This inspiring lactation story of resilience was written by LWC Client, Susan Trindle.
Suck suck suck suck suck suck suck. That is what my sweet newborn was doing at my breast for thirty minutes at a time, ten to twenty times a day in his first two weeks of life. I reveled in that time, even the all-nighters, even the cluster feeding, because I was surviving on that first-time mom feel-good soup. Then we went to his two-week pediatrician appointment and found out that my son had lost weight. In that moment in my motherhood journey I learned that just when I thought I had been pushed to my absolute limit, I’d be asked to yield more. It suck suck suck suck suck suck sucked.
I was surprised by his weight loss for a few reasons. For starters, he felt huge compared to when he was born. His head was bigger. His body was noticeably longer. Also, he was wetting lots of diapers and having the appropriate number of stools per day. It turns out my breast compressions were milking my breast milk into his mouth, but he was not efficiently transferring much on his own. Just enough to fool me.
We got a same-day appointment with a lactation consultant at Lifecycle WomanCare and it was confirmed: he had lost weight. He also was not making swallow sounds. I hadn’t noticed! It was incredibly hard for me to process and I felt like I had failed. I suck suck suck suck suck suck suck.
We created a game plan to start triple feeding immediately and we would return after the weekend for a weight check. Triple feeding means you breastfeed, then pump, and then bottle feed the pumped milk and this process is repeated 8 to 10 times per day. It is a strategy that helps in two ways: it increases mom’s milk supply and it helps baby gain weight. It is intense.
I already felt pushed to my edge. How was I going to do all this work? Also, even with perfect adherence to a triple feeding regimen there is no guarantee that I would exclusively breastfeed. In fact, when I asked what our odds were of getting him back on the breast, I learned that many people will change feeding strategies after a short period of time as triple feeding is not a sustainable process.
Pumping or using formula are wonderful options for feeding babies and there is a happy hybrid of breastfeeding and bottle feeding that can be used. But for the time I wanted to honor my desire to breastfeed my son. Not specifically for the health benefits or the convenience, but simply because I wanted to breastfeed or at least to leave no stone unturned to do so. It was a strong longing that served as my motivation for weeks.
I decided I would triple feed for six weeks and make the decision to exclusively pump with occasional breastfeeding or to switch to formula if my son did not “get it.” That first night we introduced bottles, my husband got ready to pace feed and I turned to him and asked if I could do the first one and said, “I just want to feed my baby.” I was crying.
I started power pumping to boost my supply up and was lucky. Within two days my breasts were leaking in the mornings again. I made a pumping station in three rooms of our house and tracked my output. I bought more bottles and pumping bras. I followed an exclusive pumper on Instagram. I invested in a portable pump to free myself of the cord. I attended the lactation Zoom support group meetings led by the lactation team at the birth center. I drove to PT appointments. I cried. I had breast pain. I had doubt. I got support from other moms who triple fed. They told me it was OK, fed is best, that I was doing great, let them know how it’s going. My husband let me vent. He reassured me. My friends checked in. Some of them had also triple fed. Some of them sent food.
I used a syringe as a makeshift SNS that put milk into my son’s mouth while he tried to suck. It felt good to stay skin-to-skin and to watch his profile as he ate that way. I used a nipple shield. The shield would fill with milk when I let down and my son would drink it from there. His suck sucked.
We did weighted feeds every ten days or so. It would take over an hour for him to transfer an ounce. I was encouraged by my lactation consultant. I was given permission to stop. I was given some things to try: only pump and give bottles overnight, get help with bottles, get more sleep.
Finally something changed. Five and a half weeks into triple feeding I had a follow-up appointment and was asked how it was going. I said I felt tugging while he fed for the FIRST TIME the past week of feeds! Then my baby transferred 3.8 ounces in 25 minutes. For reference at his initial appointment he had only transferred 0.3 ounces in about that time. We celebrated; we took a picture. My husband took me out on the town, and I proudly breastfed in public for the first time.
I type this as my son eats for the seven minutes it takes him to fill up. I type to the rhythm of suck swallow suck swallow suck swallow. Sigh.
We need a book about pregnancy and the postpartum period called Expect the Unexpected When You’re Expecting. It would have just three lines in it and would include everything I have learned.
You are enough. You are not alone. You are part of a great village.
It would also have Lifecycle WomanCare’s office phone number. And mine.
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