When I went into labor with my 3rd child, it was almost - at least it felt like - routine. I knew when it was time to go to the hospital, I knew what would happen when we arrived, I knew I would probably end up asking for the epidural, I knew that after birth a baby would be placed on my chest, I knew the first thing we would do was breastfeed, I knew my milk would come in, and I knew we would go home after a day or two. But the thing is, I really didn't know.
Much of my labor and birth was actually normal. After a night and day of on again and off again labor, finally my contractions intensified around 2 pm in the afternoon, and by 5:30 pm our daughter was born. She was a couple weeks early, and just barely 6 pounds and when they rested Reese on my chest after delivery, everything was perfect. She latched readily and we just sat there in the delivery room and enjoyed her alert period. I felt so comfortable back in the newborn routine for the third time, I was contemplating going home the next morning even and forgo the little hospital stay. We'd done this twice before and everything went fine. BUT I will be forever grateful for the doctor who changed my mind. The one who said, "You can stay another night, don't feel rushed to go home, get more rest, it will be good for you."
So we did. And that night, around midnight a nurse noticed Reese shaking and immediately notified us that she was displaying signs of low blood sugar. It seemed like a small problem, but in an infant, low blood sugar can be life threatening. Since my milk had not come in yet, and our barely-6 pound-baby girl had little body fat to draw calories from, her brain was starving. I was nervous, scared, devastated. With my second baby my milk had come in full blown on Day 2 and I fully expected my body to be the same this time. I began trying so hard to feed my little girl non-stop. I kept her on my breast the rest of the night, just hoping she would get my milk in, and hoping she'd get the calories she needed. She didn't leave my chest, and I hardly slept.
The next morning her blood sugar was still low, and the nurses suggested formula to get her more calories, which I initially refused. I was so determined to strictly breastfeed, and not to confuse her with other nipples/pacifiers. So I asked the nurses for other ways to keep her at my breast. We tried SNS several times but after so long my baby would either fall asleep, or get so frustrated that we had to remove the tube. Thinking back on this day, I am so grateful for nurses who worked with me to try and get Reese fed while still at my breast.
Ultimately nothing I was trying really worked. My baby needed calories to survive that I couldn't provide. At least not yet as my milk hadn't come in. So, when the doctor came that afternoon, he told me they would have to start a glucose IV and that meant she could no longer be with me in the room. They took her away and I sat alone in the room heartbroken... and defeated.
The lactation consultant on duty that day helped me figure out a feeding routine. Reese would get fed exactly every three hours, that way they could monitor her glucose readings after each feed to make sure they could wean the IV eventually. Together we decided that Reese would get formula for her first feed, and breastfeed after. Then I would go pump what I could, and it would be used towards the next feed three hours later. Reese's feeds would be made up with breastmilk+formula, then we would breastfeed after to make sure she got what she needed.
After her first feed in the nursery I went back to my room to pump.... and I literally got a drop of mostly colostrum. I cried. But the lactation consultant reassured me it was normal... that it would come eventually. During my next pump session, I got about 1 mL- one tiny syringe of milk. Then the next session with some heat applied to my breasts with lil'buds and I got about 3ml. I was so determined. I took my initial defeat and turned it into determination. And slowly I saw my body responding. With every pump session I would get a little more, and a little more. After about 12 hours, I was getting 6-10ml each pump session and slowly we were minimizing the formula supplement, and weaning the glucose IV!!
After 3 long days of IV and pumping we were back to breastfeeding on demand and IV free and ready to go home. Those days were some of the most difficult days I have had, and I think of new mothers who have endured so much more than me and I utterly admire their strength. Getting to the point where we could be discharged came with a huge struggle, so many tears, hardly any sleep, and so much hard work. When we finally went home, we continued to exclusively breastfeed for 17 months.
The whole experience taught me so many important lessons. The first is - everyone's milk comes in a different times. If your body takes longer than 3-5 days then that's OK. Don't think there is anything wrong with you - because there is not. Trust your body and give it time and it will come as long as you keep up the demand. Keep feeding or keep pumping, and it will come slower or faster than you might think.
The second lesson I learned is that every birth and breastfeeding experience is different no matter how many times you do it. Every baby is different, and your body is different too. You never really know what will happen when you give birth, but whether you are home with a midwife or in the hospital, know that you are in good hands and you will have support if you need it.
The third lesson I learned is that supplementing with formula, when necessary, will not ruin your breastfeeding experience if you continue to pump for those formula feeds. I was so so scared to give my baby formula, because I thought she wouldn't re-latch at my breast. But really, she was getting fed with the calories she needed, and I kept pumping to help my milk come in, and I kept her at my breast as much as I could that first week too. Even when you have a decrease in supply, for whatever reason, know that successful breastfeeding is not exclusive breastfeeding, and know that every drop you give is what matters most.