by Kelly Paustian
I planned to be that mama who would do whatever it took to give my little one the breastmilk he so desperately needed. I planned to seek out support and guidance when needed and offer it in return. I planned to pump when I went back to work. I planned to be that woman proudly nursing in public. I planned to reach that euphoric moment and feel more bonded to my little one with each tug on my breast. I planned to do all this until a time when both I and my little one decided to stop. However, I was not anticipating that time coming two weeks after birth.
Let’s rewind a little, shall we? I became pregnant with my son at the end of 2015. Throughout my pregnancy I had always planned to breastfeed. I talked with my obstetrician extensively about my desire to do so and inquired how to best set myself up for success. She immediately pointed me in the direction of The Birth Center and told me to meet with Katie Madden. She also mentioned that due to my having Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome I could possibly struggle a little bit more with nursing in terms of supply. It wouldn’t be impossible but she just wanted me to be aware, which I appreciated. I immediately signed up for the breastfeeding class at The Birth Center and scheduled an appointment with Katie to come up with a plan for after I delivered and also to discuss plans B, C, and D if indeed I had issues.
The class was extremely helpful and introduced me to a variety of tips, techniques, and tools (Brestfriend Pillow for the win). I practiced on one of the many dolls floating around the room, envisioning myself feeding my son in only a few short months. Shortly after I took the class I noticed I had started leaking ever so slightly. I found out that doing so was normal and a good sign for breastfeeding success. I met with Katie, who gave me encouragement, support, and a written plan. I was excited and confident that while nursing would be challenging, I’d give it my all, push through the dreaded initial two-week period I kept hearing so much about, and eventually find my groove. I left my appointment with Katie with an “I’ve got this!” attitude.
I spent the rest of my pregnancy becoming familiar with my breast pump. I did research in terms of proper holding techniques, feeding amounts and schedules, troubleshooting, and more. Then came the big day…
On September 8, 2016 at 12:13 pm, my not-so-little boy came into this world weighing in at nine pounds, nine ounces. As soon as I could, I put him to my breast and it all seemed to go well. For the first day I felt like I was feeding him every hour or two which, I was told, was normal. He seemed content, which led me to believe he was getting what he needed. I had a consult with the hospital lactation nurse and even though she wasn’t all warm and fuzzy she said that everything looked good and we should keep progressing. The second night in the hospital was when I started having my doubts. My nipples were already on fire, I still hadn’t reached that euphoric moment I so desperately was searching for, and baby boy was up pretty much all night and seemed to never be full enough to fall asleep. I knew my expectations were high with falling immediately in love with nursing, so I cut myself some slack that second night when I thought about throwing in the towel and grabbing the nearest bottle of formula I could find. I attributed those feelings to lack of sleep and having just pushed a human from my loins. The morning came when it was time to head home and raise our son. Our pediatrician came in to give the little guy one more look over. Upon entering our room he found two exhausted parents and one inconsolable newborn. Both hubby and I were nervous about going home with a crying child whom we had not been able to calm down for very long over the past 12 hours. Thankfully, our doctor took pity on us and knew he himself in good conscience couldn’t send us home like that. He excused himself and quickly came back in with a bottle of formula. He stuck it in our son’s mouth and then, silence. If I had the consciousness to do so, I would have written that man a check for a million dollars. He explained that my supply may be taking some time to come in and for the next couple of days we should supplement until my milk came in. We left the hospital with a happy, full baby, lots of supplemental formula bottles, and a follow-up appointment two days later. Our plan was to breastfeed every couple of hours and supplement as needed. Easy peasy!
The first week after delivery has become a blur at this point. I felt like I was breastfeeding all the time. I would nurse for about 25-30 minutes on each side and then, because he still seemed hungry, he would take another two ounces of formula. I’d get maybe a 30 minute break and then we’d start the process all over again. I was beyond exhausted. My nipples were red and scabbed, and each time he would latch it would cause me to catch my breath. After our first follow-up we developed a new plan: nurse, supplement, pump, repeat. By this time, I started to feel more like a cow than a new mom. My supply had come in but, let’s face it, it wasn’t a significant amount. I kept pushing through, confident that my appointment with Katie, which was coming up, would renew my energy, and together we’d get this figured out.
