The Breastfeeding Diaries: Holly from The Mile High Mom

April 9, 2014

Hi, I’m Holly Charles. I am wife to Scott and mom to Brooklyn and Bronx. I teach elementary music (K-5) and blog at The Mile High Mom for fun. I love to plan and execute holiday-themed photo-shoots of my children. I live to make every day special for them.

Here is my family and my breastfeeding story (with some of my journey as a mom thrown in too).

When I was pregnant with my daughter (after years of infertility and various fertility treatments), I had every intention of breastfeeding for her first year of life. I was prepared for sleepless nights, shower-less days, and everything else that goes along with being a new parent. I was ready for my world to change. I was not ready (or prepared) to struggle with breastfeeding. All of my new mom friends were able to breastfeed without a problem. I had not prepared myself for the possibility that I might not be able to. I experienced a lot of different issues with my daughter and new ones with my son. I am extremely excited to share my breastfeeding story because I want to encourage new moms and new moms-to-be.

 In the hospital, right after my C-Section (after two days of a failed induction), the nurses helped get Brooklyn latched. I was immediately concerned that she wasn’t getting enough from me and I was reassured by the nurses that she was getting all she needed, colostrum is all babies need, their stomachs are the size of marbles, etc. I felt that she was working really hard and not getting anything. We met with lactation consultants, used a nipple shield, etc. However, their tune changed when Brooklyn was at a 9% weight loss. It was time to supplement with formula. I was extremely upset with my body. I was supposed to be able to provide for her and I wasn’t. Where is my milk? Will it ever come in? The time quickly came to give Brooklyn formula. She needed to eat and I knew that no matter what, I wanted her to not be hungry. Was she starving for the past two days? I vividly remember lying in the hospital bed and watching Scott, my amazingly supportive husband, sitting on the couch in the hospital room, feeding the little girl he adored formula from a syringe. I was balling. I was devastated. All I could think was that I wasn’t needed. I could disappear from this sweet baby girl’s life and she wouldn’t care. She wouldn’t notice. She didn't need me. She had formula. Formula that her Daddy could feed her. (I had every intention of pumping and letting Scott feed her from a bottle to bond with her too. But at that moment, my hormones and emotions had the best of me and I couldn’t contain myself.) Scott eventually got out of me the reason why I was balling and he reassured me to the opposite, but those thoughts were still there.

When we left the hospital, I was still without milk and we were supplementing with formula. I was still “breastfeeding” her first. I say “breastfeeding” because was she getting anything from me? Or was her tiny little body just burning off calories trying to get non-existent milk? Two days later my milk was in and I was thrilled! My excitement, however, was short-lived as I realized that pumping 1 ounce from each side for 45 minutes was not the “norm.” Regardless, Brooklyn was still breastfeeding and getting formula. It felt like we were feeding her constantly. "Breastfeed," pump, bottle feed, cry. Repeat in an hour.

At about two weeks, everything changed. She starting spitting up. Excessively. She would spit-up everything she ate - she would be covered. At this point, we were going to the Dr. for weight checks pretty much every other day. Brooklyn just wasn’t not gaining weight, she was losing weight. Our Dr. was very concerned. She called us after hours to see how Brooklyn was. We tried everything - slowed her feed, kept her upright, a million burps, a million nipples and bottles. Nothing worked. She still spit-up. Nothing affected it or changed it. We made the decision to stop feeding her from the boob so we could record exactly how much we were giving her, whether it was breast milk or formula. One Sunday, we called our Dr. because she had spit-up more than ever after every feed. She told us to take Brooklyn to Children’s Hospital. After a round of tests, they admitted her (and us) for the night so she could be the first one to have an ultrasound in the morning and because they wouldn’t let us leave since she had lost weight while we were there. They checked us into a room, gave me a breast pump to use, diapers, wipes, and formula for Brooklyn. They gave us Similac Sensitive.

Wouldn’t you know it? She kept down pretty much every drop of Similac Sensitive. In the morning, she had gained weight, her tests were clear, and we were sent home with orders to keep giving her Similac Sensitive. I kept asking if she could have a dairy intolerance and as she was not showing any of those signs, I was told no. I kept pumping to store milk for her with the hope that one day she would be able to have breast milk again. I was hoping that she would quickly grow out of whatever her intolerance was and she would be able to have breast milk. Even if it wasn’t directly from my boob, I wanted to her to have breast milk. With Similac Sensitive, Brooklyn started to gain weight, not a lot, but she was no longer losing weight.

