I Am Back From My Breastfeeding Battle And Here’s What I Have Learned

Hopefully, my experiences will help another family avoid the psychological trauma that I endured while breastfeeding my daughter. This is what I learned:

  • Sacrificing your mental health or your baby’s health (or both!) to exclusively breastfeed is not worth it. 
  • Some breastfeeding advocates don’t see (or don’t want to see) the risks of exclusive breastfeeding which include a baby who isn’t gaining weight sufficiently, an emotionally suffering mum, or a strained mother–baby relationship.  
  • Seek help from lactation professionals who are open-minded enough to suggest combo-feeding as an option and are willing to support your choice because sometimes exclusive breastfeeding is not an option.

While pregnant, when imagining myself with my new baby, I was always breastfeeding her. That image defined my new role as a mum. I was glowing with love, she was happily eating, and I felt so proud of being able to provide her with “the best.”  There was no alternative in my mind. I was planning on staying at home for a whole year anyway, so it would be easy to breastfeed her for as long as I wanted. I had heard that some women didn’t exclusively breastfeed for long, but I simply wasn’t going to be one of them. I didn’t even care about what their reasons were. I always thought that if you tried enough, it would work. It was natural, so nature was going to work for me and my baby. Right? Wrong.

Breastfeeding has been one of the least natural things I have ever experienced. 

I was lucky enough to be blessed with a wonderful pregnancy and a beautiful, natural birth. I was waiting for my daughter to crawl to my breast and start suckling right after, but she soon fell asleep instead. She spent the first 24 hours mostly sleeping and didn’t eat at all. We then started giving her formula and my expressed colostrum and went on to give her a bottle of formula the next day, as she was dehydrated and had lost 10 percent of her birth weight. I was still hopeful that once my milk came in, things would fall into place and she would be exclusively breastfed.

Babies cry when they are hungry, I was told. Mine didn’t. I had to wake her up and literally force her to latch. For the next few weeks, I triple fed her: I woke her up every three hours, which took several minutes; tried to breastfeed her using a nipple shield (I say try because those 15 minutes on each side were spent trying to keep her awake after an initial latch and a couple of weak sucks—she almost never activated my letdown reflex); then my husband would give her a bottle of formula or pumped milk, which she would gulp right down; then I would pump for 30 minutes. Every three hours. Needless to say, I hardly slept. Because she wouldn’t really stimulate my breasts, I got mastitis and, I realized later, a low supply. I was a wreck and could hardly utter a sentence without crying. Why was it so hard for us? Why did she prefer the bottle instead of my breast? My only duty during those first months was to feed her. I felt like I was failing as a mum already. 

Unfortunately, triple feeding has become the default method that is recommended by medical and lactation professionals for a large number of breastfeeding challenges, with no regard to the psychological maternal complications that will eventually occur, or the likelihood of it solving the problem of low milk supply.

Despite people telling me that it was ok to “give up and feed her formula,” I was determined to make it work. Because again, in my mind, there was no alternative. So I made an appointment with a lactation consultant who gave us an SNS system, forbade us from using the bottle to avoid nipple confusion, and put me on a medication that promotes milk production. I would again try to nurse, then use the SNS system with my pumped milk or formula, then pump—so basically still triple feeding. My girl was still very sleepy, had a weak suck, and was not putting on a lot of weight. I could only nurse her at home because it was too complicated to use the SNS system outside. She was already two months old at this time. I was yearning to go out and meet other people. My soul was lonely. I was lonely. I wanted to be one of those smiling, calm mums who breastfeed their babies anywhere. I wanted to experience feeding her without it being a struggle every single time. 

At some point and when my baby was around three months old, I was given the green light to exclusively breastfeed her by this lactation consultant.

I was pumping enough milk to supplement her feedings—a set amount which didn’t really take into account whether or not she was satisfied—so “no more pumping, no more SNS,” she said. I hardly felt ready for it, but I followed her advice nonetheless because she was the expert.  

My daughter was and still is a very “easy” baby. In those early days, she hardly ever cried from hunger. I realised much later that I wasn’t interpreting her hunger cues correctly, but nobody had told me how to. After we stopped bottle-feeding her with formula, she only put on 100 g maximum per week, for weeks on end.

I kept asking the lactation consultant if this was ok, and she said that I simply had a thin baby, that the average is 150 g per week, so “a little bit less than that is fine.” But a voice inside me was telling me that it wasn’t fine. Something just didn’t feel right. 

This picture clearly shows how extreme lactivism will sacrifice a baby to sustain exclusive breastfeeding even though babies are malnourished. How can anyone believe the baby on the right is not malnourished?

I started getting so worried about her eating enough that every single nursing session would almost be preceded by a panic attack and the same torturing thoughts: “Will she have enough? Is she having enough? Has she had enough?” These panic attacks got so bad that at times my letdown would literally disappear, leaving her hungry. But I still wasn’t “allowed” to give her a bottle of formula. It was obvious that despite all our efforts, things weren’t quite working out for us. Breastfeeding had become a never-ending battle.

