"I'm sorry. Some women just can't breastfeed."
I heard this time and time again. Doctors, lactation consultants, and pediatricians all saying the same thing. Some women just can't. But why? And is there overcome that?
I had my first son when I was nineteen years old. I wasn't someone who ever thought she'd be a mother. When faced with an unexpected pregnancy, I had only vague ideas about what motherhood (or parenthood/breastfeeding, something more specific) even meant. I figured I would breastfeed, and everything would be okay. I birthed my first son, but breastfeeding did not go well. He lost weight; I tried to pump and finger-feed. We supplemented with formula, and soon after, I gave up breastfeeding. I blamed supplementing too early.
With our second baby, I was armed with a bit more knowledge. I threw away the formula and was determined to breastfeed. But again, I made it only a short time until I gave up. I was pumping only drops, and our baby was losing weight even though I put him to the breast often. I did all the right things, but for a second time, it didn't seem to matter. This was especially confusing because I thought for sure I overcame all of the "booby traps" that women talk about. This time around, I had so much more guilt. So much more pressure. So much more emotion. I think it crushed me because I really believed I had set myself up to succeed. And I still had no answers.
Between our second and third baby, I educated myself even more. I learned about natural birth and breastfeeding. I was determined to make this time work. Thankfully, in my research, I happened upon a tiny blip in The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. Insufficient Glandular Tissue, or IGT, stood out to me. Everything about my situation rang true. I knew almost instantly that IGT was the issue. IGT is why I never got a visit from the "Boob Fairy". IGT is why my breasts always seemed empty. IGT is why my breasts have an odd shape. And IGT is why breastfeeding didn't work for me, at least in the conventional sense. It was soon after that I met a mom who had used a Supplemental Nursing System
(SNS) with donor milk for her baby. I had never heard of an SNS before, and didn't know much about donor milk. I absorbed as much knowledge as I could as I got ready to birth my third baby.
When I had my third, I was officially diagnosed with IGT. I used a french five tubing (small tubing used in medical situations) with syringe to feed him the first few weeks, switching to a Medela SNS after he got a bit bigger. I was able to breastfeed, while also supplementing with donor milk and formula. I was breastfeeding...even if I had to use added parts!
Fast forward again, to our fourth baby's birth. I had everything lined up this time around. I had my diagnosis, midwives who were supportive, a hospital that encouraged donor milk usage, lactation consultants who knew my condition and remembered me from my last birth, my SNS, my french five tubing and syringes. But more than that, I had the missing piece. I had the knowledge that allowed me to let go of the guilt of not breastfeeding. I had the knowledge that helped me mold my breastfeeding relationship into something that would really work for our family.
I supplemented from the start because I knew that even though some women can grow breast tissue, it was unlikely that I would regain a full supply. Another change is that I didn't pump unless I was away from the baby. I had to weigh the stress of pumping with the benefit. This helped balance the stress of the additional work of using an SNS with donated milk.
We were always washing, filling, carrying around multiple SNS devices. Donor milk, with all its amazing benefits, can be somewhat challenging as well. We drove around a lot that first year, picking up a few ounces here, and a thousand ounces there. We are eternally thankful to all of our donor mamas, though!
Even with all the additional bits and pieces, I wouldn't change it. I am so thankful that we were able to make it nine months breastfeeding our fourth baby. And without the journey, I don't think that milk would have tasted quite as sweet.
Echo Morris is a birth doula, worship leader and thrift shop expert who resides in Maryland with her four boys, husband Jeremy, a boxer named Daisy and a kitten named Oswald. You can check out her (mis)adventures and info on birth, pregnancy and beyond on Facebook and Instagram
For additional information about IGT please see these resources:
Hypoplasia/Insufficient Glandular Tissue
Finding Sufficiency: Breastfeeding With Insufficient Glandular Tissue
Breastfeeding with IGT
Not Everyone Can Breastfeed