Breastfeeding with Low Milk Supply: Anna’s Story

breastfeeding with low milk supply

Guest Post by Anna Birdie

One of the most difficult and helpless parts of breastfeeding is facing issues like low milk supply. It can leave a new mom in a haze of worry filled with questions and feeling like she is failing her baby.

Breastfeeding with low milk supply might seem like a hopeless situation but the good news is, is that there is hope.

Today’s guest post in our National Breastfeeding Awareness series, you will hear how Anna started off her breastfeeding journey with a lot of optimism and never imagined she would be in a position of having to supplement with formula.

Feeling like her goals for breastfeeding were compromised, Anna found the courage and will to push through. Her story is an encouragement to any mom who has faced low milk supply and isn’t sure where to go or what to do next!

Breastfeeding with Low Milk Supply: Anna’s Story

I come from a family full of nursing mothers.

My own mother breastfed both me and my younger brother and was a strong breastfeeding advocate, serving as a La Leche League Leader for many years.

My aunt nursed her four babies.

My cousins, who had babies just before I did, nursed them, seemingly effortlessly.

Breastfeeding was the norm in my world. I never questioned that I would breastfeed my son. And I never really considered the possibility that breastfeeding could be hard.

I never questioned that I would breastfeed my son. And I never really considered the possibility that breastfeeding could be hard.

From my vantage point, breastfeeding looked natural and easy compared to preparing formula, sterilizing bottles, and all the other tasks associated with formula feeding.

I am an obsessive researcher, especially about all things health.

While I was pregnant, I researched endlessly about natural birth and mothering. I learned about all of the amazing benefits that breastfeeding offers for baby and mom, and what a tragedy it is that generations of families were not supported to gain these benefits.

I honestly thought that any apparent challenges mothers faced when it came to breastfeeding were attributable to bad advice or ignorance.

Breastfeeding is natural, I thought, and as long as I arm myself with knowledge of the natural process, I’ll be able to nurse my baby with ease.

The Start of My Breastfeeding Journey

In support of my breastfeeding goals, I chose to give birth at a Baby Friendly hospital.

I was encouraged to spend the first hour of my baby’s life with him skin-to-skin and received assistance getting him to latch before the nurses attempted any procedures that would take him from my arms.

I was visited by a hospital IBCLC (Lactation Consultant) on the first day of my son’s life.

My baby was born two and a half weeks early, so the nurses said this was why he was sleepy at the breast. I needed to tickle his toes and rub him with a wet washcloth to get him awake enough to eat well.

I dutifully followed this advice and offered the breast every hour or more often if my baby showed any hunger signs.

My son had just enough wet and dirty diapers in the hospital to allow us to be discharged without any further follow up about breastfeeding. I was in a blissful haze of new motherhood, overwhelmed by gratitude and sleep deprivation.

When we got home, though, he stopped having dirty diapers.

The Start of Our Breastfeeding Issues

We saw his doctor who ruled out jaundice and wanted to monitor his weight weekly until we made sure he was gaining well.

The second week, my baby still hadn’t gained any weight.

I reached out to the hospital’s outpatient lactation department. The lactation consultant I spoke with didn’t seem very concerned but suggested I pump once or twice a day and give my baby the expressed milk. She suggested maybe he was just catching up from being born early.

I fretted and fretted and read everything I could find related to breastfeeding a newborn, on the internet and in the books I’d purchased while pregnant, over and over.

I fretted and fretted and read everything I could find related to breastfeeding a newborn…

Everything I read talked about the importance of nursing frequently.

My baby was already nursing constantly, often staying latched for hours at a time, but I was committed to breastfeeding so I resolved to nurse more.

When I couldn’t take the worry any longer, I contacted the hospital’s outpatient lactation department again.

I explained my worries about my son’s lack of weight gain and dirty diapers, and I felt reassured to hear that the lactation consultant I spoke with didn’t insist that I needed to come in. However, she offered an appointment the next morning if I wanted it.

I took the appointment just because it seemed like a better use of my time than obsessively worrying and scouring the internet for advice.

Answers and Solutions

I brought my baby to the appointment and a kind, middle-aged woman with long hair invited me into her office.

She asked me questions about how breastfeeding was going, examined my baby’s mouth, and watched him nurse. Then she said words I could barely understand because I couldn’t fathom that this could be happening.

“Low milk supply… Tongue and lip ties… Low oral tone… Weak suck…” Her words reverberated in my head as I tried to make sense of them.

“Low milk supply… Tongue and lip ties… Low oral tone… Weak suck…” Her words reverberated in my head as I tried to make sense of them.

She explained that my baby had only been able to get an ounce of milk out of my breasts from nursing during this session. He wasn’t getting enough to eat and this, in turn, didn’t tell my body to make enough milk.

I didn’t know it was possible for a baby to not be physically able to remove enough milk from the breast by nursing.

Her words were shocking and felt devastating.

But I was still committed to breastfeeding so I asked the lactation consultant what I needed to do.

She said that I needed to pump 10-12 times a day until my milk supply came up to meet my baby’s need. I would have to bottle feed the expressed milk since my baby couldn’t nurse effectively.

Then she provided referrals to an ENT to have my son’s tongue and lip ties further evaluated and to a speech therapist who specializes in infant feeding about his oral tone.

My baby was now three weeks old, and at his weekly weight check at the doctor’s office two days later he still hadn’t gained any weight.

