Breastfeeding Challenges — Advice Welcome!

[A quick note: I am typing one-handed while nursing. Almost every post has been composed this way.]

I have been trying to nail down just exactly what is so difficult about breastfeeding, trying to isolate my problems so that I may seek advice, trying to put it into words so that I might understand it myself. For now, I’ve narrowed it down to my four most pressing concerns.

1. six minutes in heaven

When Lydia is good and hungry, I can get a very good latch and she will actively suck in a regular rhythm for almost exactly six minutes (sometimes seven). I have clocked it so many times.

After this six minutes, she often falls asleep. But if she is awake (or if I keep her awake), she becomes agitated and won’t stay latched. If she does latch, she will only perform shallow comfort nursing sucks, she slides down the nipple, she clamps down, she pushes away with her hands, and she constantly breaks suction (making clicking noises).

At this point, I usually burp her, check her diaper, walk around a bit to calm her, and try again. Sometimes it helps to switch sides at this point, but I’m worried about her not getting enough hind milk. All of this maybe buys me another minute or two. But in general, after those six sweet minutes, it is mainly me fighting with her and her tearing up my nipples.

If instead I delatch her, she cries and seems like she wants to keep nursing, but if I distract her for a minute she usually drops it. Then, of course, she wants to eat again in 30 minutes or less.

And then again sometimes, she won’t drop it (especially if she’s crabby). She demands to comfort nurse, but she will only give me a shallow latch and she won’t take a pacifier.

It has become easiest (though, I’m not saying best) to let her actively nurse for 6-7 minutes and allow her to fall asleep (rather than keeping her awake, as I had been doing). And then doing it all again 20-30 minutes later when she wakes up still hungry. This is clearly not an efficient method, but I don’t know how effective it is to fight with her either.

Maybe she is just a snacker? Maybe I should try different types of pacifiers (I’ve tried a couple)?

I wouldn’t mind as much if I didn’t start teaching two classes this week. I have to leave her for 3.5 hours per day, and I’d really feel a lot better if I knew she had a full belly when I left. But . . .

2. she never seems “full”

Related to the above concern, but also a little different, she never really “stops” nursing on her own. She either falls asleep or gets fussy or lapses into comfort nursing. I have to manually delatch her, and she usually cries or fusses, and continues to exhibit hunger cues, even if she’s been at the breast for a looong time. I can either work to distract her and calm her down or allow her to comfort nurse all day (even though she’s giving hunger cues, she’s not really eating). I switch between both of these methods depending on how much time I have and how sore my nipples are.

3. pumping is for the birds

I pump three times a day: once in the morning, once in the early afternoon, and once in the early evening, always while nursing Lydia on the other breast. I yield only about 0.5-1.25 ounces per session, for an average of 2.5 ounces a day total. I am only leaving a 2 ounce bottle of milk* with the babysitter when I go to work, so this is technically “enough,” but jeez, it’s not really that much. And it doesn’t leave any extra for Rafal to give her a bottle once in a while, or for to me to ever be apart from her. (Furthermore, the few times we have given her a bottle at home, she has demanded to nurse afterwards, even though she “should” be full. I truly hope she is more satisfied by bottle milk when I am not around.)

I eat oatmeal every day and I have for years. I drink tons of water. I eat almonds every day. I have been taking fenugreek supplements. I eat fruits, veggies, protein, and whole grains. I have been wanting to make lactation cookies, and I bought the ingredients, but for fudge sake, who has time to bake cookies??

The good news is that I have noticed a tiny increase in my pump yield–like 0.25 ounces per day–over the past few days. So here’s hoping that I’m doing something right.

*Note: Does 2 ounces seem like enough to you? At first I read that I should be leaving 1-1.5 ounces for every hour I will be gone (which would mean leaving 3.5-5.25 ounces, but that seems like a lot, and I’m not pumping that much). However, La Leche League leaders, the lady at the WIC office, and L’s pediatrician all said that if I nurse right before I leave (and right when I get back), I should only need to leave a 2 ounce serving. But despite three reliable sources telling me this, I CAN’T LET IT GO. Which leads me to me next point . . .

4. being the baby’s only food source is heavy, man

I have a primal, instinctual need to keep the baby fed, which often manifests as an irrational fear of her going hungry. And my physical body is her only source of food. And she never seems all the way full, even though I’m nursing all the time. And I’m terrified to leave her, even for an hour, even if I have a bottle to leave behind, because when she’s hungry she seems inconsolable and I don’t want to do that to her or the person taking care of her.

And when well-meaning people suggest that I “take a break” or “go get a massage,” I want to laugh or cry because that would be impossible. (Like I said, it’s irrational, but at the same time, kind of true.)

We’ve been at it for over six weeks now, and it has gotten and continues to get better. The fact that I can even articulate some of the challenges we are facing in a cogent way–rather than just a blur of “holyshitwhyisthissohard?!”–is a huge step forward. And bottom line, she is gaining weight. So I know I’m doing something right. Now please, experienced mommies of the world, give me your advice! ❤

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6 thoughts on “Breastfeeding Challenges — Advice Welcome!

  1. Justine Dandurand was the same exact way! Once you leave Lydia it will start getting easier to leave milk. Just try to take it easy!

