Got Milk?

Photo Credit: "Trouble Breastfeeding?" at
Photo Credit: “Trouble Breastfeeding?” at

I don’t. Not really. Nonetheless, I’ve tried to nurse for eleven weeks, with minimal success. Now I regret that I have continued, because this trying has messed with Sam’s schedule, and my self-confidence.

There are those moms who dream of breastfeeding at all costs. I never did. What I did dream of, after I read a book entitled Preparation for Parenting by Gary and Marie Ezzo, was getting my baby on a schedule and having him sleep through the night by eight weeks. The book promised my baby would do this, if I followed the schedule they outlined: feed every 2 ½ to 3 hours, and follow the pattern of feed, waketime, sleep. Then I was supposed to wake the baby and start the cycle again. With this pattern, he should have been sleeping through the night by now. But Sam is eleven weeks old today, and he is still waking one to four times a night.

What happened?

A commitment to breastfeeding, no matter that I had a low supply, is what happened.

I blame myself, and a few others, for encouraging me to keep going no matter what. They told me that mothers’ milk works on the demand and supply principle: the more I nursed, the more I would produce.

I nursed exclusively for three weeks. By the end of three weeks, Sam’s weight was steadily declining. It was at our third weight check that his pediatrician, with a worried look, told me to start supplementing. She also told me to call the lactation specialist one more time and see what tips she could give me. (I had already worked with this person twice. She determined that Sam was latching well, and my milk—what milk I had—was transferring.)

Here I could have just stopped nursing, admitted I had given it a valiant go, and switched entirely to formula. Neither my hubby nor I wanted to quit yet, though.

I called the lactation specialist. What she told me made me cry.

“Take a breastfeeding vacation. Just take a Sunday and lie in bed with the baby and let him nurse as much as he wants. And make sure you are latching or pumping at least eight to ten times a day. You can try lactation cookies, and fenugreek, etc. etc.” She gave me all the advice I’ve read in various other places.

I told her, barely holding back tears, that we’d exclusively breastfed for three weeks; I just didn’t think I could produce the milk. As far as the breastfeeding vacation, the thought made me want to scream. Did she mean to tell me I should start getting less done than I already was? With my house in a shambles and my body bloated because I had no time to exercise? With thoughts overcrowding my mind because I had no time to write and sort them out? And even if I devoted my life to increasing my supply (which was, essentially, what she was asking me to do), there was no guarantee it would even work.

No ma’am, I couldn’t do it.

I decided to do what I could reasonably (and sanely) do. I continued nursing before giving bottles and pumping when Sam allowed me an extra fifteen minutes. I started taking fenugreek because a relative had given me a bottle. I tried a daily sesame seed smoothie recommended by another family member.

Last week (ten weeks) I estimated I was producing around 25% of what Sam eats, and I asked my hubby again: Do I continue?

Again he said, “I really think you should. He’s getting good stuff from you, and who knows what will happen, if we will still need it in the future?”

Even I agreed that the calming effects of breastfeeding were still valuable for fussy times.

But my hubby hasn’t had to deal with the constant self-doubt I face every time I breastfeed. He hasn’t had to deal with those sleepless nights when Sam drifts off at the breast before getting the bottle, then wakes within an hour hungry again. He hasn’t had to, first, give up several hours of his day to breastfeeding, and then, give up several more when bottle feedings, bottle washings, and pumping were prescribed. He hasn’t agonized over how much formula to give (because doesn’t feeding more formula mean producing less milk? Yet how else can I be sure Sam is getting adequate nutrition?). He hasn’t had his sleep interrupted and his whole day thrown off because he can’t decide how much to breast- and how much to bottle-feed (therefore he keeps trying different combinations). He doesn’t agonize over this daily like I do, when I wake feeling exhausted yet again, or when Sam rejects a bottle, or rejects a breast, or acts different at every feeding.

Today, when I again considered how much time and effort this whole feeding thing was taking, how most of the rest of my life is on hold, how confused I still felt about feeding time, and how far from a pattern I still felt (I had just bought the ingredients to try lactation cookies—maybe they would help?), I felt utterly discouraged.

And I asked myself for the millionth time: is it worth it?

My gut told me, like it had weeks ago, No.

I know all the wavering back and forth has not been worth it, purely because it has destroyed my self-confidence and my ability to plan my day. Because of this mental unrest, I cannot settle myself into a pattern, much less Sam.

I’ve asked myself, Did reading the Ezzo book ruin me, where I expected too much too soon? Where I thought that breastfeeding should come so easily, and a schedule along with it? I cracked it open again today to see if their advice was really that bad…and found a section I didn’t remember reading before. The authors said that about 5% of women physiologically cannot produce adequate milk, and in that case, they should implement the feeding schedule with formula. Simple.

So…I will finish eating this batch of lactation cookies (sadly horrible for weight loss). I will finish the new bottle of fenugreek I bought today. And I will continue to latch Sam as much as I reasonably can. I figure on a week. But after that, if my supply doesn’t go up, I’m done.

Why didn’t I listen to my instincts before? If I had taken one course or the other, Sam might be on a schedule today, and we might all be sleeping through the night.

People will always have strong opinions on all things mothering, but as far as breastfeeding and this low-supply mama go, I’m learning not to cry over scarce milk.