Let’s start this post with a disclaimer…
I’m told that for some moms, breastfeeding is a natural, beautiful process that inspires feelings of joy and bonding and thoughts of puppies and butterflies. I suspect these are mythical unicorn moms, because I’ve never met one.
For me, it was a sacrifice—of my boobs, my freedom, my time, my arm usage… This is a sacrifice that NO ONE should feel obligated to make. As I was told while I was in the midst of a breastfeeding breakdown: formula isn’t poison. In fact, there was a recent study that showed the benefits of breastfeeding have been a bit trumped up.
However, if you’re like me, and you can and want to make the choice/sacrifice to breastfeed, you may have problems doing so. There are, unfortunately, a lot of potential issues: mastitis, bad latch, lip tie, oversupply… can you hear the puppies and butterflies singing in perfect harmony? I was milk-deficient myself. Low supply.
(At certain points during the 14ish months that I breastfed, my brain would feed me other synonyms such as dried-up, inadequate, unnatural, unfit…sound familiar? Well, STOP IT. You’re terrific!)
Low supply meant that, on top of the hours I spent breastfeeding, I clocked more time trying to produce enough milk to satisfy my endlessly hungry baby. Cows could do it, and I could do it too. I slowly drove myself crazy counting ounces and squeezing and pumping and prodding. And we still supplemented with formula, which is not poison, but IS darned expensive.
Again, I would not recommend this for everyone. Formula-feeding is a perfectly valid choice. But if you’re able and willing—but your boobs are not—here’s what worked for me:
Crazy Level 1 (Not So Crazy): Calories
When you’re pregnant, the general wisdom these days is that you’re supposed to consume 300 extra calories per day. When you’re breastfeeding, that moves up to 500. Don’t bother counting them. Just eat when you’re hungry. Try to stay healthy, but enjoy it. This was probably my favorite thing about breastfeeding. Eating is awesome.
Crazy Level 2: H2O
One of the first books we read to our son was about farm animals. I’m not sure if it was subliminal messaging, but there was a “fun” fact about cows in there that resonated with me: they drink a bathtub of water a day to keep up their milk supply. In my quest to ‘be the cow,’ I took it to heart and started drinking massive amounts of water. Actually, I craved it. And I know it helped.
Crazy Level 3: Special Foods
You can make lactation cookies. I did not. I did eat a ton of oatmeal—not instant. I read somewhere that instant doesn’t work—probably because it’s too easy. I drank Mother’s Milk tea, though most things I read said you’d have to drink a ton of it in order for it to make a difference. However, it happened to be cold outside, and the tea was warm. I also drank red wine—one glass in the evening, right after I fed the beast. It was pediatrician-recommended! I’ve also heard that really dark beer can help, but I prefer the vino, so I stuck with that option.
Crazy Level 4: Herbal Supplements
There are a bunch of drugs you can take—some herbal, some prescription. I opted for More Milk Special Blend, because my boobs increased from a B to a B+. They didn’t do much of anything. The ‘special blend’ (I envision a group of witches surrounding a cauldron) is supposed to help with that. I took three pills three times a day (which is NOT what the bottle says). But ladies, it worked for me. I’m not sure anything else helped, but these pills did. They’re expensive, they’re annoying, but they helped. At around the 10 month mark, I opted for the cheaper Fenugreek (same dose), and while they kept the juices flowing, the tap definitely slowed. I’m not saying they’ll work for everyone, but those witches and their ‘special blend’ — that was kind of it for me.
Crazy Level 5: Pumping
Remember all of that extra time I was complaining about? It was the pumping that really did it. I pumped after each feeding in order to trick my boobs into thinking they were still doing their job. The feedings took about an hour with my kid, because he enjoyed falling asleep at the boob. Then I’d pump for around 20 minutes, massaging the boobage and trying to remember how much worse things would be if someone hadn’t invented the pumping bra. The pumping helped, but there’s a tipping point. If your supply is limited, you want to have enough for the next feeding. Plus, it’s pretty hard to take care of a baby while you’re doing it. This one gets a crazy rating of 5 because it really did take over my life. I got pretty obsessed. The day I unplugged the pump was the day I started to feel free again. But plenty of people figure it out and find some peace with it. Big shout out to those exclusive pumpers out there—I don’t think I could do it.
Crazy Level 6: Tribal Dances
Okay, I never actually did tribal dances, but if someone had told me they worked…I probably would have given it a shot.
I hope some of this was helpful to all my low supply sisters out there. But ultimately, I really want to say this: don’t be afraid to give yourself a break. Give your baby what you can (and want to) give, and don’t blame yourself or guilt yourself or shame yourself into getting to Crazy Level 6.
Unless you want to.
And let me know if it works…