Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but it’s a common thought you’ll see through many of my posts. I’m a firm believer that being a good mama starts with first taking care of yourself and making sure you are in the best mental state you can be to then care for everyone else. And feeding your child is not an exception! So, let’s talk about breastfeeding: yet another topic I don’t think people discuss enough or prepare a pregnant woman for. I attended a breastfeeding class my hospital provided, and I found it very informative, but I was a little turned off that I had to pay for it. Am I wrong for feeling that way? I understand people don’t work for free, but I am of the opinion that hospitals are probably making enough money to offer classes like this to those who are registered to give birth there, at the very least. I can imagine a few soon-to-be-mamas skipped out on the $40 class because they didn’t want to pay the fee (because they were likely already delving out a lot of cash to pay for other items for their tiny bundle) – and who knows how their breastfeeding journey ended up? Not implying that a single class dictates a woman’s beliefs, feelings, or success in breastfeeding, but I don’t think they would be completely unrelated.
There are a lot of factors that come into play that determine the success of breastfeeding, some of which you cannot control. If you want to breastfeed and you are struggling with pain or supply issues, there are professionals, specifically International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs), who are willing and able to help you in any way they can, and I highly suggest finding one that you trust. If it weren’t for the hospital consultants, I wouldn’t have found out so early on about my overactive letdown – I didn’t even know what that was! In addition, I saw Danielle Gauss, IBCLC, and trusted advisor to The New Mom School. She offers a free breastfeeding clinic on Fridays, so I decided to attend since I had concerns about my daughter’s latch, and she was able to identify that she had lip tie. She also recommended a wonderful pediatric orthodontist who fixed it with a procedure that took all of three minutes and healed almost instantaneously. Danielle is a fellow mama, who is extremely passionate with helping women navigate breastfeeding, and was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding the topic.
Q: What are the main reasons a woman sees an IBCLC like yourself?
A: Most women assume that breastfeeding is supposed to hurt in the beginning, and that could not be more untrue. Breastfeeding isn’t supposed to hurt, so when there is pain, that usually means that something needs to be adjusted. Too many women wait until they are in agony, which is why so many women give up. I have found that most new moms leave the hospital or birthing center with conflicting advice, and that results in frustration. I recommend that a mom sees me within the first week if possible. That is when the most problems arise. Most moms see me due to nipple soreness, or weight loss in the infant, or low supply. If something doesn’t feel right, trust that mommy instinct and get help ASAP.
Q: Based on your experience, what are the main reasons women stop breastfeeding?
A: I really feel the main reason is lack of support and conflicting advice. Breastfeeding really is a learned art. We are in an era with google at our finger tips and that isn’t always a good thing. We have instincts and we should trust them. Mom’s give up because of the pain that is often easily fixed, what they fear is low supply or baby not getting enough milk, and lack of sleep and support. There is a lot of false information out there. We need our village and a trusted professional to guide them. Sometimes breastfeeding difficulties are a mom issue, or a baby issue, or often a combination of both. There are two main goals: 1. We feed a baby whether that is breast, bottle, or a combination of both. There is no wrong way to feed a baby 2. We do what makes her the best mom for that baby. Sometimes it is about finding a rhythm that works best for everyone.
Q: Does every woman produce milk? And does every woman produce enough milk for their baby?
A: Yes, every woman, every mammal, will produce milk. However, there are many reasons why a woman may produce too much or too little. There is always a reason. This could be due to the positioning of the baby that isn’t stimulating the breast correctly to send the right messages to the brain, it could be due to her birth story (birth plays a MASSIVE role in how we breastfeed), it could be something anatomical in the baby’s mouth, or it could be something physical like a thyroid condition, or hormonal imbalance due to insulin resistance or PCOS. We are living in an era with technology that allows women who wouldn’t naturally be able to conceive to have the ability to conceive. Because of this, we are able to make more women mamas, however that means that they may struggle with supply issues due to an endocrine problem. It is always wise to seek out the help of an IBCLC to make sure that the mother is on the right blend of herbs for her body. Not every mother will have an awesome supply, and some will have too much milk. It depends on the situation, but there will always be something.
Q: Anything else you want to add or say to breastfeeding or soon-to-be-mamas?
Know that you are not alone, and that breastfeeding plans change with the age of the baby. It doesn’t have to be complicated, or exhausting, or painful. If you need the support seek it out. It takes a village, and that is what we are here for. Seek that help early and frequently. Every drop you give your baby is a gift to you and that little one. There is more to breastfeeding than just breastfeeding. This process isn’t for everyone and that is okay. You are feeding your baby, that is what matters. Women need to know that they are amazing and are capable of everything!
