want to continue using it.
Long story short: I don’t have a miracle suggestion for anyone looking for one. Rather, I can say with relative certainty that NOTHING is really a miracle for everyone. My sister-in-law drank the tea and ate the bars and pumped 4 ounces per sitting usually. I am lucky to get 2 ounces in a pump session (which I assume is what my daughter consumes when she breastfeeds directly. I just mention pumping as I can measure it).
So we have elected to supplement with formula as my daughter was not gaining weight quickly initially and was constantly crying. Once we began supplementing and feeding her more, the crying dramatically decreased and she seemed like a much happier baby once we started it.
I still have a lot of guilt about the fact that she isn’t surviving on breastmilk alone. When I encounter people with freezer stashes of breastmilk I get so jealous.
Before I gave birth, I was researching stand alone freezers for my breastmilk reserves. I just assumed everyone’s body worked like that.
I think my late intro to feeding my daughter coupled with a significant blood loss during childbirth may have decreased my supply (I found out later that I had a pretty bad hemmorage and I needed two iron transfusions while in the hospital).
Which leads us to our final lesson:
Lesson #5: Stop Comparing Yourself to Others, Dum Dum.
I grew a human. Then I pushed it out of a tiny hold in my body. And now my body makes food for it.
I mean, that’s pretty amazing.
So it doesn’t make enough food. Fortunately we have science and people figured out how to make a processed alternative to my food and my baby is gaining weight and not constantly crying from hunger.
Some people don’t make enough food. Some people don’t make any food. Some people can’t get the baby out on their own. Some people can’t keep the baby in as long as they would like. Some people have problems while baby is growing.
Making a baby isn’t easy. I think that everyone who cares enough to worry (or who cares but doesn’t worry…God bless those women. I hope to be among their ranks, one day) is doing a good job.
We are trying.
Our babies are loved.
The rest will work itself out.
Happy breastfeeding, mamas.