Tag: breastfeeding

How to cluster pump with an example schedule

How to cluster pump with an example schedule

As I mentioned in my previous post, one of my secret weapons — aka most effective methods — I used to increase my milk supply was to mimic a nursing baby’s cluster feeding.

Just joining us? Discover how I increased my milk supply in 8 weeks with seven simple steps.

In the days before and during a growth spurt, nursing babies usually demand a lot more time at the breast. It may feel like they are nursing all the time! Often, these cluster feedings happen in the evenings or at night.

Milk production, after all, is a supply and demand process. When more is demanded, supply is usually increased to meet those demands.

As a pumping Mama whose baby was unable to nurse, the traditional wisdom of letting baby nurse, nurse, nurse would not work for me and my baby.

So I had to figure out how to make my body think the baby was demanding more milk using just my pump.

This is where Cluster Pumping comes into the picture.

Pumping Mama, be sure you have a good quality, hospital grade double electric pump.

I love my Medela Pump-in-Style, which was used 6-10 times a day for 10 months with my first child and is being used that frequently again with my second.

And a hands-free pumping bra is a great investment, too!

Cluster pumping is when you switch from your normal pumping session of 15-20 minutes every 2-4 hours to do the following:

  • Pump for 10 minutes.
  • Break for 5 minutes.
  • Pump for 10 minutes.
  • Break for 5 minutes.
  • Pump for 10 minutes.

I set the timer on my cellphone so I would remember to take the breaks and return from the breaks.

You might be thinking: “I don’t have time for that!”

Well, I hear you. I did not think I would have the time to do this either. With an extremely needy newborn and a toddler under the age of two demanding my attention, trying to get the 15-20 minute pumping sessions in every 3 hours was hard enough!

But once I started, I actually found the cluster pumping sessions were far easier to manage than my regular sessions! 

That is because, when the baby started fussing, I knew I had only three or so more minutes of pumping before I could take a break and tend to his needs.

Or when the toddler came over crying: “Mama! Mama! Food! Wawa!” or whatever it was he wanted, I could gently say: “When you hear the beep-beep, Mama will get you food or wawa or whatever.” That quickly ended the tears and tantrums, and it became a fun game to wait and listen for the cellphone’s alarm announcing a 5 minute break!

Or when my husband shouted from the back room that there was an extremely messy diaper that he needed assistance with, I could say: “Be there in 2 minutes!” or whatever was left on the timer.

So cluster pumping in this way is possible!

Choose at least three of your normal pumping sessions in a row to become cluster pumping sessions and do these consistently for 2-3 days.

Example Schedule

When I began cluster pumping, I was already on a strict 3 hour schedule with a large gap in the morning for much needed sleep.

Remember to take care of your health, including sleep!

This is an example of what my day looked like when I was cluster pumping:

6:00 am – Normal pumping session
9:00 am – Normal pumping session
12 noon – Cluster pumping session
3:00 pm – Cluster pumping session
6:00 pm – Cluster pumping session
9:00 pm – Normal pumping session
12 midnight- Normal pumping session

I repeated this for 3 days in a row, then took a 2-3 day break where I returned to a normal pumping schedule. Then I would cluster pump again for another 3 days. I saw noticeable results in my daily milk output within a week.

“But,” you protest, “I work! I can’t do this!”

Yes, you can!

You will just have to do your cluster pumping when you are home. So if you work 9-5, you might cluster pumping in the evenings after work. If you work an afternoon/evening shift, cluster pumping in the mornings might work out better.

Make it work with your schedule!

And stay tuned. A future post has resources and tips just for the working Mama!

NOTE: As mentioned in this previous post, sleep is a vital component for your physical and mental well-being. You may have noticed from my example schedule above that I went midnight to 6:00am without a pumping session.

Once I had recovered from five and a half weeks with barely any sleep (only averaging 2-3 hours a night) and was well rested, I threw in an extra early morning pumping session around 3:00 am for about a week to help. Now that my supply is holding consistently (and I’m working full time), I have cut the 3:00 am pumping session out again to make sure I get enough rest.

You may find you have to make temporary adjustments to your schedule, too. Experiment and find what works best for you.

If you are struggling with low milk supply, don’t delay! Start cluster pumping today! I went from barely producing 8oz a day to consistently pumping 32-35 oz in only eight weeks!

Pump on, Mama!
~Jacquelyn


Do you have a low supply? Are you a pumping mama? I want to hear from you! Share your story, your frustrations, your victories by commenting below, emailing me personally, or on my Facebook page.




Steps 5-7: My secret weapons for increasing milk production

Steps 5-7: My secret weapons for increasing milk production

First I shared our struggle with breastfeeding and low supply. In the previous post, we talked about how to properly care for your own health. Before we continue, I just want to restate the importance of making sure you are hydrated, getting enough calories, sleeping well, and managing stress. Taking care of your health is the foundation for what comes next.

Today I am going to share with you my secret weapons. When I implemented steps 5-7, my milk production went from barely there to supercharged!

Now I know the phrase “secret weapons” makes it sound like it is an easy, peasy snap-of-the-fingers fix to the low or dwindling milk supply problem. Let me repeat:

I was able to significantly increase my milk supply over time and with diligence and hard work.

However, it is true that after I added these three steps, the amount of milk I was pumping each day significantly increased. So let’s get right to the good stuff!

5. Eat lots and lots of oats.

Ancient wisdom passed down through the generations says that oats are good milk-inducers. Now, let me be frank with you, I rarely eat oats. I am not an oats person, and the only way I ate oats growing up was in the form of General Mill’s Cheerios.

Then in 2011 I found out that I cannot eat gluten, so it was harder to find oat cereals that were also gluten-free. (Oats are naturally gluten-free, but there is a lot of cross-contamination with gluten-containing grains during harvesting, transport, and production.)

Oatmeal, you say? I cannot stand oatmeal. Even when I was a kid, I literally could not stomach the stuff. I even somehow managed to avoid having to eat oatmeal when pumping for my first son.

But with Pickle, my supply was so low and diminishing so quickly, I forced myself to start eating gluten-free oatmeal. I hated every bite, but I ate it and continue to eat it for my baby. After two months, I no longer mind it… as long as it is Nature’s Path Gluten-free Spiced Apple + Flax. (What can I say? I’m picky!)

Fortunately, General Mills has found a way to extract gluten-containing contaminants from their oats and now most of their cereals, including regular Cheerios, are gluten-free. And to top it all off, Silk now has a probiotic blend of almond and cashew milk with added oats.

There are also a lot of recipes online for oat-packed smoothies and lactations cookies. With an active toddler, a new baby, and returning to work full-time, I just do not have the time for making my own. Our tight budget and my food allergies also limit my ability to purchase ready-made items.

So I took the easy way. Between the oatmeal, Cheerios, and Silk probiotic blend, I am consuming a lot of oats on a daily basis. Within a few days of starting this high concentration of oats, I began to see an increase in my daily milk output. It was about 1-2 oz increase over a 24-hour period, but for me it felt like a huge win.

Click here to download my Seven Simple Steps to Increasing Your Milk Supply

6. Lactation tea is my friend.

Disclaimer: Herbs are drugs and can be dangerous if used improperly. Always consult a medical professional before trying any new herb or drug, especially while breastfeeding. This information is based off personal experience and shared for educational purposes only.

I love tea. I’m a tea drinker.

With my first child, I discovered that there are some herbs you want to avoid while breastfeeding because they can dry you up or can be harmful to the baby. I highly recommend taking a peek at the resource Herbs to avoid while breastfeeding by KellyMom.com.

When I was unprepared for my son’s first growth spurt, I began looking for something to help boost my supply. I discovered lactation tea at a local store and decided to give it a try. I drank one cup of Earth Mama Organic’s Milkmaid Tea daily when increasing my supply and then one cup every other day to maintain. For moms who only need a slight boost or want to maintain their supply, this may be an option you should discuss with your doctor.

With my second child, I first tried herbal supplements like fenugreek, milk thistle, etc., but found that the doses needed to make a difference in my milk supply were too high and caused me to have dizzy spells. Learn from my mistake, do not try these herbal supplements without first consulting a medical professional.

Then I switched to the amazing Pink Stork’s Liquid Gold tea. I drink 1-3 cups of tea a day and saw a boost in my daily production within 24 hours of starting the tea.

What I especially love about Pink Stork’s Liquid Gold is that it is delicious hot or cold, and cold tea is so refreshing here in the desert during the blazing hot summers. I highly recommend this tea for any moms like me who are under-producers and looking for a significant boost in milk production. (Before starting, be sure to discuss this with your doctor.)

