Breastfeeding was one of the many things about parenting I (wrongly) assumed I could “succeed” at with hard work, but I didn’t expect an oversupply.
Before I got pregnant, I didn’t know much about breastfeeding. Sure, my girlfriends warned me it could be a challenge, but most of them did it without complaint for years.
And what about all those women I would see at restaurants and in cafés? In their breastfeeding chic clothes, babes seamlessly attached to their chest. Or family members who used the boob like a magic bullet of calm?
Besides, isn’t breastfeeding supposed to be “natural”? I mean, I’m pretty good at most things I put my mind to. How hard could this be?
Cut to the stressed out, tear stained, milk covered, exhausted mess that I was.
Before the baby was born, my biggest fear was not having enough milk. In my (over)preparation for motherhood, it was the issue I most commonly heard of.
I read story after story of people pumping away only to get an ounce.
I didn’t know that you can have too much milk and that it can be as equally stressful.
Like some births, ours was complicated, and my son spent his first few days in the NICU. This meant that rather than breastfeeding right away, I started with pumping.
It gave me something to control during a very out of control time. I knew the “law of supply and demand” — that your breasts make as much as needed, based on how much they’re used — but I wasn’t yet aware that overpumping could contribute to an oversupply.
In the hospital, I pumped as many times as I thought the baby would be eating, which was every 1 to 2 hours. He was originally on IV fluids, so it was hard to gauge.
I would also pump until the flow slowed down, versus to an amount or time limit.
I should have been alarmed that I was easily filling bottle after bottle. Instead, I felt like I was “winning” and boasted to my husband and the nurses about our surplus of custard-looking colostrum in the refrigerator.
When we were finally released from the hospital and my milk “came in,” my 4-day-old son’s sleepy demeanor while eating was quickly replaced by wide-eyed gulps and slurps. He would pull off every 30 seconds in hysterics, face covered in milk, as my breast continued to fire hose him in the face.
My right stream is like a powerful waterfall. My left mimics a Vegas hotel’s water fountain show.
Everything we own is covered in milk. Our furniture, our floor. My iPhone screen speckled and smeared. No shirt or breast pad is a match for my strong flow, and unfortunately, neither was my newborn son.
His little underdeveloped digestive system could not handle the overflow, and he would commonly have reflux-like symptoms: arching his back, spitting up, and inconsolable crying.
When any family came to meet him those first weeks, I was embarrassed to feed in front of them. Not for shyness — but because I felt like a failure that he would be crying hysterically and bobbing his head violently against my chest instead of peacefully eating.
I would try to hide in the bedroom for feedings or be filled with anxiety if someone asked to sit with us.
We finally sought out lactation support and they diagnosed me as having an “oversupply” and “forceful let-down.”
It turns out that sometimes too much milk is not a good thing.
We were given a print out of pages of ways I would need to manage each feeding, and while some tips were helpful, it was overwhelming.
Feeds became a “whole thing” — including a lot of crying on his part as he learned to manage my flow, and a lot of crying on my part while I learned to manage his frustration alongside said flow.
I was scared that my dream of easily whipping out a boob and calming my son would never be realized.
And while I promised my husband, family, and therapist out loud that I would happily switch to bottles or formula if things continued to be stressful, there was another, larger part of me that felt like I needed to “win” this whole breastfeeding thing. Determined to make it work. As if I was in some great competition between nature and myself.
But if “fed is best,” then I was already winning.
Our boy was thriving. He was growing well and in good health. And finally, around 6 weeks old, thanks to adjusting our feeding positions, I started to see glimmers of those soothing feeds I once dreamt of. Even though we had to lie down for it.
I will never forget the first time my son fed quietly for nearly 30 minutes. Finishing with a sleepy long suckle. I watched his face, and though he was just 6 weeks at the time, I swear I saw a smile.
Oh yes. I had already won.
Sarah Ezrin is a mama, writer, and yoga teacher. Based in San Francisco, where she lives with her husband, son, and their dog, Sarah is changing the world, teaching self-love to one person at a time. For more information on Sarah please visit her website, www.sarahezrinyoga.com.