Thursday, January 13, 2011
My Breastfeeding and Milksharing Story
“I want to breastfeed for at least 6 months.” I remember saying those words to my mom during my second pregnancy. I talked with my mom several times about breastfeeding. She was very experienced, having nursed 6 of her 7 babies. I remember growing up watching her nurse my younger siblings. In our house, breastfeeding was just the normal and logical thing to do.
My first pregnancy had ended in miscarriage, but this time, I was happily expecting twins. However, through a tragic turn of events, I lost one twin early on and the other at 15 weeks. The last miscarriage was a traumatic ordeal, involving a D&C, retained placenta, nearly bleeding to death and an emergency blood transfusion. I was sent home on bed rest with nothing to do but stare at the wall or the TV.
About 5 days or so after the remaining placenta had been removed I noticed that my shirt had a little wet spot on it. I didn’t think too much of it. I figured it was probably a drop of water, or maybe even a tear. However, over the next couple of days, the spot kept reappearing in the same place – right in front of my right breast.
I took a closer look, and there it was – a drop of clear liquid coming out of my nipple. I was leaking colostrum.
At the time, I was completely devastated by the loss of our third baby. Seeing my breast produce nourishment for a baby that I would never hold was just too much for me to bear. I called my mom, sobbing.
The leaky breast haunted me for a couple weeks. The OB nurse assured me that it would eventually stop and to call if it got uncomfortable. It never did. It eventually just stopped. I didn’t think much of it, nor did I think much of the fact that my left breast did not leak at all.
About a year and a half later, we learned that I was pregnant again. During a three month prescription of bed rest (thanks to an incompetent cervix), I spent most of my time researching and learning about breastfeeding. By the time I gave birth, I felt like an expert. No longer shooting for a mere 6 months, I had my sights set on nursing my baby until she would decide to wean herself. I had all of the knowledge and conviction that a new mother could have when it came to breastfeeding.
After 33 hours of labor, my 9lb 13oz baby girl had to be delivered by c-section. I knew all about the importance of nursing as soon as possible, and I made it very clear that the baby was to be at the breast right away. Sure enough, as soon as I was stitched up and wheeled back into my room, a nurse held Evelyn against me to nurse - I was too weak to hold her on my own. That first breastfeeding experience is a foggy memory at best. I hadn’t slept in over 2 days and labor had taken its toll.
During my 4-day stay at the birthing center, I faithfully nursed my daughter around the clock. To my delight (as well as the delight of the in-house lactation consultant), Evelyn had a perfect latch and a great suck. She was a pro!
Something was wrong, though. Whenever Evelyn was not nursing, she was crying hysterically. I was losing my mind from the sleep deprivation!
The next day, the nurses weighed her. It was not good. She had lost more than a pound in less than 48 hours. The lactation consultant brought in some formula and a tube to supplement at the breast. She helped me learn to syringe feed and finger feed so as to avoid nipple confusion.
I was assured over and over that sometimes, milk comes in late when you have a c-section. OK, then. I could be patient. So I waited… and waited. By day 4, my milk still had not come in. The lactation consultant was absolutely stumped. She brought in a pump and set it up next to my bed, advising me to use it as often as possible when the baby was not nursing.
I still remember my first pumping session. I pumped for 20 minutes and all I got was about 2 drops of colostrum. I remember crying as I wiped those precious drops up with my finger and put it in my daughter’s mouth. At that moment, I felt like the most inadequate mother in the universe. How could something so normal and so natural be going so terribly wrong?
I was discharged with some advice from the lactation consultant: a list of herbs, information about domperidone and her business card. She felt confident that my exhausting labor and subsequent c-section must be the culprit for my milk coming in late.
I later learned that I suffer from a condition called breast hypoplasia, or insufficient glandular tissue (IGT). For months, I scoured the internet looking for any information available. There wasn’t much.
There still isn’t much, but not much is known yet about IGT. At least I had an answer to why I was producing so little milk.
Now I was crying over breastmilk again, but for a different reason.
My doula, Darlene, brought herbs and offered as much help as she could. Even she was in tears over my situation. She hated seeing my baby drink formula almost as much as I did.
