Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My Breastfeeding Journey

I've waited about a month to write this post. It's one that I felt I needed to write for myself as much as anyone else. Before we even considered trying to get pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed my children. There was no question in my mind. However, I quickly learned that in mothering our plans are not always possible and we have to make compromises. This is my breastfeeding journey.

I've always been small chested. Most people I tell this to are surprised because I typically don't look small chested. My only response to that is that I buy good bras...good padded bras. Most of my life I've hated my breasts. When I was younger I felt robbed of the ability to wear low cut tops and cute bathing suits without throwing a pair of "chicken cutlets" in the front. For this reason, I've always wanted to get a boob job, but decided it would be best to wait until after I had children so that I could nurse my sweet babes. In my mind, my petite breasts' only saving grace was the fact that size had no impact on breastfeeding. 

As my pregnancy with Clark progressed, I became concerned about my breasts. They weren't growing. One of the perks of pregnancy in my mind was that I would actually feel like I had a chest to be proud of. Apparently that wasn't going to happen. I talked to my midwife and asked her if there was a reason to worry that I wouldn't be able to breastfeed. She assured me that size had no impact on breastfeeding, and I would be fine. Plus, much of the growth that occurs in breasts happens right before and after delivery. As my due date approached, my chest stayed the same. I became more and more concerned that I wouldn't be able to provide for my son. Friends and family reassured me that I needed to trust my body, that things would work out. 

After an amazing natural, drug-free birth, I was able to nurse my son in the delivery room. He latched on like a champ. The fears that I had subsided. I continued nursing him in the hospital (looking back, it wasn't on a regular schedule--I'm not sure whose fault that was, mine or the nurses'). We went home the night after he was born. I nursed him and while he wasn't staying on for long, he was latching. Sunday night, our second night home, Clark screamed most of the night. We couldn't do anything to assuage him. The next morning, I made a pediatrician's appointment, desperate to find out what was wrong with our sweet boy. I also made an appointment with the lactation consultant at my midwife's office.

At the doctor's office Clark began screaming again. The nurse asked if we wanted to give him a bottle. I told her I did NOT want to give him formula. Our doctor came in and said she wanted to try giving Clark a half ounce of formula. She wanted to see if he was hungry or if there was something medically wrong with him. At that point I lost it. Through sobs I explained that I had spent ten months of pregnancy refraining from any drugs, chemicals, etc. I had given up caffeine, lunch meat, tuna, you name it. No part of me wanted to give my baby chemicals. Our doctor, who was also incredibly pregnant, compassionately explained that she understood. What she said next helped me get to the point that I agreed to give him the formula. She asked me if an induction had been part of my birth plan. (I'm certain she knew the answer to the question before she asked it. After all, from the other questions she had asked about my labor, delivery, vaccines, etc., it was clear that we--or at least I--was one of those hippy dippy Dr. Sears devotees.) I told her that an induction had definitely not been a part of our birth plan. She continued, "But when it was what was best for your baby, you did it. Sometimes we need to change our plans for what is best for our babies." I saw her point and agreed to give Clark the formula. I sobbed that I couldn't be the one to do it as I handed him to Michael. Clark chugged the half ounce of formula and was instantly "our son" again. He was quite and content. I cried even more when I realized that I was not able to give him what he needed. Our pediatrician recommended we supplement with 1/2-1 ounce after each nursing session. 

After Clark's appointment, we headed to the lactation consultant. During our hour and a half appointment, she watched me nurse. Clark was still latching, but she agreed that we should supplement until we were sure my milk had come in. We came up with a game plan to help with lactation. There were two supplements I would take around the clock. For each feeding, I would nurse--ideally for 15 minutes on each side, bottle feed, and pump for a minimum of ten minutes. We would check back with her on Wednesday. 

