Just in case I got too comfortable with this whole nursing thing, I've been thrown for a loop. I thought I'd been through a few: cracked nipple and poor latch (Bachelor #1), poor latch and overactive letdown (Bachelorette #2), congenital heart defect (Bachelorette #3)...
Well, it seems that somehow my milk supply has dropped gradually enough that Bachelorette #4 has been refusing to latch on unless I catch her just as she wakes up, just as she falls asleep, or by performing contortions worthy of the Cirque du Soleil.
On Tuesday, I spoke with three different Lactation Consultants, and got three sets of opinions/advice, all pointing to the belief that my milk supply is low.
I've rented a hospital-grade double breast pump, and am now hooking myself up to the milker six times a day. You can imagine the challenge of finding fifteen minutes, six times a day, to perform this task. I've surrendered to it, and am getting creative about how to keep the kids busy while I do it. Margot "reads" board books to the baby and sings nursery rhymes to her while Norah sits in her bouncy seat giving me the gimlet eye. I set my watch for 15 minutes and settle in to read, ignoring the shush-shush-shush rhythm of the pump. I have to say, it is satisfying to see that beautiful milk dripping into the bottles, as disconcerting as it is to see how far my nipples can stretch. I know it'll be worth it when Norah feels happier and more satisfied when she nurses.
It seems that this is a common issue with fourth babes. I know how often I've had to leap out of the nursing chair to break up a scrap between the older girls, or how I've had to put off a feeding to get the school-goers out to the bus on time. I know that raising my voice while nursing doesn't exactly encourage a peaceful mealtime experience for my baby girl. All these little actions have led to a gradual decrease in my milk supply, and the only way to increase it is to remove as much as possible, as often as possible. I'm past the point where fenugreek and blessed thistle will be of much help.
Thankfully, I'm heading to my mom's for the long weekend, pump in tow. My older children will be more than happy to run around with their cousins, and there will be lots of arms to hold Norah while I pump. I'll be getting her weighed as well; her rolls tell me that she isn't actually losing weight, and her diapers are consistently wet, but I want the reassurance of knowing that she is actually gaining after a few days of pumping.
Here are some things I noticed as my milk supply dropped:
- I could still feel a let down, but didn't get the wet spots on my shirt (this doesn't happen to everyone)
- Norah wanted to suck all the time (hands or soother) but got really upset when I tried to nurse
- when I did get her latched on, she pulled on my nipple, hit my breast with her hands, and pushed her face into my breast (all instinctive attempts to stimulate more milk production)
Here are some tricks I've learned (thanks to the many great women who've been there to help):
- calm your baby down before trying to latch (either just before sleep, when just waking up but not frantic, or by wrapping and rocking to soothe)
- when baby latches on, tickle your breast lightly. I know this sounds funny, but it will cause your milk to let down more quickly so they don't get frustrated/frantic
- try to stay calm, and don't take it personally (this has been the hardest part for me).
- breathe deeply, speak calmly to your baby, reassure him/her that you're going to get it all figured out
- keep your baby close so that you can read her cues; wear her in a sling and cosleep.
- resist the urge to give your baby the soother instead of nursing. It not only satisfies their urge to suck, it actually convinces their stomach that they are no longer hungry. I've used it only to get her calm and sucking before I try the "bait and switch" (lowering her slowly to my breast, then pulling the soother out while latching her on as smoothly as possible
- seek help! Call a neighbor or relative to help with the housework, find a lactation consultant near you, and keep seeking help until the problem resolves itself (through your hard work and commitment)
Breastfeeding is natural, yes, but it doesn't always come naturally. I've nursed four babes, now, and they always manage to keep me on my toes. I keep learning. I'm so grateful for the support of my mother, who comes to help me with my older children and makes sure I'm fed, and to my sister Julie who is the voice of reason when I start to panic as well as the person who points me to those who can help me.
I'll sign off now for a few days, as I'm busy being kept on my toes while twirling, pumping, nursing, and bouncing my knees through this challenging time.