I’m sure that’s how the saying goes…

My blog about crappy milk supply deleted itself. This is the second time I’m writing this. It seems only in keeping with the struggle. So welcome to the second bash at my boob blog.

Breast is best, so they say. Those words have been ringing in my ears like an unwavering dose of tinnitus for the past ten weeks. So what happens when your supply never fully materialises? What then? Nobody gives you the heads up on that. Oh no, breastfeeding is all about the mutual back slapping of how wonderful it is to breastfeed. Or the browbeating you get if you opt not to. Or the complete wankers that berate you for doing it in a public place. Nobody stops to think about the ones who desperately just want to be able to do it.

Before I gave birth I’ll be honest, I wasn’t overly keen on the idea of breastfeeding. I knew it was the best thing I could do for my baby, so for that reason alone I had to give it a try, but secretly I made myself no promises. I had made my mind up a long time ago after seeing my sister struggle with reoccurring mastitis that if anything like that happened to me, I’d switch my baby to formula, no sweat. You do your best, and that’s all you can do. Then you move on. Easy.

Fast forward to Maddie’s ten week birthday today, and I’m like a dog with a mangy old bone. My supply was never in abundance and as the weeks pass by at breakneck speed, no matter what I do my milk continues to diminish, and now seems permanently irrecoverable.

I realised within the first week of Maddie coming home from the hospital that my breast supply didn’t seem to satisfy her appetite. One evening after a restless few hours of cluster feeding, we panicked that she was going hungry and cracked open an emergency carton of formula. It did the trick, she settled immediately after finishing it. I almost felt betrayed at the time. Silly.

Formula and bottle feeding became a slippery slope for us, we relied on it more and more. My breasts eventually became a battleground for Maddie and I. She didn’t want to work for her grub when a bottle was on offer and who can blame her with what I suspect was very little in return for her efforts. I still put her to the breast daily, and if i’m lucky, at 3am she will spend time at my right breast only, before pulling away and screaming the house down. If I try to put her to my left at any time, she screams. I don’t think I can reverse this now. I imagine her reflux plays some part in this, and we couldn’t master the upright position without her throwing a complete tantrum.

It was only when I realised that breastfeeding might actually be over I felt suddenly heartbroken. I had totally underestimated – not even that, I was completely unprepared for how much I had become attached to the bond it gave us, and for everything it signified. It had never once crossed my mind that I might not be able to breastfeed. I took it for granted I’d have the tools I needed to do the job. For me, it came to feel like it defined (or not) my role as a mother, being the only one able to do this job. As the weeks went by, and the realisation sunk in that I alone, was unable to sustain my baby, I started to feel angry, and in some strange way, redundant in my role as a mother. How was I different to anybody else that could hold a bottle to her mouth?

I took so much advice throughout my journey. I spoke to several lactation experts, midwives, health visitors, GPs… I hired a hospital grade pump. I’m still taking Fenugreek and Lethicin. I’ve eaten so many lactation cookies I’m now fatter than I was post immediate pregnancy. I’ve watched countless lactation supply videos on Youtube. I’ve googled, I’ve researched. I’ve tried everything I can think of. From week six I dedicated every spare moment to pumping around the clock. A month on, my efforts have gone largely unrewarded, although I’m not sure if they’ve helped sustain the supply I do have, perhaps without that work my milk would have already been long gone.

My lovely NCT girls all have plentiful supplies, their blossoming bosoms floweth over with nutritious milk for their lucky babies. I read via our WhatsApp group about how much milk they have to pump off before they can even physically feed their babies from the breast, about how they might dump an ounce as it’s so watery, or that even half way through a feed their baby pulls off and still gets squirted in the eyes. They’re effortlessly building up supplies for their freezer. Don’t get me wrong, they shouldn’t have to censor their efforts because of my experience, but I benchmark myself and wonder why mine aren’t playing ball?