 After another two weeks, she started excessively spitting up again to the point where weight gain stopped. We, under our pediatrician’s recommendation, tried Similac Sensitive for Spit-Up, then Soy, then finally Alimentum. It seemed that a formula would work for about two weeks and then it would stop. She was on Alimentum, the most broken-down (and expensive) formula you can buy. (The same exact formula I had to be on as a baby, but it was prescription-only back then.) Brooklyn was gaining weight and started to fill out. At her two month appointment she was in the third percentile.

Meanwhile, I was pumping every 3 hours to keep my milk supply (if you can call it that) in case she could have it again and to store milk for her. I would pump for 45 minutes at a time and I would get out 10ml (a third of an ounce) total out of both boobs. At my 6 weeks appointment, my Dr. (also Brooklyn’s pediatrician) told me to stop. I needed to stop pumping. I was torturing myself. And I was. Physically. And mentally. It was a huge relief to stop. And, what felt like, a huge fail.

Brooklyn had always been a wonderful sleeper. But due to her weight issues, we were told to wake her up and not let her go more than 4 hours without eating. At her two month appointment, we were told we could let her sleep through the night. And she slept 12 hours. I remember sitting next to her and watching for 3 of those hours with a bottle, ready to go. Things started getting better. I was no longer pumper and I was sleeping more. She was eating well and gaining weight. She still spit-up, but not to the point where she wasn’t gaining weight. She started to thrive. I had ounces full of milk in the freezer and a baby who wanted nothing to do with them. More importantly though, I had a healthy and happy baby. (I later realized that the desire for her to have breast milk was more for me, than her.)

My story didn’t just end there. I still have an enormous about of guilt over this. I feel like I failed. I took the year off of working to bond with my baby. I had the time to breastfeed. Yes, I know in my mind that I did everything I could, but in my heart it still feels like I failed my baby. I wasn’t able to provide for her in the way I wanted. I’ve watched so many breastfeed without an issue. Why can’t that be me? I so longed to just be able to breastfeed her and to know she was getting what she needed.

 I was ashamed to mix a formula bottle in front of friends and strangers in public. I would hide it, make my husband feed her, or feed her in the car. I was ashamed. Ashamed that I wasn’t able to breastfeed her. Yes, I did lots of research and I found out that women who used Clomid to get pregnant, women with PCOS, women who had C-Sections, women who had traumatic birth experiences, etc. all had trouble making milk. That was me. I wasn’t able to make enough milk. I just didn’t have milk. And even if I did, Brooklyn couldn’t tolerate it. I went dairy-free and tried to eliminate everything possible from my diet and she still spit it up. Spit it up to the point where she wasn’t thriving. "Failure to thrive" are words no parent wants to hear.

Today, my sweet little baby girl is in the 89th percentile for weight. (As I write this, she is running around with a stuffed fox in her hand, held by its tail, a purse on her shoulder filled with her phones, and a straw cup of whole milk in the other, all while babbling and giggling to herself.) She is a wonderful eater who loves food. She didn’t miss any milestones not having breast milk. She excelled. Brooklyn is an extremely happy baby - our friends tell us they’ve never seen her not smiling. And it's true. She's always happy, very healthy, a great eater, and an amazing sleeper. What else could a parent ask for? She is the light of our lives and I when I’m with her, I forget about my "failure." (A "failure" that still creeps into my "Mommy guilt" thoughts at night.) I may have failed at breastfeeding her, but I know I’m the opposite of failing her as a mother.

One positive thing I’d like to note, at around 7 months she was able to go from Alimentum to Similac Sensitive and at around 9 months she was able to drink all the breast milk that I had stored for her in the freezer! Woo hoo!! It wasn’t a lot, but I was so happy that she was able to have it. (I would have cried if I had to throw all that milk that took me hours, about three times the normal amount of time, in the trash.)
Even though she is 17 months old, I still feel guilty for not being able to breastfeed her (or provide breast milk). There will always be this sense of shame that I have. I "failed." Did I, really? I love her more than life itself. We have a wonderful time playing together and making memories. I love making every day special & fun for her. Is this "failing?" I think not. Moms who can’t breastfeed deserve our support. They shouldn’t feel shame or guilt when mixing a formula bottle in public (like I did).

