I have always planned to nurse my babies; it did not occur to me that there was any other way to feed a baby. It sounds funny to say, but nursing goes way back on both sides of my family. My husband was also supportive of the decision. It did not occur to me that there would be any real difficulties that patience and determination would not overcome. My son was born, and he latched on right away and seemed a nursing pro. I was excited, and I waited for my milk to come in. His latch was fine; I had no soreness, but he nursed almost non-stop--not the frantic feeding of a newborn who feeds every hour, but literally, he was latched on and nursing probably a solid 18-20 hours a day. I never felt engorged, but when I consulted the books, most noted the lack of engorgement as a sign that the baby was an efficient feeder. He was peeing just enough but pooping infrequently in small amounts. At the two week check, he weighed the same as he had when he left the hospital, and the pediatrician had me bring him every other day for a weight check. At three weeks, he had actually lost more weight--despite all the nursing, and the pediatrician shoved a bottle in his mouth. I was absolutely devastated.
For the next month, I would breastfeed first and then supplement with a bottle of formula. I remember very clearly the night I stopped breastfeeding. My son was literally throwing himself from breast to breast and crying, and my milk supply was so low at that point. Meanwhile, after the devastating 3 week check with the doctor, I contacted a lactation consultant (and then three others). She told me to pump, to take a prescription of Reglan, and to take fenugreek to increase my drastically low milk supply. After a week of pumping every two hours during the day, and four hours at night with a hospital grade rented pump, it was clear that my supply was incredibly low. It took three days for me to accumulate 1/4 of an ounce of breastmilk. My baby was hungry; he was not dehydrated, but he was not getting enough milk to thrive.
I was absolutely devastated. I fully understand the benefits of breastmilk vs. formula, but without formula my baby would have continued to whither. Even now as I write this, there is a huge lump in my throat and my eyes are teary--I wanted to successfully nurse him that badly. I mourned the loss of the nursing relationship, the disappointment with the failure of my own body, and teared up every time I saw another Mom casually prop a bottle in a baby's mouth. I was jealous of my sister who decided from the beginning not to breastfeed my niece but who was engorged for over almost two weeks after the baby was born. I pored the internet, questioned the doctors, and cried with the lactation consultants--no one could figure out why my supply just never developed. I finally realized that I had to grieve the loss but move on. I have a healthy, beautiful son who was thriving . . . and that ultimately is the end goal.
When I was pregnant the second time, I re-visited those old wounds. I decided to be more proactive. Because my supply was so obviously low, my doctor warned me that it would most likely happen again. This time I was very aware that I was going to have to really fight in order to breastfeed. I am an extremely determined person, but there is wisdom in admitting that you need help. After my daughter was born, she latched on quickly and nursed well . . . and . . . she eventually pulled herself away from the breast. I was hopeful, but she still fed very frequently. This time, I noticed feeling a little fuller but was by no means engorged. I took the Reglan and the fenugreek, and my daughter and I figured out the latch process. She had a stronger suck than my son. However, again my supply was very low--it was definitely increased from the first time, but it was low. I was disappointed that my supply was low--she wasn't peeing or pooping enough, and when she was a week and half old, she had lost her 10% of birthweight.
This time, I was prepared to supplement her with the SNS. I use the Medela version, because it is easier to wash--I think using the bag-system nursing aids would eventually be more costly, and if you ran out of bags, you'd be up a creek. By using the SNS, I am still nursing my baby girl--who will turn 1 year in two weeks. I figure that I give her between 2 and 3 ounces of breastmilk per feeding (more like 4-5 ounces the first morning feed), and I supplement with 4 ounces of formula per feeding. She nurses about 5 times a day. I nurse her without the SNS first thing in the morning, when I am the fullest, but I supplement with the SNS the other 4 feedings. If she wakes up in the middle of the night and wants to nurse, I usually nurse without the SNS.
It's been an interesting journey, but I would walk the same path again. I attend a Moms' meeting every week, and the lactation consultant weighs the babies. I started supplementing her as a newborn with 1-2 ounces per feeding during the day, but nursed without the SNS at night. If she did not gain enough weight, I would increase the supplement. It seems that I have averaged about 12-16 ounces of additional formula per day.
It is not always easy, but I am proud of my nursey girl--and--I am proud of myself. I plan to continue to nurse her as long as she wants to nurse. Why not?
I also want to say the reason I am posting on this site is that almost every night of my pregnancy, I would re-read these stories of success, clinging to the hope that someone might be able to help shed light on my situation. I hope that if there is someone else out there who struggles so genuinely with supply and wants an answer--there may be no easy medical solution, but, please consider using an SNS. I learned, after I quit nursing my son, those of us with low supply have a concentrated number of the antibodies in our milk--there is nutritional merit in nursing and supplementing. I also learned that you have to let go and define your own success. Both of my babes are loved and thriving and that is the ultimate goal.