Even now at fourteen weeks postpartum when I am consistently pumping between 38oz-42oz a day, I make sure to have at least 1 cup a day… Sometimes two!

7. Replicate cluster feeding when pumping.

If you research increasing milk supply via pumping on the internet, you will find tons and tons of sites and forums tell you to:

  • pump more often
  • pump for longer
  • have a “pump in” over the weekend where you basically pump all the time

Come on. How is this even realistic? I was already pumping every 3 hours on a very, very rigid schedule. I tried making my pumping sessions longer, but it was not working.

My nipples were red, blistery and each pumping session was so painful that I often cried. There was absolutely no way I could do a mega-pump or pump-in over the weekend. (Not to mention, I also had a toddler to care for!)

While pumping, I read a lot and I stumbled upon cluster feeding. Newborns especially but all babies go through periods of dramatic growth (physically and developmentally) at somewhat predictable intervals. (All babies are unique, so some may hit a “growth spurt” earlier or later than others.)

In the days leading up to a growth spurt, babies often switch from a regular eating pattern to what is called cluster feeding. It is when baby, usually in the evenings, eats in ravenous bunches. They may be fussy, hard to console, and consume more milk than usual.

For moms who nurse, they may find that during these periods, baby always wants to be at the breast. This almost-constant nursing by baby triggers the mother’s body to produce more milk. (Think supply and demand. The baby is demanding more milk so the breasts up production.) Babies need this “extra” food to help nourish the physical or development growth spurt.

That is when it dawned on me: us pumping mamas can replicate that cluster feeding and coax our bodies into producing more milk.

Click here to download my Seven Simple Steps to Increasing Your Milk Supply

Here is how I replicated cluster feeding via cluster pumping and dramatically increased my own milk supply:

  • Use a double electric pump. I use Medela Pump-in-Style, available in Tote or Backpack or Metro Bag, but any powerful double pump will do.
  • Pump on a regular schedule every 2-3 hours.
  • Pump 6-8 times within a 24-hour period.
  • Choose 3-4 pumping sessions a day to mimic cluster feeding:
    • Pump for 10 minutes.
    • Take a break for 5 minutes.
    • Pump for 10 minutes.
    • Take a break for 5 minutes.
    • Pump for 10 minutes.
  • Continue for 2-4 days in a row.
  • Take a 3-4 day break (return to your usual pumping routine).
  • Repeat.

Don’t be discouraged. It takes time.

I discovered how to replicate cluster feeding about 4 weeks postpartum. It took eight weeks to go from a daily output of about 12 oz to 32-35 oz.

You have to be consistent in your pumping schedule. This may mean skipping a social event or taking your pump with you. I have pumped in single occupancy bathrooms, the car, the mother’s room at church, and other unusual places. I am no longer shy about saying: “Sorry, but I have to pump.”

If you are a working mom, you may have to get a bit creative with your schedule. Perhaps instead of cluster pumping in the middle of the day, you cluster pump in the evenings and at night before bed.

Many women find that they produce their largest haul in the morning. If you are getting enough sleep, try adding another early morning pumping session in, especially during the days you are cluster pumping, to take advantage of this “extra” milk.

So here are my three secret weapons: oats, lactation tea, and cluster pumping. In the next post I will share about cluster pumping in more detail and provide an example schedule.

These simple seven steps helped me to increase my milk supply from barely 8oz a day to 32-35 oz a day in just eight weeks! Pumping is hard. So whether you are a part-time pumper or, like me, are an exclusive pumper, it can be very hard to ensure that your supply keeps up with your little one’s needs.

It is my hope that these steps will help you increase or maintain your milk supply as they have helped me.

As of this writing, I am fourteen weeks postpartum and I’m consistently pumping 38-42oz a day. I have returned to work full-time outside the home and am building up a freezer stash with about 5-6oz a day!

If I can do it, you can too. Don’t give up yet.

Pump on, Mama!
~Jacquelyn


Do you have a low supply? Are you a pumping mama? I want to hear from you! Share your story, your frustrations, your victories by commenting below, emailing me personally, or on my Facebook page.




Steps 1-4: Take Care of Your Health

Steps 1-4: Take Care of Your Health

In the introductory post, I shared our struggle with breastfeeding and low supply. I became a pumping Mama through necessity, and it has been a struggle at times. With my second son, my supply plummeted and nearly dried up. I was able to significantly increase my milk supply over time and with diligence and hard work by following seven simple steps.

Today I am going to share with you the first four steps, which all have to do with caring for your health.

Yes, Mama, I know it can be very hard to tend to your own needs when you have a new baby, possibly older children, and everything else in your hectic life. I understand! I made the mistake of not taking care of me, and it nearly cost me my milk supply.

Don’t let it happen to you.

So let’s dive right in to the first four steps towards increasing your milk supply.

1. Drink lots of water.

Proper hydration is a key component in milk production. As a busy mom, it is easy to think you are drinking enough fluids when you actually are not. If you live in a hot or dry climate, it is even more important to make sure you are drinking enough.

Some women I have spoken with swear by beverages like Gatorade or Powerade. Personally, those types of drinks mess me up and wreck havoc on my blood sugar. So I prefer just plain ol’ water.

If you are drinking a lot but it still does not seem to be enough, make sure that the water you are drinking has electrolytes, the minerals your body needs to function. (Read more about electrolytes.)

Personally, I did not notice a measurable increase in my milk output after adjusting my water intake, but I felt better. It was a step in the right direction!

Click here to download my Seven Simple Steps to Increasing Your Milk Supply

2. Eat enough calories a day.

A new baby can completely change your daily routine and if you are hyper-focused on the baby’s needs, it can be easy to forget your own. (Guilty as charged!) Make sure you are eating enough calories a day.

Yes, I know, post-baby bodies may be pudgy and loose. You may not look like those celebrity moms who are teeny-tiny again a month after childbirth. You may have gained more weight during pregnancy than you are comfortable with. Your clothes might not fit. You may look in the mirror and want to cry. The struggle is real and it is okay!

Your body took nine or so months to make a human being. This is absolutely amazing! You are absolutely amazing! 

If you want to breastfeed your precious little baby, now is not the time to be trying crash diets, restricting calories, or excessive exercise. Your body is in recovery mode after pregnancy and childbirth and your body requires extra nourishment to be able to make liquid gold for your baby.

Eat enough calories a day, but also try to make healthy choices. A well-balanced diet will help your body make the best milk possible for baby. If you are worried you are loosing too much weight (it happens!) or you are not eating enough calories, try adding a healthy fat like avocados or nuts into your diet.

Breastfeeding, whether pumping or from the tap, can make you extra hungry so keep healthy snacks on hand. I know I reach for protein-packed snacks all the time… nuts, hummus, etc.

Within about five days of regulating my own diet, I had increased my daily milk output by 1-2 oz.

 

3. Get more sleep.

Alright, it is time to get real, Mamas. Sleep. It is almost a dirty word. Who has time to sleep? Baby needs tending, perhaps older children need attention too, and then there are meals to be made, dishes to be washed, a house to clean, and don’t forget about the laundry or grocery shopping!

Perhaps you have a part-time or full-time job to do, too. So you have resigned yourself to barely getting any shut-eye. You might even mumble half-heartedly: Sleep, who needs it?

YOU DO, Mama!

As I learned the hard way, it is not about having the time but making the time.

Two to three hours of sleep on a regular basis is not enough sleep. Your body needs sleep and your mind does, too. If you are one of those Mamas who has gone days or even weeks without proper sleep, you need to make a change today. Seven to eight hours are ideal but try for five to six to start with.

Do whatever you can to get that extra sleep. Ignore the dishes and the dirty living room carpet so you can nap when the baby is napping. Ask your husband to watch the baby in the evenings for an hour or so. Have your mom, sister, best friend, church member come over for a bit.

Turn off that television and computer. Put away the tablet and the cellphone. Blue light from these popular electronics interferes with your body’s ability to fall asleep.

Still not sleepy? Mind won’t shut off? Go for a walk, sit outside in the fresh air, or grab an old-fashion book. (Yes, one you actually have to hold and turn pages!)

When I finally began to sleep more than 3 hours a night (around five and a half weeks post-partum), not only did I feel better but I also saw a slight increase in my daily milk production.

Click here to download my Seven Simple Steps to Increasing Your Milk Supply

4. Relieve as much stress as possible.

Ah, stress. My nemesis!

I have discovered with baby #2 that I do not deal with stress as efficiently as I thought. We had a ton of outside stressors hit us after our son was born, and the fact that I nearly lost my milk supply was not helping. Anyone else relate?

