How I Tried to Breastfeed

(If you missed last week’s installment, here’s how the story began.)

And oh, how I tried to breastfeed. But I just wasn’t making enough milk.

First and foremost, we had to feed the baby. I started with this crazy contraption called a Supplemental Nutrition System. It sounds fancy, but it’s really not. It’s this very long, very thin, very flexible tube. One end goes in a bottle of formula. When you’re breastfeeding, once the baby latches on, the other end of this tiny tube goes into his mouth, alongside the breast. So while he’s trying to nurse from me, he is also getting some formula from the bottle.

I tried to breastfeed my son for 7 weeks. As part of that struggle we used a Supplemental Nutrition System to give him some formula so he got enough to eat.

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Sound simple? It’s not… quite. There is a definite trick to it. You need to hold the formula bottle just right. Hold it too high and it acts like a siphon and formula pours through the tube and into kiddo’s mouth, too fast for him to swallow. Hold it too low and gravity takes over and it’s too hard to suck the formula through the tube and he doesn’t get any.

Then there’s the placement of the tube in his mouth. That also has to be just right… not too far into his mouth, but just far enough. And turned just the right way so the three teeny-tiny holes on the sides of the tube aren’t stuck under his tongue or against his cheek or the roof of his mouth where the formula can’t come out.

Can you tell I was a bit frustrated with that gadget?

Good news for us, Baby Doc liked to try to nurse, so once the bottle was at the right height and the tube was in the right place, he got plenty to eat.

Once we had his feeding taken care of, it was time to try to figure out why I wasn’t making any milk. First I got my thyroid levels checked. I have Grave’s Disease, a kind of hyperthyroidism (too many thyroid hormones). To treat it, I had my thyroid gland destroyed, so now I have hypothyroidism (not enough thyroid hormones). My endocrinologist and my OB had both been watching my thyroid levels very closely during pregnancy, but I hadn’t had them checked again since I had the baby. Too-low thyroid hormone can really mess with your metabolism, and make it very unlikely that you can make any milk. So off to get a blood draw I went.

It turns out my hormone levels were very low, so my endocrinologist increased my dose quite a bit. It takes a few weeks to kick in, so it would be a while before we would know if this helped at all.

Even though I wasn't making enough milk, my son was doing great with some formula in addition to the little breastfeeding I could do

I also left the lactation consult with an herbal supplement that has fenugreek in it. There is some evidence that fenugreek might lower thyroid hormones, but no one is really sure. I tried it for 10 days, didn’t see any difference, so stopped taking the supplement. (I’m not that big on herbal stuff anyway.)

The nurses also recommended oatmeal. Apparently, there’s something magic about oatmeal that helps to increase milk production. I ate it for breakfast every day for 2 weeks, and for snacks once or twice a day. Steel cut, regular, instant, in bar shapes. Slow-cooked over night or made quickly on the stovetop. You name it. I tried it. No change.

I drank water until I thought I was going to float away. No help on the milk front. (But it did help me get rid of some of that swelling in my feet and legs!)

Some people recommended that I try drinking beer. I asked the lactation nurses about this, and they said that the hops in beer can increase one hormone that helps with lactation, but it decreases another hormone, so beer doesn’t actually work. I wasn’t really in a beer mood, anyway. (Wine and whiskey are more my things.)

Low thyroid hormone levels can make it difficult for you to make milk and to breastfeed. That was part of my problem.

I pumped like a gas station attendant. At first, I would nurse Baby Doc, use the teeny tube to actually feed him, and then pump for 15 minutes. About 2 weeks in, one of the nurses suggested that I wait an hour to pump after feeding him. So I would feed the kiddo, wait an hour, and then pump for 15 minutes. About the time I was done pumping and had the equipment cleaned up, it was almost time to feed him again. (Those were some seriously fun days… I felt like a dairy cow!)

When I was pumping right after he ate I never got anything. Well, a few drops. But nothing to write home about. When I waited an hour, I usually got about 1/2 ounce. One time I got 3/4 of an ounce! I thought I had really hit the big time! The next time, I was down to 1/4 ounce. So much for that.

Through this whole extravaganza, we went back and forth to the lactation clinic 2-3 times a week to be sure that Baby Doc was getting enough to eat, gaining weight, and otherwise doing well. Thanks to the formula supplementing, he was doing fine.

But I still didn’t have any milk for him.

(Don’t worry, the story isn’t over yet! There’s still one more part to come…)

  • Carla

    2 1/2 mo after I had Ciara I had appendicitis, causing me to have to pump and dump for a few days due to the meds. My production went down dome and I tried the fenugreek too. I can’t say it was very helpful either. The main thing is u tried. It was good to see you both at Joanns.

  • http://alarmclockwars.com/ Marybeth @ Alarm Clock Wars

    From what I hear, just pumping doesn’t give nearly as much stimulation as actually having a baby nurse. It sounds like it’s pretty common to have production go down when you need to pump. I’ve talked to lots of ladies who have had their production really drop when they went back to work and had to pump during the day.