If you’d told me a year ago that I would be writing a post about how I increased my breastmilk supply or that I’d be blogging about anything related to breastfeeding and pumping in general– I wouldn’t have believed you! I always knew that I wanted to breastfeed and when I was pregnant I remember telling myself that no matter how it went, I would give myself grace because at the end of the day all that matters is my baby is fed. My husband and I were both formula, bottle-fed babies and we turned out just fine. What was the big deal if breastfeeding ended up not working out for me?
If you’ve been following along on my Instagram stories then you know that my breastfeeding journey has not been easy. While I had every intention of taking a laid back approach when it came to how/what Nate was fed, my postpartum hormones completely took over once he was in my arms and I couldn’t imagine any other alternative than breastfeeding.
A quick disclaimer! My goal in sharing all of this is to simply be honest about my story. I never anticipated some of the challenges I’ve experienced and I hope I can shed light on some of the often-not-talked about issues that new moms encounter when trying to breastfeed. I want to make clear that my intentions are not to project my feelings or make anyone question their journey if it happens to look different from mine. We are ALL good moms and at the end of the day there is no one-size-fits-all correct way to feed a baby. Whether you breastfeed, bottle-feed pumped milk, bottle-feed formula or do a combination of both or all three; all that matters is that you and your baby are happy and healthy.
OUTFIT DETAILS // Wrap Top (breastfeeding-friendly) | High Rise Skinny Jeans | Slippers | Legendairy Milk Liquid Gold Supplements | Warming Lactation Massage Pads | BabyBuddha Portable Breast Pump | Motif Luna Double Electric Breast Pump
It’s important to remember that breastfeeding is a learning process for both mom and baby and those first weeks at home you’re both still recovering from the physical and mental stress of birth. I was blessed to have had a very positive birth experience with Nate. I remember leaving the hospital on a high, but once we were home I realized just how completely unprepared I was for challenges I’d be facing trying to breastfeed.
Breastfeeding was painful. His latch pinched me so badly— like a chomp. At first I thought it was normal and I just needed to toughen up, but after a few days it reached a point where it was excruciating and I had terrible nipple damage. Every time I would feed him, I would be in so much pain and even after 30-40 minute long feeding sessions, he’d still wail in hunger. He was also constantly falling asleep on my boob at every feeding. Just trying to keep him active and sucking was exhausting! PS these are a game changer for nipple damage and helped me heal within two days.
At Nate’s first pediatrician appointment (I think it was 3 days after leaving the hospital) we found out that he hadn’t gained any weight, which meant he clearly wasn’t getting enough to eat. To ensure Nate was getting the calories he needed to get back to his birthweight, we began giving him a few ounces of pumped milk or formula in a bottle every time after I would try to feed him myself. My milk had been slow to come in (it took a solid 7+ days) so from the get-go I began regularly pumping multiple times a day in hoping of getting my milk flowing and creating a larger supply for Nate. It broke my heart that he wasn’t getting enough from me when I fed him. I think I cried multiple times a day, everyday for Nate’s first 2-3 weeks.
Those first six weeks of feeding were a blur. Breastfeeding continued to be difficult so my husband and I fell into a routine of combo feeding. I would maybe try to breastfeed 2-3x a day always following with a few ounces via bottle since he’d still be hungry. All the rest of his feeds were then given just by bottle.
1. Breast Pump Backpack | 2. Hands Free Breast Pump Bra | 3. Legendairy Milk Liquid Gold | 4. Rolled Oats |5. Vita Coco Coconut Water | 6. LaVie Warming Lactation Massage Pads | 7. Kindred Bravely Hands Free Pumping Bra
In between breastfeeding and caring for this new little human, I’d try to pump as often as I could. I want to say I did it maybe 4x a day for 20-30 minutes each time? I honestly can’t remember. I just recall always feeling defeated afterwards because what I was pumping was still not enough to satisfy Nate. At some point everyday we’d run out of pumped milk and have to give him formula. I want to say he got on average 5-10oz of formula per day his first two months while I established my supply.
The stress and frustration of trying and failing (how I felt about myself at the time) to breastfeed and pump started to take a toll on me mentally and emotionally. Six weeks passed and it still wasn’t getting easier. His latch was painful, he still needed a bottle after every feed and while I was beginning to pump slightly more milk, it still wasn’t enough to stop supplementing with formula everyday. I was exhausted and felt like my body was broken. Breastfeeding is all about supply and demand. I knew my baby was hungry and the demand was there. So why wasn’t my body producing what he needed?
I had reached a point where I was very very close to quitting nursing. Trying to make it not painful while also keeping up with a pump schedule literally felt like a full time job. When Nate wasn’t attached to my boob– I was attached to a pump. But before throwing in the towel altogether my mom gut told me that we needed to get one last expert opinion on Nate’s oral anatomy.