I had to go back to the basics when it came to dealing with stress properly. Fortunately, I was already addressing a key factor when I began to get adequate sleep. With being more rested, I was able to handle stressful situations more effectively without feeling overwhelming or having an emotional meltdown.

I also had to determine stressors and either fix the situation or decide to just let it go. It is not easy but you will feel much better if you properly manage your stress.

During the time I was working on my stress management, my supply was slowly increasing. So while I cannot give a certain amount that my milk supply increased, addressing and relieving my unnecessary stress did help.

 

These first four steps are all about getting your own health back in focus. While the gains in actual milk output are often not dramatically large, you need to make sure you are hydrated, eating enough calories, sleeping enough, and properly managing stress.

In the next post, I’ll go into my three secret weapons that really sent my milk production into overdrive!

Pump on, Mama!
~Jacquelyn


Do you have a low supply? Are you a pumping mama? I want to hear from you! Share your story, your frustrations, your victories by commenting below, emailing me personally, or on my Facebook page.




How I Increased My Milk Supply in 8 Weeks

How I Increased My Milk Supply in 8 Weeks

Hi there, breastfeeding Mama!

Do you pump breastmilk to provide nourishment for your baby?

Do you struggle with low milk supply?

Are you afraid your milk is drying up?

Are you ready to give up?

I can relate big time.

Don’t give up just yet! First, hear me out.

Our story

My dreams of an idyllic breastfeeding experience were shattered when my first son, Peanut, was born small and with a severe tongue tie. He was unable to nurse on his own until he was thirteen weeks old, and even then it was very irregular.

Read about Our Breastfeeding Journey.

So on Day 1 with Peanut, I was thrust into the world of a pumping Mama!

I had no clue what I was doing, and unfortunately, I did not have much guidance. My mom breastfed my sisters and I without a problem, and my older sister was able to pump for only a short time before the demands of her full-time emergency room nursing job brought that to an end.

But I was blessed with a nine-week maternity leave and an office job that was flexible enough, despite the occasional challenge, to continue pumping.

Click here to download my Seven Simple Steps to Increasing Your Milk Supply

Still I had to learn on my own, and I discovered that there are not a lot of resources available for moms who pump exclusively.

Let me clarify: there are a lot of resources for mothers who breastfeed via nursing and pump a little extra on the side, but few resources for those of us who only pump. After all, the biggest tip for breastfeeding moms who are nursing and worried about low supply is to: nurse, nurse, nurse!

But for us pumping moms, that does not always work for us. At least, pumping more frequently and for longer periods of time did not work for me. I tried. I end up with sore, blistered nipples and no milk gain to show for it!

Us pumping moms also get discouraged when we read things like:

  • If baby is hungry, baby will eat.
  • Low milk supply is exceptionally rare or a myth or [fill in the blank].
  • Pumping is not as effective at drawing out milk as babies are.
  • Pumping over time can lead to a decrease in supply.

It is not like most of us are pumping because we enjoy it. After all, pumping is full of challenges! Maybe you work or maybe your baby cannot nurse. Few women willingly choose the hardship of pumping over nursing when nursing is a viable option.

Most of us do it because it is our only option if we want to give our babies the benefits of breastmilk.

Pumping exclusively is a struggle. Sometimes I did well. I even built up a tiny stash in the freezer! Sometimes I did not pump enough milk and we supplemented.

But through hard work, determination, and plenty of tears we made it to ten months!

Our older son was born full term but very tiny with a severe tongue tie. Here he is on Day 3, before leaving the hospital. The image at the top of the page is him at a very plump and well-fed seven-months-old!

When our second son, Pickle, was born, I eagerly anticipated that beautiful breastfeeding experience I was unable to have with Peanut. But when he had not regained his birth weight by his two week appointment, it was clear that I would have to start pumping again.

Read more about our Breastfeeding Challenges, Round Two.

Unfortunately, by the time I started pumping, my milk supply had already suffered and plummeted. At my lowest point, during Week 3 postpartum, I barely managed to get 8 oz of milk in a 24-hour period. Pickle, meanwhile, was consuming on average 25 oz a day. While I struggled with my diminishing supply, we supplemented with donated breastmilk and formula.

I tried everything I had done while pumping with my first and a ton of new tips, but nothing was working. My baby was not even a month old, and I seriously thought about just throwing in the towel.

Because he knew how important breastfeeding was to me, my husband encouraged me not to give up. Family and friends cheered me up, too. “A little breast milk is better than none at all,” they reminded me. Though I wondered if the tiny amount I was getting really was worth all of the hassle and pain.

There had to be a better way!

I increased my milk supply from barely 8oz a day to 32-35 oz a day in just 8 weeks and you can too! Click To Tweet

Our solution

I dried my eyes and started over. I began researching and experimenting.

Over the next eight weeks, I was able to increase my milk supply from barely 8oz a day to 32-35 oz a day!

Baby Pickle at seven weeks old. Photo by Jacquelyn.
Our younger son had not regained his birth weight after two weeks due to my dwindling milk supply. Here he is at seven weeks, well-fed and content.

If you are reading this, you might be struggling with a low milk supply, too. Mama, I am going to share with you what worked for me. I hope it helps you as well.

Let me be clear upfront: there is no magic to instantaneously increase your milk in a dramatic way. It will take some time and trial-and-error to find what works for you.

You can even experience differences in production with each child you have. Sometimes physical challenges with baby (like my son’s tongue tie) can cause problems. Sometimes our own physical health — hormones, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, severe stress — can be the root of the low supply problem. If you suspect any such problems, reach out to a medical professional: your doctor, your child’s pediatrician, or a lactation consultant.

I was able to significantly increase my milk supply over time and with diligence and hard work by following seven simple steps.

  1. Drink more water
  2. Eat more calories
  3. Get more sleep!
  4. Relieve stress
  5. Oats, the wonder food
  6. Lactation tea is my friend
  7. Replicate cluster feeding when pumping

In the next few posts, I will explain each step in detail and how it effected my own supply. This is for informational purposes.

Click here to download my Seven Simple Steps to Increasing Your Milk Supply

If breastfeeding is what you want for your baby, it is worth it the time and energy. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that this will work a hundred percent of the time. There are some health conditions and/or medications that may contribute to low supply or cause milk to dry up. If you suspect this may be the case in your situation, consult your doctor. There are some prescriptions drugs that might assist with lactation in these cases.

And let me add that it is perfectly ok if you have decided to stop breastfeeding altogether. Perhaps you have a medical condition that makes it extremely difficult or an experience that has taken the joy out of you. Breastfed, formula fed — what matters the most is that baby is fed and gaining the appropriate weight!

However, if you are healthy, struggling with low supply, and want to continue breastfeeding, these seven steps worked for me and my dwindling milk supply. I truly hope that by sharing my struggles and what I discovered worked for me, you may be encouraged in your own breastfeeding journey. I hope it will work for you, too.

If you desire to breastfeed your precious little one and are willing to put in the time and hardwork, give these steps a try! Progress was barely noticeable at first and it did take me eight weeks to go from under-producing to being a just-right-producing Mama.

Pump on, Mama!
~Jacquelyn


Do you have a low supply? Are you a pumping mama? I want to hear from you! Share your story, your frustrations, your victories by commenting below, emailing me personally, or on my Facebook page.




Survival Guide for Parents with a New Baby

Survival Guide for Parents with a New Baby

You just had a baby or adopted a newborn. Congratulations! This is a momentous occasion and a life-changing event. You may have anticipated the bonding experiences with your baby, those quiet moments of cuddling and cooing, singing and playing. The first time he or she smiles or laughs will warm your heart.

All babies are unique. Some are mellow little cherubs content to eat, sleep, and snuggle with very little fussing. Others may be more of a handful, perhaps due to a more sensitive nature or physical challenges like reflux. Still others can make the first month or so a nightmare, with unconsolable crying for hours on end, barely sleeping for longer than 45 minutes, or being awake for hours during the night.

The first two months, though filled with lovely and wonderful moments, can also be quite difficult for parents. Here is my practical guide for surviving these tough times. If you are new to motherhood or fatherhood, this survival guide will help! (Dads, there is a special note at the bottom just for you.)

1. Sleep!

I know, I know. Everyone tells you about the importance of sleep and to “sleep when baby sleeps”. You are probably thinking right now: “Sure, it is easy to say but I can’t sleep when baby sleeps or nothing would get done.”

