The Bottomless Pit of a Baby

As a breastfeeding newbie–my experience now spans about 12 days–I found myself dialing the Sibley Memorial Hospital lactation “warm line” two days ago. A warm line is sort of like a hot line only without the crisis attached; you leave a voicemail message and a lactation consultant will give you a call back. I got a holler back from one within a few hours and she patiently listened to me as I basically peppered her with questions about my breastfeeding experience to date.

But for all the small potatoes stuff–yes, it’s normal to have a gimpy side–my two big questions were:

  1. When should I be pumping?
  2. Is it okay to  feed baby expressed milk if he seems like he’s hungry really soon after I’ve nursed him?

Here’s the deal with Baby P’s’s grazing habits. I have no idea if they are typical of all babies or not. No doctor, nurse, or lactation consultant to date has seemed concerned about it, so I’m thinking it’s pretty normal. But basically, he’s an eating machine. There are only minutes in the day when he is just happy to be awake and chilling. The rest of the hours are divided between eating and sleeping with some diapering thrown in between.

I knew going into this that a newborn–or nouveau né, as we call them in my house–feeds about every two to three hours. The kicker is that countdown begins when you start a feeding rather than when you finish one. And you wouldn’t believe how fast that time flies. In my case, it’s often not even enough time to feed yourself or fold a load of laundry or feed the dog. (My Doberman got breakfast at 10:30 this morning, a full three hours after his habitual feeding time; he was quite unhappy with me.)

Guess Who's Hungry (Again)?

Baby tends to nurse rather aggressively and then pretty much deep dive into a food coma. However, for him to stay asleep for any decent stretch of time, I either have to also nap (not always a bad thing) or throw him on the trusty Boppy on my lap for some hands-free time on the computer. Literally, he’ll be dead asleep, so I’ll put him in his crib or pack ‘n’ play and he’s up again in less than 15 minutes. No amount of burping, pacifying, or crying it out gets him back to the Land of Nod.

The worrying part for this amateur mommy is that when he wakes up, he seems to be hungry. He’s not only crying, but he’s sticking out his tongue, opening his mouth, putting his fists in his mouth, kicking his little legs, rooting (he actually latched on to my husband’s collar bone once)–pretty much all the telltale signs of hunger. But can he really be that hungry when he just put down a whole boob full of milk, if not more?

I’ve really wanted to make breastfeeding a success story for me and baby, but I’ve got a few challenges. First, I am paranoid about losing my milk supply; it’s something I constantly worry about because I’ve heard that one wrong move and you’ll see a decrease in supply within a couple days. It’s that delicate of a supply-demand balance.

Second, I’ve got a couple of long trips on the calendar that will be an absolute nightmare if I can’t give the baby a bottle and/or pump. (Can you imagine making the 8+ hour drive from D.C. to the River, flying from Syracuse to Fayetteville, N.C., for my husband’s graduation from Green Beret training, or driving from N.C. to the River with a stop in D.C. if you have to feed the bottomless baby every two hours? It would take forever!)

I learned at one of my breastfeeding classes that the way to build milk supply, like to the point where you can store some for the baby sitter to feed the wee one while you’re at work, is to pump after you nurse. So, I decided last week to try it out.

Now, I was building up quite a decent initial supply by trying to pump after almost every feeding but my mom was emptying it almost as fast as I was stocking it because she was supplementing baby’s normal nursing with a few ounces here and there of the expressed milk. She kept saying that judging by the way he was downing down the ounces at record speed, it seemed to her that he was still hungry even after nursing.

This was driving me nuts for a couple of reasons. First, I was afraid it would screw up baby’s latch (which would mean another round of sore, irritated, rough, sometimes peeling nipples–ouch!) and somehow my boobs would know and then stop producing milk, thus turning me into a breastfeeding failure. Second, every time she gave him a few extra ounces, baby totally quieted down and slept much better, which suggested to me that maybe he was indeed hungry. The last thing any mommy, particularly overly paranoid, totally insecure first-timers, wants to face is the fact that maybe she’s unintentionally starving her baby.

So, I explain all of this to the very nice and patient lactation consultant. The first thing she tells me is that I’m going to drive myself insane if I try to pump after every feeding. (Whew, I was worrying about that as well.) She said I’d be just fine to pump after feedings in the morning, when milk supplies are generally higher, but not to worry about doing much pumping later unless I had some spare time. (As if.)

