FFF Friday: “Seven years later, I still think about that day…”

One of the criticisms I often see about this website is that it might “scare women” out of breastfeeding, due to all the negative experiences shared in these Friday stories.

I understand where these critics are coming from, but the way I see it, everything else we see about breastfeeding is blindingly positive. No one speaks of the (sometimes rare, sometimes common) problems that can and do arise. So when these problems strike one particular woman, she feels alone and surprised. 

I don’t see how allowing women to tell their stories can ever be a bad thing. Of course most women who breastfeed aren’t going to develop sepsis like Leslie (whose story is below), but for the small but very real number that do, isn’t it better that they know the signs? By that same argument, isn’t it better if women are armed with information and resources about more common issues like mastitis, IGT, and tongue ties, so that they can be more proactive rather than suffering in silence?

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Leslie’s Story

 

With three thriving children, my husband and I are through having babies, so the whole breast milk vs. formula debate has an aura of been-there, done-that for me. But, because my story and the message I want to get out are a bit different than many, I thought I’d share it with you.

With my first (who is now 7), I went through the standard new-mother breastfeeding hells (that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, but that won’t surprise any regular reader of FFF) — you know, bleeding nipples, Reynaud’s Syndrome, screaming baby, unhelpful consultants, latch problems, psychotic sleep deprivation, wishing I’d never conceived (or been conceived myself), hating my baby for being hungry, etc. Eventually, I ended up just pumping and feeding the baby expressed breast milk. It sucked, but it was better than fighting The Nursing Wars with my baby. Unfortunately, I had HUGE oversupply problems, which pumping exacerbated. I mean, I could effortlessly pump out 50 ounces of breast milk a day, no problem. Well, actually, big problem — it took ALL of my time; I felt like my value had ben reduced to that of a farm animal (and I have two Ivy League degrees); we had to buy an extra freezer; and still my supply just kept increasing. If I didn’t pump, I’d get painful engorgement, plugged ducts, mastitis, soaking wet tops, etc. It was literally impossible for me to empty my breasts of milk — I could have pumped 24 hours a day without running dry. I asked a lactation consultant about it, and she just suggested I donate my extra milk — neither she, nor anyone else, had any reasonable idea how to stabilize, much less reduce, my oversupply. Indeed, no one took my oversupply problem seriously — “Lucky you!” the obnoxious woman at the breastfeeding center exclaimed.

So, there I was about five months post-partum and pumping at least five times a day. One Sunday morning, my right breast hurt fairly badly, and I felt lousy. I knew I had mastitis. (I’d had it twice before.) My regular OB/GYN was out of town, but the on-call OB/GYN covering for him called in oral antibiotics for me. My husband went and picked them up and I started taking them immediately.

Three or four hours later, my right breast ached more (pumping was blindingly painful and I couldn’t make myself do it), and the red infected area had spread. Also, my temperature was going up (at that point, 101 degrees). I called the covering OB/GYN back — she was very irritated that I’d bothered her again, told me that it could take up to 48 hours for the oral antibiotics to work, that I should see my regular doctor if I wasn’t better by Tuesday, and not to call her again.quotescover-JPG-50

Now, here’s where I was/am really lucky: My mother was staying with us, and she’s very, very science savvy. She knew, and was worried, about sepsis, so she called my sister, a breast cancer surgeon, who lives across the country. My sister said to circle the red area on my breast with a Sharpie marker, so we could see if it was really spreading. A couple hours later, it had definitely spread, my whole breast was excruciatingly painful, my temperature was over 102 degrees, and I was deteriorating mentally — I just kept crying, over and over, that I didn’t know what to do, and that I just wanted to be left alone in a dark room.

My mother insisted that I needed to go to the ER. She and my husband sought my opinion, but I could only cry (in pain? in fear? in fever?). All I really remember is that I insisted that before going to the ER, I had to email my boss that he wouldn’t be getting the case memo he was expecting the next morning — I can’t explain why I felt that was so critical, when I couldn’t even take responsibility for my own health crisis, except that I was so sick, I couldn’t think straight.