Perhaps baby is nursing every hour or you have to pump on a rigid schedule. Maybe just when you close your eyes to rest, the baby starts fussing or your older children demand attention. Maybe baby has finally fallen asleep but it is almost time for dinner and all of your dishes are dirty in the sink. I know how you feel. I have been there. 

But let me also remind you of something you already know: sleep is vital to our physical and mental health. Two to three hours a night, broken up into ten minutes here and twenty minutes there, is not sufficient sleep. The days and weeks after childbirth are already challenging, but if you do not get enough rest, you may unintentionally contribute to postpartum depression.

I was there. I experienced this with my second child. We had an extremely fussy/needy newborn and an 18-month-old who was teething at the same time.

The sleep deprivation contributed to my own postpartum depression, which did not resolve itself until about five and a half weeks postpartum when baby was finally sleeping for two to four hours stretches so I could sleep, too. I was too prideful to admit that I had a sleep problem. I was determined to fix it on my own, but I needed to ask for help. My husband was a lifesaver. He would watch the kids while I napped or drop the toddler off at his parents for the afternoon.

To be able to function, you need to consistently get 5 or more hours of sleep within a twenty-four hour period of time. Have your spouse watch the baby while you take a nap. Ask family to come over to watch the baby. Do what you have to do to get some sleep.

2. Eat healthy and eat often.

With the craziness that a newborn brings, you might find yourself skipping a meal here and there or grabbing a less-than-nutritious snack instead. If it only happens on a rare occasion, you are probably fine, but this can cause problems if it becomes a common occurrence.

You just had a baby so your body is in recovery and you may be breastfeeding as well. Your body needs proper nutrition to fuel recovery and to make the milk your baby needs. If you skip too many meals, your daily caloric intake may drop too low too fast. This can negatively impact your milk production and might even contribute to health problems for you.

Make sure you eat well-balanced meals throughout the day.

You may find that you need to eat a little less but more frequently (like when you were pregnant). Even if you do not feel hungry, eat something healthy. (Oats are good for you and aid in milk production!) Or maybe you have discovered that you have a ravenous appetite and you are afraid you will either gain more weight or not lose the baby weight so you are trying to put yourself on a diet.

Firstly, it is too soon to go on a diet. Your body is already going through so many changes right now, don’t make it have to work even harder. Secondly, if you are breastfeeding, some women find that they have to have a little extra weight to maintain a healthy milk supply. (I am one of them.) Thirdly, it took nine months to gain the weight, allow yourself at least a year to lose it.

If you eat healthy, snack healthy, and do moderate exercise on a daily basis, you will gradually slim down.

3. Shower at least every other day, but everyday if possible.

You may find yourself hyper-focused on caring for the new baby’s needs that you neglect your own most basic needs. Showering not only keeps you clean, but it can help you relax and deal with stress. Find the time to take a shower.

Whether it is in the early morning before the baby wakes up, mid-morning when your mom or sister or best friend comes over to watch the baby, the middle of the afternoon when baby is napping, after your husband comes home from work in the evening, or late at night right before bed. The when does not matter. Just do it. You will be glad you did!

Perhaps you are alone. Maybe you are a single parent, your spouse works long hours or is away from home for days at a time, or you have no family nearby to help. Maybe baby is crying hysterically even though s/he has been fed, burped, and changed.

My advice is to put baby down in a safe place (crib, bassinet, rock ‘n play, etc.) and take a quick five or ten minute shower. Hard though it may be to listen to, it is okay for a baby to cry a little. It is better for baby to cry in a safe place for five to ten minutes while you take a much needed emotional break then for you to become overwhelmed and, perhaps, lose your temper.

4. Understand that some housework won’t get done for awhile.

Dishes may pile up in the sink, toilets may not get cleaned for a week or two, vacuuming may go undone, clothes might pile up in the basket. And it is okay!

If you gave birth, remember that you just gave birth to a human being! Not only do you now have this precious little bundle to care for, but you are also physically recovering from a very physically demanding and sometimes traumatizing event. In the immediate days and weeks after childbirth, your body will be flooded with various hormones as your body shifts from pregnancy-mode to post-pregnancy-mode.

You will be bonding with your newborn, experiencing your milk coming in, figuring out breastfeeding via nursing or pumping, possibly figuring out bottle-feeding, barely sleeping, and so much more. Your body is going through many changes (not all visible) and this can wreck havoc on your emotions.

If you have adopted a baby, you now have this precious little bundle to care for and many of the baby-related things I mention above also apply to you! Bonding with your newborn, figuring out feeding, barely sleeping, emotional rollercoasters, etc. It is okay if the house is not spotless.

5. Ask for help!

Bottom line, Mamas, you have a lot to cope with in the first two months. And if you have older children, it will be that much harder as you navigate caring for your baby and your old children, too. So give yourself grace. Focus on what is most important: your child(ren) are fed, clean, and loved and you also are fed, clean, and rested.

If the mess really bothers you and causes stress or anxiety or you cannot get enough sleep or you need a break, ask for help. From your spouse, your parents, your siblings, your friends, your neighbors. Do not allow your pride to cause you to suffer in silence. It is not good for you, not good for baby, and not good for your family.

Be specific in what you ask for: please watch the baby while I do dishes, can you make us a meal, would you be able to clean the bathrooms, can you babysit the older child(ren) for two hours, etc.

 

Remember, you are amazing! You gave birth or adopted this precious little one. The first two months can be heavenly if you have a more mellow child, very challenging if you have a fussy newborn, or anywhere in between.

Sometimes your newborn maybe quite contented and then, suddenly, s/he cries hysterically. Go through the checklist first: fed, burped, changed, held; and repeat if necessary. Most babies cry for a reason, but it might be hard to pinpoint the exact reason in the heat of the moment. It is okay to feel confused and overwhelmed.

You may or may not know that many babies become more fussy during growth spurts (physical and developmental). After all, baby’s main job during his or her first year is to grow, grow, grow! These growth spurts tend to happen between Weeks 1-3, Weeks 6-8, three months, six months, and nine months. (But all babies are different so yours might hit a growth spurt sooner or later.)

If you are still not sure what is going on with your baby or concerned about a symptom (perhaps excessive spit up, unconsolable crying for hours every day), ask your pediatrician.

As my mom always said, “Motherhood is hard enough on its own, don’t make it even harder on yourself.”

Some women experience a beautiful, storybook newborn stage, and that is wonderful. However, many of us will face challenges, often outside our control, and we have to navigate those challenges carefully.

Do not expect every newborn to be the same. Just because your first was an angel who slept through the night within a week and hardly ever cried, does not mean your second will be the same, and vice versa. Do not compare yourself with other moms or your baby with other babies. Take advice — from people, books, and the internet — with a grain of salt. Do what feels right to you, but always keep your baby’s health in mind.

And, above all, remember that God chose you to be this precious child’s mother. Trust your instincts. If something feels off with you or the baby, get help. You do not have to be superwoman. You do not have to do this alone.

And if you need help, do not think any less of yourself or think you are a failure if you cannot do things perfectly. The fact that you recognized your need and sought the right solution (whatever it may be) means that you are absolutely amazing.

Yes, you are AMAZING.

 

Side note to fathers:

Dads, your wife just had a baby. Were you present during her labor and delivery? If so then you realize just how physically demanding giving birth is, and the recovery time can be weeks or even months, depending on her unique situation. If not, just take my word for it.

If you are the kind of guy who normally helps out around the house, then you are already ahead of the game. I want to thank you on your wife’s behalf for being awesome. Keep doing what you are doing and know that you might have to do a little extra for awhile until your wife is feeling better.

If you are not used to helping and have always relied on your wife to maintain the house, then we need to have a little chat. Your wife just had a baby. (I know I already said that, but it needs to be said again.) Her body is recovering. She will be uncomfortable, exhausted, and might even experience pain. She might have difficulty doing things she normally can do. Her emotions might be on a rollercoaster of highs and lows, she is also severely sleep deprived, and if you have older children, she will probably be even more exhausted.

Now is the time for you to step up and be her hero.

Make a meal (it does not have to be fancy), tidy up the kitchen, throw in a load of laundry, watch the crying baby for an hour or two while your wife naps, anything that you can do, now is the time to do it. Sure, you may have no clue what you are doing but you are smart, you can figure it out. And don’t do it for the recognition, do it because you love your wife and you want to help her recovery.

 

To recap: sleep, eat healthy, shower, don’t fret over housework, and ask for help when you need it. This is my survival guide for parents with a new baby. If you are a mom or dad, what tips helped you survive the first two months? Share your experiences in the comments below!

