Lives in: Jersey City, New Jersey
Breastfeeding experience: Stressful, disappointing, and upsetting
Main challenges: Lactation failure; took time to diagnose the problem; felt shamed by lactation consultants
Breastfed for: Tried for 5 weeks before finally giving up
When I gave birth to Nikka four years ago I couldn't breastfeed her – not that I didn't try. I followed the nurse's instructions and gave her my breast right after she was born. I didn't see any milk but she was very sleepy, and I hoped she was at least getting colostrum.
After three days with no real improvement, I became concerned. I checked in with the hospital's lactation consultant who squeezed some colostrum from my breast and told me to stop worrying, my milk would come in soon.
The next day when I still had no milk, I began giving Nikka formula because she was crying and clearly very hungry. I kept trying to nurse her as well but felt a growing panic as the days wore on and my breast milk failed to arrive.
I also felt tremendous guilt. One consultant left me with reading materials that said, "If you don't breastfeed your baby, she won't be as smart as she could have been."
None of the experts I spoke to could tell me why my milk hadn't come in. My husband and I scoured the Internet and read breastfeeding books. We could only surmise that I had some kind of low milk supply problem.
On day seven I took my daughter to her first pediatric visit. Her wonderful doctor was the first person to take me seriously and try to help. She asked about other known causes of low supply, including whether I'd lost a lot of blood during childbirth.
When these were ruled out, she recommended trying the herbal supplement fenugreek. After taking the capsules for three days, I was able to produce about an ounce of milk at each pumping. This was not nearly enough to feed my daughter, who was drinking several ounces of formula at each feeding. But at least I could bottle-feed this small amount of my breast milk to her.
After that I saw two lactation consultants who recommended I rent a hospital-grade breast pump. I pumped every three hours for two weeks – something that was supposed to teach my body to start producing more milk – but never managed to increase my supply.
In the meantime, the consultants showed me how to use slow-flow bottle nipples so my baby wouldn't get used to a fast flow from the bottle and then reject my breast. One also gave me a device called the Supplemental Nursing System, which allowed my baby to feed at my breast and practice nursing while a tiny tube inserted in the side of her mouth simultaneously supplied formula.
Finally, after three agonizing weeks, I was referred to Mona Gabbay, a doctor who specializes in helping mothers and babies breastfeed. She suspected I had a low level of prolactin (the hormone that stimulates milk production), and a blood test confirmed her suspicions.
I'm sorry I didn't find this out earlier. Knowing that I might not be able to produce milk – no matter how hard I tried – would have alleviated the panic and trauma I experienced. Instead I spent five weeks strapped to a breast pump rather than cuddling with my baby because everybody told me to just try harder.
Too many of the experts I turned to seemed to believe that mothers who use formula are lazy and even cruel, which made my situation even more painful. My daughter not only survived because of formula, she thrived. She's now a healthy, active, and very bright 4-year-old.
My biggest lesson learned
Do not feel guilty for being unable to breastfeed. The human body doesn't always work the way it's supposed to and there really is nothing wrong with giving your baby formula. If you're having problems, find a doctor who specializes in breastfeeding so that all the medical reasons for lactation failure can be investigated. Lactation consultants, who can be very helpful in many situations, often cannot diagnose medical reasons for lactation failure.
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