 All I want is the best in the world for Brooklyn. Isn't that what every parent wants? At the end of the day, all that matter is that she is healthy and happy, and sometimes us Moms lose sight of that, the big picture. If I could do it all over again would I change anything? Absolutely not. Except one thing, I’d hold my sweet little tiny newborn baby more - because now she’s a toddler on the go who is way too busy for hugs and kisses from her Mommy.
Fast forward to being pregnant with Baby #2. This was a huge surprise as we were told by some of the top fertility doctors in the country that we would never get pregnant naturally. My husband (and some friends) asked if I was going to "try" breastfeeding again. I still had guilt from my experience with Brooklyn. Guilt that was turned quickly to jealousy and anger any time I heard a someone brag about how much milk they have. That question bothered me, as I felt it had the implication that I gave up too easily or that I didn’t try hard enough. My husband (who is one of the most supportive men I’ve ever met) reassured me that he was fine with my decision, either way. I gave it some thought and decided that I would, “try again.” Toward the end of the pregnancy I started to have dreams of breastfeeding and I was hopeful that things would be more successful this time - I would actually have milk and the baby wouldn’t have an intolerance for it. I started to do some research about second pregnancies and milk production in natural vs. clomid, and I became hopeful. Bronx was born on February 5, 2014 and as usual, the first feeding was within the first hour.

Breastfeeding the second time around seemed to be better in the hospital. I felt like I had more colostrum, his latch was better, and he seemed content afterward. Or at least initially. We saw lactation consultants again and this time, I was not going to wait for a high percentage of weight loss to start formula. When my milk wasn’t in on day 3 and my colostrum was disappearing, we started to supplement. I was given an SNS system which allows babies to get formula from a tube that’s placed on your nipple, which encourages them to continue to latch and suck on your nipple. I loved the SNS - I think it’s a great way to practice breastfeeding while providing your baby with nourishment. We left the hospital on the SNS hopeful that my milk would come in. (The SNS required my husband’s participation as you need about 4 hands to do this.) Sure enough, the day after we got home, I had milk. I had way more than the first pregnancy. Cue {hesitated} excitement.

Fast forward to today, Bronx is 6 weeks old. He is on breast milk only! (The nurse wanted us to supplement with formula as it is higher in calories, but he spits it up more than breast milk, so we decided to stop.) We weigh him twice a week to ensure that he is gaining weight because he does spit-up a lot (not as much as Brooklyn, but more than “normal”). That being said, we need to be sure that he is gaining weight. Because of this, Bronx is primarily fed from a bottle. I pump 6-8 times a day. He is breastfed about 1-2 times a day. The other times are from a bottle (even when I’m home). Yes, I feed him breast milk from a bottle. Why? Because I need peace of mind knowing how many ounces he receives. (And I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to breastfeed in public.) When he breastfeeds I have no idea how much he actually gets. I know, check for wet diapers, poops, satisfied looks, etc. But at the end of each feed, I still wonder, “How much did he eat?” So…I need to know - hence the bottles. I am just thrilled that he is drinking breast milk.

Why is it different with him? Is it because I conceived him naturally vs. clomid? Is it because my body didn’t go through an induction and a crash before the C-Section? Is it because it’s the second baby? I have no idea. I don’t want to say that the second time was more “successful” because that implies it wasn’t with Brooklyn.

Breastfeeding will always be a sensitive topic for me. I’ve watched so many of friends have a wide variety of experiences (all easier than mine). However, I want to share my story. I feel very strongly about this. I’m tired of being shamed for giving Brooklyn formula. Formula is not the enemy. What would happen to babies like Brooklyn who had an intolerance for breast milk and whose moms didn’t have enough? I don’t even want to think about it. Now, with Bronx, I’m getting about 4-5 ounces total during each pump session. I have a good amount stored in the freezer. How long will I have a milk supply? I have no idea. I am very superstitious about this. I make a huge effort to drink a ton of water (I already drink a ton, so now I drink two tons) and eat enough. I’m scared my milk will disappear. Scared. However, this time, I will handle it differently (hopefully much less crying). My goal is to provide him with breast milk (even if it’s through exclusively pumping) for a year. I’d be thrilled with six months. Truthfully, I’d be thrilled with as long as I can.

I am no expert on breastfeeding, far from it. I just have what I’ve experienced. I know one thing though, breast milk has nothing to do with what kind of a mother you are. Despite my feelings of guilt, I need to focus on the fun moments, and all the moment in between, with my two beautiful healthy and happy babies. I want their lives to be filled with so much love & happiness. All moms need a reminder now and then that we are doing the best we can and that’s perfect. “You have enough. You are enough. You do enough.” Yes, easier said than done; but this is a goal of mine, to focus on the positive. And to kiss & hug my babies more, because I’ll blink and they won’t be babies anymore.

