More Adventures* in Nursing.

I wrote earlier this year about some challenges I’d encountered with breastfeeding and then, as before, I will caveat these posts by saying that this is likely informational overload if you have not breastfed a baby or have no interest in learning anything on the subject, for which I would not fault you. (And if you are in that category, can I direct your attention to this delightful podcast instead?) In fact, I willfully avoided contact with this subject even when I was pregnant with my first. It seemed complicated and fraught with peril from what I’d heard, and so I decided to just learn on the fly which — incidentally — I wish I had not done on further reflection. Someone once told me that taking a breastfeeding class before the baby comes is like learning to drive a car without actually getting into a car, and I understand what they mean. It’s impossible to learn things like how to hold a baby and latch and all of that — but I wish I’d better understood some of its basic tenets, like the law of supply and demand, and how often babies will need to eat, and some common pitfalls. Instead, I walked in blind and was, well, blind-sided by the heft of it all.

At any rate.

As I have written about many times, I had an undersupply with mini and the same exact thing happened with micro. (Is it too frou-frou to suggest a different term for “undersupply,” as it kind of makes me feel like a failure? I can’t think of an accurate but more gentle word. But I digress and I’m probably being oversensitive and precious about the whole thing anyway. That said, I have entirely boycotted the word “miscarriage” in favor of “pregnancy loss” and a thoughtful reader suggested I delete the phrase “forgiving to a post-partum figure” from my vocabulary and she was absolutely correct — what’s too forgive?! Words matter, especially to an exhausted and hormonal and sensitive new mom who feels like a failure more often than she should already.) Though I tried with both babies to pump after feeds in order to increase my supply, I threw in the towel after a month of that rigamarole with mini and after a week of that chaos with micro. It is mad-making and I believe it led me to stop producing milk altogether with micro, as I was so stressed about the entire thing.

So — with micro, I committed to the same routine I had with mini: breastfeed for 8-10 minutes on each side at every single feed, and then supplement with formula from a bottle. I am lucky in that both of my babies seemed fine with the switch from breast to bottle mid-meal and were fairly unfussy about bottles/nipples to begin with. (I’ve heard other moms have not been as fortunate — ugh, what an irritating fly in the ointment that must be.) Though this entire routine is kind of a time-suck (feeds typically take about 35 minutes on a good day when you factor in burping and so forth), I have been comfortable with it. During the day, our nanny feeds him the bottle and burps him and so my contribution is typically 20 minutes per meal — though I am on my own before she arrives at 9 and after she leaves at 4.

I detail all of this because I am proud of the effort I have put into breastfeeding my son. It has, for whatever reason, mattered tremendously to me to breastfeed both of my children to the best of my abilities, which has arrived as a shock to even me, as I like to consider myself fairly level-headed about most things when it comes to child-rearing. But I have been determined to breastfeed both mini and micro with a kind of ferocity I neither anticipated nor can remotely explain, but it is likely the aftermath of admiring and attempting to model my own mother, who breastfed all five of us until we were six months old.

All that to set the table for my latest travail. About two weeks ago, micro started getting fussy during our daytime nursing sessions. He would latch on one side and then be huffing and puffing as he’d wait for the letdown, to the point that sometimes I’d find myself holding my breath or saying a Hail Mary as he was angrily awaiting his milk. But then when I’d try to switch to the other side, he’d lose his mind — probably because he did not want to wait again for more milk to come out and there’s a kind of strange lag I have noticed (when pumping, etc) between sides. Anyway, he’d usually freak out and then refuse to latch at all — arching his back, wailing in hunger. And I could literally not wrangle him back onto the breast. I thought for a time that maybe I needed to be more diligent about burping between sides (was it gas that was angering him?) but that didn’t seem to alleviate anything. I wondered also if maybe the hold on the second side had grown uncomfortable for him, so I played around with positions — arm up, arm down, tilted up, etc, etc. Nothing seemed to help — except for the bottle, which he would take instantly and hungrily. And so I’d give him the bottle and pump on the second side. Then a few days later, he stopped wanting to breastfeed full stop–and when I say “stopped wanting,” I mean that he would come at me with the wrath of a wronged deity any time I’d attempt to nurse him. He might latch for a minute but then arch his back into almost a “c” shape, screaming and kicking and turning his head away from me. And his hungry wails distressed me. I tried to nurse him every single day, at every feed, only to give into the bottle, for about a week. Curiously, he would still breastfeed just fine in the evening hours — at his dream feed and first thing in the morning — but during any daytime hour, my attempts were met with fury. My sister suggested I nurse him at every feed in the dark, in quiet. She rightfully pointed out that babies are highly distractible at this age, and I did notice that sometimes his fury kicks in when his sister disrupts his feed or the dog barks or I sneeze or what have you. But I tried the silent-and-dark approach and it did not seem to help; he’d still wail for the bottle. Then I wondered about my supply — but every time I’d pump, I’d produce about 2 oz per side, which is consistent with the amount I’ve always been able to make.