Darlene called me one night at home – I will never forget the conversation:
“Well, I wanted to run something by you… Please don’t think I’m a fruit loop! My business partner has some frozen breastmilk she wants to give you to use instead of formula.”
I had never heard of such a concept before. Feeding my baby milk from another woman? It only took me half a second to decide that it was a wonderful idea. Darlene brought over a grocery bag full of frozen breastmilk the very next day. She taught me how to handle, thaw and heat it. I was so relieved to have healthy food for supplementing my baby!
After learning about the concept of milksharing, a friend of mine recommended checking out MilkShare online. I joined the group and got in touch with a mom down in New York City. That was our first big milk donation for Evelyn. My husband took a train down with two big insulated bags. He carried 600oz of milk in those bags through the city and back home on the train. For this, he will always be my hero. <3
After that, we got in touch with other moms. We drove all around NY, MA and CT for milk for Evelyn. Many moms offered to ship if they were too far away. I continued to nurse and give Evelyn what little milk I could. With the help of several different herbs, domperidone and a hospital grade pump, I was able to give her a few ounces a day. The rest came from the generosity of other moms.
At 8 months old, Evelyn weaned herself from breastfeeding. I was absolutely devastated because it was so early. We had a lot working against us – the use of a nipple shield (due to extremely bad advice from an even worse pediatrician) and a then-undiagnosed upper lip tie. The poor girl was tired of working so hard for so little, and she was ready to be done.
Not long after that, I learned that I was pregnant again. The first couple of weeks were filled with anxiety as I thought about going through the same ordeal all over again. I got connected with a lactation consultant who specializes in low supply and IGT, and she worked with me throughout the pregnancy to help maximize breast growth.
I did everything I possibly could during the pregnancy to grow new breast tissue. I took a homemade herbal infusion and tinctures. I received weekly progesterone injections (for the record, those things HURT!). I even pumped for the last several weeks after reading a study showing that doing so can encourage breast tissue growth. I did everything under the sun.
Jacob was born via scheduled c-section at 9lb 12oz, and everything seemed so much easier. I wasn’t exhausted, just happy to hold my new little baby in my arms. He was at the breast within 40 minutes of birth, and like with Evelyn, I nursed him around the clock.
Things seemed to be going better this time. His diaper output was great, and he seemed generally content – until our second night. Earlier in the day, I was given two shots of a drug called methergine. I had an overdistended uterus and was bleeding out. Methergine constricts the blood vessels to help slow things down. Unfortunately, it also constricts the milk ducts.
Jacob went from being content at the breast to being absolutely miserable. His once perfect latch and suck turned into a desperate gnawing between crying. I had seen this before – my baby was starving. Again.
The nurses didn’t seem to take my concerns seriously. They assured me that for the first couple of days, I would only be producing colostrum. They didn’t know my situation, though. I marched down to the nursery with my hysterical son and demanded that they weigh him. Sure enough, he had lost more weight than they wanted to see, so they gave me some formula to supplement – not something I wanted to use, but my baby was starving, and it was my job to feed him.
Jacob is almost 4 months old now. He’s been growing and thriving on my milk, and the milk from another wonderful mother who has been pumping for him since I was about 6 months pregnant. I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to use her milk and that we could pass in on for another baby in need. That’s not how things worked out, though.
Today, I am still nursing. I take herbs, domperidone and lactogenic foods. I pump several times a day and nurse as often as my little one is willing. The good news is that while I don’t have a full milk supply, I am producing more milk than I did with Evelyn.
Fifteen moms helped keep Evelyn breastfed. So far, two have donated milk for my Jacob. I am so incredibly blessed to be a part of such a loving and giving community. My kids are incredibly blessed that so many women have been so generous to help keep them eating healthy. It means the world to me to know that even though I can’t breastfeed my children on my own, they don’t have to miss out on the benefits.
Jacob is 5 months old now, and thriving thanks to the generosity of three moms who have donated for him: Laura, Michelle and Sage. Unfortunately, he started refusing the breast at about 4 months. I still try to get him to come back, but I guess he's just tired of working so hard for so little. So, I continue to pump for him and I get about 80mL/day (about 2 and 2/3 oz).
It's definitely not the way I pictured things would turn out, but I feel blessed every day that I am still able to feed him breastmilk, despite my shortcomings.