FFF Friday: “It takes more than breastmilk to make a good mother…”

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 also are 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.


FFF Sarah, whose story is below, makes a really interesting observation about how perfectionism and the concept of “failure” play into our breastfeeding experiences. I know we’ve talked this issue to death, but I think it’s worth continuing the conversation. For many of us who come to motherhood later in life, the loss of control over our lives can be intensely disconcerting. Control is so intimately tied to a myriad of mental health issues – eating disorders, OCD, depression – and parenting, in general, requires a certain degree of surrender, emotionally. So when your physical self decides to punk out, it can rock an already unsteady boat. As Sarah discovered, sometimes you need to adjust your plans to keep that boat from capsizing.

And as always, let me reiterate: I realize that (an embarrassingly small amount of) research suggests that only 2-5% of women are physically incapable of providing sufficient milk for their babies. 2-5% still means a significant amount of women. These voices are not some snidely stated statistic. Sarah is one of these voices. Listen up.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF
***

Sarah’s Story

My struggle with breastfeeding (and subsequent formula feeding) is different from the ones I’ve read here on FFF, and yet it’s exactly the same. Like many others, I planned on breastfeeding my child. I took the breastfeeding class offered by my hospital, I read the books written by LLL and the AAP, I lurked on the breastfeeding forums so that I would know what kinds of struggles I might face and how to overcome them. I knew it would be hard, I was up to the challenge and I felt fully prepared for anything that would come my way.
Fully prepared, except for what DID happen. We had no latch problems, no nipple pain – breastfeeding was a wonderful experience and I loved every second of it. For 3 1/2 weeks, I thought everything was going great. I thought the reason we were camped out on the couch all day long was due to the cluster feedings I’d read so much about – it didn’t occur to me that he was always nursing because I wasn’t making enough and he was hungry. I was a new mom, so I didn’t know what to expect my breasts to feel like; in retrospect, I never felt engorged, they never felt firm, they never leaked – those were big clues that my milk wasn’t in and I wasn’t producing properly. But after an amazingly easy pregnancy and L&D (seriously – 6 hours of labor, no drugs, 3 pushes, and my 9lb 4oz son came out with no tearing and without breaking a sweat) I figured my luck was just continuing. How great was it that I didn’t have to deal with leaking and engorgement? Yay for me! Finally at 3 1/2 weeks old, I used my bathroom scale to weigh him, and found out he was actually losing weight – cue the mommy guilt and crying.
Right away we went to the LCs. We did a weigh-feed-weigh, and found he was only getting about half an ounce total from both sides. They said he was a lazy/sleepy eater, and told me to start a routine of nurse-supplement-pump. They told me if I couldn’t pump enough for the next feeding to supplement with formula. They even gave me an RTF bottle right then to top him off! All of the LCs I saw at my hospital (we went back several times) were absolute saints, and so different from the ones many of you have dealt with. They were so supportive and knowledgeable, but not pushy or anti-formula. I love them. However, no amount of pumping, fenugreek, blessed thistle, oatmeal, etc could get my meager supply up enough to support my son. I think the main issue all along was not that he was a lazy/sleepy eater, but that my milk just didn’t come in and that I don’t have a milk ejection reflex at all – it would take 40 minutes of double pumping (with very aggressive massage/compression) to get an ounce of milk. Total. I don’t blame him for giving up and sleeping! I was producing about half of what my very hungry son needed – the day he eat 37 ounces, I felt so defeated. As many of you here on FFF know, the process of nurse-supplement-pump takes an incredible amount of time, so I decided to just pump and bottlefeed until my supply was up enough to EBF.
After 2 solid weeks of taking herbs and pumping 13 times a day (yes, THIRTEEN), 40 minutes at a time, my supply was up by 3 ounces a day. Not much to write home about, not even enough for a whole bottle. Bonus, it had destroyed my nipples. They hurt SO BAD, all the time, since they weren’t really getting a break between pumpings. I was also getting frequent clogged ducts and clogged nipple pores. The pain was excruciating – worse than labor pains, in my opinion. Of course, my clogged ducts eventually developed into mastitis. You can guess what happened to my supply. A hospital-grade pump was no better at removing milk, nor at increasing my supply. Finally, my mom (who breastfed me and each of my siblings until she had to go back to work) asked me, “How long are you going to keep doing this to yourself?” That made me step back and realize the insanity of what I was doing – the constant pumping, the pain of the clogged ducts and destroyed nipples, not to mention the fact that my son basically just sat in his swing all day long while I pumped.
After a few more days of “I will succeed at breastfeeding!” stubbornness, I finally admitted to myself that I was never going to make enough milk for him, and it was better for my son to have a sane, engaged mother than a few ounces of breastmilk a day – no matter how magical the lactivists made it out to be. My supply was so low that I just quit cold turkey – I had only one day of discomfort and was totally dried up in 48 hours. I never leaked a single drop.
Even though my son is doing great on formula (he was a completely different baby once he started getting enough food), I mourned the loss of our breastfeeding experience. It had been so wonderful, and it was hard to let that go. I had never failed at anything before in my life, and it was hard to accept that this was beyond my control. No amount of education, LC support, or willpower could change the fact that I just didn’t make milk. I had no idea that that was a possibility and I never saw it coming. I am hoping and praying that I don’t have an underlying problem like IGT and that I will be able to breastfeed my next child. Even if I am unable, I know I am no less of a mother because of this. It takes more than sperm to make a good father, and more than breastmilk to make a good mother.
***
Share your story for an upcoming FFF Friday. E-mail me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

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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12 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “It takes more than breastmilk to make a good mother…”

  1. “It takes more than sperm to make a good father, and more than breastmilk to make a good mother”

    Yes, yes, yes!!! Beautifully written Thank you for sharing your story.

