My experience with Insufficient Glandular Tissue and breastfeeding

Guest post by Jernni

Granite State Whale Watch
By: Rusty ClarkCC BY 2.0
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.

Comments on My experience with Insufficient Glandular Tissue and breastfeeding

  1. Thank you so much for this piece! I was in tears reading this, because I went through the exact same thing when my daughter was an infant. The guilt, the self loathing, the struggles, the physical pain of nursing… it was truly a nightmare. Switching to a bottle saved both mine and my daughter’s life, despite the naysaying from the people who were supposed to help me. I even had a lactation consultant tell me that “baby formula was more harmful to my infant than cigarette smoke!” and another woman tell me that “women who don’t nurse don’t deserve to be mothers.” So much heartache. Now that I’m pregnant with my second, I have already decided to give nursing a go, but I WILL NOT put myself through the hell of the first time. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, well my first born is perfectly happy and healthy and the next one will be too!
    Thanks for sharing your story!

    • I’m glad you found comfort in this! There is good news, many women who struggle with a first pregnancy find that the second time around their supply is better. I had NO milk with my first, and was lactating just a little with this newest one (my third pregnancy)

      On the flip side, be prepared to be just as emotional if things don’t work out. We often go into it thinking “if it doesn’t work, I’ll just use formula!” Then when that deciscion actually happens it’s very hard. Make sure you give yourself a lot of credit for even being willing to try again! Good for you Momma!

      (And I know all about the lactation consultants… they are taught many mis-truths)

    • I had this mentality, too. That if things didn’t work out, I’d go straight to the formula. As it happened, it did become a very emotional decision but at the end of a lot of juggling, I think I’ve found my peace: we’re mixed-feeding for a second time, but … it’s okay. One thing: I wasn’t prepared for how I was going to feel (ie way more emotional than I expected) but it did bring a kind of peace and for that I’m glad.

    • I cannot believe what those women said to you! That’s completely insane! It’s not like you’re starving your baby, formula still provides plenty of nutrition! In this country we have clean water and formula is safe, even if it’s not the perfect ideal. People are ridiculous sometimes.

  2. I, too, have breast hypoplasia. When I had my first child, I was 17 years old. My concerns about milk production were ignored by doctors and lactation consultants. I was told I was doing something wrong. I wasn’t nursing enough. I was nursing too often. I wasn’t eating the right foods. I wasn’t taking the right herbs. I did EVERYTHING I was told I should do to increase my supply, and still my daughter was diagnosed as Failure to Thrive. When my second child was born, I immediately sought the assistance of a lactation consultant. Rather than help me, she turned me into child protective services because my baby lost more than 10% of her birth weight.

    I, too, ended up having to diagnose myself with breast hypoplasia. I was going to use donor breastmilk from a close family friend, but child protective services said they would take my baby from me and put her in foster care if I fed her somebody else’s breastmilk. I ended up supplementing with a Supplemental Nursing System. Nobody understood why I wanted to use the SNS rather than use bottles. They looked at me like I had 3 heads if I used the phrase “nipple confusion”.

    Years after diagnosing myself with breast hypoplasia, I was getting an exam at Planned Parenthood. A student was in the room, and after examining my breasts, the doctor called the student over to feel my breasts herself. They were muttering to each other about my breasts and I asked them point blank if I had breast hypoplasia. The doctor looked surprised that I knew that term, but she did confirm that I do have hypoplastic breasts. She wasn’t going to tell me, even though she knew. Maybe it’s because women have this obsession with having the perfect boobs, health care providers are afraid of offending women by commenting on the size/shape of their breasts. They don’t consider how important breast feeding is to many women, especially when our culture doesn’t attach much importance to breast feeding. If nursing doesn’t work, you can always give a bottle, right? No big deal, right? Wrong. Not being able to breastfeed exclusively can be devastating. It can make a woman feel deficient.

