So currently, my milk stash is at 552.6 oz to the dot. I have so much that I needed to buy a separate freezer to store all of it. However, it wasn’t like this during my first month postpartum. Actually, in the beginning, I had to supplement my baby first with breastmilk and then with formula. She had lost more than 10% of her weight by her first check-up! So, how did I get to where I am from where I was? Well, here’s my story (PS. If you don’t have time to read the entire thing, save it for later! Or click on the here to skip to the bottom if you’d just like to know what you can do to increase your supply!)
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In this post you will find:
VI. The Payout
I. The Struggle I Had Breastfeeding
The first days post-partum are a blur (like everyone says). Sleepless nights and stressful days, add learning how to breastfeed to that. It a bit overwhelming as it is. My baby girl was constantly nursing, I mean all the time. She’d cry, I’d pick her up and feed her (she’d nurse for a short period of time), she’d fall asleep at the breast, I’d put her down, she’d wake up, cry louder and so the cycle would continue. By her first pediatric appointment, she had lost more than the recommended amount of weight. I realized two things…
1. My Baby was Nursing but NOT Actually Feeding.
I learned that just because baby seems to be constantly nursing, doesn’t mean she’s feeding. If she was, she’d be able to go longer stretches between feedings (2-3 hours instead of every 30 minutes). Did I have a low supply or my milk not fat enough (what baby’s first pediatrician suggested, which was completely erroneous considering what followed)? I came home to my baby refusing to breastfeed completely, and it didn’t help that my boobs were hard. I wondered if my milk wasn’t fully in (I had never heard of mastitis you see? A friend of mine who was studying to be a lactation consultant identified the problem real quick, the baby couldn’t latch because of how hard my breasts had gotten and my breasts were hard because the baby wasn’t emptying them out efficiently (how could the doctor miss that?!)! Once I pumped, out can’t the thickest colostrum, and a pumping session of 10 minutes gave me 3 oz from both sides (and that was only from ONE side).
2. Painful Breastfeeding Experience.
The other thing that I noticed was that breastfeeding was extremely painful, and no matter how much I tried to work with latch, it just got worse. Now, I knew breastfeeding was tough, but it had gotten so bad that it was no longer bearable and I was ready to throw in the towel (you’ve got to remember that she was constantly nursing!).
II. The Problem Identified
Putting the two together, my friend had her suspicions but she recommended I see some lactation consultants first.
1. Running All Over Town from Lactation Consultant to Lactation Consultant.
So, we actually visited a few lactation specialists and only one identified the problem. Otherwise, every single one was saying that baby appeared to be feeding fine and gaining weight (mind you, at this point, I had started to supplement with pumped milk). For some reason, my baby seemed to gain her confidence at those visits because she’d latch like a pro and fill up quickly. However, as soon as we’d get home, it would be back to the same old chaos. She would barely nurse and then jug a bottle of pumped milk, so something was definitely wrong with her nursing. With my friend’s suggestion (considering the inadequate and painful nursing) I’d ask every consultant and pediatrician to check our daughter for a tongue tie (I, of course, didn’t know what that was but you can check out my post about it so you can be better informed), but only one seemed to know what she was doing and confirmed our suspicions!
2. She had a Tongue AND Lip Tie!
She recommended we go to a specialist and low and behold she not only had a tongue tie but a lip tie as well. So, once we got those taken care of, healing was the next step (for both momma and baby)!
III. The Commitment and Hard Work to Keep Breastfeeding
I thought that the hard part was over with, but it was only beginning. What followed next we the hardest weeks of my breastfeeding experience!
1. I (Temporarily) Quit Breastfeeding and Pumped BUT Never Had Enough!
I DID NOT want to breastfeed even though my baby had her tongue and lip tie taken care of (defeats the purpose right). I was terrified for the sake of my nipples (they weren’t healed yet)! I decided to only pump and then return to breastfeeding once we had both healed up. The problem was that I was barely keeping up with baby’s feedings, even though I was ALWAYS pumping! What happened to my supply (you know the one that I only pump for 10 minutes and get 3 oz from one side)? After looking into it and doing some research, I figured out what I needed to do!
2. I Decided to Exclusively Breastfeed (Barely Made it!!) and Pump After Each Feeding.
Exclusively breastfeeding was the best way to start building my stash! A baby does a better job of emptying than a pump could ever do. However, now baby DIDN’T want to breastfeed, the bottle was easier (we made the mistake of going against our lactation consultant’s advise of feeding her upright, the correct way of bottle feeding a baby learning to breastfeed, and instead got lazy and fed her while she would be laying down). Nipple confusion really complicated my attempt at exclusively breastfeeding, and we barely survived the brutal week (if I didn’t have the support I had I would’ve stopped trying because it was hard on both baby and me). She would nurse during the day but go on a nursing strike at night (the flow is slower towards the evening, although the milk is much more calorie-rich). I was worried she wasn’t eating enough (she’d only give in if I dream fed her), but our pediatrician said she was on track and to keep trying. Well, here we are, now exclusively breastfeeding and it couldn’t be better! She has become such a pro and our feedings have regulated. Sure it took A LOT of tears and trial and error, but we got here and we learned a lot (like also the importance of fore- and hindmilk and when to switch sides, but that’s for another day)! And my pumping? Well, after she would feed and get her portion, I’d pump!
