Breastfeeding Anxieties

There isn’t a lot many can say when it comes to having three children and drawing any sort of similarities out amongst them. I mean, leave it to being the mother of three to prove to you that each one, cut from the same cloth or not, is bound and determined to be their own being. And yet, there are just a few similarities I can say about all three of my boys: each of them came in the 41st week of gestation. In fact, I think damn near 41 weeks and 4 days if we’re being precise. All three waited until their 9th or 10th month to cut any teeth. All three were early walkers, Hooper and Van both in their 10th month, Sonny in his 9th. And breastfeeding; all three have followed the same path.

You would think that by the third time, I’d have it down. In actuality, it’s quite the opposite. For starters, time has passed. Older people joke that they can’t remember their grown children as infants. I joke back that I can’t remember my 4 and 6 year olds as infants. And it’s only a partial joke because there is truth embedded in that statement as well. I’ve forgotten.

My experience with Sonny up until a month ago was seamless. Not without effort, but certainly without bumps in the road. He’d eat when I offered and I’d offer often. If it was before a nap or before putting him down for the night, it would put him to sleep.

I’m seeing things more clearly now from hindsight and I can pin our latest struggles down to the following: he’s far more aware of his surroundings than he once was. He’s easily distracted and half of the time I feel like I’m forcing him to eat which seems silly having always prided myself on ‘on demand’ feeding. Some days I feel like I need a basket filled to the brim with various toys and knick knacks that I can dangle in front of him to keep his attention. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I fed him without holding something on my chest. I suppose I wouldn’t care so much about him refusing feedings if I weren’t so worried about maintaining my supply.

You see what’s happening here? It’s a cocktail I’m mixing.

I wouldn’t even know about my supply if it weren’t for working so much lately. I worked three days in a row in the hospital (which is the only time I pump) and became growingly concerned seeing just how little I would get from the pump. Sure, it’s argued (and presumably true) that baby’s are more efficient than a pump but instinctively I cannot help but be concerned when I used to pump a combined 4 ounces and now, only 1, maybe 2. It’s also stressful to take time out of my day when I’m working as a nurse to only bag a mere ounce (leaving my patients, walking to another unit, pumping, cleaning, storing, walking back… Point being, it’s a process that takes time and takes me away from my patients).

And now, from the position of hindsight, it’s beginning to dawn on me that the same thing happened with both Hooper and Van, around the same age. While I’m blessed with good sleepers, the 9 or 10 hours of consecutive sleep at night causes my supply to plunge.

It’s also right around this time, with all three, that my body begins regulating itself once again and my period returns. I mean all three, at or damn near the 10 month mark. And I know menstruation has ill effects on milk supply. Or can, anyways.

Combine all this – working more and therefore pumping more, the return of my period, and a baby who is distracted by everything and loves solids (and is eating those like a champ) and who is sleeping through the night and then some – and it’s clear to see why my supply is suffering.

I was beginning to talk myself into the idea that maybe he’s just weaning and while, sure, he probably is to a certain extent (definitely transitioning into the world of solid foods) he’s not done with breastfeeding. And nor am I. It’s my goal to make it to a year and now that I’ve gotten over this hump, I know we will.

So how did I get over the hump, you ask?

Well, I reached out and heard back from so many of you via instagram. Sometimes you just have to talk yourself through something to be able to understand the issues.

The consensus was this: the distraction at the breast is normal for this age. Several suggested feeding in a low lit room. While I find this to be helpful during feedings he needs/wants, the reality is that we’ve simply had to cut out some of the feedings we once had… which is fine. I try to cram in as many daytime feedings as I can because I know not feeding at all throughout the night has had an effect on my supply. I’ve also given up on multitasking, gone are the days I could send a quick email or scroll through instagram while breastfeeding. And I’m fine with that, it’s nice to give him my full attention.

My next realization is that we all have limits. At least one person that responded mentioned getting up in the middle of the night to pump which, I agree, would be helpful in breaking the 10 hour hiatus I take from feedings while he sleeps. But, with working two (sometimes three) jobs and wrangling three kids, I need a full nights rest. And I feel very fortunate that I get it. I do, however, wake Sonny a couple hours after I put him down for the night, before I go bed myself (around 10pm or 11pm) and feed him one last time. And I will continue to do so to alleviate the long lapse in not feeding him. That particular session is my favorite; it’s the only one that doesn’t require the extra effort. Very rarely does he even open his eyes. It’s sweet, the kind of feed breastfeeding cliches are made of.

I’ve also increased my water intake. Or at least most days I try to. The amount of water we should all be getting each day is kind of baffling and I firmly believe so many of us – breastfeeding or not – are walking around partially dehydrated. On the days I work in the hospital, I make it a point to down two glasses of water every time I walk into the patient nourishment room. At home, it’s a little harder to come up with something similar because I’m distracted and multitasking with no organization about 90% of my day when I’m at home. I could probably stand to eat more greens too, but hey, we all have limits. I’m trying.

I’ve also started taking calcium + magnesium as well as fenugreek. I tried putting it off for as long as I could because I don’t necessarily care for walking around and smelling like a pancake house. Please tell me there are others who agree that fenugreek makes you smell like maple syrup? I was sitting in a class and thinking that someone near by smelled weird only to get home and have Willy point out that that somebody was, indeed, me.

I’m back to my regular work schedule for the most part and in the past few days I’ve had ‘off’, I’ve found comfort in the fact that he is still taking a significant number of feedings. And while it’s hard to ignore the pump, he does seem to be more efficient and able to draw out more than the pump.