    • ” They don’t consider how important breast feeding is to many women, especially when our culture doesn’t attach much importance to breast feeding. If nursing doesn’t work, you can always give a bottle, right? No big deal, right?”

      It’s funny you say this, because many of us who struggle to breastfeed actually feel INCREDIBLE pressure for our culture to breastfeed. Many have struggled with bottle feeding in public because of the looks they get, myself included.

      Maybe you live in an area with less pressure?

      Good on you for doing the SNS, by the time I was given that option I had already done a bottle and wasn’t willing to take the time and energy to use SNS, when I was literally only producing teaspoons of milk. She’d never be able to breastfeed so why worry about nipple confusion?

      I definitely agree on what you say about feeling deficent. Broken. Un-feminine.

      • Oh, I have felt this. I never nursed. It just wasn’t for me for a variety of reasons (not wanting to take any substantial maternity leave, athletic pursuits, etc). The pressure I got to nurse was intense. Women would tell me how disappointed they were in my decision (without knowing any of the reasons, of course). I take comfort in knowing that kids turn out fine either way. There’s actually some research coming out now that questions whether the benefits of nursing are overstated. Personally, I felt fine with the decision until other people started giving their (unsolicited) opinions. And true be told, I did develop a tendency to get rather nasty back at them – I’m sure that I caused some seriously hurt feelings.

        I have been seeing more breastfeeding-centric websites that will come out and say “it’s okay to not nurse – either because you can’t or because you don’t want to.” I think that cannot be said enough. Kids don’t need breastmilk more than formula, or vice versa. Kids need happy parents. Period.

        • I wanted to address what you said about studies showing breastfeeding might be overrated… YES! They have found that many of the “problems” of formula such as obesity, higher risk for allergies and diabetes might actually be more causally linked to the child’s economic status (poorer women tend to formula feed, more educated middle-class women tend to breastfeed) than what they’re actually eating!

          • My paternal grandmother gave my mother absolute hell because she bottle-fed both me and my brother. She told my mother that she was depriving us of all sorts of benefits and that her children (my father and aunts and uncles) grew up much healthier because she’d breastfed them.

            My father’s family was also dirt poor, and ate terribly. My father had ulcers at the age of six. All three of her children now have medical issues, most of them hereditary so it really doesn’t matter now how they ate for the first three years of their lives.

            My brother and I are totally fine.

            I’m not a parent, so I don’t quite understand the intense pressure that people put on each other about breastfeeding versus bottle feeding, but I think it’s completely stupid that people look down on you when you can’t, either physically or emotionally (I know some moms who didn’t breastfeed because they got weirded out).

            I don’t know why my mother didn’t breastfeed us, but she *fed us*. We grew up happy and moderately healthy. That’s the important thing.

  3. It’s strange that no doctor or midwife would bring this up at an annual exam or during pregnancy. When I went in for my first annual as a teenager, my Dr. told me that I wasn’t done developing, and explained why. Shape, appearance etc. Then later I DID fully develop, so I’m sure that’s why no one ever brought it up again. I do remember the midwife asking about breast changes during each pregnancy as well. so I wonder if it’s just the checklists that the individual care groups decide to use for exams etc.

    • At my last post-partum appt when they did a breast exam, I told the midwife and her student what I’d discovered, the signs they should look for and the questions I wasn’t asked. They both kind of smiled and said “Oh ok, good to know.”

      How do Nurse Midwives get through their training without knowing how to screen for this? My breasts hurt more during pregnancy, but didn’t grow or feel full. Ever. So when they asked if I had breast changes I said yes… I didn’t know the difference back then.

      Doctors and Midwives should be better trained to screen for IGT and other Breast issues. Period.