I was distraught.

I was not ready to wean and I felt ambushed by the sudden change. And I also did not want to commit to exclusively pumping. I think it might be PTSD from pumping to improve my supply (described earlier), but I literally loathe and despise pumping, especially because I did it every two or three hours for the first month of mini’s life, and when I wasn’t pumping, I was nursing or cleaning pump parts and ooof that is not a fun time. All I did for a full month was feed my baby. And so, thus far with micro, I have done everything in my power to avoid pumping — even sprinting home from the subway, cutting away from a dinner date early, etc. — because, for me, it erases the feelings of warmth and bonding that I get from breastfeeding. I remember so clearly the many times I would be sitting downstairs with visitors or Mr. Magpie and it would be time to pump and I would retire to my bedroom upstairs in our old Chicago house and sit on the bed and pump in isolation, listening to the muffled sounds of friends laughing and chattering, and the occasional gurgle or wail from mini, downstairs, without me. (At the time, I used a hospital-grade pump that was annoying to move around the house, and I didn’t want to be sitting with the pump on in front of company anyhow.)

I should pull up here and say that I understand that there are many moms — tons of moms, in fact, most working moms! — for whom exclusively pumping is the only path to feeding their children breastmilk and I bow down to you. I also have several friends whose babies would not latch and so they committed to pumping for many months on end. And so I don’t want to denigrate the pump because it has empowered a generation of women to feed their babies and bring home the bacon, or feed their babies even when their babies refuse to breastfeed, or feed their babies even when other circumstances make breastfeeding on demand impossible. And I also understand that some women do not mind it or treat it as a time to read or sit in quiet in an otherwise chaotic day.

But pumping is a specific kind of hell to me, and that’s simply been my irrational and likely over-fragile experience.

So there I was — what to do?!

First, of course, I cried about it. I was positively devastated that I was having my final nursing sessions with micro and had not even given those moments adequate attention, so perfunctory had breastfeeding become. There were several evenings when I boycotted my phone and Kindle and instead just stared at him while nursing him and crying quietly. Absurd, I realize. Typing it out actually makes me cringe a little bit. But that’s the truth.

Second, I consulted my mom, my sister, and my #momtribe, including many empathetic magpie mothers who messaged me over DM in response to an Instastory on the subject. There were many helpful thoughts:

+”Often, breastfeeding strikes are temporary. Stick with it! Have faith!”

+”Switch back to a lower-speed nipple on the bottle that more closely mirrors the speed during breastfeeding.” (I had not thought of this, but we did graduate micro from 1-speeds to 2-speeds a few weeks ago. Mini didn’t seem to have any trouble switching from breast to nipple even when she was on a 3-speed, so this was a good point.)

+”It’s not impossible to only breastfeed at night and either pump — or not pump! — during the day, if your supply is regular in the evenings.”

+”Could be teething. Mine would go on nursing strikes while teething.”

And then my favorites:

“You’re doing great.”

“Remember that any breast milk is better than none, but also, it’s OK to stop whenever.”

“Fed is best.”