Anyway, my mother won, and by 9pm that night, I was taken to the ER. My temperature was over 104 degrees, my white blood cell count was over 30, my entire right breast was red, inflamed, and dimpling, and I struggled to answer basic questions like my name and birthdate. Due to my doctor sister’s advocacy (she called the ER ahead of my arrival and insisted the ER call her as soon as I was admitted), the ER was all over my sepsis. I spent literally no time in the waiting room; I was taken straight back to a treatment room; within 20 minutes, my blood had been drawn, and within 55 minutes, I had a central line in my neck and was getting IV antibiotics (vancomycin).

Of course, I was admitted to the hospital with a diagnosis of sepsis from mastitis, and spent the next four days getting IV antibiotics. Thanks to my mother’s and my sister’s sophistication and persistence, my sepsis was treated very promptly — before I had any major organ failures — and I made a full, fairly easy recovery.

Overall, I received excellent care at my hospital. My only criticism — and it’s a big one — is that the hospital (the same one where I’d delivered my baby five months earlier) refused to let me use one of its breast pumps to relieve my terrible engorgement the night I was admitted. I hadn’t been able to pump for most of the day, and at that point I was regularly producing 40-50 ounces of breast milk per day; the engorgement and resultant pain were unimaginable. The hospital said it didn’t want one of its breast pumps contaminated with whatever bacteria had caused my mastitis and my sepsis. Not only was that selfish — it’s a hospital for heaven’s sake! — but my breasts were so full of pressure that the antibiotics had trouble getting to the underlying infection site. So, refusing me a breast pump actually jeopardized my health. (When the infectious disease specialist found out, he was livid and read the riot act to the maternity care unit.) Unfortunately, I was too sick and weak to fight that one that night — the next day, my husband brought my, ahem, hospital-grade breast pump from home.

ALL of my doctors — including my regular OB/GYN (who was back by then), my internist, the infectious disease specialist, my sister (the breast surgeon), and the surgeon who put in my central line — uniformly advised me to stop lactating, because another bout of mastitis could very easily kill me. My infant son’s pediatrician was in accord — she said formula was fine, and I’d be nuts to risk my life just to give him breast milk. Finally — FINALLY — I was prescribed a drug (bromacriptine) to stop producing breast milk. (Rarely, it can cause strokes, so no one would give it to me before.) I cried as I took the drug to stop lactation, because I half-thought it made me a bad mother, but I didn’t seriously consider not taking it. Unbelievably, lactivists tried to change my mind on that, claiming “breastfeeding is the most loving thing a mother can do for a child,” but their efforts had the opposite effect. Apparently, my life, and the possibility of my child growing up without his mother, mattered less to them than breastfeeding. Well, screw that. If someone doesn’t value my life, I don’t see why I should value their opinion.

When I got out of the hospital, we used up our freezer full of breast milk, and then switched to formula — and the baby was fine. A couple years later, with my second, I tried breastfeeding again, but got three breast infections in the first three weeks. As I said before, screw that — we promptly switched to formula, and again, the baby was fine. (For the record, in fact, my second formula-fed kid was recently tested as having an IQ of 152.)

With my third, we went straight to formula in the hospital. Surprisingly, the only person who gave me a hard time about the formula was our new pediatrician. (By then, our beloved, old one had retired.) When I explained that breastfeeding was dangerous for me because I’d previously had sepsis from mastitis, he condescendingly replied, “Well, you think you had sepsis.” No, asshole, I had sepsis, and I have the scar in my neck from the central line to prove it. My husband and I switched pediatricians immediately — who needs that kind of questioning and doubt from their kids’ doctor? Our next (and current) pediatrician appropriately couldn’t have care less how we fed the baby, so long as the baby continued to thrive.

