Tips for drying up breastmilk (without the attitude)

I received an email the other day from a former FFF Friday poster who is expecting her second child in a few weeks. She’s already made the decision to formula feed from the start, due to her own (extremely valid, not that it should matter) personal reasons. She made a completely informed, well-considered decision about what was best for her family, and I am incredibly proud of her for that.

Anyway, she’s understandably concerned about the drying-up process; no one really addresses this anymore, considering all the focus is on breastfeeding. The consensus seems to be that if you have decided to formula feed, you’re on your own. (This has actually been on my mind a great deal lately, and in the next few months I will be working on the FFF Guide to Formula Feeding, so that there’s at least some info out there that doesn’t come from a formula company, or is drenched in punitive sarcasm à la Dr. Sears’s webpage on formula feeding.) This mom writes that she would “like to go into the hospital/postpartum period knowing what to expect, like how bad is it, how long does it last, what helps, what doesn’t. I mean google breastfeeding tips and you get millions of sites chock full of advice, google dealing with engorgement when not bfing and you get brow beaten and chastised. Don’t I deserve to know what to expect when I’m making the best choice for my daughter and myself?”

Yes, sweetie, you do. You abso-freaking-lutely do.

I was so worried about engorgement and the drying-up process when I had Fearlette, that it almost made me want to skip trying to breastfeed altogether. I worried that by engaging in some nursing, it would make my milk come in faster and at a higher volume than if I went straight to the bottle. I felt there was nothing I’d be able to do to stop the pain and discomfort of engorgement, and coupled with normal postpartum pain and my personal history of PPD, this seemed like a daunting prospect.

I’ll admit that I investigated ordering lactation suppressing drugs from overseas. These drugs, which can dry a woman up in one fell swoop – pain free – used to be readily available in the United States and Canada. They were administered by injection in the hospital, or prescribed by physicians and taken orally in pill form. I’ve heard horror stories of women in my mother’s generation being injected with these drugs without consent, so that they attempted to breastfeed and found themselves dry as a bone. Scary stuff, and totally disgusting on a myriad of levels. But that isn’t the reason that these drugs were eventually taken off the market. Apparently, they were causing rare but serious (and sometimes fatal) side effects. Enduring a few days of discomfort for the sake of avoiding death? Perfectly rational, if you ask me.

However, there are other medications that have been put on the market which – at least as far as anyone knows – are safer. In other countries, these are still perfectly legal, and even in the US, doctors speak in hushed tones about giving women who’ve suffered late-term or infant losses these drugs, as a show of sympathy (because really, does a mother going through that kind of pain need to be constantly reminded of the baby she could have been nursing, or deal with the physical pain of engorgement?). It seems unfortunate – and a bit odd- that the FDA has yet to approve cabergoline for the use of lactation suppression; it is perfectly legal to use this drug for hyperprolactinemic disorders; the FDA states that their reasoning for not allowing its usage as a lactation suppressant is because “bromocriptine, another dopamine agonist for this purpose, has been associated with cases of hypertension, stroke, and seizures.” Well, yes. But that’s a different drug. Even within one family of pharmaceuticals, different medications can vary dramatically. Zoloft and Prozac, for instance, are both SSRI’s, and yet Zoloft metabolizes differently in breastmilk and is the “recommended” anti-depressant for nursing women.

Until the FDA changes its mind, though, we are stuck with “natural” remedies for drying up milk. I honestly felt like cabbage in the bra worked wonders when I weaned off the pump with Fearless Child, but metastudies have found that this remedy works no better than a placebo. There is a pumping protocol that is supposed to help (designed for women recovering from the loss of a baby, unfortunately), but I haven’t heard anything about the efficacy of this remedy.

In my experience, however, the engorgement I felt with Fearlette was NOTHING like it was when I had a full milk supply going and abruptly weaned FC. It could have been because I’m one of those women who doesn’t get much milk until day 5 or so, and by that point, I’d already begun weaning her onto the bottle; I know some second-time moms whose milk came in like gangbusters within hours of delivery, so I imagine the engorgement would be much worse. Regardless, I do suspect that if you aren’t attempting to establish a supply or completely feed a newborn from your breasts, the drying-up process won’t be as difficult. Meaning that women who intend to formula feed from the start probably won’t have too much pain from engorgement. I had one day of hell – Day 5 – when it hurt to hold Fearlette, and I was too engorged to even think about dragging out the pump (for the record, pumping to relieve engorgement might be a good idea on paper, but you try getting those suckers into the flanges when they are rock-hard balloons of burning agony. Yeah. Good luck.) but after that, it really wasn’t so bad.