My mother had an interesting reaction that I hadn’t anticipated: she reminded me, gently, that since my M.O. has always been to follow the cues of the baby, maybe he was pushing me to wean. Maybe it was time. Maybe he was a hungry, growing boy and he needed more milk more quickly and this was just his way of showing me the the path forward. She also reminded me that my goal had been to get to six months, and we’re just a month shy of that target, and — well, how great is that?! I made it most of the way, and not without substantial effort.

I hadn’t expected that reaction from her, though she has always been fiercely protective of me and my sanity in the breastfeeding process, and has repeatedly told me that formula is just fine, Jennifer. But I carried those thoughts with me for a few hours and realized that maybe I was trying to force my own agenda — my selfish (?) desire to breastfeed him for longer! — over his apparent needs. I held up a mirror to myself and realized that breastfeeding for me is about the bond. It’s about taking a beat every few hours to sit with him in my arms. It’s about giving him something that only I can give him. It’s about dropping everything I am doing and calming him in a way that only I can calm him. These are silly thoughts, perhaps, but when I sat and truly asked myself why this mattered so much to me, there it was: I love to be needed by him. I love the way his fingers idly roam around my shirt, grabbing onto my hair or my finger or the trim of my blouse. I love when he looks up at me and smiles, his mouth full of milk, and we hold each other’s gaze before he turns back to his meal. I love the togetherness of it, the intimacy of it.

But these are not moments that will be entirely lost should we wean.

He will still need me.

I am his mother.

I know the way he likes to be rocked. I know the difference between a bored, play-with-me cry, a gassy cry, a cranky and tired cry, a hungry cry, and — worst — an I’m-in-pain cry. I can tell almost immediately — just by looking at him and the carriage of his body — when he needs to be burped. I can anticipate a fuss session about a full minute before it sets in. I know when he’s closed his eyes whether he’s really “out for the count” or whether he will wake immediately upon being placed in his crib. I know him as only a mother can know her child.

And I can still commit to taking a beat every few hours to hold him just because or to feed him his bottle. It doesn’t have to be “Well, breastfeeding is done, I won’t get those bonding opportunities back.”

For now, I have committed to pumping twice a day (I dropped one daytime feed entirely) and nursing him in the evening. I am hoping we can stick with this pattern for at least a month so I can get to the six month mark and feel that I achieved my goal. Plus, I started weaning mini around six months, too, though I didn’t fully stop until she was eight months old (almost on the dot), and maybe we can make it that long if he’s still OK with nursing just before bed and just after he wakes in the morning for another few months.

And so here we are. I will admit to shedding a few tears while writing this post, and I think my emotions can be chalked up in part to the desire-to-be-needed I described earlier, but also in part to hormones (I was so cranky when I weaned mini and I didn’t even put two-and-two together until maybe a month afterwards!), in part to not wanting yet another transition in my life at this juncture (we *just* got through a big move, transitioning mini to school, transitioning to life as a family of four, etc.), and in part because I have a feeling micro is our last baby and I am struggling to accept the finality of all of this. This could be the last time I ever nurse a baby. For some reason, I feel a pit in my stomach when I think that. Did I adequately cherish all of his firsts and lasts?!

As with most things pertaining to motherhood, it is all of a cloth. You pull on one string and something else frays or snags. It’s never “just breastfeeding” or “just sleep training” or “just disciplining.” It’s all tethered to deep, unwieldy, primordial emotions and impulses that occasionally bubble over, red-hot and frothing, catching us all unaware.

To my fellow mamas out there on their own baby-feeding journeys: saluting you today. I see you.

Post Scripts.

+In other baby news: micro is now rolling over in both directions (fairly infrequently, but still), and I know it is time to retire his winged sleepsack, which has been one of my absolute favorite baby gear snags this go around. (He outgrew his swaddles around three months — too big, and also unhappy with his arms pinned down. These sleepsack things are GENIUS and micro has loved them. Sometimes I just zip it on him and his eyes flutter clothes immediately!) The brilliant thing is that some of the bigger sizes have zip-off sleeves for just this purpose! However. I have been trying to transition him by unzipping just one arm at night and his arm movements always wake him up. There was one night where I told myself: just bite the bullet, take off both sleeves, and let’s get through it. Mini didn’t take long to accommodate this, neither will he. Wrong. I was going in there every hour to calm him until I finally just zipped back on the sleeves. At any rate, I ordered the Magic Merlin suit this go around (scheduled to arrive tonight — stay tuned for a full review). So many moms love this thing, including my sister, who insisted it was worth every penny. We shall see! (Also considering this as an alternative.)