So here we are. We’re week ten, two weeks into a dairy free diet, and my milk seems to have dwindled even further as a result. I’m like one of those limescale ridden shower heads you attach onto your bath taps in the absence of a half decent shower. The faucet hopefully offers an occasional limp spurt or two, lasting no longer than a few seconds – it’s no way to wash your hair. With everybody else’s babies  (and I’m talking world wide, or so it can seem sometimes) basking under a rainforest shower, it’s got to be on a par with participating in a ‘who has the biggest penis’ competition and coming last every single time.

(Caveat – I do realise this is an issue in my own head, nobody else is piling on the pressure or creating this sense of inadequacy but me – it’s a talent I have.)

I’m a determined little bugger though, each day I continue to pump as much as I can for my baby in hope that I can yield something decent for her. I’ve noticed this week I’m struggling even more than ever.

I won’t give up. Not yet.

Despite the daily frustration, and ongoing nipple pain due to persistent pumping, (one funnel being too big for my nipple, and the size down being surely too small… ) I can’t bring myself to give up. I won’t quit. I can’t quit. I don’t want to quit. If I can get even 150-200ml a day in my baby, surely that counts for something? Surely they’ll be health benefits for her?

This blog will no doubt evoke reactions such as ‘Don’t beat yourself up!’ ‘A fed baby is a happy baby!’ ‘You’ve done your best!’ ‘Time to concentrate on your baby and not be all-consumed with something that’s never going to happen’… OR, perhaps that’s just the advice I’d give to somebody in my shoes. It’s all-so easy when you haven’t been there.

I’m definitely the last one to leave the party on this one… pity my tits failed to show up.

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Ellie & Jamie
IVF/Pregnancy Diary

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11 Responses

  1. Carolyn

    Oh Ellie – I absolutely hear you & I applaud your determination.

    I was in exactly the same position as you. Finally pregnant after 5 embryo transfers. Our NCT breastfeeding class talked about the baby nuzzling down, finding the breast and chomping away. At no point did they discuss tongue ties and poor milk supplies.

    I pumped like a demon for 14 weeks until I decided that I just couldn’t go on. By 3 months my baby was beginning to reduce his naps meaning if I was mid pump when he woke and cried I had to stop pumping. We were tied to a 2hr perimeter so I could get home to pump. It was relentless.

    So what happened after week 14? The pressure was finally off me and both me and the baby relaxed. He’s a gorgeous, healthy bundle of joy. I’m devastated that BF didn’t work for us and still have a degree of guilt but I know I gave him as much milk as I absolutely could.

    I’m trying to make up for it by feeding my baby only nutritious home cooked food now he’s weaned. The only pouches he’s had were whilst w were on holiday and that makes me feel a tiny bit better.

    Please don’t be hard on yourself – you are doing an amazing job. The first few weeks are the most important and you are passed that now & just look how gorgeous she is. You should be very very proud of yourself. Big hugs & always here if you need a chat x

    • Jessica

      This this, a thousand times this. I went through exactly the same thing and had all the same feelings. It’s so hard and especially once they become more awake and aware of what’s going on. The whole waking up during pumping thing was spot on for us too.

      You do you and whatever feels right. The emotions will be a rollercoaster no matter what your decision is, but you’re not alone. <3

  2. Kirsty Fraser

    This blog really resonates with me and my first child. I went through exactly the same issues and guilt. At the end of the day the most important thing is you have a healthy, happy baby and if that is with formula so be it. She had breast milk during the most important phase of her life.

    I now have a healthy, happy, strong willed 2 year old, who I share an amazing bond with. She doesn’t care how long I breastfed her for, just that I love her.