  4. I also had the same experience with my first child. (I think the statistics about hypoplasia must be way under estimated.) Thankfully for me, my sister had gone through the same thing before me so I had someone to support me a little. It never occurred that I could have the same issues (we have different body types and my breast don’t look exactly similar to hers.) But sure enough our first night home was exactly as you described yours. We started supplementing with formula using an SNS, AND pumping around the clock to try to get my supply to increase. My lactation consultant was very positive and thought for sure I’d be able to get my supply up. Never a mention about hypoplasia. When I brought it up to her, she had to stop and think for a minute to recall the information about the condition. And then said it was so rare that it was unlikely I would have it. I pumped for 15-20 minutes after every nursing with the SNS for 6 weeks and barely saw any increase in my supply. Finally for the sake of my sanity and with the hope that I could at least enjoy the closeness of “nursing” with the SNS, I gave up the pump. I felt so guilty about my body not working properly and selfish for giving up on pumping just in case it could have done more. But it was the best thing I could have done for myself. It took me a long time to let go of the feelings of guilt and inadequacy. My son is happy and healthy, so we must have done something right. 🙂 We’re getting ready to try for a second child this summer. I hope I can feel as confident and balanced when I try nursing with the second baby. At least I’ll know (somewhat) what to expect from my body. Thanks for sharing your story.

  5. Thank you Thank you Thank you Thank you Thank you Thank you Thank you Thank you…

    I too went through this with my kid. After an extremely difficult birth (whose isn’t?), I felt like my inability to nurse was a kick in the ribs while I was already down.

    The midwife, lactation consultant, and my naturopath all felt I wasn’t trying hard enough. I had my breasts squeezed so hard I cried in pain, and told, “look, see! you are lactating.” because the pressure made me squirt milk across the room.
    The consultant told me to wake up every two hours and pump over the night. What would come out was a few drops, and I was sat there weeping, feeling like an impotent cow. I felt so ashamed that my husband had to see me like that. I know he felt great empathy for me then, but it was shattering.

    Day 5 I went to a breastfeeding 911 workshop for new moms in Seattle, where the person giving advice went around to each mom to try and help individually. I was told my breasts looked non-human. I shit you not. And they do, they’re just not like the plump mama boobs I was surrounded by. The woman directed my attention to them, as if by seeing full boobs up close, my breasts would leap to attention and be “good” little milk factories. Silly naive boobs.

    My child was weighed there before I fed, and then after. He only gained a 1/2 an ounce of weight from my milk in that time. Obviously we went to bottles, and that transition was harder for me than it was for my baby. I started out dead set on breastfeeding, but have been greatly humbled.

    Just today I was asked at the park if I’m still nursing my child. Thank god there are some people out there that *get* that that can be a painful question to ask a mother. Though I’m over the initial emotional pain of being unable to nurse, I feel like I have to be on guard – will they judge me if they know I didn’t nurse? The answer here is, yes. And from my experience, that kinda of hard-fast black and white rule seems like some strange fetishment (a word?) of wholesome parenting that is not as much in the interest of the child, as for the eco-status of the parent.

    • I have very inhuman boobs as well! I wish mine would have perked up by looking at other womens’! Ha, I love that comment…

      I know so much how you feel, and now when people ask “How’s nursing going?” I reply simply “It’s not.” And leave it at that. It is nobody’s business how or what I feed my child (except her pediatrician!) So I just give them this like, intense stare after I say that… daring them to say something.

      They usually just change the subject. good.

    • OMG.

      “What would come out was a few drops, and I was sat there weeping, feeling like an impotent cow.”

      I think that I could have worn a sign that said IMPOTENT COW for the first three or four weeks after giving birth. Not being able to breastfeed, and trying to pump while my boobs were all raw and bleeding and getting almost NO MILK AT ALL was the worst feeling. I’m still pissed off when I think about just how much I beat myself up over it, with lactation consultants telling me to pump more than 10 times per day (for 30 minutes at a time, because who doesn’t have 5 hours per day to sit around, immobilized by nipple pumps?). When I finally gave up the ghost, I felt like I had given up on my daughter’s health.