+Once he’s comfortable with sleeping with his arms free, I’m transitioning him to a sleepsack by Louelle and some of these super-soft Kyte ones that many of you recommended.

+Some really cute Rebecca Taylor pieces are on sale at Nordstrom — love this and this.

+The lopsided dance of motherhood.

+Considering this for our front hall runner. I want something on the more modern end of the spectrum because most of our furniture and rugs are somewhat traditional and I want to introduce more of a mix. I have been eyeing this CB2 runner for like two years, but I am now far too practical to buy an entryway rug whose primary color is ivory, and the reviews are dispiriting. I think the D&A will be a good sub.

+Recently switched from one of these microfiber cloth mops (which get such good reviews, BTW) to this butterfly mop and I’m so thrilled I did. I like that you can wring it out so easily with the lever and I found the cloth mop grew stinkier faster. Encouraged, I also bought the OXO broom. Their home products are second to none, IMHO. (This is another new OXO obsession. So well-designed!) It’s the little things…

+Miscellaneous motherhood dispatches from another day.

+And speaking of little OXO things: I mentioned this in an Instastory, but this stainless steel measuring jigger is the bees knees for cocktail-fixing. Its design is patented! You can see how much you are pouring from a birds-eye view, without having to bring it up to eye level. GENIUS.

+Ordering these for mini.

+Will do a complete Christmas clothing (and jammie) post soon, but how darling is this print for mini?!

+Great gear for babies and chic Amazon finds for little ones.

+This knit duffle jacket!!!!

+These waffle-knit jams look so comfortable. (I love their nursing pajamas!)

+I already own a pair of Golden Goose sneaks so these are so frivolous, but I am kind of itching for a pair of GG high-tops

+It’s really hard to think about warm weather clothing as we barrel towards winter, but Shopbop has put a bunch of amazing summer finds on sale and they might be worth buying now for use next spring/summer: this stunning dress for a garden wedding, this linen dress which I wore at least once a week (so comfortable and cool — and also nursing-friendly), these statement heels, and these raffia slides.

28 Comments

  1. Wow — this is such a beautifully-written, heartfelt post. Sending you a big hug as you navigate the changes to Micro’s feeding routine!

    xx

  2. Thanks for sharing! It’s such a journey. I switched to exclusively pumping for a few reasons that made it the only option at that point, expecting to return to nursing, and never did (I may have tried so I could have the final moment with him…but complete refusal). The unexpected ending is so hard. For what it’s worth, I weaned VERY gradually and still was a complete emotional disaster when I stopped. Another thing I tried to control that just had a mind of its own! I can tell you’re an amazing mother, and your babies are very lucky. You are the thing micro needs! My Mom always says that sometimes we just have to decide something is the right thing, and then make it that way. Whatever you (or micro!) decide will be the right thing for your fam. You know what’s best! Trust yourself.

    1. Thank you so much, Kate. This is really encouraging to hear and I think you’re absolutely right about a lot of this in that — well, I don’t have much say in this so I might as well accept it as the right thing and keep moving forward. Really appreciate the sweet and supportive note today 🙂

      xx

  3. Like you I had a daughter first and then a son. My daughter was quite happy to be breastfed and in fact hated the bottle (but that’s another story). My son however was a big boy and after 3 months it became clear that I just could not keep up with his appetite, even though I had quite a good supply. Perhaps a generalisation but I think boys can just be a lot hungrier than girls? Once I started supplementing with formula we were both much happier.

    1. Hi Kristy! So interesting — thanks for sharing your experience, as it sounds similar to mine. Very reassuring!

      xx

  4. I had this exact same experience with my son protesting nursing. It’s was heartbroken and exclusively pumped for 3 months just so I could have a 5am nursing session with him. I finally did Sean him and I will say his tiny hands still travel the hem of my shirt and stroke my face while feeding with a bottle just as they did before. Looking back weaning wasn’t as terrible as it sounded for so long but I completely understand the heartbreak!

