My Experience with Breastfeeding

It's been awhile since I've last said anything about my attempts to start cutting back on my breastfeeding efforts.  Every time I edited this post with updates and prepared to publish it, something new went wrong.

But it's been 5 days now since I last had a clogged duct, and my breastfeeding and weaning efforts are finally becoming manageable.  After spending countless hours reading community boards on Baby Center and other parenting websites and speaking with a lactation consultant, I am close - if not already there - to feeling like I am in control again, with a schedule that I can handle.  I want to share this story because I think it could be helpful to other women who are feeling overburdened by how exhausting breastfeeding full-time is. 

In case you haven't been following along from the beginning, here's a synopsis of my situation: 
I was more or less exclusively breastfeeding for the first 9 weeks or so of my son's life. I was exhausted by the amount of time and energy it took to breastfeed and was plagued with a number of problems, including clogged ducts, infections, and incredibly sore nipples.  I decided to start pumping exclusively somewhere around week 9 or 10 but the problems only got worse.

Here's where I went wrong:
When EH started spitting up like crazy, I wanted to diagnose the problem by figuring out how much milk he was drinking each feeding, knowing that the pediatrician only recommended 3 to 4 ounces per feeding.  So I started by giving him a bottle of formula at one feeding and then pumping to see how much I produced during a normal breastfeeding session.  I was getting between 7 and 8 ounces total.  So then the next feeding I let him eat until he started spitting up again and then I pumped after that to see how much was left. It was about 2 ounces, which told me that he was trying to eat 5 or 6 ounces each feeding.  That explained the excessive spit up - my baby was basically binging and purging. 

Around this time I also realized that I could go about 6 hours without having to pump (or feed him,) so I decided to start pumping every 6 hours instead of feeding him every 3, since I was still getting enough milk to feed him breast milk exclusively.  I decided that would be far more manageable for when I went back to work, since I was not interested in pumping every 3 hours (the feeding schedule at the time.)

But I clearly didn't think that one through. By completely emptying myself out every 6 hours, I was not only signaling to my body to replace what I had removed, but I was also telling it that there wasn't enough and that more needed to be produced.  After about 3 days of exclusive pumping my supply increased so much so suddenly that I felt like I was going to explode.

I had clogged duct after clogged duct, and engorgement at it's worst. Oh. My. God.  It was horribly painful.  An absolute miserable experience.  And you know what they tell you to do for clogged ducts? Nurse through it.  Yep, after all of that decision making to move to exclusive 6-hour spaced apart pumping sessions I was back to having to rely on EH to help me clear out my ducts, every 3 hours.  Thankfully even after 3 or 4 days of exclusive bottle feeding on his part he was still at pro at breastfeeding and returned to that like a champ.  No nipple confusion for this kid.

My early efforts at weaning: 
At this point I had decided that I definitely wanted to start the weaning process.  I knew that quitting cold turkey would just cause more problems for me, so I decided to take the more gradual approach.  Most people on the community boards that I read suggested starting by eliminating one feeding, and once that becomes manageable, eliminate another, and so on.

I tried that, but as it turns out, I couldn't even go 4 hours anymore without causing painful fullness and usually more clogs, let alone the 6 hours that I would have to go to be able to skip a full feeding.  People recommending that I try only feeding from one side at a time, but again, not possible, since the other side couldn't wait that long.  Clogs, clogs, and more clogs.  And of course, you all know what has to happen when a clog occurs, right? Yep, more regular feedings. So much for that weaning schedule, right?

And don't even get me started about night time.  Because, of course, right around this time EH started sleeping longer than 3 hours at night, and would usually go 5 or 6 at this point, which I could not handle. So even though HE was sleeping for longer stretches, I still had to wake up to pump. Or, in more cases than not, wake up in pain because I didn't wake up to pump.  I. Was. Miserable.

How I Found Weaning Success:
Since that gradual weaning thing clearly wasn't going to work for me, I decided to take slightly more drastic, alternative measures.  I had read on a BabyCenter community board that drinking sage tea was supposed to help with the weaning process. While I am usually a skeptic about herbal remedies, I was ready to try anything.  A quick search on Amazon resulted in me finding a sage tea called - no kidding - "Earth Mama Angel Baby Organic No More Milk Tea."  What a mouthful, right? But it sounded like it was just what I was looking for so I placed my order, did 2 day shipping and as soon as I was able to get rid of the clog that I was dealing with on the day it arrived, I drank 4 cups in the first 12 hours.

On that same day I spoke with a lactation consultant over the phone, and she recommended sage tea as well, in addition to taking sage capsules and lecithin, which is supposed to help prevent clogs.  I went right back to Amazon, placed an order for overnight shipping and had both of those the very next day.  I started by taking the lecithin at least twice a day, sometimes three times if I remember, and I took the sage capsules twice that first day and once the next day, in addition to drinking the tea, and it was remarkable at how quickly things started to change.  I could feel the difference.  Suddenly I could easily go 4 hours without any problems, and that soon became 6 hours.

