Mary Hawkins, who has an honorary degree in breastfeeding struggles, shares her wisdom and best resources for working through any trouble you may encounter when nursing.
Many blessings, many challenges. That’s how I would characterize nursing my son. Snuggles and love, fulfilling that powerful desire to nurse, comforting his discomforts: check!
Inability to produce a full supply, eventual diagnosis that breastfeeding will always be the same struggle in terms of ounces, feeling like a part of me was fighting for the first eight months of my son’s life: also check.
Now I’m pregnant with #2. I know too much to naively think this time will be better. However, it will be different—and maybe even easier.
1. This time, I know my boobs.
Low supply is hard. Chronic low supply is not for the faint of heart. And an eventual diagnosis of IGT, or insufficient glandular tissue, is pretty much at the opposite end of normal. It basically means one’s breasts, during puberty and pregnancy, did not grow the typical amount of milk-making tissue—glandular tissue—needed to make enough milk for the baby. Which meant that I did what felt like 1,253,546,957 things to try to increase my supply, maintain my breastfeeding relationship despite supplementing, and on, and on, and on.
I did pretty much everything there was to do:
- herbs to potentially help make more milk
- supplemental nursing systems to have formula or donor milk go down a little tube that was taped to my nipple so the baby could suck not-my-milk along with my-milk or after my milk was out for that session
- syringe- and finger-feeding for 5 weeks to preserve the nursing relationship
- power pumping
- seeing an IBCLC and then seeing another IBCLC just for good measure
- getting my son’s mild tongue tie revised
- switching from a Medela pump to a Spectra
- making sure the nipples on the bottles we started using at 5 weeks had a soft, wide base and relatively short nipple (more like real breasts)
- watching videos on how to pace feed with a bottle (having the bottle feeding work more like the natural let down process of breastfeeding)
I did everything, because I needed to. I needed to do everything to try to make breastfeeding work for us. I still don’t completely know why I needed to, but I did. And I’m mostly glad I did, because I certainly have no regrets about leaving stones unturned.
But this time, I don’t need to do all that stuff, or learn it and stress over it while I am also adjusting to that immediate postpartum haze of love and sleeplessness and hormones. I can make choices. After last time, I have this whole banquet table of breastfeeding and supplementing options from which to pick and choose. My husband has already requested that we skip the finger feeding because it was really stressful for him. So we get to work together and make a plan that will (hopefully) work for us.
2. I already know what it looks like to go too far down the rabbit hole.
Most new moms encounter some sort of rabbit hole that is as difficult to resist as it is to desist from. (Cloth diapering, anyone?!) Because I couldn’t breastfeed the way I imagined, because it was the first task I had as a mother after giving birth, and because, it turns out, I had post-partum anxiety, nursing became the thing I held onto too tightly and struggled with most to loosen my grip.
My desire to breastfeed went beyond my understanding. I wasn’t some kind of anti-formula person, I’d just seen all the benefits (physical, emotional, and financial) of breastfeeding and I thought it would be fine. I never considered it wouldn’t be fine. Turns out, breastfeeding not being fine ate away the space between me and my anxiety.
It was the space between dedicated and desperate. I acted dedicated, but I felt desperate. I fantasized about my son cluster-feeding as a response to cutting back formula, helping my breasts get the signal to make more milk. But my husband and family knew (and I knew, too) that my breasts didn’t react that way. And so if I ever even hinted at acting desperate instead of dedicated, they gently and firmly said no. My brain may have occasionally desired recklessness, but husband made sure that nothing else got that far—there was no failure to thrive, no lethargic or sallow baby, no deeper endangerment of our baby’s or marriage’s health.
Eventually, I was able to see how much a toll my internal misery was taking, and I was able to get professional help for my postpartum anxiety (which also gave me strength to seek out a physiological cause for my low milk supply). Therapy and medication were both necessary for me to start feeling like myself again and finish my journey with breastfeeding—and this is coming from a woman who spent a good ten years of her life prior gathering awesome emotional and spiritual tools to cope with life! I found myself again, I found my diagnosis, and was able to live with the situation without hopelessness.
Next time, with the rabbit hole: well, it’s a hole. Once you know it’s there, it isn’t that hard to see it coming.
3. My toolbox is much more full.
Have I mentioned yet that women are incredibly generous? Every resource I discovered on my long path toward peace with my breastfeeding journey was produced, created, or referred by a woman. Thank you, ladies! And in writing this I hope I can help someone, too.
IBCLCs are the cream of the crop of breastfeeding consultants. Go see one! Or two!
Midwives help me put my nursing experience in perspective with my overall health and my cycle of trying to conceive, pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Invaluable care here.
Therapists and psychiatrists can help a great deal with learning skills to cope with change as well as short- or long-term assistance with PPD or PPA.
Friends and family, especially other moms who have been there before, are so comforting during postpartum. And everyone loves telling their story so don’t be afraid to call!
In-person breastfeeding support groups are a wonderful resource in many communities.
Online breastfeeding support groups: there are a bunch of them! Find one that is a good fit for you.
Books and websites:
Breastfeeding Made Simple (best basic breastfeeding info there is!)
The Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk (great guide)
http://www.Kellymom.com (evidence-based info on every topic)
http://www.Motherlove.com (herbals for breastfeeding and beyond)
Diary of a Lactation Failure by 4-time mom with IGT, Nyssa Evelyn Retter
Finding Sufficiency by Diana Cassar-Uhl, IBCLC