While I was pregnant I learned a lot about breastfeeding. Through reading, talking to moms with experience, and taking a breastfeeding class I knew that it most likely wouldn’t be easy. Even though I knew this before I even had my baby, I still wasn’t fully prepared for how challenging it would be at times. Although breastfeeding is a very natural process, it really takes commitment, a great support system, and a lot of effort to make it work successfully. Here are some of the issues I have faced in my first 12 weeks of motherhood. Brace yourself, this is a long one!
Acid Reflux. One of our first big challenges was dealing with Kevin’s acid reflux while breastfeeding. He would pull away crying while eating, arch his back, and spit up a lot afterwards. He also would cough, gasp, and wheeze constantly afterwards (due to the acid coming back up). I suspected that he had reflux and my suspicion was confirmed at the doctor. I wrote a lot about this in my weekly postpartum updates, but basically I tried everything to help him with this. It affected his breastfeeding because the pediatrician recommended feeding him small amounts more frequently and pumping afterwards. This meant sometimes he was still hungry when I stopped feeding him, which broke my heart. I also block nursed, only nursing from one side for 2-3 feedings in a row (while pumping the other) then switching sides. Eventually we put him on Zantac, which didn’t end up working so we took him off of it. What finally worked was taking him to my chiropractor, where he was very gently adjusted. We have gone 3 times and his reflux is GONE and our breastfeeding has gotten much better. He is able to eat for longer periods of time without stopping to cry and doesn’t spit up nearly as much. He is SO much happier and is putting on more weight since he’s keeping his food down and eating larger amounts at a time.
Pumping at Work. This has been my most recent challenge and one of the toughest. I knew I would need a good, efficient pump when I went back to work at 8 weeks postpartum, so I invested in the Medela Pump In Style Advanced. I am away from the baby from about 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., which is a total of 9 hours. I am a teacher so I am limited to when I can pump because it has to be when I’m not with kids (obviously). I am able to pump before the students arrive around 8:30, at lunchtime around 12:30, and after school around 3:45. My colleagues have gotten used to seeing me carrying my black tote bag around everywhere, and they know not to come into my classroom when I have my sign up on the door (although this took a little trial and error- thank goodness I’m not very modest anymore!) One of the most recent challenges has been someone at school who has been less than supportive. I can’t say much about the situation on this public blog, but this person basically has no compassion for my desire to breastfeed and doesn’t seem to understand why it is so important to me. It makes me sad 😦
Undersupply. Going back to work and pumping half of the day has led me to yet another big challenge- dealing with undersupply. I have never been able to pump very much at a time, usually 3 oz. max from both breasts. It is so hard for me to read blogs of other moms who can pump 6-8 ounces at a time. I don’t understand why I can’t do that too and it makes me sad. I think that he is much better at getting the milk out of me than the pump is. But now with the stress of work and all of the issues there, my supply has gotten worse. I know that stress and a lack of rest decrease supply, and that is a big reason why I am experiencing this. Teaching is NOT a 9-5 job. I take home a ton of work every night and on the weekends. There is so much that I am responsible for that I HAVE to do. On top of that, my left boob has never produced as much as my right from day 1. It actually produces only about a third of what my right one does with each pumping session. I have been working really hard on this and talking to a lactation consultant for help. I talked to her last Friday, and she gave me a ton of tips. I have been drinking Mothers Milk tea 3x a day, taking fenugreek capsules (4 capsules 3x a day), doing a lot of skin-to-skin with the baby, using compression and massage, power pumping in the evenings, weekend, and even the middle of the night since he’s sleeping longer now, trying to reduce stress and relax as much as possible (my husband has been AMAZING at taking care of cooking, cleaning, and other household things), letting him cluster feed as much as he wants in the evenings, and supplementing with my own freezer stash if he is hungry and I have nothing left for him, while pumping at the same time to stimulate my milk production. Whew. It’s been a full-time job, but it is working. In only a week of doing all this I have been pumping about 4 ounces more daily. I used to be able to pump 9 ounces max, and now I’m pumping 12-13. He also doesn’t cry when he’s finished both breasts and seems more satisfied, even when there is a short time between feedings. Good progress!!!
