Mammary Memoirs

I am good at having babies. Definitely not a skill I would list on a resume, but true nonetheless. Labor and birth made me feel powerful and in total control. I basically feel like Wonder Woman during delivery.

I am less adept at feeding my babies— something that every woman is supposed to be able to do. I remember meeting with countless lactation consultants after the birth of my daughter, which never bothered me as I am not a private person. I didn’t mind how many ladies saw me with my shirt off— I just wanted to figure out this breastfeeding thing! One consultant in particular began spouting how our culture has interfered so much with the natural birth process that we could only blame ourselves with our nursing issues. She listed epidurals, pitocin, cesareans, lack of skin-to-skin, too much separation of baby from mother, impatience, and a few others. I almost felt embarrassed to reply that I hadn’t undergone any of those things with my baby. My delivery was textbook ‘natural’. I had even had baby’s lip and tongue tie checked and corrected after birth to ensure successful nursing habits.

Another consultant, after viewing my breasts, mentioned IGT, or Insufficient Glandular Tissue. She asked if I had seen drastic breast changes during either puberty or pregnancy. I hadn’t. Other things began to tick off the list:

•Widely spaced breasts

•stretch marks on your breast

•asymmetry between breasts

•no engorgement after birth and no change once milk comes in

•no swallowing sounds while baby nurses

•tubular-shaped breasts

IGT diagnosed or not, I was devastated that I couldn’t exclusively nurse. I felt left out when women spoke of their ‘let downs’, leaking through their shirts at another baby crying, feeling so full that they could burst.

I remember pumping when I went back to work teaching middle school choir. I pumped before school, during my preparation hour, during lunch, and again after school before picking up at daycare. I had a top of the line pump and had been instructed on how to use it. I remember sitting for up to thirty minutes each session to only get a total of three ounces of breastmilk to show for my entire day of pumping (on a good day).

With my production so low, it was obvious that I needed to supplement with formula and I had guilt the entire year I did so until switching my daughter to cow’s milk. With my second baby, a boy, I was determined things would be more successful. After all, I had heard you form more milk glands with each baby!

Baby boy’s delivery was even better than the first and I was quick to nurse him often and on demand. Much to my dismay, his checkup after the first three days resulted in an emergency NICU stay for jaundice, dehydration, and weight loss. I remember watching him lay beside me in his crib, under the bilirubin lights with his cute little mask, IV fluids flowing. He peed and peed— finally hydrated. I met with yet another lactation consultant who came into our room every time baby nursed.  This kind woman gave me loads of compliments, commenting on how confident and capable I looked feeding my baby.

“Look how well you latch him!”

“You are a pro a the cross-cradle hold!”

“His latch looks perfect.”

“You are both doing a really great job.”

She gave me a small curved syringe to reward him for good sucking while at the breast and recommended a supplement I could take (Domperidone) to try and boost my supply. She finally told me upon discharge, “You are doing everything right here. I will suggest you do one last ‘booby boot camp’* and then GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK. She left that to me to decide.

I settled on formula feeding about 80% and nursing when I was at home before offering the bottle. I did not pump at work and was one hundred times happier with that choice. We nursed mostly for comfort and both enjoyed the closeness that brought. Baby number two is still a mama’s boy!

So while I am a champion of breastfeeding everywhere, especially normalizing uncovered nursing if mom feels comfortable, I am an even bigger proponent of moms letting go of guilt as they find what works best for them. Through the countless hours I researched and practiced breastfeeding I found a lovely paragraph:

“Remember also to be happy for whatever breast milk you produce and not blame yourself – even a little is better than none!  And if you don’t get any milk at all (which does happen), remember it is not your fault.  For this kind of situation we are thankful that the baby formula exists.”

I AM grateful that formula exists, or my babies may not be alive and thriving. Thank you to all you milk-making-mamas who so generously donate your extra pumped milk (including the near-stranger at Weight Watchers for me who gave me a whole freezer-full after knowing her only a short few weeks). Thank you to those who share your formula coupons. And most of all, thank you to all the moms who care less about the bottle in your baby’s mouth and who notice instead how beautiful you and your baby are working together.

Rachel .jpg

-Rachel Perkins, Tennessee

Booby Bootcamp:

•Nurse ten minutes on each side.

•Pump for fifteen minutes each side while someone else bottle feeds my pumped milk then formula supplement to baby.

•Repeat every two hours.

•Continue for two weeks.

I was religious about this schedule for all two weeks. It was exhausting but I’m glad I could say I tried everything

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