One mom shares her guilt over her struggles over breastfeeding her child and her research that caused her to realize it wasn’t her fault.
When I found out I was pregnant, I knew I wanted I wanted to breastfeed. I never really considered the alternatives. I was planning on staying home with our child, so I figured breastfeeding would work out fine. I owned a copy of “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” and had read the parts that pertained to me at the time. We took Bradley classes and learned about breastfeeding. As we neared the birth of our son, we honestly just figured breastfeeding would happen naturally. I was even leaking colostrum during the third trimester. We took that as a very good sign. I was ready.
My son was born on a Saturday night in May. We had the non-medicated delivery I had desired. Shortly after the birth, I breastfed my son for the first time, and that went perfectly as well. He knew exactly what to do. Over the course of our two days in the hospital, I breastfed him on demand. The nurses and lactation consultants told us we were doing great. His latch was perfect and he seemed to get satisfied at every feeding.
Then we went home.
When we got to the top of the stairs in our apartment, my son started screaming. There had barely been a peep out of him in the hospital, so we went in to panic mode. It was also 11 pm at night, and we were alone with no one to calm us down. I took him out of the carseat and started nursing him. He stopped screaming. Once he finished, the screaming started again. Back on the boob. More screaming. Repeat for approximately 48 hours with maybe a few hours of sleep in there. I’m not really sure. Those first two days are a blur at this point. I do know I was stressed to the max, and as a result I had no appetite. I ate and drank when my husband forced me to, but I still wouldn’t eat or drink much. We were both freaking out. I spent some time sobbing on the phone to friends who assured me all the crying was normal, and that my son would calm down when my milk came in. I just needed to keep feeding him as often as possible. When my son was four days old, we took him to his pediatrician check up. He had lost a lot of weight (more than 10% of his birth weight), and he was jaundiced. My milk had still not come in. The nurse made me give my son formula because I had been starving him. After I gave in and gave him the formula, he stopped crying, closed his eyes and went to sleep: our first moment of peace since leaving the hospital. I spent most of the first few weeks of my son’s life in tears. At four days old, we started battling the jaundice, and I had to give him formula after every breastfeeding attempt.
My milk finally came in on the fifth day, but there was no feeling of it when it happened. I found out it came in when the liquid coming out was white instead of the clearish colostrum. My breasts didn’t feel any different. But, I was finally making milk! I had some hope again that breastfeeding would work out after all. I continued to breastfeed my son all the time, but he was still hungry after each feeding and drank formula on a regular basis. I tried pumping, but that seemed worthless. At the two week mark, I hired a lactation consultant. She weighed my son, then I breastfed him with her watching until he got fussy, which was about 20 minutes. Then she weighed him again. She determined he drank less than an ounce of breastmilk in that time. His latch was still perfect. It was officially a supply issue (i.e. all my fault). She set us up with an SNS (supplemental nursing system), and it worked perfectly while she was there. She told me to start taking fenugreek and blessed thistle to increase my supply, and that she would check on me a couple of weeks later. I started taking the herbs, still breastfed and pumped all the time, ate foods that promote lactation, and worked on getting the SNS to work without her there. We tried and tried, but were never able to get it to work as well as she did. She never checked up on me and I didn’t have the money to hire another LC.
I spent the next six weeks smelling like maple syrup (fenugreek) and tending to my now (mostly) happy and chunky baby. The formula made him chunky. I made him frustrated. I still put him to the breast throughout the day, but he would either start crying right away or nurse briefly and then start crying. I’d be frustrated too. I felt like a huge failure, and it wore on me emotionally. I was also frustrated that, nothing worked. I never made more milk than I made when he was two weeks old. Around the time my son was about three months old, I gave up. I felt like I had tried for as long as I could.
Even though I stopped breastfeeding then, the guilty feeling never left me. It still hasn’t left me. I had failed at the one thing every woman should be able to do. I had always heard that women who don’t breastfeed made the choice not to do so. In my mind, even after all that I had done, I still had not tried hard enough. I could have done more and gone to more extreme measures such as taking prescription drugs. I began to hope and pray that if we were blessed with another child, I would be able to redeem myself when it came to breastfeeding. Now, 16 months after my son was born, I recently learned about a condition called breast hypoplasia that can prevent women from breastfeeding. After learning the characteristics of hypoplastic breasts, I’ve determined that I do have it, even though I don’t have the extreme physical characteristics of the condition. It was both a blessing and a bummer to find out this information. On one hand, it’s nice to know there was a real reason after all that I failed at breastfeeding. On the other hand, it’s disheartening to know I will probably have the same problems if I have another child. The good news is that I did make SOME milk, and the odds are pretty good that I will make even more next time. I will definitely be proactive from the beginning next time and work with an LC or midwife during the pregnancy to address this issue. Even though it didn’t work out as planned this time, I have high hopes for my breastfeeding future!
Next week I’ll dive into the condition Jennifer believes that she struggles with and what to do if you feel like you’ve had the same struggles.