When my son was born, he was immediately put onto my chest for skin-to-skin bonding which I had hoped would lead him to instinctively nurse.
This didn’t happen.
Within 24 hours, he still did not want to nurse.
Somehow, I thought it would magically just happen “naturally,” but it didn’t. He didn’t crawl up to my chest and just know what to do like I envisioned. My husband says that would be creepy, but I swear I heard about this! Maybe I misheard. Anyway…
At the hospital, a number of nurses trained in lactation tried to assist me in breastfeeding my son, but he wouldn’t even suck a finger. He had been born early term which I heard could cause some issues (9 days early if that counts!?), but I never imagined how difficult breastfeeding would be as we both learned together.
A medical grade pump was given to me to extract colostrum which I fed to my son through a syringe. Eventually, milk slowly began to come in, but he still had trouble nursing. He could not latch on. I also had trouble figuring out the best breastfeeding position for us and to get him to stay awake!
As a last result to get him to eat, a nipple shield was introduced. It worked and became a useful tool to feed my son until I could see a lactation consultant and finally get him to latch.
The help I received at the hospital left me better prepared to nurse, but my son and I both needed more help.
My first night home, I tried to nurse him, but it did not go well. In fact, I couldn’t even express a drop of milk. I was tempted to use formula, but instead told my husband that if I could relax for at least 30 minutes, maybe it would help. It worked and I was able to feed him that night, but little did I realize he wasn’t gaining enough weight over time.
My son had lost weight and I wasn’t able to help him gain it back through nursing him. I woke him up every 2-3 hours, nursed on demand, and still no significant weight gain after each wellness check with our pediatrician. I didn’t know what to do and was concerned especially after he did not gain his birth weight back within two weeks. He looked so thin, it was terrifying.
I didn’t want to give up, but it came to a point where it was becoming medically necessary to supplement. I felt terrible about this, but I wasn’t sure how much further we could go with nursing alone after we were told he wasn’t getting enough calories to even poop.
While I thought breastfeeding would come naturally and that things would be fine, I was wrong. Things weren’t simple and I wish I had known more about the problems that could occur, so I could’ve been better prepared.
These past six weeks, I’ve learned so much after everything we’ve gone through.
If I could go back, these are some of the tips I would’ve given myself:
1. Take a breastfeeding class BEFORE giving birth.
2. During pregnancy read as much as possible about breastfeeding & watch videos on how to breastfeed.
3. Schedule a meeting with a lactation consultant well in advance. If things go well, you can always cancel.
4. Rent a hospital grade pump or purchase a good quality electric double-breast pump before you get home from the hospital.
5. Pump after and in-between feedings to increase milk supply – at least 8 times a day – if you are having trouble producing milk.
6. Take an herbal supplement to increase milk production (i.e. fenugreek)
7. Use a nipple shield as a temporary tool or as a last resort, but try to get your baby to nurse without it as soon as possible.
8. Use an SNS system with pumped milk
9. Accept any help or ask for it if needed. There is nothing like a good support system when you are in pain, fatigued, and overstressed.
10. Eat healthy and drink plenty of water
11. Eat oatmeal
I have done all of the things above since my initial struggles with breastfeeding, but I wish I had known to do them sooner. The precious days and weeks after birth are some of the most critical, so being able to maximize time and effort before 6 weeks may make a HUGE difference.
Of course, sometimes no matter what we do, there may be problems or an inability to breastfeed (i.e. if you have a medical condition). The best thing we can do is learn more and seek help when needed without judgment or guilt.
Now, I’m still working on increasing my milk supply, but it has improved greatly since my early struggles. I truly don’t want to give up anytime soon, so if I learn anything new and helpful I will be sure to share.
For those of you who’ve had struggles, what did you do to help increase your milk production?