      But seriously, f*ck this guilt that modern mothers are perpetually forced to carry around if we don’t do everything EXACTLY as it is prescribed by self-appointed parenting gurus.

      My daughter is 7 months old now, gorgeous, healthy, and did brilliantly with formula. She’s still very young, so I know it’s too early to brag, but she has only had one very brief cold so far. She’s crawling, babbling, has a full head of hair and is already pulling herself into a standing position. She’s great.

      Formula rocks. It gets a bad rap, but it’s does a good job nourishing babies. We’re lucky to live in a time when food science has come far enough to provide that kind of complete nutrition to babies who aren’t able to get breast milk.

  6. I am a nurse currently doing some reading for my continuing education credits. I have no experience medically with breastfeeding, but since breastfeeding has been a part of my life since my son was born, I chose to do some more reading on the topic.

    From a medical standpoint, I cannot believe how much has to go just right in order for breastfeeding to be accomplished. There is an incredible number of factors which go into producing milk, it’s no wonder that so many women have a difficult time with it!

    I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to have exclusively breastfed my son for nearly 9 months now, but I know there were so many times I wanted to quit but felt guilty about it. I’m glad I stuck with it now, but it’s good to know that others struggle. I appreciate you expressing that it’s okay to stop – you have to do what makes you and baby happy. Ultimately, that’s what matters most.

  7. I have PCOS and as a result, my glandular tissue never sprung into action during pregnancy. Couple that with a kid who has low-muscle tone even at 2, and we were doomed from the start, regardless of how many appointments I had with lactation consultants or how faithfully I hooked myself up to the pump at 3am when my child was actually SLEEPING (and I woke up! and pumped! The idiocy!)
    Anyway, I found great solace in this website, which I read during pumping sessions. It didn’t convince me to use formula, but it let me know that I wasn’t alone, and it made my decision easier. (My contribution is in there too, last May.)

  8. I had never heard this term before, and I looked it up. My boobs look EXACTLY like that. I’ve always HATED them and been self conscious about them. When I had my son (now six months old) I was hell-bent on exclusively breastfeeding. I tried, so hard. I saw three different lactation consultants, got help from nurses at the hospital, etc. I was doing it RIGHT, but my baby wasn’t gaining weight! He’d lost 13% of his body weight before I finally threw in the towel and switched to formula at 3 weeks. I have felt like a failure ever since and have major PPD. I never had let-down reflex, I thought this was just because stress was affecting my milk supply. I was told by the lactation consultants that I just wasn’t making enough milk. Both my mother and sister encouraged me to formula feed before I even gave birth, and their reasoning was that the women in my family just couldn’t breastfeed. I wonder if this is the reason?

    I am sure this is what I have.

    • Hi! IGT is very hereditary, the women in my family have also had “weird” and “small” boobs, and many of us have struggled with breastfeeding… My mother among them. It can be VERY indicitive of an issue with your family (If you have daughters, be alert for this!)

      If your breasts look hypoplastic AND you struggled to nurse AND there is a family history, it is very possible. I’m so sorry you’re only now getting to this diagnosis. Lactation consultants definitely need more training to diagnose this issue, sometimes it’s so obvious when you put all the pieces together.

      Just remember, it’s a MYTH that everyone can breastfeed. Some of us really can’t. And thousands of years ago, our babies would have suffered and starved if we couldn’t find someone to feed them for us. So thank goodness for the advances we have made so we too can have children who thrive and are happy! Formula is a blessing, and it’s OK! Your baby is OK!

      • Remember that milk-sharing (and goats!) were common in ye olde days though. There have always been women who couldn’t breastfeed, and in smaller tight knit communities there were ways to help them, don’t think that your babies wouldn’t have survived, they probably would have been fine with a little help from family and friends.

        • Oh wow, your post made me tear up. I always hear my husband tell me that it’s a good thing formula was invented otherwise our baby would have died. It makes me feel horrible. You’ve made me feel 100% better. Thank you.

