It was a difficult decision — one fraught with many tears and sleepless nights. For the first days of her life, my baby just wouldn’t sleep unless she was nursing, and she was always nursing. And she was never satisfied, never full. At her three-day checkup we found out she’d lost a pound — more than the 10% weight loss considered normal for a breastfed baby. Finally, we gave her a bottle. She guzzled down almost three ounces and slept. Blissfully. For hours. I was able to go to the bathroom, take a shower, eat, sleep.
I started to come out of the postpartum fog, from the unbearable sense of being completely overwhelmed that I hid from those I loved. Everyone said how good I looked, but I didn’t feel good. I felt broken, frustrated and deficient. I read books, took classes, practiced. I was going to exclusively breastfeed my baby. I knew that the reason I struggled with my first daughter was because I wasn’t allowed to initiate breastfeeding in the golden hour after she was born. She was an emergency C-section, I had a lot of pain, and no breastfeeding support. This time I was surrounded by support. It would work this time.
I Googled ways to help my sore nipples and bought a huge bottle of fenugreek. I started prescription meds that made me start twitching. I did everything I could to make more milk. But I didn’t make it. I figured she was getting less than an ounce per 30 minute feeding. What was wrong with me?
I’d heard of something called hypoplastic breasts and had suspected for a couple of years I might have it. I started researching, looking at pictures of breasts that looked just like mine. Reading stories from mothers who also failed to breastfeed, reading their symptoms and warning signs, and it was like reading my own story. I wasn’t bad at nursing — my body actually had a deficiency.
Why did none of my doctors, midwives, or pediatricians ever talk to me about this? I struggled to nurse with my first daughter and gave up after just two weeks. She was so much happier on the bottle, her jaundice went away, she was pooping more normally. She was a happy, healthy baby. Why didn’t any doctor screen me for this? Ask me a few simple questions about my breasts, changes during pregnancy, and look at their shape and structure? Nobody did. I diagnosed myself.
What was worse, was the lactation consultant completely brushed off my suggestion that I might have hypoplastic breasts. She told me the issue was probably that I wasn’t letting her nurse enough. That my milk would come in soon (this was day five, milk comes in around day three) that I needed to keep at it, and that every bottle of formula I gave her was sabotaging my efforts. After a 20 minute conversation, during which I sobbed the entire time, I felt hopeless and lost. I must be broken.
There is a myth that every woman can breastfeed. And it’s almost true.
There is a myth that every woman can breastfeed. And it’s almost true. Insufficient Glandular Tissue, or IGT is a truly rare condition. It is suspected that about 1 in every 1000 women has it, (this may be under reported as many women never try to breastfeed and it may not be caught) even at that number, that means about 4000 babies are born every year to mothers who will not be able to exclusively breastfeed, or breastfeed at all. Yet no one is talking about it, and no one seems to be screening for it. There is so little support for women with IGT.
As of today, I am no longer just supplementing, I’ve stopped nursing all together. I suspect my IGT affected my milk, as I had a lot of foremilk, and very little hindmilk. This caused my daughter to be painfully gassy and have a hard time pooping. 48 hours with no breastmilk and she has been much more comfortable, I’ve been able to stop the gas drops and she’s pooped A LOT.
I cried over the decision. I am mourning what I thought would happen, how I thought things would work. I am finally accepting our new relationship, and trying to not feel guilty about it. It’s ok that my baby has formula, and I know breastmilk is best, but I’m doing my very best too. She is a happy, beautiful, healthy baby. I get to cuddle and snuggle her all day since I’m on maternity leave, and we have a wonderful relationship. I miss the closeness that nursing brought, but I’m glad she’s comfortable, and fed.
According to the CDC, in 2012 76% of women initiated breastfeeding in the hospital, but by 6 months only 47% were still nursing. That’s a huge drop! We are not alone! Breastfeeding is like any other function of our body, it doesn’t always work flawlessly. And thank goodness for formula that helps babies grow big and strong, without making them sick. Thank goodness for milk donors who can donate to mothers who struggle. There are so many options out there.
I wanted to write this in case anyone out there is feeling similar feelings of guilt or sadness over a lack of breastmilk supply, not being able to exclusively breastfeed, or not breastfeed at all. If your baby is happy and healthy, you are doing the right thing. You are not alone. We are women who wanted to nurse but for any number of reasons, couldn’t. Did you give your baby any breastmilk? Great! She got benefits from that. You nursed for three weeks? One week? Three days? Fantastic. You are giving her the greatest gift. You have done everything you could for her. Good job, moms.