And at the end of the day, he’s healthy. And there’s loads of comfort in that. I worried so much when Hooper was little and his weight percentile dropped all the way down to the 10th percentile. But not the case with Sonny. He’s chunky enough, with thighs that demand to be pinched. All in all, if it weren’t for pumping and attaching a number to the issue at hand, I wouldn’t even second guess anything. And the realization that I’m not alone, not in my worries or in my hatred of pumping, is something too (I’ve enjoyed reading some other breastfeeding stories, here, which have made for a nice late-at-night-oh-hey-look-at-that-I’m-not-alone time suck).

The breastfeeding relationship changes so much in the course of a year and it’s as if you’re constantly having to adjust and re-assess. From the early days where it felt like I was a slave to feeding him to the current days where the anguish derives from just how little time he’s willing to sacrifice to eat. It’s enough to make my head spin. In any event, wish me luck this week as I’m scheduled for a couple 12 hour shifts and will be returning to the dreaded pump to learn my fate as if the pump is some magic 8 ball determined to tear my confidence down. Trying not to let it.

Would love to hear from others in regards to the changes in the breastfeeding relationship and how feeding your 9, 10, or 11 month old and so on is different than when they were younger.

13 Responses

  • My son turned one a week ago and some days breastfeeding is a total struggle! He is also really distracted and I have to give him something toy wise to fiddle with in his hand otherwise he pinches me constantly and thinks its hilarious when I jump! I find he still feeds quite regularly throughout the day but not for very long periods of time at all..he’s just too busy to stay in one place for longer than a few minutes, I think he gets bored whilst feeding to be honest! x

  • Some babes really do make it difficult to keep your supply up when the way they want to breastfeed is very …touch and go. They are too distracted and efficient.

    Yes, being at work a lot does take a toll as well as his sleeping through the night. I totally agree with you that waking up to pump or nurse more is not your best bet, especially when your life is so full and you need that rest. It’d be a different story if he was only 3 or 4 months and sleeping through the night, but at this age it’d be overkill.

    Also, the return of your period usually has a short lived negative effect on supply typically dipping the week prior to your period and returning after a day or two. Still its annoying and can definitely make pumping less effective.

    Your best bet to up your supply is Sonny. Nursing more and offering as much as you can while you are awake and with him. That and offering to nurse before feeding him solid foods. If he loves solids and you offer them before you nurse he’ll certainly fill himself up, leaving little interest in nursing. Technically the very first time your child eats solids is when the weaning process begins.

    Taking fenugreek may help a little with your pumping supply and yes it does make you smell like maple syrup. In fact, if you don’t smell like that you’re probably not taking enough for it to make any difference.

    I wish you luck in finding a balance and from the sounds of it you are. It’s not long until he’s one and at that point I’d stop pumping and offer other milk or foods while you’re away from him. That leaves your supply up to Sonny which is where it should be- up to him and you.

    I nursed both my boys until they were 3 and there were definitely times during toddler hood that it helped so much. It tends to act as a reset button when they’re tired, hurt, sick or just trying to get over a senseless tantrum.

    • Appreciate all the wisdom coming from a seasoned mama.

      I do breastfeed him before he eats solids but the reality is that he’s only awake for 8 total hours a day… with naps and night… so if I breastfeed him before breakfast, for example, afterward he’s ready for a nap… point being, I feed him before and after solids because his sleep schedule doesn’t allow for more space between 😉 I suppose that’s not a bad thing and he does take the breast before both naps, so I’m gonna just keep chugging. He turns one next month. WHAT THE FUCK?!!!!!

  • My daughter is 9.5 months and I work full-time. I’ve had a few scares that my supply was drying up in the past few months. I try to pump 3 times a day at work but like you said it’s not exactly easy. There are plenty of times I only get 2 oz total from a session and start to stress and try massages or changing my pump settings etc. I think maybe I didn’t get enough sleep or am sick… I usually notice it on a Monday so chalk it up to adjusting to the pump again too. I tried drinking more water, fenugreek, teas and cutting out coffee. Idk if all that helped but I try not to stress too much, I’m doing my best. I have a tiny freezer supply so I haven’t had to supplement yet. Good luck with your goal!

    • Same boat… Sometimes I feel like all the massage and fenugreek and all that crap is just that — crap… I suppose some of those products ‘make it’ on the pretense that mom’s are going to try all they can because God forbid any guilt be felt from not giving it our damn all. I can’t imagine working full-time and pumping, I hand it to you. You’re doing a great job and when you’re ready to call it quits, I hope you feel accomplished. That’s a lot to be proud of.

  • We can’t all have it all huh? I wound up with ridiculous supply but a babe who just doesn’t give me long stretches of sleep even at ten months. Regarding supply though… I’ve found my supply bumps up when I drink coconut water and moringa tea. Should note though that I live on an island… when I say coconut water I mean fresh out of the coconut, not the packaged stuff. Hope that and a little bit of mutually miserable company helps.

    • Well there’s my answer… I’ll just move to an island and drink fresh coconut. 😉 And yes, we can’t have it all. Ho hum. Thanks for sharing.

  • My daughter and Sonny share a birthday. I appreciate this post and feeling the same. I work threee days a week and noticed a drop in my pumping totals two weeks ago. I only find time to pump once at work, for an hour. An hour! It’s always taken me long to pump enough. It was 6oz now it’s down to 3. I could fit in another session but, yes, limits! I’m grateful I can exclusively breastfeed her 4 days a week and feel confident she’s satisfied. She’s healthy and that’s what matters most.

    Same with the distraction and ditching the iPhone, going to a dim room, whatever helps! She’s had a handful of 10 hour stretches at night, which I will take!! But still has random nights waking at 230 or so. In which case I’ll breastfeed.

    But yes! ONE YEAR IN A MONTH! What?! Fastest year of my life.


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