Breastfeeding Challenges, Round Two

Breastfeeding Challenges, Round Two

Disclosure: One of the links below is an affiliate link, meaning that, at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission when you click through and make a purchase. I use this product myself on a daily basis. Thanks for supporting the brands that support this blog.

For those familiar with Our Breastfeeding Journey, you already know that we experienced some challenges breastfeeding with our first son Peanut. It began due to his tiny size at birth (only 4 lbs 11 oz) and a very severe tongue tie. To provide breastmilk for him, I pumped from day one and during his growth spurts we had to supplement. He was able to finally nurse on his own by thirteen weeks old, though I continued to primarily pump because I was working full time. I was able to provide breastmilk until my supply dried up on its own at ten months, right around when we conceived our second son.

Our adorable son, Pickle, is now two months old!

I wish I could tell you that this time our breastfeeding journey was easier, but in some ways it was even harder. The first week and half went great. Pickle latched and nursed right away, and his latch was good. Yet when he was a week and half, we started noticing that he would spend 45 minutes on just one breast, fall asleep often during nursing, and would cry hysterically when awake as if he was still hungry. At our two week appointment, we discovered Pickle had not gained any weight. He was born 6 lbs 10 oz, but at two weeks old was 6 lbs 3 oz. The pediatrician was concerned because he had not even regained his birth weight.

We had to start formula feeding right away, and the pediatrician wanted to see him in two days. Two days later, he was 6 lbs 13 oz. We were relieved!

But I was also devastated… again.

Because Pickle latched and we thought he was nursing well, I had allowed myself to believe that this time I would be able to breastfeed and would only need to pump to build a freezer stash for when I returned to work. Unfortunately, Pickle was not draining the milk. This caused two problems: he was not getting the fatty milk to gain weight and my body was getting the signal to make less milk because there was “extra” being left. At two weeks, when I started pumping regularly, I barely was getting 2 oz a session. My supply was almost non-existent!

Baby Pickle at one month old.
Our adorable little Pickle at one month old.

I tried every trick in the book to increase my supply. I pumped long, I pumped frequently, I drank herbal teas, I drank tons of water, I ate foods with oats (and I absolutely detest oatmeal, but I forced myself to start eating it), I even began taking fenugreek tablets and adding milk thistle to some juice. Exhausted and sore, I was still barely getting 2 oz a session. Then I started getting dizzy spells and, after researching, discovered I must be one of the very rare individuals who experience side effects when taking fenugreek. I stopped taking it.

With Pickle not even a month old, I broke down and nearly gave up completely. At this time, Pickle was 90% formula fed and I was pumping so little milk that I came very close to just quitting. Was this torture worth it? Nothing I was doing seemed to be making a difference, and pumping takes so much time and was painful.

You might be thinking: “Why don’t you just let the baby nurse? If he is hungry enough, he’ll figure it out.” When we were forced to introduce bottles, Pickle completely refused to nurse again. I tried many, many, many times, but he completely stopped nursing. Putting him to breast only resulted in him shaking his head from side to side violently and crying hysterically. It was heartbreaking. For my own sake, I had to stop pushing.

In addition to the stress of a low milk supply and him not wanting to nurse anymore, Pickle was not an easy going newborn. He refused to sleep at night and often cried unconsolably for long periods of time. Usually these crying sessions were between 8pm and 1am! And when he did finally fall asleep, he would sleep for only an hour or hour and a half. At the same time, our older son Peanut started getting his molars and was also not sleeping well. There were many days where I barely managed to get 2 or 3 hours of sleep… and not in one nice deep sleep. Oh, no. It was ten minutes here, twenty minutes there, etc.

Due to the lack of sleep, the stress of an unconsolable newborn, hardly producing any milk, a teething toddler, and a few other stressors, I was quickly spiraling towards postpartum depression. But more on that in a future post!

We managed to push through with many tears thanks to the prayers of our family and closest friends and also a shipment of breastmilk from Bradley’s cousin-in-law, whose own baby is a few months older than Pickle. He still needed a little supplementing with soy formula at night, but her generosity ensured that Pickle was getting the benefits of some breastmilk during the crucial early weeks when I was hardly making any at all. Since then, we have gotten a second shipment. We are so grateful!

Then I found a method of pumping that replicates a baby’s cluster feeding before and during a growth spurt and encourages the body to produce more milk. I also ate lots of oats every day in the form of Nature’s Path Gluten-free Oatmeal, General Mills Cheerios, and a new probiotic almond/cashew milk with oats by Silk. (Mind you, oats and I have a love-hate relationship. I have to eat them for milk production, but oats cause me considerable digestive discomfort.) Very slowly, day by day, half an ounce here and there, my supply began to increase.

Pickle at two months. Photo by Jacquelyn.
Pickle at two months old! He tends to be a very serious-looking baby.

At almost nine weeks, I am now pumping 19-20 oz a day on average, though I am still trying to get more since Pickle is eating 35+ oz each day now. At a little over two months old, Pickle eats everything I pump, about 8-10 oz of frozen milk from our cousin-in-law, and 5-10 oz of soy formula a day. During growth spurts, he gets more formula. My prayer and goal is to continue pumping whatever I can until he is ten months old (the same age Peanut was when he weaned), but we just have to take it one day at a time.

So it seems that pumping — as tiring, frustrating, and sometimes painful as it is — is our normal.

Being completely honest, there are times when I want to just throw in the towel altogether. Pumping is not fun, it is time consuming, and it is not convenient.

First, you need to buy a heavy duty double electric pump if you don’t already have one. I personally use Medela’s Pump-in-Style (Tote) but there are many other pumps on the market. You lose precious sleep to pump during the night, and during the day you have to plan every little task and activity around your pumping schedule. Need to run an errand? I have to pump right before leaving and right when we get back or I have to pack up the big double electric pump and find 15 minutes to hide in a bathroom to pump for 15 minutes. Delaying or missing a pumping session immediately affects my milk supply, which means I have to pump twice as long the next time to compensate or risk a blocked milk duct and engorgement. (This is extremely painful!)

So… Yeah. I, unfortunately, am one of those women who has to pump if I want my babies to get any of my milk. I just have to remind myself that it is ok and every little bit helps.

Mind you, this is not an anti-formula post. Pickle gets at least one 5 oz bottle of formula a day, sometimes two during growth spurts. I understand even better now the very valid reasons why some women must or choose to formula feed their babies. Not every woman can produce enough milk on their own, or perhaps they have to return to work at three or six weeks, or maybe their workplace is not accommodating for pumping moms. Some women dislike breastfeeding, it can be painful or emotionally challenging for them.

What I am saying is that all reasons are valid reasons and you are a wonderful mother no matter what path your journey takes. You need to do what is right for you and your baby.

For me, I always wanted to breastfeed so not being able to do so with both of my children is disappointing. A dream has been completely shattered and it takes time to sort through the pieces. What truly matters, though, is that the children are well-fed and well loved. Breastfeeding challenges are not talked about often in our society, but they are actually fairly common around the world! I decided to share the details of our personal struggles to let other women who may also be experiencing challenges know that you are not alone, it is ok whatever route you take to feed your baby, and you are an amazing mother.

Our Breastfeeding Journey

The Challenges of Pumping

The Challenges of Pumping

Long before I had children of my own, I knew I wanted to breastfeed any children I might have. I did not know what that would look like in a practical sense, I just figured breastfeeding was natural so it would happen smoothly. I was optimistically naive.

After our son was born, I discovered that breastfeeding is not always smooth. Due to complications, I pumped exclusively for the first three months… Well, almost exclusively. There were two different short periods where we had to supplement with formula and fortified goat’s milk.

Around the time our son was finally able to nurse on his own, I went back to work full time so I continued to pump during the day and nursed overnight and in the mornings.

I am going to be blunt: pumping is hard.

No, seriously.

There is no way to sugar-coat the reality that pumping, whether exclusively or routinely during working hours, can seem to be an insurmountable challenge wrapped in many obstacles and sprinkled with discouragement.

But through it all, I am so grateful I was able to pump for ten months.

I was fortunate in many ways:

1. I had 9 weeks of complete maternity leave and then 3 weeks of part-time before returning to work full-time. Many women here in the United States only get three weeks and any additional days their saved vacation and sick hours might provide.

The wellness room at my office and my Medela Pump-in-Style (Tote).

2. My office has a private wellness room with a lock, power outlet, side table, and comfortable chair that was perfect for pumping, and occasionally when someone else was using the wellness room, I had access to a private unisex bathroom with an power outlet and long counter. Many women do not have a private place to pump and have to make do with storage rooms or their cars. Or the only room available is a long distance from their actual place of work.

