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Looking back at 2013, there are two accomplishments I’m super proud of: pumping for six months, and running two 5Ks.
Funnily enough, my first 5K and six months of pumping happened on the same day – Thanksgiving. I’m so thankful I got to meet both of these goals this year!
Pumping until six months was probably the hardest, physically and emotionally of the two. I actually very seriously considered stopping at five months, because I was constantly thinking about making more milk; my mood and general state of mind were so tied to how much I pumped. I didn’t like that, but I also felt like I didn’t know how to pump and not be so tied up with the amount. I’m glad I stuck with it, and a few weeks later when I started slowly dropping sessions and stopped taking all my supplements and medicines, I felt much better.
I’m exceedingly proud I reached that goal, but I’m also very proud of myself for saying, “self, you’ve been doing this for six months. It’s HARD. You don’t it very much. It’s messing with your head. It is totally okay if you let yourself stop.”
In the end, I have no regrets about the experience and what I accomplished. More than making it an arbitrarily chosen number of months, I wanted to look back at this experience and be satisfied with it, no regrets. And I totally am!
As for running in a 5K, the best thing I ever did was participate in a running group. I could only meet with them once a week, but I really needed that accountability and push. When we first met, our run was a mile long, alternating one minute walking, two minutes running. It was so, so hard for me. I was the last in my group by a good bit, and I could not have run one bit more.
I’m not fast by any means, but two months later, I ran 3.1 miles without stopping. Two weeks after that, I did that again, in a wintery mix, up some reasonably steep bridges. Quite a long way from not being able to run a complete mile.
Mostly, I’m proud that I did hard things. I didn’t have to stick with them. I could have said they were too hard for me, and honestly, starting to run a 5K for the first time when your baby is three months old and exclusively pumping, I don’t think anyone would have blamed me for saying they were too hard and not doing them. But I stuck with it, and it was so worth it. I hope I continue doing hard things in 2014.
When Nathan was two weeks old, I sat in the Lactation office of our hospital. The lactation consultant asked me what my goals for feeding him were (this was after we knew he needed supplementation and I had decided to pump exclusively). I didn’t know.
“You need a goal! If I don’t know what your goal is, I can’t help you reach it.”
So I thought.
“I want to make it past six weeks first, since that’s when I had to stop with my other son.” And then? “Then, I think, my big goal, and this will probably never happen and I’m okay if it doesn’t but I’d be thrilled if it did…I’d like to make it to six months. That way, he’ll start solids and, if it happens, he’ll never have been totally on formula and I think that would be cool.”
And since then, I’ve passed six weeks. And each week I plug away, celebrating each Tuesday when I’ve made it yet another week.
It’s been six additional weeks, and on Wednesday, Nathan will be three months old.
I’m halfway to the goal I never dreamed I’d reach.
I’ve not only (more than!) doubled the amount of milk I make from Colton, but I’ve doubled the time I’ve been able to give it.
Suddenly, that huge, seemly impossible goal seems achievable.
I might just make it.
I’m continuing to share about my experience breastfeeding, or providing breast milk, after a breast reduction. You can read more about my personal experiences with breastfeeding post-reduction here. Today I’m talking about tips and general things I’ve learned feeding two children that have helped me be more successful, happy and sane on this journey.
1. Do not feel guilty about having a reduction. Honestly, this never occurred to me the first time. I simply felt like, and told people, it wasn’t something I could help. Leading up to my second, Nathan’s, birth, I wondered if I could go back and not have the reduction and thus be able to breastfeed exclusively, if I would change my mind. I wouldn’t. I strongly believe that was absolutely the best decision I could have made and it greatly improved my quality and enjoyment of my life in the seven years before I had children. Even if you don’t feel this way, feeling guilty simply isn’t going to accomplish anything.
2. Educate yourself on how to breastfeed and what to expect in a normal situation. The first time around I took a breastfeeding class at the hospital I would deliver in, taught by one of the lactation consultants. The second time, I didn’t attend this class, but watched several webinars led by a lactation consultant available on the Isis Parenting site. The ones I found most helpful were Breastfeeding in the Hospital, First Week, Breastfeeding Concerns (you could almost skip this one if you’ve had a reduction, as you know you have a reason to be concerned, but this talks about other factors that can affect supply, and since I experienced several of them with my first birth, I found it useful), and Making More Milk. You can also participate in webinars every Thursday, and many of them are open to all questions, which would be a great thing to participate in if they work with your timing. I found these much more helpful than the class simply because they covered more than an hour-long class could.
3. Find someone who has been there. One thing that has been invaluable to me this time is knowing someone who has been through low supply with babies who don’t latch well. While her problems weren’t the result of a reduction, just having someone who knows what my situation is like who can encourage me when I feel like quitting and genuinely celebrate with me when I text them about how my supply is increasing or a freakishly large pump session is amazing. If you can’t find someone in “real life,” see if you can find someone online (e-mail me!). Even someone who has struggled with supply later in their nursing relationship or pumped when they returned to work can be encouraging.
4. Set small goals. Honestly, this is probably the number one thing that has helped me this time around. In the beginning, when things were so hard with latching and sleep deprivation, my goals were to make it my lactation appointment, then until his weight check, then to my next visit with lactation, and so on. I do have an over-all goal to make it to six months, but even that seems terribly unreachable many days, so I focus on just going week by week. Small goals are great because if you don’t meet one, like not giving baby a bottle in the hospital, you can simply set a new one, like getting baby back to birth weight, and focus on that rather than a perceived “failure.” It also simply breaks things down and makes them feel much more manageable.