Only my husband saw what this whole effort was doing to me. The tears before and after a nursing session, the agony of countless clogged ducts, the frustration of having to take antibiotics because of another breast infection. I was slowly reaching a point of postpartum depression when I decided to hear the voice that was telling me that my baby wasn’t getting enough. I gave her a bottle with formula and started my own version of unguided combo-feeding. I didn’t let the lactation consultant know; I felt like I would be disappointing her somehow.

I realise now how wrong that was. Nobody should have a say as to how I feed my baby except for me.  

According to Fed is Best’s feeding plan, my baby and I had many of the risk factors for feeding complications. Giving her formula at the very beginning was not only not a mistake, it was necessary. She is now exclusively formula fed, and even though I am entirely sure of my choice to end our breastfeeding journey, it still hurts.

I live in a country where breastfeeding is the norm. Wherever I go, whatever I do, I see women breastfeeding their babies. Breastfeeding grief and trauma are real, and they are not about the baby.  How do you get over a trauma when you’re confronted with it over and over again anyway? I am still working that one out, with the help of a therapist. 

These results suggest that public responses causing a mother to feel guilty for using infant formula result in negative feelings of self-worth and dysfunctional maternal behaviors.

 

I wish I had discovered the  Fed is Best  Foundation before, or had a professional to turn to when I decided that combo-feeding was the way to go.  Who knows?  If the weight of “all or nothing” had been lifted earlier, if I didn’t feel like giving formula meant that I had failed, if I had been given—and given myself—permission, perhaps I would still be breastfeeding on my own terms right now.

-Jannie R.

Mothers Describe Their Triple Feeding Experiences And The Impact It Had On Their Mental And Physical Health

Liquid Courage Sometimes Comes In The Form Of Baby Formula

 

Feeding Your Baby—When Supplementing Saves Breastfeeding and Saves Lives

I Attempted Suicide From The Pressure Of Breast Is Best

Clinicians’ Guide to Supporting Parents with Guilt About Breastfeeding Challenges

Infant Feeding Educational Resources

 

Contact Us/Volunteer

 

 

 

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No Breastfeeding Zone; I’m A Breast Cancer Previvor

Hakuna Ma-“tata” [my emphasis] means no worries for the rest of your days!

Have you ever felt like you wanted to trade your genes for better ones after seeing many of your loved ones suffer from breast cancer at a very young age? I have. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 37, and I lived with the constant worry that the same thing would happen to me. But it took my sisters and I losing our mom at the age of 52 from metastatic breast cancer, and seeing our maternal Grandma and Auntie fight their own battles with cancer, for me to finally feel the push to find out if there was a hereditary link that caused our family’s history of cancer. My primary care doctor gave me a referral to the genetic counseling clinic, and I booked my appointment.

In October 2015, I sat in the clinic waiting for the genetic counselor to call me back. I was a bit nervous after filling out the book of paperwork. I thought to myself, wow, I am really here to get tested after learning my grandmother was positive for the BRCA2 mutation. I thought about how it could affect my future ahead if I was also BRCA2 positive. I knew right away that if my sample came back positive that I would go ahead and have prophylactic (preventative) surgeries to reduce my risks of breast cancer.

What is BRCA?

The name “BRCA” is an abbreviation for “BReast CAncer gene.” BRCA1 and BRCA2 are two different genes that have been found to impact a person’s chances of developing breast cancer.

Two weeks went by, and finally I got the long-awaited phone call from my genetic counselor.  She asked if I would like the results over the phone. I said “of course, I would like to know right now,” and that’s when she told me: “you tested positive for the same genetic mutation your maternal grandma had.”  This means that in order for me to have inherited the mutation, my mom must have also been positive for BRCA2. Right away I shared the news with my family and close friends. I made more doctor’s appointments with BRCA specialists. They developed a surveillance plan in which they would see me every three months. Should I get cancer, they would likely catch it early. I then started my search to find surgeons who I personally connected with to do my mastectomy surgery. I needed a general surgeon and a plastic surgeon. Once I found the perfect surgeons, we booked my surgery.

March 1, 2017 was surgery day. I had elected non–nipple sparing bilateral mastectomy with expander placement. During the first surgery, the surgeons removed all the tissue they could, to reduce my risks from 87% down to less than 5%. Expander placement is called delayed reconstruction. I knew I would have another surgery just a few months later, once the area was expanded sufficiently.

On July 21, 2017, I had my exchange surgery. It was an outpatient surgery, in which they used my initial incisions to reopen me, take the expanders out, and put my silicone implants in. Once that was done, my husband and I were finally ready to start our own family.

We began trying to conceive in July of 2018. After a month, we had a spontaneous pregnancy! Six weeks later, we received the news that our baby hadn’t developed a heartbeat, and that the pregnancy wasn’t viable. We continued to try for the next eight months but had no luck. We reached out to fertility doctors, and they figured out that PCOS was the problem causing our infertility. We began treatment, but after a cycle of fertility medication, I developed an ovarian cyst, and I needed to have surgery. But, within a month we were pregnant with our rainbow baby boy D.C.! We were over the moon with joy.

