I never anticipated that ‘feeding’ my newborn would be such an intense part of the beginning of her life (read – intense for me, I’m sure she has no clue). I thought I was prepared. I read every book, article, or blog about pregnancy, preparing for childbirth and what to ensure I had in my diaper bag etc. I really never thought twice about the whole feeding part. After she’s born I’ll “just breastfeed”, I said. It’s as simple as that right? Oh so wrong.
What I Didn’t Think About
- That I was having a scheduled C-Section so my milk supply would take longer to initiate
- That immediate ‘skin to skin’ can be a challenge after you’ve had a C-Section
- That pumping can help initiate breast milk production
- That there are different breast pumps for different times in the breastfeeding process
- That successful breastfeeding involves ensuring your baby has a good latch (not always as easy as it sounds)
- Whether or not I was going to supplement with a bottle
- and the list could probably go on…
How I Initiated My Supply
I feel so lucky that I had the resources I did after I gave birth (knowledgeable friends, nurses, and lactation consultants) who helped support my breast feeding journey. Mom’s milk comes in in 1-2 days after a vaginal birth. With a C-Section, it can take much longer – upwards of 5-7 days. There are things you can do to help initiate your milk supply. Here’s what I did:
- As soon as I was able, I had my little girl on my chest skin to skin. Because I was in the operating room that was extremely cold, the medical staff wouldn’t give her to me until I was in the recovery room, which was 3 hours after birth (as I had medical complications in the operating room).
- During skin to skin the nurse helped my baby latch immediately and we were successful at breast feeding (luckily no tongue ties or other complications). As she was actively sucking (babies do this instinctively), she was already getting some colostrum so I was extremely happy about that.
- Once I made it to my own room I started pumping using the ‘initiating phase’ of the Medela Symphony Hospital-Grade double electric breast pump.Vacuum stimulation provided by a breast pump induces greater prolactin (milk producing hormone) so helps with the initiation. I pumped 8 times a day, 15 mins a time. I had to stay in the hospital a little longer than typical (5 days) and this is the part I found a challenge. Pretty soon it was evident (she screamed all the time) that I wasn’t producing enough colostrum/breast milk so I had to “top up” (breastfeeding lingo) with formula. Despite my initial anxiety, please note that formula is NOT poison – it can be extremely helpful in getting you and your baby on the right path, even if you want to breastfeed exclusively. The lactation consultant assured me that if I continued pumping my milk would come in.
- I continued to breast feed (what little amount I had) and top up with formula for the 5 days I was in hospital and a few days after I got home. After every feed, I pumped (yes it’s the most exhausting thing EVER but reaps rewards and is short lived I promise).
- On day 10 I switched from using the Symphony rented hospital pump to my personal Medela Sonata Double Electric Breast Pump on the Signature Rythm program. By day 7-10 I was definitely seeing an improvement in milk supply and was able to pump milk to help top up my breast feeding sessions. By day 10, Elizabeth had returned to her birth weight and her doctor was really happy with how she was doing.
Although my milk supply was initiated by day 10, Elizabeth is now 6 weeks old, and I would say that my milk took this long to completely regulate. Our milk supply is based on our baby’s needs (the whole supply and demand thing). I still continue to breast feed and follow with pumping. This combination has helped my supply a lot. Pumping (although a lot of work while breastfeeding) gives me so much flexibility. My husband can feed her, I can whip out a bottle if I breastfeeding is inconvenient and most importantly – I can take a mental and physical break for me to ensure I’m as healthy a mom as I can be to Elizabeth. I’m so thankful that I was forced to introduce a bottle so early on because now Elizabeth can either breast feed or bottle feed effectively.
Other Things That Helped Me
- I tried to learn Elizabeth’s feeding cues early on (rooting, sticking her tongue out and putting her hands in her mouth). I really tried to avoid having her cry which is the last sign of hunger.
- Skin-to-skin is important, so I tried to do this as much as possible.
- I made sure I read all the instructions for the breast pumps to ensure that I was optimizing my milk initiation.
- I pumped at my Maximum Comfort Vacuum, which is the highest, yet comfortable suction setting used while pumping. This will enhance milk flow rate and milk yield. To find your MCV, increase the suction on the pump until you feel slight discomfort, and then decrease by one level.
- I tracked my milk volumes! This helped enormously because it enabled me to see the progress I was making and measure how much Elizabeth was eating. I first wrote this down manually but when I started using the Sonata pump, I used the MyMedela app (as they sync via bluetooth – it’s awesome!).
Be Patient, Kind To Yourself and Persevere
Initiating and maintaining my milk supply has not been an easy road. I’ve cried, I’ve been in pain, and I’ve been exhausted. I never experienced an over supply of milk or engorged breasts like so many people lead me to expect. Although I was so worried about my supply, I reached out for support and asked questions all the time. I used all the resources available to me (lactation clinics, instruction manuals, nurses, friends etc) and this has helped me feel ‘normal’ and not alone. I started practicing mindfullness, patience and forgiveness and followed my motto ”JUST KEEP PUMPING”. This has paid off tremendously and although I’m still finding my groove, I want to assure any mom who has a C-Section that she can successfully breastfeed her baby.
Please note that I am not a professional. I wanted to share my own personal experience and advice. I urge you to always seek advice and help from your own support team.