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When you are pregnant, one of the things you think about is whether or not you’ll breastfeed or formula feed. It’s your choice, right? Not always. When I was pregnant, I made the choice to breastfeed and occasionally pump into a bottle so Dad can feed baby too. This is a great plan, right? Baby gets the nutrition she needs, her and I bond really well while breastfeeding, Dad gets to feed and bond too, and I get a break every now and then. Well, let me tell you a story: No one told me I might have breastfeeding problems.
A Good Latch
When my beautiful baby girl was born, we breastfed within the first 10 minutes of her life. I thought she was latched properly, she thought she was latched properly, apparently not. See, no one really tells you or shows you what a good latch is. You can read about it all you want, but until it happens, it’s really hard to tell. My daughter was born at 6:28 PM, so by the time I fed her, had a shower, and fed her again it was most certainly time for sleep. She knew it, I knew it, Dad knew it. Bed Time! The nurses reminded me that she needs to feed every 2-3 hours, so I set an alarm.
By the time her 24 hr birthday came around, she hadn’t peed, only pooped, this is obviously cause for concern. It’s not only a sign that she isn’t getting enough food, but could also mean there is something else wrong. The nurse came in and helped baby try to get a proper latch. After about an hour with no luck I decided to supplement with formula, at least this way she would get some food in her tiny little tummy. But she wasn’t latching onto the bottle as well as she should have either.
Off to the NICU she goes for close observation. During her stay in the NICU, they got her to take the bottle, all while I was in my room pumping every 2-3 hours for 20 minutes on each breast. I use the Philips Avent Single Electric Pump, which I find is much better than the Medela that they gave me to use at the hospital. The Philips Avent pumps have a silicone insert for the flange (the part that suctions to your breast) which makes it much more comfortable, and expresses more milk.
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Every 3 hours the nurses would let us know when she was awake and Steve and I would go to the NICU to feed her (both the colostrum (the stuff you produce before your milk actually comes in) that I had pumped and formula. Each time I would pump I would get less than a milliliter of colostrum, but I kept pumping. When we tried breast feeding again, she finally latched properly, YAY!
On day 3 of her life, my milk finally came in, I was so engorged that my boobs felt like boulders sitting on my chest. They were so solid that baby couldn’t latch, yet again. It was like trying to get her to latch onto a bowling ball, it was not happening. Going back to the pumping schedule, this time with hot compresses or a really hot shower just before pumping. I wasn’t getting much at all, half a milliliter maybe. I remember when I finally got a full milliliter, I was jumping for joy. Yet baby still couldn’t latch onto my boulders.
Mother and Babe Reunion!
By day 4, baby is finally doing well enough to come out of the NICU. With the baby in the same room as me, my breasts leaked milk all night long, and they finally went down to a normal size again, but we were still having issues latching. Alas, a hero nurse told me about the shield. A magical little piece of silicone, that made everything so much better. Essentially, the shield goes over your nipple making it easier for baby to latch onto because it has more of a bottle nipple shape. It was a life saver. You can buy one here.
Baby was breastfeeding at every feed and topping up with formula, although she was still eating the same amount of formula as before. This made me think that maybe she wasn’t getting anything from my breast, but the nurses insisted she was. After a week less a day of being hospitalized we got to go home – it’s about time! We kept up the breastfeeding with formula supplement, and I was also pumping in between feeds in order to up my supply. I did everything I could to increase my milk supply. I followed all the online tips, consulted my baby’s pediatrician and a lactation consultant.
I also found this pumping method, called Power Pumping. It basically simulates a baby’s feeding schedule during a growth spurt and is designed to give your milk supply a power boost. Doing this brought my pumping levels from 10 ml per pump to about 30 ml per pump. It helped a lot, but not enough.
This schedule takes an hour to complete, and that’s if you have a double pump, which I did not. I would feed her, power pump my left breast, then she would wake up and want more food either before or very soon after I would finish one breast. So I would feed her again, and when she fell asleep I would power pump my right breast, only for her to wake up hungry again as soon as I was done. Doing this left absolutely no time for me to shower, eat or even go pee. It was exhausting.
A friend of mine, who was also having feeding problems, recommended the haakaa. This is a silicone breast pump that you attach to the other side while breastfeeding your baby, it collects the let down that would normally be wasted in a breast pad. Once I started using the haakaa, I was collecting about 10 extra millileters per feeding, and would give that to her on the next feed.
After about a week and a half of power pumping 2-3 times every other day, and using the haakaa with every feed, I was exhausted and I wasn’t even getting 60 ml (2 oz) per day. I decided to cut out the breastfeeding portion of our feeding schedules. It took the longest and seemed to be giving her the least amount of food.
What was best in the end
Now that I wasn’t breastfeeding, feedings only took 15-20 minutes vice 45 minutes to an hour, I had a lot of time to pump. I increased the power pump sessions to 3-4 times a day everyday, which produced approximately 90-100 ml (3-ish oz). This clearly isn’t enough to feed a growing baby, so I still had to supplement with formula. This went on for another week or so, until I realized my supply was not increasing no matter how many power pumps I did or how many Mother’s Milk Tea‘s I drank per day. It just wasn’t happening. I was so tired from everything, the house was getting increasingly less clean, and I was losing patience fast.
I decided to take a one-day-break, and re-gain some energy, catch up on the house chores, and re-instate my sanity. After my day-long break, I noticed that my supply had regressed back to approximately 60 ml (2 oz) again. I kept going for a few days, until I realized that my supply is not going to ever be at the level it needs to be, I’m just going to exhaust myself causing a decline in both my physical and mental health. By the time my baby was 1 month old she was strictly on formula.