I’m writing this because I felt pretty alone over the last two weeks. I had heard of people struggle with breastfeeding but only in pretty general terms – latches that hurt, worries about the amount of milk, etc. I never heard about women using formula in the beginning to supplement (which turned out to be pretty common) or my issue at all. I just thought I was different and weird. Instead of pretending everything is going according to “plan” I decided to tell it like it is so maybe someone else won’t be quite so alone.
On November 9th, at 1:54 am I gave birth to our daughter Eliza. My pregnancy was pretty uneventful – I had some morning sickness for a while in the beginning, but it had been smooth sailing since about the 16th week. I walked most days, worked until the end (42 weeks), and managed to only gain about 18 pounds (I was over weight before getting pregnant so the goal was to not gain a ton).
My labor was fairly uneventful as well. A little over 7 hours, an epidural, a healthy baby girl weighing in at 8 lbs 9 oz. We did skin to skin and I immediately got her to breastfeed (a little mishap the first time).
After that, breastfeeding seemed to come fairly easy in the hospital. I had no idea if anything was actually happening but it wasn’t hurting and she seemed to be suckling well and at least enjoying herself. She was having some trouble falling asleep and seemed hungry though. Everyone assured me these things were normal. I had always planned on breastfeeding. It seemed normal and natural. I had also said to myself in passing, I’ll still do whatever it takes for my child to be healthy – if that ends up being formula, so be it. But honestly, that was a distant possibility in my mind.
We left the hospital with her weighing 7 lbs 13 oz I believe. It’s a bit of a blur because I hadn’t slept the night before from interruptions and Eliza not sleeping for more than 15 minutes at a time. At her follow up appointment 2 days later, she was down even farther. Troubling, but still kind of normal with breastfed babies – said everyone. But she wasn’t peeing well. Not good. So my pediatrician advised that I use a syringe of formula stuck into the side of the latch every time she breastfed. This was to help her latch better, suck harder, and stop falling asleep at the breast. I followed the plan.
On Monday, they said she was up again – almost 2 oz over the weekend. She was peeing and pooing (not much, but slightly within acceptable levels). My pediatrician was on vacation but the partner in his firm still wanted to follow up again because the gain was pretty little. On Thursday we were back and sadly she was down 4 oz this time. Baffled, we agreed that Monday’s number was off some how. I was advised to keep breastfeeding but to add in at least an ounce and a half of formula every feeding. I was also given a referral to see a lactation counselor (who I quickly scheduled a meeting with). I felt broken and tired.
The lactation counselor was supremely helpful. She weighed Eliza a lot, she watched me nurse, she adjusted my latch position slightly and all the while took lots of notes. Then she sat down next to me and told me that she believed I have Insufficient Glandular Tissue. I was a classic case apparently.
“But wait, doesn’t that only affect like 5% of women?” I asked in utter disbelieve.
“Yes, that’s about right.”
She went on to explain that I don’t physically have the glandular tissue in my breasts to make enough milk. With work and time, I could produce more but to not get my hopes up that I’d be able to 100% be able to feed my daughter – maybe my next kid if I decide to have more. Currently, I was only producing 1/3 of an ounce every time I fed Eliza (scientifically found by measuring her before feeding and then after each time she latched and nursed). I was essentially teasing her with tiny bits of nutrients unbeknownst to anyone. I felt guilty.
My breasts are basically made of fat. Worthless fat.
I had heard that this was a thing while doing research about breastfeeding but I never bothered to delve into to it because well, what were the odds it affected me (see aforementioned percentage)? I wish I had clicked on those links so just maybe I would have had an inkling that this might be what was happening. I had all the tell tale signs of this condition but I never knew it. I’ll spare you the details here but Kelly Mom has a great article about it and here’s a case study that talks about some remedies & their efficacy.
I was given a plan to at least help increase the glandular tissue that my hormones and body decided to not give me automatically. It was intense. It included breastfeeding for roughly 15 minutes, then feeding a 2 oz bottle of formula, and then pumping for another 15 minutes. Then repeat every two hours (with 2 four hour spans at night). On top of that, taking herbal supplements (including a rather expensive one) that exceeded the doses on the labels, drinking mother’s milk tea (already doing that), and possibly adding a prescription medicine (the US version causes depression and the Canadian version is expensive). Oh yea, and don’t forget to RELAX and drink enough water and eat a bunch too.
I got home and tried to implement the whole plan. I made it about half a day. I fed my daughter (nursed then bottle), put her down, and then pumped for 15 minutes. Essentially, at least 45 minutes of every 2 hours was taken up with feeding her. The remaining hour and fifteen minutes were left for me to change her diaper, nap, eat, drink loads of water, and go to the bathroom myself. I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to be able to make it work. Especially that moment alone (husband at work, sister at the store) where I was hooked up to the breast pump “relaxing,” Eliza started crying, and my dog started throwing up near the back door. There’s only so much one person can take at a time.
I needed to adjust it but I was feeling guilty for not even being able to hack it one full day.
While all this was happening, I was starting to sink into some serious Baby Blues (leaning towards some postpartum depression). I was mourning the loss of this idea I had built up in my head of how I would nourish my child. I had always wanted to breastfeed and I even thought it was going well. I was upset I didn’t realize that it wasn’t working very well for a few days. I could have killed my daughter. I was sad and grieving and overwhelmed and felt stuck. Even worse, I didn’t realize that I wasn’t in a good space. Thankfully my husband saw me sliding down and helped pull me out.
He and my sister gave me permission to write a plan that would work for me and our family. We adjusted pumping schedules from 10 times a day to 4 or 5 a day. Tea and herbal supplements within reason (and following package directions until talking to my doctor). I would still try and nurse every time. I am a vitamin; the formula is the calories (great encouragement from my sister).
I immediately was able to relax. I was going to feed my child the best way I could.
There are hard parts to this motherhood journey; I’m sure there are many more to come. My common refrain during this two week period was how come no one talks about this? When people found out I was having trouble, they told me their stories – but only after I had already opened up. I decided to not pretend this was easy or that I always planned to feed my kid formula. I have a condition that sucks for someone that planned to breastfeed exclusively, but I also have a beautiful daughter I plan to enjoy and raise as best as I physically can.
Now if you made it this far, you deserve a photo.