Then, to figure out if baby’s getting too little food or not. The consultant gave me a little formula or equation to use to figure out how much baby needs to eat in a day; I hope other nouveau mommies might also find it helpful. She said that two weeks after birth, babies should be at least back to their birth weight. So, for baby, we assumed that this week, he should be weighing in at 8.5 pounds.

From there, you take that weight and multiply it by 2.5 to get the total number of ounces baby needs in a 24 hour period (8.5 x 2.5 = 21.25 ounces/24 hours). She also said babies need to have at least 8 feedings a day, so divide your total ounces by eight or however many feedings you typically do in a day and you’ll get an idea of how much baby needs to take down in a single feeding frenzy (21.25/8 = 2.65 oz per feeding).

I found this little formula to be really helpful, or at least reassuring. I could stop stressing that my mom was giving my kid the fois gras treatment, force feeding him too much supplemental milk, but also just be okay with the fact that if he needs a little extra from time to time, I can give him a couple ounces and that should take care of any kind of petit faim that he has. This spells out some good news for some of my marathon trips; it might not have to take 24 hours to get to the River. Wouldn’t that be a plus?

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12 Comments

Filed under breastfeeding, hospital, lactation, newbie parents

12 responses to “The Bottomless Pit of a Baby

  1. Jen

    Noelle was exactly the same way for the first two weeks. I seriously never thought I could even leave the house for as soon as a feeding frenzy ended, I had almost enough time to inhale some food myself before another milk marathon began.
    Somewhere between 2 and 3 weeks, things finally calmed down and we fell into a nice 2-3 hour break in between nursing sessions. Here’s hoping Aleksi does the same.

    Just keep in mind… This too shall pass!

    • I’m keeping my fingers crossed, Jen, that Aleksi will take his cue from Noelle and as you say, “things will calm down.” At least for as much as I’m stressing over this, I’m also finding the whole thing pretty fascinating. It’s like one giant science experiment.

  2. Kathleen

    You are doing wonderfully and everything that you are feeling and thinking is normal. Yes, it’s disturbing that us spazzy worrisome moms are totally normal. We worried so much about our little ones getting enough milk especially since the NICU was all about getting them to drink more and gain weight.
    Keep in mind that my 32 week babies wouldn’t breast feed because they didn’t even have the sucking reflex yet. So I pumped and I continued pumping for 8 1/2 months. In my situation, I would pump during the babies feeding. So everyone got a bottle in their boppy and I was attached to the milk puller for 20 minutes. It worked great for me and then I started pumping in the car to and from work. It really increased my milk supply which was about 1 ouce in the beginning. I think I pumped 6 times a day and ended up producing about 35 ouces a day which would have been more than enough for 1 baby but obviously we had to supplement.
    So I say all this to tell you that you are doing fantastic and it sounds like little man is letting you know what he needs and you are giving him the best stuff. He will get into a routine at some point and you will definitely appreciate the 5 hour nights when they come and then the 6 hours and then the 8 hours and then you’ll just keep wanting more…like us.
    Hang in there. Do your best to get him a full tummy by tickling his feet or unwrapping him so he isn’t so comfty and warm. Sometimes they get just enough to get sleepy but not enough to fill them up.
    Enough babbling from you. You love that little guy and you are giving him the absolute best nutrition and love and so much more. So celebrate yourself and the incredible job you are doing because you really are!
    Kathleen

    • KMo! Ironically, I’m responding to your comment while downing a cup of mother’s milk tea that you gave me. At any rate, thanks so much for all your support. It means a ton coming from you. Here I am worrying about one little guy and you found a way to make it work for your three beauties, so I guess that means I just need to chill out, right? Did you ever think you’d spend this much time thinking about boobs?

  3. Teresa

    Sarah, all of that is completely normal. I don’t think I ate a meal without ABC in my arms for maybe a month. It’s all a blur so I don’t remember when but it seemed like a long time. The advice about not letting him get too comfortable and nodding off is good. Basically all they do is eat at this stage. One piece of advice regarding bottles. The lactation folks 10 years ago were adament about not introducing artificial nipples for some period of time. I think it was three weeks, so I didn’t give her anything artificial for that long. Then I pumped milk and gave her a bottle, fine that worked so we figured she had that down. Then, three later when I went back to work parttime, she wouldn’t take a bottle! Not from anyone. She nixed pacifiers too. So I ended up with a child addicted to breast feeding. At about four months she started taking milk from a sippy cup (she had amazing hand coordination). So, long story short, I would make sure that once you’re past the point of potential “nipple confusion” good name for a band! make sure he does get a bottle occasionally. The other thing I understand is that the bottle gives them the milk much faster than the breast, they don’t have to work so hard for it and for some babies that makes them prefer a bottle. So it’s possible that he will begin rejecting the breast in favor of bottle. Regarding the car trips, you have my sympathy on that one. We did a four hour trip and my husband drove. I clearly remember being able to breast feed my daughter in her car seat while still in my seatbelt (albeit stretched out) to get her to settle down. Talk about contortions! And it wasn’t very comfortable either!
    Anyway, give me a call if you want to chat. I’m sure Alecksi is thriving.

