When a woman’s milk comes in they call it the “let down.” When a woman’s milk stops coming in against her wishes she call’s it “the let down.”
Oh boobies’ sweet boobies, you and I have had the strangest relationship. For years you were tiny, perky and too small to fill my 6’3” husbands enormous man hands. I wished that you were larger to match my half Armenian backside. Now you are supple, ample in both size and shape and easily could make my husbands hand look like an average man’s hand. But you belong to my son now.
My boobies no longer are a sexual part of me. They are sustenance for my son. They keep him alive. Among the many benefits of my breastfeeding one simply is it keeps our family from spending an obscene amount of money on formula. It has helped me lose my pregnancy weight and I believe it has kept me emotionally sound. In addition, I love it. I love that my body creates all the nutrients for my son. I nurtured him while he grew inside me and now I nurture him outside of me. That is until I started to lose my milk supply. Then I started to question everything. I realized I felt guilty because I was unable to provide. What? Why was I feeling guilty? What pressure had I placed on myself that made me feel like I was a let down?
Let me go back to the beginning. At the hospital I had no idea what I was doing, but the lactation lady taught me a few tricks, told me some information that I am sure I did not retain as I had been awake for over 48 hours and had mommy brain. Mommy brain is the inability to think, remember or be ones self as oxygen has been deprived and thus made my brain shrink in size so my baby thrives inside me. Well that brain is still mushy after the birth and I am positive this lady probably told me some crucial information that I was just too “out of it” to ever remember.
I got home and my baby nursed. He spat up and he nursed more. He gained back his weight quickly and all seemed copasetic. I was rocking this breastfeeding thing. I was a total mom rock star! This was exhausting, nursing every 2 hours. Not getting sleep, but it was totally worth it. After all, I have never been a mom before and this single act made me feel like I was off to a great start. That, right there, is problem #1. Somewhere along the way I was tricked into thinking this made me a great mom. Now if Crosby hadn’t been able to breastfeed and I had fed him by bottle, I believe I would have still felt like I was off to a great start because I was still taking care of my baby. The only difference is I would have gotten more sleep because my husband and I would have traded off and maybe I would have felt less alone in this nursing thing and more like I was getting back to me, not just mom-me. But Crosby did take to nursing, and I did commit to this crazy adventure, and it was going great.
Crosby is a puker, a spitter upper. He eats, burps then gives it back. Totally makes sense since that is essentially what I did when I was pregnant. Now I know that when these things happen “they” say to cut out dairy. Well I am lactose intolerant so dairy is not a part of my life. I cut out soy and that helped with the gas, but the puke was still a multiple times a day occurrence.
Kurt mentioned it to the pediatrician and at the same time Crosby wasn’t gaining weight like he had in the previous week. We were referred to a lactation specialist. Okay, my heart hurt, what was I doing wrong? But no matter, I needed help and I was going to do everything I could to get it. Heart aside. I called the lady up and that very day she drove her comfy van over and had me join her inside that van outside of my house. She weighed Crosby, I nursed him then she weighed again. She calmly said to me I wasn’t nursing long enough. I was giving him too little milk and if I nursed longer he would get the heavy milk and it would stay in his belly. So I nursed him more and he gulped and gulped and gulped down my milk. At that moment she said a line of dialogue that I will never forget. I know her intention was not to make me feel bad at all. I know she was just saying this line like it was a throw away, but it felt like a knife stabbing me in my heart. “Poor baby has been starving.” Tears just poured out of my eyes. Uncontrollable tears. Not that heavy crying, just a deep sadness that I had been a let down, to him, to me. He was small and thin and was gulping for 45 minutes. He never once spat up that night. Problem #2, I believed I had failed and then believed I could not allow myself to fail again.
After that I committed to educating myself more on breastfeeding so that my only let down would be my milk coming in. All was smooth sailing for a few months. I felt blessed that I hadn’t lost my supply because I fed so little in the beginning. My body adjusted to produce enough milk for my boy and he grew 5 ½ inches and almost doubled his birth weight by less than 6 months.
It was good. We were back on tract. Until…
Suddenly I was back at work full force. Working all my jobs, seven days a week. I don’t work full time on these days. I travel all over LA and work a few hours here and a few hours there and sit in traffic for ridiculous amounts of time. I pumped everywhere I could. I was pumping in the car on the way to a school or on the way back from a school. Praying a truck driver didn’t look down and see my nipples being air sucked forward and released over and over again. I pumped in a public high school restroom, while the students waited for me to teach them improvisation. I still find myself pumping in the drama room closet at my 7-12 school. And every time I am sitting in that dank closet I fear a student will suddenly walk in on me. These moments are ridiculous. But we moms do it because we have to, or we want to. I mean I have to work. I have to pump. I guess if this is my only option then yes, I will hold my pump and stand in a public restroom and listen to that damn “swish swoosh” sound that echo’s so loudly so everyone knows something is going on. But it was all okay because I was getting plenty of milk out. Until my body began to produce less and less milk. 5 ounces dropped to 4 ½ ounces dropped to 3 ½ ounces and suddenly I was pumping for over an hour desperately trying to get 3 ounces. My boy is eating more and more and I am producing less and less. Again… let down.
