As promised, I wanted to sit down and write an entire post about my journey breastfeeding for the first time with Miles. I shared a lot of our progress on my Instagram Stories, but since it was spread out over many weeks, I want to cover the entire thing and answer all the FAQs I’ve received.
So, let’s start at the beginning.
The First Three Days
Miles was born on October 20th. His first day of life we tried breastfeeding him but he wasn’t interested and didn’t latch. The doctors said it’s not uncommon for them to not eat the first day. We continued to try every 3 hours. By the next morning, about 24 hours after Miles was born, we introduced a breast pump so I could pump some milk and help my supply begin since Miles still wasn’t latching. We were then able to feed that milk to Miles via a syringe. That afternoon, the nurses gave me a nipple shield to assist Miles in latching. The first time he successfully latched and breastfed it was with the use of the shield.
While all this was happening and Miles was trying to learn to feed, he was also getting weighed every 8-12 hours. By the middle of his second day, he had lost about 9% of his body weight which was cause for some concern. All babies lose some weight after birth, but 9% was getting a little higher than the doctors preferred to see. The second night they told me we needed to supplement Miles to get food into him and prevent him from losing any more weight. They wanted to know if we wanted to use formula or donor breastmilk. I was totally unprepared to make this type of decision. I knew breastfed was “best” and had no knowledge about formula. Since donor milk in the hospital was covered by my insurance we opted for that. Next, I was asked if we wanted to bottle feed him or use a supplemental nursing system. Again, I was NOT prepared to make decisions like this but had heard somewhere that bottle feeding too early could cause nipple confusion so we opted for the supplemental nursing system. This “system” was an obnoxious contraption with a tube that you position on your nipple and the other end holds the milk (or formula). This allows you “breastfeed” your supplement to your baby and avoid a bottle.
We used this to feed Miles until we left the hospital (all the while pumping after each feed and giving him that as well). When it was time to leave the hospital Miles had now lost more than 10% of his body weight and was borderline jaundice. The best way to get jaundice out of his system was for him to eat a lot and poop it out. So, LOTS of food was a big priority for Miles for two reasons. We left the hospital with the supplemental nursing system, some bottles (in case), and instructions to breastfeed with the guard ever 2-3 hours, then give Miles 15mL of supplement afterward as well as pump after every feeding. The first night trying to do this was rough. The supplemental nursing system was a PAIN IN THE ASS. Not just to use but also to clean. Each feeding took about 1 hour and 45 minutes each giving us just enough time to change him and try to offer him 20 or 30 minutes of sleep. Miles also spent most the night upset and crying. Michael and I took shifts sleeping and watching him.
Meeting Our Lactation Consultant
On day 4 we had our first appointment with our pediatrician. Very luckily, our pediatrician has a lactation consultant (LC) team on staff and your first appointment with your newborn is always with the LC team. This was a game changer! Our LC was able to watch Miles (attempt to) breastfeed and give us a plan to follow. She immediately upped his supplement to 60mL and told us to continue feeding every 2-3 hours, supplementing him with whatever milk I had pumped plus formula (whatever would get us to 60mL.)
She explained that we’d be fine offering a bottle and eased our minds about any issues with nipple confusion. She told us not to worry about the bottle making him unable to breastfeed and assured us “he would get there.”
She also eased our minds about offering formula to our baby. You hear so often that “breastfed is best.” And, it’s true that breastmilk is amazing and the list of benefits for you and your baby are endless. But, she also explained that our baby needed calories to a) rid jaundice from his body, b.) get back to his birth weight and c.) nourish his rapidly growing brain where a huge majority of baby’s calories go in the first weeks. Because Miles wasn’t getting enough calories from breastmilk yet, formula was the only way to ensure he would. Knowing that offering him formula was going to help him grow, nourish his brain, and help him stay away from the danger zone levels of jaundice was all the convincing I needed. Breastfed is very good…but FED is best.
We made an appointment to follow back up with her in a few days. Feedings still took over an hour, but now Miles was getting enough food! He was more content, slept better, and started to make some progress with breastfeeding. We still used the nipple shield but tried to get him to latch without it every time. I don’t remember which he officially latched the first time but it was somewhere in the first week. In the beginning, he would latch but not very well or for very long. But, every day he got a little better. Around 14 days he was at the point where he latched without a shield every time but still wasn’t taking enough milk at each feed.
