Milk Supply Struggle

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Feeling Like a Failure and How I Worked to Regain My Supply

This post is based on personal experience and not to be taken as medical advice. Consult with your doctor when making medical decisions.

I have really struggled with returning to work after maternity leave — really struggled. There have been many tears (more from me than from Little Man) and resentment over the fact that we just can’t make it work for me to be home right now. So, when I began to struggle maintaining an adequate milk supply to keep up with Little Man’s demands at daycare, I was crushed. For me, supplying him with milk throughout the day felt like the one thing I could do – my one chance to contribute some aspect of his daily care. Leaving him at daycare already meant I wouldn’t be the one cheering him on as he achieved new milestones or the one to hold him when he cried. But I still had this. At least, I thought I did. Then, in my first week back at work I got mastitis. Afterward my milk supply struggled. I tried everything to regain my supply — lactation teas, insane amounts of oatmeal, everything. But with Little Man drinking approximately 12 ounces during his hours at day care – 3 pumping sessions at 2 to 3 ounces each just wouldn’t cut it.

More oatmeal than any one person should eat in a sitting — and lactation tea

Feeling Helpless and Angry

I don’t normally scream or throw things. But after multiple days of handing over my meager results and supplementing with my (thankfully) moderately well stocked frozen milk, I lost it. I was sitting in the living room trying my best to pump in the evening after Little Man had gone to bed and nothing was coming – not even a drop. After nearly 20 minutes I totally lost hope. I turned off the pump and ripped the bottles from the breast shields and hurtled them across the room (note to the wise – do not do that. It does not feel good). I felt helpless and angry.

Angry at work because I didn’t want to be there and because I blamed them for inconsistent access to a place to pump; angry at my husband because our finances don’t allow me to be home; and angry at my body because it would not do the one thing I really needed it to do right now.

Admittedly, none of these were fair.

I have a good job that, as far as jobs go, I like. And they do have a designated area I can use to pump.

Also, my husband is no more to blame (and to be honest, probably is less to blame than myself) for us not having the financial bandwidth for me to stay home.

And my body? Yeah, it sucks that it stalled when I needed it to amp up milk production, but it is also the reason I even have a baby to feed in the first place. My body created a human being inside of it and then birthed that human being.

Mark tried to comfort me. But the words “its not that big of a deal” only made my hurt and anger boil over. He was trying to assure me that the weight did not solely have to lie on my shoulders – that we could supplement with formula and our little boy would be perfectly healthy. Logically I know this is true. But in that moment it was a very big deal. Because I wasn’t ready to give up. And I felt like I was being forced into submission. I wasn’t ready to admit that my body wasn’t able to take care of my child. And I wasn’t ready to hand over the last of what I could offer him to someone else.  I felt like a failure.

Regained milk supply

Regaining My Supply

The next day, once the tears had dried and my fury had cooled, Hubbaloo and I decided to modify our already mostly gluten free diet (he has Celiac) and nix all of the processed crap. We had gone Paleo before (nothing processed, no legumes, no grains— just meat, fruits, and vegetables), so it felt like as good of a time as any to start. For one thing, it would help us to kick our sugar addiction. And, since my milk couldn’t take too much more of a hit, it seemed like a worthwhile time to reset my eating habits (I would like to point out here that this was not done for weight loss purposes as I anticipated keeping my calories up so as not to make my milk problem any worse).

To my surprise, my milk actually increased and I was able to start making enough to cover Little Man’s 12 ounces in daycare, sometimes more, during my 3 pumping sessions at work.

Nearly 7 ounces in one pumping session.

I took a lot of wonderful tips from Whole 30’s website where they have a whole wealth of information about breastfeeding while doing Whole 30 (Whole 30 is a stricter version of Paleo where they also cut out natural sugars like honey and syrup)

My Biggest Takeaways While Working to Regain my Supply:

  • I really needed to make sure I was getting enough healthy fats like coconut oil, avocados, nuts, and the thing that really helped my supply: coconut milk. Days when I don’t include these items, particularly the coconut milk, I can see a noticeable drop in my supply. Not like what it was when I started, but I definitely lose a couple of ounces in production.
  • Leafy greens make a big difference. I have found that just incorporating a single large salad into my day seems to help my production. I don’t know exactly why that is, but I do know that when I have a salad for lunch my day generally is filled with healthier choices.
  • Carbs are still critical. Because of this, I have been making a large batch of diced potatoes or sweet potatoes in the oven at the beginning of each week and including them with my lunch. When I didn’t have adequate carbs at all of my meals I didn’t produce as much as I did on days when I had enough. Again, this didn’t kill my milk supply, but I noticed that I made more milk on days when I wasn’t cutting carbs.
  • Water is critical. I knew this one, and I’m already a ridiculous water drinker (I LOVE WATER), but it is worth reiterating. Water is critical for milk production.
  • Eating processed foods and junk in general do me and my milk supply no favors. At least for me, eating poorly is a slippery slope that ends up being an all day occurrence. When I’m eating poorly, I’m not eating the things that are good for me (offering me pizza is a surefire way to ensure I don’t eat that salad). When I’m not eating things that are good for me I don’t feel as good and my milk supply is definitely impacted.
Delicious berries!

You can regain your supply, Momma!

All said, struggling with producing enough milk is a common concern among nursing mothers. And I think it hits those of us who have to rely on pumping at work a little harder. So, if you don’t have the luxury of a stash of frozen milk to carry you through as you try to regain your supply, definitely reach out to a doctor or lactation consultant about your options.

As long as you’re making sure your baby is getting what he/she needs then you’re doing exactly what you need to do. Good luck!

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