I no longer take either the sage capsules or the lecithin on a regular basis, although as soon as I get sense that a clog is forming or that my supply is building up to be more than I can handle, I'll pop them immediately.   Same with the tea - I only drink it if I have a feeling that I'm started to produce too much, or if I know that I'm going to go have to go longer than normal without pumping or nursing. Sometimes I catch it in time, sometimes I don't, but these herbal remedies really did seem to work.  I could have kept taking them, and that likely would have dried up my supply completely, but I wasn't ready for that yet.   I wanted to see how things would go once I went back to work, and once EH was spending most of the day at day care.

Where I'm At Now: 
I now only breastfeed EH three times per day (which includes me having to pump once at day at work, during my lunch hour.)  There was a transition period where EH would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night, around 2:30 a.m. and sometimes he'd sleep through it, and that time was hard for me because I wasn't ready to go more than 6 hours without feeding him, but within a few days I was able to get through it.  It is amazing what a difference this has made for me.  I no longer feel tied to my baby or to my pump in the same restrictive way that I did before. 

At the same time I feel good that I am still able to provide EH with breast milk for over 50% of his feedings. And I do NOT feel guilty for giving formula for the other half of his feedings.  Thousands of babies, myself included, were raised on formula and I consider myself to be quite intelligent and well-rounded (bias acknowledged.)

When EH was 11 weeks old, our/my feeding schedule looked something like this:
6:30 a.m. - Breastfed at home
9:30 a.m. - Bottle of formula* at day care
12:30 p.m. - Bottle of breast milk* at day care
12:30 p.m. - I pump at work
3:30 p.m. - Bottle of formula* at day care
6:30 p.m. - Breastfed at home and then to bed for the night
Sometime between 12:30 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. - Breastfed at home
4:30 a.m.** - Bottle of formula or breast milk at home

(* - I don't actually know when they give him the bottles of formula versus the bottle of breast milk, so I'm just guessing here.
** - If he wakes at 12:30 for a night feeding then he usually needs this second feeding at 4:30.  However, when he doesn't wake until 2:30 a.m. for his first night feeding, he doesn't usually need another until 6:30 a.m. so the 4:30 bottle is skipped.)

Now, at nearly 15 weeks old, our schedule looks like this: 
5:15 a.m. - Breastfed at home
8:30 a.m. - Bottle at day care*
12:00 p.m. - Bottle at day care*
3:30 p.m. - Bottle at day care*
5:30 p.m. - Breastfed at home
6:00 p.m. - In bed for the night

(* Bottles at day care time are approximate, as it depends on his napping schedule, and at least one of his bottles every day is breast milk.)

That's right!!! You read that correctly - EH now consistently sleeps through the night, from about 5:30/6 p.m. to 5 a.m.  At least 11 hours every night.  He gets 5 feedings a day, and seems to be extremely content, happy and continues to grow like a weed.  

I don't give him a bottle of formula before bedtime anymore, because he now sleeps the same amount of time at night whether I give him breast milk or formula. But I should note that initially, when we were first trying to get him to sleep for longer periods at night, it was essential that he had formula as his last meal, otherwise he would wake up. Now he's used to sleeping for long periods and it doesn't seem to matter what he eats - he'll just sleep.

It's been a long and arduous process to get to where we are now with this whole breastfeeding ordeal.  In many ways, I can't believe that I didn't give up and quit a long time ago! Of course, had I tried to quit, I would have surely exploded. That's nature's way of making sure you don't quit breastfeeding unnecessarily, I suppose.  But now that we are where we are, I can see this working for awhile.  It doesn't consume my life, and I don't dread it anymore.  It's a small piece of who I am and what I do, not the only thing I spend my time doing. 

The other day I was feeding EH and DH was sitting next to me.  I was deep in thought, as I usually am when feeding EH, unless I'm watching TV or talking to DH, and suddenly it hit me.  I realized why I wasn't quite ready to give up breastfeeding completely.  It's the only thing that separates me from day care.  Anyone can give him a bottle.  But only I can breastfeed him (and please don't disagree with me on this one.)  And I think I'll probably do it for at least a little while longer.  Besides the fact that it saves us a little money on formula (but ultimately does NOT save you money, a post for another time) it's my unique, one-on-one bonding time with my little baby boy, and I'm just not ready to give that up yet. 


Suzi said...

Good recap! I was just wondering the other day where you stood with all of this. I'm glad you've found some peace with it, and a schedule that works for all 3 of you! (...and I'm sure Murph gets some benefit from the peacefulness too. ;) )

So, especially after officially documenting all of this, don't you feel like you could seriously take on the world at this point?! Like, "oh, I did this, so I'm sure I could run the entire country if I had to." Motherhood has a way of forcing a woman to acknowledge her strengths and do things she never thought she was mentally/physically/emotionally capable of doing!

Power on, mama! :)

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