The pregnancy went smoothly but during a few of my prenatal appointments, I would have a nurse or doctor not read my chart and ask me if I planned to breastfeed. It was so hard to understand why every mom was automatically assumed to be breastfeeding and even harder to politely tell them I plan to formula feed because I had a double mastectomy.

Throughout my pregnancy, I had several  people make rude and judgemental remarks, like “how could you not give your child breast milk when it’s what’s best for them?” It was difficult to comprehend why mothers are judged by the way their baby is fed. 

After reading  infant feeding stories of other Previvors I decided to make this sign —similar to a Breast Cancer Survivors sign—that clearly says that I cannot breastfeed, and that my hospital room was a “no-breastfeeding zone.” I wanted our first delivery experience to be positive and not have to explain anymore why I wasn’t breastfeeding.

I wanted our first delivery experience to be positive and not have to explain anymore why I wasn’t breastfeeding.

On March 9th 2020 at 4 am, we were admitted to the hospital after my water had broken at home. Once we got into our room, my husband hung the sign above the hospital bed. Many nurses, doctors, residents, and midwives loved the sign and offered their support. The pediatrician said, “sister, this is so true!!! He will be just fine and formula won’t affect his future ahead.” She was also personally touched by the sign, as she was one year out of breast cancer treatment. My confidence as a new mother soared from the positive support I received. 

Once we got into our room, my husband hung the sign above the hospital bed.

Our baby was born at 8:07 pm weighing in at 7 lb 12 oz and 20 in. tall. He is absolutely perfect! My baby is thriving on miracle milk and all of our love. He is one happy little man and we are so in LOVE.

 The Fed Is Best community has been supporting me and thousands of other mothers who have no real place for support and I am so grateful for that.


HOW YOU CAN SUPPORT FED IS BEST

There are many ways you can support the mission of the Fed is Best Foundation. Please consider contributing in the following ways:

  1. Join us in any of the Fed is Best volunteer and advocacy, groups. Click here to join our health care professionals group. We have:  FIBF Advocacy Group, Research Group, Volunteer Group, Editing Group, Social Media Group, Legal Group, Marketing Group, Perinatal Mental Health Advocacy Group, Private Infant Feeding Support Group, Global Advocacy Group, and Fundraising Group.    Please send an email to Jody@fedisbest.org  if you are interested in joining any of our volunteer groups. 
  2. If you need infant feeding support, we have a private support group– Join us here.
  3. If you or your baby were harmed from complications of insufficient breastfeeding please send a message to contact@fedisbest.org 
  4. Make a donation to the Fed is Best Foundation. We are using funds from donations to cover the cost of our website, our social media ads, our printing and mailing costs to reach health providers and hospitals. We do not accept donations from breast- or formula-feeding companies and 100% of your donations go toward these operational costs. All the work of the Foundation is achieved via the pro bono and volunteer work of its supporters.
  5. Sign our petition!  Help us reach our policymakers, and drive change at a global level. Help us stand up for the lives of millions of infants who deserve a fighting chance.   Sign the Fed is Best Petition at Change.org  today, and share it with others.
  6. Share the stories and the message of the Fed is Best Foundation through word-of-mouth, by posting on your social media page and by sending our FREE infant feeding educational resources to expectant moms that you know. Share the Fed is Best campaign letter with everyone you know.
  7. Write a letter to your health providers and hospitals about the Fed is Best Foundation. Write to them about feeding complications your child may have experienced.
  8. Print out our letter to obstetric providers and mail them to your local obstetricians, midwives, family practitioners who provide obstetric care and hospitals.
  9. Write your local elected officials about what is happening to newborn babies in hospitals and ask for the legal protection of newborn babies from underfeeding and of mother’s rights to honest informed consent on the risks of insufficient feeding of breastfed babies.
  10. Send us your stories. Share with us your successes, your struggles and everything in between. Every story saves another child from experiencing the same and teaches another mom how to safely feed her baby. Every voice contributes to change.
  11. Send us messages of support. We work every single day to make infant feeding safe and supportive of every mother and child.  Your messages of support keep us all going.
  12.  Shop at Amazon Smile and Amazon donates to Fed Is Best Foundation.

Or simply send us a message to find out how you can help make a difference with new ideas!

For any urgent messages or questions about infant feeding, please do not leave a message on this page as it will not get to us immediately. Instead, please email christie@fedisbest.org.

 Thank you and we look forward to hearing from you!

Click here to join us!


 

Stories and resources:

New Mom Puts Up ‘No Breastfeeding Zone’ Sign In Delivery Room After Giving Birth To Daughter

Ali Rogin: The Story of a ‘Previvor’

https://www.thepatientstory.com/cancers/breast-cancer/brca-2-previvor-erika-stallings

https://www.parents.com/news/cancer-survivor-posts-no-breastfeeding-zone-in-hospital-room-to-prevent-criticism

 

 

 

 

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