    • Yes, the lactation experts still strongly suggest that you don’t introduce a bottle for four weeks. But I just don’t know that I have a choice given the amount of travel I’ve got ahead of me–even if I could contort myself into a pretzel. (By the way, I can’t believe you were even able to accomplish this feat!) And yes, the kid can seriously put down some ounces when it’s coming from a bottle–even with the extreme slow-flow newborn nipples that I’ve been using. But for now, he seems to be cool taking milk from whatever I put in front of his nose. I’m going to keep my fingers crossed that he doesn’t suddenly change his mind…

  4. During M’s first doctor’s visit, just 4 days after he was born, we found out that his weight went from 7 lbs, 1 ounce to 5 lbs and change. In short, he lost too much weight to the point that his pediatrician essentially commanded us to find a lactation consultant on the day after Christmas or risk being ordered back into the hospital. We were crushed. I’m sure I told you about my breakdown in front of the unlucky lactation nurse on duty that day.

    From then on, whether or not M was getting enough milk was the only thing on my mind. So we upped the ante, feeding every two hours, meticulously noting every feeding on my breastfeeding diary, logging in at least 10 feedings a day on the low end, but always shooting for 12. I had M for at least 20 minutes on each breast for each feeding, doing everything that I could to keep him awake and nursing (while I tried desperately not to pass out myself).

    In short, it was rough. But just when I thought I couldn’t go one more day at such a crazy pace, something happens–a good report from his pediatrician or some words of encouragement from my lactation consultant–that allowed me to nurse like crazy for one more day. Then, without me noticing (and sooner than I thought), M found his pace and things became, well, not so crazy. Yes, there were many bumps on the road (Did I mention I just got over my THIRD bout of mastitis?) but I know now that it was all well worth it.

    As for the question of milk supply, pumping should help keep it up, but if Aleksi is nursing so frequently, supply should stay up anyway. I was told to pump for no more than 10-12 mins. so as not to overstimulate milk production, and usually in the mornings. I took lecithin and acidophilus too.

    As for the traveling, flying is the best option since you can nurse anytime during the flight. I prefer a window seat to limit my exposure. I would have asked to be seated next to a woman too but I was lucky to have an empty seat next to me both times M and I flew. Consider bringing your Boppy onboard, especially if he’s flying on your lap (check everything else!). For the car ride, feeding from a bottle should save you a couple of stops, but from the feel of your boobs after a few skipped feedings, you will want to stop and nurse from the tap.

    M is still nursing about every two to three hours during the day but he’s more efficient at it now so it takes a lot less time to complete a feeding. I just started introducing “solid” food to him. He liked the rice cereal last week. The peas this week, not so much. And the spoon, that he loves 🙂

    • Baby goes to the doctor tomorrow, so we’ll see what the pediatrician says about his weight. That’ll probably be the best indication of whether what I’m doing is working right. He seems to be growing. I’m noticing that some of his newborn outfits are getting a bit tight already. But what do I really know? I’ve never done this before. 🙂

      Thanks so much for sharing your story. I’m so impressed that you totally persevered after all that, especially the third bout of mastitis. Fortunately my pump has a car adapter so I figure that I might get away with a few less stops between being able to pump on the go and feed baby from a bottle. I have a feeling I’m going to be happy next month to be flying back to NC for the hubster’s graduation, even if baby’s gear costs me a fortune at the baggage check counter. And note taken on the Boppy. That thing goes everywhere with me. I think I need to buy another one, so I don’t have to drag it around with me all day.

  5. I have mastitis again now 😦 And they think it might be MRSA 😦 😦 Been told to stop breastfeeding altogether…

    You might also consider getting a waterproof cover for your Boppy. Mine looks clean on the surface, but the cushion itself is horribly stained with “accidents.”

    Have fun at home!

    • Ugggh… that doesn’t sound good at all. My sympathies. 😦 You have so persevered through all the nonsense and been a huge inspiration for me to keep going. Thanks also for the Boppy cover suggestion; we just had a rather nasty accident yesterday that very easily could’ve stained the actual pillow and the cover.

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