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    Nursing with Low Milk Supply: Defining Success, Etc.

    February 6, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    This is likely my last post on this subject. Unless, of course, I remember something imperative that I need to add. The concept of defining success is a little complicated. Success in this situation will be determined on an individual basis. And I don’t mean that it is purely subjective. What I mean is that nursing is coming up against boundaries that cannot be crossed {the amount of milk, the speed of flow of milk, and so on}. So “success” needs to be realistic if we’re going to treat it as a goal to be reached rather than an impossible ideal that we will mourn with every child.

    I have pretty much mourned with every child.

    And yet, in retrospect, I only consider myself a “failure” with one child, even though I’m not completely sure what I could have done differently.

    Unlike bottle feeding, nursing is a relationship. Because of this, it can get complicated. If I could warn mothers like me about anything, it is about making nursing an idol to which you require your baby to bow. Once that happens, your nursing relationship becomes a bit tense, and it is all downhill from there.

    Ask me how I know.

    Defining Success

    I define minimal success as Nursing Six Months, while also admitting that my ideal is to nurse a year, and also my dream while pregnant with my first {not knowing my limitations} was to nurse until age two.

    I completely romanticize the idea of nursing a toddler because I’ve never done it.

    Nursing Six Months is a completely realistic goal for me. If your supply is very, very low or your flow is very, very slow, four months might be more realistic for you. But remember also that it can, and often does, get a bit better with each child.

    The child I failed with was Baby Q., who nursed only four months and, to add insult to injury, quit nursing on my birthday.

    What Went Wrong

    It was extremely disappointing to “fail” with Q. because she had been, at birth at least, my best nurser thus far. This just goes to show that initial aptitude has little bearing on future success.

    Remember that when your second child struggles with learning her letters.


    In a word, what went wrong with Q. was: vacation. Si had a business trip and my parents watched the older two children and I went along for the ride. It was great, except that Q. decided to go on a nursing strike. {In retrospect, four months is the average age that my babies strike, so I was prepared with Baby O.} All of the accompanying screaming on Q.’s part, all the fussiness and irritation, made me extremely nervous about the fact that we were in a hotel, that we had neighbors who might be annoyed by a Crying Baby Monster, and so on. So, in the name of respect for my neighbor, I gave her a bottle first.

    Unlike my other two children, we were never able to go back after that.

    And, because nursing is about relationship, I felt that pushing her would cause more damage than it was worth.

    So, at four months, Q. became a bottle baby. Of course, I still jealously guarded her feedings, making sure that I was the one giving her a bottle, even though I was now officially expendable.

    Preparing for Weaning

    Babies grow in spurts. It is the strangest thing to wake up in the morning, check a baby in his crib, and see that he has grown literally overnight. Babies can also look a bit different after a nap. We mommies notice these things.

    This also means that their mouths grow overnight. Suddenly, they are bigger, more mature, and have taken a developmental leap or two.

    And so that slow flow that worked fine for Baby yesterday is a source of extreme frustration today. Suddenly, Baby wants to be time-efficient about nursing, and Mommy’s abilities just aren’t cutting it.

    Knowing how to discern between a simple strike and a throw-in-the-towel moment is an occasion for wisdom, and for wisdom, a mother must inquire of the Lord.

    However, if Baby suddenly completes nursing in two minutes when it used to take five, it also shouldn’t be assumed that he hasn’t figured out how to make everything go faster. Mature babies nurse quickly, and there isn’t any reason to assume that nursing for only two minutes means your baby didn’t get anything. In fact, such situations are a good reason for learning how to hand-express your milk. If you can do this, you can nurse Baby, put him down, and then check to see if he really got it all. If he did, then you know that he is capable of doing a good job in a shorter amount of time, and you shouldn’t press him for more. This avoids a lot of frustration on Baby’s part and keeps him in good cheer about future nursing.

    And That’s That

    I think I’m all out of things to add. I have had a blog for a long time, and there is a lot of information already available under the Nursing label. Oh! I do have one more piece of advice: put most of your efforts into your first and second child. The more children you have, the busier life gets. I am not sure that I could have justified spending excessive amounts of time pumping after every feeding with my third child. I definitely couldn’t now, with my fourth. After all, I also have an education to provide. With your first child, there is a lot more time in the day for learning what works for you. The same is true for the second child. These are the children you learn with. {Later children just fall into the patterns you’ve already set for the family.}

    Actually, this is true for so many things. A lot of times in life we say that we will do something tomorrow or some vague time in the future. We’ll learn to sew. We’ll learn to garden. Whatever. The years before children and with just a couple very young children have much more space in them for such things. And if you learn these things on the front end, you will have time to do them even when you have many children. There are many things I would have time to do, but I feel I do not have time {right now, these situations do not last forever} to actually learn to do them.

    This extends into Nursing with Low Supply. With that first baby, try everything. Try pumping. Try different ideas from different consultants. Figure it out so that you already know how your body responds when future babies are born. This will help you narrow things down to what already works and, when the next baby comes, you will be ready.

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