My baby’s doctor, a true breastfeeding advocate, stood in front of the “Breastfeeding welcome here” sign in the exam room and told me my baby needed supplemental formula NOW.

Pumping, Breastfeeding, Supplementing… and Repeat!

I was so worried about my baby not getting enough milk that part of me was relieved to know he would now be getting plenty to eat since I could prepare as much formula as he needed. But I was also devastated because it was looking more and more like our breastfeeding relationship was a train that was completely off the tracks and headed for a huge crash.

I channeled all of my fears and my sadness that breastfeeding wasn’t turning out to be natural or easy as I’d imagined into working hard at getting my milk supply up.

I pumped 10-12 times a day, power pumped, massaged while pumping, took supplements, listened to relaxing music, and visualized milk flowing abundantly.

I pumped 10-12 times a day, power pumped, massaged while pumping, took supplements, listened to relaxing music, and visualized milk flowing abundantly.

When I first started pumping, I would often get less than an ounce from both sides combined.

I pumped just 9-12 ounces total during an entire 24 hour day of pumping every two hours around the clock. But these numbers quickly started to increase as I continued pumping regularly.

Pumping this frequently was harder than I thought it would be.

It often seemed there was no time at all between the end of one pumping session and the beginning of the next.

My days and nights were a blur of pump sessions, bottle feeding, washing bottles and pump parts, and preparing bottles of formula or expressed milk, amidst the inevitable spit up messes and diaper blowouts of the newborn days.

But those diaper blowouts were always cause for celebration. Pooping was a sign that my baby was getting enough to eat.

At his 4 week checkup, the doctor cheered and told me my son had gained a whole pound in the week since we had started the bottle feeding, pumping, and formula supplement routine.

I also followed up with the speech therapist and the ENT regarding my son’s ties and oral tone.

We began weekly speech therapy sessions where the therapist prescribed oral motor stretches and exercises that we were to do three times each day.

I remember wondering when I was supposed to fit all of this in; the speech therapist’s suggestion to couple the exercises with breakfast, lunch, and dinner didn’t make much sense since I hadn’t really been sitting down for meals since the baby was born.

My son’s tongue and lip ties were revised through a minor outpatient surgical procedure when he was five weeks old.

We followed up after the procedure with the lactation consultant in the ENT’s office who explained that it could take some time for my son’s nursing efficiency to improve, especially since oral tone issues were also involved.

At the follow-up appointment, my baby only got a quarter ounce of milk nursing from both sides combined.

We continued working on our plan, with additional suggestions added each week by the speech therapist.

I followed up with the IBCLC at the hospital’s outpatient lactation department several more times, for encouragement more than anything. She was amazingly supportive and helped me stay positive.

I began to get anxious as my maternity leave neared its end.

I was still waking up two or three times a night to pump and had no idea how I would manage everything when I went back to work. I was so sleep deprived I was dizzy and felt like I was drunk half the time.

Six weeks after my son’s tongue and lip tie revisions, one week before I was scheduled to return to work, we had two huge breakthroughs that brought me to tears. First, my supply finally exceeded my baby’s demand and I was able to put fifteen ounces of my breastmilk in the freezer.

We were done with formula!

Our second breakthrough came at our speech therapy session that week.

Each week, the speech therapist would weigh my baby before and after a nursing session to assess his ability to transfer milk. Up to this point, our record was around one ounce from both sides, far less than a baby needs at a feeding.

This time, I was shocked and delighted: My son transferred TWO whole ounces!

This time, I was shocked and delighted: My son transferred TWO whole ounces!

We met with our IBCLC for a pep talk about going back to work.

She said since my baby was now able to transfer two ounces at a feeding, I could stop pumping in the middle of the night and just nurse if he woke up hungry. We developed a pumping schedule for me to follow to maintain 8 pump sessions a day while working full time.

One Year Later!

My son and I just celebrated 12 months of breastfeeding on his first birthday.

I am still pumping around 7 times per day to have enough pumped milk for him while I’m away at work. Breastfeeding has been hard won for us, in stark contrast to the easy, natural process I thought it would be.

I think this has forced me to see the beauty of our breastfeeding relationship.

I think this has forced me to see the beauty of our breastfeeding relationship.

In all the hours of pumping and speech therapy and lactation consults (and did I mention more pumping?), I was fighting for something deeper than just a “more natural” way to feed my baby.

I was fighting for that sweet moment when my baby is nursing and he pops off to giggle and milk dribbles out of the corner of his mouth. For that moment when he had a high fever for the first time and nothing but nursing would comfort him. For the precious nursing snuggles that help us reconnect after I’ve been away at work all day.

I am so grateful for all of the support we received on our breastfeeding journey, from my husband to our amazing doula, to other family members and friends who helped and prayed, to our fantastic lactation consultant, to the excellent medical professionals who skillfully supported us.

I learned a great deal through this experience, including important lessons about faith and perseverance. But perhaps most importantly, I learned that feeding our babies can be really emotional and challenging, and we all need a lot more grace and support no matter what our journey looks like.

I think it’s so important for us to tell our stories, and am so grateful to Heather for inviting me to tell mine!

For Information and Tips on How to Increase Your Milk Supply, Click Here!

About the Author

breastfeeding with low milk supply AuthorAnna Birdie is a health coach and wellness advocate on a mission to inspire others to transform their lives to live more fully, healthfully, and abundantly. She lives in Texas with her husband and son. You can find more of Anna over at Existential Eats.






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