    1. Hi Brooke – Thanks so much for sharing this. It was so reassuring to read, especially after this weekend proved a little rockier on the nursing front and I’m thinking I may have to wean sooner than expected. xxx

  5. The more we talk about this stuff, the better! Thank you for being vulnerable and letting everyone in on your breast feeding journey, ❤️

  6. I can’t thank you enough for this post. My son (my first) is three months old and I’ve had an undersupply from the very beginning. (I completely agree with your desire to for a new term – it makes me feel like a failure every time I explain to someone why I’m having to give a bottle after breastfeeding.) I also had not done much research into breastfeeding and would have told anyone who asked that “fed is best!” but now that I’m in trenches, I’ve had a really hard time coming to terms with supplementing with formula (and pumping! I cannot wait until I never have to see that pump again.). I love your writing in general but this post just meant the world to a new mom whose still trying to figure it out all out. While I have a wonderful #momtribe around me, it’s also nice to find others in the wilds of the internet(!) who make me feel less alone. Thank you for sharing your journey.

    1. Hi Madeleine — I’m so glad this was a comfort to you. You are so not alone! Sounds like we’ve had very similar experiences, and very similar reactions. I still can’t quite parse out why this entire thing has been so emotional, but…! Thanks for sharing your journey, too. xx

  7. I second the comment about side lying! My son loved this position. Otherwise I deeply understand your feelings. My eldest would never latch thanks to a nurse giving him formula in the nicu. I pumped for 6 weeks with a supply dropping daily, was even gifted frozen milk from friends! My heart broke when my body just quit on me. I felt like such a failure, I too highly regretted my lack of classes. It’s incredible how much it can mean to you! My second son healed that huge wound and I actually nursed him until just shy of two, slowly dropping feedings. I deeply miss having that special time with him. Truly one of the greatest joys of my life.

    I say all that to say, breastfeeding is highly emotional do not apologize for your feelings! Even just nighttime nursing is fine if it brings you both comfort. I also recommend weaning slowly, I’ve heard you can have huge hormone shifts if it happens too quickly.

    1. Hi Brooke — Thank you for the sweet and supportive note. I agree on the slow wean. I did drop feedings slowly with mini (over the course of two months) but going from those final two feeds to nothing at all was BRUTAL. And too fast. I think I’ll try to space it out even more this time.

      Also, will try side lying!! Immediately googling how to do it…

      xx

  8. This is so beautifully written! This put my feelings of motherhood and breastfeeding into words that I could never put together. I’m a working mom that has relied on pumping, I’m grateful that I’m able to continue to provide for her despite how terrible pumping is.

    Also, the Magic Merlin Sleepsuit has been truly magic for my daughter! I’m dreading the day she outgrows it.

    1. Thank you — I’m so glad this post resonated. I feel like less of a nut case hearing from you and the other moms here who have been through the same gamut of emotions. You ROCK for sticking with pumping for any amount of time. I’m like ready to throw in the towel after a few days but you’re encouraging me to stick with it.

      And wooohooo on the magic merlin! Have had a number of moms/friends text and DM me to say the same thing!

      xx

  9. Yes, it is SUCH a journey and it is so helpful to rely on your mom friends (shoutout to Liz!).

    I’m going through something similar, I pump at work but find I don’t produce enough to fill baby’s bottles for the next day and need to dip into my freezer stash. I wasn’t super committed to breastfeeding pre-baby but now find that I am sad for when it will end, it really is a special bond. Although it will be nice to have cuddles where baby isn’t trying to eat my shirt and I am interested to see how our relationship develops post-breastfeeding.

    My other challenge is biting. Little guy got two very sharp teeth early (just under 5 mos). Other mamas, any tips for biting?

    1. Hi! Mom tribe = key. I have a few friends I text constantly about these issues and other fleeting concerns and thoughts — and of course the massive support system that is the Magpie family 🙂

      It’s so funny that you had a similar reaction! I had no idea I’d care this much. I don’t know where it’s come from!