        • Yep. Not saying it’s not rad we have formula now, but thinking they’d starve without it kinda sets us up for a bit of a hidden guilt trip/trap. And like what Meganysta says above, there are always ways to feed a new one.
          And, if it’s a genetic condition that is passed down, it wouldn’t have *been* passed down if mothers before us lost their babies due to lack of milk.

      • You’re right, my baby is OK and his formula is OK too. I plan on having a daughter in the future, and this is definitely something that I am going to tell her about so that she knows if she can’t breastfeed, it’s alright and there are alternatives.

        Thank you so much for writing this article. I’m sending it to all my sisters.

  9. I’m shocked that the statistic for how many mothers are still breast feeding is so high! 47% of mothers are still breast feeding at 6 months?!?! I’m assuming that this is in the US, and I can hardly believe it based on how little support women get for things like maternity leave (even unpaid) and other issues. I’m not a mother (yet), but I do work full time, and I have a hard time imagining how a woman could work full time and still manage to breast feed her baby. I feel like I will need to chose between the two, and I doubt that 47% of women have the luxury of staying home with their newborns in our society.

  10. Thank you. I am still in the midst of this struggle, breastfeeding, hand expressing, taking the herbs and the domperidone, all of it…at four months. I tell myself I will let it go at month six, but it has been by far the most emotionally difficult thing in my pregnancy/birth/parenting so far and I just cannot believe how much it gets to my core and makes me feel like a failure. I have no idea if I have IGT or just got on the formula too early to have a fighting chance…so little good info about a realistic recovery from supplementation is out there, and my baby’s blood sugar got low enough the hospital insisted on it. IDK, people should just know that breastfeeding can be really hard and that little about modern maternity leave, etc. in the US is set up to help. And the judge-y issh from the lactation consultants and lactation books and “just nurse more” world can come down HARD on a new mom and her desire to breastfeed when it is clearly just not working out. So, yeah, thanks for writing this.

  11. This, so much. For me, breast feeding was complicated because I have Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that dries up all moisture-producing glands in the body – tears, saliva, and yes, milk. I went through several postpartum weeks of hell trying to breast feed my daughter. every nurse, lactation consultant, and doctor I saw gave me wildly different advice and assured me that it would all be fine once my milk came in, but implied that if I gave up and formula fed her, I was a failure.

    My milk never fully came in – the most I could ever get pumping was a total of four ounces a day. Finally I realized Sjogren’s Syndrome might be the cause, which my rheumatologist confirmed. I told the lactation consultant about it, and she had never even heard of it and urged me to try expensive prescription meds to boost my supply.

    I switched to formula, and life became so much easier. I was able to focus on bonding with my daughter and getting back into normal life. She is now 19 months old, meeting or beating all milestones, tall, strong, healthy, and smart, and we have an amazing bond. I dearly wish breast feeding had worked for us, but am more angry that I was made to feel like a failure for something I had no control over, just like hypoplastic breasts. We should support mothers, no matter their choice! Having a loving, strong, present mother makes a far, far bigger difference in a child’s development than formula vs. breast milk.

    • Wow, your story is so heartbreaking, and so familiar. Even when I told my midwife and the Lactation Consultant I had IGT, they still were pushing me to keep trying. I told them the baby cried and refused my breast because she was hungry and the little tiny bit inside me wasn’t enough to keep her interested, so they told me to pump. I told them I got NOTHING when I pumped and they said I was probably doing it wrong.

      There definitely needs to be MORE support for women with lactation issues, and more research, and more more more love.

  12. And we live in a wonderful aera where you are not condemned to watch your child starve and die, but where you have options if – for which reason whatsoever – breastfeeding is not an option.