  3. Tori shepherd

    I have been there! Breastfeeding was extremely more difficult that I could have imagined, way more difficult than pregnancy and child birth. Thrush, lip tie, allergies, yep two different size nipple shields, low supply..I held on for as long as I could, but once we started eliminating every food that could possibly cause an allergy I was going crazy. It got to the point where I was having such a difficult time enjoying this stage. I am not one to feel 100% comfortable breastfeeding in public. I’m not embarrassed, I just don’t want a nip slip. I could never pump enough, so we were stuck at home.
    I too had no idea how attached I was to breastfeeding until we serisouly considered switching to formula. The first bottle we gave my son I felt like I was no longer needed. I allowed myself to grieve and moved on. It helped to slowly make the switch at first. He is such a happier baby, and I feel like I am a better mom. There are things that I have learned that I can hopefully do better next go around so breastfeeding will not be as difficult.
    I never imagined something so natural would be so hard!
    I am thankful I was able to breastfeed for as long as we did, however I wonder what the first three months would have been like without that added stress. You’re doing a great job!

  4. C

    You won’t believe how relieved I’m to read your post.. I’m not the only one with reduced milk supply!! I feel inefficient/incapable as a mother because I’m not able to provide sufficient breast milk to my baby. xx

  5. Ali Spence

    Thank-you for your honesty, and so much to empathize with here, not only the frenzied pumping to try and give baby what is best but also the subsequent fixation on home cooked food once weaning began. I applaud both, and don’t regret either, just the feeling of guilt and anxiety which clouded some days of our first months together, and the lack of information or honesty about the struggles which make BF unfeasible in some circumstances. Enjoy your little ones – they grow up so quickly!! xxx

  6. Gemma

    I absolutely could have written this myself. My baby is 6 weeks old and I’m battling every day to keep breast feeding her, I’m taking all the supplements I’ve been to all the group’s and it’s all I ever think and talk about! I started off wanting to do it with the idea that “breast is best” and feeling some sense of shame about giving her “artificial milk” as everyone insists on calling it, but now I have started to love doing it and agree it gives you a special bond. It makes me so upset that I’m struggling, and despite my best efforts I’m starting to rely more and more on formula, and as you say no amount of anyone telling you that’s ok makes it feel any better. It’s nice to hear I’m not the only one in this boat, so thank you for your post, and sorry I don’t have anything constructive to say I just wanted to let you know you’re not alone! X

  7. Alexa

    You are doing amazing. Well done! Have you heard of Boo B. Smoothie? They really helped boost my supply when fenugreek just made me smell of curry. worth a try http://www.boo-b-smoothie.co.uk/

    There’s also a drug not meant for breastfeeding but side effect is more milk, is called Domperidone I think.

    Nodded my head along with this blog post, I’ve been there, I’ve also had small babies which has made me worry more than i would otherwise I think. The key is heavy wet nappies to know if they are getting enough and following their line of growth on the centile chart sl I just go by those. Don’t worry about anyone else’s baby or boobs, just go by you. You are doing wonderfully and all that effort will be so worth it. What an amazing start to life you have given your baby xx

  8. Brigi

    Hello. I did/ do the same, I have milk I can pump around 2 oz, breasfed him for 3 weeks he didn’t go back to his birthweight and we had some uster feeding nights… but didn’t seem to be able to fill him up, so did the same and swapped to formula.
    I still put him on the breast and give him the pumped milk.
    I felt like a failure and felt bad over it but I keep telling myself that any breast is better than no breast I give him the little I still have.

  9. Claire

    How tough for you. I hope you can find a way forward that works for family.

    I also had crappy milk supply. I also mix fed as long as there seemed to be anything to mix feed with. Having had trouble conceiving, I was referred to fertility to try for a second baby a year after the first, where I was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid. As the symptoms are the same for underactive thyroid as for new mothers (fatigue, hair falling out, weight gain to difficulty loosing weight, dry skin) noone noticed. I don’t regret all the effort I put into breastfeeding. I do wonder now, if it had been diagnosed, whether it would have changed things, but not with any negativity. I did not feel breastfeeding was a great bonding experience, myself. Just the best thing do do for both of us (especially with our history of alleriges), and so, so much more convinent that bottles. Good luck with finding a way forward. It’s hard to remember in the midst of those first eeeks, that Motherhood is a marathon, not a sprint.

  10. Zara

    Domperidone to boost your supply it is a miracle. I hav pcos and struggled feeding my firs9t and this time round the milk is flowing like a tap!