Our Little Breastfeeding "Miracle"
by Heather Philipp June 18, 2013
A few months ago, in the thick of it, I wrote about the challenges my little and I were having breastfeeding. Long story short to recap the post, my baby had an ineffective suck and my supply tanked after a couple weeks, (almost) never to return, and we supplemented with formula to the point where my milk was very close to drying up.
Now, at 11 months, we have the nursing relationship I always imagined: easy, natural, "normal". We got our breastfeeding miracle. To backtrack a moment, I'll say that supplementing with formula is sometimes necessary, it absolutely is. I'm still not sure that we were actually in that situation, or rather that we could have done more to not need formula, but that hindsight being a bit fuzzy, I'll suffice it to say that we "had" to supplement.
For us, like for many moms I've read about and who have written me since I published that post in December, supplementing put us on a slippery slope for loss of my mama milkies. It was a heartbreaking experience. I want to stop here just a moment and say that I'm sharing my personal experience. It is 100% personal. It reflects my commitment to my daughter, my deep belief in the powerful benefits of nursing, and my waning then waxing confidence in myself. I do not intend to give advice or recommend specific methods or techniques, but rather to highlight how we can any of us find creative, if unorthodox, ways out of situations we know aren't best for us and our children when that way exists. We can do that. I did this. Here's our story...
One day in mid-December, I woke up to my girl very fussy and upset at my apparently empty breast. At that point, she was 5 months old and taking the equivalent of five 8 oz. bottles a day primarily through the SNS (a milk supplementer with little hoses that attach to the breast to give the baby more milk as they nurse). I was still giving her enough from my breast at night and in the morning though, and she got a few short nurses from me throughout the day before each SNS-augmented session. Pumping was a disaster for me - I just didn't pump well, ever. I had gotten to the point where as long as we still had our night nursing and morning wakey-nurse, I was "okay", not completely forlorn by my loss of the nursing relationship I imagined I would have, then longed to have, then began to morn. Well, this morning I'm mentioning with the "empty" breasts, it threw me into a desperation.
I kept seeing out in the future my little daughter getting bigger and nursing like other toddlers I saw around me. I SAW it in my mind's eye, I felt it in my heart - so how could I seriously be losing my milk? After all the hard work to increase my supply, to pump, to supplement at the breast and forgo bottles, reading books-worth of internet breastfeeding blogs (thank you kellymom.com) and shedding not just occasional seas of tears, could I be LOSING my milk? What would this mean for my child's health? For our bonding? For my own sense of myself as a mother and part of a natural parenting community that not just supported breastfeeding, but took it for granted as the only way? I had heard stories about the "five month miracle" where a baby, bigger and stronger, finally gets there suck together and could get off of formula. We were nowhere near that. I began to feel resigned and even used bottles more. It sucked. What else sucked is that I could see the effects of the formula in her, and it saddened me - she was groggy, with a sort of fog in her eyes.
This is not imagined, it was a real difference (that was confirmed after our miracle and the return of her extra-shiny bright aware eyes). Then two things happened... 1. I attended a picnic of families who also birthed with our doula. I sat around with new mama friends all nursing nursing nursing. I nursed too (though also shyly used a bottle to supplement). The next morning, I woke up to more milk. I felt the let down! I heard my baby swallowing, reeeeeallly swallowing. Wow! My boobs weren't broken after all. 2. We heard yet another story of a mom near us who was able to get off of formula and back to breast-only at around 5 months. This time, I listened very intently, then I thought, "No, I can't. I can't do that to us, can I? Or CAN I?" Why the hesitation? She did something I never imagined you could do - she went cold turkey. COLD. TURKEY. They did a cold turkey formula-free nursing retreat and that baby fussed and sucked sucked sucked. Within a few days her supply was way up and they were good to go. My partner and I looked at each other, both amazed and inspired. Could we? Everything I had read about weaning off of formula said go slowly, do it gradually, but from my experience of being so close to so far gone, and having tried days of a little less with more breast only to get an extra fussy girl, I had no faith in that option for us. I'm sure (very sure) that the gradual path is "safer", more gentle. But I was desperate to give my girl all the milky goodness her body, mind and soul deserved, and which I knew I was capable of giving her. So we did it. WE DID IT. And it worked. It wasn't easy. But it worked.
For us, it took about five days of concentrated time at the breast, comforting and encouraging (me, the baby; my partner, me) to get comfortable. Another week or so and we were going strong! What we were working with was not simply the baby not getting enough, but rather not getting it as fast and as freely as she did before with the supplementation. I noticed that we, both of us, had to reorient ourselves to a new pace, to a natural let down pattern. When my breasts were really full, there was lots of milk immediately, but then a pause to wait for the next wave. It took a bit for my girl to get used to that lag time, and me to feel certain the milk was coming, that I just needed to give it a chance.
Well, our nursing retreat offered all the chances I could want for a few days and we did it! We got our breastfeeding miracle! We didn't get explosive milkies, though. We got enough to be off of formula and then we introduced solids a little early to fill in what I felt was still a little bit of a gap. For us, that seemed the best choice. Part of those "solids" included a little green smoothie which she loves. Now, my girl gets wakey nursies, sleepy nursies, mid-day milkies, you name it. She is bright, shiny and sweet as pie. I believe every mom needs to listen deeply within themselves and to their children to see a way through the things that challenge us in motherhood, be it nursing issues or others. We are all brilliant, insightful women who know instinctually what to do (including where to look for help). We can listen to each others' stories and see new ways for ourselves, or not; we can reach out for "expert" advice; we can listen to well-meaning family and friends, or doctors; but all choices are ours.
Every choice I made for my child since before birth was mine to make, regardless of who I listened to. I'm proud of my choices, my commitment. I don't recommend extreme courses of action for any other mom, but I'm glad I listened to that cold turkey story. Wow, am I ever!