My first breastfeeding journey
Here we covered: latching after an extended NICU stay, using nipple shields, switching from bottle to breast at 2mo old, relactating (and relatching) at 5-6mo old, oversupply, no supply, low supply, latch issues, exclusively pumping for months, breastfeeding while pregnant, nursing while working fulltime, nursing and supplementing (with donor milk)
My second journey included: many cluster feeds, extreme oversupply in the early days, clogged ducts, and a slight tongue tie that resolved by 4mo old
How I started:
Since before I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed my children on demand as long as they needed it, I envisioned around 2+ years. My firstborn ended up being born 8 weeks early and staying in the NICU for 3 full weeks. He had his cord clamped fairly quickly and was on the breast for less than a minute before being whisked away to the NICU. The nurses gave me various excuses of why I couldn't even hold him for the first three days of life and breastfeeding was out of the question - he was on a feeding tube for over a week, too weak to suck/swallow from even a fast flow bottle. My doula, Joyce, knew of my intention to breastfeed and immediately got to helping me establish a solid pumping routine. Every time I visited my baby, I had a bottle of pumped milk for him which the nurses put into his tube, then syringe, and later, fast flow bottle. When he went home at 3 weeks old we had 90oz of my bagged/bottled breastmilk with us, a baby that only latched on once (unsuccessfully), and has been chugging fast flow bottles for the past week. At this point I started looking for help to latch him on and get him off bottles. Joyce recommended several lactation consultants to me and I was able to quickly connect to one that was able to help me right away.
Our journey started: It took until baby was 3months old almost to the day for us to finally stop topping off breastfeeding sessions with pumped bottles due to a combination of him being too weak/sleepy for a long while to get efficient at nursing, learning to latch, and weaning him off the bottle preference. I went back to work fulltime when he was 4months old and was by now only taking 1 bottle a week when I left him alone with my husband for a few hours - the rest was purely breastfeeding on demand. I was away from him 730am - 630pm Monday - Friday from that point on and we had no trouble readjusting yet again to a new feeding arrangement. I pumped every 3hrs at work and he took bottles when I was away. When I was home he nursed freely.
We got thrown off: When he was a little past 5months old, I had sudden brain surgery. Everything was completely fine until the day I got sick and immediately admitted to the hospital where surgery was scheduled two days later. The medication I was put on cut off my entire milk supply within 24hrs. All my baby ever had until this point was my milk, and since we were approaching the half year mark with over 500oz of milk in my freezer, I had just donated over half of it a few days prior to this incident. I spent the next few weeks in the hospital, with my husband helping me continue pumping every 3-4hrs around the clock, getting not a drop, while my baby was at home quickly making his way through the left over supply. By the time I got home, I was getting maybe a drop a day and my 6mo old baby was on donor milk with no interest in the breast and not yet on solids.
Relactating: I remembered my goal, reading that relactation was indeed possible, and reached out to my lactation consultant again. We started the process of putting a 6mo old baby (now exclusively bottle fed for over a month) onto the breast. I was not ready to wean after only 5months! It was much harder than when we did this at 3weeks old and all the support I had - especially from my husband, doula, and midwife who I still kept in touch with - was crucial. Soon as I stopped my medication, I started getting my milk back. 6 weeks post surgery (and 2weeks post meds) I was getting 1oz/day and baby was tolerating being latched on and started trying to nurse again.
Getting somewhere: When he was 7mo old we nursed almost exclusively at night, throughout the day (while supplementing with a lot of donor milk still), and I had to go back to work. My baby became my priority at this point and I decided the most I'd do is go back part time. With that arrangement, I was able to get up to mostly nursing when we were together but when we were apart (M-W, 730am-630pm) I couldn't pump enough and had to continue supplementing.
I got stuck: I was able to nurse on demand by 8mo old and pump enough to get baby through me working Monday & Tuesday but Wednesday was donor milk day. No matter what I did I couldn't get past that supply plateau. Among other reasons, I finally decided to stop going to the office at this time (I worked from home part time instead) and we were back to exclusively my breastfeeding - no more donor milk, no more pumping - though his growing interest in solids at this point definitely helped with me being able to keep up.
The result: I was able to continue nursing him on demand until he self weaned at 18mo old when I was about 20weeks pregnant with his younger brother! Now at 3.5yrs old he still will (rarely) ask for "mama milk" if he's not feeling well - but wants it in a bottle.