  2. The last line sums it all up perfectly.

    I wish your experience could have worked out the way you wanted it to. It is always sad when it doesn't.

    I feel your pain with the blocked ducts & the mastitis. I had that as well & it is what ended my BFing experience with my second. The pain was TOO excrutiating to continue. My first had had formula, so I was “ok” with it, but was sad as well.

    I hope that you are able to nurse your second child, but remember your own words “it takes more than breastmilk to make a good mother”.

    Enjoy your son.

  3. This could be my story, almost verbatim, right down to the “I never knew this was a possibility” and the endless pumping, feeding, and stubbornness before finally giving into supplementing the hungry baby. And also the mourning of the loss of that experience – I really, really wanted it!

    I'm sick of everyone insisting on how “rare” an inability to produce enough milk for one baby is. Even with the lowest accepted incidence of 2%, that's 80,000 mom/baby pairs a year..one baby in 50. In the US, there is actually a definition of “rare” (the Rare Diseases Act of 2002…who knew??) – a disease that affects fewer than one in 1500 people. There is nothing at all “rare” about a problem that affects, minimum, 1 in 50 babies.

    For comparison, autism is considered to be “epidemic” in many circles. Almost everyone knows someone who is affected by an autism spectrum disorder, right? Autism has an estimated prevalence in 1 in 88 children…1.1%. Even in boys, the prevalence is slightly less than that of insufficient supply to feed a baby…1 male baby in 54.

    Now imagine a world where our response to all mothers of children with autism spectrum disorders was, “Oh, you've just been misled by doctors/poorly educated on autism/been convinced by the pharmaceutical industry that your child has autism because you won't do your own research/didn't try hard enough to raise a well behaved child, because actual autism is INCREDIBLY rare.” Some of the more generous folks might say, “Well, it's not your FAULT, you just didn't have the support and didn't do the research to parent properly. Better education would have helped you raise your child to have more normal behavior.”

    I can see how that would create a culture where parents of children with autism would feel the need to justify exactly HOW they knew their child was autistic, which doctors they'd seen, what methods they'd tried to encourage normal behavior, etc. Or that they'd feel the need to keep their children inside, so as not to be openly judged for their “failure” as parents, because after all, autism is SO RARE.

    And then, after reading blog post after blog post and comment after comment talking about how children are almost never really autistic, because it is just SO RARE, if the parent did finally convince people that they did their due diligence and actually have one of those “rare” kids, the criticizers just say, “Oh, well, we weren't talking about you! Besides, if you KNEW your child REALLY had autism, you wouldn't feel so guilty or defensive, so you must really have doubts about whether he is REALLY autistic or you just didn't try hard enough”.

    Preposterous, right? Except this is a familiar story for those people who've had a supply failure. And it's frustrating as hell.

  4. My story is so so much like your almost EXACTLY the same… it tortured myself for weeks doing the pumping routine… when I finally was told nothing would make my supply better I mourned the lost of the experience but also a sense of relief that I could let go knowing I tried everything… sometimes the guilt creeps in like today when my son is so fussy and spitting up & I think would he do this if I was breastfeeding. Thank you for reminding me I'm not letting my son down just because I cant BF.

  5. Applause. That's a really thought-provoking comparison. I can actually imagine some crunchies making this argument – if you hadn't vaccinated your child under the influence of the medical-industrial complex, s/he wouldn't be autistic, so it's all your fault anyway.

  6. Are you sure you didn't write my breastfeeding biography? The only change was that we started the battle at 4 days old when my son had lost 17% of his birthweight. We started supplementing because I was not about to put my want to breastfeed before my sons health. After 2 weeks of trying everything, the 'battle' was becoming detrimental to my relationship with my son.

    What is really sad, is that I'm viewed as a pariah where when I take out my bottle to feed my son. It has taken a while to overcome my guilt of not breastfeeding and become confident in our families choice. Thank you for sharing your story!

  7. Amanda,
    Just like you connected with my story and felt like you could have written it, I can say the same thing about your argument about the “rarity” of low supply. I've brought this up when discussing it with friends. Great minds think alike, huh? You are so right – even if it really does only affect 2% of women, that is still a LOT of mothers who are suffering. Why should we be made to feel like our struggles aren't legitimate? Why aren't lactivists more concerned about finding ways to help us, instead of telling us we just didn't try hard enough? Thanks for your well-written argument.

  8. I can't say I'm glad to see that people connected and felt like my story was their own, because I wouldn't wish that on anyone; but, it is still nice to know I am not alone in my struggles. Thanks for reading my story. I hope it helps struggling mothers get over the guilt and loneliness the way reading previous FFF Friday stories helped me. Stay strong, ladies. We're much better mothers than we give ourselves credit for.

  9. Wow Amanda. What an amazingly awesome comparision. I've always said that rare is still a number, but how you've laid it out is just awesome. I'm stealing it for my own use, just FYI.

  10. regarding stats on women who can't produce enough milk – um, I couldn't with both of my babies, I have PCOS. Yet I certainly don't recall being part of any research study about it…
    I always question statistics.

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