Supply-Sideboob Economics

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I have a running mental list of “things no one warned me about” when it comes to parenthood. Supply concerns is one of those.

I pump every day. If it’s a workday, I pump 3-4 times. If I’m off, I still pump at least once, but I try to give ZeMonkey the boob as much as possible.

Every time I pump, I dread what’ll come out — or I should say, what won’t come out.

On the drive to our humble dinner tonight, I confessed to my husband that I devote an inordinate amount of time worrying that my supply is going to “dry up”…even though I’d spent that entire day nursing our daughter, and during that time only needed to give her 10 ounces of supplementation (compared to a workday, when she regularly takes about 14-16 ounces of supplementation). This means my boobs are (mostly) working…I just can’t pump enough at work.

But there’s this anxiety that still follows me around, and settles on my shoulders every time I hook myself onto the pump. Will this be the day? it whispers. The day you stop producing?

Breastfeeding is a lot of work. When you produce slowly, or if you have a slow eater, breastfeeding goes from being twenty minutes on the couch to thirty, forty, sixty and more…and then you get an hour or so of respite before the baby is hungry again. When I told my doctor that Zoë would sometimes nurse up to two hours in the evening, she waved it off. “Oh, she’s just comfort nursing.” I’m now pretty sure that wasn’t the case; she was trying to get nourishment, it was just trickling out by drips and drops rather than the steady stream she needed.

I have tried all the galactagogues. I rather enjoyed eating oatmeal-almond cookies for a week, but can’t say they increased my output. The blessed thistle/fenugreek combo seems to increase production slightly, but that’s about it. I spent days of my maternity leave with my baby attached to me, hoping she would stimulate production. I drink gallons of water. I haven’t gone on a diet and I haven’t limited my calories. I massage my breasts while pumping, I nurse Zoë before work, and it’s the first thing I do when I get home. Still my supply remains what it’s been: enough to just barely feed her, not enough for her to thrive.

So when does she thrive? When we give her formula. It’s as simple as that. And that is a painful realization to reach if you’ve been steeped in the “breast is best” culture. There are women who would have told me to “try harder”. But those women aren’t my friends or family. They’re mostly trolls on forums. They don’t know my pain.

Far more are the women who have quietly come to me and said they went through the same. Either their supply dried up completely, or they had to supplement, or they decided they would rather spend time with their child than a pump.

I personally spent hours and hours doing searches on formula types and ingredients, trying to find something good. The make-at-home formula recipes freak me out; I’m terrified of making a mistake that will malnourish my baby, and I just can’t bring myself to do it. The organic types sound good…until you realize they’re all using brown rice, which has high levels of arsenic. All of the non-organic ones have GMOs. Basically, I can’t win. Everything has a perceived drawback. Finally, I just looked for whatever didn’t have corn syrup in it and went with that. I ultimately took the grocery store out of the loop completely, and that helped me not only gain back time, but some of my sanity; all my formula ships through Amazon Prime.

So hey, random woman on the Internet who may be agonizing over giving her child formula. My name is Steph, and I want you to know it’s okay. I want you to know I spent days and weeks agonizing and have now come to a place where I know that this, too, shall pass. Soon she will be older and eating sweet potatoes and egg yolks. Soon nursing will be something we do for comfort rather than sustenance. The boxes of formula will go away. The hours of pumping will fade. New challenges shall arise.

At some point, you have to forgive yourself. You can’t very well hold a baby when you’re wringing your hands.

the Incredible Sleeping Zoë

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Zoë is sleeping in my lap.  Mike is going to bed.  I’ll be up at 3, 6, and 9 to feed Zoë.

Nursing is going slowly. Four days in the NICU meant our daughter started life with a bottle in her mouth. Her low birth weight (our girl was definitely a “green apple”) plus the jaundice has instilled a certain fear of exclusive breastfeeding in me. Additionally there were, um, size problems in the beginning (my baby is tiny, my breasts are not, you do the math).

Nowadays size isn’t the issue: drowsiness is. As much as I want to nurse my daughter, I worry about her getting enough to eat; nursing tends to knock her out almost instantly. Like, two gulps and she’s asleep, and it takes half an hour for me to wake her up again. No bueno when your daughter is already underweight, and really, really needs those two ounces at each 2-3 hour feeding.

So we compromise. I nurse until she falls asleep, and then we break out the bottle with the pumped milk. She doesn’t have any problem finding the boob, and her latching on has gotten much better…when she’s awake enough to do so. She’s still a very sleepy baby. We expect this is due to her being early and jaundiced, and so I’m waiting for her to “wake up” a bit more before I transition to exclusively nursing.

A week from tomorrow she’ll be three weeks old. More importantly, she’ll be “full term” then. We’ve watched as she’s gradually become more and more alert, but it still is sometimes a huge effort to get her awake and actively nursing. Until she’s more present, we’ll continue to bottle feed and I’ll continue to pump to keep up supply. Starving a baby this sleepy is just not something I can or should do.

And there is another upside to this: her dad and family get to help with feedings. Though I feed her a lot of the time, she also gets to spend that time with others. And I get much-needed sleep. It works, in its own way.