“You’ve got nothing to show!”
“Flat as a pancake…”
By the time my breasts finally began to fill an A-cup, I already hated them for being so small. I was a lanky teenager. Knobbly in all the wrong places. Flat in all the wrong places. No one fancied me except for the older men who could see past a flat chest, and most of them repulsed me. My breasts were nothing more than a slight bump on my chest. I remember looking at a lifelike baby doll and being furious that even she had bigger boobs than I did. As for being erogenous… Pah! I’d get more pleasure having my back rubbed!
I never imagined I’d one day love my breasts.
Years later, the young man who would become my husband voiced his opinion on breastfeeding. “I think if you can do it, you should,” he said, or something like that. I was surprised to hear he’d been breastfed and was such a strong advocate for breastfeeding. Like so many in the 1970s, I was a formula-fed baby because my mother “had had problems.” I, a carbon copy of her, assumed that I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed either.
Plus, I knew my history of chest surgery, IVF (the donor eggs part is irrelevant) and a caesarean birth would mean breastfeeding would be difficult.
At the point in my pregnancy when I dared to prepare for my girl’s arrival, I began researching infant formula. With everything else that I had had to adjust to (loss, infertility, a devastating genetic diagnosis, giving up on my own genes, even the midwife-led delivery I’d had my heart set on) I expected NOTHING about feeding my baby to be straightforward. I had zero expectations about being able to breastfeed, but damn it, I was determined to give it my best shot. If all else failed, I’d at least be prepared.
The best advice came from friends:
1) Breastfeeding is hard work. But if you can get through the first day, you can get through the first week; and if you can get through the first week, you can get through the first month; and if you can get through the first month, you’ll be able to do it.
2) Stay on top of your pain medication after your caesarean. Take the painkillers regularly. If you are in pain, your body will halt milk production – so take the damn meds!
3) Keep putting baby to breast, advised my acupuncturist. Don’t feed on a three-hour schedule; feed on demand.
I delivered at UCSD, one of only 11 hospitals in the U.S. with a “baby-friendly” designation. They are extremely pro-breastfeeding and have lactation consultants on staff. I knew that I was in the best possible place to try.
But then I unexpectedly haemorrhaged during the caesarean. I lost a gallon of blood (3.6 litres, or ⅔ of the body’s total blood volume) and have since learned that no one expected to me even to produce colostrum: the body goes into survival mode and that means preserving its resources even at the expense of your baby’s hunger. Still, the lactation consultants worked with me because there’s always that one in a million mom who defies the odds.
After a few days of doing SNS feeding (Supplemental Nursing System, where baby is at the breast but also taking formula from a syringe delivered via a thin tube) with my newborn, on the morning of being discharged form hospital, I pumped 37 ml in one session. My lactation consultant tore up the SNS schedule with a big smile on her face. She said I didn’t need to pump and supplement with formula, I could just breastfeed my daughter. I am that one in a million. The only time I’ve fallen into a tiny statistic that was in my favour.
Breastfeeding hasn’t always been easy. I’ve had mastitis once and dodged it another seven times. When I feel a hard finger-like lump or wedge in my breast, I take a diaper, pour very hot water in it, and use it as a compress. I make sure my daughter nurses more from that side and by morning the plugged duct has resolved itself.
I don’t often pump because I have a high lipase issue. Lipase is an enzyme which breaks down the fat in breastmilk and makes it easier for the baby to digest. In a small minority of women, there is more lipase than normal, and this makes the milk taste bad. (For more information, read the Does your milk smell or taste soapy? section on KellyMom.com.)
In my case, I describe it as tasting like coconut soap. It’s awful, and explains why my baby would angrily push the bottle away. The only option, if I want to pump milk, is to scald it. That means heating it to exactly 180º F (82.2º C), which is just before boiling point, and then rapidly cooling.
Breast size may not have any bearing on how much milk you produce, but larger breasts can store more milk. Some smaller-chested women are able to scald multiple batches of milk, but not me: I have to scald within 20 minutes of pumping, otherwise the lipase ruins the flavour of the milk. I can easily pump several ounces (250 ml) in 15 minutes, but this is too small an amount to scald in a saucepan. I have to use a ¼-pint mason jar and heat it in a saucepan of water, like a bain marie (double boiler).
So now my issue is that my daughter won’t drink milk from a bottle, because she always has it from my breasts!
My friend was right when she said breastfeeding is hard work. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever committed to. It might not be as expensive as formula, but that doesn’t mean it’s free or easy or cheap. Far more women have gone through fewer issues than I have and not been able to breastfeed, despite their commitment and determination. I know I am extremely lucky to be able to feed my daughter the way I always desired.
My breasts are heavier these days. My husband lovingly described them as “pendulous” and he’s right — for the first time in my life, they touch the top of my belly when I hunch over. It helps that my belly is rounder — I’ve always had a flat stomach and was surprised to see the extra fat around my middle. My acupuncturist smiled and said, “Ah, that’s your milk supply. When your belly fat starts to melt away, that’s how you’ll know your milk supply is drying up.”
After miscarriage and infertility, I am determined to breastfeed as long as possible. I love the connection I have with my daughter and even though I have moments when I don’t want to be touched by anyone, I will miss our moments once she’s weaned. She’s changed so much since she was born, the only time I can picture her as that little newborn baby is when she’s latched on and cupping my bosom with her hand. She’s a robust little thing, strong and healthy, and the same size as babies twice her age. I look at her and I’m amazed that I’ve been able to continue to grow her on the outside. I’m so proud that this is one area my body didn’t fail. I never thought I’d say this, but I think I love my breasts!
I squeeze my belly fat every day, just to make sure we’re still good to nurse for a while. Because my DNA – the root cause of my miscarriage and infertility – might have failed me, but even with the mastitis, plugged ducts, a bleb, a bout of thrush, and a high lipase issue, breastfeeding is the one thing my body got perfectly right.
We are sharing stories this week about our triumphs and travails with breastfeeding in honor of World Breastfeeding Week (1-7 August 2015, coordinated by WABA).*
“This World Breastfeeding Week, WABA calls for concerted global action to support women to combine breastfeeding and work. Whether a woman is working in the formal, non-formal or home setting, it is necessary that she is empowered in claiming her and her baby’s right to breastfeed.”
For more information please visit http://worldbreastfeedingweek.org/.
*Disclaimer: Rainbows & Unicorns does not discriminate against how any parent chooses to feed their child. We honor that families always choose the best thing that works for them, whether that is formula feeding, breastfeeding, exclusively pumping, or a mixture of any of these.