After Just an Hour With a Lactation Consultant, I Became a Milk Machine — but It Wasn't Easy
It was 11:30 a.m. when the in-home lactation consultant (LC) showed up at our house. She was carrying an enormous briefcase, which I later learned housed a scale that we would use to weigh my 6-day-old baby. My husband had emailed the LC while we were still in the hospital, after the labor and delivery floor's own in-house lactation consultant suggested I get more help with breastfeeding. "More help" was the watered down version. I needed ALL of the help.
I had a number of things going on. I couldn't get my daughter to latch for more than a few seconds before the pain became too intense; pumping not only gave me unmanageable anxiety, but during and after it felt like tiny needles were poking my nipples; and I wasn't producing enough milk. I walked the LC through all of this before giving her a nursing demo so she could assess. After making a few adjustments to my nipple shield and body positioning, my daughter and I got a solid latch going. But it wasn't without pain. The session carried on for its full hour, and I was left with more questions, so I booked a second appointment, this time with a nearby LC who came recommended.
A few days later, I marched into the second LC's office with my mom and daughter in tow, ready to get some answers. I wanted her to cure the pain, explain why I was feeling so anxious every time I tried to nurse or pump, and help me produce more milk. An easy ask, surely.
After an hour in that LC's office, I left with all of that and more. Read on to see what she taught me.
Go back to the basics for pain.
I'd tried a number of things prior to seeing the LC. Branded nipple creams, branded nipple lotions, ice packs, hot showers, hot washcloths — I'd even dipped my battered boobs (I had small 1mm cuts on them) in piping-hot salt water because the internet told me to. When I told the LC this, she waved her hand at me as if to swat these bad ideas away. Instead, she told me to cover my nipples in a thin coat of olive oil before pumping as it was safe. She also sent me home with petroleum jelly and explained that it would help promote healing.
Stop fixating on milk output.
Whatever the worst version of yourself is, I was that. A complete wreck. I could get out of bed, but I had that hard-to-explain "new mom fog" where the world seems to spin out of control while simultaneously feeling like you're trapped in your own Groundhog Day. Diaper. Rinse. Repeat.
I shared all of this with the LC because I'm an open book when it comes to getting help, and she immediately told me about the connection between stress and milk output. I didn't feel stressed, but I was fixated on nursing and pumping and near obsessive with my output. I developed an intense crick in my neck from staring down at my flanges to see how much milk was coming out. She told me that as soon as I stopped that behavior, I'd see an increase in output.
Always pump for the next feed.
This was the most helpful advice I got from the lactation consultant. It's a terrible feeling to pump while your baby is screaming. It leaves you impatiently staring at your boobs the way you would when you watch water boil. Rather than stressing myself out about pumping for the current feed, I'd tell myself that my daughter would get what she needed, that she'd be OK, and that whatever I was producing would get bottled for the next feed. It helped me stay relaxed and present.
Completely empty the breast to increase your supply.
I wasn't happy with my milk output. Thirty minutes of pumping would only net a total of four ounces, and my daughter's appetite required more than that. The LC told me that in order to increase my supply, I had to completely empty the breast with each pump session, which I wasn't doing. I hadn't even heard about it. She referred me to a Stanford hands-on pumping video to learn self-expression techniques, and I started that day.
I quickly saw the effects. Thirty minutes of sitting with a pump on produced far less than than 30 minutes of sitting with a pump on while I self-expressed and massaged. Once I was completely pain-free, which took about a week, my output — and my attitude — were on the rise. All it took was an hour with the right lactation consultant.