Here’s the thing I hope others reading this take away from my story: If something seems really wrong with mastitis, go to the ER and ask about sepsis. Do NOT just let some irritated, on-call doctor on the phone bully you into waiting a few days for oral antibiotics to kick in. If I (actually, my mother) had obeyed the on-call OB/GYN that Sunday, I would have just grown sicker and sicker until Tuesday; statistics say I probably would be dead now.

Waking up healthy one Sunday morning, developing mastitis and then sepsis, and being told I might die, was among the most terrifying experiences of my life. It all happened so fast; I hadn’t done anything wrong; I couldn’t handle the situation myself; and — but for my mother’s and sister’s insistence in taking me to the ER — I probably would have died. Seven years later, I still think about that every day. And, every day, as I mother all three of my beautiful, thriving formula-fed children, I am grateful.

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Feel like sharing your story? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

FFF Friday: “Why did I put myself through all that?”

As I’ve mentioned before, it can take awhile for a FFF Friday submission to actually be published. Jennifer, for example, sent me this piece last October. A year ago. She was a few weeks away from having her third baby, and that baby must be about 11 months now, which is…. well, let’s just say it makes my backlog of stories look a bit more daunting. 

I wonder how Jennifer’s first few months with her new son went. I hope she was able to enjoy her baby, regardless of how she ended up feeding him. I hope her friends and family were able to do as she asked, and help her fight against her own inner monologue – because as too many of us know, the voice in our head can be the most judgmental of all. I hope that third time really was the charm.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Jennifer’s Story

I am currently 35 weeks pregnant with my third baby and I am trying to mentally prepare myself for labor/delivery, and those early days of learning the care of a newborn. Each child is so different and the learning “curve” is straight up!

First Baby: It’s a Girl! Born at 37 weeks and only 6 lbs 3 oz. Since she was my first, it took a few days for my milk to come in and she quickly lost weight. We were told to supplement and we did. Breastfeeding became excruciatingly painful very soon after that. I saw lactation consultants, and doctors, but none of them could figure out why I was so “sensitive.” I hated that word. I didn’t think that a mom who was willing to breastfeed through extreme pain could be called, “sensitive.”

After a couple of months of that, we found that she was not gaining weight and so began the cycle of nursing, pumping, and weighing. After a couple more weeks of that, I was too exhausted to continue and we started exclusive formula feeding. I didn’t really experience my breast milk “drying up.” There was nothing left. Our little one grew and thrived, but I had a difficult time getting past the feelings of guilt and failure. I was determined to try again.

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Second Baby: Three years later…another girl! This one born at 40 weeks and 7lbs 4 oz. I began nursing right away and although she struggled to latch, all signs pointed to her actually receiving colostrum. Lots of wet and poopy diapers. A nipple shield helped her latch and we were sent home.

Once we were home, the real trouble began. She could latch without the shield, but with every feeding, my pain increased and my nipples became more and more destroyed. Again, I saw a lactation consultant (a different one than before).

She was wonderful. She never gave up trying to find a solution to my extreme pain. First, she diagnosed tongue-tie, which we had fixed. When that didn’t help, she prescribed “rest” for my nipples and I bought a hospital-grade pump. My husband fed our daughter while I pumped around the clock. Even the pumping was extremely painful. I didn’t have thrush. I didn’t have mastitis.

Finally, she watched me pump. She was shocked at what she saw. My nipple was bright red when in the pump and then as soon as I stopped pumping, it would turn completely white, and then eventually purple. Apparently this is a condition called Renauds. While it usually affects people’s fingers and toes in cold weather, it can also affect nipples! She said I was only the second case she had seen in the 10 years of her practice.