IV. The Payout
SO finally to the part you have been waiting for! Yes, I will say that exclusively breastfeeding is what did it for me. I could not have pumped enough, and honestly, it was more exhausting and discouraging to pump so often and get so little. However, as I said earlier, getting there was hard.
1. Cluster Feeding Madness
One of the most important parts of getting a good supply is getting through cluster feeds. This means stimulating your milk production EVERY SINGLE TIME BABY IS HUNGRY. My friend told me this from the beginning, but like I said, I was lazy about it (boy did I regret not committing sooner, as I would have avoided that rough month!). Give the breast every time baby wants it. Yes, it’s exhausting. Yes, I sat planted on the couch literally all day (she was still struggling with proper latch and adequate nursing). Yes, it was VERY tempting to just give her a bottle of pumped milk. But, we did it, and once we got through it, my supply established. I actually got an OVERSUPPLY. I was pumping every 3 hours, and sometimes I’d finish pumping just as she’d be hungry again (that “Oh no! I just pumped out all my milk” moment, even though that’s not actually possible), but I’d still give her the breast. So, my milk production was ALWAYS being stimulated for about two weeks (yes it was a long time, so learn from my mistakes and commit from the beginning).
2. My First 100 oz in a Week!
With an oversupply, now my baby was getting full from one side. I’d have to pump from the other after each feeding (alternating sides, of course, since no one wants their breasts to be different sizes afterward) or otherwise I’d get engorged pretty quickly. I started to produce way more than I needed (everything I pumped went towards my stash since my baby was full from nursing regularly). I ended up stopping my day-time pumping sessions and only pumping in the morning, after baby’s first feeding, and at night, after baby’s last evening feeding. I still would average 16 oz a day!
V. What You Can Do to Increase Your Supply
I hope my story will help any momma struggling with breastfeeding, I completely understand how stressful it can be because I have been there. I was debating whether or not to share it, but I did in hopes of giving another momma some hope in the thicket. It gets easier, I promise, just pull through it (you can do it, momma!)! It’s SO worth it! Here are the lessons I learned from my own experience on how to increase your supply (by the way, I made an infographic to simplify everything in a cute and easily accessible way!)…
1. Pump Pump Pump!!! (credits to my dear friend and future lactation consultant, Luba!)
In the beginning, my friend recommended I pump every 2 hours BEFORE midnight and every 3 hours AFTER midnight (however, this was when I was engorged and exclusively pumping because my baby wouldn’t latch). If you are trying to exclusively breastfeed, try pumping every 3 hours while still breastfeeding everytime baby is hungry.
When you pump, pump for 20 minutes on EACH side, so only one side is being pumped while using a Haakaa on the other side. The reason why you’re doing one side at a time is so that you could help “express” milk while pumping and massage that breast (this part is super important, I always pumped more milk this way). You can put some coconut oil on your breasts so as to not stretch the dry skin and encourage the production of stretch marks. To help with let down, warm up a towel (pop it into the dryer) and place it over your breasts for about 5 minutes. If at any point pumping becomes painful, STOP. Once you’re done, you can put a cool towel over your breasts, but this is optional and primarily if you’re treating engorgement. Get some excess breastmilk and dab it on your nipples (or nipple cream, if that’s what you prefer), this promotes healing, and either cover them with nursing pads OR, what really helps soothe sore nipples, Lansinoh Soothies. Once your milk supply increases you could customize your pumping schedule to your own preference, or you could do what I do and pump once when you wake up and once before bed.
2. Exclusively Breastfeed
Pumping can only get you so far, honestly. If you really want to build up your supply AND get a stash REALLY going, you will need to breastfeed (at least that is the only thing that worked in my case). Breastfeed ON DEMAND while you continue to pump. Your baby might get a little fussy, especially if you pump right before a feeding (the feeding will end up being longer than usual, of course), but offer the breast EVERY TIME. If you do end up pumping right before a feeding, just continue alternating breasts during the feeding. Since your baby is constantly stimulating, milk is constantly being produced (it isn’t exactly possible to completely empty your breasts). Also, everytime baby begins nursing at the breast, the letdown is usually initiated, so constantly switching sides increases the likelihood of letdowns (DON’T be too quick to switch sides if you’re full as you want baby to breastfeed on one side for as long as possible since the most nutrient-rich and high-fat milk, hindmilk, starts flowing about 15-20 minutes into a feeding).
3. Drink LOTS of Water!
Now, personally, I don’t really believe in eating specific foods or herbs as a way to increase milk supply (there really aren’t any studies to back this up, and, well, it didn’t work for me… hey, but other mommas swear by certain stuff, so definitely don’t take my word for it!). What actually worked for me, apart from eating as I normally would breastfeeding, was drinking A LOT of water! I mean there’s a reason why you’re thirsty every time you breastfeed, your body is telling you exactly what you need in order to make that milk so listen up and drink up!
Until next time!
Other posts you may find interesting:
- 8 Signs and Symptoms of a Tongue Tie
- Breastfeeding Survival Guide: 12 Things I Wish I Knew About Breastfeeding
- 11 Breastfeeding Essentials for First-Time Moms (And how to use them)
- Mom Hack: Surviving the Newborn Phase