I wasn’t planning to share this story right now. I’ve even tried to write it before and couldn’t. Tonight I was feeling a weight on my heart, a small word that said “someone, somewhere, needs to hear this right now”.
I effortlessly breastfed my first son until he was 13 months old. He had a great latch, rarely bit, and had perfect weight gain. He self weaned shortly after I became pregnant with my second son and we were both totally ready for it.
That’s a beautiful little true story, but it’s clearly not the one you came here to read.
This is about my second son, Dash. The one who cried all the time, only gained 1 pound in the his first two months, and was at risk of being declared Failure to Thrive.
I loved breastfeeding my first son, it was so easy. He was hungry, I pulled my boob out and fed him. I had a strong let down and over supply. I could pump 6 oz just an hour after feeding him if I ever needed to have a bottle for him. He also took bottles with no issue. I even gave him pre mixed formula a few times because it was even easier (and they were free samples).
Again, that’s not the story you want to hear, but it’s important to know I went into breastfeeding my second son feeling like a rockstar, and came out feeling very different.
I had a few suspicions that Dash wasn’t getting enough, but because Des always had plenty, I didn’t have much reason to believe I’d have any problem making enough milk. It was at our 1 month child well check that we found out just how poorly Dash was gaining weight. I mentioned earlier that he’d only gained 1 pound in his first two months. He was born at 7.5 pounds, and weighed in at 8.5 pounds at 2 months. This put him in the first percentile, normally I don’t concern myself with percentiles, but first percentile is a big deal.
We were lucky that he was meeting all other developmental milestones for his age. He had great head control and had even already rolled from stomach to back, which was awesome. I think this was the only reason he wasn’t declared failure to thrive right then and there. He was doing awesome in every way but his weight.
Being told that I wasn’t producing enough milk for my baby was soul crushing.
Our healthcare provider gave me an extensive list of things to add to my diet, to eat more meals more often, orders to drink tons of water, and to breastfeed-pump-supplement ever TWO HOURS. She even whispered to me, I may have to give him 4 oz of formula after every feeding. (We see a holistic provider, so referring me to formula was a pretty big deal for her).
As a stay at home mom, I had all the time for all the feeding and pumping (of course I wasn’t doing ANY housework at this time) but as a mother of two under two, I barely had enough time to blink. Every moment that wasn’t spent changing and feeding the baby was spent changing and feeding and entertaining the toddler.
Pumping took over my life. I was obsessed with upping my supply. I ate lactation cookies, drank the teas, took pills, drank water, and pumped, and pumped, and pumped..
I would feed Dash until he wouldn’t take it anymore, usually about 15-30 minutes. Then I’d give him formula, then I’d pump for another 30-40 minutes, both sides. He’d wake up, I’d change his diaper and feed him again, then pump, the change him, feed him, pump…. on repeat, every day.
We went in for a series of weight checks between his next well child check.
10 weeks – 10 lbs 1 oz. That’s right, just two weeks of supplementing with formula and he was up almost 2 pounds! This put him back on his growth chart.
11 weeks – 11 lbs 6 oz. Nice work, baby!
12 weeks – 12 lbs 4 oz. At this point, they sent us home happy, with no other weight checks scheduled.
He was gaining great weight, but it wasn’t because of me.
One day I got 5 oz, not at once, but for the whole day. I pumped for hours, for days, and I couldn’t get more than 5 oz.
I’d pump ALL day, and couldn’t come up with even half the milk he needed. Most days I couldn’t even get 2 oz pumped.
Every day I would wake up with a burning determination. Today I was going to pump enough for my baby.
And every night, I’d be crushed.
I lowered my expectations. Today I was going to pump half of what he needed.
Every night, crushed.
Today I was going to pump 1 oz more than yesterday.
Crushed. Again and again, I was crushed. I couldn’t feed my baby. Formula was expensive. Breast is best.
I thought about giving up.
But the antibodies. But his immune system. But, but, but…
This went on for 3 months. This struggling to produce milk, this emotional anguish of not being “enough” for him, this draining burden of pumping. I gave myself 3 months to fix my supply, and it never happened.
But I couldn’t keep wearing myself thin. That’s what it came down to. I was exhausted, and not because I was giving all my energy to my sweet boys, but because I was giving it all to that pump!
I spent more time pumping that I did actually holding my newborn.
It was at our 4 month well child check, when he weighed in at 14 lbs 11 oz (48th percentile!) that I finally went home happy with his weight. He was exactly normal with his weight.
And suddenly I realized that I missed everything else.
I wasn’t just obsessed with trying to make enough milk, I was obsessed with his weight.
I could have spent so much more time enjoying both of my boys. I don’t regret trying to breastfeed him, but I do wish I’d stopped trying a lot sooner.
I finally accepted defeat.
He was 4 months old when I finally put the pump away. I accepted that spending 10+ hours of my time, pumping an average of 1 oz per day wasn’t a good use of my time.
I cried for about a week. I tried so hard for so long and it was HARD to give it up.
There were a lot of lies going on in my head at this point. I was feeling really broken, like I wasn’t woman enough to raise my children. I was feeling like my body had failed my baby. And I was feeling really bummed out that my period came back. (I’d never gotten it back after having my first, since he breastfed up until I was already pregnant with Dash, so this was a really big deal for me).
I had to feed myself the truth, repeatedly, until I finally started to believe it.
I am enough. I am all my child needs. He relies on me 100% to feed and clothe and diaper and love him.
My body has done amazing things. I gave birth to two healthy boys with zero pain numbing medication. I exclusively breastfed my first son, and that was still amazing, even if I couldn’t do it again.
My time is better spent loving on my children. My boys need my full attention, even still, and they weren’t getting that when I was pumping nonstop.
I hated pumping. I hated it! I spent a lot of time doing something I hated for someone I loved.
Today, Dash is healthy and spunky and thriving. He’s 9 months old, weighs 18 lbs and is very close to walking. He holds his own bottles and eats almost anything else we give him. He chewed into an avocado at the grocery store the other day when I wasn’t paying attention.
He plays with his brother and chases the dogs. He also is very determined to eat dog food, but we are pretty good at stopping him.
He loves to play with his brother, and sometimes Desmond is even nice enough to share his snacks with his baby brother.
You’re not alone.
I felt alone when I went through all of this, just a few months ago. If I had to do it again, I would have found a support group that meets locally. (Actually, just two months after I gave up, my healthcare provider’s office started offering a breastfeeding support group, how’s that timing?)
I had a lot of people in my life who supported me, but they weren’t going through what I was going through. They were bystanders with nice words of encouragement, but they weren’t in the trenches with me. They didn’t know how it felt to fail at this.
And I’m brought to tears, not because it’s painful to relive these feelings, but because there’s another woman who is feeling them right now.
Because someone, somewhere, needs to hear this right now:
You are enough.
Your baby loves you.
Your body has done amazing things.
You are not alone.
If you’re currently struggling with supply, how long you keep trying is completely up to you. But if you’re waiting for permission to quit, because pumping is taking up all your time and actually keeping you from enjoying that sweet child, this is it. You have my permission to do whatever it takes to be the best momma you can for your baby.