That said, it won’t be the same for everyone, so here are my tips for drying up your milk without too many tears (or ruined shirts):

1.As soon as you have decided to not breastfeed or stop breastfeeding, start wearing the tightest sports bra you can, at all hours of the day and night. I wore two, for extra support.

2. When you shower, face away from the stream: hot water will induce milk supply, plus it hurts like a you-know-what if you’re already engorged and sensitive.

3. This one is terrible, but on the day your milk comes in, when your child starts to cry, hand them off to your partner and leave the room. You’ll feel like Mommy Dearest, but I’m telling you – your body will have a biological response, and you’ll be in pain. And then you’ll start crying, and then both of you will be crying, and that will just be sad. It’s one day, and you can hold your baby at all other times – just let someone else handle the hunger cries for 24 hours.

4. If your OB was kind enough to give you a few pain pills for postpartum discomfort (c-section mamas, this is a given for you – most of you probably got a few weeks worth of Vicodin as a parting gift from the maternity ward), save a few. When engorgement starts, take them. Every 4 hours, as indicated. There is no shame in letting a narcotic sweep you into sweet oblivion until the engorgement is gone.

5. Drink No More Milk Tea. It’s tasty, and I really do think it works. At the very least, it probably has some sort of placebo effect, and everyone likes a nice cup of herbal tea, right?

6. Another product I liked were these little ice packs you can put in your bra. They were super soothing and the ice helps relieve engorgement.

7. Don’t be surprised if you still feel a let-down sensation for a few weeks after drying up. It happens, and it’s normal. Some women take longer than others to completely dry up, so be patient, and keep wearing that sports bra. It will pass, eventually.

I’d love to open this up for discussion, since it’s a topic that is seldom addressed. If you chose to formula feed from the start, did you experience much engorgement? When did your milk come in, and how painful was it? Any tips for women going through the same thing?

FFF Friday: “Breastfeeding was not working for me from the get-go”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They are also not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.

Happy Friday,
The FFF


I’ve never heard about fibrous tissue creating lactation problems, but of course every woman is different, and this was apparently one hurdle that today’s FFF Friday contributor, Elizabeth, faced. Just one more issue that probably could have been avoided if handled correctly by medical and lactation professionals… doesn’t it seem like an inability to admit that things can go wrong with breastfeeding is the biggest booby trap of all? Regardless, I’m glad that Elizabeth feels confident with her decision, and is getting so much (deserved) enjoyment from feeding times!

***
As a new mom, breastfeeding was not working from me from the get-go. I was so determined to be all about the breast and bonding and nutrition; my husband was ready to help out in any way possible, from the lactation specialists to using pumped milk during the night feedings.
After my daughter’s birth she wouldn’t latch – nothing, nada, zippo. Enter consults and random nurses grabbing my nipples and squeezing so hard I cried. Then came the classes, the one-on-one, and finally the addition of nipple shields and pumping so hard I was in excruciating pain and still nothing was coming out. Meanwhile my baby is screaming for food and sucking as hard as she could on the nipple shield and still nothing to satisfy her.
I finally just decided to formula feed her, and she ate and ate and ate. I was so relieved that she ate, but then filled with such utter and total guilt about not being able to feed her myself. Friends and family were of no help because of course breast was best and I was a terrible mother for giving up so soon. Once home from the hospital I did try again, but she was so content with the bottle that she had no interest in my breast.
It was only after the first trip to the pediatrician that he informed me that she was super tongue tied and not able to latch because of it. On top of that I had my nipples pieced 10 years ago and when I took them out the holes not only closed, but created scar tissue and fibroids that the milk had to travel through before she could extract it, thus causing me all the pain. You’d think the lactation consultants have seen this before, but apparently not.
Formula feeding actually has made her bond more now with both my husband and I, and my parents. My mom eventually got over the fact that I couldn’t physically breastfeed and actually looks forward to feeding her whenever she comes to visit. Now at 3 months she’s sleeping through the night 6.5 -7 hours straight. She has also never spit up nor vomited after an eating which is amazing because she can stay in one outfit and entire day! I can’t wait for her 4 month check up to see just how great she’s growing. I feel that she’s healthy too, and she has an amazing personality.

