I was 20 years old when I had my first child. Back then, the internet involved a cd-rom and was painfully slow (but FREE!) and looking back I can’t remember what I actually used it for! This was not that long ago, but apparently it was. It was long enough ago that it was more of a novelty than a tool. These days, I suggest Google with a side of caution. It can be a one way ticket to Anxietyville if you let it. Still, I wish that 20 year old me would have had the access to the internet that 36 year old me has. As a new mom, I could have used it.
I knew I wanted to breastfeed, but the extent of my discussion of breastfeeding by anyone was just a single question: “Are you planning to breastfeed? I can’t give you the same list of reasons that I could now, but I did know it was the best start I could give my baby. My milk came like a force to be reckoned with and we were off to the races. I leaked all the time, often waking up in a milk puddle in the middle of the night. I wore underwire bras and figured that because they closed in the front, I could use them while nursing. Real nursing bras were expensive and I didn’t know the damage that underwire could cause to my supply.
I thought I had a low supply, because I never got much when I pumped, but no one ever taught me how or when to pump. No one taught me what normal was. Someone suggested a tea to increase supply, but never talked about the fact that my baby was healthy and well fed so I most likely didn’t. Even with all this, I thought breastfeeding was going great until month three rolled around and I woke up to a breast as big and firm as the day my milk came in. I went to the doctor because it didn’t seem normal. They diagnosed it as (you guessed it) mastitis, prescribed antibiotics, warm compresses, and said I would need to supplement with formula until it got better. No one told me to keep nursing on that side. No one mentioned pace feeding. No one ever said the words lactation consultant. Those two words would have been a game changer for me. Formula flows quickly and easily from an angled bottle into a hungry baby’s mouth. They don’t have to work as hard to get their food, so of course when you give the baby the choice between easy and work when hungry, they are likely to choose easy. That’s what mine did.
My breastfeeding journey came to a sad and frustrating end because I didn’t have knowledge or resources. I didn’t have someone telling me that this was just a hurdle, not a dead end. I didn’t have a doula to give me a list of people I could contact, books and websites I could reference, or just to offer encouragement and to keep going. 16 years and 2 more babies later, I know where to go to look up ways to combat my clogged milk ducts and how to try to prevent them. I have a list of people I can reach out to for help when I need more than just reading. I hope that I can avoid another bout of mastitis, but at least now I know that we could get through it. I’m thankful for this.
If you find yourself in this situation, first of all, know that you are not alone. So many people have dealt with your exact issue. Depending on your issue, you may find help from peer groups. You can reach out to your OB or Midwife and/or find out if your child’s pediatric office has a lactation consultant on staff that you can schedule an appointment with, but be aware that they may or may not have the resources you need. I recommend this with a side of trust your instincts as a parent. If you’ve done this and still feel like you need more help, do not hesitate to contact an independent lactation counselor or IBCLC. If you are in Richmond, I am happy to help point you in the direction of some of these folks.
Cristina Evans is a Mother of 3, Wife, & Birth Doula