Formula to the Rescue
It was critical my son have the nutrition and fluids he needed, so I upped the amount of formula I fed him after each nursing session. But rather than give him a bottle, I fed him forumula by cup (a one-ounce plastic “dosage” cup) instead of bottle so as not to confuse him with differently-shaped nipples. Cup feeding a tiny baby is not an easy task, as the formula tends to dribble down his front and there’s a lot of spitting up and air-swallowing. I was sorely tempted to use a bottle, let me tell you! But I felt really committed to breastfeeding despite our problems. Breastfeeding offers too many advantages for me to give up on it easily. So, I persisted.
So I contacted a lactation consultant (a person who specializes in breastfeeding) . She gave me a few pointers and taught me a new nursing position, as my son’s ability to latch had become an issue by the lack of milk. She also had me begin using a supplemental nursing system (SNS), which delivers the supplemental formula via a tube while we nurse — this was supposed to encourage Alexander to nurse better. The SNS was hard to use, however, and caused a lot of frustration on my part. I came so close to just giving up so many times.
In desperation, I contacted yet another lactation consultant, who came to my house with a baby scale in tow. After a 45-minute nursing session, weighing Alexander both before and after, we discovered he’d gotten just 7/10ths of an ounce of breastmilk. At his size, he should be getting between 2-2.5 ounces of breastmilk during each session. No wonder he was losing weight! And I wondered again … should I give up? Was it worth it to try breastfeeding with a low milk supply?
Increasing a Low Milk Supply
Instead of giving up my goal of breastfeeding, I began a long odyssey into increasing my milk supply. I unearthed just about every tip I could find, and tried so many of them. Here’s what I did:
Drank lots and lots of waterRented a hospital-grade breastpump and a baby scale that is accurate to the tenth of an ounce.Purchased a better supplemental nursing system that is easier to use and provides a more natural flow for Alexander.Took herbs (like fenugreek) and ate certain foods (like oatmeal, molasses, and beer).Had a breast and lymph node massage.Pumped several times a dayIncreased the number of times I nursed every dayGot a prescription for from my doctor for domperidone
I did it ALL. (Check out 10 Tips to Increase Your Milk Supply)
Did any of this work to increase my low milk supply? It seems so. Looking back at my logs (I’m tracked every feeding), I produced 2.7 ounces of breastmilk on September 1 (three weeks after his birth). The next day, I made 6 ounces. It was still far from being enough to sustain Alexander on breastmilk alone (he needed 20-25 ounces per day).
The good news is that he only needed to get 4 ounces of breastmilk a day to get the full benefit of its antibodies and immunities. So despite the frustration and tears, it was worth it and I knew I was doing the right thing for us.
And Alexander LOVED to nurse — he did it well and was very contented. Once I got into the rhythm of it and knew that I was providing him with enough breastmilk to get the valuable antibodies, I also enjoyed it. It was a very special relationship and it really helped me bond with him. But it took a level of determination and sheer stubbornness that I didn’t know I had to get this far.
Thanks to all our work with breastfeeding and supplemental formula, Alexander regained his birthweight and began to thrive again. At his next weigh-in, he was just about 10.5 pounds (almost 11 in his clothes). He was really doing wonderfully.
In the end, I managed to increase my low milk supply to 8-9 ounces per day. It was double what he needed for his daily immunity supply and it was enough that I could nurse him for 15-20 minutes about once a day without supplementing with formula.
But I did still supplement all the rest of the time. And I won’t sugarcoat it — it was tough. I had to clean and fill the supplement tubes and bags every day—that’s a huge task on top of everything else. I had to be organized and diligent for it to work. Spontaneity in nursing was not really an option, so I kept a mini fridge next to my bed, filled with bags of formula, for middle-of-the-night feedings.
For all the work, it did allow Alexander to get all his nourishment at the breast. He got 30-60 minutes of time with me at each nursing session—I don’t think he have gotten that much with just a bottle, which can be gulped down in a few minutes. Breastfeeding was really very rewarding and I’m so very happy I stuck with it when things got tough.
Worth it All
At one point in the midst of all this, I calculated that I’d nursed (and supplemented) Alexander something like 900 times since birth. That’s a staggering number, but it was also something I felt very happy about and proud of. I may not have made a full supply of milk, but darn it, I breastfed my baby and we both benefitted from it! Through nursing, I discovered what large surges of oxytocin (the “bonding hormone”) feels like, for which I am very grateful.
My son is now 12, almost 13, and he’s a super healthy kid. He rarely gets sick, he’s creative, he’s resilient — and he’s been like that throughout his childhood. I credit much of this to our willingness to stick with breastfeeding so he got my colostrum in those very early months and the fact that we were able to bond with one another so well throughout the long nursing sessions.
The Real Secret to Success
By now you’ve probably already guessed my real secret to successful breastfeeding with low milk supply. It was plain ol’ persistence. I kept trying, despite the setbacks and frustrations. Technically, I was giving my son more formula than breast milk, but I was still feeding at the breast. One could do this even with zero breastmilk and still reap the benefits of bonding time and hormone production.
Allow me to recap the the things I did that I felt made a real difference both in increasing what milk I had and helping my baby thrive:
HELP: I consulted professionals — my pediatrician and several lactation consultants — who encouraged and helped me along the way.OATMEAL: I researched foods and drinks I could have that would increase my supply and tried them. Oatmeal was the best help for me — I ate homemade oatmeal cookies like they were going out of style.PERSISTENCE: I did not give up. This was probably 90% of my success.ENERGY: I kept a positive energy around my baby and I throughout this challenge. It went have been so easy to get too frustrated and communicate this to him inadvertently, which would have led to failure. I knew I’d survive this challenge, and this too shall pass.SUSTENANCE: I made sure my baby was getting the sustenance he needed at all times — he wouldn’t have improved, nor would I have, had I insisted on giving him my breastmilk exclusively and we would have been forced to use a bottle (or worse). The Supplemental Nursing System was a BIG deal and meant a lot to our success.
In short, H.O.P.E.S. And it is my hope that you will find success at breastfeeding, even if you have a low milk supply. Stay strong and persevere, mom!
Jennifer is an award-winning, bestselling author of the PassPorter travel guidebook series as well as a craft & DIY blogger at JenniferMaker.com. She lives in beautiful Ann Arbor, Michigan with her son Alex, partner Greg, and dog Hunter.