While I still have the guilt about not breast feeding and wonder if I’ve missed out on some amazing bond that comes with it, I can’t help but feel satisfied with the formula feeding and the happiness I get as she’s sucking away and then dozing off into a thousand sleepy smiles dreamland.

***

Short on stories again, people, so start typing! Once you’ve got ’em, send ’em… formulafeeders@gmail.com.

Is breast vs bottle really a mommy war, or something more? (And a breastfeeding study that doesn’t suck)

It never ceases to amaze me how any moderately intelligent, breastfeeding-related discussion dissolves into screeching mommy-war bansheedom.

Seriously, people. I was so excited that young, vibrant feminists were FINALLY getting involved in the conversation, and then they go and get scared off by the same three or four nasty apples who ruin the whole damn bag of Honey Crisps. It makes the smart folks not want to buy apples anymore, and that isn’t good, because apples are good for you. And delicious.

Wait, what were we talking about again…? Oh yeah. Mommy war foolishness.

This recent piece from HuffPo compares the breast vs bottle battle to the plight of gay teens in high school, using Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign as inspiration:

The “discussion” is not debate, but an online shit-storm with some writers complaining that Breastfeeding Moms are so strident and shaming that they make everyone else feel inadequate, and other writers complaining that Formula Feeding Moms are so strident and shaming that breast-feeders practically have to recite “I Support Others’ Use Of Formula” every time they latch their baby…

For almost everyone, once your kid is using the toilet, this mommy-wars thing is over. You’ll walk down the street with your seven- and five-year-olds and no one will talk to you about breast and bottle or ask about their births, and everyone will assume that your kids sleep all night in their own bed. Really, it gets better.

God, I hope so.

I appreciate what this, and other Rodney King-esque missives are saying. And I’m starting to wonder if I’m not contributing to the problem.

At times, the conversation that’s happening on this blog – and others – may suggest an us-against-them mentality. I hate that, personally. I really would love if we could stay away from any disparaging comments about “breastfeeders”, because it’s not breastfeeding moms who are limiting our choices; making us feel like breastfeeding is the be-all, end-all of parenting; and curtailing our access to good, impartial information about infant feeding. It’s the government. It’s the media (and for the record, I am definitely including uber-popular bloggers and web-journalism in this category). It’s medical authorities.

These are the people we should be using our energy to fight. Likewise, I believe breastfeeding advocates should be focusing on the people who want to breastfeed, instead of wasting precious time and resources on those who don’t care to, or have already failed. On the lack of good, accessible, and FREE lactation support in hospitals and in the first few months postpartum. On ensuring that women do get good workplace lactation support.

Like so many others, I’m getting sick of all the in-fighting. But I think my reasons for this are different than what is currently being expressed in the blogosphere. I’m pissed because we are getting distracted by the catfight instead of addressing the far more insidious and important barriers that stop us from being able to breastfeed and/or formula feed safely and freely.

Trying to forge a peace accord for the mommy wars is stupid, because mothers are always going to be our own toughest critics. We are always going to judge each other, because we are freaking insecure. Notice I’m not saying women, but mothers – because no matter how strong you are in your former life, nothing makes a woman more emotionally fragile, paranoid and desperate for approval than motherhood. Blame it on hormones, society, or your own mom, but regardless… we are all a big hot mess, especially for the first few years. I’m sure my best friends have some opinions on how I raise my kids. (If not, they should. My daughter ate dog food like 3 times last week. Not on purpose, obviously – we’re vegetarians. Or at least 3 of us still are.)

So, I’m going to try my best to avoid the mamadrama for awhile, and stick to the real issues. Studies that suck; the lack of formula information out there; and mother-unfriendly initiatives. Things like that. If I can steer this conversation away from the us-against-them, and into the us-against-bullying/coercion/misinformation/guilt-tripping, I’ll feel like this blog is worth my time. And more importantly, your time.

