Guest Post: Breastfeeding, Take 3!

 This blog isn’t about formula feeding as much as it is about feeding choices, and support for all moms, no matter how they decide to nourish their children – and I realize that for many of you, breastfeeding your next baby successfully is still a very real (and often overwhelming) goal. I respect that – as much as I equally respect those who’ve decided to stick with formula feeding – and want to make sure you get the support you need to achieve those goals. I think it’s far more helpful to hear personal stories from those who’ve made breastfeeding work after struggling in the past, rather than reading dry, unemotional material from instructional websites. So, I asked Devan from AccustomedChaos, who is one of my all-time favorite breastfeeding advocates (and people, for that matter) to share her personal account of what she thinks made a difference for her the third time around. If anyone else has advice that might help someone planning on nursing after facing difficulties in the past, I’d love to hear from you, too – so comment below!

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I have been happily breastfeeding my child for 16 months now and we are still going strong.  We made it through the first difficult and painful 6 weeks when we were both still learning what we were doing. Made it past engorgement, jaundice that required hospitalization, casein allergy, biting and thrush.  We made it past doctors pushing an anti-biotic that was not safe for breastfeeding, strange looks in public as I fed my daughter and 2 surgeries that i needed to have myself all without interrupting our breastfeeding relationship.   
I also have 2 older children and my  breastfeeding journey for them has been a lot different. My first child I breastfed for 6 weeks and my second child was breastfed for 4 months before they were put exclusively on formula.  So, what made baby # 3 different?  
Confidence.
I had always known that i was going to breastfeed.  I lined myself with all the correct information, took a class that included a large portion on breastfeeding information and felt very strongly that i was going to.  My mother and mother-in-law had both breastfed, I was going to birth in a very pro breastfeeding hospital and had a paediatrician who strongly supported breastfeeding.  Everything was set for me to be successful {my definition of success for me was 6 months exclusive breastfeeding, but everyone has their own definition} but in my eyes I wasn’t.  At that time i really didn’t understand the real “why’s”to it but looking back with a better perspective it is quite clear to me. 
It really begins even before I gave birth to my first child.  My husband and I had decided we were ready to start a family and had no doubts that we would be able to have this. Doubts started when we experienced our first miscarriage.  I didn’t think too much of it – although it was incredibly painful – but one miscarriage to me was no real cause for alarm.  My alarms started to go off when we experienced our second miscarriage and then our third in a row.   
After seeing our doctor and with some new plans in mind we got pregnant again and this pregnancy continued further and when i was full term I went into labour on my own and was thrilled.  My son was born naturally but left me with a 3rd degree episiotomy and 35 stitches due to natural 3rd degree tears. It was a traumatic birth – baby was not tolerating, had to have all forms of monitors on and was told he needed to be born right away. It was because of this there was no time for my body to slowly birth and i was left with the aftermath.  
He cried a lot and seemed constantly hungry and I was nursing on demand.  I had the cracked nipples, engorgement and all the typical results of the beginning of breastfeeding.  It was a struggle for me and I couldn’t understand why he was so fussy.  Looking back on it I think it was mostly because I was so worked up and stressed.  Added to the stress was when baby was 5 days old, 6 of my stitches opened up and cause tremendous pain.   
I was not bonding with my son. I hated breastfeeding, I hated that he was screaming so much, I hated that I couldn’t move because it took forever to heal.  I attributed the non-bonding to breastfeeding. As backwards as that may sound – and sounded to me at the time –  I “blamed” my baby for the pain from birthing him and at 6 weeks, I was still not bonding to him.  I took perfect care of him – woke up every 2 hours to feed him and play with him and try to help soothe him but I didn’t love him.  Awful I know, but it’s the truth.  Feeling that way made me hate myself.  Hate. Myself. We switched to formula at 6 weeks postpartum.  By 8 weeks postpartum I felt the biggest love for this child that I have ever felt. Ever. It was beautiful and he was no longer screaming {because I was no longer stressed} and my husband and I began planning for our next baby.  I “failed” at breastfeeding, but I was winning at being a healthy mom with a healthy baby. 
My husband and I were ready to expand our family and since we had 3 miscarriages we knew that this might not be easy.  We were right, as we had 2 more miscarriages in a row. 5 in total now.  I was beyond devastated but hopeful – it worked once for us so we persisted.  