My primary care doctor did some research and found out that this is treated all the time in France (there they call it “icy nipples”) with a homeopathic remedy called Secale Cornutum. I tried it and I kid you not, within 20 minutes of taking it, I could watch my nipple change from white to a nice normal pink. It did make pumping comfortable (finally!) but nursing was still too painful. After about 5 months of being fed pumped breastmilk, my milk once again ran out and we switched to formula. This time I didn’t feel guilty. I finally had an answer to my breastfeeding pain and I knew my daughter would thrive on formula, just like her sister had. I did, however, feel kind of stupid. Why did I put myself through all of that?

Third Baby (a Boy!!):  We tried for a Summer baby, but it didn’t happen. So I’m about to give birth to another Winter Baby, which means Renauds will rear its ugly head again.

Here is what I want: A happy Mama and a Happy Baby. Here is what I don’t want: Weeks of extreme pain and sadness from being unable to breastfeed without pain. So, I have informed my husband and all of my family members and friends that if they see me suffering again like I did before, they HAVE to tell me to stop. They have to reach through my hormone crazed “I must breastfeed or the world will end” haze and tell me it is ok to stop. It is good to stop. My family needs a happy Mama. I won’t go to the breastfeeding support groups. I won’t pump around the clock. I won’t cry through every painful feeding. I WILL STOP if I need to. I will get that formula, and make that bottle, and gaze into my baby’s eyes and fall in love.

***
Want to share your story? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com

Guest Post and Giveaway – Work. Pump. Repeat.

A few years ago, I inter-met (get it? Meaning “met on the internet” – just made that up) this amazing blogger named Jessica Shortall. She was talking about combining breastfeeding and work in a funny, open, realistic and smart way – something I found refreshing in this typically depressing little corner of the Web. I’ve followed her work since, and am so excited to announce that today, her book Work.Pump. Repeat has been released into the world. This is the first and only breastfeeding book I’ve ever recommended on this page, and while it may seem odd for me to be promoting something exclusively for lactating women, I feel that strongly about her contribution to the infant feeding canon. I have a lot of readers who combo-feed or decide to breastfeed subsequent children, and I am thrilled to have a solid book to suggest to them; something that will celebrate their individuality and right to choose, while simultaneously giving them practical tips on combining breast and bottle and going back to work while breastfeeding.

Jessica and I have joined forces to offer the FFF audience a kickass giveaway, for those of you who are still pumping, planning on pumping, or might want to support a pumping friend (a great way to spread the #ISupportYou message). I wanted to do this for three reasons:

1. To show that infant feeding websites can, do and should support every woman’s individual journey. Just because you frequent FFF doesn’t mean you don’t support your breastfeeding best friend, or that you aren’t also pumping or combo feeding, or that you don’t plan on giving breastfeeding a go the second or third time around.

 

2. Because I think it means something that these brands were willing to work with me and this site, since some other brands (cough) were afraid to align themselves with someone who primarily supports parents using formula.

 

3. Because it’s a fun way to promote Jessica’s book, and I would do anything to help her out. Just read her post below, and you’ll see why I feel this way.

Check out the info about the giveaway at the end of this post.

So, without further blabbing, here’s some words written specifically for the FFF audience by a woman I am incredibly proud to call a friend, a woman who truly supports ALL mothers in their feeding journeys, and manages to support breastfeeding without ever disparaging alternative feeding methods.

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On Failure and Goals

by Jessica Shortall

Work. Pump. Repeat. (available now) is the first breastfeeding book to get beyond the noise of the Mommy Wars and into practical advice, emotional support, and some seriously dark humor. Jessica Shortall shares the nitty-gritty basics of surviving the working world as a breastfeeding mom, offering a road map for negotiating the pumping schedule with colleagues, navigating business travel, and problem-solving when forced to pump in less-than-desirable locales. Drawing on the war stories, hacks, and humor of working moms, and on her own stories from her demanding job and travel in developing countries, she gives women moral support for dealing with the stress and guilt that come with juggling working and breastfeeding. As she tells the reader in her witty, inspiring manifesto, “Your worth as a mother is not measured in ounces.”