3. Most days, unless there were multiple meetings, I was able to pump three times throughout my work day for twenty minutes each. Many women are limited by rigid work schedules and can only use their regular ten-minute breaks (if they get breaks at all) and lunch time.

4. My supervisor was very supportive of my decision to pump and as considerate of the time I needed as a boss could be. On very busy days, I would take a small work laptop with me to the wellness room to continue working while I pumped. On light days, I used the pumping time to relax or doze. Many women do not have supportive supervisors/managers and are pressured into stopping pumping (and often complete breastfeeding) earlier then they intended.

To all of the mothers out there who have chosen to pump in order to provide breastmilk for their infants, you have my greatest respect and sympathies. No matter if it was for a month or a year, you sacrificed many hours worth of sleep, many comforts, and suffered indignities and awkward moments for your precious child. He or she may never fully understand your sacrifice, but let me speak on their behalf: “Thank you!” and “It is worth it.”

To give everyone a small glimpse into what life is like when you are pumping, here are some challenges that a pumping mother faces.

+ Hearing variations of the “You’re not breastfeeding?” question (often accompanied by looks of disapproval) whenever you pull out a bottle of your own milk to feed the baby in public.

+ Trying to avoid the unsolicited follow-up advice on how to get your baby to breastfeed, as if you have not tried everything already.

+ Having to lug a pump and all of its accessories (bottles, caps, cleaning wipes, etc.) around with you every time you leave the house because you have to pump every 2-3 hours to provide enough food for your baby and to keep your supply from dropping.

+ Trying to find a private place to pump while away from the house and feeling very awkward because it takes 15-20 minutes just to pump. Flanges, bottles, tubes, etc. is not as easy to unpack and pack again and require rinsing/cleaning to stay sanitary.

+ Having to spend money on enough bottles and nipples to cover pumping and storage, plus a bottle brush, special soap that breaks down the residue breastmilk leaves behind, and a rack for drying everything.

+ Losing even more sleep than usual because, after feeding the hungry baby a bottle, you have to go spend about half an hour pumping… every 2-3 hours.

+ Figuring out how to even use the pump, what size flanges to use, how low/high to have the suction, etc. Reading tutorials and guides online do not always help and it is often a process of (painful) trial and error.

+ Having to miss visits with family and friends or fun outings because of either your pumping schedule or because you forget an important piece of your pump. Did I mention you have to pump every 2-3 hours? Oh, I did.

+ Using lots of nipple cream to ease the soreness.

+ Experiencing engorgement if you don’t pump often enough, blocked ducts, blebs (milk blisters) and real blisters. Crying into your pillow or in the shower because of the pain.

+ Being forced to skip a pumping session, then suffering from the pressure of the milk building up in your breasts or leaking.

+ Constantly worrying if your baby is getting enough, tracking the milk expressed down to the milliliter or ounce, and fretting when a pumping session results in less milk then usual.

+ Doing tons of research and trying so many things… including herbal teas… every time your milk supply decreases in an often futile effort to reach whatever time goal you had for breastfeeding. And every time you think you can stretch the time between pumps to four hours, your supply plummets and you desperately go back to every 2-3 hours.

+ All those awkward moments: lugging a heavy pump with you everywhere you go, sitting in your car with a small hand pump trying to express milk while your hand cramps and milk spills because you cannot keep it suctioned right, or sitting in the nursery at church trying to pump really quickly so your crying baby can eat and people (including men) keep walking in to “talk”.

 

Every woman’s experience is unique. Some women have amply supply of milk and do not have to pump as frequently. Some women, like myself, struggle with low supply. Some women are able to push through the obstacles and make it to their breastfeeding goals. Others are forced by their circumstances to stop breastfeeding early.

No matter your situation, I want you to know that you are a wonderful mother. Pumping is hard, and yet there are many women who are courageous and selfless enough to face the many challenges, whether due to circumstances or choice.

At least for me, it was all worth it. And I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. In fact, I might have to do it all over again with Baby #2.

Update: Yes, I had to pump again with Baby #2. Read more about our Breastfeeding Challenges, Round Two, and How I increased my milk supply in 8 weeks.

To those who have never had to pump, let me just give you a little word of advice: next time you see a mother give her infant a bottle, don’t judge. First of all, you have no idea what the food in the bottle is. It could be expressed breastmilk or it could be formula, and either one is absolutely fine.

You also have no idea the emotional rollercoaster that mother has been experiencing since the birth of her child. One judgmental look or condescending comment can literally be the nudge that pushes her over the edge of discouragement and into depression.

If you really care about that new mother, ask if there is anything you can do to help ease her burdens. Offer to come over to clean her bathroom(s) or cook dinner or vacuum the living room or watch her little one for an hour while she naps. That is how you show you care.

Weaning at ten months

Weaning at ten months

Our son is about ten and a half months old, and we have recently weaned. If you are familiar with Our Breastfeeding Journey, then you know some of the challenges we faced with breastfeeding. I pumped exclusively for the first few months and, even after he was able to nurse, I still pumped most of the time to ensure he was getting enough.

A few months ago, I noticed my supply was slowly decreasing in spite of all of my efforts to keep it going strong.

At the very beginning of this journey, I prayed we would make it to ten months. It was almost exactly at ten months when my milk began to dry up. I know that it is recommended to breastfeed for the first year, but I will not complain.

We made it to ten months!

That is a huge accomplishment in light of all of the difficulties and challenges we had. I praise the Lord we made it.

Now let me say that this weaning was not because our little one no longer wanted to nurse. He still comfort nurses when he is tired. The fact of the matter is my milk has dried up on its own. It happened rather quickly over the last two weeks. After a few days of pumping three times throughout my work day and hardly getting even two ounces, I knew we would have to begin weaning.

So I decided to stop lugging the double electric pump and all its parts to work. (I have a Medela Pump-in-Style Tote but with the amount of walking I do on a daily basis, I wish I had gotten the backpack one instead!) Our little one would still nurse right before bed and during the overnight/early morning hours, but it was clear he was not getting enough. The first few days were hard. I did wake up about 3am two mornings to pump just to relieve the pressure, but even then the milk expressed was not significant. After about a week, the hardness and pressure eased.

It is now about two and a half weeks since we started weaning. He still comfort nurses when he is sleepy, but there is no milk at all anymore. Our son is eating more finger foods, baby foods, and mashed up versions of whatever I am eating. He also is getting more soy formula to keep up on his nutrition. Two weeks ago he had a visit with the pediatrician, and he is going great. Since he was born so small, the pediatrician is very please with his growth.

The process of weaning was far easier than I thought it would be. I simply stopped pumping at work but for the first week, I still nursed once in the evening and once in the morning. The first week was probably the hardest for our son, as he wanted to nurse but was not getting any milk.

As my milk dried up, we simply added more formula bottles to our son’s diet to ensure he was getting enough and I cuddled with him as he drank from the bottle to replicate the closeness that happens when nursing. With a little bit of time, he transitioned well.

Did I do the whole weaning thing the “right” way? To be honest, I did not bother to do any research or anything. I just did what felt right for us and our situation. I am learning how to trust my maternal instincts more now.

Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning that, at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission when you click through and make a purchase. I have used these products myself on a daily basis over the last ten months. Thanks for supporting the brands that support this blog.

Breastfeeding challenges are normal

Breastfeeding challenges are normal

This article by NPR is very encouraging for any mother who has struggled with breastfeeding. In Secrets Of Breast-Feeding From Global Moms In The Know, we discover that even in cultures and societies that seem — on the surface — to have great breastfeeding success, mothers experience the same challenges: poor latch, low milk supply, pain, soreness, fear, doubts, etc.

So what is the difference between their apparent success and our struggles? Many of these more traditional societies still provide mothers, especially new mothers, with a lot of support and guidance from grandmothers, sisters, neighbors, etc. There is also little stigma when a mother is struggling or a baby needs supplementing. It is viewed as a normal part of life.

Here is an excerpt:

I think that there’s enormous pressure to succeed with breast-feeding in the U.S. and that you feel like if you can’t do it that this is a huge failing as a mother,” Scelza says. But Himba women didn’t seem to think the problems related to breast-feeding were a big deal.

“When [the baby] had trouble latching, they were just like, ‘Yeah, this is part of what you have to learn if you’re going to breast-feed,” she says. “They didn’t stigmatize the failing.”

Read the full article.

Here in America, perhaps our zeal to claim “breast is best” has unintentionally added even more pressure on mothers, especially new mothers, and so when women do experience difficulties, they feel like a failure when difficulties are actually quite normal.