We got pregnant again and everything was going as smoothly as it normally does for my pregnancies.  At 8 months pregnant I had a stroke and was in the hospital. Thankfully baby was doing ok but my health was not.  For the safety of the baby and myself with the symptoms that was left from the stroke we had scheduled an induction of labour for just over 2 weeks early (37w 5d). 
This labour was much different then my first since I was being induced. Things seemed to progress slowly but we were progressing.  Before we knew it {well, 15hrs later} the baby was coming on her own. Before the doctor was able to get into the room my daughter was born.  Since there was no doctor in the room I did not receive an episiotomy, but much like the first birth this left me with 52 stitches due to natural tears. Another traumatic birth. 
Again I was determined to breastfeed, however the leftover results from the stroke made life very difficult for me.  On top of that I was also diagnosed with celiac disease and had to go through another life change with that.  My body was failing me and I was drained and because of all that my daughter was exclusively formula fed from 4 months on.  I was very proud of myself for being able to give her breast milk for 4 months {not exclusively}, but according to my own definition I still failed because she was not exclusively breastfed for 6 months. 
I failed. Again.
Between the time we had our daughter and Baby#3 I went through 5 more miscarriages and was still dealing with the effects of the stroke and other health issues. 10 miscarriages and it wasn’t until our 9th miscarriage that the real cause of them was discovered. Since by some miracle this 9th miscarriage made it to a critical gestational age the doctor was able to determine that the cause and reason for both my miscarriages and my stroke was due to a blood clotting disorder called Factor V Leiden.  This was the reason – not my body – it was Factor V Leiden. 
Here is where the confidence plays into my ability to breastfeed. Baby #3 is now 16 months old and she is still breastfeeding. She was exclusively breastfed for 9 months -no need for formula supplementation or solid foods. I finally ‘succeeded”  and it was confidence! 
You see, although I knew the facts, had support and wanted to breastfeed, I lacked any form of confidence in my body.  From the miscarriages, to the traumatic births, to the stroke, there was nothing in me that said my body was working the way it should be.  So why would I have confidence that my breasts and breast milk would work the way I had hoped? 
I am not saying that if you have health problems, miscarriages or traumatic births that you wont be able to breastfeed, because clearly with me that is not true.  What I am saying is a key factor in your own definition for successful breastfeeding is having confidence in your body, your breasts, your milk and your baby.  If you are physically able to breastfeed but have no confidence that you are making enough milk and that your breasts know to have enough supply for your baby there is a large chance that you may think the typical growth spurt and cluster feedings are a result of low milk supply instead of your baby’s way of naturally increasing your supply for their growth.   
You could line yourself with all the information in the world but unless you believe in yourself, your body and your abilities your lack of confidence will sabotage your efforts in breastfeeding.  That is the only difference on why I was not successful breastfeeding my first two children and why I am still able to breastfeed my third.  My confidence in my body was brought back when I realized that I was not defected, that my body knew what it was doing and I could trust in that.  
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Hey all – FFF here. I want to thank Devan for sharing her story, and being so open and reflective about her experience. I do need to add one caveat, though… while I’m sure that Devan was not at ALL implying this, I want to make it clear that I personally do not believe a lack of confidence is to blame for all breastfeeding problems. You can have all the confidence in the world, but still be hit hard by postpartum depression, or low supply, or a baby who just can’t latch. However, I think in Devan’s case, gaining confidence in her body, and ceasing to believe that it was somehow “flawed” after her miscarriages and health problems, helped her succeed. And for those who have faced insurmountable nursing challenges in the past, I’m sure it’s easy to fall into self doubt and negativity when approaching breastfeeding the second (or third, or fourth) time around.  If you do want to try breastfeeding again, it’s vitally important to remember that just because one breastfeeding experience was negative, doesn’t mean the next one will be – and I think Devan’s story exemplifies that. I also think it’s key to have a great support system, and breastfeeding advocates like Devan, who’ve been through their own struggles and therefore know both sides of the infant feeding coin firsthand, are invaluable resources. I encourage anyone who needs breastfeeding support to seek out women like her (you can start by visiting her excellent blog), who can give you real-world advice and have the experience and sensitivity to help you get the best start possible on your next breastfeeding journey.

