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Let me preface this post by saying that I was thoroughly convinced that breastfeeding would be the easiest part of my transition to motherhood. I’d seen all the Instagram posts, had heard over and over again that it’s natural and the best thing for the baby. I figured as soon as the baby came out of me I’d be sprinkled with some maternal dust and would look all renaissance painting-like as I nursed my half-awake babe.
Well, that’s NOT what happened. Instead, I was greeted with a very hungry baby that had just been ripped out of my womb in an operating room and lactation consultants that kept saying “just put him to the breast, your body has been preparing for this since conception.” Well, 4 days later with a baby with jaundice and that was experiencing precipitous weight loss, Rigel was put on formula because I was still shooting dust. No one could tell me why.
Maybe it was the c-section or the narcotics I was given for pain management following the c-section but my milk took 6 days to finally come in. And it only came in because I started pumping, despite the objections of the first two lactation consultants I saw. Those same consultants also dissuaded me from using nursing aids like nipple shields with Rigel even though he was obviously having a difficult time realizing that a nipple was in his mouth. I was frustrated and feeling like a complete failure. Not only could I not give vaginal birth to my son but now I couldn’t even provide him with nourishment.
It became a mission to figure this out and get my baby breastmilk at any cost. And boy did it cost! We’ve spent upwards of $1000 between breastfeeding accessories, supplements, and special foods to provide Rigel with SOME breastmilk over these last 20 weeks. To put that figure into perspective that’s about 33 tubs of Rigel’s organic formula -that he’s had to drink anyway. So below are my thoughts on ALL of the things I used to help with either breastfeeding or pumping:
Bellababy Double Electric Breast Pump – This was the first pump that I used and was the pump I put on my baby registry. Since I didn’t think I would have trouble breastfeeding and planned on staying home with the baby I didn’t think I would need anything fancy. It worked well, had a ton of extra modes that I don’t think you need and I never quite figured out how to use, and was battery powered in case you wanted to move around. Honestly, the only reason I stopped using it was that I got the Elvie pump thinking that would be the answer to my pumping needs.
Elvie Pump (Available in the US at Buy Buy Baby, BedBath&Beyond, Target) – Great concept. This is a tubeless wearable pump that you can pop into any bra. The pump would likely be most effective for someone who is under a D cup, has a moderate to fast letdown, breasts aren’t too fibrous (don’t require much massage to empty), and don’t have an oversupply. I’ll admit I’m a tech geek so of course I was tempted to try the latest in wearable pumps. The app is not very accurate in telling you how much you’ve pumped. And I noticed that because of how fibrous my breasts are it didn’t always empty me. However, I loved this pump for pumping on the go, especially during the several road trips I took postpartum.
Motif Luna – This pump most closely resembles the Spectra 1 & 2 pumps, in fact, Spectra flanges fit the Motif Luna. I got this pump after I realized that I wasn’t being emptied all the time by my Elvie pump. It’s a very aggressive pump which is how it removes milk from the breast so quickly. Most women will likely get used to the pump over time, however, if your skin is more elastic you may have to use much lower settings. I used this pump first thing in the morning and for my last pump of the day every day.
Lansinoh Manual Pump – I used this pump whenever my breasts were feeling a little overworked from the electric pumps. It has a stimulation setting and expression setting and allowed me to massage my breast while I manually pumped. I really liked the flange that Lansinoh makes. It’s very comfortable. This pump often emptied me better than either of my electric pumps.
Haaka – Haaka is a great tool if you’re a dripper. However, if you have elastic breasts it could be hard on them and may even cause tissue damage if used too often. I recommend using it sparingly if you start feeling any soreness following usage or discontinuing its use entirely and opting for a manual pump to remove whatever leaking you may have. I actually got additional stretch marks from using it because even with proper placement my whole breast still wanted to go into it. After about 6 weeks I wasn’t really getting any letdown anymore in the breast that wasn’t being nursed on so I basically didn’t need it anymore and discontinued use.