When he was first born we had a slight suspicion he might have a tongue tie as oral ties tend to be genetic and my husband has one. We brought it up to his pediatrician at one of his first appointments and after a brief examination she informed us that she didn’t see anything. After that I kind of just forgot about it and fully committed to believing any problems with breastfeeding were my fault. I clearly either had a low supply and/or was just bad at getting him to latch.
Everything changed when I stumbled across this Instagram post about pediatric tongue ties and how having one can impact a baby’s ability to successfully breastfeed. Nate had all of the symptoms! In a last ditch effort to get to the bottom of things, I made an appointment with an oral surgeon who specializes in releasing ties in babies and children. I didn’t even bother trying to get a referral from our pediatrician. I just called Dr. Scott Siegel’s office on my own and was able to schedule Nate a same-day appointment. There we found that not only did he have a posterior tongue tie deep in the back of his mouth, but a lip tie too! We decided to have both released by Dr. Siegel that same day.
PS mamas– the tongue release procedure aka a frenectomy was very simply and easy. Dr. Siegel used a laser and it was over within 10 seconds! Yes Nate cried, but I was able to breastfeed him immediately after and soothe him. I want to say he was a little fussy the night and following morning, but within a day he was back to himself! We just gave him a small dose of baby Tylenol to help with his discomfort. We also made sure to keep up with the 5x daily mouth stretches we were instructed to do by Dr. Siegel for two weeks after his procedure– if you don’t do these ties can re-attach!
I can’t tell you what a sense of relief it was to finally have gotten an answer to our breastfeeding difficulties. I’d spent weeks hating myself and believing I had a terrible low milk supply, when it had all been due to this little piece of skin underneath his tongue. So crazy right?
I wish I could say that the frenectomy solved all of our breastfeeding struggles, but it was only one piece of the puzzle. I’d read that releasing a tongue tie is not always an instant fix and that some babies need therapy to understand their new oral mobility and re-learn how to use their tongue. Tongue ties are also linked to and can be the cause of many issues beyond breastfeeding– shoulder tension, body asymmetry, head tilt, reflux and abdominal distension just to name a few.
We quickly realized that Nate needed more help beyond just the frenectomy. His latch was still painful like a chomp and it was clear that he had no idea how to suck and use his tongue properly. His body was also soooo tight and he had a ton of tension in his neck and shoulders. He’d latch OK on my right side, but when I’d move him to the left he’d refuse because he had so much tightness lifting his head and neck in that direction.
I decided to seek out the help of both a pediatric physical therapist (Dr. Giselle Tadros) and chiropractor (Dr. Alvarez at Hoboken Chiropactric) who specialize in therapy following a frenectomy. For two months I took Nate to weekly appointments with Dr. Giselle and to Hoboken Chiro. I also spent at least an hour everyday working with Nate myself at home on relieving his body tension, strengthening his neck and jaw muscles and practicing using his tongue with suck training. Dr. Giselle has some amazing resources on her Instagram about oral therapy that parents can do at home!
During this time, I also made the tough decision to exclusively pump. Why put so much work into pumping if breastfeeding was the ultimate goal? I decided for my own sanity that I needed a break. It’s hard to put into words just how defeating it feels to spend hours everyday trying to breastfeed (often with a screaming baby) only to have 1) it hurt like hell and 2) realizing baby didn’t get enough to eat and still having to give a bottle. We realized that it was best for me and him if we focused on addressing Nate’s body tension and improving his oral function before attempting to get him regularly back on the boob.
PS you can find reviews of all the breast pumps I’ve tried in this post.
Exclusively pumping while also taking Nate to weekly appointments and doing therapy with him at home was exhausting. From mid-October through early December I lived in a blackhole of pumping around the clock. All I cared about was getting my baby the help he needed and increasing my milk supply. It became a bit of an obsession– pumping. Counting every ounce. I had very little motivation to do my work or any hobbies that I enjoyed pre-pregnancy. Looking back I definitely wasn’t in a great place emotionally, but I had started seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Nate began making strides in therapy– most notably his body tension began decreasing, we could also tell his neck and jaw muscles were getting stronger. We also saw a lot of improvement in his sucking and swallowing when taking a bottle.
During this time my milk supply really started going up and we were able to stop supplementing with formula. I included a list of everything I did to help build my supply along with my pumping schedule below. Honestly I think time and consistency were the biggest factors. It’s so important to remember that building a milk supply is a marathon and not a sprint. For many women it’s common to take three months to establish a full supply. If only I’d known this at the start I could’ve saved myself a lot of heartache!
I also want to call out that PUMPING IS BREASTFEEDING. A few of you messaged me this on Instagram and it really meant a lot. I know I keep referring to breastfeeding and pumping separately for the sake of explanation, but at the end of the day both are the same. If a baby is given breastmilk– they are breastfed! Pumping is hard work and takes so much time and dedication. Moms who exclusively pump are serious rockstars and should be incredibly proud of themselves.
How I Increased My Milk Supply
- Consistent Pumping (6-8x daily for 20-30mins or until empty)
- Power Pumping (1x a day for 1-2 weeks– just Google power pumping for more info!)