By the second week, we had yet another plan: nurse, supplement, and pump; then, during the next feed, exclusively pump and feed the boy formula. This was all to send a message to my brain that it needed to increase my supply. By this point, I was not a happy mama and to be honest, I didn’t like breastfeeding. I felt conflicted but I couldn’t help it. My boobs hurt; they were red and tender. I never felt the let-down and had such a difficult time figuring out if he was getting enough out of me. I didn’t like pumping. To me, the time I could spend enjoying being a mom was overshadowed by the constant pumping. When I nursed him I was more concentrating on getting through the awkward discomfort that I never felt like it was a good bonding moment for either one of us. I actually looked forward to the feedings when he would exclusively get formula and I pumped. Then things got worse…
I never felt like his latch was perfect to begin with but according to the Lactation Princess at the hospital all was well and since she held the degree in breastfeeding, who was I to question her view? Well, two days before my appointment with Katie, little man decided to stop latching altogether. I would try to put him to my breast and he would suckle for a moment or two then back off and start to cry. Each time I would try and each time he’d fight me. I finally gave up and we supplemented and I pumped. By this point was I counting down the seconds until my visit with Katie. She would fix everything!
The day finally arrived. I had made it through the two-week hellish period and now, with Katie’s help, I was going to become that breastfeeding mama I knew I could be. But here’s the thing–I no longer wanted to be that mom. I wanted to be a formula mom and I wasn’t sure how to feel about that or express it.
On my drive to The Birth Center I played over and over in my head what I would tell Katie and I questioned how she, as a lactation nurse, would react. If I told her I didn’t want to do this anymore would she support me or gently try to manipulate guide me to keep going? I made it a point not to pump for a while before my appointment because I wanted her to see my supply and get her thoughts on it. So that’s what we did. I got myself comfy in her office, she entertained the boy and as we talked about motherhood, I pumped. She asked me how things were going in terms of breastfeeding and I was honest with her. It wasn’t what I expected–much harder, in fact–and I was not sure this was for me. I explained the discomfort and the visible wounds I had and that I question if he’s latching properly. That’s when she pointed out that my son had an upper lip tie. What?? Excuse me?? In the previous two weeks he’d been seen multiple times by the pediatrician (not to mention the lactation consult in the hospital) and no one had mentioned his upper lip being tied or how that would affect breastfeeding. That, right there, was the last straw. Katie asked me what I wanted to do and after giving it some thought, through very teary eyes, I told her I wanted to stop breastfeeding. I went on to explain I wasn’t enjoying my son. I felt like a cow who was bad at the one job she was assigned, which was to feed her baby. Katie looked at me, smiled, and said, “Okay, let’s talk about weaning.” That was that. She didn’t question or judge my decision. She took out a piece of paper and a pen and discussed a weaning and formula plan.
Afterwards, and here’s where it gets good, Katie looked at me and in not so many words said, “Here’s the thing Kelly… I would have supported your decision no matter what, but given what I’ve seen of your supply today (based on what I expressed Katie figured out I wasn’t even making half of what my son needed) as well as the feelings you’ve shared with me, and not to mention you’d most certainly need to fix the lip tie, I think you’re making the right choice.” I sat there and realized that a lactation nurse just told me she validates my decision to stop nursing. She went on to further explain that had I wanted to continue breastfeeding the first step was to try and increase my supply, which would require me to pump for twenty minutes every two hours for the next five to seven days and based off the chintzy amount of milk I just pumped, she had her doubts as to the success of that plan. It was at that moment I realized that I wasn’t a failure. I had tried my absolute hardest to be a breastfeeding mama, but both my son and I had issues stacked up against us. I then remembered one of the rules from Katie’s class: “Feed your child.” In the end, the most important thing is that I feed my son and that I do it in the most concise way possible.
We immediately made the shift to formula and we all became much happier. Hubby could feed him more and get in some of his daddy time. The little boy got what he needed nutrient-wise and I was confident he was eating enough. And me? Well, I finally found my euphoric moment, and I keep finding it again and again every time I feed my son and he looks into my eyes and smiles.
I would like to step into Kelly’s story here and point a few things out. Hard core “breastfeeding advocates” would blame the pediatrician for Kelly’s “failure.”
