When I was pregnant with my son I heard from all corners of the court that “breast is best.” As a self-proclaimed warrior of anxiety—with constant thoughts about my precious newborn contracting all kinds of horrible ailments—I rolled up my sleeves and set about learning as much as I could on breastfeeding.
Books, articles, long chats with friends who had kids, courses at the hospital: I approached the topic from all angles. I felt prepared and I readied myself that it doesn’t always come easy. A few friends shared their struggles with undersupply and the ways they tried to boost their milk production. I bought the teas, had a list of power foods in the kitchen and expected to struggle.
And struggle I did, but not in any of the ways I anticipated.
My milk came in the first night we were home from the hospital, while my baby boy surprisingly slept peacefully. The rush of hormones woke me up from the sleep I very much needed, triggering a visceral, full-body response.
I felt breathless with a racing heart, dizzy, drenched in sweat. I was engorged and confused, still acclimating to my new role as mom. I woke up my husband, who called the OB’s nightline. She assured me it was hormones and told me to try and get some sleep.
That day, I struggled to practice the techniques the lactation consultant showed us at the hospital before we left. But my supply was too strong. The flow choked my infant, who gulped to try and keep up with the stream. He spit up constantly. It was normal, I read. Once a few days passed, things would regulate. The engorgement would stop. Feedings would be peaceful, serene.
But there was nothing serene about pulling out beach towels each time my son needed to nurse to keep both of us dry from my overproducing breasts. Over the next months, I tried all the tricks. I manually expressed a little before he latched, I avoided my electric pump at all costs to prevent overstimulation, I block-fed to get my supply in check. I avoided oatmeal like the plague and gave up the Guinness I’d been dreaming of all pregnancy. No luck.
I was constantly uncomfortable, and so was my son.
Somewhere along the way—around 8 weeks—my son’s diapers started to look wrong. Colors and consistencies were off, and when a few streaks of blood stopped my heart, we rushed to the pediatrician. “Milk-soy protein intolerance,” they diagnosed. “Here’s your new diet.”
I cried in the grocery store, as I tried to navigate what I could and couldn’t eat, knowing my hungry baby was waiting for me at home. No matter how diligently I followed my new diet, nothing changed the fussy feedings, my abundant supply and my son’s scary diapers.
Each doctor we saw shrugged and told us the same thing, “He’s growing just fine. Whatever you’re doing, just keep doing it.” Of course my 95th percentile baby was piling on the pounds – I was drowning him with milk each time he rooted.
Hours spent Googling brought me to the intricate mom boards of the deep web, where a handful of people talked about oversupply issues and similar diaper problems. My gut was telling me that was the answer. But I just kept forging forward, wondering how I’d ever be able to stop nursing.
The guilt piled on as I thought of women who struggled to build a supply, begging their bodies to produce, while I silently wished mine would just dry up.
When my maternity leave came to an end and I returned to work, I found myself in the lactation room pumping 20 ounces in one, 15-minute session. I realized right then and there that pumping would just exacerbate my problem. I was dehydrated and constantly starving, no matter how much I ate or drank.
As my son grew to love the pace of his bottles, he cuddled in at night for snuggles instead of nursing sessions. He smiled up at me when I tried giving him a bottle myself one night, and I knew he was telling me to stop nursing. And when his diapers started to look normal, I did.
But, as expected, it wasn’t easy. Stopping brought with it hormonal protests backed by migraines, panic attacks and vertigo. Through it all, I struggled with the guilt of wasting my supply and robbing my child of that closeness, just when he was starting daycare. I obsessed over news stories of mothers donating excess milk and chided myself for not being stronger.
But you know what? I am strong. Strong enough to realize that guilt couldn’t make my decisions for me.
When I finally dried my supply up and my hormones found some semblance of balance, we all benefited. I could focus on spending quality time with my husband and son instead of obsessing over unexplained diapers and strict diets and fighting our way through nursing sessions. And all that newfound time spent cuddling over good books and singing silly songs kept us just as close.