The other day, I was looking for something specific in the manuscript of my book, so I opened the Word document I had submitted to my publisher, and did a “ctrl+F” keyword search for the word “failure.”

I wasn’t really expecting the search to return 231 results.

It does make sense, though, because trying to be a triple-threat breastfeeder, working person, and new mother in a world that wants you to be perfect at all three, is FULL OF FEELINGS.

But still…I don’t know how we got to this place. My gut tells me that this breastfeeding/failure thing is a relatively new phenomenon. I mean, I can totally picture any woman, at any time in human history, completely breaking down in the first hours or days postpartum, when her nipples are bleeding and the baby is howling. That’s probably pretty universal in terms of an almost unnameably horrific set of feelings. But this thing, this setting of breastfeeding goals as a thing women are asked to do and to publicly affirm, via “I breastfed for ____ months” Facebook badges? I have to believe this is relatively new territory.

The biggest problem with this cultural phenomenon is that tightly defining what “success” looks like is, de facto, also defining “failure” for us, whether we like it or not. So, 231 instances of the word “failure” in my book, from my mouth and the mouths of the hundreds of working mothers I interviewed? When you consider that 83% said that working caused them to breastfeed for shorter than they had hoped? Yeah, I guess that makes sense.

In this journey of writing a book that helps women breastfeed while working, I have discovered one interesting thing: I’m kind of alone in WHY I’m doing it. (Note: I’m totally NOT alone in that I feel like I’m stitching together the stories and laughter and tears and holy-shit-that-was-awkward moments of gazillions of working women. YOU people make me feel not-alone.) I’ve learned that many breastfeeding advocates and educators – including some of the great and lovely ones – define their baseline goal as getting more breastmilk into more babies. So if that’s the goal, then for any individual woman, success is defined pretty tightly – and therefore, anything outside of that success sort of sensibly feels like failure.

I get their goal, and I respect their intentions. I’m just coming at this from a totally different place. I define my ultimate goal in this space as helping women and their babies figure out what ‘thriving’ looks like for them. Two roads diverged. And here’s who I think that matters to:

– the waitress who really doesn’t have a choice when she is faced with losing tables, and therefore un-lose-able income, by taking pumping breaks

– the lawyer who suffers from crippling postpartum anxiety related to how much (or how little) milk she is producing at work

– the heavy-business-traveler who just can’t…just CAN’T, like, down to her SOUL…withstand even the IDEA of bringing that #%$^ pump onto one more airplane

– the stay-at-home-mom with her own damn reasons that I haven’t even thought of

– and even, yep, the woman who produces more than enough breastmilk, day in and day out, at work, enough even to donate some, for a year or more. This woman, too, doesn’t deserve to be defined as a success only by her milk, and I truly believe that she doesn’t want to see her sisters, her friends, and her co-workers put to shame.

 

Every time we draw bright lines around success, we create a huge swath of experience that is, by default, being defined as failure. Breastfeeding for X length of time is ONE part of ONE version of thriving, for some, but certainly not for all. I refuse to discount families who are using their capable hearts, heads, and bodies to figure out their own version of happiness, healthiness, and success. The goal is thriving families, and I can’t wait to see your version.

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Fearless Formula Feeder + Work. Pump. Repeat. are pleased to offer you

The ultimate working + breastfeeding giveaway survival kit

Hey, pumping and combo-feeding moms! Don’t go back to work alone: bring this bad-ass survival kit with you! Work. Pump. Repeat. and the Fearless Formula Feeder are teaming up with some of the best-loved breastfeeding brands to offer an amazing prize pack of the survival gear any working-and-breastfeeding mom will need. Worth more than $500, this giveaway will let you stop worrying about gear and get back to snuggling with your baby and binge-watching TV until it’s time to head back to work.

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FFF Friday: “Why did no one tell me about this?”

