I knew breastfeeding was not easy, but what I didn't know was just how difficult it would be. Something so natural should be easy, right? Wrong. Luckily, I have never felt alone and I know that I am not the only one struggling. Many women in my circle of friends, old and young, have struggled like I have.
Elise and I had many obstacles in our way and if or when we decide to have another little one, I will be doing things much differently. I have discovered that breastfeeding is sensitive, or really, our bodies are just smart. A woman's body produces what baby needs and if you're supplementing with formula, well... that's going to hinder your supply. Let me back up and explain first.
Breastfeeding was something I really really wanted to do. We are still breastfeeding, but I am on the verge of giving it up, which is where this post is coming from.
Elise was born at 5lb 4oz and she quickly lost weight, as most babies do. The weight lost is water weight and it is normal for an infant to lose up to 10% of his or her body weight after birth. Thankfully, Elise never lost that much and when she left the hospital she was 4 lb 10.5oz. We struggled to breastfeed from the get go. Not due to Elise though. She latched like a champ and tried hard. I just wasn't producing enough right away. After our nursing sessions, I would pump and I would only get 1-2 ml of colostrum. I was feeling defeated before I even left the hospital and considering she was eating (or trying to eat) every two hours, I was feeling defeated a lot.
At one middle of the night feeding, the nurse suggested supplementing with formula. Looking back, suggesting that in the middle of the night was a little low considering I was not thinking too clearly. However, I know the nurse was just doing her job and we needed Elise to gain weight. Supplementing came with a lot of tears and worry. I did not want Elise to have formula at all. We wanted to be an exclusively breast fed family. Elise has been on high calorie formula for premature babies ever since.
Five weeks and four days later, Elise is still drinking formula after every nursing session. We have tried weaning off the formula, but I know I do not produce enough breastmilk for even one feeding. When you have an infant that needs to gain weight, weaning off formula is a little scary. After all, fed is best. I want my daughter to get all the nutrients she needs and if she is getting some breastmilk and mostly formula, that is okay.
It has taken me a long time to be okay with that though. We have seen lactation consultants, done weighted feedings and, of course, tried weaning. I have taken fenugreek and blessed thistle supplements, eaten my weight in oatmeal, drank what seemed like gallons of water, ate lactation cookies ... if there was a trick to producing more milk, I tried it. Nothing seemed to work.
So, what was the problem? After all, "only a small percentage of women have trouble with supply." I call bullshit on that supposed statistic (that came from the La Leche League, by the way) because I have several friends that have also struggled with supply issues. I do have a few suspicions about why I struggled though. First off, I did not get to hold Elise for at least an hour after her birth. When we came home, I did not relax. I felt surprisingly okay, and I did not let myself just sit around and relax with my newborn. I let myself stress a lot about breastfeeding. And, lastly, we had to supplement with formula. All of those factors mixed together, made it very hard for us to exclusively breastfeed, let alone, get a little bit of breastmilk.
I am still producing a little bit though and we are still nursing. I always said I would do this throughout my maternity leave because right now I have the time to devote to it. Elise eats every two hours and when we nurse, her feeding sessions are anywhere from 15 minutes (rare) to an hour (more common) so this leaves me with an hour in between each session to get anything done. She is beginning to go three hours in between feeding sessions during the day, so that makes it nice to be able to go out and grocery shop or make a Target run.
What I am struggling with most right now is the end of my leave, which might mean the end of our breastfeeding relationship. Do I take time out of my work day to pump when I am only pumping an ounce of milk? It's a lot of work for a little payoff. Do I just try and nurse when I'm home until my supply dries up? This would mean that I am going to go at least nine hours without pumping or nursing.
I have two and a half weeks to figure it out and make a decision.