Now if I am going to be honest about this, and that is the point of this blog, to be honest, I cried a lot about this. I didn’t want to go to formula. Not that there is anything wrong with formula. I just remember a baby dying just after Crosby was born because he was on formula and he was poisoned. There was a massive recall on baby formula. This set the fear in motion. This single handedly made me commit harder to breastfeeding. Problem #3, I gave into fear.
Okay so if I am not producing enough milk and I have this irrational fear that I will accidently poison my baby with formula in my head, what do I do? I know, start solids. And we did. And he loves it! But I still need to mix the solids with breast milk. So here I am pumping again at midnight while everyone else is asleep. It’s an extra pumping session. Crosby will wake me at 3:30am and I will nurse him and then one more nursing session before I go to work. At work I will pump… in that closet or on the road… you get the cycle. That ‘I’m still not sleeping because I am nursing my son’ cycle.
I called the lactation lady, the one who gave me excellent information and made me feel like a total failure at the same time. She gave me some pointers, like press the little button on the pump every 5 minutes to stimulate again, take motherlove supplements, drink mother’s milk tea, eat carbs, drink water and best of all have a Guinness every night. Yes the delightfully dark beer that I never really enjoyed until I had to! So I did them all. Well, I can’t drink a beer a night, I mean I could, but I don’t. A friend found me the motherlove and gave it to me. That alone showed an increase in my production but not immediately, it took a few days and in those days we had another Dr. appointment. The Pediatrician said to me that I needed to just let go of whatever guilt I had and realize that I went 6 months and that was a huge deal. I heard him. I agreed with him in my head but then that damn heart just got in the way and I felt like again I was letting down the potential of a better source of nutrition for my son. I was letting down my husband because I couldn’t provide enough milk thus making us have to purchase formula. I was letting down myself because I thought this would be my decision, not a decision that was out of my control. Problem #4, I thought I was in control.
And then it hit me.
This was out of my control. All of this… Parenthood is out of my control. Ah ha! I can’t control anything. I never thought of myself as someone who wanted control. But now that I look back on this I realize, feeding my son was one thing I could control. At least I thought, because let’s get realistic for a moment, I was never in control, Crosby was. He dictated when he needed to nurse and I gladly appeased him. Yep, I was never in control, I just thought I was. And there it was. I had to let go of these preconceived notions that this is how this is supposed to be. I had to accept the reality of the situation. Nobody else could have gotten me to that place. I just had to get there on my own. I just had to let go of feeling like I was letting anyone down and right when that happened I had a two-week spring break. The supplements were working. I was producing more milk. I was… wait… I was producing too much milk… I had a clogged duct, a painful engorged breast that had lumps as solid as rocks. Oh my gosh does that hurt! More research, more opinions and more help. (Thank you ladies for your assistance in this matter.)
So nursing moms, you need to know this: How to unclog a clogged duct-
Start with a hot shower and massage the breast. Nurse your baby as much as humanly possible, knowing it will hurt and you will cry. Put your babies chin toward the blocked duct, for me this meant I had to get on all fours and have my son kick me in the face for an hour. Massage while you breast feed. Get your husband to massage because you are on all fours and you feel like a cow. Literally, you are a human cow, breastfeed. Massage. Breastfeed. Hot compress. Massage. Unclog! It works, but you have to catch it early. Don’t let it go too long. Trust me.
Now that I look back at the time my milk dropped in production I realized that I started chewing mint gum and switched back to mint toothpaste. Did you know that mint is used to help wean? Mother’s, you need to know this. Peppermint, spearmint, oregano, thyme, parsley, sage all make you produce less milk. These are things I had magically eaten plenty of around that time. The truth is I wasn’t losing my supply… I was making bad choices that I was unaware of.
Breastfeeding moms or formula feeding moms, we are all doing the best we can with the circumstances we have been given. I allowed myself to get wrapped up in believing that I was a let down, when all along I was only letting down myself by placing unnecessary pressure on myself. Eventually this took me on a long journey realizing parenting is an adventure.
1) An exciting or very unusual experience
2) Participation in exciting undertakings
3) A bold, usually risky undertaking; hazardous action or uncertain outcome.
Yep, being a mom is indeed an adventure.