The history of infant feeding is fascinating to me, mostly because it’s such a prime example of human innovation. In today’s Western society, we tend to romanticize the days of yore, favoring ancient practices in the approach to nutrition, medicine, and especially birth and parenting. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, if this is what you prefer – but I think the downside is that we start resenting modern conveniences and progress. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a total Luddite about many things (I will never trade in my dogeared, musty-smelling paperbacks for a Kindle; I think Facebook is the downfall of humanity) but I also freaking love my DVR, read Popular Science and geek out, and think medical advancements are the coolest thing since sliced bread. I love that we can cure diseases, prevent others, and take away the pain from childbirth for those who desire this.

So I really, really love Emily’s story, because it speaks to all of this, and then some. Because nature isn’t always right. Humans aren’t always right. In fact, both of them are wrong a lot of the time. But when they can work in tandem and correct each other’s mistakes, that’s a beautiful thing. 

 Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Emily’s Story

My husband is a biologist, and he’s interested in evolutionary biology. Through him, I’ve also developed an interest in this, though I’m not at all a science person so my understanding is limited.

When I learned about insufficient glandular tissue (and that I had IGT), I didn’t understand. If our bodies were made for breastfeeding (as nurses, lactation consultants, et al. kept telling me), how is it that IGT is a thing? Why it is that the gene for IGT didn’t die out when our bodies didn’t do what they were meant to do and we couldn’t feed our babies?

I thought about this as I was pregnant with my second child. With my first, we had tried breastfeeding. He had a great latch and a strong suck for all the good it did him. I just couldn’t produce enough milk. I hadn’t even heard of IGT back then. Neither had the myriad nurses, lactation consultants, doctors, or La Leche League leaders, presumably. Or if they did, they never told me about it. LLL leaders were happy with telling me that I wasn’t dedicated to breastfeeding and that I was wrong when I said he wasn’t producing dirty diapers. I just couldn’t tell they were wet, she said, because I used disposable diapers rather than cloth. (To be fair, some of the LLL leaders were much nicer and encouraging.) Lactation consultants must have seen me as a cash cow and tried to sell me products and services that weren’t even calculated to help my supply issue. I’ve come to think of them as predatory.quotescover-JPG-14

And so, thinking that breast is best, my routine with my first was breastfeed, give breast milk that I had pumped earlier, supplement with formula, and pump while he sleeps. When that was all done, he was up again. I think a lot of readers are familiar with this pattern. I was even on some medication from my midwife to try to increase my supply, but all it did was make me sleepy. Eventually, I stopped. I realized that an awake mommy who could play with her baby was more important than breast milk.

During my second pregnancy, I learned about IGT, in particular that I might have IGT. Instead of feeling relieved or justified (so that’s why I couldn’t breastfeed!), I felt lied to and betrayed. Of all the people I spoke to when my first baby was born, all the medical professionals and self-professed breastfeeding experts who tried to make me feel bad, give me medication, or sell me useless and expensive equipment, why did no one tell me about this? They all said that our bodies were meant to do this, that we have been doing this for thousands of years. They never said that maybe my body wasn’t meant to do this. And if, as they said, this is what mommies are designed to do and I can’t do it, are they implying that I shouldn’t be a mommy?

Survival of the fittest doesn’t mean survival of the physically strongest. It means the one who is most able to adapt to her surroundings will pass on her genes. People say that women have been breastfeeding for thousands of years, but they neglect to mention that we have also been using wet nurses, animal milk, and baby bottles for that long. The gene for IGT didn’t die out because humans are creative, intelligent, and caring enough to feed their babies when their bodies don’t work the way other people think they should.

Never do I feel more human than I do when I give my baby formula. Bottle feeding my babies reminds me of humans’ problem solving ability that allowed us to evolve into who we are today, and probably did more for the species than mammary glands ever did. And we’re all part of this intelligent species, whether we bottle or breastfeed.

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Feel like sharing your story? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

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