  13. I have a story too. But, I think that what if I learn anything here, it is about the feeling of guilt brought on from outside factors but also from inside ourselves. As mothers we have an innate need to take care of our babies and guess what? Sometimes Breastfeeding is just not possible for whatever reason. The breast feeding movement is fabulous and beneficial to everyone but those of you who are super-breast feeders/Drs/nurses/friends and family: PLEASE step back and take a look at those of us for whom it is not so easy and put yourselves in our shoes. We desperately need your support too.

    • Agreed. This is all about awareness, and the need for support, and love. But most of all for me, I just really wanted someone to say “You do have this issue, and you are not a bad mom, you’re body is just different” so that I could stop feeling guilty from inside.

      Luckily I got to that place on my own. So now I want to help other women get there too. If we all go from here with some love in our hearts and share it with new mommas struggling with whatever, maybe we can get a lot of people to that place too. MORE LOVE!

  14. This, this this ! I need to hear it, read it, think it, as many times as I can everyday. You are not a bad mother if you can’t exclusively breastfeed. You are not a bad mother if it hurts. It is not your fault, it doesn’t mean you won’t be close to your baby it doesn’t mean she will stop loving you. If your baby is happy, sleeps poops and smiles, if you are doing everything you can, you are a good mother. End of story. Now I need to repeat it again and again, maybe write it above my bed or something 🙂 Thank you for your article we needed it.

  15. Thanks for this post. I had sufficient milk, but my baby had both a tongue and a lip tie. The tongue tie grew back despite having it lasered at 4 days old. She also used to scream in pain due to reflux. I was able to nurse her for four months with a nipple shield, but both of us would cry in frustration every single time. It never got easier. We were both so much happier after switching to bottle feeding. As a pro-choice feminist, I believe that every woman (or parent) should have the right to choose how they feed their baby. Happy parents = happy and healthy child. Sounds like you are doing an awesome job!

  16. It’s so interesting how the breastfeeding culture has changed in the past, say, 30 years. My mother breastfed me and all of my siblings, and she tells us how breastfeeding wasn’t supported at all back then–the nurses yelled at her for trying to nurse right away, telling her that her milk wasn’t in yet (they had no knowledge of colostrum or that nursing would actually help your milk come in), they wanted to give all of us sugar water instead of naturally breastfeeding like we’re meant to. She said she had to argue with the staff & doctors in order to nurse us at all in the hospital.

    It’s wonderful to see how much more support there is for breastfeeding today, and I was extremely lucky that it went well for me with my daughter. But with all of this support & knowledge about how beneficial it is, we’re a little bit too far on the spectrum now as far as being understanding when it just doesn’t work out. The expectation is that every mother should breastfeed and if she can’t or doesn’t then she’s doing something wrong, or didn’t try hard enough, or is selfish. As great as it is that breastfeeding is more common & supported now, we have to find a better balance for mothers who simply can’t.

    My aunt adopted my cousin as a newborn, and she tells me how she would get glares in public when she was mixing up her bottle for her. She wished she had a sign that said “don’t judge me, she’s adopted!” I never thought about how hard it would be for someone who believed in and would’ve loved to breastfeed but just couldn’t (for whatever reason).

    We need to be easier on each other. Parenthood is hard enough without feeling like every move you make is being scrutinized.

  17. Oh my god. Thank you so so so much for this. I, too, have the “weird” breasts that are widely spaced and a conical, tubular shape with large, bulbous areolas (sorry for THAT visual). I just thought my boobs were strange!

    My daughter was born in September. After an incredibly difficult birth, I just couldn’t get her to nurse. My breasts never changed during pregnancy and I never felt any “fullness” when my milk came in. We saw lactation consultants who asked me questions that made them “concerned” about my breasts, but they never explained why. Then they noticed that my daughter had a slight tongue tie (which she broke on her own later, from CRYING OUT IN HUNGER) and blamed all of my difficulties on that. They had me pumping around the clock, supplementing with a syringe and SNS, and nursing what little I could. My daughter got less than half an ounce from my breasts when she nursed directly. It was a nightmare!

