As far as breastfeeding goes, my first 4 months of motherhood were bliss, the second 4 months were absolutely awful. I went from being able to pump 4-5 oz on one side from one session in the morning, to barely being able to pump 5 oz all day without breastfeeding at all. It was just torture for me, who was looking forward to breastfeeding for an entire year, maybe more. After 4 months of struggling with it, I realized many mistakes I was making that were greatly damaging my milk supply.
I can’t even explain how stressed I was pretty much all day long, completely consumed with breastfeeding tips, lactation recipes, power hour pumping, etc. You name it, I probably did it, and lost hours and hours of sleep over it too. Through these hours and hours (and hours and hours and hours…..) of research, I’ve learned a couple things:
If you’re breasts don’t feel full, that’s ok! They could very possibly be producing enough for baby, and your boobs just got used to it. Some women’s boobs do that. Some don’t.
If you’re not pumping as much as before, that’s ok! You might be having an off day or off week, whether that’s because you slept extra long a couple nights in a row (see mistake #4), or you had some peppermint tea one night (peppermint, spearmint, sage, and oregano decrease milk production), but then you start stressing out, and cause even more damage, when if you just relaxed a bit, it would pop back up to what it used to be soon enough.
Unless you’re on a desert island where there is no help and no resources and no formula/milk alternatives (in which case you’re probably not reading this post), your baby will not starve to death. If need be, you can always find other ways to provide for him or her, and you freaking out is not going to help (just watch out for mistake #2). Relax, pray, have a beer if you need to (some say beer helps milk production too, because of the yeast in it. Some say it hurts because it’s alcoholic. If you do have a drink to relax, make sure you test your milk with these nifty little strips before feeding your baby again.) Whatever you need to do, let go and let God, I say. It will be ok in the end, I promise.
If you are a stay at home mom like me and are able to breastfeed baby exclusively, try to avoid supplementing with formula or frozen breastmilk as long as possible. (If you’re a working pumping mama, this one might be harder to control). We all probably know that breastfeeding is a supply and demand process. What happens when you supplement is baby is more full for longer (especially if you use formula), so they go longer until they feed again, which tells your boobs “hey, she didn’t need much milk during that stretch, maybe we should make less,” so then next time you feed, baby gets even less milk, so is therefore still hungry, so you have to supplement again, and the problem gets worse and worse and worse. If you do have to supplement a bit, make sure you make up for it with pumping (watch out for mistake #3) and get back to your regular breastfeeding routine as soon as possible.
3. Pumping Wrong
Pumping is a lot more than sticking things on your boobs and pressing go. I had no idea! My first 4 months, I would pump maybe once or twice a week, when I felt like it, and had time. Then January 1 came and I set a new years resolution to pump everyday until I hit my goal (we were planning on going on vacation when baby was 11 mo old, and I wanted to get that freezer stash ready to go), but things did not go well. Make sure you have the correct size flange, are using your machine right, and that your pumping parts are all functioning correctly. It took me 3.5 months of pumping every day before I realized that I had been doing it wrong the entire time! If you don’t pump correctly, it’s much harder for your pump to completely empty your breasts, which signal them to slow down. Not such a big deal if you only pump every once in a while, but if you’re pumping daily, and daily not emptying your breasts, it can do serious damage to your supply!
4. Taking too long/too many breaks
I get it, the early days of baby-dom is hard, and every post out there says “ask for help! receive help! get help!!” and I’m not saying don’t do that. I’m saying do it in short spurts, with baby nearby. When our baby was born, my parents and my husband’s parents were just jumping out of their shoes ready to help us; watch baby, let us sleep, clean the house, whatever we wanted them to do. And my husband, being the naturally sleep deprived person he is, graciously took them up on that. Problem was, I had no idea what this could do to my milk supply. We had days where baby would stay and grandma and grandpas house for 5-7 hours, and I would try and pump once or twice when she was gone. There were days where I needed to go Christmas shopping, and didn’t want it to take 16 hours with a baby in tow, or doing it in 2 -3 hour increments, so my husband would watch her while I spent the day away. And then the worst of it- my precious daughter who had been waking up every 3-4 hours at night suddenly started sleeping through the night! (if you need this, read this post) You might say “wait, isn’t that a good thing? Everyone says breastfeeding mamas need good sleep!” and that’s true, but a baby who sleeps 7-10 hours straight at night, or baby who doesn’t need to be nursed back to sleep is not helpful for a breast-feeding mamas milk supply. I thought I was being so smart, trying to get my baby back to sleep without nursing multiple times every night, but I was really just shooting myself in the foot (or the boob?).