Maymom Spectra Flanges – Excellent replacement flanges for your Spectra or in my case Motif Luna breast pump. Motif doesn’t make a 21mm flange and I was suspecting that really the 24mm was probably a little on the big side for me but thankfully the Spectra Maymom flanges fit my Motif Luna pump perfectly. Switching to 21mm while using the Motif Luna really helped to reduce pain while maintaining output on my right side. I switched back to the 24mm on the left side as that worked better for it.
Medela Nipple Shields – Pack these in your hospital bag! These little shields allowed me to nurse my son with a high palate. They will definitely assist with latch issues, as well as protect the nipple from further injury. I was discouraged by several lactation consultants to use them because of “nipple confusion” but my son never got confused and we were actually able to discontinue use at 10 weeks once he was able to feel the nipple in his mouth through using his tongue and lips. Thankfully, I met a lactation consultant who finally said use all the aids and encouraged me to use them.
Lavie Breast Massager – Love this little massager. It was incredibly helpful in the beginning when my breasts were getting used to its supply and before I understood how often I really needed to pump. You can stick in your bra while you pump or while you nurse to encourage further flow. This massager has saved my life more than once during my morning pumps and I credit it for never getting a clogged duct.
Beaugen Pump Cushions – A lot of people hype this product as fantastic if you have elastic nipples and that they help increase output. However, it didn’t matter the way I placed them whether in the flange or directly on the breast, they made pumping less comfortable as they pulled on my skin and prevented the milk from flowing into the bottles.
Earth Mama Nipple Butter – This nipple butter is amazing! It may feel a little grainy when it goes on but as soon as it hits the skin it starts to melt. It’s the perfect barrier for pumping and great for healing cracked nipples. My nips are still buttery thanks to this nipple butter. I used this with my Elvie Pump since it didn’t clog up the suction holes like lanolin cream might.
Boobease Organic Nipple Balm – I bought this nipple balm after my Earth Mama Nipple Butter ran out and I couldn’t find it in-store. It’s thinner than the Earth Mama Nipple Butter but still worked great with my Elvie Breast Pump. However, if I had to pick one, I would go with the Earth Mama, it’s just a richer consistency.
Lansinoh 3-in-1 Therapearl Breast Therapy Compress – These compresses are so convenient. You can use them hot or cold and come with protective covers so you can apply them onto bare skin. They even have an opening so you can use them while you pump. These compresses are incredibly helpful when you’re a little plugged up.
Legendairy Milk Pump Princess – So many people told me to try Legendairy Milk supplements so I tried Pump Princess. I saw no increase in output even though the supplement is designed to help with letdown. However, I noticed that the supplement made my breasts more sensitive and made my postpartum hives (that’s a whole other post) worse. Turns out I have a sensitivity to fennel and that’s why I was itching so bad.
Legendairy Milk Lactivist (Alcohol-Free) – This concoction derived from an ancient root is supposed to not only increase supply but also increase the fattiness of breastmilk. I only noticed that it did the latter for me.
Legendairy Milk Cash Cow – Has helped improve my letdown response which had gotten pretty terrible in the last few weeks. Increased the fattiness of my milk. Helped have more consistent output throughout the day but didn’t overall increase my daily average output.
NOW Sunflower Lecithin – Works to prevent mastitis! Take this every day. You can buy either a soy lecithin supplement or sunflower, either will work just fine to prevent clogged ducts. I recommend you save your money and don’t buy Legendairy Milk’s Sunflower Lecithin, instead get this brand. It’s great and keeps everything flowing as it should.
Mommy Knows Best Fenugreek Free Supplement – I was intrigued to try this supplement because its only one capsule per day as opposed to the Legendairy Milk products which suggest you take two capsules 3 times a day. I barely have time to eat or drink water let alone remember to take capsules all day long. While one capsule a day was nice, I didn’t notice any difference in my breastmilk at all.
Nature’s Way Fennel Seed– Tried this by itself as a standalone because I’d read that Fennel helps with letdown and well I had the slowest letdown you’ve ever seen, so I needed all the help I could get. I started taking it and got terrible all-over itching. I then noticed that most supplements and teas have fennel in them. That’s why I ended up trying Lactivist and Cash Cow; neither of those supplements contains fennel.
Upspring Milk Flow – This was the first supplement I purchased about 4 days postpartum. I never felt that this did anything for me.
