While pregnant with my first daughter, my mom warned me about the difficulties of breastfeeding, and I was totally offended. How could something so "natural" that was practiced across the world be anything but simple? I didn't know anything about having a low milk supply, being a working mom on top of caring for a newborn, having D-MER, and the millions of other things that would affect my life after giving birth to another human, breastfeeding, and going back to work. I figured it'd be easy. Simple. Hassle-free. And with that, I ignorantly and over-confidently plunged full speed ahead to towards one of the hardest things I have ever done: breastfeeding as a working mom.
From the start, my milk supply wasn’t awesome. After childbirth, it took nearly five days for my milk to come in and when it finally did, it never felt like it was enough. I breastfed around the clock and followed every other breastfeeding session with some one-on-one time with my breast pump. My days and nights revolved around breastfeeding, pumping, and prepping enough breast milk for the time I'd be away from my daughter. No matter how consistent and devoted I was, I returned to work with a very small stash and serious concerns about keeping up with my daughter’s demands while I was away.
When you're a working mom with a low milk supply, every last bit of milk counts.
As a working mom with a low milk supply, producing more milk was always on my mind. I found myself constantly trying to find new strategies for whatever was wrong with me that kept me from making enough milk. I tried power pumping, a method that encourages frequent pumping on your day off to simulate a cluster feeding. I tried endless supplements and dietary changes: fenugreek, Mother’s Milk tea, steel cut oats, lactation cookies, increasing my fat intake, and drinking as much water as possible. I tried to pump more often at work. I borrowed a hospital-grade pump, thinking that might do the trick. I changed the sizes of the flanges on my personal pump. I did everything suggested to me and then some, and only saw my milk supply slowly dwindle overtime.
I was obsessed, and seeing no results in my quest for the perfect milk supply.
When you're a mom with a low milk supply, every last bit of milk counts. I learned to get really creative with how and when I pumped, sometimes pumping as little as half an ounce while driving to work. (Thank goodness for hands-free bras and car adapters.) I'd then save that half of an ounce to combine with whatever I pumped during my first break at work. No matter where I was the goal was always more. More, more, more.
Struggling to keep up with the demands of breastfeeding, I felt like anyone who saw me using a bottle would think I'd failed or that I was bad at being a mom. It took me a really long time to realize that couldn't be further from the truth.
When every ounce, or half an ounce, counts, there is nothing more heartbreaking than spilling milk or coming home to find your caregiver left a bottle out on the counter by accident. I admit I've totally cried while pouring spoiled milk down the drain more than once. I've also desperately tried to keep my cool as I tried to explain paced bottle feeding to a babysitter again.
And fighting feelings of inadequacy was an everyday battle. I found myself wondering why my body couldn’t manage this one thing. Breastfeeding is one of the things my body was created to do, right? Why couldn’t I figure it out? Why couldn’t I make enough milk to keep my daughter well-fed and happy? I often had to supplement a little after nursing, and felt it was necessary to defend myself or to make sure the moms around me knew how hard I tried to maintain an adequate supply. Struggling to keep up with the demands of breastfeeding, I felt like anyone who saw me using a bottle would think I'd failed or that I was bad at being a mom. It took me a really long time to realize that couldn't be further from the truth.
When you're a working mom with a low milk supply, the only way to move forward is through radical self-acceptance. I learned the hard way that obsessing over how much I was producing, trying every trick in the book to boost my supply, and beating myself up over falling short only made matters worse. I found stress actually lowered my milk supply. I struggled to relax while pumping, which made it harder for my body to respond to the pump.
It wasn’t until I made the decision to accept the cards I'd been dealt, pump as much as I could, and then supplement with formula the rest of the time, that I finally started to feel comfortable in my role as a breastfeeding mom. Once I was able to accept myself and what my body was capable of, I found I cared less about what the world at large had to say about my milk supply or the endless advice I received from coworkers or friends who felt they understood the explanation for my milk supply problem.
Most importantly, accepting what my body was able to do was key to enjoying my breastfeeding relationship with my daughter for what it was. Instead of feeling bitter or frustrated each time I sat down to nurse or pump, I was able to be grateful for the special time we had together while she was at the breast.