Now, don’t get me wrong, we had bad days. There were definitely times I sat in the living room trying to help my hungry baby latch while he wailed because he was hungry and frustrated and I cried over him feeling defeated. As comfortable as I was giving Miles formula to fulfill him, I very strongly wanted to breastfeed exclusively. I wanted to rid my life of bottles and mixing and endless pumping. I think because of this, I put pressure on myself about the entire thing. The truth is, you think breastfeeding should come so naturally, but for SO many it doesn’t. Michael was amazing during these times. He reassured me. He reminded me that it was OK to give Miles formula for now. He reasoned with me that we’d get there.
Our first attempt at exclusively breastfeeding
We continued to have follow-up appointments with our LC every 1-2 weeks. At the appointments, they would weigh Miles before eating and then again after to see how much milk he was taking by breastfeeding. Each time he took a little more going from 20mL to 30mL to 55mL to 2 ounces. Once he got to 2 ounces (which was around week 3 or 4), my LC suggested we try 24 hours of exclusively breastfeeding. She thought that by removing the bottle of supplement, he might get more aggressive and eat better. She still wanted me to pump after EVERY feed (because it would ensure my supply continued and didn’t drop), which was starting to wear on me. Pumping 8+ times a day is a chore…it’s extremely time-consuming and really hard to find 15 minutes every 2-3 hours to put your baby down to pump when all your baby wants to do is be in your arms. BUT, I was excited about the chance to try to breastfeed exclusively.
Long story short, it didn’t work.
Miles did get more aggressive as we had hoped and they still feared he might drop in weight. After about 20 hours they had me go back to supplementing. I was disappointed, I won’t lie. I probably cried. I remember telling Michael how upset I was. I was worried all my hard work, all the endless pumping, wasn’t going to pay off.
Our second attempt at exclusively breastfeeding
Just about 2 weeks later we had another appointment with our LC. This time we were going to try exclusively breastfeeding again but she also wanted me to offer two bottles of 4oz each throughout the day NOT at the same time as breastfeeding. The idea here was that Miles would hopefully stop associating breastfeeding with a bottle coming next BUT that we’d still know he was getting at least 8 oz throughout the day in addition to what he took on his own (which we guesstimated was about 16-20 oz). And yes…I was still supposed to pump after every feed.
I was excited again and very hopeful this would work. And, for the first 48 hours, it seemed like it was! However, every day after that seemed to go downhill. Miles seemed to get very cranky. He wasn’t himself. He stopped taking his normal naps. At first I assumed it was just “baby stuff.” You know, babies have good days and bad days. But day after day he was harder and harder and less and less happy. On day 6 I had just finished his morning feed and I KNEW he was tired but every time I put him down he cried out. Something clicked in me and I just knew it was because he was still hungry. I grabbed a bottle and gave him an additional 2 oz and he IMMEDIATELY fell asleep and took his first real nap in days.
I remember sitting at the kitchen table while Miles napped and it was the first time it hit me that Miles was REALLY his own person. He had his own mindset and his own way of doing things and I didn’t have total control over him. He might never breastfeed exclusively because he just wasn’t aggressive enough of an eater. He may always need a bottle. He was his own little guy with his own personality and I had to accept and respect that. As bad as I wanted to breastfeed exclusively, I might not be able to. I could help him as much as I could but at the end of the day, Miles was going to make that decision.
I didn’t have another LC appointment for over a week. So, for the next 8 days, I went with my gut. I breastfed Miles but when I thought he needed it I’d offer him supplement. I continued to pump but slowly pulled back a little (I started by skipping 1 pumping session a day, then 2, etc.) Miles did great! He continued to breastfeed but also was getting enough to eat and was more content, slept better, and was back to his normal, happy self.
Our final exclusive breastfeeding attempt (and success!)
We met with our LC right before Christmas and everything looked great. Miles was still gaining weight, he was eating better, and everything finally seemed to be going well. She even told me I could stop pumping after every feed (halle-freaking-lujah). I left with the plan to continue what I was doing. Over the next 4 weeks, I fed Miles on demand. If I thought he was still hungry, I’d offer a bottle. At first he was getting 4-5 bottles a day, then he was getting 3, then only 2, and then finally he went many days where he got only 1 bottle or none at all. Essentially, we were able to combine what we learned from our two attempts at breastfeeding exclusively and slowly ease Miles into exclusively breastfeeding.
