Breastfeeding, to me, is one of the most beautiful, incredible aspects of life.
I’ll never be able to look at my lived-in, raw, naked body and not be completely speechless for all that it has done. All that it can do. For it has made me a nurturer.
My womb is my favorite asset, as are my breasts. For they have created precious lives, and have nourished those lives with the most nutritious, organic food they could ever consume. My breasts have filled small little bellies with a liquid gold that could never be compared to a store bought substitute, and they have helped to create the most miraculous bond I could ever imagine.
The natural cycle of a woman’s body is just phenomenal.
Unfortunately, there are some women’s bodies that just cannot preform specific tasks so effortlessly. And mine is one of them.
I struggle with breastfeeding.
Not the emotional aspect of it. Not at all. My breasts just don’t produce like other women’s are able to. Its one of the hardest emotional battles I’ve ever had to fight.
With my first born, I was so excited to begin our breastfeeding journey. I didn’t know too much about it at the time, but I knew I had a lactation consultant who made me feel safe and secure with my choices.
But after my baby had many difficulties with latching, my lactation consultant and I decided to try a nipple shield. (A thin silicone “nipple” of sorts to help enhance the mother’s natural nipple for easier nursing) We really thought with some more practice, she’d get the hang of it quickly.
That was not the case. I kept trying, but was having to resort to feeding her my own milk from a bottle because she would not latch for anything. After I was discharged from the hospital, she began losing weight rapidly. So her doctor suggested I should begin supplementing with formula. At the time (a scared young girl with her first baby) it sounded like the best option for my child. I was so worried. So I began to supplement. (I could kick myself for that now with all that I’ve learned!)
When my milk finally came in a few stressful days after her birth, I had a very full milk supply, and I was thrilled that I had produced so much. But immediately after the initial engorgement, my milk was practically gone. Already?! I had initially pumped around 24oz of milk, and that was it. I was still pumping regularly, and on a schedule, and I also began taking Fenugreek. (a common herb that also aids in milk production) But nothing. Not even drops after several weeks.
To put it lightly, I was devastated.
At that time I knew nothing of relactation or several other age-old tricks to get my milk supply built back up, and the pressure from her doctors to fully formula feed was overwhelming. So I made the painful decision to feed her only formula.
It was at that point that my Postpartum Depression really kicked in (which I always get from the massive hormonal shifts on top of my anxiety) and I spent the first year of her life feeling like I was inadequate for not being able to have an established milk supply like most other mothers. It hurt me so much emotionally that many times I’d break down in tears.
It really was not until I got pregnant with my second child that I let go of the situation to try to better prepare myself for my new babe.
I was determined.
She was an excellent nurser from the first few minutes following her birth, and I felt a wave of relief as I watched her little hands and mouth explore my breasts and begin to suckle. I was finally going to share that breastfeeding relationship that I had so often became jealous of. I was finally going to nourish my baby properly, the way that nature intended.
But when we had a suicide attempt in my family, my milk supply had plummeted. My poor baby was screaming almost constantly.
To prevent losing my supply completely, and to help my baby get the food she needed, I reached out to a local lactation consultant.
At our first appointment, she asked me if I had any major stress happening in my life. When I explained what was going on, she did something I never would have expected. She crouched down on the floor beside the chair I was sitting in and embraced me and my daughter.
“Oh, my dear. I’m so sorry.” she said softly. Her eyes were so kind, and her touch was so loving that it moved me to tears. I needed that so much. Her eyes spoke out “Its okay. You’re doing fine.” I needed that more than she’ll ever know.
Over the first few months of her life however, I struggled. My milk supply would fluctuate drastically. Some days my breasts would leak milk, others I would have close to nothing. Around that time, she also began experiencing extreme constipation and compaction, and it was due to a birth defect we had begun to notice. She was having issues tolerating my breast milk, and when we began supplementing with an organic vegan substitute to help, it did make a positive difference. So for her own health, we both breastfed and supplemented with a specific mixture. We still breastfeed occasionally to this day.
Then came the birth of my sweet little boy. He immediately nursed, and I felt extremely positive about our nursing relationship from the start. With him, I had done loads of research (partially due to my birth doula training) and was very comfortable with the entire process. With this time, I decided to not ask questions and to make an effort to not worry, as hard as that was.
My milk came in two days postpartum, and he suckled away! My breasts always felt full and ready to feed, and I felt like I had finally gotten it right.
The months went by, and he was still doing great with nursing. He looked plump, and was an incredibly happy baby. But then when Nick deployed when he was just four months old, things changed quickly.
My stress level rose to beyond my limit, and with that additional stress (or entirely new level of stress!) my milk supply went down.
I didn’t notice at first. He never gave me any clues that he was not eating enough. He would nurse until he would unlatch himself, and he wouldn’t cry. He chuckled, he laughed, he played. He never cried. And it still hurts me today that I didn’t take notice sooner.
As time went on, he began to lose weight, but it wasn’t quick. It was very gradual, and it took my mother noticing his weight to really bring it to my attention because I was around him 24/7, and he never looked much different. But at that point since I was still producing, I began to try every way possible to increase my supply. And I mean, everything.
It seemed to be working at first, but then my milk dropped off once again. And it was at that point that I had to do something. He was born large (10lbs 14oz) but had grown very little since he was born. At five months old he only weighed 13lbs, and it was sickening for me to see him that way. (Mind you, it wasn’t just my lack of breast milk, it was also because of his extremely slow physical and mental development due to muscle issues)
I began to ask my friends who were nursing their children if they would be willing to wet-nurse or donate some of their milk for my baby while I tried to increase my own supply. (Women in my tribe love to wet-nurse!)
Thank the heavens for those beautiful women (you know who you are!) that helped to nourish my sweet little boy during that super difficult time period. You saved us in so many ways!
Today, he is eight months old, and is both breastfed, donor milk-fed, and supplemented with raw goats milk (the closest substance to human breastmilk) and organic formula.
My struggle doesn’t just end there.
The struggle I have maintaining what little I am currently producing is a nightmare.
I have to pump every two hours around the clock, take nine capsules of herbal lactation supplements a day, drink two cups of a tea to promote healthy lactation, drink three liters of water a day, eat three meals and two snacks a day, eat one to two servings of oatmeal a day, use fennel and basil essential oil every day, and give myself breast massages.
Trying to keep up with that schedule with three children is nearly impossible, but somehow I do it. And him and I both still love nursing. Despite everyone around me telling me to stop. Despite how exhausted I may be. Despite how “okay” supplementing is. Whatever I can give my baby is far better than none at all. And that’s the truth.
I’ve come to terms that I will probably never be able to solely nurse any of my children, and its mainly because of my anxiety and depression. But I’m finally able to type that and not feel a wave of anxiety just re-reading those words. That’s such an improvement. And it has sealed the idea that along with becoming a certified birth doula, I will now also get certified to become a lactation consultant. Just because I want to be able to look into the eyes of a worried woman with a hungry newborn wiggling about in her arms, and tell her how wonderful of a job she’s doing, and how with a little help, she can be successful. And if for some reason she cannot nurse? I want to tell her that its okay.
I will forever envy those women that produce massive quantities of milk from the day their milk comes in.
I will forever envy how you can have a day where you’re stressed out, and you’ll still have that perfect, wonderful milk ready to feed your baby.
I will forever envy how you can choose when to stop nursing your baby, and how you aren’t forced to quit before you’re ready too by your own body.
Breast is best. But struggling isn’t always better.