In particular, when Kelly says, “The morning came when it was time to head home and raise our son. Our pediatrician came in to give the little guy one more look over. Upon entering our room he found two exhausted parents and one inconsolable newborn. Both hubby and I were nervous about going home with a crying child whom we had not been able to calm down for very long over the past 12 hours. Thankfully, our doctor took pity on us and knew he himself in good conscience couldn’t send us home like that. He excused himself and quickly came back in with a bottle of formula. He stuck it in our son’s mouth and then, silence. If I had the consciousness to do so, I would have written that man a check for a million dollars. He explained that my supply may be taking some time to come in and for the next couple of days we should supplement until my milk came in. We left the hospital with a happy, full baby, lots of supplemental formula bottles, and a follow up appointment two days later. Our plan was to breastfeed every couple of hours and supplement as needed. Easy peasy!”
“Breastfeeding advocates” would call this a “Booby Trap.” From the Best for Babes website: Your healthy, full-term baby is supplemented unnecessarily in the hospital with formula, quite possibly against your express wishes, whether or not there is any medical indication. This happens in 25% of hospitals and is one of the reasons the CDC determined that the average score of hospitals on breastfeeding support is a D. Yes, a D! Imagine if that was the score for how hospitals handle heart attacks, or breast cancer! – Institutional and Cultural Booby Trap!
They point to a lot of numbers and statistics about how babies are being fed formula when the mother is able and willing to breastfeed. But, in my opinion, those who are looking at numbers tend to not be looking at people. There is one very important detail Kelly expressed: “Upon entering our room [the pediatrician] found two exhausted parents and one inconsolable newborn. Both hubby and I were nervous about going home with a crying child whom we had not been able to calm down for very long over the past 12 hours. Thankfully, our doctor took pity on us and knew he himself in good conscience couldn’t send us home like that.”
The pediatrician saw Kelly and her husband. He saw a hungry, inconsolable baby. Perhaps the numbers didn’t (yet) dictate that baby boy needed to be supplemented, but three gut instincts in the room, Kelly’s, her husband’s, and the pediatrician’s, said yes. He needed to be fed.
You, sitting there reading her story, or sucking your teeth at the Booby Traps that prevent women from breastfeeding, can easily judge what she should have done or what the pediatrician shouldn’t have done. But, now that you have read the whole story, perhaps you have a different perspective.
In my professional opinion, after working closely with Kelly and reviewing in even more detail than she explains here each and every feeding, stimulation, and choice she made in the first two weeks of her baby’s life, I am certain that Kelly was not going to make a full milk supply. There are plenty of women whom I would have counseled to continue to hybrid feed. Breastfeed or pump first, then complement with formula. But Kelly was brave enough to speak her truth: she wanted to stop. Of course I was going to listen and respect her choice.
When I told Kelly I thought she was making the right choice, I was telling her the truth, not trying to make her feel better. It didn’t imply that it was her fault or her baby’s fault or her pediatrician’s fault. Rather, I let her know that this all boiled down to one simple reality:
At its very simplest, Kelly’s breasts did not make adequate amounts of milk for this baby.
Somewhere along the way, the world has started pointing blame at everyone for the poor breastfeeding rates in this country. At the end of the day, all that does is make mothers bear all that blame and guilt upon their own shoulders. And imagine, that is how mothers are beginning their parenting journeys: riddled with misplaced self blame and guilt. That’s just not okay.
It is as much my honor to counsel a woman to gracefully and confidently wean as it is for me to counsel her to achieve exclusive breastfeeding. But, Kelly’s story leaves me with one sinking and uncomfortable reality: how do I help the formula feeder find a safe, kind, and non-judgemental community, too? I have nurtured and built this community for the breastfeeding mothers, but for those who wean prematurely or choose not to breastfeed at all, where do they go to grow into their role as mothers? Don’t they deserve the same education and guidance about self-care, being their child’s best advocate, starting solids, etc.?
Yes, they do.
Next week, I am going to tell you exactly how I going to help all women find the community that Balanced Breastfeeding mothers have come to flourish within.
Click here to register for the upcoming Weaning Gracefully Live course.