Today, on the San Diego Breastfeeding Center blog, I'm honored to share Krystyn Brintle's memoir about her battle with Insufficient Glandular Tissue. If you would like to submit your story as well, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you so much, Krystyn, for sharing your story with us! Your story is truly inspirational!
A Brief History of My Breastfeeding Journey (So Far) in Numbers:
32 - Number of weeks along in pregnancy when a midwife suggested I meet with an IBCLC to discuss potential breastfeeding complications
75 - Percentage of tissue found in my breasts after examination by IBCLC, compared to average woman
50/50 - Odds given that I would need to supplement
27 - Number of herb capsules (goat's rue, alfalfa and malunggay) I began taking daily after my initial consultation with the IBCLC
7 - Number of days my daughter spent in the NICU following my unplanned c-section, further jeopardizing our planned breastfeeding relationship
3 - Number of weeks it took for my daughter to gain back to her birth weight, necessitating an extra weight check with her doctor and hours of agonizing over whether my breasts were failing us both
12 1/4 - Pounds my daughter weighs as of this afternoon (13 weeks), which averages to her gaining about half an ounce a day – perfectly reasonable for a breastfed baby
17,453,519 - Number of times I've doubted my supply, or number of hours spent searching the Internet for info re: IGT, hypoplastic breasts or signs your baby is getting enough milk
0 - Number of times I will ever judge a mom who gives her baby formula, because I know now that there are extenuating circumstances beyond our control that can make the dream of EBF impossible
With my borderline PCOS diagnosis and lifelong struggle with weight, my biggest concern in pregnancy was eating healthy and exercising enough to prevent gestational diabetes. Breastfeeding complications
were simply not on my radar - my older sister is still nursing my three-and-a-half-year-old nephew - until my 32-week appointment. I mentioned that I thought I was leaking a little colostrum; the midwife did a brief examination and suggested that, considering the PCOS issue, I meet with an IBCLC to discuss any potential hurdles. I made the appointment, not entirely clear about what these hurdles might be. Sure, my breasts hadn't changed during pregnancy - but I convinced myself that was because milk comes in after birth. After a physical examination, Ellen (the IBCLC) explained that there was a term for what I had always considered my unsightly breasts - I had breast hypoplasia. She went on to estimate I had about 75% of the expected breast tissue and that the "plumbing" involved in making my milk did not extend fully through my breasts and into my chest. She gave me 50/50 odds that I'd need to supplement. We went through a list of various foods and supplements to help increase supply; she explained no research had shown that prenatal use of galactagogues affects milk, but that it couldn't hurt to try. At least it felt like I was trying to help my girl, buying all the expensive herbs and choking them down three times a day.
After an unplanned c-section, my daughter was taken to the NICU for meconium aspiration. She was placed under an oxygen hood and was unable to nurse for the first 24 hours. I had read about the difficulties a c-section could pose in terms of breastfeeding; adding to that the intense stress of her condition, in addition to my IGT, I feared breastfeeding was not in the cards for us.
We worked hard to establish our nursing relationship while she was in the NICU, requesting help from the IBCLCs on staff for nearly every feeding. We supplemented with donor milk while waiting for my milk to come in, were introduced to the stressful world of pre- and post-feeding weighs - but by time she was discharged, she was relying solely on me and my breasts for her nourishment.
I scheduled LC appointments weekly. We did pre- and post-feeding weighs and determined she was getting two ounces when she nursed on both sides. When she hadn't gained her birth weight back by two weeks, I began to fear the worst: the odds weren't in my favor, and I'd have to figure out the SNS I'd requested in the hospital "just in case." My daughter's pediatrician requested we return the following week for a weight check, and she also requested I nurse the baby every two hours (instead of letting her sleep for longer stretches like I had been).
The stress of the situation really took its toll. I couldn't keep food down, I wouldn't allow myself to go to sleep for fear of missing a feeding. My midwife diagnosed PPD and told me I needed to allow myself to be okay with my husband handling a feeding so that I could get four continuous hours of sleep each day. When pumping wasn't netting enough, and when I felt my sanity slipping away due to the stress, I caved and bought a can of formula. Over the course of a weekend, my daughter had four formula bottles. And I felt like a failure.
But I also really slept for the first time since she was born. I relaxed a little, knowing she was eating even if my body wasn't producing her food. I started accepting the idea that breastfeeding didn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition.
When we went back to her doctor for the weight check, she had gained back to her birth weight plus an extra ounce. Knowing that all but four feedings of that weight gain came from me was the proudest moment in my young motherhood. We had our third - and final - LC appointment the following day, where the scale showed she took 78 mL of milk (and promptly refluxed 18 mL back). Ellen told me I could start weaning off the herbs and that, somehow, I was the exception to the IGT rule.
My lovely Liv has not had another formula bottle. Despite her extreme refluxing, she's gaining appropriately and is in the 50th percentile for weight - right where she should be. After everything I've been through, I've found that I am a lot less judgmental when I see mothers feeding their babies formula. There are plenty of reasons why a mom might have to supplement, or maybe the stress of trying to breastfeed was too much - now that I've been there myself, I've come to understand that moms are just trying to do the best they can.
I'm only 13 weeks in, and my IGT story has a happier ending than most, but I can honestly say I'm incredibly proud of how I've handled what was an obstacle-laden path to breastfeeding and am so proud of the other mamas out there who are doing the same!