Monday, August 6, 2012

My breastfeeding story- It's not all about the milk

In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I thought I'd talk a little bit about my experience with breastfeeding.

While I was pregnant I had this image in my head of the kind of mama I was going to be.  The earthy, crunchy, attachment parent who gives birth with no meds, co-sleeps, babywears, and exclusively breastfeeds.

I was a little scared about breastfeeding.  My breast are shaped kinda funny, pretty small, and are two very different sizes.  I went to a midwife group and asked one about making enough milk and got the stock- most women make enough, small breast don't mean you wont make enough answer.  Another midwife in the practice later in my pregnancy told me my nipples were great for breastfeeding... which I thought was a hilarious statement. I calmed down a bit.

Well I had my amazing natural birth, immediate skin contact with the munchkin, and he latched on pretty soon after he was born.  The hospital LC poked her head in, said we looked fine and went on her merry way.  My midwife checked on us the next morning and watched him latch on... and it was the first time anyone in the practice commented on the shape of my breasts... she asked if they had always been two different sizes.  I replied yes, she didn't say anything else, and I put it out of my head.  I wish I had asked a follow up question. hindsight and all.

That night, the munchkin had lost a pound and a half! The nurses were concerned and called his pediatrician who said it was within the range of normal weight loss and said we could leave the next day.  He was great, very supportive of me trying to breastfeed, and actually checked on us at the hospital twice.  We scheduled a visiting nurse for later in the week and a pediatrician appointment at the end of the week.

At the nurse visit he had stopped losing weight, but still hadn't gained anything, by the pediatrician's appointment he was still holding steady.  The doctor assured me that it was normal and that now that my milk was coming in he should start gaining. 

I fed him constantly. It seemed like he was always nursing.  I brought him to a breastfeeding support group when he was about 2 weeks old and was able to check his weight.  He had only gained about 4 ounces.  That just didn't seem right. He just seemed so skinny... but he was having wet and dirty diapers.  A few days later, my mom instincts kicked in and I called the doctor.  We brought him in, and he had still only gained a few ounces.  He was nowhere near his birth weight.  So after discussing it with the doctor we decided so start supplementing him with some formula while I saw a lactation consultant.

So I saw the lactation consultant, started pumping after feeding and in the middle of the night.  I found him an organic formula.  I tried everything to boost my supply.  All the herbs, oatmeal, dark beer, prescription drugs, pumping, power pumping, etc... He started gaining with the supplementation.  But I couldn't seem to get my supply up to meet his needs.

I wanted to throw something every time I heard at a breastfeeding support group or from a lactation consultant to feed on demand, the more you take out the most you'll make, or any supplementing will just lower your supply.  Maybe that is true for most women.   I was nursing constantly and he just wasn't gaining.

I wasn't formally diagnosed with anything that "caused" my low supply, but through my own research and finding online support groups like Mothers Overcoming Breastfeeding Issues, I believe that I have IGT, Insufficient Glandular Tissue.  My breasts fit most of the classic markers of mammary hypoplasia that I'm kind of irked that no one said anything to me during my pregnancy.  I would have been more prepared from the very beginning.  I will most certainly be bringing it up with my midwife when and if I am pregnant again.

I stopped going to the breastfeeding support groups because it was too painful for me. I'd tried every suggestion given and it didn't seem to matter. I wasn't going to have the exclusive breastfeeding relationship I imagined.

There is a real grief that goes along with that realization.

I tried so hard, which is why articles like this by breastfeeding activists rile me up so much.  I understand the point she is trying to make,  but who is she to decide who tried enough? I gave my baby formula because he wasn't gaining weight and I kept at it to maintain some breastfeeding relationship.  I could have just as easily said that breastfeeding wasn't right for him.  I probably would have been a less stressed and anxious mom those first few months.  It drove me nuts that what I heard over and over on forums and at support groups is that of course women will make enough, low supply is really uncommon.  Uncommon yes, but not non-existent, and to constantly hear the rhetoric that everyone can breastfeed and that your body will make enough makes that feeling of failure and otherness even stronger.  It feels like if you tell a lactivist that you have a low-supply, they don't believe you and think you were lazy.  I also don't know how much of this is true or how much is my perception- perhaps I judged everything too harshly because in my mind I felt so guilty that my body failed my child.

But I know I can be just as judgmental.  I was struggling so much to make milk for my son that whenever I saw or heard of a mom who I thought had nice, normal looking boobs giving her baby formula I felt a twinge of anger and jealousy.  I would love to exclusively breastfeed my baby and you are just letting that opportunity pass you by because it is hard.  My rational side knows there is so much more to it than being hard... there are so many factors that make women choose to bottlefeed- from needing to go back to work, to allowing others time to bond, to lack of support, from all sorts of medical issues.  It's not as simple as it just being hard... but that doesn't stop the irrational brain from being quick to judge.

Once I accepted the fact that I wasn't going to make enough, I started looking for breastmilk to give him.  I found Human Milk for Human Babies on Facebook  and through them found several amazingly generous women who shared their liquid gold with me.  I was able to give the munchkin a mostly breastmilk diet.  One good friend who had her baby a day after the munchkin was my biggest donor, and I am so grateful for her support.

I started nursing him with a Lact-Aid, so that even though I was supplementing he was still getting milk at my breast, and we were able to maintain the closeness and connection that breastfeeding brings.

Slowly he started to work his way back up the weight charts, and I was able to relax a bit.  Once he started solid food I was able to decrease the supplements bit by bit.  He has a great appetite and loves to eat.  He will try anything.

We are still nursing now at sixteen months.  I'm starting to get the "how long are you going to keep that up?" questions. I'm going to follow his lead.  I plan on going until at least two, unless he shows he isn't interested and then take the don't offer, don't refuse approach.

Breastfeeding isn't just about the milk... it is so much more than the nutrition.  It is a moment in the day when we get to focus on each other.  It's reassurance for him, each day there is something new, something exciting, and something challenging.  I'm there to be his home base.  A quick break, a moment of connection before running off to try the next big thing.  He knows he can always come back to me and I will be there for him.  If he gets hurt or scared, there is nothing quite like a few moments of nursing with mommy to calm the fears.

It is a chance for him and me to slow down and connect and that is an amazing thing... regardless of how much milk I have to give.


  1. Thanks so much for posting this story. My story is similar except that because I did not use a SNS (it was just never brought to my attention and was so consumed with everything else IGT related). After about 5 weeks, even though I thought we could nurse to soothe or before bed, my daughter was not interested. She had her bottle and was happy with baby wearing and co-sleeping. I was sad when she no longer was comforted at the breast, but we live and learn. With number #2 on the way we have new supplements to try and the SNS. We do our very best as we live with IGT!
    Julie in New Orleans

  2. You are one wise mama! I was milk-focused with my biological kids but when I (8 years later) decided to induce lactation and breastfeed my adopted son, I had to change my outlook. We had the best and longest breastfeeding relationship of all of my kids and it was worth the work! I did get milk--- quite a lot of it--- but it took almost 9 months before I could ditch the SNS (and still had to use it for that last bedtime feeding till 10 mos.) It isn't about the milk. It's about the relationship and that's a whole lot more important. You did GREAT. Just go into your next one with all of this filed in the back of your mind and if it is an issue next time, you're ready, you know how, and it will be just as "natural" if you need to do it the same way. It will also be a lot less stressful. :) (Our adoptive breastfeeding story is linked to my name.)

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