With that said…

It’s too bad this study didn’t tell us anything very newsworthy (in fact I am just noticing it now, and it was printed in August), because it actually has some interesting facets that might add a dimension to breastfeeding research, at least in the social sciences. A group of Italian researchers (psychobiologists) found that “maternal level of education is not associated with breastfeeding duration in the same direction or with the same magnitude across time. Factors related to breastfeeding should be studied, taking into account social context.”

Well, erm, duh to that last sentence. But further analysis of this study brought up some worthwhile points.

…(W)omen with medium and high educational attainment displayed drastically shorter breastfeeding periods at the beginning of the 1970’s and the rates that correspond to this group were almost on a par with those of woman with lower education attainment in the 1970’s and 1980’s. However, a subsequent steady increase of 3.4% each year was experienced and this trend remained until the end of the 1990’s.

Researchers attribute these results to the fact that women with higher educational attainment follow the advice of healthcare professionals with greater ease in relation to the benefits of maternal breastfeeding. They emphasise that “providing the mother wishes to breastfeed, working conditions, economic status and greater access to healthcare services probably help to maintain breastfeeding levels.”

LOVE that they added in “providing the mother wishes to breastfeed”, and that this study is – dare I say it – nuanced. It’s interesting that more highly-educated moms were breastfeeding less in the 1970’s… This might make any studies that come out of Italy looking at cohorts from the early 70’s worthy of a second look – because it would help control for socio-economic factors in a very real way.

I’m going to look for similar studies that focus on American breastfeeding rates. Doubt that any will be as PC in their verbiage, but here’s hoping…

You’ve (Not) Come a Long Way, Baby: Why feminism and lactivism make such a dysfunctional couple

You know those couples who seem completely wrong for each other? Like, so wrong that you find yourself sitting in a hotel bar the night before their wedding with the rest of the bridal party wondering if you should speak now or forever hold your peace, or just put on the green poufy dress and hold your tongue with a strategically-placed cocktail weenie?

Lactivism and feminism are kind of like that. Seductively intertwined, but fundamentally discordant.

Last year, when I was in the writing process for my forthcoming book, I struggled to find any feminist discourse about breastfeeding. Don’t get me wrong – there was plenty of cherry chapsticked lip-service out there; there’s a Breastfeeding and Feminism Symposium held at the University of North Carolina every year, and plenty of outspoken third-wave, young feminists for whom lactivism is a frequent blog topic. But the conversation was ridiculously one-sided, focusing on the male-dominated medical community which had provoked our bottle-feeding culture in the first place.

(Speaking of that assertion…Knocking women out for childbirth and convincing them that they were too “nervous” for breastfeeding was pretty shitty. But I also think there were plenty of women who were hankering for a safe alternative to breastfeeding, considering the historical prevalence of wet nursing. Even in the 70’s and 80’s, right before breastfeeding’s resurgence, I don’t think we can blame poor breastfeeding rates on a misogynist medical field. In a time when we had to fight tooth and nail for respect and opportunity in the workplace, formula allowed women to get back to work faster. I doubt that many of our moms/older sisters had the luxury to fight for pumping rights, when issues of equal pay and sexual harassment still hadn’t been resolved in any legal way, let alone in the real-world way…)

I have always felt that there were uncomfortable parallels to the abortion debate here, but I hesitate to bring it up for fear of things devolving into a pro-life/pro-choice free-for-all. But if we can put the politics of that debate aside for a moment, I do think it’s important to consider how the concept of choice has been co-opted by certain facets of the lactivist movement. If you try and argue that a woman should have a choice about whether or not she feeds her baby from her breasts, you will likely find yourself shot down quicker than you can say Betty Friedan. The typical lactivist argument is something to the effect that we cannot choose freely, because we are brainwashed by the bottle-loving society we live in, as well as the Big Bad Formula Companies; therefore, “choice” is an irrelevant concept in this context. (For a more nuanced and articulate discussion on this topic, check out this essay by breastfeeding advocate, scholar and author, Bernice Hausman.)

