Breastfeeding with Hypoplasia

Today, on the San Diego Breastfeeding Center blog, I'm honored to share Fakiha Khan's memoir about her battle with Insufficient Glandular Tissue.  If you would like to submit your story as well, please email me at robinkaplan@sdbfc.com.  Thank you so much, Fakiha, for sharing your story with us!  It's stories like yours that make me want to be the best mom I can be! 

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When my son was born 2 and 1/2 years ago, I wanted nothing more than to be able to breastfeed him.  He was in the NICU for a week after he was born, and I really did not get to nurse him until he was a week old.  By that point, he had trouble latching on, and my milk just was not coming in.  For the next five weeks, I did what I could.  I tried to nurse him every hour and a half, I pumped, I took herbs, and I finally went to see a lactation consultant. 

 

I will never forget how shocked she was that my son transferred only 1/2 an ounce at the age of five weeks.  Other than telling me to continue pumping with a hospital grade pump, the consultant had no other ideas of why I was not producing milk.  She kept saying to me - it is the most natural thing to produce milk.  It's all about demand and supply.  If you keep putting him on your breast, the milk will come. Well, I kept trying, and after weeks of emotional torture and physical discomfort, I finally gave up.  I was producing an ounce of milk from both breasts at that point.  And, giving up was not easy.  I felt like a complete failure, like I could not do the thing that is supposed to be so natural. 

 

I got a second chance when my daughter was born two months ago.  I figured that, with my son, I just didn't get started on nursing quickly enough.  This time, I decided to be proactive even before the baby was born.  I talked to people and a lactation consultant prior to giving birth.  This consultant suggested that I might have a physiological problem such as hypoplasia, but I would not know until I got checked out.  I didn't get a chance to do so before I gave birth, but I went into the birth with hope of doing better this time. 

 

When the baby was born, I immediately put her on my chest and I nursed her within a half hour of birth; I kept her with me nonstop, nursing her whenever I could.  But, within the first two days, it was clear that I was not even making enough colostrum.  I had to give her some formula.  My fuller colostrum finally came in at day 3 and the milk first came in on day 5.  But, despite nursing every hour and a half, the baby was still fussing and clearly unsatisfied. 

 

Those old feelings of frustration and failure came rushing back to me.  I kept thinking, this is supposed to be so natural.  Every mammal mother makes milk for her child, yet, I can't feed my baby who is trying so hard to get out a few drops of milk from me.  All of the instructions from the breastfeeding class kept repeating in my head.  I kept thinking, maybe today I will suddenly make the milk my baby needs, maybe today.   

 

Before giving up, I went to see my doctor to find out if I had hypoplasia.  The doctor told me that hypoplasia was not possible, as I did not have the physical signs (tubular breasts that are set far apart) and because I was making some milk even if it was only an ounce at a time.  So, I thought, ok, there has to be something I can do.  So, I did some research and found out about fenugreek.  I began taking that, and immediately I got a boost in my milk supply.  But, then within a week, it started going back down again.  At this point, I was ready to scream, but before giving up, I decided to consult another lactation consultant.

 

As it happened to be, this consultant specialized in low milk supply.  She finally told me what I had been suspecting - I have insufficient glandular tissue.  The consultant suggested a number of herbs and medication, all of which I tried.  Again, my milk supply went up very quickly, but now after 3 weeks, I see it going back down again.  I still don't know if any of the medications or herbs (which I understand work by increasing hormone levels) really work with insufficient glandular tissue.  Can they create tissue where none exists?  No one can seem to answer this question for me. 

 

Now, I continue pumping during the day, saving the little bit of milk I made (about an ounce and half), and mixing it with formula.  I nurse when I can and regularly throughout the night.  But, I have resolved myself to the fact that I will not be able to exclusively rely on breast milk.  It's a very sad realization, and I wish I had a solution, something to fix this problem, or even a bit more information.  Alas, I do the only thing I can and, in the process, laugh at myself when I am proudly toting home the four-ounces of breast milk I take home after pumping 3 to 4 times at work.  To a regular breastfeeding mom, four ounces is probably how much she produces in one feeding.  For me, it's a day-long effort, and at the end of the day, I carry it home with the same pride as if I had just discovered gold!