    The day I gave her a bottle of formula and sought treatment for postpartum depression was the day it finally started to turn around. Nine months later, I still feel like a failure sometimes. Reading this has helped me more than you can imagine. I had no idea my “failure” might have been linked to my breasts. It’s oddly freeing, you know?

    • I do know! It is really liberating when you realize that you don’t have to give into the shame cycle anymore. The sad thing is, you don’t need a physical problem to get out of the shame cycle. If you hate nursing, or pumping, or it’s a time-suck, or you are just plain old done, you don’t need to feel guilty, it really isn’t for everyone, and the downsides of formula just aren’t that many, or that serious.

      Let’s all just give eachother a break!

  18. Thank you for sharing your story. Your experience with medical professionals makes me so mad. I am a supporter of breastfeeding, but we need to stop with the assumption that if it is not working you should just “try harder.” Yes, we have lost our cultural knowledge of breastfeeding and our daily lives may interrupt it, but women have been unable to breastfeed throughout history for this and other reasons. That is why it truly took a village, if one mother could not provide enough another mother helped out.

    Whenever one of my friends laments the fact that she is struggling with breastfeeding after trying her very hardest I try and remind her that in any other time or place women like me (who have the problem no one wants to hear about – very severe overproduction) would have come to her aid. Sadly, cross nursing or wet nursing is no longer accepted or feasible in our less connected lives.

  19. Thanks for this post! I also have IGT and have struggled emotionally with not being able to provide enough milk for my girl. I teared up reading about your conversation with the lactation consultant who told you to try harder. So frustrating and heartbreaking.

    I have had to get rid of the ‘all or nothing’ mindset and realized that I can and do breastfeed, I just also supplement. I used to get so uncomfortable when people asked if I was breastfeeding — but now I just answer a resounding yes. Even if it’s just a bit of her diet.

  20. Ten days after a very traumatizing labour and delivery, I ended up back in the hospital with a massive postpartum infection (think bladder, kidneys and uterus). The first sign of infection for me was my milk drying up. Everyone told me to nurse more, that my supply wasn’t actually drying up, it was a behaviour issue from my son (he’s ten days old, how e heck does he have behaviour problems already!?!). My lactation consultant had me nursing on both sides and then pumping for twenty minutes on each side. My son literally nursed for three hours straight and was still hungry. Finally the infection was diagnosed and treated but I had to supplement with formula because my son only produced two wet diapers in 18 hours. Once she knew I had introduced formula, my lactation consultant became very short and rude with me, I eventually stopped asking her for advice. My son is 10 months old, and we still formula and breast feed. He’s thriving. He started walking at 8.5 months, he’s in the 80th percentile for height and weight and he’s adorable. I felt so guilty and so overwhelmed and so alone. But I’m not. I hate that people think it is okay to ask about breast feeding, they are my boobs, leave them alone! There is so much judgement in that one simple question. I’m just grateful I had family around me who supported me, and a paediatrician who was super supportive of us continuing to do both!

    • “I hate that people think it is okay to ask about breast feeding, they are my boobs, leave them alone! There is so much judgement in that one simple question.”

      I so completely agree! The next time someone asks me how breastfeeding is going (it’s not!), I’m going to ask what they did with their tits today.

    • Interesting. I like it when people ask me about breastfeeding. It gives me a chance to tell them about my experience with IGT (which I think women need to know about) and about how I have been combining breastfeeding with formula supplementation (which it seems like everyone discourages, but which has worked great for us). And it gives me a chance to air my frustration with the whole “breast is best” campaign! I love breastfeeding (and am grateful that despite having mild IGT I am able to provide much of my son’s nutrition with breast milk), but the way to encourage women to breastfeed is by providing support (paid maternity leave, destigmatizing breastfeeding in public, good education about breastfeeding including challenging situations like IGT, etc.), not by browbeating them into doing so! I feel like when people ask about breastfeeding, it’s often because they want to process their own experience with breastfeeding (or because they are genuinely curious), and it seems like almost everyone has had at least some challenges. (Of course I don’t like it if people ask about breastfeeding, and then don’t listen to what I tell them — I had two months of various medical professionals telling me that “all women produce enough breast milk”, which was quite frustrating!)