Even with the support of my husband, my mother, and my older sister, I still felt like a failure when my son could not breastfeed, even though there were physical reasons why he was unable to latch. We should not demonize bottle-feeding, because you never know if what is in the bottle is expressed breastmilk or formula. Nor should the use of formula be looked down upon, because there are many reasons why a mother may need or decide to use formula. You and I looking in from the outside do not know that mother and baby’s circumstances.

So let us encourage one another instead of discourage. Let us share our stories and words of encouragement! If you have not already, you can read all about the challenge that is Our Breasting Journey with our first son and round two with our second son.

Our Breastfeeding Journey

Our Breastfeeding Journey

Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate link, meaning that, at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission when you click through and make a purchase. I use these products myself on a daily basis. Thanks for supporting the brands that support this blog.

Almost five months ago, our little Peanut was born. (Six month update below.) I intended to breastfeed exclusively by nursing during my twelve week maternity/family leave and then nursing and pumping after returning to work. I did not need to think long and hard about the decision, I just knew that was what we would do. In fact, I was more nervous about picking out a pump then I was about nursing. I figured that mothers’ bodies naturally produce milk and babies instinctively know how to get the milk.

Unfortunately, our breastfeeding story did not go according to plan.

In fact, it turned out to be more of a journey than a story. Some parts are very challenging and others rewarding. So let me take you back to the beginning.

Peanut was born small. 4 pounds and 11 ounces, to be exact, though he dropped down to 4 lbs. 7 oz. after he had his first bowel movement. Though he was a mighty tiny thing — able to lift his head moments after birth — his small size created a challenge to nursing. We tried hard throughout the night and into the afternoon of Day 2 to get him to nurse even just a tiny bit to get the colstrum he needed, but he just could not get his tiny mouth around my large nipples.

Jacquelyn's baby at two days old and only 4 lbs 7 oz.
Peanut at two days old, the morning we were discharged from the hospital.

Around noon on Day 2, we had our first visit with the Lactation Consultant. She helped me position him, tried coaxing him, and then wrapped him onto my chest for skin-to-skin. She said not to worry and try nursing again in the evening, but I was starting to worry. Something just was not right. Babies are supposed to know how to nurse instinctively, right? I tried to put on a cheerful face when Bradley’s side of family came to visit, but when my parents came later, I shared with them my concerns. My mom tried to cheer me up.

That night, after quite a few more failed attempts to nurse, a nurse helped me select the right size flanges and pump the first time. We collected .5 ounce of colstrum and fed it to Peanut using a syringe. The next day, they were concerned that Peanut had not nursed even the tiniest bit. Due to his tiny size, he had to eat just once, even a tiny bit, before we would be given the all clear. If he did not eat and began to lose more weight, he might have ended up in the NICU.

Despite regularly pumping, after that first time, I was not getting enough colstrum to even get into a syringe to give him. Just a drop on my finger.

So the nurse brought us formula.

I was terrified.

Here I was, only three days into being a brand new mother to this tiny little fellow, and I was praying desperately that Peanut would eat something… anything. I barely slept that night. Lying on the bed with my hand in the bassinet to touch his leg, I just prayed. Please, Lord, let him eat a tiny bit, keep his blood sugars steady, and not let him loose any more weight.

I could not get him to eat from the bottle, the Lactation Consultant was able to get him to eat just a small amount, and a few hours later, my mom was able to get him to eat about 1 ounce. I was relieved yet still a little worried. I thought to myself: “Just once or twice on the formula, and then surely he’ll figure out how to nurse.” After all, he rooted for my breast, he put the tip of nipple in his mouth, he was was showing all of the right signs. Was it just his tiny size? Was I too big for his little mouth?

The Lactation Consultant visited again – a wonderful lady – and worked with us some more.

She then noticed something all of the rest of us missed: Peanut had a severe tongue-tie.

He could not lift his tongue nor move it forward, two motions vital to latch on the nipple and draw the colstrum/milk out. Until the tongue-tie was fixed, there would be no possible way for Peanut to nurse. Unfortunately, the hospital did not perform these minor surgeries anymore, and we would have to visit with a pediatrician after being discharged to arrange for the procedure. It could take days, maybe up to two weeks, before the tongue-tie was fixed!

I was disappointed.

Peanut would have to eat formula until the pumping resulted in actual colstrum/milk that I could give him and the tongue-tie was fixed. Now let me share a disclaimer: I know there are many reasons for mothers to formula-feed their babies. Sometimes it is by choice and sometimes it is the only option. I have nothing against anyone who uses formula. It just was emotionally disappointing for me to learn that, for reasons outside of our control, Peanut needed formula because it had been my desire to breastfeed. I had not even imagined a scenario that would make breastfeeding impossible.

On the day we were discharged from the hospital, my parents bought the pump that was recommended to us (Medela Pump-in-Style, though in hindsight I wish I had gotten the backpack one). I continued trying to pump every two-three hours. I was determined to get him off the formula and onto my colostrum/milk was soon as possible. Still nothing. By Day 5, my breasts were engorged as the colostrum began turning to milk but the pumping expressed nothing! I tried the electric pump, I tried hand expressing, I tried hot showers, I tried massages, I tried everything to get the milk to express. Nothing would come out! My poor breasts just kept getting bigger and more painful. It became agony to touch them, agony to move, agony to sleep!

At 3am during one of my unsuccessful pumping sessions, I searched the Internet for any piece of advice for how to get the milk to come out. I was terrified that I would end up with mastitis. Most sites and forums dealt with nursing or formula-feeding, and I was finding very little helpful information for pumping. Then I stumbled on to the Exclusive Pumping section of KellyMom.com and one of the first articles I read recommended ice on the breasts for 20 minutes before pumping to counteract the swelling and allow the milk to be expressed. That day at my parents’ house, I rolled two frozen water bottles all over my breasts for 20 minutes. It was sooo cold and hurt sooooo bad, but I was desperate.

That pumping session, I produced 10 ounces of transition milk and the engorgement was gone. I was so relieved that I cried. For the next five or six sessions, I had to roll the frozen water bottles on my breasts before pumping. Gradually, the milk began expressing without the need to freeze my breasts. It was nearing the end of Week 1, and I was finally producing milk. I was able to feed Peanut on mother’s milk and put the formula bottles away.

Though we saw the Pediatrician quickly, the soonest we could schedule Peanut’s procedure to correct the tongue-tie was at the very end of his second week. I was worried it had taken too long. He had been exclusively bottlefed (first formula and now with my milk), and I had heard of and read about “nipple confusion” where bottlefed babies are supposedly never able to nurse again. Fortunately, one of the nurses at the Pediatrician’s office told me that her son had been born with a tongue-tie that took almost a month to diagnosis and fix, and he went from bottlefed to nursing without a hitch. That gave me hope!

Jacquelyn's baby about a week old.
Little Peanut at about a week and a half old. He was still so tiny and thin, but that adorable smile!

Hope died during Weeks 3 and 4.

I was completely unprepared for the Week 3 growth spurt; I did not even know it existed. Week three rolled around and suddenly Peanut was ravenously hungry! I was not producing enough milk to satisfy him. I was determined, though. I pumped every two hours for anywhere between 20-30 minutes. I literally pumped my poor breasts raw and was in pain from blisters. I tried everything to produce more milk. Despite my valiant efforts, I could not keep up with him.

In the middle of the night, as Peanut cried in his bassinet for milk I did not have, my loving husband gently said: “I’m going to give him a bottle of formula.” He picked Peanut up and walked to the living room. I buried myself underneath the blankets and pillows and wept.

I was devastated.

The one thing that was supposed to be natural for every mother, I could not do. I could not provide enough milk for my baby. I had to resign myself to the fact that in addition to what I pumped, Peanut would need supplementing with formula. We bought a can of a standard formula (same brand as the hospital gave us since he did not seem to mind it). After a few days supplementing, I was growing concerned about using a milk-based formula.

You see, I have a severe dairy allergy.

While I was a little apprehensive that my son might have inherited this allergy from me, what really concerned me was that I was beginning to react to the powdered formula. It is impossible to scoop the powder from the can and get it into the bottle without spilling even a little bit. My hands were starting to react whenever the powder touched my skin (my hands would get red and itchy), and as I fixed a bottle, I noticed that some powder always gets into the air. I was concerned that I would accidentally breathe the powder and have an allergic reaction.

Now my allergy to dairy is not lactose intolerance. It is a severe allergy on the same level as many peanut allergies: even trace amounts of dairy will cause me to break out in hives, suffer bad itching fits, and experience respiratory difficulties (meaning I cannot breathe). This was not something to be taken lightly. I began researching non-milk based formulas, but most of the soy-based formulas were over 50% corn syrup. That did not seem right to me.