With the new routine, feedings took a minimum of one hour. Clark was eating every two hours, so that one hour when I wasn't feeding him was spent sterilizing bottles and breast pump parts, eating, or sleeping if I could. On Wednesday (Day 5), I talked to our lactation consultant again. She wanted me to pump for forty minutes (Clark would just get a bottle) and send her a picture of what I was able to get. After pumping, I had about a 1/2 tsp. of milk--from both breasts! She got the picture and called me. Based on the picture, it didn't look good. Most women's milk "comes in" by day 3 or 5. At the latest, it could come in by day 7 or 8. She asked me if I was willing to go on medication to promote lactation. I practically screamed, "Yes!" She gave me two medications to research. I was supposed to call her back after Mike and I made a decision. 

After researching the drugs while Michael ran errands, I called my sister-in-law/best friend, Becky, in hysterical tears. One of the medications was FDA approved to promote lactation, but the side effect was severe depression. The other medication, which did NOT have FDA approval for lactation, had side effects of seizures and cardiac episodes. I didn't know what to do. I didn't want anyone (myself included) to think I hadn't tried my best to nurse my son, but given my family's medical history, the side effects of each drug were terrifying. Becky said what I needed to hear, "If it were me, I wouldn't take either of them." Becky had a hard time at the beginning of her breastfeeding journey. Most women would have given up if faced with her situation, but she persevered and sixteen months later, she is still nursing my nephew. She believes in breastfeeding and she would tell me if she thought I was giving up without a fight. She ended our conversation by telling me that "Breastfeeding does not define you as a mother."

Mike echoed her recommendation when he got home saying, "I'm sure Clark would rather have a bottle and a mom who is there than one who is depressed or dead." I told our lactation consultant I wouldn't be going on medication. She told me to keep doing what I was doing, but that it was likely my milk wouldn't ever fully come in. I spent the rest of that first week making my peace with the fact that once again my breasts had failed me and talking to my mom and other good friends, Chrisanne and Jenn. Separately they each told me what Becky had earlier in the week. My definition as a mother did not come from my ability to exclusively breastfeed.

By the next week (Day 9), nothing had really changed. I stopped pumping and started nursing Clark after his bottle. (He got very frustrated at the breast when he was hungry, but latched on and would nurse for 15+ minutes after a bottle.) I decided I would not allow this change in plans to rob me of the precious first month with my son. I decided to be thankful that he transitioned so well between breast and bottle and that I had researched the best bottles for that purpose. Most importantly, I decided to not drive myself crazy. I would nurse Clark for as long as I could. I looked at our nursing sessions as being emotionally beneficial instead of nutritionally beneficial. I've come to cherish the fact that my son still wants to nurse! 

One month later, things are essentially the same. I have noticed that my supply has increased some. The other day I pumped out of curiosity to see how much I was producing and I actually got an ounce! While this is awesome because it means Clark is still getting some antibodies and nutritional benefits from our nursing sessions, there's no way I could ever exclusively breastfeed him. He typically wants to nurse before going to sleep. It calms him down and comforts him, and I am so thankful for those times.

The whole experience has taught me valuable lessons. The first is that not all women who give their babies formula choose to do so. Along the same lines, if they do make that choice, it doesn't make them horrible mothers. Motherhood, I've discovered, is really a series of voluntary or involuntary choices made because we believe those choices are what's best for our children and  they aide in our own general survival. We may look back on those choices later and wish we had chosen differently, but in the moment, we do what we believe is best for our families.

I've also discovered that there are very few resources for women who truly want to breastfeed but can't. In fact, they're almost impossible to find. Most sources (La Leche League included) assert that the inability to breastfeed only applies to 1% of women. I think that's absolute crap. I personally know at least three women who have suffered through something similar to what I have. Before I had my child, I was one of those bitches who just thought women weren't "trying" hard enough. When it happened to me, I had a new perspective. It's sad that so many women fight this battle alone and are made to feel inadequate and like lesser mothers. The best article I did find in support of women in my position acknowledges several of these facts. (It also felt like this woman reached inside my heart and put all my feelings into words.) I guess pro-breastfeeding groups are trying to remove any excuses from women who can  breastfeed and choose not to, but what they fail to see is that there is a large group of women with beliefs like theirs who are made to feel like pariahs. For those of us in that group, there's nothing we can do to change our circumstances, but we are told that our situations are essentially a result of our own selfishness or weakness. It's another instance of "Mommy Wars" and it's sickening that we tear one another down in this way.

