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,
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 email@example.com.