My Breastfeeding Story: How Pumping helped to Increase Milk Supply
The next in our series of real mums’ stories and accounts of breastfeeding…
First time mum, Melanie, reflects on her struggles to increase milk supply and the role her birth story had to play in the early stages of motherhood. Melanie shares her personal experience and how pumping helped to support her breastfeeding journey.
One thing I’ve learned over the last four months is that there is no ‘normal’ breastfeeding journey – everyone’s experience is completely different for so many reasons, most of which I had never thought about before giving birth myself. For example, I didn’t know that a traumatic birth could delay breast milk production, which I experienced after the birth of my daughter Annabel in April. Hopefully by sharing my story, I might be able to help someone else who finds themselves in a similar situation.
Annabel was delivered in theatre with the use of forceps – not the intervention-free experience I had hoped for (!) but of course, the most important thing was that she arrived safely. Shortly after birth, she had some trouble breathing and was taken immediately to intensive care so we didn’t get to attempt breastfeeding until the following day.
I really struggled initially, we were both attached to lots of tubes and wires, which kept getting tangled together. I didn’t have a supportive pillow and frankly neither of us had any idea of what we were doing! As much as I tried, I couldn’t get her to latch on to the breast, so she started on formula feeds. When we moved onto a regular ward, I had excellent support from the midwives who helped me with the latch and positioning, although we needed to continue giving her formula throughout our hospital stay.
We went home when she was three days old and even after all the support I found breastfeeding so hard. I struggled to get her to latch on by myself, my nipples were super painful and she didn’t seem satisfied by my feeds. We would give her formula top ups which she gulped down, so it seemed like I wasn’t producing enough milk for her. I felt like my body was failing my child and I didn’t understand why.
The reason for this became clear when I was visited by a community lactation consultant a few days later. She explained, as I’d lost about 800ml blood during the delivery (anything over 500ml is considered to be ‘significant’), my body would divert energy to first try and heal itself before starting to produce milk. My milk production was delayed and therefore, out of sync with my baby. As an example, on day eight of life, Annabel needed transitional milk but my body was only at day two or three of milk production, so I was still only producing colostrum which simply wasn’t enough to fill her growing tummy.
No-one had ever explained to me before that traumatic birth or blood loss could have this effect. Just understanding that this wasn’t my fault and things would improve in time helped me deal with those initial feelings of failure. The other thing that made me feel better was having a plan to try and increase my milk supply, which included using an electric breast pump and expressing after feeds to drain my breasts and stimulate further production.
I was also taking fenugreek supplements, drinking non-alcoholic lager and eating plenty of oats! Our routine started with a breastfeed, then I would express using the pump while my husband gave Annabel a bottle of expressed milk and finished with a formula top up. It was exhausting (and there were so many bottles to clean!) but importantly our little girl was fed and happy and putting on weight.
Day by day, week by week, my supply improved. I still remember the first time I was expressing and looked down to see orange-tinged transitional milk dripping into the bottle – what a relief! We slowly reduced the formula top ups over time… It took about 6 weeks before I was producing enough breastmilk to feed Annabel and another few weeks on top of that before I was able to express extra to freeze. She’s now 4 months old and has been solely breastfed for about the last two months. She recently jumped from the 50th to 75th centile for weight – so she’s definitely getting enough! I now express and freeze a couple of bottles a week which is brilliant for flexibility, my husband can now feed Annabel whilst I take a nap or her grandma can give a bottle, which is really lovely for their bonding.
For me, a good quality breast pump is an essential item from day one – it helped me to stimulate my supply in the early days and now supports me by giving me extra flexibility through being able to store expressed milk for future feeds.
Thank you to mum, Melanie, for sharing her breastfeeding experience. If you would like to share your breastfeeding story please email, firstname.lastname@example.org