- Consistent Middle Of The Night Pump Session (we were lucky that Nate began sleeping through the night very early– around one month– and since I was so sleep deprived I just went ahead and slept too! I later learned that by going that long without pumping or feeding Nate 6+ hours without having removing milk from my breasts could potentially hurt my milk supply by not waking up to pump.)
- Correct Flange Size (I had no idea that when you use pump flanges that are too big/small it can negatively impact your milk supply! I realized around 10 weeks pp that my 24mm flanges were too big for me so I ordered these 21mm ones from Amazon. Here’s a ruler you can print out to find your correct size.)
- Staying Hydrated (I drink a bottle of coconut water every morning + carry this water bottle with me everywhere)
- Lactation Supplements (I take 6 of these supplements a day)
- Healthy(ish) Diet (trying to eat meals with real, quality protein and calories– when you’re breastfeeding you’re still eating for two!)
- Massage + Heat (I am obsessed with these heated lactation massagers! They make pumping so much more comfortable and the added heat/vibration really helps with milk flow. I slip them in my bra every time I pump!)
- Calm, Stress-Free Environment (I know I know. So much easier said than done, but it’s true! I pump significantly more when I am having a good day and not paying attention to the fact that I’m pumping. Try to find a happy distraction for yourself when you pump– watch a funny TV show, read a book, put on your makeup, look at photos of your sweet baby– remove negative distractions and do something that makes you feel great.)
So I would be lying if I told you that I followed this to a T every day that I was an exclusive pumper. Basically I aimed for at least 6 pump sessions of 20-30 minutes per day, with a mandatory middle of the night session (when the bodies milk producing hormones are highest!)
My Pumping Schedule
11:30PM (sometimes I’d make this an hour long power pump session)
3AM (don’t skip this one! I learned that prolactin levels are highest between 1-4AM so adding a night session is a great way to build demand & get a big pump!)
Taking a break from nursing to exclusively pump was honestly the best decision I could’ve made. Watching my supply go up was a huge mood booster and motivator. Being able to visually see that I was producing enough milk to satisfy my baby gave me the confidence I needed to give nursing another go in early December. I knew the milk was there— Nate just needed to learn to get it himself.
I started off by nursing Nate twice a day. I would do his first feed in the morning when I was most engorged and again later in the evening around dinner after I had finished working. For about two weeks his feeds were hit or miss. Sometimes he would get all that he needed from me and other times I’d still have to give him an ounce or two in a bottle after nursing. His latch still pinched a bit, but I wouldn’t describe it as painful. I would often have to take him off to re-latch, but I noticed such a difference in his body tension! He was so much more relaxed and loose than he’d been 1-2 months prior at the start of his physical therapy. He also easily latched on both sides– previously he would always fight and fuss on the left.
How did I know he had enough or that he was still hungry? While he was bottle fed we learned that 4-5oz was what he needed at each feed to be satisfied. Obviously when breastfeeding you can’t see the amount of milk your baby is intaking, however there is a way to track it by doing a weighted feed.
For my own piece of mind, I would weigh Nate before and after feeding him using his smart changing pad. This thing is amazing because it’s also a scale! Doing this allowed me to know exactly how many ounces he had drank. At first he would maybe get 1.5-2.5oz at each feed, but with practice this increased! Before long he started to drink 4-7oz per feed (yes, sometimes he’d get 7oz in the morning!) and was getting all he needed to be full.
It was such a labor love, but I just knew he could get there and it was also so liberating not having to be attached to a pump all day. Anytime he was able to get a full feed from me, I would cut out a pump session. I want to say that it was the week leading into Christmas (Nate was 14 weeks!) where his latch had stopped pinching me and he began getting all he needed from at every nursing session. I finally was able to exclusively breastfeed. We did it!!!
And when I say “we” I mean this to encompass not only myself and Nate, but my husband too. Since the start of the pandemic, Nick has been able to work virtually, which allowed him to be at home with me for the majority of my pregnancy and now with Nate. There is no way any of this would have been possible if I did not have his full time support.
Without him I never would have been able to take on such a rigorous pump schedule (Nick did most of Nate’s bottle feedings while I exclusively pumped) or likely had the motivation to continue trying to breastfeed. He has been my biggest cheerleader and never doubted that me and Nate could get to where we are now. I recognize what a privilege it is to have this kind of help from my husband at home as a first time mom. Nate and I are very lucky and blessed to have him!
Oh the happy tears. Being able to nurse my baby without pain and frustration is something I thought was never going to be possible. Even after Nate’s frenectomy there were moments that I questioned if the frequent medical appointments and therapy sessions were going to pay off. Was it really worth it to put myself and my baby through all of this work just to breastfeed? Now that I’ve reached the other side of things and I’ve been able to experience the joy of painless, stress-free breastfeeding– yes, it was worth it for me. I went from dreading every feeding to actually looking forward to Nate waking up from his naps so I could feed him.
If you made it to the end of this post– congratulations! I know it was long, but so was our journey to get here 🙂