When I was pregnant with my first daughter in 2012 I knew I wanted to breastfeed. It wasn’t “if I can” or “I’ll try it”, it was “I am going to breastfeed”. Before she was born I knew about tongue ties, there is a strong family history and I knew it might make breastfeeding a bit harder but I was going to persevere and get through.
Of course, when she was born in December 2012 she was assessed for ties straight away and our breastfeeding journey was off to a rocky start. She couldn’t latch and I was crying in the hospital because all I wanted to be able to do was feed her, then a midwife offered me a bottle of formula.
We went home from hospital still intending to exclusively breastfeed, nipple shields in hand to keep her latched and an appointment at the tongue tie clinic booked. At one week old, she was weighed and had lost 10% of her birth weight, no worries, that’s normal. A few days later she was weighed and she had lost more, then again, a few days later. She was lethargic and her jaundice was not going away. We started supplementing. I hadn’t heard of supply lines then so we gave her bottles. Her tongue ties were corrected at 3 weeks old and now she could latch but she preferred the bottle. I later learned about upper lip ties and posterior tongue ties. Slowly but surely, she developed more of a preference for the bottle. We stopped breastfeeding all together at 6 weeks old.
In August 2014, I got pregnant with my second daughter. This time I was determined, I knew more, I knew the facts this time. Topping up was the devil and most women can exclusively breastfeed without a problem. Only 2% of women can’t, I had good support, this time I would be successful.
She was born mid-May and of course, tongue tied, this time I knew about tie correction with the laser and her ties were lasered at 5 weeks old. At one week old, she had lost 12% of her birth weight, we started supplementing. This time the lactation consultant at the hospital told me about supply line breastfeeding, where the milk goes in a bottle or syringe attached to a tube and the tube goes against the nipple. This way baby gets the milk they need while still being on the breast.
We started out by using 20ml syringes attached to a cannula tube with donated breastmilk from a lovely friend. It was hard. My daughter was still tongue-tied at this point and she was tired. She was always full of wind and in pain. I put so much pressure on myself to breastfeed. I was taking domperidone and fenugreek, drinking tons of water and pumping around the clock to try and increase my supply. A wonderful friend gifted me her Medela SNS and we started using it as much as possible. I was so sure I was doing something so wrong. We continued pumping and feeding, feeding and pumping. At 5 weeks old, we were no longer able to get donor milk so introduced formula. Her ties were corrected and I thought for sure things would turn around now. For another 3 weeks, I pumped and pumped and supply line fed and pumped. I never got more than 20mls in a pumping session and that was in between feeds.
When she was 8 weeks old I couldn’t do it anymore. I stopped taking domperidone and fenugreek and decided to pump what I could and give her bottles of breast milk when I could and formula when I couldn’t. I felt like the biggest failure in the world. After a couple of days of pumping, I started offering her the breast again before bottles. I stopped pumping again and decided just to mix feed until she weaned from the breast. This happened when she was 4 months old. I was satisfied at that time that I had done the best I could.
A month later I found out I was 8 weeks pregnant. This time I needed a better plan. It seemed that exclusive breastfeeding was not something that was going to happen for me and I needed to be ok with that, (to be honest I’m still not sure I am ok with it). I still had the supply line from my friend and decided that this time instead of looking at it as a temporary tool it was going to be a long-term part of our breastfeeding journey. I learned as much about supply line breastfeeding as I could (there isn’t a lot of information out there) and decided to make some short and long-term goals. This time I was going in with the expectation that exclusively breastfeeding would look different for us, we needed this extra tool but we were doing it!
I felt prepared for my son to need more than what I could give and this time I was going to be ok with it. I collected donated breastmilk while I was pregnant and had a nice stash when my son was born. I decided not to introduce supplements immediately, I would feed him for as long as I could until he needed more than what I could give. That happened at 2 weeks old. His wet nappies started to happen less and he was falling asleep at the breast before finishing a feed. He’s ties had been corrected at one week old and were healing nicely, he’s latch was perfect and he was feeding well but he still wasn’t getting enough.
At 2 weeks old, he had his first supply line feed. He took 30ml and had a great sleep and woke up a couple of hours later with enough energy to have another good feed. From there the supply line was a part of every feed. We have had some rough patches. Scrubbing the supply line at 4 am because I forgot to wash it and fill it back up before I went to bed. Hoping the hungry screaming baby wasn’t going to wake his 2 sisters while the milk warmed up a bit.
I’ve had broken bottles and broken tubing, I’ve had people ask me why I don’t just give him a bottle. I have cursed the fact that I need something extra at 3 am in the morning when if I could exclusively breastfeed I wouldn’t have had to get out of bed for baby’s middle of the night feed. I’ve had spilled donor milk and milk accidentally left out. I’ve had to defend myself and my parenting to strangers on the internet when I put myself out there and ask for or accept offers of donated breastmilk. I’ve had people do a double take when they first notice us breastfeeding in public and then notice the bottle sitting on my shoulder.
I’ve also had the beautiful moment of watching my sweet little boy’s eyelids get heavier and heavier until he can’t hold them open anymore and sleep wins out when he is at the breast. I’ve had the moment when your eyes tear up and a lump comes to your throat because you look down and your baby is looking up at you with so much love that you are overcome with emotion. I’ve had little old ladies stop when they see me feeding with the supply line in public and ask me what it is and the purpose of it, just for them to sadly say that they wished there was something like this in their day.
I’ve driven around to 10 different houses in one day to collect donor milk ranging from 100ml to 20litres, I’ve estimated that by 12 months old we will have used approximately 150L of donated breastmilk, selflessly given by mum’s who have spent hours attached to a pump, just so my baby could have breastmilk.I could not have done this without the support of my partner and my friends. I have also had great support from the group supply line breastfeeders in
I could not have done this without the support of my partner and my friends. I have also had great support from the group supply line breastfeeders in Australia, they are a wealth of information on the topic and have been invaluable to me.
When we began this journey my first goal was to get to 3 months of donor milk and supply line breastfeeding, we smashed the 3-month goal, then the 6-month goal. Now I am sitting here writing this while my 11-month-old baby sleeps after having his last feed of the day (who am I kidding, he’ll probably have 3 comfort feeds overnight) with donated breast milk in the supply line. He has never had formula and I have never given him a bottle (he has had the odd bottle when I have had to be away from him, I could count on 2 hands how many times that has been). In 11 days, my last baby will be one and I can proudly say we are still breastfeeding.
This journey has been hard, this journey has been healing but most of all this journey has been happy. I will continue to breastfeed my baby until he weans but once the donor milk we have in the freezer runs out we will no longer use the supply line. Reflecting on the past 12 months, I wouldn’t change a thing, well, except to be able to exclusively breastfeed.