3 Irish mums share their struggles with low milk supply
Nikki Walsh brings us more rants from the regions. She chatted to three mums who experienced low milk supply, and they told her in their own words about the challenges they encountered.
I wasn’t that fussed about breastfeeding – I came to motherhood late, and friends had already warned me not to get my knickers in a twist about it. So I was surprised how easy I found it. Not many things in life have come easily to me, but here, at last was something I could do. I enjoyed it too – the feeling of calm during and after feeds was a beautiful continuation of the serenity I had experienced during my pregnancy.
Then my son got reflux and could not feed – he would pull off the breast screaming. Lying flat was unbearable for him, so I spent much of my time walking around the house with him propped up on my left shoulder. After a few bumpy weeks I found the right medication for him and he started to feed again, but I didn’t have enough milk; after all those weeks of not feeding my milk supply had plummeted. I began to pump and take supplements and was seeing some increase. However, then his medication wore off, the reflux returned, and he could not feed again.
Lacatation consultants told me I had to pump straight after every feed, but that was when he needed me most to hold him upright. It seemed I had two choices: maintain my milk supply and listen to him scream, or hold him close and let it go. I chose the latter. Coming off those breastfeeding hormones was hard – I felt edgy and anxious and out of control and I missed the connection so much. I hated everything about bottle feeding and went out of my way to make sure I didn’t have to feed him in public.
There was a class I took my son to full of beautiful Brazilian women, who all breast feed their babies, and whenever I took out the bottle, I felt ashamed. My lowest ebb came when we were in a hotel foyer. A midwife was sitting nearby, and she gave me an earful about not breastfeeding. I told her I had lost my milk, and she looked at me unconvinced. It amazed me how little people understood low milk supply. Someone asked me if I was dieting. Another person wondered if I was too old. No one seemed to realise it’s based on simple supply and demand.
I breastfed my first child for two years, so when I had my second child, I was determined to breastfeed him too. But I had a C-section, and afterwards there was very little milk. The public health nurse said I had to supplement, but I knew that was the beginning of the end, so I went online and came up with my own nursing plan. I pumped, took medication in the form of anti-nausea tablets which boost your supply, drank all kinds of funny tea, had nursing vacations in bed, but I never saw a significant increase in my milk. I just couldn’t understand it.
I began to dread the weigh-ins, and began to genuinely hate and fear the public health nurse. By the three month stage, my husband had had enough, but I wouldn’t listen. I went online again and came up with a new plan: more medication, more pumping, more nursing vacations. The wake-up call came when I forgot to take the medication one night and woke up in the morning so weak and unsteady on my feet; I thought I was going to die. I came off them then and convinced myself I only had to hold out for a few more weeks; then I could put my son on solids.
He’s two years old now, and he looks great but I can’t look at the pictures of him back then. He was so thin. And now there are times when he wants something he can’t have, and he makes that same urgent high-pitched noise he made at my breast and I turn around and I give him what he wants, instantly, because I can’t listen to it. It reminds me too much of that time. Now I'm not sure where I went in those first months of his life and if the low milk supply and my response to it weren't some form of post-natal depression.
When my first child was born, he screamed at my breast for days. The midwives swarmed around me in the hospital, hand-pumping my breasts, commenting on how small they were, but there was no milk. I have never felt more of a failure. I went home with an extensive pumping regime, but all I ever managed to produce was three mls. Those first few weeks were miserable. I did not want to leave the house because I was too ashamed to feed him in public, and I cried after each pumping. I thought I had failed not only him, but also my husband, and that I was not cut out to be a mother.
Then I bottle fed him. I was so surprised. I will never forget the sight of his shiny eyes looking up at me in the half-light and how grateful they looked and how gratified I felt. It was all so bonding. Months later friends weaning their children off the breast would look at me with my son and ask me how I managed to soothe him without nursing him. I realised that I had a skill set they hadn’t acquired yet as for us the boob wasn’t the answer to everything.
Looking at some of them now, still breastfeeding two or three times a night, I feel lucky that I have been spared that, for I can only imagine how exhausted they are. Now I am pregnant again, and I am not sure I will even bother trying to breastfeed my second. There will be more sleep, fewer feeds and my son has already told me he would like to give the baby a bottle.
Nikki Walsh is a writer and editor with a passion for what makes us tick. She lives in Dublin with her husband, her son and a heap of books, mostly on psychology.