Adventures in low supply, PPD, & Triumph.
When I had my first son, Cole, we knew based on my breast shape and previous reconstruction surgery that I might struggle to produce enough breast milk to sustain him. As a teenager, I had developed an A and a D, both tubular, and had the size disparity “corrected” surgically by reshaping one and adding an implant to the other. So with those and other indicators, it looked like I might have insufficient glandular tissue. Because of this, my nurse-midwife Dr. Teri Mitchell who, unbeknownst to me at the time, is an IBCLC and very knowledgeable in this area, put me on a Goat’s Rue regimen at about 36 weeks pregnant.
Once I gave birth, we tried extensive pumping techniques using the hospital grade pump I rented, and she prescribed Domperidone, a drug that few pharmacies carried and was no longer being prescribed for this purpose thanks to some unwarranted FDA issues. My son was also tongue- and lip-tied, so it was eight weeks of bleeding nipples and excruciating pain before we got that corrected and moved toward healing. Then we tried to see if I was making enough, which meant exclusive breastfeeding, supplementing my pumped milk with a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS),
and a dark cloud of postpartum depression when realizing he had LOST weight at the end of our trial week. Over the course of the year that I struggled to produce just one-third of what my son needed each day, taking herbal supplements, taking the increasingly-hard-to-find Domperidone, pumping like crazy, and hunting down donor milk from various moms with oversupplies, we ended our breastfeeding relationship.
After another year, I got pregnant with my second son, Max, and I geared up emotionally for the same struggle. This time, hoping to avoid postpartum depression and set myself up for success, I bought a deep freezer and started collecting donor milk about three months before I was due. I had an overflowing deep freezer the day I gave birth thanks to my midwife and doula and a few generous moms, and the dark cloud had not appeared. We employed the same crazy-demanding pumping routine, my nipples burned in pain because this baby, too, was lip- and tongue-tied, even worse than his brother, and I started a supplement regimen that had allegedly allowed a woman who’d never given birth the ability to breastfeed her adopted baby. Again, my midwife/IBCLC is brilliant and passionate about helping moms accomplish their breastfeeding goals!
Why was I doing all this? Was I really going to put myself through this with an almost three-year-old, an infant who needed me, and a history of postpartum depression brought about partially by self-imposed expectations that would be impossible to achieve? Was I going to work this hard for one-third of his needs when I had all this donor milk and formula as a back-up? Would working this hard for the same results make me crazy? Or at least depressed again? Was it worth that to me?
Before I had a chance to answer those questions with quitting, I put them aside and set a goal to at least sort of keep working on this goal until maternity leave was over and I returned to work. I needed to set incremental goals to keep the bar low enough to not upset me too much. I did quit the pumping after each nursing session shortly after he was born. I just couldn’t handle it. Not with a toddler. Picking my battles and setting the bar low was how I had decided I was going to “succeed” with this challenge. So, battling the seven ties and the chiropractic visits and the craniofacial therapy and the excessive spitting up and throwing up, I pressed on. I accepted this as the new normal. I saw it as a phase that would end, as all phases in parenting surely come to an end... eventually.
Born at 9 pounds 14 ounces, Max quickly gained weight. When I say “quickly”, I’m not kidding. He was gaining four times the amount of weight he was supposed to gain in his first couple of weeks. The gaining tapered off some, but he had gained about five pounds in his first TWO MONTHS of life! Something was certainly going on!
I started back to work on my first born's third birthday. Through the day, I pumped eight ounces. Hmm. I vaguely remember being lucky to get five ounces with Cole, I thought. Weird. When I went to pick up my boys from their sitter, I learned Max had eaten eight ounces that day.
Had I just made exactly how much he needed?
This must be a fluke.
I did it again the next day!
I realized that maybe I didn’t need to be giving him extra donor milk supplements in the evening, so I gave it a shot. I watched him to see if he got frustrated or hungry. He didn’t. He slept the same as he had when I had supplemented him in previous nights. I am apparently, at least for now, making close to 100 percent of what Max needs.
We had thought that I would at least make one-third of what he needed, and we knew there was a good chance it would be more than that because moms usually make more with each baby they have, but I had never imagined making more than half of what he needed. Heck, at our twelve-week appointment with Dr. Teri, we discovered I was at least making 50-75 percent of what he needed based on the fact that he didn’t seem to even need a supplement until later in the evening, maybe drinking four to six ounces of donor milk in the evenings and before bed, and I was more than pleased with this! But 90-100 percent?! I wasn’t supposed to be able to make that much! Ever! It’s not supposed to be possible! But it is. At least for now.