With every controversy over a celebrity posting a gorgeous picture of herself breastfeeding or a woman getting kicked out of some public place for popping out a boob to feed her kid in public, I am just as outraged as the rest of you. But I'm also overcome with another unexpected emotion: jealousy. Those of us plagued with low milk supply rarely have a chance to take 'em out in public long enough to get weird stares or approving glances.
It's never really clear why a woman doesn't get blessed with the ability to feed her child all on her own. It could have been the shock of the C-section, combined with my son's tongue-tie that caused my milk to come in late and at a trickle. With the help of multiple lactation experts and nonstop effort, I wound up breastfeeding and supplementing with (gasp!) formula. Every new mother goes through a roller coaster of emotions, of course. These are the particular ones you might experience upon finding out your own milk bags are less bountiful than they felt during your whole f-ing pregnancy:
You had one job, boobs! Maybe you found out about your low supply during the baby's early weigh-ins. Maybe you discovered it on your own because she screams just as much after a feeding as she did before. Either way, it's really hard to wrap your head around the fact that after all your preparation for motherhood, your breasts are failing to hold up their end of the bargain. And this is entirely regardless of their size!
2. Total Inadequacy And Self-Blame
Did you fail to eat 10 servings of leafy greens every day of your pregnancy? Maybe you should stop sleeping altogether and just keep the kid on your breast at all times. That's what Dr. Sears says to do, anyway, and if you can't do it, this must be your fault. All those visions of giving your child the healthiest start possible crumble before your eyes as your body flat-out refuses to do what everyone says is the most natural thing in the world. If you're thinking on those terms, "low supply" quite literally means you are not enough.
You take every piece of advice offered by lactation consultants, books, the Internet, and random strangers on the street. No recipe is too weird. All of the supplements and teas are lined up on the kitchen counter. You're chasing Guinness shakes with fenugreek tea and having oatmeal for dessert, all with the kid attached to you. You won't leave the couch for six hour stretches as you alternate between feeding and pumping. You will get this supply up! Factory farm cows have nothing on you!
See all of the above. See the half ounce you're getting after pumping for an hour. You have forgotten that your baby will one day do anything more than suck on you. You went so far as to rent a baby scale to see how much he weighs before and after every feeding. Your only breaks are taken up by washing pump parts and making that awful tea. Your partner begs you to give up. With a baby on one boob and a pump on the other, you start to Google everything you can find that discredits the Breast Is Best camp.
Meanwhile, every time you visit with other moms, you behave like a teenage boy and do nothing but stare at their boobs. Their complaints about leakage and mastitis just sound like bragging to you. You rush home the second your baby cries because you can't bear to pull out the bottle in front of them.
6. Peaceful Acceptance
At last, like every other mother out there, you find your rhythm. And sure, your rhythm might involve alternating nursing with formula, with its accompanying headaches of sterilizing the water, figuring out how to mix that goopy stuff, throwing it out after a few hours because it spoils so quickly, and being horrified by every grocery bill. Your baby is getting those great fat rolls at last, and she has no clue that you once had a different plan for how to feed her. If you're lucky, you get to hand over any bottle-feeding duties to your partner while you sleep in. Or wash bottles.
Here's the thing no one ever tells you about having to supplement early: There are rewards later. When all the other moms are panicking that their kids won't take bottles when they want to leave the house, when they're up all night trying to pump out a supply for when they have to go back to work, you can relax at last. You got these hurdles out of the way months ago. Weaning altogether, whenever you decide to do it, is a helluva lot easier too.
I mean, I'm not going to say that once you reach stage seven you don't cycle back to 1-6. More than a year after I stopped breastfeeding, I still look down at my drained milk bags and scold them once in a while. My son, on the other hand, is obsessed with cows right now.