I try to keep my posts light and non-controversial in order to maintain a wide range of readers. I think I usually do a good job with it, too. So let me (not) apologize in advance for this post perhaps being a little controversial, but definitely very personal and real.
Mommy-Guilt. It’s real. And it sucks. As a parent all we want to do is provide the best for our children. We want them to get the best start in life. We want them to be the healthiest they can be. We want them to grow and thrive and surpass all growth expectations and be at the top of the charts. And for a lot of us, we want to be the ones that provide that for them. We want to be the reason they’re gaining weight and growing on-track. We want to provide them with all of their food & nutrients that their tiny little bodies need. And when we cannot do that? Yeah, that’s when the mommy-guilt kicks in. And man does it. Like a million kicks right to the stomach. For any mom who has even remotely felt that guilt, you get it. For the mommies who have been so fortunate to not feel it, count your blessings.
Not all moms have this dire urge to breastfeed. Not all moms will go above and beyond in order to make it happen. Not all moms would cry at the drop of a hat (or, a drop of milk) over the woes of breastfeeding. That’s ok. But let me tell you – for every mom who doesn’t have a strong stance for it, there are plenty of moms who do. And I am one of them. I don’t judge those who don’t, though I am always curious as to why they don’t… I am just a big advocate of breastfeeding. Both for the benefits to mommy and to baby.
Having said that, I wish that I could say because I feel so strongly about it that I was able to breastfeed successfully. However, that’s not the case. This post is about my struggle. It’s about the women who just cannot make it happen. The moms who do whatever they can above and beyond but still aren’t successful. The moms who pray and pray that it will happen and sob endlessly when it doesn’t. Yeah. That’s me. And maybe that seems dramatic to you. Or maybe it seems unnecessary. Like I should just “let it go” (admittedly said in the sing-song Frozen tune). If only it were that easy. That actually seems to be the theme centered around this post and the reason behind this post; nothing about breastfeeding is easy. Not for me, at least. Not for many women. But the difficulties are rarely discussed.
Let me explain the trials and tribulations of my experience, and, not as a “poor me” post. I want this post to let other moms who have struggled know that they’re not alone. Some have it worse. Some have it better. But no matter what, you’re not alone in what you’re going through. And you should know that you are doing a great job regardless.
First let me explain BFAR; breast-feeding after reduction (breast reduction). After undergoing a breast reduction the chances of being able to breastfeed are reduced. It is still a possibility, however, there are a lot of factors that go into whether or not it will really work. And unless you’re a mom who successfully breastfed before a reduction then had a reduction and were unable to, there is really no true way of knowing the exact cause of problem. It could be from the surgery or perhaps there were other underlying issues. It is so difficult to pinpoint the culprit which is probably the most frustrating thing, ever. Probably more frustrating than the lack of ability to breastfeed in the first place, actually. It leaves you always asking WHY can’t I and WHAT more can I do and HOW can I make this work? It’s awful. It’s the unknown. It’s the unfixable. Really, who would be OK with that? To accept “I can’t” but paired with “I don’t know why”. That just doesn’t work for me, personally. Having to accept that is like going against everything I believe in and stand for. I hate it. Sadly, I just don’t have any other options that I can figure out at this point, though. So I am forced to accept it it seems.
With each baby I have tried more and more. I have tried new things, old things, twists on old things, you name it. Each attempt & baby has produced better results which was a positive step in the right direction. Having said that, I think it would maybe take 2-3 more babies and attempts at breast-feeding until I’d be able to be 100% successful and even then – who knows if I would be. And yeah, that’s not happening. Maybe one more. And maybe I will be successful enough the next time that when I am unable to do it any longer, whether by choice or necessity, I will feel good about how it went. Maybe. Hopefully. I have heard that with each baby BFAR moms have a greater chance of successfully breastfeeding due to the body remembering what to do, how to prepare, and increasing milk-production. That is the exception, though – not the rule.
Here’s how my experience has gone…
I had a breast reduction right before my 20th birthday. I needed it. And I wanted it. And despite the issues with breastfeeding, it was successful and a great decision for me and my health. I sought out the best doctor in the East Bay (Bay Area, California) who excelled at this type of procedure. I saw multiple doctors before her and felt most comfortable with her and her work. Knowing that breastfeeding in the future was important to me, we opted for the surgery method that left as much of the nipple intact as possible. It’s thought that if you cause as little trauma as possible to the milk ducts then the likelihood of breastfeeding is pretty good. It also is better for scaring and more aesthetic purposes which is always important. Again, she did a great job and I was/am very happy with outcome of the surgery.
Cut to 5 years later when it came time to have babies.
