Breastmilk Supply

The IVF diary / 10 August, 2017 / Ellie & Jamie

Breastfeeding: There’s No Use Crying Over Sh*t Milk

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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