When The Breast Isn’t Your Best
9 years ago on this day I was watching my SO recover from his birthday activities while his mini me complained about the cramp quarters in my abdomen, with a swift kick to my ribs. I was in my third trimester, overtly optimistic about impending motherhood while scouring over the apartment listings that would suit our growing family. I was also looking over the list of breast pump suggestions my mother had sent me. Baby wearing and breastfeeding were an unwritten rule in mothering within my family, so I was taking all the suggestions from my family members. I wasn’t nervous about these things. These were natural duties of motherhood. I was confident that these were two duties I couldn’t screw up. I was wrong.
8 weeks into motherhood and I was having trouble baby wearing and nursing…at the same time. My son didn’t like the ring sling my hippie side wanted to carry him in and my breasts were not producing enough milk to keep up with his appetite. I was gobsmacked. I grew up carrying babies and watching women breastfeed their babies. I literally carried someone else’s baby since I was 14, why couldn’t I carry my own. I knew more about wrapping a baby and baby Bjorn’s than the average 26 year old. But now, my child cried every time I put him in my sling and my Bjorn was extremely uncomfortable. And then there was the day my mother came to my home and spoke the words that smacked me across the face, supplement. Supplement? Supplement, what? Supplement, for who? For me? For my breastmilk. My baby Hippo was nursing every hour still, and ravenous. I pumped more and more. Drank more lactating tea than I could bear. And consumed so much water I thought I was water logged. But I still couldn’t keep up. Hippo Papa left the house and came home with the Enfamil ProSobee. We were told that soy was the closest we could get to breastmilk. I was deflated and defeated. Heartbroken and shamed. THIS was suppose to be the easy part about motherhood. Something my body would automatically do. Give birth and feed. But much like everything that had happened in the three years up to that point, nothing was going as planned. Hippo Papa was trying to be so supportive, but we felt alone. During the age of Pre-Obamacare, my IBD status kept me from being able to connect with a doctor after the 6 weeks mandatory post-partum check up. I was treading in uncharted territory, in the dark, with waves crashing over me. There was no social media campaign of Breastfeeding Week or Breastfeeding Month. I hadn’t found my IBD Social Circle friends. There was no IBDMoms. There was me, Hippo Papa & the judgmental moms in my local moms group. No matter how much encouragement I got from family & friends or information I received from the Pump Station, it didn’t work. Because for me, that time around, the dehydration, flare & malabsorption stemming from IBD was all too much for my body to take. It was trying to tell me, “Hey girl, we made it through the pregnancy, now you’re asking too much!” LOL! But I was in such a post-partum depression, IBD misinformation, first baby frenzy that I didn’t stop to look at myself in the mirror and say, “Hey girl, this is not your fault. You aren’t the first mom to not be able to breast feed, and you won’t be the last!”
At his 20 week check up, the doctor looked at me and said, “Are we still breastfeeding?” Hippo Papa put an arm over my shoulder and answered, “I used his last 2 ounces in his cereal this morning.” I felt the heavy burden of shame. All I could hear were the moms in my mom group announcing their 20 month & 6 month markers. I could hear the voices of family members questioning why Hippo was drinking from a bottle. I saw my unused boppy pillow sitting on the chair in the nursery. It was all a loud ringing in my ear. Until I felt the hand of my son’s pediatrician on mine and heard her say, “Great job, mom.”.
During World Breastfeeding Week & Black Breastfeeding Week, moms struggling through their breastfeeding journey can feel a little out of place. While we celebrate those openly nursing their babies without a struggle & encourage those who are about to begin their journey. We forget the ones who are lost & frustrated searching for answers or mourning the inability to produce milk. There are so many more resources available and the blessing of social media, bridging moms together. Here are a few of my own tips I give to moms now:
Skin to Skin
A lot of people believe that it’s something you simply practice the first few days of your child’s life. In fact, it’s a great way to bond with your infant for weeks. It is also a great way to produce oxytocin, which is the hormone that essentially makes milk. If you want to move around while doing skin to skin, wrap your child to you without a shirt with your wrap (I recommend a Moby, Tekhni or an Ergobaby) which is a good way to multitask around the house. There are also skin to sin t-shirts by NuRoo that you can wear out of the house. Perfect for skin to skin!
Drink plenty of water! People living with IBD have a higher rate of dehydration. Dehydration can prevent milk production. Try setting an alarm to remind you to drink water. It may not hurt to use an ORS (Oral Rehydration Solution) in your water from time to time. I personally use Drip Drop because it’s low in sugar, good flavors and works quickly.
Don’t stress about your milk production. It’s important that you understand that although it is a natural process, it’s still unpredictable. And however much you milk you produce and however long you nurse, is perfectly fine. It isn’t a competition for best mom. And if you cannot breastfeed for more than a few weeks, days or at all, it doesn’t make you any less of a mother.
Having a centralized place to organize your pumping regimen will make life a lot easier for you. Find a place in the home that is comfortable for you to pump. Or create your station on a utility cart with wheels to bring to the place you need to pump. On your cart you can keep your breast pump, storage bags or bottles, lactation cookies, nipple ointment, nursing pads, wipes and whatever items you need to get you through a pumping session. It will help also if you have centralized location for your needs in case you need someone to grab something for you while you nurse or pump.
Don’t Give Up
Breastfeeding takes a lot of work and patience. Patience is key. Patience with the process, your baby and yourself. It may take you a little longer than your friends to get the hang of breastfeeding and that is perfectly okay. There is nothing wrong with you if you take a little more time or can’t produce milk at all. That’s just how its going to go this time around. Every pregnancy and postpartum experience is different.
Ask For Help
One of the hardest things to do is, ask for help. Especially as a woman, who is a patient, now a mother…of color. I don’t feel justified in asking for help, ever. But I am and there is help available. There are a ton of resources available to you. While you are in the hospital ask for a lactation specialist. Once you get home you can reach out to these sources who may have local or online services to help you if you are not in their area:
If you are still having trouble producing milk, but would like your child to receive breast milk, check out Mother’s Milk Bank. They provide carefully screened donated breast milk (which is approved by the FDA).
Don’t ever feel like your journey through motherhood is one of isolation and anxiety. You have a whole community of women behind you who have been through, currently in the trenches with you or coming up behind you. You are never alone! And when it comes to feeding your baby, you will make sure your baby is fed properly. There are a ton of resources available to help you with that. Don’t ever feel alone.
For More help, useful tips and tricks follow @IBDMoms on Instagram. And join us for a twitter chat on breastfeeding with IBD on Tuesday August 7th with the amazing baby wear wrap company, Tekhni Wovens!
*Promo Code for Drip Drop is RELIEF15