As for the rest of us, who may or may not opt to go the formula route next time around, we will need support with that too… even if we’ve come to terms with our feeling about formula feeding, it can still be a daunting choice to make. Despite being the “Fearless” Formula Feeder, these decisions have haunted me during this new pregnancy – something which has been surprising, disturbing and eye-opening. I hope you guys will feel comfortable talking about any future choices/issue that may come up in your next pregnancies, and that this will continue to be a place where all women can feel supported and encouraged to make an educated decision that makes the most sense for themselves and their families.

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.


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8 thoughts on “Guest Post: Breastfeeding, Take 3!

  1. Thank you for sharing, Devan! My first child came after a traumatic birth, and I identify so strongly with the lack of bonding and hating myself. We ended up combination feeding. I'm due with #2 in October, and I'll give EBF (even tandem nursing!) a shot, but we'll see. I'll do whatever has me win at “being a healthy mom with a healthy baby.” 🙂

  2. Thanks FFF for making it clear that i was not implying that confidence (or lack of) is the reason for ALL breastfeeding problems – i really hope it didn't come across that it was what i thought. I am sharing my personal reason why i feel i was not 'successful'.

    I do feel that non-physical contributors to the reasons one feels they are not successful at breastfeeding is often over looked, eye rolled at. If i had said that the reason i was not breastfeeding was because i had low supply or inverted nipples other mothers would “accept” that as an answer. Postpartum depression, lack of confidence or no support are often laughed at or unsupported by other women – which i do feel is a big contributor to the breastfeeding rates.

    Thank you FFF for letting me share my story ♥

  3. Thank you for all the clarification and for your story Devan. I'm one of those mamas where it is physically impossible to nurse due to breast surgery and for the first time, I feel so supported here at FFF. I wonder if you noticed that other areas of your life benefited too from boost in confidence? Congratulations!

  4. Great story! It actually gives me hope as I plan to have 2 more children. I bf'd DD for 6 weeks looking back at it all with my medical problems that was a big accomplishment and though I did not have a good nursing experience your story gives me hope that I can still try again and again and that there are good experiences out there I may be able to reach for.

  5. I have also had the experience of feeling like my body had failed me with four miscarriages, a caeserean and low milk supply that would not budge even with domperidone. If I am able to have another child, I would like to try and breastfeed but I am afraid. How would I know in those first days whether my baby would be getting enough milk? This time around no one noticed until day 3 that my baby was dehydrated. I think it will be really difficult to have confidence in my body to produce enough milk. No one has been able to come up with any explanation why my milk supply has been low and chances are it will happen again with another baby.

    Helen from New Zealand

  6. @Helen – I don't know much about low supply problems, but perhaps you should look into combo feeding. Breastfeed with as much milk as you have and then top off with formula so the baby isn't hungry. Just be sure to use a breast pump regularly while your supply is being established. Try bringing up combo feeding with an open-minded lactation consultant or your pediatrician to make sure you have some support. Combo feeding, in my opinion, is the best of both worlds. Good luck!

  7. Thank you!! This story made me feel so much better…Im a om of 2 wonderful kids but ive had a few miscarriages..also due to factor 5 leiden! I don't know anyone outside my family without the disorder but I do know it is common. My son thankfully didnt inherit it and my daughter is only 2 weeks old and she hasnt been tested yet but that is definetly being done soon!! I have failed at breastfeeding both of my children. By 2 weeks old with both of them my milk supply completely vanished and we still havent found a cause…Hopefully one day we will!

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