Courtesy of Gemma Hartley

I Have Undersupply, & Seeing Your Breast Milk Is Honestly Triggering

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When my daughter started to prefer the bottle to the breast and decided to self-wean at six months, I was devastated. I had hoped she would follow in her brother’s footsteps and breastfeed for at least a year. But while losing the breastfeeding bonding time was hard, what I found even more difficult was the fact that breast milk was out of her diet for good. Once I stopped nursing her, no matter how often I tried to pump, I’d be lucky to get 6 ounces after a whole day of trying. I could pump a few ounces here and there, but certainly not enough to keep up with her appetite. I would see friends post pictures featuring freezers full of breastmilk, and it filled me with disappointment in my body and envy over theirs. I was insanely jealous of moms with oversupply because I couldn’t produce enough.

Breastfeeding had never come easily for me. I thought I had it made when my first baby latched before we were even in the recovery room, but it turned out that was simply a patch of good luck in a very long and rocky road ahead. I watched the newborn chubbiness fade within weeks as I struggled to breastfeed. We dealt with an abnormal amount of cluster feeding, which a nurse said could be linked to the baby trying to increase my supply.

As soon as I heard this, it filled me with doubt about my body’s own abilities. I had always heard that you would be able to produce enough for your baby, and there was no need to worry that they weren’t getting enough. Even the nurse assured me that the cluster feeding should help him start getting what he needed. But whenever I needed to pump a bottle when I was going out for an evening, it was nearly impossible. How could he possibly be getting enough when I was only able to pump a four-ounce bottle on the absolute best of days — and usually got no more than two ounces?

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Courtesy of Gemma Hartley

I convinced myself that I was probably just one of those moms who couldn’t pump for one reason or another. To a degree, that was true: my body didn’t respond the same way to a pump as it did to my baby, and I seemed to produce more when I was actually breastfeeding. But how much more? I would wonder. Is it enough?

I wished I didn’t have to worry about my tiny babies every time a stranger remarked that it “didn’t look like I was feeding that kid.” I wished I had oversupply. I wished for it often.
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My babies always stayed on the low end of the growth chart. My daughter, who was the most voracious of the three, was only in the 25th percentile. My sons always lingered in the 10th to 15th percentiles, making me sick with anxiety every time they went on a feeding strike or became ill with a cold that tamped down their appetites. They never had the sweet baby rolls and chub that I saw on my friends’ babies. There was hardly a single crease on any of them.

Their pediatrician never showed any worry with their low weight because they stayed on their growth lines, always healthy and getting ever so slightly bigger at every check-up. Yet I couldn’t help but wonder if they should be this small. If I didn’t have such low supply at the beginning, I wondered, would they be bigger?

Courtesy of Gemma Hartley
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I saw friends who complained about oversupply. I looked at their roly-poly babes and wondered how on earth they could complain about such a thing. I could see the downside, of course, and I know that many of my friends have struggled with the uncomfortable effects of oversupply, but wasn't the benefit of having a visibly healthy baby worth it? I wished I could grab a bag of milk from the freezer to give my babies when they were sick and refusing the breast. I wished I had the option of going out of town for a few nights without worrying about buying formula and wondering if my supply would completely dry up overnight. I wished I didn’t have to worry about my tiny babies every time a stranger remarked that it “didn’t look like I was feeding that kid.” I wished I had oversupply. I wished for it often.

Had I simply focused on my own body and my own babies without comparing myself against others, I would have made it through those first years with a lot less heartache and insecurity.

I knew my jealousy was irrational. My babies were fine. They were growing. Even though my daughter had given up breastfeeding, she was formula feeding and perfectly content. Yet it was still hard to give up the insecurity I felt about not producing enough. Those freezers full of milk photos posted jokingly on Facebook with quips about being a dairy cow felt like a slap in the face. Why can’t I do that? I would think.

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I wish, looking back, that I had never fed into that comparison game. There was no point in being jealous of another mom’s milk. It feels silly now to even say it out loud. Had I simply focused on my own body and my own babies without comparing myself against others, I would have made it through those first years with a lot less heartache and insecurity. My body did just fine. I only wish I had realized it sooner.

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