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Please Relax!

Pascale Jeandey
Austin, TX, USA
From: New Beginnings, Vol. 29 No. 5-6, 2009, pp. 26-27

Hector was five months old when I returned to work. We chose the nearest daycare that I was able to walk to in five minutes so I'd be able to nurse during my lunch break. This arrangement worked well until a nursing session during which Hector became upset. It seemed that my milk would not come as fast as it normally did and I noticed that I was not feeling a let-down as usual. Hector was certainly getting some milk but he quickly became impatient and started to scream. I kept on trying for several minutes, telling him to wait a little bit, but I felt tense and, knowing that there would be enough expressed milk, I stopped and had the caregiver offer him a bottle. Hector drank the three ounces in the bottle. I felt that I had not been able to provide him with enough from my breast and I was devastated.

I hoped that during my afternoon break I'd be able to pump my milk to empty both breasts. From then on, for several days, thinking about the next nursing session would scare me. As a result, sometimes my breasts just didn't work. I got some information from trusted Web sites, called my local LLL Leader, and a lactation consultant.

I eventually noticed, thanks to the pump, that the first let-down could occur without the same feeling, but still a light tension when I was paying a little attention to it. I could tell if Hector drank some milk, because he was swallowing and my breasts got softer. During the next weekend, Hector's dad gave a few bottles of expressed milk when my let-down was weak or there wasn't one. Then, with this sort of pressure gone, I pumped and was able to let down my milk while watching dad feed Hector. When I wasn't busy at work, I would keep thinking about my difficulty. I was able to pump at work most of the time I tried, but I was scared to get home and nurse Hector. Thankfully, I knew my seven-month-old little boy was still getting enough milk because I watched for the same number of wet diapers (he was not drinking any water at that time).

During the night, when I was half-asleep, nursing worked better. I learned that stress could inhibit the release of the hormone oxytocin that results in the let-down. I didn't really think I was stressed but I must have been. I certainly didn't want to wean Hector, but I felt like my body did. I felt as though my relatives were right when they said that I would not be able to breastfeed for over seven months. In the early weeks I had overcome bleeding nipples and mastitis, and I really wanted to keep on my breastfeeding journey with Hector until a self-weaning.

This worry about letting down my milk became an obsession. However, I finally figured out how to nurse successfully: I had to be physically relaxed and let my mind wander, making sure not to focus on the let-down feeling, or on Hector. What worked well was nursing with a distraction, such as while checking my emails, thinking about my next grocery shopping list, reading an exciting book, or remembering a favorite place or person in detail. Thinking about something other than let-down, milk, and nursing when you are actually breastfeeding at the time can be tough! I also found that humming, walking, or rocking very gently could help. The less I thought about nursing the faster the let-down would occur.

I still have a delayed let-down sometimes. I just have to think very hard about something else, and then Hector is swallowing! I wrote my story because I have read very little from other mothers who have experienced anything similar. As every mom who overcomes breastfeeding challenges does, I feel really proud to have persevered. Today, Hector is 15 months old and we still both love to nurse.

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