Blog, Lactation, Motherhood, Postpartum

The Two Extremes of Milk Supply

Did you imagine breastfeeding being a beautiful journey just like those women who are breastfeeding in a field of flowers? Yeah, me too.

But here is the reality. We each have a very different experience when it comes to breastfeeding. Your experiences will likely also change throughout your journey. Unfortunately one of the many ways we measure our worth as a mother is our ability to produce for our babes.

I had the honor to chat with some really awesome mamas and I am excited to share with you some of their stories to hopefully remind everyone that there really isn’t a ‘perfect’.

Undersupply

With some experiencing it from day one and some not until much later, undersupply unfortunately effects many of us. While it may be different for each of us one thing that was consistent between all of the moms I talked with is that they were all impacted emotionally.

Jill – NICU

  • How long have/did you breastfeed: Still breastfeeding at one month
  • When did your undersupply start: Day one. Baby went to the NICU after birth.
  • Were you able to exclusively breastfeed: Primarily formula feeds but still attempts to latch baby to breastfeed and pumps as often as possible to provide some breast milk.
  • Did you try anything to help increase supply? Tried cookies and fenugreek without success.
  • How did your undersupply effect you? “I know some moms don’t want to breastfeed. For those of us who want to. It’s really hard at times.” Jill found it heartbreaking that her supply never seemed to fully come in to exclusively breastfeed. However, her son is doing well on formula and healthy!

Jami – Postpartum/Baby Blues

  • How long have/did you breastfeed: 2 months
  • When did your undersupply start: Jami dealt with baby blues after the birth of her baby causing her to have a challenging time to bond with baby after they got home. (this is not out of the ordinary, yet rarely talked about) Her difficulty with breastfeeding compounded her baby blues.
  • Were you able to exclusively breastfeed: At 2 months she and her mom had a serious talk about the weight of breastfeeding on her mental wellness. Her mom reminded her the most important thing is that her baby is healthy, fed, and happy. Her mom went out and got formula and fed the baby while Jami napped. After that experience she slowed weaned to formula and found that she was able to bond with her baby in a way she hadn’t experienced while trying to breastfeed.
  • Did you try anything to help increase supply? Pumping, cookies, breastfeeding on demand and visited with several lactation consultants.
  • How did your undersupply effect you? “I started feeling inadequate as a mother, wife, and woman. I had these thoughts of, “why can’t I do this?:, “I’m a horrible mom, I can even feed my child.” but at the end, Jami does share this with me “It took me a while to get over the fact that I couldn’t produce enough for him. However, my baby is all smiles and completely happy and that makes me a proud mom.”

Regardless if you have to supplement it doesn’t make you any less of a mom. Breastfeeding doesn’t have to be all or nothing! Curious if you have might have low supply? I have more details about how to determine if you might have low supply and tricks that may help increase milk supply on my Coping with Undersupply post.

Oversupply

Thank goodness our abilities to nurture and nourish our children is not only measured by our ability to produce milk. For some mamas making milk is a walk in the park or so we might think. Oversupply comes with its own unique set of challenges as well. Just take it from Lindsey Ince, MS, RD/LD (fellow dietitian, new mom, and good friend of mine)

  • How long have/did you breastfeed: 5 1/2 months and still going
  • When did your oversupply start: Right after her milk supply came in. 
  • Were you able to exclusively breastfeed: Yes.
  • Did you try anything to help regulate your supply? Initially, started with using her haakaa to manually express excess milk then switched to her double electric pump until she felt more comfortable. She found pumping in the morning before feeding to help slow her flow and pumping at night benefited both her and her’s sons comfort. She also uses breast massage and heat/ice to help regulate supply and comfort. She also utilized a laid back nursing position to help her baby with let down and flow and only offering one side at a time to tell her body to slow down production.
  • How did your oversupply effect you? Lindsey dealt with feeling full and uncomfortable even after feedings. She has dealt with a forceful let down that caused her baby to cough and choke while nursing. She dealt with leaking frequently and even clogged ducts as a result of her oversupply.  “You worry about doing anything to “slow” or “decrease” production because you don’t want to go from having too much to not enough–I get it! I would say, there are simple changes you can make to manage it, and use the excess to store in the freezer.” “It took me calling into the breastfeeding hotline to realize that’s what was going on, and that other moms struggle with it.”

While many moms find themselves more on the undersupply side of things, oversupply does still challenge many moms. For more information about oversupply and regulating your supply check out my Managing Oversupply post.

My Own Experience

Just like so many other mothers, I don’t really fit into a box. I dealt with both an oversupply and undersupply. While I am still exclusively feeding my babe breast milk (9+ months) my supply isn’t quite where I want it to be either. 

When my daughter was first born my milk came in full force in record time, even the nursery nurses were shocked. I worked with two lactation consultants in the hospital because I couldn’t quite get my daughter to latch on my right side after my c-section. They were so helpful and I highly recommend asking to see one before you discharge. They both told me about engorgement but I think I was still in a whirlwind of having a baby that it didn’t really stick with me that it wasn’t going to be an IF I got engorgement but that I was already dealing with engorgement. The first couple of weeks were really rough for me as I dealt with clogs and a milk blister. I worked on regulating my supply by using hot and cold compresses, breast massage, and manually expressing to comfort. I would nurse laying down most of the time and would even try to pump a little before feeding to help slow down my flow. By the time I had to go back to work I was at a level where I was producing just enough. It was great. I didn’t feel any discomfort and made what she needed. I kept pretty consistent until about 8 months when I got food poisoning.

With my food poisoning, I suffered from pretty severe dehydration that landed me in the E.R. It took me many days to recover from the dehydration and my supply took a huge hit. I have since added in extra pumping sessions, drank the herbal teas and drinks, added brewer’s yeast, and using a hands-on approach to pumping. I have seen a small increase in my supply but it hasn’t returned to what it was before I was sick. I have been able to pump what I need by adding an extra pump session before bedtime but undersupply is something that has left me feeling insecure like many other moms. It causes you to question your ability to provide for your baby. I had a good friend remind me that I provide for my daughter in more ways than just milk. This really resonated with me and hope it can be a reminder to you too. 

Needless to say, whether you are dealing with an undersupply or an oversupply, we all have difficulties that we face while nursing. We all have to do what is right for our families. So if you tried and weren’t successful with breastfeeding, please know that is not a reflection of your ability to be a wonderful mother. We are more valuable than just milk!

Breastfeeding Support:

The Oklahoma Breastfeeding Hotline is absolutely FREE and you get to talk with a trained professional. There are no silly questions and I have in fact, like Lindsey, have called on a couple of occasions. You can reach them 24/7 at 1-877-271-6455. If you are not in Oklahoma, you can search for your own local hotline or use the national hotline at 1-800-944-9662

 

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