Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Breastfeeding Obstacles: Battling Oversupply

When preparing for the birth of my first baby I read all sorts of books, websites, and took Bradley Method classes. We planned on a natural birth and I was certain I was going to breastfeed. I read a lot about boosting milk supply, because everywhere you read, and everyone you talk to, has a story about not making enough milk. When my milk didn't come in until the 5th day (thanks to a lazy latch), I got worried. However, I had no clue that I was about to face a problem that I never imagined could actually be a problem.
I dealt with the typical engorgement issues that you hear about when your milk first comes in. I would express a small amount just to make it possible for my daughter to latch. I was putting ice packs and warm compresses on to ease the pain. Nothing was working. The engorgement wasn't going away. To add to this, my baby was choking every time she ate. I had no clue what was going on. I was leaking several ounces out of the opposite breast when she ate, and waking up soaking wet every single night. My shirt, my sheets, my pillow, everything was soaked with milk. I tried cloth nursing pads and every brand of disposable one I could find. Nothing could contain all of my milk. I was frustrated.
Now in addition to the choking while eating, my daughter was spitting up during and after each feeding. I took her to the pediatrician and asked about reflux, allergies, anything. Everything checked out fine. I started pumping prior to feeding hoping that would help. Of course I know now that this was a big mistake. I didn't realize at the time that what I was dealing with was an oversupply. I had never heard of anyone actually making too much milk. The pumping I was doing was only making the problem worse. Every time I pumped, I was telling my body to make more milk. So while this temporarily helped my daughter, it was in the end making it worse.
Exhausted, frustrated, and tired of the pain of constant engorgement, I called my Bradley instructor, who is also a lactation consultant. She gave me a few suggestions to help with the oversupply, and suggested that a forceful letdown was more than likely what was causing the choking. She suggested lying back (like in a recliner) while nursing. This was extremely awkward, but did help some. When my letdown occurred, gravity helped. The milk dribbled out of her mouth rather than going forcefully down her throat. She also suggested I block feed. Basically this is feeding from only one breast at a feeding and sticking with that same side through 2 or more feedings. The idea is to help your body understand that it doesn't need to produce so much milk.
The block feeding was my saving grace. While my supply never dropped down to a normal level, it did help to calm it down a bit. The lying back while feeding wasn't always practical. It's fine when you are at home, but out in public, it's a bit difficult. I began carrying around a wet bag and some prefold diapers. I couldn't feel my letdown, so I would watch my baby's face. Her eyes would get big and her swallowing would change. I unlatched her and would catch the milk in the diaper. When the letdown finally stopped, I would latch her back on. It was a little awkward at times, but it was working.
I hoped that after awhile my letdown would slow down some. Unfortunately it didn't. But, my daughter got better at handling it. I no longer had to unlatch her to keep her from choking, she could handle it. Our nursing relationship continued until about a week before her sister was born when she decided to wean herself.
With my second baby I thought maybe my body would have figured it out and we wouldn't have the same issues. That didn't happen, but this time I was a little more prepared to deal with it. I had experience so it was just down to teaching her how to handle it. We dealt with a minor tongue tie and from that point on, our nursing relationship was great. This time around, unlike with my first baby, I could feel my letdown. Just like before, I would unlatch her, catch it in a diaper or towel, and then latch her back on. Eventually she too learned how to handle it. She happily nursed until I was 4 months pregnant with my son.
I now have a 5 month old baby boy. Once again, same issues. But this time there's no stress with it. I'm confident in my ability to handle the issues and this time began block feeding the day my milk came in. I know not to use a pump unless absolutely necessary and that it will get better. We did deal with a more significant latch issue this time around. My big boy came out very quickly causing a lot of bruising on his face and some tight jaw muscles. Poor guy couldn't open his mouth very wide, making his latch extremely shallow. A quick trip to a wonderful chiropractor when he was 4 days old fixed the problem. I fed him immediately after his adjustment and couldn't believe the difference. Nice wide open mouth and no pain for momma.
If you would have asked me in those first few weeks with my first baby, I would have told you I hated breastfeeding. I wanted to quit every single day. But now? I love the moments shared with each of them as I feed them. Even if it does include soaking wet diapers and clothes. I am so grateful for the people who encouraged me to keep going. I am especially grateful my husband who never once suggested I give up. And who woke up with me for every night feeding those first few weeks to help me get my babies latched, and handed me towels and changed our babies when we were soaked in milk. And although an oversupply is a real problem, I am so very grateful that I have enough to feed my babies.

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