I remember the first day we went out and I didn’t need to pack my pump. I was able to just breastfeed Miles when he was hungry. No bottles, no nipples, no running to the sink to clean things, no messing with a pump. I was AMAZING. I felt free.
What Worked For Me
Let’s keep in mind I’m no breastfeeding pro. I have A LOT still to learn and master. But, I want to share what has worked for me so far as a new mom, breastfeeding for the first time.
1. Increasing Supply
Because Miles was slow (very slow) to breastfeed exclusively, I had to worry about supply. Milk comes in on a supply/demand basis. If baby isn’t eating a lot then your body says “oh baby doesn’t need that much milk I’ll make less,” and if baby eats all the time then your body says “OMG baby is hungry I need to make more.” So, here are the things I did to help my supply:
- Pumping after every feed. This was tedious and time-consuming and I hated it, but it was the best thing I could do for my supply. Like I said, milk is on a supply/demand basis so the more that was “demanded” the more that the supply increased. Also learn from my mistake and make sure you take the time learn the settings of your pump so you’re using it most effectively.
- Water, Water, Water. I’d say the one thing I could put in my body that most directly impacted my supply was drinking enough water. Someone on my IG stories told me to “drown myself in water,” which sounds a little extreme but seriously…it helps.
- Increase calories. I was surprisingly not hungry at all after Miles was born. Everyone talks about bring ravenous during nursing but that didn’t occur (maybe because my supply wasn’t ravenous). I actually had a very suppressed appetite for the first 3 weeks postpartum. I realized this meant I was NOT getting in enough calories to help with milk supply. When I actively started trying to get in my calories and make sure to eat GOOD, HEALTHY foods throughout the day, it definitely helped my supply. The foods I noticed that seemed to help most were: oatmeal (or oats in general, I’d put them in smoothies), coconut milk, and leafy greens.
- Decrease stress. Somewhere during my research on supply, I read a handful of things about how stress and sleep deprivation impacted supply. The stress, as my LC later told me, can also impact how our babies nurse! I made a conscious effort to relax, especially while nursing. I found more comfortable positions, using nursing as a time to unwind, stop hovering over Miles while he ate, etc.
- Milk Supplement. I take The Pink Stork True Milk supplements. They have definitely helped my supply overall. They aren’t a cure-all and doing the above things helped the most. But, I found that these supplements definitely helped my supply increase anywhere from 15%-30%.
2. Working with a Lactation Consultant
Working directly with an LC helped me in a ton of ways. First and most importantly, it gave me peace of mind. It gave me peace of mind to know what I was doing was right and that I was feeding my baby enough. Secondly, it offers you coaching on better latching, improving supply, helping baby eat better, and so on. As a first time mom, you have a lot of questions! Lastly, they just offer emotional support. She always encouraged me by telling me I was doing a good job, how impressed she was with my dedication, etc. Those little things help to keep you going!
3. Listening to My Baby and My Own Instincts
As explained in our story, everything finally clicked when I stopped overthinking it and listened to what my baby was telling me. In our case, Miles was telling me he could breastfeed but sometimes he still needed a little more. He didn’t have the stamina (or the want) to eat more aggressively. And, I listened to my own gut. While my LC gave me a ton of support and tips and a plan for breastfeeding, it wasn’t until I took what I learned from her and paired that with what I knew about my own baby that things started to really jive.
4. Try ALL THE NURSING POSITIONS
When Miles was learning to latch the best best best thing I did was constantly try new positions. I learned very quickly he didn’t like the two standard positions of football or cross cradle. One night in pure desperation I took a hungry Miles out of his bassinet and fed him laying down because I was exhausted. He ate the best he ever had! After that, I constantly tried new positions until I found the ones he liked best. I also tried without and with pillows. This helped Miles finally latch and also eat for longer periods of time.
5. Letting Go
I’m not a stressful or anxious person by nature. Most people describe me as pretty laid back and patience. But, I found as I got further into our breastfeeding journey without the outcome I envisioned I was getting more anxious and worried. My normal laid back self was becoming more and more stressed.
I hadn’t realized how tense I had become while feeding up until that. I had been hunching over Miles, holding tension in my shoulders, and probably had a damn death grip on him at the beginning. I began to I focus really hard on letting go and relaxing about the entire thing. I also stopped micromanaging Miles while he ate. This definitely helped both of us.
