"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes-and ships-and sealing-wax-
Of cabbages-and kings-
And why the sea is boiling hot-
And whether pigs have wings."

- The Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carrol
(From Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Supply and Demand

Since I am a marketer, I'm very comfortable with the notion of supply and demand.  In business terms, I know how it can impact pricing, market competition, brand prestige.  But I am struggling with the concept on a personal level these days.

And this is where I must insert a disclaimer.  This blog is about breastfeeding.  I've put off writing on the subject for as long as I could mostly because I'm sort of uncomfortable with "letting it hang out" so to speak.  But after a lot of thought, I've come to the realization that you can't really have a blog about the ups and downs of being a new mom without talking about breastfeeding at some point.  And talking about breastfeeding means talking about boobs.  That's right.  BEWWBBSS.  So, if this subject makes you uncomfortable, or squirmy, or if you don't think you can look me in the eye again after reading it, I suggest you stop reading now.


Point of no return.

Right here.

Last chance.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Okay, then.  I'll start by saying I'm a fan of breastfeeding.  Abbey took to nursing right away, and though we struggled a bit in the beginning with positioning (a C-section makes finding a comfortable position for mom and baby a little trying) and latch, Abbey is a pro, and I do enjoy nursing.  It's a special connection.  A lovely bond.  It's also pretty awesome that I can make everything that my baby needs nutritionally and give it to her.  Nature is cool that way. 

While breastfeeding is one of the most natural things in the world to do, pumping...not so much.  Within hours of Abbey being born, my nurses in the hospital had me on the pump.  The first time I pumped was in front of my husband.  Awkward.  Yep, that's the word that pretty much sums it up.  It's not exactly the sultry picture one would like to impress upon their spouse.  But we both got over it pretty quickly.  Immediately, however, I became obsessed with my supply.  I sent my mother-in-law off to find herbal supplements - contraband in the hospital to be sure - that are known to help boost supply and bring the milk in.  I pumped several times a day while in the hospital - sometimes producing, sometimes not.  But I stuck with it.  I took my fenugreek.  Returning home, I drank that Guinness.  I believe that all of these measure helped me to build a healthy supply of breast milk.  I started stock-piling early.  I was so impressed with myself.  I would hold up the storage containers full of milk, showing them to Scott.  "Look what I can do!" 

Then, I got lazy.  Not lazy.  Tired.  All that pumping and nursing is hard work.  It makes me hungry.  And THIRSTY.  And sleepy.  And dammit, a nursing mom once in a while needs a freakin' break.  So I stopped pumping and nursed exclusively one day proclaiming that tomorrow, I would pump.  But I didn't.  I kept putting it off.  For weeks.  Until I realized that the end of my maternity leave was looming, the Nanny was starting work, and the baby needed some milk.  So, I started pumping every night before bed - just once a day - which would yield just two ounces.  It wasn't a lot, but it added up, and so far, it's been enough.  Abbey was getting enough milk through nursing, we had extra on hand for the nanny.  If I missed a nursing session, I'd pump instead.  All of this working to keep my supply up - abundant. 

But now that I'm back to work, it's all become so much more challenging.  Now I see why so many moms stop breastfeeding at this point.  It's tricky.  Originally, I naievely thought, "okay, Abbey eats every 2 - 2.5 hours.  So, I will pump every 2 - 2.5 hours."  Sounds reasonable, no?  No.  Because a work day just doesn't work that way.  Meetings go long.  People intrude on your office.  Phone calls pop up.  My first day back, I went into the office for four hours - plus a 45 minute commute both ways.  I should have pumped three times - I only got two in.  And I was really, really trying.  I also had to pump in front of my assistant since we share a workspace, and I'm pretty sure I horrified her even though I asked her repeatedly if she was uncomfortable with the idea and did my best to cover up as much as I could.  I just didn't have a choice - there was no where else to go.  Awkward doesn't begin to describe.  Luckily, for the time being, I'll only be in the office once a week at the most.  Probably even less.  It'll be easier at home, right?

Not necessarily.  Not wanting to nurse at every feeding (at 20 minutes a feeding, that would add up in Nanny pay), I decided to try nursing every other feeding, and let the nanny bottle feed when not nursing.  When Abbey gets a bottle, I'll pump.  We'll stick to schedule, I'll get some nursing time in (I do love it), and all will be well, right?  Not realistic.  Because nursing leads to rocking, or diaper changes, or just not wanting to let your baby go.  The hand off is tough.  And the schedule just didn't gel.  The pumping wasn't as fruitful, and all of the interruptions made it hard to keep on track with work. 

Breast milk is all about supply and demand.  You have to get it out of the boobs before your body will make more.  That means lots of nursing or pumping.  The less you do either of these, the less you produce.  That's when I begin to get anxious and panic and questions swirl in my head.  Questions like, What if I can't pump enough?  What if all the bottle feeding causes early weaning?  What if we have to supplement with formula?  What if I can't get enough time in to pump and my supply decreases?  What if, what if, what if?  And how.  How the hell am I going to make this work? 

And the answer:  I don't know.  As I write this, I'm pumping.  I'm taking multitasking to a new level.  I've got about three ounces, and I'm shooting for five.  That, plus what I have in the fridge will get us through the day with enough milk for the Nanny's bottle feedings without having to tap into the stock pile in the freezer - maybe a little extra.  I'm back on the herbs, and the Guinness, and I feel a bit like a cow at the moment.  Everything I've read suggests that you should breast feed your baby for a year.  I'm giving it my best shot.  But it ain't easy. 


  1. It's not easy at all. I am almost done breastfeeding at this point (Hannah will be 6 months next week). I pumped 3 times a day, 5 days a week at work for 3+ months and it is exhausting. And frustrating. Hannah started getting formula once a day in December because she was eating more than I was producing (and blew through the freezer stash). It also takes some time for your body to adjust to you pumping instead of nursing so it will happen. Hang in there!

  2. Sweetie, at the end of the day you guys have to figure out what is best for the both of you, your schedules, and your sanity! Don't pressure yourself to be perfect and live up to standards in a book- they aren't standards, they are just guidelines. New moms beat themselves up too much- you are doing an amazing, fantastic job! That little girl is happy as a clam and growing so quickly. You are doing everything right and at the end of the day, if you have to supplement, supplement. Abbey will continue to be a happy girl because she's got a happy mommy!

  3. I nursed for 13 months, which was as long as my supply lasted. My son never took a bottle though...so even with all the pumping, I was full time nursing. It IS exhausting, I feel for you Irene! Keep at it, you are doing great!!!