Is there ever a time when low supply is good? Perhaps, but I can tell you for sure that it’s not good when referring to breast milk! This isn’t your typical, breastfeed/don’t breastfeed/don’t-breastfeed-that-long type of post. I’m all for whatever anyone wants to do. This is about the struggle of having a low milk supply.
The struggle is real people! Okay, if you’ve read anything else I’ve written, you already know that I had a 28-weeker. Having a preemie is a whole crazy world, and there is a lot of stress comes along with it. I really, really wanted to pump milk and breastfeed (when my daughter was capable), particularly because with a NICU baby you’re not in control of much, and providing milk is one of the few things that I felt I could do. I gave it a valiant effort, but whoa. I didn’t get to hold my baby for 3.5 weeks, and she spent twelve weeks in the hospital, so quality time with an electric pump at 1 am, 4 am, and 6 am doesn’t exactly provide the same milk production benefits as a warm, snuggly, hungry baby does at those hours.
My milk production journey started on a high – a few hours after the c-section, it was time to start pumping. I had a pretty decent amount of colostrum. The nurse actually commented about having that amount so soon hopefully meant I’d have a good supply. Well, apparently I peaked early! I remember the lactation consultants saying that the amount should increase after the milk comes in, and then would continue to increase over a period of time. Their pumping log says that by the end of the first week, you should make about 300 ml/day, and by the end of the second week, you should be making about 500 ml/day.
I pumped eight times per day, thirty minutes each time, drank water, worked with the lactation team, got a prescription to help with milk production, but even with all of that, I didn’t make much progress. Spoiler alert…even after months of pumping, I very rarely had a day that reached 300 ml (the average end of first week amount.) Ugh! Like so many NICU babies, at the very beginning of her stay, she received donated milk which was amazing! Then she started receiving my milk. As she grew, however, my supply remained low, and the hospital had to start supplementing with formula. When they first started the supplementation, she got about seven milk feeds and one formula feed. Then it went up and up and up, and by the time she went home it was close to 50/50 milk/formula.
The lactation team was amazing, particularly Ellen Linder, who met with me most days while my daughter was in the hospital. Poor Ellen, she worked and worked with me to help get my supply up, to help my daughter learn to feed directly, but my supply just would not increase!
I totally developed milk envy. The other NICU moms would talk about pumping or feeding their babies and having so much milk. One mom actually said the team asked her to start freezing her milk at home because they didn’t have room to store all of her milk in the unit. Sheesh! I worked my butt (or boobs) off trying to provide that liquid gold, but never had much luck!
Since my supply was low and my daughter started receiving formula pretty early, from the time she was capable of feeding by mouth, she was receiving bottles. She was pretty good about breastfeeding and then bottle feeding (she’d get milk until it was gone, then she’d drink formula in her bottle.) We continued to have success with that when she was home from the hospital, and that nice run lasted until it was time to switch to faster flow bottle nipples. Once that happened, she was done drinking the milk with me! She was like, nope, that bottle is way easier, has more in it, I’m done!
As she grew, the formula outpaced the milk, but I continued to pump and supplement her formula with milk. But, all good things must come to an end, and my prescription for milk production was no longer available. As soon as my prescription ran out, so did my milk.
All in all, I made it ten months. I was hoping to get to fifteen months, which would have been when she was one year by due date, but that didn’t happen. I’m proud of my dedication to the pumping, proud of my daughter for being so flexible, and thankful to the lactation team that helped me get to ten months.
Even though I’ve been done pumping for a few months now, I still get milk envy when I hear someone talking about overproduction (or not needing to wash bottles!) If you are one of those people, you should definitely see about donating your milk. It’s such a valuable service for the NICU babies. You can really make a difference for them!