Lately I have been thinking more and more that it might be time to give up nursing. The thought makes me cry, but I am faced with the reality that I have less milk every day and Parker needs more formula and solid food to be satisfied. Ideally I would still love to nurse him in the morning and at night so we can still have our special snuggle time and he could have just a bit of liquid gold. However I know in reality, once we cut down the number of sessions, my milk will likely begin to dry up. When I was pregnant I planned to nurse at least 2 years. I was so excited about it. But I also remember worrying that I wouldn’t be able to. I read books and blogs and message boards, and learned that it is very rare for a mom to not be able to nurse. That made me feel much better.
When Parker was born I was so excited for our first nursing attempt! My good friend and photographer was there documenting the day and I was envisioning all these beautiful photos of this important moment. But he wouldn’t latch. The nurse said to try a nipple shield. No luck. So we decided to wait it out. Everything is blurry since I had about 3 hours of sleep from the start of my induction to our discharge, but he was only able to nurse once the entire time we were in the hospital. And boy, did it hurt! I remember the moment they brought me the pump and we tried to cup feed him some of my colostrum. I vividly recall the nurse who tried to get him to latch by holding the back of his head so he wouldn’t pop off. He bit me. Hard. It was a horrible experience for both of us. As we left the hospital, he was jaundiced and dropping his weight, but I still believed we could make this work.
The first few weeks of his life are incredibly foggy for me at this point, but I do know I met with at least 3 different lactation consultants at the hospital, 2 at our pediatrician’s office and 1 at our local birth center (several times). We also made the decision to purchase expensive donor milk instead of introducing formula. I was pumping every 2-3 hours, but I barely got anything. At our sixth lactation consultation we were startled to find out that Parker had a tongue-tie. A tongue-tie that countless other people had failed to diagnose. The hospital LCs hadn’t even looked in his mouth! So at a week and a half we took him to the pediatrician to get his tie clipped. We nursed in the office and it seemed to help a bit. Parker also received several massages by a cranial sacral therapist since he had significant molding and we were hoping this would improve his ability to nurse properly. The very day our donor stash ran out (we had decided we really couldn’t afford any more) I was able to get Parker to latch on my own at home!!! It was amazing! And he nursed every time I tried after that! I didn’t realize it was a problem at the time, but we would spend the next 5 months (so far) nursing every 30-60 minutes.
Once he started nursing I was just so ecstatic I didn’t care he was eating almost constantly. I did however notice that he never seemed full. He would always fuss after a session and I never got to experience the “milk coma” so many of my mommy friends were posting photos of online. From the very beginning I had been trying everything I could to get my supply up: extra water, Gatorade, 4 servings of oatmeal every day as well as 9 Fenugreek and 9 Go-Lacta pills daily! I should also mention that I never felt engorged, I never leaked, and I very rarely, if ever, felt letdown. Anyway, back to my hungry baby. I started feeling depressed because I couldn’t give him enough to make him happy. I wanted so bad to nurse him and then have an hour or more where we could just smile and play, but that never happened.
In the meantime, Parker was gaining weight, but just barely. He had fallen from the 50th percentile at birth, to the 25th, the 10th and he was now dangling from the 5th curve. During one of his doctor’s appointments, a lactation consultant (one we hadn’t seen yet) just happened to pop in and ask if we had the breastfeeding growth chart. When she heard briefly about our struggles, she decided to meet with us on the fly. This is when we discovered he had a lip-tie and a posterior tongue-tie that couldn’t be snipped in the office. The apparent reason for his frequent nursing was that he was tiring quickly and he was not able to successfully empty the breasts. We made an appointment with a local dentist to have the corrective laser surgery. However, they couldn’t get us in for a couple weeks and I was noticing a significant drop in my already low supply. We had tried dozens of bottles and sippy cups and special feeders and we just couldn’t get him to take anything but the breast. I was able to supplement using an SNS (supplemental nursing system) but it was difficult to use and my freezer stash was almost nonexistent.
Thanks to a phone call from two of my LCs, the dentist was able to get us in much sooner. The doctor was amazing and the procedure was super quick, even though I was torn up hearing him scream in the other room. I was able to nurse him immediately, and to my surprise I could actually hear big swallows, which I had never experienced before. The pain was also gone! Everyone had warned me that it could take awhile to see improvement, especially since he was an older baby. He was still eating all the time, but I was happy that it was more comfortable for me and he seemed to be getting more milk.
After another mouth of frequent nursing, at my LCs suggestion, I decided to try and get a prescription medication that could help with supply. Domperidone isn’t officially approved in the US to aid supply, but there are doctors who will prescribe it in special circumstances. Unfortunately my OBGYN was the one office in town that would not. I decided to contact my general practitioner and see if she could help me out. She wanted to test for a couple disorders first, and in doing so tested the Prolactin levels in my blood. A few days later the nurse called me and said my levels were “fine.” I felt defeated from lack of answers. When I talked to an LC the following week, she asked me to call back and find out what the actual numbers were since she was curious. I found out my Prolactin level was 26. That meant nothing to me of course, but I soon learned that a non-lactating woman’s level was typically somewhere between 5 and 25. I was only 1 point higher than someone who wasn’t even breastfeeding. A nursing mother should have a level of at least 70. This was the moment I realized it wasn’t my fault. And I felt some relief because I really was doing everything I possibly could. My body just wasn’t getting the correct signals to feed my baby. But more bad news was to follow this discovery. My doctor didn’t feel comfortable writing me a prescription because she didn’t know enough about the drug (even though my LC faxed her a ton of information on Domperidone and low Prolactin levels). She suggested seeing my OBGYN, but of course we already know my specific office couldn’t help me out.
After considering every possible option we decided to introduce solids after 4 months, even though I initially wanted to wait until 6 months. We started with avocado mixed with breastmilk and it was a hit! He absolutely loved it! In fact, he started pouting at us anytime we were eating and not giving him something! And even though he was eating baby food at lunch and dinner, he was still nursing all day. Eventually we made the decision to give him a bottle of formula during the day. After weeks of trying, he started to take the bottle without a struggle. Although he hasn’t had his official 5 month weight check yet, I can tell he is packing on the pounds. And he is certainly happier. But I’m still sad.
I’m sad that I couldn’t do what so many women are able to do. I’m sad that my body let me down and couldn’t produce enough milk for my amazing little man. I’m sad that I’m sad. I’m sad that instead of snuggling and enjoying my newborn I was running around doing everything I possibly could to keep him fed. I’m sad that I can’t dismiss all these feelings of inadequacy.
I’m happy that I have the most incredible son in the entire world. I’m thrilled that my husband is supportive and helpful and compassionate and kind. I’m thankful that we are all healthy. I’m delighted to finally be a mom.
I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do next. Typing my story and getting it all out of my head is definitely the first step to moving on. As always, I welcome your words of wisdom and support. I couldn’t have done any of this without an incredible group of friends and a truly amazing family.