6. Be Flexible, Open-Minded, and Remember that FED is Best
Like I talked about at the beginning, I was NOT prepared to make decisions about formula or bottle feeding in my baby’s first days of life. I just assumed I’d breastfeed. But, that wasn’t the plan for my little guy. I had to be able and willing to do things I hadn’t planned. This is, of course, easier said than done. My LC even told me stories of other patients she had who really struggled with the idea of bottle feeding at the beginning. As many of us know, formula has been vilified. We’re taught that breastmilk is the only way. So, when we’re faced with the idea that we have to give it to our babies we feel awful, defeated, or like we’ve failed our children and we’ve only been a mom for 2 days!
The truth is, breastmilk is amazing, but that doesn’t make formula bad. Formula is a precious gift to babies like Miles who couldn’t master breastfeeding early on (or for those who never can). In those first vital weeks while Miles’ brain was growing he needed calories to sustain it. If I had deprived him of formula I would have been doing the biggest disservice to him ever. I like to think about it as if your child was 5 years old and starving but you don’t have the money to buy them organic, locally grown veggies and grass-fed chicken…would you let them starve or make them a PB&J with some non-organic apples on the side? I mean, you’d make them the damn sandwich, right?
The entire process of breastfeeding for us has been a practice in patience and flexibility. I had to be patient with Miles and myself. And, I had to be willing to do things differently than I had envisioned. In the end, we got to the outcome we wanted. At our last lactation appointment, my LC told me that it was my “patience, perseverance, and laid back attitude” that allowed us to succeed. Clearly she didn’t know about my bouts of SERIOUS frustration and hadn’t seen the times I spent crying over Miles when he wouldn’t breastfeed. But, I also need to accept that compliment. Even though I was far from perfect, I stuck with it. I was patient with Miles who took well over 2 months to breastfeed exclusively (and still needs a bottle here and there.) And, once I got over the initial shock, I kept the attitude of “whatever is best for Miles.” I focused on not stressing about it and letting go of what I hoped it would be and just accepting what it was.
Answering Your Questions about Breastfeeding
Does it hurt? This question or a variation of it was my number one asked question! The answer is mostly no. So long as your baby learned to latch properly, breastfeeding really shouldn’t hurt. It’s not unusual that your nipples get sore the first few weeks, I had a period of 3-4 days that they were very sore. But if it continues or is really bad, then there might be something wrong with your baby’s latch or something else going on.
What’s your feeding schedule? I feed Miles on demand (meaning whenever he’s hungry). But, if he goes longer than 3 hours I wake him to eat. I do this because it helps tank him up with calories during the day and allows him to sleep better, and longer, at night. Typically Miles eats every 2 hours, with one or two 3 hour stretches during the day. He wakes only once at night to eat.
How do you know how much milk you’re producing? OK, this is a big one. First, let me tell you something that eased my mind SO MUCH when I heard it: what you pump is NOT indicative of how much your baby actually takes. Many of us get caught up on this if we don’t have a crazy supply. You might pump and only get 3oz or maybe only 1-1/2 oz (or even less if your baby has recently breastfed) and assume that’s all our baby gets when they eat. Your baby is more effective than even the best pump and are able to get more than your pump can.
I spent too long stressing about how much Miles was getting at every feed. Especially when I went from bottle to breastfeeding exclusively because I went from knowing exactly how much he got to having no idea. You have to let go of that stress a little. You can’t measure exactly how much they take every time and instead you just need to focus on feeding your baby. If your baby is hungry, they’ll ask for more. Oh, and if you’re really worried, go to a Lactation Consultant. Like I talked about above, it was so helpful for us. It’s also nice because they can weigh your baby before and after eating to give you a real idea of how much they ate. This can definitely help ease your mind.
Did you ever worry about not being able to breastfeed? Um, yes. How about every damn day for the first 6 weeks. Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but yes I worried about it too much. I finally learned that the worrying DIDN’T help and if anything it made it worse. Letting go of that worry was very important to our ultimate success.
What things helped boost your supply? I answered this more detailed above but the cliff notes are: pumping a lot, drinking a shit ton of water, increasing my calories, decreasing my stress, and taking True Milk supplements.