As it is Worldwide Breastfeeding week and August is National Breastfeeding month, I thought it appropriate to reflect upon my journey with breastfeeding…
I had always thought had a healthy diet, took the right supplements and I had a natural as possible birth. I thought that I would have had an easy time with breastfeeding. Such was definitely not the case. Though, as I shared in my birth story with my first son, I was a pre-existing diabetic using insulin throughout the pregnancy. I expected there might be a hindrance here or there. Still I was woefully unprepared for what would ensue.
As my hope for a natural birth was dashed by an induction leading to failure to progress and an allergic reaction to the antibiotic given for prolonged rupture of membranes, it ended in an eventual C-section. MY mind focused on the fact that I would do everything possible to succeed at breastfeeding since I had “failed” at birth and delivery. The trauma of extended hours on Pitocin and a cesarean, a NICU stay, in addition to an undiagnosed tongue tie and lip tie, proved to be too much stress for my milk to come in properly.
*** It should be noted that at that time, I wasn’t aware of the fact that I had one Snp Of the MTHFR gene mutation and hadn’t used folate or prepared myself for the possibility of difficulty with breastfeeding. Please learn from this. ***
I tried inviting to pump, pump, pump, pump, pump… And more pumping. I did this to the exclusion of my own house. I had to succeed at this. I just had to. Days turn into weeks of trying everything possible that I knew of including the fantastic help of lactation consultant, the dry pumping schedules and alternate sleep schedules with my husband and I being awake at opposite times so that I could get rest. Unfortunately, I didn’t bond with my baby and worse, even with many galactagogues, and even domperidone, I never got beyond a total of 3 ounces per day as a total of combined eight pumpings plus per day. This was not maintainable.
And so I stopped.
At eight weeks postpartum. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do… To accept defeat in the one area where I thought I would be able to at least succeed longer than I had. And so, I formula fed by bottle. The remaining ounces that I had pumped I diligently gave to my son as if it were his medicine. It was devastating. And I vowed that if I ever had another baby, I would do things differently. And so I did.
And so I did.
Fast-forward 2 1/2 years and I had a very different birth with my second son. I had learned a lot about folate, midline defects, ways to support my body, what my supply should actually be at each week postpartum, and that I also had an addition to my other health conditions, a version of hypopituitarism which made milk production very challenging. I also was not going to take domperidone this time, as for me I believed it to be a contributing factor to more thyroid problems postpartum before; I’ll never know for sure, though.
In August 2013, my VBAC baby was born with twice wrapped nuchal cords and meconium, but I did it! I did it! And with minimal drug intervention… And so my milk came in a lot faster this time :-). And yes, I did still assume… that because I had had a vaginal birth that I was going to have an easier time with breastfeeding.
And, once again we had issues. But because I was on a proverbial high from having had a better birth, and knowing that my young son would survive, it was a very different situation – because I had hope.
Since he had come out with basically a military attitude, his neck and jaw had been quite compressed from the birth process as the cords prevented him from flexing his head to come out properly. This made it more challenging for him to use his jaw properly and also, despite all my efforts he had a tongue tie and a lip tie.
We managed to leave the hospital with only a 7% weight loss and I think that is because his weight was not inflated from a bunch of fluids as I had very little time with medication or fluids for this delivery. By the time we showed up at the pediatrician, he was quite happily “starving to death” as she told us at the time. He had lost over 12% of his already small body weight percentage.
We started again with blood tests for me, as well as extra pumping sessions and feeding him the surplus in addition to his nursing. It was definitely a very interesting experience with a toddler who would frequently come by and turn my pump on and off. I had to use a hospital grade pump; I couldn’t have done it any other way.
I had to use a hospital grade pump; I couldn’t have done it any other way.
I drink a lot of water, I constantly nursed myself, I continued along my gluten-free and dairy free path, I dutifully swallowed my placenta pills (I had done placenta encapsulation… Best thing ever!), ate my gluten-free Milk Makers brand cookies, and drink my mothers milk tea and took my mothers milk plus special blend tincture.
We went to the pediatrician daily for weight checks. By two weeks we were getting his posterior tongue tie snipped at a hospital in Georgetown. That helped me to remove the nipple shield, but we still had to continue at the pace we were going… We backed off to only four pumping sessions a day as I couldn’t maintain the pace I was going.
But the weight gain wasn’t enough… At six weeks postpartum, my son was barely back up to his birthweight. We were being threatened with the label of failure to thrive despite all of our trials. We continued to do what we had done, continued with osteopathy, for craniosacral work, and I continued to adjust my son as I knew chiropractic would help him and his nervous system.
We had that point had to start fortifying his milk. Our pediatrician was very understanding that I wanted to make my own milk for my baby and that if it couldn’t be my breast milk, then I would make him a liver formula. For a brief time, we had to also use an organic powdered formula as we had to fortify the bottles that we were giving him an addition so as to increase the caloric count.
We continue until I went back to work at seven weeks postpartum and I also rented a hospital grade pump for my office.
While he was already nine weeks old, I’d hoped that he would be better at milk removal and that I would have a better supply. There was nothing I could do about the fact that I also had small capacity in my breasts. I’m happy to say that we continued to plug away with help from a breastfeeding lactation consultant and continued bodywork and bottle feeding. And with the support of other moms who had gone through the same, we were eventually able to have our version of a breastfeeding relationship. Every day we would nurse in the morning and in the evening to go to sleep until he was seven months old, and while most of his nutrition came from either expressed
Every day we would nurse in the morning and in the evening to go to sleep until he was seven months old, and while most of his nutrition came from either expressed breast milk or formula, I was so proud that at the peak of pumping and nursing I had gotten to 70% of his supply.
I had to wean much earlier than I wanted to for my health and autoimmune flares. The truth is that I struggled at first, seeing moms having a seemingly easier time nursing. The green eyed monster of envy definitely reared its head a few times. But in the end, I feel very satisfied that I did everything that I could do.
Thanks to my continued education in the world of pediatric chiropractics, if we are ever blessed to have another child (and I can have a good birth again) I think that I will have an easier time assessing any difficulties with breastfeeding. I’ll know right from the get-go how to evaluate for tethered oral tissue/tongue-tied/lip tie, etc. As it has become a passion of mine and a mission of mine to learn how to help others, and in doing so helping myself. I also know to not be harsh with myself. To get support. To supplement properly. To get chiropractic care, CST and MFR. To get my placenta encapsulated.
Until then, my mission is to keep fighting the good fight for my patients and reminding myself that in every other way my children are absolutely healthy, happy, and thriving despite not being able to be 100% breastfed.
I often hang back when I see people get up in arms about being exclusively breast-fed versus bottle-fed with formula. We all do the best that we can. Donor milk was not an option for me to consider for various reasons. I think I realized through this humbling experience that we all need to support each other.
We all need to stop judging each other and just do our best.