Foods & Teas
Earth Mama Milkmaid Lactation Tea – Didn’t see any improvement when drinking this but did notice that my asthma symptoms increased. Turns out this has Fenugreek in it which is a popular lactation herb and is included in most lactation supplements. Many asthmatics claim that Fenugreek increases their asthma symptoms. I also noticed that my body just felt more inflamed while drinking it. It also contains Fennel Seed which I later figured out is what was causing my all-over itching.
Gaia Lactation Tea – This tea didn’t affect me as much as the Milkmaid tea but still didn’t get much improvement from it. This tea also contains Fenugreek in it and did make my asthma symptoms act up some too. It also contains Fennel Seed which made me itch.
Oatmeal – While I’m sure the extra calories in the morning were helpful I didn’t feel like eating oatmeal helped all that much.
Beer/Malt Drinks – I think these only work because of extra calories if I’m being honest. I think non-alcoholic malt drinks showed a small improvement in my supply but beer actually reduced it some due to causing inflammation in my body from the alcohol.
Body Armor – My husband who is a doctor thought this drink was ridiculous because of all the sugar in it and only approved of their electrolyte water without the added sugar. That being stated this does seem to help keep you hydrated. I would say it optimizes output. I don’t think you see an increase in output so much as you tend to hit your max output more easily, whatever that amount might be.
Gatorade – Didn’t matter the color, this didn’t do anything for me other than make me feel like I should be in a locker room.
Drinking More Water – It’s hard to hydrate as a mom when you feel like you always have your hands full but this has had the most direct impact on my supply. On days I drink a ton of water my supply is much better. On days that I can’t keep a hand on a water bottle, my supply is lower. It’s really that simple. Drink water!
Eating More Protein – Negligible effect on milk supply.
Eating More Carbs – Cram a half of a large pizza in my mouth and the next day I was looking like the Trevi Fountain during my morning pump. Not sure why more carbs were better for my milk production than more protein. It’s likely because carbs tend to have more water content than protein and are overall easier for the body to break down.
So you’re having a baby and you want the best shot at being successful breastfeeding? Here’s my advice:
Pack nipple shields in your hospital bag. If you notice that your baby is having any trouble latching use the nipple shield. Most babies will outgrow using it, so don’t worry about that. Many lactation consultants will try to discourage you but it’s better to use an aid that helps you breastfeed then have a baby that gets jaundice.
If your baby still seems hungry even though latch is good or you are using a nipple shield that your baby can latch on to, request a supplemental nursing system. Most hospitals should have them but you can always purchase your own and pack it in your hospital bag.
If you do one and two and your milk is still taking a long time to come in, start pumping. Pump on a schedule that would mimic the baby’s feedings. This means pumping 8-12 times per day. Not everyone will develop an oversupply from doing this.
Make sure that you stick to your pumping schedule and demand that others respect your pumping times.
If you’re on the go a lot consider getting a wearable pump, like the Willow or Elvie so you have less of a chance of missing your pump times.
Make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Don’t skip meals. Get those calories in so you have the building blocks to make that milk.
Even if you never produce enough milk to fully satisfy your baby know that combo feeding is perfectly acceptable and your baby will still thrive.
The moral of this story is. You can do everything, be diligent about your water intake and your eating and still for a hundred reasons many of them unknown still have an undersupply. It doesn’t mean you’re broken. Undersupplys are fairly common, especially with first births. Most women experience them because their breasts simply lack capacity, meaning they can only hold a limited amount of milk at a time. For me, that’s about 3 1/2 ounces in my right breast and 2 1/2 ounces in my left breast. That’s the most I was ever able to get out of either breast. But the good news is that capacity can increase with each subsequent pregnancy, so just because it was difficult the first time doesn’t necessarily mean it will be difficult the next time around.
So while my breastfeeding journey this time around was difficult I am happy and comforted because now I have all of this knowledge that I can use the next time around. So ladies, if you have questions, reach out. And if there’s anything you’d like to hear more about just let me know. I’m currently weaning and planning on writing up everything I did and how it all went. You can follow my weaning journey by following me on Instagram @realgraceshines