Failure. Guilt. Ashamed. Bad Mother. Struggling. Not the best for my baby. Can’t even provide for my own child. Devastated. Those were all thoughts that ran through my head as I struggled, fought, and lost in attempting to exclusively breastfeed my daughter. My whole pregnancy I was prepared to exclusively breastfeed. I shunned the formula samples that came in the mail and immediately gave them away once they arrived at my door. I was thrilled and excited to be able to provide my daughter’s nutrition once she was born! I was training to be a birth doula and had gone over breastfeeding information in my classes and was filled with the expectation that even if it’s hard it will work eventually, that I just needed to stick with it. Unfortunately life doesn’t always work out how you plan.
When our precious little girl, who had taken over 3 years to conceive, was born I was so overjoyed and emotional that all my research on breastfeeding couldn’t stand up to the emotional hormone roller-coaster surging through my body. Our first issue was that my daughter was not a good latcher. She cried and waved her hands around and quite often ended up sticking them between her mouth and my breast, forcing me to attempt to reposition her over and over again. Finally at about 24 hours old I had her latched and she stayed on for over 5 minutes and I was thrilled. I sent my husband to find a nurse to see if we had the latch correct and he came back with a different nurse than the one that was on duty for me. She put one hand on my shoulder, looked at our daughter nursing and told me, “I’m sorry sweetie, but there are several boob shapes that we see and there is one particular shape that doesn’t produce milk very well and you have that shape. I think you need to supplement.” My heart sank. I started bawling. I wanted to know if she was latching well and she came in and told me I likely wouldn’t be able to produce milk?!? I gave in to her pressuring and we started with a supplemental nursing system (SNS) that evening.
I was stressed and a first time Mom and my milk didn’t end up coming in until the end of day 5. I cried at every feeding. My daughter started to refuse to latch unless the SNS was attached. Even getting her to latch with the SNS was a big production and often required my husband to hold her arms down while I attempted to get her mouth to line up correctly. When I pumped I was lucky if I was able to get 1 ounce between the two breasts. I tried every herb available, nurse-ins, pumping after every feeding and every 2 hours, and even 2 different prescription medications but nothing made a difference in my supply. By the time she was 4 months old I had essentially dried up and she was exclusively formula fed. My failure to breast feed her affected me daily and haunted me.
After breastfeeding failed for us I grieved and I also researched. I mentioned that it took us over 3 years to conceive our daughter. I have early onset PCOS, polycystic ovarian syndrome. It can cause fertility issues and also affects breastfeeding in about 30% of women with it. With early onset PCOS women can have underdeveloped breast glands. Essentially the required changes in the breasts while your pregnant may not happen or not develop completely resulting in either a low supply or in some severe cases no milk at all. Of the 30% of PCOSers who struggle with low supply 1/3 of them have severe issues. Luckily I had milk, but it was close to the severe end. Likely nothing that I physically could do would change the amount of milk I was able to produce. It wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t that I was failing, but that my body just physically could not produce the milk needed to sustain my child. It’s possible that’s why the nurse mentioned my breast shape (although breast shape doesn’t affect supply, it’s just a common shape for PCOSers to have) Even though I was armed with this new information, emotionally I still felt that I had failed my daughter despite her being happy, healthy, and very smart! I struggled daily for over a year and a half, occasionally still crying. Seeing all the postings and articles about how BREAST IS BEST would tear me up inside knowing that I hadn’t been able to do that for my baby no matter how much I had tried and wanted to avoid formula. Then I found out that I was pregnant again and the healing began. (to be continued)
For information on PCOS and breastfeeding check out this article: http://www.mobimotherhood.org/MM/article-pcos.aspx
Don’t know what a supplemental nursing system is? Check out here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supplemental_nursing_system
SNS Image Credit: When Nursing is not Enough: Supplementing with Care