5. Find a lactation consultant who will be in your corner and support you, whatever your goals are. I’ve lucked out both times with lactation consultants who have never made me feel bad about having a reduction or my decision to pump rather than to continue trying nursing. They were both supportive of my decision to pump and one spent an hour on the phone with me trying to figure out why I was having such pain with pumping (part yeast, part apparently just how I’m made). They also both affirmed me, while I was still trying nursing and after, which was so needed.
6. See lactation while in the hospital and make an appointment for a few days after leaving. I didn’t do this this time, and wish I had. I think it might have made a few issues we had with latching and clogged ducts less problematic the first week home. Even if everything seems good at your baby’s post-discharge appointment, lactation can weigh your baby before and after feeding to make sure they are getting enough. I also found just letting them help me with position and latch to be incredibly valuable; I was taught a different hold to help my son be more effective in emptying my breasts.
7. Don’t compare yourself to others. I read what one post-reduction mom wrote of her experience where she said she was proud of herself for using a supplemental nursing system with donor milk because she did what most other moms find too hard. Seriously? I think what she did, giving her child a nursing experience and all breast-milk, is wonderful, difficult, and should be celebrated, but she shouldn’t be proud because she did something more than other moms. She should be proud because she did her very best to do what was best for her and for her child. Evaluate what works for you, your family and your child, and then do the best you can with that. Be proud of what you accomplish because it was the best you could do, not because it was better than someone else. I’m very proud of what I have accomplished in giving breast milk to both of my children. Even though one experience has yielded much more milk for a much greater period of time, I know I did my absolute best each time.
8. Don’t expect to save money not buying formula. At the moment, we are probably spending more money on herbs and medicines to increase my supply than we would to give my son all formula. However, I feel giving him breast milk is the very best health-wise for him and since it can also have health benefits for me (like reducing my risk of breast cancer), that make the extra cost worth while to me. Some women can cut back and even eliminate all of these things and keep their supply, so this may not be a long-term cost, but I haven’t tried cutting back yet. If you have a full-supply, or make half of your baby’s needs without needing supplements, you probably can save money, but for me the whole “breast milk is free and saves you so much money” just isn’t true. In addition to buying herbs, medicine, and formula, there’s also the cost of nursing bras and tanks.
Nine years ago, I had a breast reduction. At the time, I was told I may be able to breastfeed, I may not, I would just have to just wait and see. Two children in, I have found little information about women who provide breast-milk for their babies post-reduction; most of what I have found are most of what I found were either notes at ends of articles about how most women who think they have a low supply really don’t that said, “many women who have reductions are able to breastfeed their children,” or an occasional article where everything went perfectly (birth, baby’s latch, etc.) and the woman was successful with very little struggle. It seemed as though you either successfully exclusively breastfed post-reduction, or you didn’t. Since that hasn’t been my experience, I thought I would write a bit about what my experience has been, and later, things that worked for me or that I found helpful, in case others were looking for more women’s personal experiences as I was.
With my first child, I decided I would try to breastfeed and just see what happened. And what happened was I had virtually no supply. When I made my most, which only lasted a week, I made 9 ounces over the course of a day. And the next week, when my baby was six weeks old, I was only getting an ounce. Over a whole 24 hour period. At that point, my son received only formula.
Now, there were other factors at play in this scenario. I hemorrhaged after his birth, which can cause supply issues. My son was also jaundiced, which made him sleepy, therefor harder to get to eat, and thus creating supply issues. He also had a receding chin, another factor which makes nursing harder for babies which can also cause supply issues.
I have no recollection if his latch was good or bad, only that he hated to latch. I have vivid memories of trying to get him to latch in the middle of the night while he screamed and cried and I just cried. After about his first week, the hospital lactation consultant declared he needed to be supplemented due to a weight-loss of about a pound. I was to nurse, give him a bottle of formula, and then pump to completely empty my breasts and try to stimulate them to make more (I also took three different herbs to this end). Once he had a bottle, he was totally over nursing. At the lactation consultant’s suggestion, I decided just pumping would be the way to go, and continued pumping seven times a day until I dried up.
The second time around I decided I would try again. I have a friend who has not had a reduction, but had a low supply and a story just like mine who went on to successfully nurse her second, and now third, babies. While I didn’t think I’d end up providing all my baby’s milk, I hoped I would be more successful the second time around. And now, seven weeks in, I have been!
Like before, I tried exclusively nursing first. And my second son gained weight! It wasn’t enough weight for him to really grow well, but it was something I never accomplished before. Still, we ended up needing to provide him with supplementation and I needed to pump after as many nursing sessions as I could.
Besides the reduction, we didn’t really have any other factors that can cause low supply to worry about this time. And, while he wasn’t adverse to latching like his older brother was, he did not have a very good latch. When I first saw the lactation consultant with him, I had large plugged ducts because he was not an effective nurser. We changed his position and worked to fix his latch, which required me to get him latched as best I could, then have my husband come and fix his latch. His latch never got better, and having my husband with me constantly was not a long-term option, so again we decided to exclusively pump.
But, I’ve had days where I double what I made with my first son, and he has had anywhere from two-thirds breast-milk to just over half breast-milk, depending on how much he’s eating. At the moment, he’s getting just over half of his calories from breast-milk.
Pumping and supplementing is really working for me. It may not be the most conventional method, and it may be a bit more time-consuming than nursing, but I’m still providing my babies with as much breast-milk as I possibly can, which was ultimately my goal.
I’m planning on posting some things I’ve found helpful in the next couple of weeks as well as post updates as things happen. You can read about some things that have helped me be more successful both when I was nursing and now as I’m pumping here. Hopefully this will be helpful or encouraging to someone like me! And, if you’re not interested, I really do plan on posting on other things here, once having two kids isn’t kicking my butt.