Be sure to catch up with the rest of the Breastfeeding Diaries at the top of my navigation bar. If you would like to contribute your story to the series, please email me at thegirlintheredshoes @ gmail

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8 Responses to “The Breastfeeding Diaries: Holly from The Mile High Mom”

  1. Holly - thank you for sharing your story! Even though my daughter is over 4 months old now, I still need and love to hear experiences like yours. Our situation was VERY similar... c-section, didn't produce much at all and she lost over a pound in the hospital, milk protein intolerance. My daughter also went on Alimentum when she was 2 weeks old (and still is - and thriving!). My breastfeeding journey didn't last long, and it still stings... but I'm at the point now where I'm grateful that I was able to enjoy my time with her and feeding her anyway. You're so right - breast milk has nothing to do with how much you love your child or whether you're a good mom. I no longer hide filling a bottle with formula in public. This is what's best for my girl. The end.

    So hopeful that our next time around goes well like yours has! Your little ones are so adorable!

  2. I'm so confused about something. She says she was ashamed to feed her daughter a bottle of formula in public and then goes on to say she doesn't think she will ever be ready to breastfeed in public. Is there anything left without shame? Babies have to eat one way or another. Why all the shame?

  3. Jen- Thank you SO much for your comment!! Our situations are very similar. Brooklyn is now 17 months old & I still love/need reading similar stories too. I'm so glad that my story connected with you (as yours just did with me) - it means a lot to hear that. Yes, it still stings (and will always a little bit) but has nothing to do with whether you're a good mom. Well said!! Keep up the good work, mama! :)

    Emily- I'm not ashamed to breastfeed in public. Successfully breastfeeding is new to me with Baby #2, that's all. Just a new experience I'm not sure I'm ready for quite yet. Thanks for reading!


  4. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I conceived on clomid due to PCOS and wasn't aware that could cause a decrease or lack of milk. It explains a lot. My sister is a milk machine and I was always so upset when I couldn't produce as much as her. I tried so many things to increase my supply, wore myself out doing this. He also had some sort of intolerance so I had to eliminate dairy, soy, eggs and nuts from my diet. I was able to nurse my son until he was 7 months and then had a stock to last him until 9 months. However, I still feel the shame when I buy formula. I know it is ridiculous but I usually send my husband to the store to buy it or cover it up in my cart - I feel like all the other mothers are judging me and assume I was too lazy or didn't care enough about my child to breastfeed him longer. I would have liked to nurse longer but we are trying for number 2 and had to go back on clomid so I had to stop. At the end of the day, I have to be thankful for my healthy son and not care of the shame of formula:) thanks again for sharing. it's nice to know there are other mothers out there with similar stories.

  5. Thank you so much for commenting. My daughter was a climid baby (due to PCOS as well) and my son was not a clomid baby. I noticed a huge difference in my milk supply! That's wonderful you were able to nurse him so long! (That's much longer than I made it with Brooklyn.) I really appreciated reading your story, thank you for sharing. Us Mamas need to support each other more. Keep up the good work & good luck getting pregnant again! :)

  6. Holly- I am glad to hear that. :) I live in Austria where breastfeeding in public is perfectly normal and welcomed which makes it so nice for all involved. I encourage you to just go for it. Once you have mastered it, you can do it so discretely, even without a cover, that most people won't even realize that's what you're doing. I find it's all about wearing the right kind of top- always with a cami underneath and if need be a light blanket or something at hand that you can use to just cover as you feel needed. I'm glad that you're having an easier experience this time around. That's great!! It's always good to hear those kind of stories. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  7. Oh, Holly. I am giving you a big ol' internet hug. You have done a wonderful job for both of your beautiful kids. I'm sorry your breastfeeding story hasn't gone according to plan, but your mothering story is perfect because you are giving them just what they need: nourishment and love. Keep up the awesome work! ~DeNae

  8. Emily - I'm glad we cleared that up! :) Thanks for your suggestions. I'll give the cami idea a try. Thanks!

    DeNae - Thank you SO much for your kind words and support. I greatly appreciate your encouragement & hug. Thank you!

    I'd like to thank everyone for reading my story. I'm so glad I took the leap and shared my story! :)


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