I still struggle with feeding Clark in public, afraid that others will assume formula was my first choice. I dread being asked "Are you breastfeeding?" because my answer is anything but simple. I don't allow myself to think too much about the facts and statistics about formula I could practically recite before my son was born. I try not to focus on the pain of the fact that my body failed me. I work to move past feeling like less of a woman, and I focus on what the women in my life have told me. I am not defined as a mother by how I feed my child, but rather by how I love him, protect him, and raise him. Thank God for that. 

What was your breastfeeding journey like? Did you ever have guilt associated with feeding your child? How did you react/overcome it?


  1. You are such an amazing mother, Betty. I'm sorry it didn't work out exactly as you had hoped for. I will tell you that I breastfed both of my kids and it was 2 completely different outcomes. With my son, I had TOO much milk and with my daughter i ended up supplementing with formula.(i felt guilt initially) Your body will respond differently with each pregnancy so hopefully with your next child you will be able to nurse all the time. in the meantime, keep doing what you're doing bc there are many people out there that admire you for being wonderful. Clark will get a kick out of this blog someday :)

  2. I don't know if this post will go through but here goes:

    First of all, I think that then notion of birth plans and after birth plans do more harm than good. Yeah, it's great to know the big stuff, like do you want an epidural or not, do you want to try to breastfeed or what, but beyond that, screw it. Almost everyone ends up with a situation other than what they had envisioned because that's how life works, then all of a sudden the mom feels like she failed somehow. I didn't take any birthing classes, I had a c-section and a spinal, and I couldn't have been happier. It was an awesome delivery and I would do it again that way in a heartbeat. I'm NOT saying you or anyone else is wrong to make so many plans, but I felt bad for you when you wrote the part where you restricted yourself from so many things during pregnancy, took classes, and had a natural delivery and yet you still had this issue. I'm just trying to say that we can't plan our lives into submission.

    After the baby is born, it's great to have a preference and prepare for it, but we have to be OK if that goes haywire. I thought I was going to pump exclusively and bottle feed. Nope. The pump does not work for me for some reason, and I realized I was spending like three times the effort and time on this when I could just put her on the boobie and call it a day.

    I had Violet by c-section on a Sunday night, and she was fine in the hospital as I nursed, because by the time I left on Wednesday afternoon, she was still getting colostrum. I breastfed her all Wednesday night like I was supposed to, but got no wet diapers and she was crying a lot. We already had an appointment the next morning. The doctors said that she either she was getting no milk, or something was "wrong" with her. I hoped it was that she was getting no milk, that's for sure! They insisted we take her to the ER across the street, so we did. Thankfully James was with me to explain a lot of it. The first thing they did was give her 2 oz of formula to see if she was hungry. I was only glad they did it because if she was hungry, I WANTED HER FED. She sucked it down and two hours later we had a wet and poopy diaper, so it was my milk that had not come in yet. It basically came in that day and the next, slowly but surely, but we still supplemented with formula and still do now. I also take fenugreek and now I have a huge milk supply, but pumping still does not work so I quit that. If I do not supplement with formula, then I would never be able to go anywhere, and I could not work even the one day a week I do now. Sometimes, when we're out, hunger hits her and thankfully I can feed her easily. I'm not about to breastfeed her in public and spend 45 minutes doing it either, and no way will I force her to some schedule of eating that will only stress the both of us out. I felt the same as you at first in that I thought formula was awful and that I was the devil's handmaiden for giving it to her. But now I love supplementing with it here and there. She loves her nighttime bottle, and I can put her vitamins and a little bit of cereal in it. I still breastfeed her afterward til she falls asleep, but that is for her comfort since her favorite is when we lay down and do that before bed. Otherwise, I spend most of my day on the couch breastfeeding Violet.

  3. She is one of the happiest and healthiest babies I've ever seen, so it's hard to knock formula when that is the case.

    Unfortunately, we are in a society now where women are defining themselves (and defining others) by the choices they make as parents. It's silly and unnecessary and damaging. But, I am not above it either. If a mother is able to breastfeed but chooses not to, I have a hard time not thinking she is a selfish and lazy. If you truly, truly cannot breastfeed, then what can you do? It's all good. My mom used to volunteer for La Leche in the 70s and also cited that 1% stat. I wonder though how many formula-feeding moms out there know the stigma and made up the whole "my milk didn't come in" thing so no one would think less of them. Maybe it really is 1%or some crazy low number like that?

