Thursday, April 3, 2014

3 Booby Traps That Almost Ended Our Breastfeeding Relationship

I knew nothing about breastfeeding when my son was born. The problem with that is that, since nursing is a supply-and-demand system, any mistakes or attempted shortcuts can lead to the relationship ending much sooner than the mother would prefer. While I was usually able to course-correct pretty quickly when I realized my errors, the truth is that there was a lot of luck (and, let's be honest, stubbornness) at work in our ultimately successful breastfeeding relationship, not to mention an active and well-informed support network of mamas.

Here are the 3 "Booby Traps" that tripped me up, along with a few tips to avoid them yourself!

1. Cluster Feeding? What's that?
I left the hospital with a packet of breastfeeding information that I barely skimmed before heading home to cuddle my newborn in idyllic domestic bliss.... only to discover that not only did my baby not want to eat for 30 minutes every 3 hours, but he wanted to be attached to my boob nonstop for 4 hours at a time. Any attempt to remove him was met with screaming. Sometimes he would calm for a few minutes and I would think he was finally satisfied, then he would start crying again and not calm until I put him to my breast. I didn't understand how he could still be hungry, or how I could still have milk after it appeared that he had emptied both breasts. Deciding that he must just be comfort-sucking (and needing a break for my poor aching nips), I gave him a pacifier at just 4 days old. This seemed to work, but when we learned his weight gain was much too slow, I began to doubt.

In time, I learned that my new babe was cluster-feeding, and that this non-stop need to nurse actually served the vital purpose of establishing a solid milk supply. I was also told that newborns metabolize breastmilk so fast that they need to nurse again shortly after in order to get all the calories and nutrients they need. In retrospect, it's clear that I was risking my supply by replacing the breast with a pacifier so early, and that I was hampering my child's weight gain by not offering my milk as often as he wanted it.

2. Skipping a Night Feeding
As any new parent knows (and yet, nothing can prepare you), caring for a newborn is utterly exhausting. Having that infant constantly attached to your breast? Even more so. So, it wasn't long before I felt that I needed a break. As detailed in a previous post, I found myself one night feeding my baby a bottle of formula, and going to bed: I was absolutely desperate for even one hour of sleep. This happened several times, and even after I stopped giving formula and started giving pumped milk instead, I regularly missed a night feeding and had my husband give a bottle instead.

I now know that missing feedings so early or at all is to seriously jeopardize the breastfeeding relationship, but I didn't learn until recently that night feedings in particular are especially important. Not only does night feeding promote milk production, but nighttime milk is actually much richer and denser in nutrients than daytime milk. Even though I was replacing the missed feeding with an earlier pump to counteract negative effects to my supply, by skipping the nighttime feeding, I was withholding from my baby much-needed nutrients and fat that would help him grow and be healthy. Furthermore, since a pump is not as effective as a suckling babe at removing milk from the breast, the replaced feeding was probably still impacting my supply. Worst of all, the whole reason I was missing the feed-time was to get some sleep, but studies show that cosleeping moms actually get more sleep than non-cosleepers! I could have fed my baby more and gotten more rest!

3. No Paced Bottle-Feeding
It started harmless enough: I was pumping more than my 2-month-old was eating in a day, so when our daycare provider told us he was eating more, I thought "No problem" and started sending extra ounces with him. Then they kept asking for more, and more, and more, until I was sending at least 20 ounces of pumped milk for a 10-hour separation. I could only pump 16 or so ounces a day, so I was having to fit in extra pumps at night and dip into my meager frozen stash to make up the difference. It was stressful and exhausting, and still it seemed he wanted more. Before long, we decided to move up to a faster-flow nipple on the bottles. One day, I learned that he had had 25 ounces that day. I felt the end was near.... I would never be able to keep up with that pace.

Then, disaster struck: I got laid off. My mostly bottle-fed baby suddenly became an exclusively breastfed baby, and his fury at and rejection of the "slow flow" of my breast made me suspect that he had developed a bottle preference. Someone recommended this Expressed Milk Calculator on Kellymom, and I learned that we had been WAY overfeeding our kid.

A breastfed infant needs an average of 25 ounces of breastmilk in a 24-hour period..... and that's what we were feeding in only 10 hours! A baby does not have to work as hard for milk from a silicone nipple as he does from a breast, so many of them also develop a preference for the bottle, as ours clearly had. While I'm certain they meant well and it was my responsibility to be informed, clearly the daycare had been using feeding as a pacifier, and had I not lost my job, we probably would have needed to start supplementing, which could have led to our nursing relationship ending much sooner than either of us wanted. My layoff was a blessing in disguise, but many mothers remain unaware of the effects of overfeeding, as do well-meaning caregivers.

And Yet....
In spite of all these Booby Traps and the many other trials we have faced on our breastfeeding journey, we recently passed a full year of breastfeeding and are still going strong! If you've fallen victim to a Booby Trap, don't give up! Your body and baby are designed to do this, and with the right information, you can still have a healthy and rewarding breastfeeding relationship!


  1. This is such great info for any mom but especially for first timers. I feel like we never would have figured out all this breastfeeding stuff if it weren't for people like you sharing your stories on the internet (the internet is such an amazing research tool right?). I will definitely be keeping all these things in mind when my next babe arrives in August.

    1. Thanks, Audrey! Yeah, I really wish I had looked for this kind of information before K was born. Thank goodness for the internet, true!