      Re: biting — yikes!!! I don’t know how to handle that. Hoping some other moms here have tips!

      xx

    2. When my son began to experiment with biting I recalled advice given to me a while
      Before and it worked. The first time I yelped and it scared him. From then on I was on edge with a finger hovering near to unlatch if I needed to. When he did it again I firmly said no and put him down and ended the feed. He burst into tears of course and I explained it to him. He never did it again! Good luck! I also was sure to give him lots of teethers so He wouldn’t use me!

  10. My babies are 24 and 27 but I was so moved by this post. You are so honest and articulate in your writings that I am reminded of those exact feelings in myself many years ago. Your touch will always be needed, in so many situations- happy and sad. Love reading your journey!

    1. Hi Eileen! Thank you so much for the sweet note. I’m flattered my writing resonated with you all these years later. These emotions are so intense, so real!!!

      xxx

  11. With my first, my milk supply dropped once I went back to work and I had to start supplementing with formula. I resisted it so hard for the first few weeks – trying to pump more frequently at work, snapping at my husband anytime he suggested we just use formula, etc. I’m not even sure why because I honestly think formula is just fine! I think a lot of things with motherhood – especially the early stages – is having in our minds a certain “way” we think things will go (ie I will breastfeed for 9 months, I will give birth naturally, etc) and when we lose that control, it’s really hard for us to accept that. I know that once I finally relented and started supplementing with formula, all that stress I was internalizing just went away and everything was great and fine! I’m now breastfeeding my second, and trying to keep that experience in mind, although I’m sure I’ll go through the same resistance song and dance when the time comes.

    Another thing I always try to keep in mind is no one has everything down 100%. Breastfeeding has come pretty easily to me, but losing the post partum weight has been a struggle, sleep training is something that I do not excel at, etc etc etc. Its easy to focus on the things we struggle with, but I always try to remind myself of the things I’m doing right when I’m feeling particularly low about something. You are clearly an amazing mother to your two little ones, so please try to keep that in mind as you grapple with this little bump in the road.
    ❤️

    1. Hi Rachel – This is so, so true: “I think a lot of things with motherhood – especially the early stages – is having in our minds a certain “way” we think things will go (ie I will breastfeed for 9 months, I will give birth naturally, etc) and when we lose that control, it’s really hard for us to accept that.” What’s surprising is how many of these expectations seem to come out of nowhere! I had literally no idea that I would care about breastfeeding — I thought I had no opinion on the topic! But, it turns out…I really, really do. This is a good reminder to pause and recognize that.

      And you are so right that various things come more easily to some moms than others. Some moms are blessed with kids that eat great but are terrible sleepers, or vice versa…

      Thanks so much for all of the wisdom and perspective packed into this thoughtful response. Thinking of you as you navigate being a mother to two! Right there with ya, my friend. xx

  12. Hi Jen – mom to 2 yr old son with a second due in Dec here – and I just wanted to say thank you and you are not alone. I bf exclusively for 4 mo and supplemented until 7 and went through many of the experiences and feelings you described above. I’m already feeling extremely anxious about how it will be this go round as I loved bf but ultimately didn’t produce enough and definitely am on your side with loathing pumping! Just wanted to pop in and say you are doing great and thank you for sharing your experiences to make other moms feel normal and heard. Flagging this for when I’m sure I’ll need to reread it in a few months.

    1. Hi Lee! Thanks so much for letting me know you shared this experience, and thanks for the encouragement and generosity of spirit 🙂 Hoping you have a much more straight-forward BF experience this go around, but if you don’t — I’m right there with you! (And so are many other moms, per the rest of the comments!) xxx

  13. You probably don’t want more tips but just in case!
    – at that age, my babies were always into side lying nursing, if you guys want to try that!
    – you could try to stimulate letdown before he latches on… kind of annoying, I know, but I feel like the babes appreciate it when theyre super hungry!

    1. Thank you SO much, Brittany! Always down for more tips and these are great, practical ones. MERCI. The stimulation before letdown was something I’d not considered but has already been helpful!! THANK YOU.

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