Technically, I don’t even qualify to be considered low supply; I have a “micro supply”. My first breastfeeding experience was awful and filled with shame and embarrassment. But now, less than three years later, I can honestly say I love breastfeeding.
The change happened fast and was dramatic. However, if you are looking for supplement advice, pumping schedules or lactation cookie recipes, this is the wrong blog. The most important thing that changed my ability to breastfeed was checking (and replacing) the tape in my head. That was the different it took between low supply with baby number one and breastfeeding baby number two.
When my first baby was born in 2013, I had a deep desire to exclusively breastfeed. I think this came from my maternal instinct, the knowledge that breast milk is incredibly powerful stuff, and the many years of societal pressure that “breast is best”. The most powerful motivation, I later learned, was to avoid the judgement, shame and embarrassment that come from using bottles/formula.
When we discovered my dear sweet Penelope was not transferring much of anything from my low supply, I was devastated. Devastated doesn’t begin cover it. I felt so physically, emotionally and spiritually empty that I’m positive the feelings could only be replicated by losing my beloved husband. I felt as if I had failed her. And worse, I told myself some amazingly detrimental stories that became the tape running in my head.
I quit at six-weeks postpartum because I had to. I was not sleeping. I did not feel that “indescribable love” with which other parents oozed. I was not bonding with her.
My lowest moment was when I cornered my husband as he arrived home from work and told him through tears that I thought a different family would care and love our daughter better than I could. I was defeated. I wasn’t thinking straight.
We decided to do all formula and quit the rat race that was triple-feeding. If you are new to that term, it means breastfeeding your child, followed by supplementing, followed by pumping for the next feeding. It’s a process that takes up to two hours per feeding and feedings come every two hours. You do the math. It’s pure hell. Oh, and somewhere in there you have to eat, pee and cleanse all the equipment.
When I quit, I slowly began to breathe again. I remember the first time that I looked at Penelope and just enjoyed her facial features. I started to talk to her and snuggle her just because I could. I finally felt love.
Fast forward to baby girl number two, who was born in 2016. I knew how hard my breastfeeding journey was with Pen and wanted something different this time. I decided to start early with preparations.
With Penelope that meant countless (and expensive) lactation appointments, low supply support groups, doctors, prescriptions, supplements, pumps, blood tests, at-breast supplement apparatuses, off-limit foods, rules, regimens and triple-feeding around the clock.
With Josephine it meant prayer, yoga, finding my tribe and rewriting my tape.
I prayed for serenity (and a full milk supply), I did yoga to remember to breathe and stay present and I surrounded myself with ladies that would hold me up during the ugly times. Believe me, if your friends and family still love you when you discuss this stuff, they are keepers.
The biggest change I made was examining my tape. Elizabeth Gilbert talks about this concept, that there are voices in our heads that keep us company, who talk to us constantly. They come from our experiences, societal pressure, judgements we perceive, the way we were raised, the support we do or do not have, etc.
With Pen my tape went something like this, “ Low supply is a myth, it means you aren’t trying hard enough. If you loved her, you would pump more often, get on another prescription, and see another specialist. She’ll never be smart, emotionally balanced or healthy because of you. If you weren’t such a weak and selfish teenager who got a breast-reduction, this never would have happened. Your already minuscule supply will drop if you make ONE mistake or forget to do ONE thing in the regimen. How many milliliters did I make this time? Holy crap, all of this work and it’s not even totaling an ounce after FIFTY pumping sessions?!?”
With Joey, it goes like this, “Look at those delicious cheeks. She’s so calm when she is drinking. What a joy THIS breastfeeding session is. I know you don’t get a lot from me, but it can be your vitamin. I got rid of her hiccups! Here, let me nurse her, she has gas and I know it will help. I’m sleeping more than I expected. I love her. She loves me. She’s going to be ok. We’re ok. Yes, Pen, I did this for you, too.”
So, my sweet fellow breastfeeding mamas, do me (and yourself, and your child) this one favor. Write down the words of the tape that plays during the middle of the night pumping sessions. Observe the voices that you listen to while you feed your tiny one. Notice what that recording repeats to you. Is it kind? Is it true? Is it supportive? Would you say those things to your beloved friend?
Maybe, like me, you can find a tribe that will read your tape transcript with you and help you sort through the bullshit. Maybe, like me, you’ll be able to nourish your babe more than ever before. Maybe, you can find your own success and serenity in this journey. Happy World Breastfeeding Week to you, you’ve earned it.
Written by: Sarah Branion
“Sarah Branion is a breastfeeding mother of two beautiful girls. She works for a Colorado non-profit and is also a Labor & Birth Doula. She and her husband and girls live in Denver.”
Check her out at: www.wonderstruckdoula.wordpress.com