You should try to breastfeed or pump at least every 4 hours during the day and every 6 hours at night. If baby is sleeping through the night no problem, maybe you pump or nurse at midnight and again at 6am. Or you might need to set a 3:00 am alarm to pump (kinda sucks, but at least you know it’s coming.) You don’t even have to get out of bed- breastmilk is fine at room temperature for 6 hours, so pump, roll over, and go back to sleep.
Take it easy mama, and take some much needed “me” time, just come back in 3-5 hours to empty those breasts.
5. Being unfair to your boobs.
I learned pretty quickly that one of my breasts was much better at producing milk than the other. This is pretty normal, and most women experience this, just try not to play favorite with the all-star boob and stick the other one on the bench. My left side would consistently pump half to one ounce more than the right side, and since I was so jazzed about building up my freezer stash, I thought “I’m gunna milk this for all it’s worth!” (pun intended). Bad idea. I remember thinking once “I wonder if this is a good idea?” and quickly dismissed it, but boy was that a bad call. My right side got the picture that she was benched, and decided “if you don’t need me, I’m just gunna slack off over here” and man did she slack off! Even now, 4 months into consistently pumping both sides together all the time, the right side will give me anywhere between one and 3 ounces less than the left side, at every singe pumping. Of course this makes it especially hard when you’re breastfeeding exclusively, since baby might not be pleased with the slightly (or not so slightly, in my case) difference in volume. If you pump one side a day, like I did originally, make sure you switch sides. In fact, if you notice one side is producing less, work it more! Make both your boobs all-stars, and you’ll be sure to win the championship…. or whatever you’re going for…. I think I went too far with this analogy.
Breastfeeding can be hard, but it can also be so easy and so fun and so rewarding! Don’t make these 5 mistakes, and it can stay fun and easy and rewarding for you. Your baby will thank you (less chance of asthma, allergies, and general illnesses), your health will thank you (lose baby weight faster, less chance of breast and ovarian cancer, less chance of osteoporosis, stroke, the list is endless), plus it’s cheaper and easier than buying formula and washing all those dang bottles!
Unfortunately, sometimes you can fix all these things and your body is just done. In my case, I think a bad bout of the stomach flu (a solid week where I was too tired and weak to do much of anything, much less pump regularly) and making these 5 simple mistakes for months on end killed my supply. I worked to fix all these things, plus didn’t touch caffeine for months (I didn’t even sneak a sip of my husbands pop, a huge guilty pleasure of mine), no alcohol, no hormonal birth control, I even ordered some stuff online that a lactation consultant recommended, and didn’t get my supply back to where I wanted it to be. I eventually made an appointment with my doctor hoping for some miracle cure, and he gave me some hard truth. He said “8-9 months of breastfeeding is great” (heck, I say ANY time breastfeeding is a bonus, even if it’s just for 3 months, or 3 weeks), “and you just have to listen to your body now and allow yourself to relax. It will be ok in the end.” It took a good day or two to adjust my expectations and allow myself to not be the “perfect mom” I had dreamed up, but then, I had a glass of wine and just let myself be the mom that I am. My daughter had cows milk after that and is now healthy as ever. I know some doctors say cows milk before 1 year is a no-no, but my doctor specifically stated that I would be 100% fine switching to cows milk, and since he’s been doing this longer than I’ve been alive (for real, he was the one that delivered me when I was born), I trust his advice.
In the end, you just have to breathe. Some things won’t work out the way you want- your kids will not always LOVE the veggie-laden meal you prepared, they might not sleep during nap time, your life will not always be instagram worthy, and that’s ok! Just relax and let yourself be you.
And whatever you do, have some fun and be kind to yourself.
How about you? Did you make these or any other breastfeeding mistakes? Tell me about it below, and make sure to follow my Instagram account (@summergraceblog) to stay up to date on new posts!