I did more research and remembered that my dad, when he was a newborn, could not have milk-based formula either. His parents had to give him goat’s milk, and he is one of the healthiest people I know. So I began looking up goat’s milk formula — extremely expensive and not always available — and found websites that shared how to make your own goat’s milk formula at home.

Since I was still pumping and the majority of Peanut’s nourishment was coming from my milk, I just needed something to supplement with. I gave Peanut goat’s milk and waited. He seemed fine and his appetite was finally appeased. Then my mom helped us mix up a batch of goat’s milk that was fortified with some additional nutrients.

Towards the end of Week 4, my husband also found Milkmaid Tea by Earth Mama Organics. I began drinking it twice a day, and my milk production increased significantly. Soon, we no longer needed to supplement with goat’s milk. A little while after that, I was expressing enough extra milk to start filling up the freezer to use later when I returned to work.

Throughout the first month while all of these things were happening, I was still trying to nurse Peanut. Every other day, I would try to nurse him, but even after the tongue-tie was fixed, he just could not latch. I watched videos and read how to articles. I did everything I could, but Peanut could not latch.

I was an emotional wreck. I was severely sleep deprived. He needed to eat every two hours and it took an hour just to warm the bottle, feed the baby, and pump. Then I would sleep for an hour and have to do it all over again. My amazing husband did so much to help: he would often feed the baby and clean the bottles to give me even just ten or twenty minutes more sleep. He also calmly put up with my emotional outbursts: frustration, fear, self-loathing, fits of crying.

I felt like a failure.

Every time an attempt to nurse failed, every time someone casually said some variation of “Oh, so you’re not breastfeeding?” or “Don’t you know breast is better than formula?” when they saw the bottle of my milk, it was like another nail being hammered into my heart and ego.

Jacquelyn's baby around a month old.
In the beginning, babies sleep a whole lot and they are so cute when they sleep!

After an entire month, one morning I almost lost my temper with Peanut. Even though the logical part of my brain understood that his mouth was just too small to latch and it wasn’t his fault, the emotional part was very close to losing it. Nothing happened, but I was shocked at how close I felt I had come to possibly hurting him, even unintentionally. I laid Peanut back down in his bassinet and called my mom in tears. I told her I had tried for four weeks and I just could not do it anymore. For my sanity and the happiness of our little family, I had to stop trying.

My mom was so supportive and calmed me down. She told me she was so proud of me for trying as long as I did and that I had to do what was best for us. Her words helped get me back in the right frame of mind, and I am so grateful.

That morning, I finally came to terms with something I should have come to terms with weeks earlier: Peanut might never be able to nurse.

Sure, maybe one day in the future, he might outgrow the physical barriers that were preventing him from nursing, but in that moment I had to let go of my unrealistic “dream”. I had to make myself “ok” with the idea that he might never nurse, that I would have to continue pumping to provide him with milk and that, in his next growth spurt he might need to be supplemented again. I had to embrace that reality and let go of my fantasy.

I had to stop treating myself like a failure.

I had carried this beautiful little boy for 38 weeks, gave birth, and was now raising him. I loved him so deeply and would do anything for him. I would gaze at his tiny face while he slept in awe that this precious gift was our son. I was not a failure. So what if he could not nurse? So what if he got his milk from a bottle? So what if sometimes he got a little extra that wasn’t from his mother? He was happy, healthy, and growing incredibly fast.

For all of month two, we did not even try to nurse. We simply lived and were happy. When the Week 6 growth spurt hit, I was producing enough milk that we did not have to supplement even though he was sometimes gobbling up 9 to 11 ounces in one sitting!

At the beginning of his third month, Peanut was rooting around while we snuggled on the couch one morning and so, merely curious, I offered him the breast. To my surprise, he latched! It was a weak latch but a latch! He drank a little bit (not much) but he actually nursed for ten minutes!

At the middle of month three, we introduced the pacifier. He got the hang of it pretty quickly and the pacifier helped to strengthen his sucking muscles. We would attempt a nursing session every few days, but it was very relaxed… nothing like during the first month when I was so stressed out. Just a week after introducing the pacifier, he was strong enough to nurse!

By the middle of Week Thirteen, Peanut was nursing twice a day. We would nurse early morning and once in the evenings. We still fed him a 5-6 ounce bottle of expressed milk before putting him to sleep to help him sleep longer. By then he was usually sleeping 9pm to 4-5am.

Jacquelyn's baby at four months.
Little Peanut around four months. He grew a lot and got a bit chunky!

Today as I write this, Peanut is just shy of five months, and he nurses as if he had been doing so his whole life. I still pump during the day, especially during the week when I’m working, but I try to nurse him before work, after work, and on the weekends. He also is bottlefed during the day and always gets one bottle before bed to help him sleep through the night. He has absolutely no sign of the dreaded “nipple confusion”. He goes from breast to bottle to pacifier and back without even hesitating. Just yesterday, he had his first taste of real “food”. His grandma (my mom) fed him a little bit of oatmeal, and he actually ate it! (It was so adorable.)

Update (March 6, 2017)
Our little one is six months now, and I wanted to share a quick update on our breastfeeding journey. He is still primarily eating breast milk, and he is experimenting with baby food. He loves peaches and applesauce, severely dislikes peas, and has tried tiny amounts of avocado and hummus.

Unfortunately, at the end of December, my menstrual cycle began ramping up again. At four and a half months postpartum while breastfeeding, it was definitely not welcome. I’ve had a period twice since then. While my cycle is not “back to normal” yet, it is causing a lot of problems with my milk supply. The week before my period, my milk supply plummets significantly. So much so that we had to start supplementing with soy-based formula.

It was a decision we made because, unlike before when we used the goat’s milk as just a little “extra” now and then, this time we needed something that would provide for 50% of our little one’s nutrition for two weeks straight. And no amount of trying to boost my supply would carry our little Peanut through two weeks. Since I’m working outside of the home, a lot of the “tricks” that sometimes help are just not feasible like nursing on demand or pumping every two hours. So we found a soy-based formula that is fortified with everything he’ll need during the time my milk supply is low.

Fortunately, by the end of my period, my milk supply goes back up to normal. I’m also trying hard to increase my supply during the plentiful times by drinking more tea and eating more oats. This is hard for me because I cannot stand oatmeal and most gluten-free oat cereals taste horrible. So I’m risking eating Cheerios to try to get the benefits that oats have on milk supply.

Cheerios are not made with certified gluten-free oats, but they now use a process that removes most of the contaminated grains from their oat supply. Unfortunately, every once in a while, I’ll get a box from a batch with just a little too much contaminates; it causes my face to break out and I bloat… the initial signs that I’ve had small traces of wheat/gluten. Still, it is worth it if it helps boost my milk supply for my son.

Sometimes I really feel like everything is against our efforts to breastfeed. If I let the negative thoughts in, I begin to feel like every time we achieve success, something comes along to sabotage us. However, I refuse to let the challenges get me down. I’m still determined to make it to ten months, and when we cross that line, we’ll see if we can make it to twelve months.

Jacquelyn's baby on his third trip to the zoo!
Little Peanut and his daddy on his third trip to the zoo at six and a half months old.

It is my hope that by sharing our long, sometimes painful, breastfeeding journey, I might encourage another mother who is also struggling. My advice is to take all the advice out there with a grain of salt. Some of it is garbage, others might not apply to you and your baby’s unique situation, and some might be helpful. Listen to your maternal instincts. The Lord gave us these instincts and intuition for a reason. And don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help when you need it.

Also get rid of your perfect plans and dreams. The first few weeks after the baby is born is an emotional roller-coaster anyway, do not add even more stress and anxiety by trying to make a dream reality. Embrace whatever path is best for your precious baby. If it is pumping, pump! If it is supplementing, supplement! If it is formula, find the right formula for you and your baby!

You are NOT a failure! You gave birth to or adopted this beautiful, precious little one. You love him or her dearly so treasure those quiet moments with your newborn. They grow so fast and every stage is unique and beautiful in its own way. Don’t be afraid! Don’t worry about the future!

Be present in the moment and be happy!

Oh, and remember that breastfeeding is not synonymous with nursing. While nursing is one way to breastfeed, pumping is another way. In both methods, the baby is eating his or her mother’s milk. One just is from a bottle and the other is from “the tap” sort to speak. Don’t let anyone make you feed less than because you are pumping, whether from choice or necessity.

Breastfeeding Challenges, Round Two