But really, I think there’s something else at the heart of this argument. Like this:

Are there women who should feel guilty for not breastfeeding? In my opinion, yes. If there is no medical barrier (disease, medication, or other conditions) barring her from breastfeeding; if she is otherwise capable of breastfeeding; and she knows that breastfeeding is what she ought to do… yet she still, knowingly, chooses to feed artificial milk… yes, she should feel guilty. Because in that case, there was a choice, a knowledgable choice not to do what she knows is best for her child. I think guilt is entirely appropriate in that case, especially (but not only) if harm results. I am also of the opinion that a woman who does not educate herself should feel guilty later on; if you’re bringing a baby into the world, you owe it to that child to make choices for it that will lead to a healthy life. A choice to formula-feed, all other things being equal, is not entirely the woman’s choice to make: she has, presumably, chosen to have that baby, and in doing so, she makes the choice to give the baby its birthright, the best she can provide.

Jan Andrea, SleepingBaby.net

I actually applaud this article (although much of it seems like a regurgitated version of Jack Newman’s infamous guilt argument) because, while inexplicably offensive, at least it is honest. The writer does not mince words, nor couch her true feelings in pseudo-feminist diatribes about how poor, uninformed formula feeders have no choice. This, I can respond to; this, I can counter. It’s a lot harder to argue with a feminist throwing haphazard verbal darts about classism, racism or sexism. That kind of rhetoric scares other feminists out of intelligent discourse. And we need feminists to be addressing this issue, because it is getting entirely too Handmaid’s Tale-ish up in here.

In the past week, the conversation I’ve been waiting for finally began, thanks to the brilliant Jessica Valenti , (and a bunch of other semi-anonymous folks who’ve joined the threads of subsequent posts inspired by Valenti’s Tumblr piece). Women who have no stake in the breast/bottle argument are taking notice; young women who have yet to enter the Dark Wood of Modern Motherhood (where at every wrong turn you’re met by an angry gnome who hits you in the kneecaps with Dr. Sears’s Baby Book) may now be able to navigate that forest with some perspective and foresight.

Breastfeeding needs feminism, to ensure that women can combine motherhood with paid employment, and to protect us from the idiots who think nursing a baby in public is obscene, and yes, to shield women from misleading ads or societal pressures which might discourage them from attempting to nurse.

But formula feeding also needs feminism, to ensure that child-rearing and child-bearing are not synonymous; that women are not reduced to biological functions, and can maintain bodily autonomy; and to act as a watchdog group that protects against those who blame all of society’s ills on a mother’s non-compliance with breastfeeding recommendations.

I don’t disagree that women are often sabotaged in maternity wards, or that the current medical system works in ways that are detrimental to breastfeeding success. We need strong and vocal women to put a stop to this. But I also know that vast numbers of women (as evidenced by this blog and the numerous “bottle feeding support” pages cropping up on Facebook) are being coerced, scared, and guilted into breastfeeding, by medical and governmental authorities. Women are being given so many “reasons” to breastfeed – most of them ominous warnings about what could happen if they don’t – as if no one could possibly want to breastfeed, which is demoralizing and insulting, as well as kind of ironic in the colloquial, Alannis Morrisette-sense. Women are being told that they have been brainwashed and taken advantage of, insinuating that the only way to gain back their self-respect is to breastfeed. By presenting it this way, we can avoid the very real (and for some, very uncomfortable) truth that some women really don’t want to breastfeed (hey, y’all, I said SOME. I’m not contradicting what I said a sentence or two ago… some of us really want to nurse, others would rather not. Simple as that.) It’s been that way throughout history. And it’s okay. Just as it’s okay not to want kids, or to want to combine work and motherhood, or to not want to combine work and motherhood, or to home school your kids or co-sleep with them or feed them a vegan diet.

Feminism, to me, is about respecting every woman’s right to define what being a woman means to her. To HER. Not to you. You don’t have to agree with her, or like what she’s about, or want to have a slumber party and talk about how cute Ricky Schroeder is with her. Just don’t tell her what she should think, feel or do with her body, and you’re cool by me.