My own breastfeeding journey has not been rainbows and butterflies. My daughter is now 6 months old, and although she’s been feeding from me since birth, it didn’t start out very smoothly. She latched so poorly on my left side while we were in the hospital that my nipple got all National Geographic and I was in extreme pain for a solid two weeks (shout out to the makers of nipple butters because you are the true MVPs). Then, my “milk came in.” HOLY CRAP. Why don’t people talk more about engorgement?! That. Was. Intense. Thankfully, it only lasts a few days, which is probably why people don’t mention it, since it’s such a tiny blip on the radar that is your early postpartum life. Once I stopped looking like I had just gotten a boob job (a very good one, by the way), it seemed like I was choking my child at every feeding while simultaneously upsetting her tummy, and she always acted hungry and never satisfied. I was so concerned she wasn’t getting enough, so I would continuously feed her, leading to projectile vomiting, me wondering if she had an intolerance to my milk, and lots of tears (from both her and I). Luckily my hospital, Orange Coast Memorial, offers free lactation clinics and I was able to get diagnosed with an overactive letdown. I was advised I was giving her TOO much milk and that I needed to change to block feeding, which meant instead of offering both breasts per feed, I should just feed her from one. Oh, and they told me if she took it, the pacifier would be my breast friend (like what I did there?) because babies whose mothers have over active letdowns don’t get to suckle for as long, so they really benefit from the comfort the pacifier offers. Man, were they right – that thing was a freaking treasure for a solid three months.
Flash forward to recent days, and though breastfeeding was going well, I noticed it was starting to get to me mentally, emotionally, and physically. My daughter had a couple weeks where she preferred the bottle over my breast, so I started pumping more frequently and it sort of just turned into our new routine. I. HATE. PUMPING. I try and refrain from making correlations to a cow since I always glare at my husband when he does so but, honestly, that’s what I feel like when I’m on the pump. I don’t care for it at all – and when I glance down and see them looking on the verge of exploding at every suction, it doesn’t help. On top of that, my daughter is still not sleeping through the night, so I started to get down on myself about not being able to satiate her so she sleeps soundly (I know this is probably false, but I’m just being honest). Additionally, and selfishly, I reached a point where I really wanted to have my body back. I feel fortunate I am able to provide my child with the food she needs to thrive, but man – it’s not easy. With all of this in mind, I decided to introduce formula. I had MAJOR mom guilt, for more reasons than one. I felt guilty that I was being selfish for wanting to try formula when my body was producing enough to feed her, and then some. Then I felt crappy for putting myself through that guilt since I am a FIRM believer in #FedIsBest and I would never, ever, judge another mom on how she chooses to feed her baby. But, it all really came back to one thing: I was not happy, and I was not in a place where I thought I should be, mentally, so I decided my daughter deserved to have a mama who was doing what was best for everyone, and that is what truly sparked change. I spoke with other moms, coincidentally those I met through The New Mom School, and they shared stories of introducing formula and how much it helped their overall mental health and gave them the opportunity to be a little more flexible with their schedules and lifestyle. After some research, I purchased the formula I thought was best for my babe, and I introduced it into her daily routine. Once I saw she didn’t have a poor reaction to it, I gave her the bottle of formula at night, and on day two, for the first time since she was born, she slept through the night. Coincidence? I’m not sure. She also had started solid food the week prior and hit her six-month birthday, so it’s likely a combination of all those things, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t give me a little confidence boost. Before I go on, I should mention she hasn’t slept through the night since, but we’re down to one wake up and usually the pacifier will do the trick – so I consider that progress. And even though I give her formula now, I have continued to pump on the same schedule I was previously. That may change in the future, but just having that box of powder in my cupboard has given me a sense of relief. Now I know it’s there and she does just fine with it, if and when I decide to start weaning. And to me, that’s worth its weight in gold.
My point to all of this is, every woman’s journey looks different, and if you can, try not to place guilt on yourself or feel inadequate if your vision doesn’t go the way you planned. Breastfeeding isn’t easy for everyone, and I think comedian, Ali Wong, sort of nails it on the head: “I thought it (breastfeeding) was supposed to be this beautiful bonding ceremony where I would feel like I was sitting on a lily pad in a meadow and bunnies would gather at my feet while the fat-Hawaiian-man version of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ would play. No, it’s not like that at all. Breastfeeding is a savage ritual that just reminds you that your body is a cafeteria now.”
Danielle is certainly right – you are not alone and this process isn’t for everyone. Did you know that 81% of all babies in the US are ever breastfed? That means almost 20% of mamas decide from day one that they don’t want to breastfeed. The number of breastfed babies drops to 51% at 6 months of life, then 30% at 12 months. Per those CDC findings, the biggest drop off is during the first six months, which is when women are dealing with pain, discomfort, lack of sleep, supply issues, and potentially going back into the workplace. You’d think that breastfeeding should come easy to all, but the reality is, it doesn’t. I don’t know if I would still be breastfeeding my daughter had I not gotten help from Danielle and other IBCLCs – and I know many mamas who would echo that sentiment. If you want to breastfeed your baby, please don’t put pressure on yourself to figure it out alone or deal with pain because you think that is what you should do. Reach out to a lactation consultant, talk to friends or your New Mom School tribe, and remember that we’re all in this together, and at the end of the day, fed is absolutely best.
From bottle to breast,
Danielle Gauss, IBCLC: http://www.justbreastfeeding.com/