With Poppy, there was A LOT against us from the very beginning. She was almost 4 weeks early. She was delivered via emergency c-section. She had to be in the NICU immediately following delivery since she was preemie. I couldn’t see her because I was recovering from the c-section. They fed her formula without my consent from the get-go. It was almost 8 hours until I finally had her in the room with me and once she was in the room with me the nurses had to take her every hour or so for testing because she wasn’t passing some of her tests. And Poppy. Man. That girl was stubborn from the start. She didn’t want to latch-on. She would SCREAM bloody murder when at the breast. I wasn’t producing anything. She wasn’t gaining weight. It was not good. I was new at this so I had no idea what to expect. I tried taking fenugreek and it did nothing. We were exclusively on formula/bottle by 2 weeks. I was so sad that it didn’t work. I was pumping and doing what I could but I wasn’t producing anything when pumping and I couldn’t get her to nurse for more than a couple of minutes. I had very low milk production and I couldn’t seem to increase it. It was a huge let-down for me (no pun intended for you moms who get it ). I was sad. Very sad. But she was healthy and growing so I got over it.
Hudson was better. But not by much. He was born via successful VBAC only 2 weeks early which was a great start. He, too, had to go in the NICU for about 6 hours after delivery because I developed an fever and infection during labor. But I was able to see him while he was in there and nurse him. He latched on. Did great. He nursed well (I thought) while in the hospital without issues. I had horrible painful bleeding nipples which I thought was from him nursing all the time and no one told me otherwise. He wasn’t gaining weight despite nursing all the time. I took him and went to see a Lactation Consultant and had THE WORST experience, ever. The woman was awful. She was not helpful and did nothing but made me cry, call me selfish, and told me I was jeopardizing my sons health and safety by continuing to try to nurse him and only supplement with formula a few times a day. It was probably the worst experience of my life. On top of it, I was taking the maximum dosage of fenugreek, blessed thistle, goats rue, eating oatmeal at every waking moment, pumping every 2 hours, and nursing him. I was packing on the pounds from all of the medication and oatmeal. I even tried a soup a friends mother made that had pigs feet in it. Oh my God. I literally was trying everything to no avail. I was producing more than with Poppy, but that is not saying much. Around 6 weeks he became strictly formula-fed. And please, do not get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with that. At all. Hudson and Poppy are both smart and growing and wonderful and they were formula-fed babies. As long as they’re eating and growing healthy, that’s what matters. Now, despite having said that, my 2nd failed attempt at breastfeeding sent me into a major dark sadness. No matter what you tell yourself, it is not easy to “fail” at providing for your child. And that’s how I saw it. I don’t know what stressed me out and made me cry more; trying unsuccessfully to breastfeed or having to make the decision to stop trying. Both were equally as taxing on my emotions.
Holland was the most successful. She was born almost a week passed-due. Another successful VBAC. She required NO time in the NICU. She went straight to the boob without any issues. She nursed and slept and wasn’t losing too much weight. She was doing great. When she was 4 days old I hired a private lactation consultant who came to our home to help me. She was wonderful. She spent 2 hours with us and gave me lots of tips and tricks and helpful advice. She was just lovely and I really felt like she helped us and was very supportive and encouraging. She did mention that she thought Holland was lip and tongue-tied which explained the sore nipples and painful latch. I hadn’t heard that before but upon hearing this I had a flash-back of my experience with Hudson so I check him. He is lip-tied and possibly tongue-tied, also, and will likely have to have it corrected. Very interesting. Too bad the awful LC I saw with him was so busy being a horrible person to me that she didn’t even check him for it. Anyways. Holland had lost almost 1 pound by that first appointment with the LC but she hadn’t reached the critical point, yet. I was nervous but my milk hadn’t come in, yet, so I knew it was just a matter of time before she’d start gaining. At that point I had just started taking a prescription drug called Domperidone – which cannot be prescribed in the US and I had to order it online from another country. It isn’t illegal per se… I mean, the DEA won’t be knocking on my door upon reading this, but if it got caught it customs it would have been confiscated. I’m not joining the drug-cartel or anything. Though, after having taken the pills and seeing how much they really did help me, I am considering becoming an advocate and taking it to the senate to try to get approved for breastfeeding moms who deserve to have the opportunities to help them feed their children naturally. Ok, maybe not the senate. But you know, whoever you’d take something like that to. For any mom who is a BFAR mom or who has extremely low milk-supply, I STRONGLY suggest looking into Domperidone. I did years of research on it and felt comfortable taking it to help my chances. So many women have had wonderful success with the drug, even adoptive mothers of newborns were able to produce breastmilk without having given birth. That is simply amazing. Anyways. I was also taking Blessed Thistle and Go-Lacta – which is a wonderful all natural pill that I swear helped me, also. I was chugging water, eating oatmeal, and keeping calories on-track. The LC felt hopeful that my milk would come in and we’d be off to a good start. 2 days later the at-home nurse came to check on us. Holland gained 9 ounces by then. Huge success. My milk was coming in and we were headed on the right track it seemed. I started power-pumping and nursing her more often to try to aid the milk production. We got her lip fixed which did help with her latch, my sore nipples, and seemed to make nursing easier. We saw a few doctors about her tongue-tie but it was a very complicated post-tie which would require putting her under to correct so we opted not to do that. I was successfully able to get her back up to birth weight plus a couple of ounces. This was HUGE. I was so proud of myself. I really thought this time was going to be it. I was going to be able to exclusively nurse her. Then one day I decided to weigh her for no real reason. And that’s where those old feelings of dread came back. My stomach dropped, my heart sank, and the tears flowed. She stopped gaining weight. She was happy and nursing and sleeping and looked healthy. I was pumping and producing – albeit, not a lot but way more than ever before and enough to even store some! Sadly, that’s about where it ended… The weekly doctors appointments started back up again for her weight-checks. She just wasn’t gaining. She wasn’t losing, either, which was good. But she was supposed to be gaining a certain amount a week and she wasn’t. She was only gaining an ounce here and there and that just wasn’t enough. So, the formula started. She’d still nurse and take a bottle of either formula or breast milk but then around 9 weeks she became exclusively formula-fed. Once again, I was left feeling sad, inadequate as a mother, like a failure, like I didn’t try enough or try hard enough. Mom-guilt. Full-force. I was proud of myself for getting her that far. But I still just had that awful weight of sadness. And I often find myself thinking “Did I try enough?” “What else could I have done?” “Maybe I should have done this or that”… it sucks, plain and simple. It’s the never ended “What-If’s” that plague me.
