Monday, October 8, 2012

A Heartbreaking Decision

Just over a month ago I came to the very difficult decision to stop nursing, or rather, my son did.  For those of you who know my story, you will know that I have Insufficient Gland Tissue or Breast Hypoplasia, meaning I cannot produce a full supply of milk.  I did everything this time around everything that should help supply for normal mothers coupled with every possible combination of drug, herb or physical remedy known to (wo)man.  For the first three months of his life I was constantly attached to a pump, SNS and/or baby.   It quickly became apparent that I couldn't keep this up with two older kids to look after as well.  For those of you who have never nursed with an SNS let me tell you that a few ounces can take well over an hour for baby to consume at which point it's time to pump then time to nurse again and so on and so forth.  I began to introduce a small bottle after he nursed and predictably he grew to prefer the bottle and reject the breast.  I tried to wean him back onto the breast using the SNS but he was not having any of it.  Nursing became a constant struggle and eventually he flat out refused to latch.  This was so hard for me, because my second daughter had had bottles too, but she always preferred to nurse and comfort nursed even when there was nothing there.

The decision to stop was heartbreaking.  I just wanted to be able to do what nature intended.  When he cried I wanted to be able to comfort him, not frustrate him further.  Although I had been getting donor milk, I didn't feel it was fair to ask other women to pump for me when I was giving up myself, so I knew I would be switching him to formula.  I tried to keep pumping, but without the stimulation from nursing I would maybe get a few milliliters a day. Note on my best supply days I would barely get a full ounce for the entire day, if that gives you any indication of the severity of the supply problems here.

This whole journey has been an incredible one, as each child is.  My birthing experience was absolutely amazing and surpassed any expectations I might have had.  It was empowering and inspiring and made me feel like a strong and powerful woman.  My little boy is absolutely wonderful and makes my heart smile everytime I look into those beautiful blue eyes of his.  But my body let me down and the breastfeeding relationship I longed for never came to be.

In the process of this pregnancy/birth/lactation experience I have had the pleasure of meeting some amazing women who suffer with the same condition both at home and abroad through the IGT Support Group and an Ireland specific Low Supply Group I setup earlier this year.  Nothing helps more than a sympathetic ear from someone who has been through the exact same thing.   The four ladies who so graciously gave us donor milk will forever be in my heart.  To think that complete strangers (now friends) took the time and energy to do something so intimate for my little boy is truly overwhelming.  I'm not quite sure if I'll ever be able to express how much their sacrifice meant to me.  Someday when he has his own children and understands about breastfeeding, I will tell him about the women who helped him thrive in the early days.  I will be forever grateful to these women.

I have learned much from this particular journey.  I have learned that although my body lets me down with each child I bring into the world, there is support and people out there who will step in and help you and restore your faith in your ability to mother.  I have also learned that their are people out there who will never understand or care to try to.  Those people are best ignored.

I was in Howth yesterday giving Mark a bottle and I recognised a woman from some of the other "natural parenting" facebook groups.  The look of disdain she gave me when she saw me feeding him a bottle was truly shocking.  How dare she judge me?  She has no idea what I've been through.  It took me more effort to feed my baby for one day than it will her to feed all three of hers for a lifetime.  It's the one thing I've really learned in all this.  You cannot judge, you DO NOT KNOW.  I wanted to shout at her, to tell her how ignorant she was, but really what would that achieve?  We need to support other mothers no matter what their choices and we cannot assume just because we see someone with a bottle that they were too lazy to even give it a try.  When it comes to breastfeeding, Mamas with IGT are anything but lazy.  We need support too, we need to feel welcome into the breastfeeding community without being made to feel we are failures.  We need caring and loving glances from other mothers, not looks of ignorant judgment. I have spoken before how I too am often guilty of this and I know myself that it's something we all can improve upon.  Sometimes I just wonder why I had to care... why I couldn't have been one of those Moms who didn't care at all about breastfeeding?

My little man and I are onto new pastures and I try not to let this all get me down, but sometimes when I get one of those looks like I got yesterday or see another Mama nursing, it sends a regretful chill through my body and makes me question myself all over again.  Baby Led Weaning is proving an amazing success and a great amount of fun, so it's time to move onwards and upwards and explore this brave new world with my little guy.

Thanks to everyone who offered support, advice and loving thoughts on this rocky journey.


  1. Well done Deborah and well done to all those who supported you. You are awesome and a great mama!

  2. Bringing tears as i read it. U are amazing and friends and the people that matter never judge. You at right to forget the rest. U have tried harder than most and succeeded in Breastfeeding your child for a long as it suited ye. That's what it's about. X

  3. You are incredible for everything you went through and so determined and inspiring! Thank you for sharing!

  4. It is frustrating when people judge. I breastfed all my children but my second child has Dyspraxia and she wasn't able to co-ordinate her sucking and swallowing and she was allergic to cows milk. She was almost impossible to feed and I ended up feeding her solids at a very early age as she could manange those better without choking. But I tell you I got some filthy looks! And of course I made cereal in a bottle for her to so she could get some sucking pleasure without choking and that was frowned upon. Even the health visitor was funny about it even though the paediatrician had suggested it. All I can say is you must be an amazing mum to struggle as you did cause pumping milk is not nice. Now just enjoy being with your baby and stuff those silly jugmental know-it-alls!

  5. I suspect that I may have insufficient tissue (I am a AA cup and there doesn't appear to be much in them - I only went up to an A during pregnancy) I spent 4 months exclusively pumping milk, spending an hour pumping then an hour feeding with little time in between for anything else so I know how hard it is. I always felt like there should be a label on the bottle telling everyone 'It's hard-earned breast milk!' as people just assumed he was on formula. I stopped breastfeeding at 4 months after spending an hour and a half expressing 2/3 of a bottle only to knock it over spill the lot. I cried so much! That was when I knew it was time to stop and spend more time with my baby. I have since been 'making up for it' by home cooking all our meals and making sure he has a fantastic diet, and it's much more fun than breastfeeding was! As the saying goes - it's not about 'winning', it's the taking part that counts and no-one can say you didn't give it your best.

  6. My heart goes out to you, this is such a touching read. My mam says she can't understand the divide today that seems to exist between bottle & breast feeders because she says that when she had babies the midwives always said to have a bottle and some formula in the house for any time you might have to be away for any length of time. I think she's right, there seems to be a lot of judging today when, at the end of the day, nobody knows what someone else has been through and bottle or breast (or bottle of breast), aren't we all feeding our babies. This was very interesting and well written.


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