Weight Gain Worries. We got off to a rough start with baby Kevin’s weight due to jaundice which had him sleeping constantly and not wanting to eat. Then his reflux didn’t help matters either since we had to feed him small amounts and he was spitting up a lot. Now that we have resolved that issue he has been hungrier and able to eat more. However, it’s tough to keep up with his needs since I have an undersupply problem and I’m not able pump much for him to eat the next day. I would feed him right before I left for work and as soon as I got home, and he was eating three 3 oz. bottles every 2-3 hours while I was gone. This was okay at first, but lately that hasn’t been enough, and his babysitter has told me that he’s still hungry after he finishes his bottles. There was definitely pressure from my pediatrician at his 2 month appointment to supplement but she gave me another month to try to get him to gain more weight. The problem is that he was in the 50th percentile for height but only the 12th for weight and she said that height & weight percentiles should match up. He was born at 7 pounds 2 ounces, but dropped down to 6 pounds 7 ounces when he had jaundice, and we’ve been working our way up from there ever since. This has made me feel like such a failure because I am the sole person providing his nutrition and it’s not enough. It is really hard on me emotionally. We constantly hear comments like “he’s so small,” and “I can’t believe he’s that old, he doesn’t look big enough,” which really upset me. I know people aren’t saying these things to hurt me, but it does hurt because I am trying so hard. The good news is that since I talked with the lactation consultant last Friday and been working on increasing my supply, he has already gained 7 ounces! He now weighs 10 pounds 3.5 ounces (we bought a baby scale to monitor his weight). Still little and barely on his curve, but it’s good progress. We’ll see if it’s enough for the pediatrician at his appointment soon.
Leaking. I have always had an issue with leaking and I constantly have to wear nursing pads or else I will leak through my clothes. I wonder how long this will last? I hate buying those disposable pads but the reusable ones are not absorbent enough for me.
Running. Running while breastfeeding has been another learning experience for me. I have found that I need to feed him, pump, or do both of those things before I go out to run, or else it is really uncomfortable for me. When I would run for more than an hour it used to get really uncomfortable toward the end, but it’s not that bad anymore- probably since my supply has dropped. Since I have been dealing with this issue I have been wondering if my running could have anything to do with my supply issues. I learned before I had my baby that there is conflicting research on whether or not running or hard exercise causes a decrease in supply. I asked my lactation consultant last week, and she said the research is conflicting, but it has been shown to cause supply issues for some women. I was really hoping I would not be one of them, but I am starting to think that I am. I have noticed a drop in supply especially after my long runs. This makes sense because the lactation consultant recommended not exercising to exhaustion because it’s hard on the body and the milk supply. This makes me so sad and because of this I’m re-evaluating my race plans. I love running and training for marathons but my baby comes first- end of story. I’ll explain more about this soon in another post.
Nutrition / Hydration. Getting enough food and water to support my breastfeeding has been difficult some days, especially since I’m back to work now. I have been working really hard on making sure I eat and drink enough, since that can also affect supply. I carry a 32 oz. water bottle wherever I go and try to drink at least 3 of them a day, more when I run. I also make sure to bring a lot of snacks to work and eat whenever I am hungry.
Dairy Sensitivity. The last challenge I am dealing with is not being able to eat dairy. The doctor hasn’t confirmed that he is allergic to it or has dairy intolerance, but I have noticed that his reflux gets a lot worse whenever I eat any type of dairy. He spits up a lot and the coughing/gasping comes back. This has led me to believe that he is sensitive to it, and the pediatrician agreed that those are signs that he is. I am also lactose intolerant, but I’m usually fine if I take a Lactaid pill. Unfortunately, that’s not going to work for him so in the meantime I am avoiding it. He could grow out of it though, so the pediatrician recommended trying to eat a little dairy once a month to see what effect it has.
I have come a long way in my breastfeeding journey and learned a lot so far. I’m far less modest about doing it and talking about it these days and open to asking for help when I need it. The best resources I have found for breastfeeding help have been Kelly Mom, La Leche League meetings, my lactation consultant, and other moms with experience. Even with all of these challenges I truly love breastfeeding and the special bond it’s helped me create with my baby. It is so worth all the time and effort it has taken me to figure things out. We are far from finished with our breastfeeding journey, as I am going to try to continue until baby is at least a year old. We will see what other challenges arise! I hope this post helps some other new moms who are dealing with breastfeeding issues, or that the ‘been there, done that’ moms can relate to what I’m going through. It’s hard work but it is so worth it!