I find myself randomly thinking “what if I start taking all of the pills again… maybe I can get it to work again?” or “What if I tried this…” or “Did I give up too soon?”. It sucks. It really, really sucks.
Not only do I have the mommy-guilt from it and the sadness but I have the jealousy. Yeah, that’s right. I said it. There are few things in this world that I ever feel jealousy over. But a successfully breastfeeding mother does it every time. Damn those women and their perfectly functional boobs! I mean, that’s great for them. But damn them! And when I hear about moms and their “over-supply” issues? I want to slap them. Sorry. NO offense to you ladies. And I wouldn’t really slap you. Mentally, yes, I am definitely slapping you, though! I mean, at least with that you can pump and pump and stock pile for a rainy day! You can go out and leave the baby for a couple of hours without concern of them not having breast milk or your supply dipping because you ate/drank/went out longer than you’re supposed to. And you’re baby – I bet they’re healthy plump little things that are growing like a weed. That’s nice for you. I say that without sarcasm… mostly.
If we decide to another baby I will for sure be trying again. I know most of you are probably thinking I am crazy or I am some weird sadist who likes torturing myself with the stress and potential sadness that may result. And maybe I am. But really, I am just a mom who doesn’t like to take NO for an answer. A mom that would never teach my children to not at least try. A believer that some is better than none. And that you may not get an A for effort but even a C is better than an F.
I do strongly encourage all moms to at least try. And for the moms who are BFAR moms – here are some things that I found really helpful; Domperidone – I took the max dosage. Research it. Read real-moms experiences with it. Talk to your doctor about their thoughts on it. And research it. It is not for everyone and should not be taken lightly. Thought it is not illegal it is also not FDA regulated. A few pharmacies will fulfill a prescription if you can convince your doctor to prescribe it but be warned, it is expensive that way. Go-Lacta, again, max dosage. I didn’t have any bad side effects on this drug. I do think it really did help in conjunction with everything else and I would definitely take this over Fenugreek any day. I also took Mothers Milk Special Blend. It is hard to say if this really helped since the Go-Lacta and Domperidone are both very strong, but, it’s all natural so it doesn’t hurt to take it. Power-Pumping will be your best friend and your worst enemy. It is difficult to find time to do this especially if you have other children but if you can make time for it a few times a week – do it. The concept here is that you mimic cluster-feeding which is a huge supply-booster. You pump for 15 minutes, break for 10, pump for 15, break for 10. If you can do this for an hour (or two!) a couple of times a day, that is ideal. Also, pump every time baby stops feeding. It will help to fully empty the breast which in turn tells your body you need to produce more. Also, it is nice to be able to store up some EBM for the next feeding or for future use. Letting baby nurse on demand; there will be days where you feel like all you do is have your boobs out with the baby attached, its tough, but it won’t always be like that. I promise. So if you can, sit back and relax and get through it – it helps you both. Find a lactation consultant who will help you as much as possible. And most importantly, surround yourself with supportive family and friends. My husband was my biggest supporter. He was always there listening, offering advice, trying to help in any way that he could. It makes a world of a difference, I tell ya. If you don’t have the support that you need it makes getting through the tough times that much harder.
I am no expert. But I have a lot of experience in this. I have gotten a lot of help and have done an insane amount of research. But again, I am no expert. I always encourage you to seek the help of a professional, too.
I wish that breastfeeding was as easy as everyone makes it seem. Like you just whip out your boob, baby latches on and starts gaining instantly. Wouldn’t that be nice… and maybe it is for some, and I envy them. But more importantly than that, I support them. I encourage them. And I respect them.
Not everyone has to deal with all that I did, but honestly, I think it makes me a stronger mom because of it and if I can be of help to anyone because of it, that makes me feel better!