FFF Friday: “I told myself I was a quitter…”

A big apology that this FFF Friday is being posted 20 minutes after it turned into an FFF Saturday… I was at a wedding all day in the middle of the desert, and had no internet access. The horror. Luckily, the wedding was well worth it.

I find it interesting that FFF Brea, whose story is below, was told to supplement by the lactation consultant, who later warned her that supplementing would harm her breastfeeding efforts. This type of contradictory, confusing “help” seems unfortunately common – and the result is more and more women feeling guilty and “at fault” for not living up to their own (and society’s) expectations for breastfeeding.

Happy Friday,

The FFF

***

About 4 years before having my son, I made the personal decision to have breast reduction surgery. The surgeon fully explained to me that breast feeding in the future may or may not be possible. I was completely content with formula feeding at that time. Breast feeding wasn’t “normal” to me. My mother didn’t breast feed and 
neither did anyone close to me. Formula feeding was my “normal”.

While pregnant, my husband and I took the Bradley Method birth classes. The instructor made it sound like breast feeding would happen naturally and the baby would instinctively know what to do and he would “climb” up my chest to begin breastfeeding. She told me she knew of many other women who had the same surgery and went on to exclusively breast feed with no issues. I was relieved to know that breast feeding was still a possibility.

My son was born at 37 weeks via Cesarean weighing 5 pounds 3 ounces. He was literally skin and bones. I remember a nurse asking me if I wanted to breastfeed. I answered with a resounding “YES!”. She then leaned in and whispered “He may not have the strength to nurse immediately. It would be good to consider supplementing with formula and to consult with the lactation consultant”.

I felt like the lactation consultant had a special interest in me because of my previous surgery. She stopped by my room multiple times a day to check in. She instructed me to feed some formula prior to attempting to breast feed so that he wouldn’t be completely stressed out and starving. This did not work for us. When I would bring my son to the breast, he would instantly start crying and turn his head from side to side, refusing to latch.

Because he was struggling to latch, I started pumping and bottle feeding him the breast milk. The lactation consultant warned me to continue attempting to nurse because bottle feeding and pumping could interfere with my supply. I continued the cycle of bottle feeding (both formula and breast milk), nursing then pumping for my entire stay in the hospital. I did get a successful latch a few times but it never lasted long. I was hopeful that once I got home into my own environment, nursing would come easier for us. I would be less stressed and hopefully he would pick up on that.

Unfortunately it was quite the opposite. I never figured out the right hold or position, he continued to refuse to latch. He became so stressed and worked up (as did I) that the nursing sessions never lasted more than 5 minutes. Eventually I just stopped trying. I continued pumping and most days, I was able to give him more breast milk than formula. In order to keep up with his feedings, I had to pump after each feeding for at least 30 minutes. He was eating between 2 and 3 ounces at a time and that was just the amount I would get at each pumping session. Once he hit six weeks old, he started eating more – about 4 ounces – and I just couldn’t keep up. I began having to supplement with formula again.

I continued to pump, convincing myself that every drop of breast milk was better than none. One day, I pumped five ounces of breast milk in one session. I was absolutely elated! I thought my luck had turned around and I would be able to provide him milk for longer than I had thought. My body had other plans. At the very next session, I barely pumped an ounce.

I immediately went in to damage control mode. I began drinking Mother’s Milk Tea as often as I could. I ate oatmeal for every meal. But nothing worked. Soon after, I stopped pumping and began exclusively feeding formula. I became an emotional wreck and the guilt of formula feeding was weighing on me hard. Every time I fed him a formula bottle, I would imagine I was feeding him nasty, unhealthy sludge. I was insanely hard on myself. I told myself I was a quitter and if I really loved him, I would have stuck with it. I convinced myself he was going to be an obese, unhealthy baby who will never hit milestones and he’ll forever be shunned from society because he wasn’t breast fed.

Then one day he smiled. And the next, he laughed. He was hitting milestones and he wasn’t an obese, unhealthy baby. He was (and still is) small for his age. In that moment, I let go of all my guilt over formula feeding. He was thriving, we were bonded and I knew I did the best I could for him. That’s all that matters.

***

Have a story you want to get off your non-lactating (or “insufficiently” lactating) chest? E-mail me at formulafeeders@gmail.com to be featured for an upcoming FFF Friday.

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