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  2. I breastfed all 3 of my daughters and every one was different. My pediatrician assured me that my girls were getting plenty to eat. He used the “your stomach is as big as your fist” theory and so is your baby’s. You’re only 6 weeks in to this and you’re providing what your baby needs. As the demand increases, your supply should too. I didn’t do anything ‘gimmicky’ at all except maintain a healthy diet and drink plenty of water. I had a pump and I hated it, but I still used it during the day because I didn’t want my supply to diminish. All 3 of my daughters would suck and then drift off into a slumber. I would tickle their chin, massage their head, do a slight movement, etc just to lift them out of their slumber so they would eat a bit longer. I got SUPER sore in the beginning stages and learned to scrub the heck out of my nipples with a washcloth when I was in the shower to toughen them up, and I also used a breast cream right before they latched on. My advice: Stop stressing about it. Relax and enjoy the bonding time. Before long, you’ll be able to shoot a target across the room with accuracy. 🙂

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  3. I wish I had advice. I had the exact same problem. I was away too for teaching/class and frankly I just started supplementing after i realized how awful and seemingly pointless pumping was. But I did pump for months.

    Charlotte still is a snacker. And she is basically still a comfort milk drinker but we’re slowly getting less and less milk (sippy) dependent.

    I too had sore nipples and wonder still if she ever learned to latch properly.

    Can you feel your milk drop? She would choke a little on it and was a challenge for her to drink it down sometimes. But she always gained weight. I wish I could remember when and what the circumstances were of feeling “ok”. The truth is there’s always something else. Diaper rash became the next thjng– off and on all the time for like a year.

    I feel like there is no good advice for snacker babies. Except just do what your doing. I don’t think it’s bad for her except it’s bad for us because we have to fucking do shit. I do feel like around four months things get better.

    Even today i wonder if she gets enough to eat some days– for days— because she will only eat pretzels or crackers. Then some days like today she eats non stop!

    It’s so hard to feel that responsible. But the baby is probably getting plenty to eat. I don’t what’s the right thing to do but probably what feels the best. 6 minute eating…. Pump…. Keep it up.

    Sorry there isn’t like a better manual for breastfeeding. Should be, Like “booble”– just type in a problem. Bam.

    Good luck. (I still have a check for you and flannels but I leave town tomorrow for a week. I’m such a flake. So sorry. )

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  4. Hi, Nico. I relate to all of this so much. I agree to the stop stressing and try to enjoy it idea, because it will all change so fast. 2 ounces definitely seems like enough. You could add just a little water to stretch it if you are worried about volume. She will cry when you are gone, sometimes terribly, and as hard as that is to bear, it really is okay. Other folks, especially your partner, need to learn their own ways to get her through the rough patches, the sooner the better. Even though that’s tough, that’s part of their bonding too. Feeding shouldn’t be the ONLY way she calms down. It might take a while for her to adjust to that, but she will and it will be worth it to both of you in the long haul. I know you said you drink lots of water, but I think you should drink even more. Are you pumping while you are away? Seems like in that time you are gone, you might pump enough to where you get ahead, leaving an extra bottle for the next day, while she gets the other bottle. It could be that you don’t need to pump throughout the day, but just one session when you are gone from home? ALso, it’s possible that she has some kind of neck/jaw tension or tongue tie that makes her stressed when she is nursing, and that is why she is falling asleep. Every 20-30 minutes does sound impossibly frequent. Is it 20-30 through the night as well? You poor dear! Is her neck tense? Have you talked about the frequent nursing to your doc/lactation consultant? You might consider a visit to a pediatric physical therapist or craniosacral therapist just to make sure the whole jaw apparatus is functioning optimally. On the other hand, if she is gaining well, is it possible that you are misreading her cues? Do you hold her and wear her a lot when you are not nursing? It could be that she just wants the skin-to-skin time. Do you nurse her in clothes or out? I suggest trying to nurse skin-to-skin when possible to see if that’s actually what she is craving. Consider stretching out the length of time between nursing just by minutes at a time, in hopes that she will learn to eat more the next time. Also, I understand that to get a pacifier working, you have to stay with it–really keep trying and trying. The oldsters would suggest you dip it in a little sugar water, and though I’m a big diet purist, I don’t think this is the disaster I thought it was when I was in your position. Dipping it in breast milk is another idea. I wish I’d loosened up and really kept working that pacifier, because these boob-dependency issues with sleep and calming down, etc., only get entrenched with time.

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  5. One more thought. You probably need someone ELSE to train her on a pacifier when she is in a pretty good mood. She knows you got the good stuff, so why should she settle for a pacifier from you? Make this the babysitter’s task?

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  6. The amount your pumping is in line with what Lydia is eating. As she begins to take in more milk your body will appease and make more milk which you’ll see when you pump. I had the same experience with Aimon and had to remind myself of this when I nursed Kinkaid. Our lactation consultant for Aimon told me you make the most milk mid-morning and if you nurse and/or pump at night your body will produce more as well (more is a relative term here.) Brenda is totally right. Stop stressing woman. 6-7 minutes is great and if you rouse her switch sides. It is hard to feel so much overwhelming responsibility for the another life. And it’s ok to take a break and supplement with formula from time to time. It may even help you see how much milk you make when you skip a feeding and your boobs turn into overflowing jugs that can’t contain themselves, literally leaking all over you. Trust yourself, Doc. It will get easier.

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