Breastfeeding is a beautiful thing, but it’s not always easy. So if someone out there has fed you some line about how the body just “knows what to do” so you won't experience a single problem, erase that thought from your brain. I’m not trying to freak you out, but I also don’t want you to be totally heartbroken if you face some nursing challenges. For example, tongue ties, insufficient glandular tissue, and NICU stays that can all cause undersupply. So I asked several breastfeeding moms to reveal how they handled undersupply, and they all had some pretty interesting methods and experiences to share that, in my opinion, could come in handy for any soon-to-be nursing mom.
Back when I was pregnant with my son, I read a lot of books that all claimed that everyone (and I mean everyone) has the capability to breastfeed. They made it seem like those who didn’t just weren’t trying hard enough. Then I gave birth and realized I had a lot of cards stacked against me when it came time to breastfeed. For one, my son was taken to the NICU so I didn’t even see him the first two days of his life. He was also intubated, so we didn’t get to even try to nurse until he was nearly 2 weeks old. I was so stressed and depressed I didn’t feel like pumping, so when my milk came in I didn’t take advantage and it started drying up quickly. I was also on medication for pain and anxiety, thanks to all my birth trauma, so that did not help the situation in the slightest.
Then, just when I thought things couldn't get any more challenging, a lactation consultant told me she was fairly certain I had insufficient glandular tissue. So no, breastfeeding is not always easy. I pumped like a mad woman for four months and fed my son what I could, but no matter how many "boost your milk supply" teas and pills I swallowed, or how much oatmeal I ate, none of it helped. Eventually, I threw in the towel. Some moms are able to increase their supply and continue breastfeeding, of course, because every woman, baby, and situation is different. So, with that in mind, here's how some moms handled their undersupply issues:
“My daughter was born at 6 lbs 4 ounces. We cluster fed initially and I never really got my milk. At her 3-day appointment she had lost 4 ounces, so they had me supplement. I have no idea why, but my milk never really came in. It was scary and frustrating because what's more ‘normal’ or natural? And before giving birth you hear people say things like, ‘Women have been doing it since the beginning of time. No big deal.’ I'm pretty sure the disappointment added to my postpartum depression, and I make sure to let other women know that it happens. Sometimes we don't know why, but, fed is best. Now my daughter is 15 months and off the growth charts with the help of formula. Healthy as can be. I wish I wouldn't have been so hard in myself.”
“I didn't have enough of a supply for [my daughter] plus she didn't latch well. We supplemented with formula. I also borrowed a pump from Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and pumped, so we could bottle feed her.”
“I had undersupply with my first after their (we use gender neutral pronouns) first days of life were spent in the NICU. I didn't deal very well, honestly, and there's still a ton of emotional unpacking I should probably do around our entire breastfeeding relationship. One of the ways I stayed sane and started to forgive myself was by reconnecting with an old friend who was having similar issues with her first. By witnessing her empowerment around ‘fed is best,’ and the kindness and bluntness she offered me, I was able to forgive myself for my body not being what it was 'supposed to' be for my child.
“With [my son], I suffered with him being diagnosed with failure to thrive. Apparently the issue wasn't him in taking as much as it was me not producing enough. After multiple tests and and crying, we finally were able to say that it was my breast milk wasn't enough for him. So at the age of 4 months, we started giving him baby food as well as formula supplementation and I still tried to pump as much as I could. He ended up having breast milk until he was 8 months old. Now he's in the 50th to 75th percentile and wearing 24 month clothing at the age of 18 months.”
“With my daughter, I didn't handle it well at all. I thought I had failed her. I had horrible postpartum depression. I tried to combo feed until I went back to work, but couldn't keep it up. When my son was born I received my diagnosis of insufficient glandular tissue. It felt good to have answers. I was able to set my own goals and define my own success. I combo fed him for 8 months and loved our breastfeeding relationship.”
“I had my gallbladder removed in the same week as my unplanned section, thrush, Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, (and you can't breastfeed while on the antibiotic for that), my son's lip tie, mastitis, and thrush again. But what finally helped the undersupply was power pumping. I tried lactation cookies, mother’s milk tea, fenugreek, oatmeal, and anything else suggested, but power pumping finally helped.”
“Well, when I had my daughter I was barely able to breastfeed. I would pump for about 30 minutes and could only produce about 1/2 a bottle of milk, if that, so I had to supplement with formula. I didn't really feel bad about it and it didn't affect me. I just wish that I could have given her breast milk for a longer period of time because I know it's good for babies. I never really knew why I couldn't produce enough milk. I am pregnant with my second child and hope I can produce more breast milk this time around!”
“I had a traumatic, unplanned c-section, but my 9 lb 12 oz baby latched as soon as I started nursing. He had plenty of wet and soiled diapers, so I thought things were going great. Then he was rushed to the NICU due to jaundice, where he was given formula. Between the c-section, not breastfeeding him for two days while he was under the lights in the NICU, and his stomach being stretched by the formula (according to the doctors), my supply was never enough. Pumping was useless, so I gave up. Once I got over feeling like a failure, since breastfeeding is supposed to be ‘the most natural thing, right?!?’ I nursed him as much as I could and always supplemented with formula. It was a relief to stop pumping, and my husband could help with feedings!”
“I breastfed my son for 18 months and at no point can I say it was easy. I struggled with constant cluster feeding, probably due to the fact that [my son] was so hungry and I just wasn't making enough breast milk. I tried every trick in the book and still felt like I never had enough. Going back to work was so hard; being a school teacher and trying to find enough time to pump was not easy. Despite all that, it was the best thing I have ever done and I am proud to say that I never supplemented. I made it work and my baby thrived.”