The Twists and Turns of Infant Feeding
Our work at BIOMILQ centers around how infant feeding isn’t one-size-fits-all. Whether a parent breastfeeds, pumps, formula feeds, or a combination of all of the above, it is completely up to them. There isn’t one right way to feed a baby, and as many have experienced, including our Co-Founder and CSO Leila Strickland, one’s expectations of their feeding journey prior to giving birth could be miles away from their postpartum circumstantial reality.
Recently, we interviewed 6 mothers on their personal feeding journey: all full of unseen challenges that still resulted in selecting the best choices for them and their families. This feature will be a 2-part series, and we’re kicking it off with the stories of 3 mothers, 2 sets of twins, and 180 ounces of breast milk produced daily.
Kathleen: Opening the Floodgates
Kathleen, 32 and a mother of 14-month-old twins, is an exclusive pumper who in her ‘peak of lactation’ produced a whopping 120 ounces a day. For context, milk intake for babies between the ages of 1-6 months ranges from 19-30 ounces per day . Being an overproducer (theoretically an ideal situation) proved to have learning curves of its own. Prior to giving birth, Kathleen assumed that feeding her twins would pose a challenge, especially since she hoped to tandem breastfeed. To her surprise, she exclusively fed her babies breast milk for over a year and had enough milk leftover to donate 14,000 ounces to 7 babies, one of which was fed for a full year on her breast milk.
Kathleen’s weekly excess bagged up for her donee.
“My Spectra [breast pump] is going to be
my best friend for the next year”
In the hospital, Kathleen became overwhelmed with tandem feeding and decided breastfeeding wasn’t for her. Both her babies had tongue ties, so latching was difficult. Kathleen also struggled with the large amount of milk she was producing. From painful engorgement to needing to significantly increase her food intake due to the caloric demand of milk synthesis, her life was ruled by pumping, “I have to pump in this 30-minute span or I’m not going to be able to function as a human '', she explained.
For the first 2 to 3 weeks postpartum, Kathleen was juggling her milk supply, for not one but two newborns, and all the exhaustion and recovery that comes with being postpartum. She then noticed that her babies had runny diapers. It wasn’t until she had all of the 44 ounces from her morning pump laid out in front of her that she noticed the color gradient from blue to yellow in the bottles: she could visibly see the difference in her foremilk and hindmilk. Her little ones weren’t getting all the fat-rich hindmilk that babies get toward the end of a feeding session, she realized at that moment “I was [going to have to] dump my entire pump into pitchers to combine the foremilk and hindmilk”.
Kathleen’s foremilk and hindmilk from her morning pump combined in a pitcher.
There is a substantial lack of research in lactation science, so it can be challenging to find resources about overproducing to this degree. At 3 to 4 months postpartum, Kathleen reached out to two different breast specialists due to some of her own health concerns and asked for their advice on her hyperlactation, “Is this normal? Should I be pumping 120 ounces a day”? She received responses entirely at odds: one said to wean immediately, the other to do whatever felt right to her.
So, where does an overproducing, exclusively pumping mother of twins go for lactation support? From consultants in the hospital to breast specialists to OBGYNs, Kathleen tried it all, and with no discredit to medical professionals, she found the greatest comfort in Facebook groups. In the vast sea of infant feeding possibilities, sometimes the greatest peace of mind can be found in people who have a shared experience.
Finding a support system, sharing stories, and most importantly, feeling comfortable asking for help, is all a part of the growing pains of parenthood. From one parent hoping to help another, Kathleen left us with a piece of sound advice, “Everything is temporary. When you’re pumping at 3 am, that is just a temporary thing. It’s not going to be for the rest of your life. You can get through each stage.”
Kathleen gives the twins a “milk and cookies” bath to celebrate the end of their milk journey!
Jessica and Emilea: Private Pumping and Bottle Bonding
A sense of community can be found in all sorts of places, and sometimes the best support system can be in your home already. Meet Emilea, 34, and her wife Jessica, 29, mothers to a 23-month-old girl and most recently, 4-month-old twins.
When Emilea gave birth to their oldest, she was determined to breastfeed at the breast, especially in the hopes of facilitating one-on-one, mother-daughter bonding time. Latching went well and their baby breastfed for the first few days in the hospital, but then their daughter’s blood sugar dropped and needed to receive glucose gel and formula. She never latched well again: “for two weeks after, I tried to breastfeed her while she screamed and I cried” Emilea explained. She exclusively pumped from there on out.
Emilea didn’t share with people that she pumped for about 2 months postpartum. Worried that friends and family would be eager to bottle feed their daughter, Emilea and Jessica would sneak away for ‘secret feeding sessions’, “I just wanted that bonding time”. Jessica added, “she would pump and I would bottle feed, or she would bottle feed, and we would just hangout for 30 to 45 minutes while company was over”.
“The biggest challenge was mentally letting go of physically breastfeeding my first child and being okay with exclusively pumping. It was a big hurdle for me, feeling like I was failing her, like I wasn’t going to be able to bond with her.”
By the time the twins came around, Emilea was very familiar with pumping, but breastfeeding was still in the equation. However, like any postpartum experience, there were unexpected twists and turns. One of the twins, their son, was in the NICU for 16 days after being born. He was receiving oxygen, on a feeding tube, and had to slowly learn how to take a bottle. Jessica shared that “the hospital is really interesting because the mother-baby floor highly pushed breastfeeding. But the NICU is a completely different place because they have all kinds of different babies and the availability of the parents is so different that they were more accepting of pumping, donor breast milk, or whatever they wanted to do”. Despite many efforts to feed at the breast, Emilea decided to exclusively pump for the twins as well. At 4 months postpartum, she is currently producing 55-60 ounces a day, enjoying physically seeing how much milk she produces and how much the twins end up eating throughout a day.
As experienced by Emilea and Jessica, pumping for twins (or any baby) is a handful and doesn’t need to be a one-person-job. Jessica explains how important it is to her for the non-lactating parent to be involved in the feeding experience. She is the breast pump parts cleaner, the water bottle filler, and does a lot of the bottle feeding as a stay at home mom. The two have even worked out a middle-of-the-night feeding system where they both wake up, Emilea pumps, Jessica changes the diapers, they each feed a twin, and they’re all back to sleep in 30-40 minutes. From the non-lactating parent perspective, Jessica shares her biggest piece of advice for new parents, “If you’re able, share the responsibility. If one only does bath time, or only does feeding, not only can the other parent get upset, but your kid also gets used to that and it makes it hard to change if that parent isn’t around to do the bath or to feed”.
Emilea’s advice? “You just have to be flexible. As soon as I was able to let go and go with pumping, mentally - everything was so much easier. Go with whatever path you have to adapt to because at the end of the day it's about getting your baby fed”. She humorously adds, “Number two, I would recommend any hands free pump”.
Infant feeding isn’t a one size fits all experience and is shaped by the circumstances a family faces. Both families made decisions that were best for their bodies, their babies, and their mental health for which we applaud them and all families on their own feeding journey during World Breastfeeding Week.
Join us at the end of National Breastfeeding Month for another 3 tales of moms making it work!
Bonyata, K. (2018, January 14). How much expressed milk will my baby need? • kellymom.com. KellyMom.com. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://kellymom.com/bf/pumpingmoms/pumping/milkcalc/#:~:text=The%20research%20tells%20us%20that,%2D900%20mL%20per%20day