      • Hi,
        I’m wondering if I also have mild IGT…how did you find out that you had this? Did your milk come in & were you able to breastfeed for a certain time at all?
        Thanks 🙂

  21. I don’t think I have this problem because my breast did change a lot while pregnant… the problem is that I don’t have enough milk right now and I’m a bit sad about it. I want to breastfeed so bad but I just have some drops here and there, my baby is just 3 days old and we are still trying, I hope I can produce enough milk to at least give my baby some nutrients, I don’t care if I have to use both formula and breast milk, I just want my baby to be happy and healthy. My first night was awful, he cried and cried and cried all night because he was hungry and I wasn’t producing enough. Worts part is that at the hospital no one told me, no one told me and they must have know but they didn’t make the effort to tell me, now I know why they gave him a few ounces of formula, since he had to be on oxigen for a few hours and I had just a few moments to feed him while at the hospital, I didn’t know my milk was not helping and I felt guilty after that awful first night because if I had know I would have had formula ready. Now I’m still giving him the boob and formula, my supply is going up but still not enough, just drops 🙁 Thank you for this!!! Now I know that it is ok not to have enough milk.

    • Have you tried taking 3500 mg of fenugreek? It helped me and I really wish I had tried it sooner.
      It is a hard process for many. There is nothing wrong with moving on and using formula if its not working for you

    • MamaPio — I just wanted to mention that it is possible to have IGT even if your breasts do change during pregnancy. Mine changed a lot, but I do have IGT (affecting half of one breast — the other one is fine). I’ve never been able to produce quite enough milk for my baby, so I supplement with whatever formula he needs each day to be full (usually one bottle or so). It took a long time for me to get the support I needed (everyone kept saying that all women produce enough milk, and that if I used any formula at all, my milk would dry up, etc.), but it is absolutely possible to combine breastfeeding with formula. I just make sure never to replace a breastfeed with a formula feed. I start with breast, and then top up with formula as needed (and if my son ever has a meal entirely of formula, I pump). I hope things have been going well for you for the last few weeks!

  22. I can’t even tell you how close to home this hit me. I’m getting emotional just thinking about those first 6 months and how I struggled with breast feeding. I’m still working through the guilt and feelings of inadequacy because we had to supplement with formula – in addition to a home-labor (supposed to be homebirth) turned emergency room c-section. I never produced what she needed and my lactation consultants and midwife never said anything to me either. Until after the fact, my midwife did mention it, but another consultant after that poo-pooed that idea because “every shape of breast can work”, so I thought I was just lacking somehow, broken. I still feel like a failure, 2.5 years later, but I’m learning that I’m not. Especially when I look at my little girl. She’s awesome and what little I did give her mattered.

  23. I am not a mother, but someday I may be. My breasts look exactly the same as they did when I was 12 years old, so I’ve always suspected that I would never be able to breastfeed. My mother couldn’t either. She tried with me and I actually ended up in the hospital, malnourished and jaundiced. She didn’t even try when my brother was born. I can only imagine the guilt she must have felt, looking at me in a hospital, thinking it was all her fault and that she was broken. I was obviously bottle fed. I never had allergies as a child, no cavities, and I was a healthy weight and tall for my age. I was in honors classes, sports, played multiple instruments, received scholarships, and have two college degrees. Other than my underdeveloped breasts and irregular period (which would be hereditary, not a side effect of formula feeding) I am normal. I have never understood the idea that “breast is best.” I survived in modern society because of formula. I wonder what percentage of infant mortality rates in history were due to breastfeeding problems?

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