    Well anyway, glad you've come to terms with formula feeding. I'm sure when you see how healthy and happy Clark is after eating, you feel like you've done the right thing. What kind are you giving him, anyway? Just curious.

  4. Betty,
    As you know, my breast milk never came in as well. I had high hopes of being able to use what God gave me to provide for Reagan. Unfortunately it never happened. Yes, Reagan was an emergency C-section baby. Yes, I had an epidural. Yes, I had pitocin. I could go into detail why I had to have a C-section or why I had to have pitocin but that’s not the point.
    When Reagan was born, I tried breastfeeding her. She would still act hungry. The lactation consultant was in my room several times a day. I would get frustrated, I would cry. Finally, she suggested that I start pumping. I did and barely got anything…I mean, almost nothing. I would feed her, then pump. It was exhausting-as you know. I always felt something was off. I never had “leakage” before or after having Reagan. My breasts never grew larger once I had her. They never hardened, letting me know my milk was in. To keep my sanity, I supplemented with formula. The first few weeks are all about survival and that’s what I needed to do to survive. I remember texting Becky, crying…feeling so upset that I could do what I “thought” I was supposed to do for Reagan. Finally we went home. I continued to pump, double pump, for two hour increments. The most I ever got was 1 ounce and that was from both breasts combined!!! After two weeks and not getting any further with my milk supply, I threw in the towel. It was a very hard decision. I cried all the time about it. I still have a bit of guilt about it.

  5. After Reagan’s birth, I read a lot about why bloggers or random people believed my breast milk never came in. Many blamed the C-section, others the drugs, and many felt I was just not trying hard enough. I felt judged by not only those on the internet but by others who knew me. I know I was being judged when someone saw me pull out formula instead of my breast-when I had to say “Reagan is formula fed”. Those that judged never asked me my story. No one cared! No one supported my decision. Nope, they only passed judgment because I did not make the decision they would have. I was already feeling guilty and then I had others making me feel guiltier!!! I was very, very sad and very, very upset. Now, I just get angry about it. No one can tell you how to raise your child. No one can make decisions for you. Sadly we live in a world where women, especially mommies, do not support each individual’s decisions. I’m not living my life for others; I am living it for me. I am not raising my child against others standards but only my own. Hopefully women and mommies out there will begin to celebrate each other and stop judging!!
    I know comments were made and thoughts were passed when Reagan started to have gastro problems. I know people thought it was because she was formula fed and that she wasn’t getting all the good antibodies from me. Bad Mommy…putting her own daughter in hard…shame on me! This is ridiculous! After speaking with several wonderful doctors at the University, they all stated that the problem she was having happens to lots of babies and hers is the most minor. The amount of “medication” (I use quotes b/c it wasn’t really medicine) she was on was nothing compared to many children they see. They all assured me that she would grow out of it and she did. And this does happen to lots of babies. Once I started talking about it to others, I quickly found out how common it was-in both formula and breast fed babies. Again judgment came when Reagan had RSV. If I had breastfed her, then she would have been healthier. NOPE! It is a fact that every baby will have some form of RSV by the time they turn 2 years old. I strongly feel that she got so sick because her Daddy had just gotten over a pretty bad cold, both of us are teachers and around germs all the time, and she was playing with her two school age cousins, who probably also carried germs. Germ, Germs, Germs…everywhere!! That is what made her sick.
    I say all this to let you know that you have nothing to feel guilty about!!!! Please, take the lessons I have learned!!! No one can tell you what is best for Clark except you and Mike. I have no doubt you will always do the best you possibly can for Clark, regardless if it’s what you had hoped or not. Clark is beautiful, growing so well. I wish there were more stories, like mine, so that mommies out there who did/are struggling with breastfeeding or their milk supply is low, have someone on their side.
    You are a good mommy, doing the best you can for Clark!!!