Have you noticed that all of the information about low milk supply available on the web (and in books, for that matter) says the same thing? “This is not your fault. You are not a failure. Any breastfeeding is better than none. Your child will thrive on formula too.”
It so happens that I believe all of these things.
And yet–none of this addresses the emotional reality of breastfeeding failure.
Part of the problem is just that: while you may call it low milk supply, it feels like failure. Many PCOS women have struggled with their bodies forever–to maintain or reach a healthy weight, to get pregnant, to control blood sugar or acne or hair loss or whatever. And then, when you reach this lovely milestone of having a sweet baby to nurse, you discover that you can’t. Add postpartum hormones washing around your bloodstream and you have the makings of some pretty major grief.
I’m not going to pretend I have answers for this problem. I don’t. I think it’s a struggle that every woman will end up having on her own. But I do want to acknowledge that there are lots of PCOS women in this boat, and give you a heads-up that you are NOT alone in hurting. Especially when:
* …a lactivist says, “Any woman can breastfeed.” This, along with “lack of education is the reason for breastfeeding failure,” “mothers who say they can’t nurse just don’t want to,” and “nursing is natural–any mom can do it if she tries hard enough,” is one of the most hurtful things that can be said to a mama with IGT or other low supply problems. And yet it is said, all the time. An OB said it to me after I had spent $500 on LCs and pumps, plus hours and hours and hours of my life with my sweet new baby, just to produce 6 oz or less per day. I would say, just let it go and ignore it–except that even lactation consultants, doctors, and midwives are often misinformed about this. You don’t have to let it slide. Direct them to material about IGT if you have to, and point out that these statements only undermine your attempts to have a breastfeeding relationship anyway.
* Your baby refuses the breast or cries at the breast. This might be the worst. I didn’t get the hang of the at-breast supplementer; I know that many women find them a godsend, but for me it made achieving a decent latch nearly impossible. I used bottles. My daughter was completely unwilling to nurse by the time she was 6 weeks old (and mostly unwilling long before that). I pumped exclusively for her for months. And every time I sat down to pump, saw another baby nursing, or filled her bottle, it hurt. (My son, on the other hand, nursed enthusiastically for 10 months even though he also got most of his nourishment from bottles. Babies just differ on this.)
* You get a judgmental look (or even what you feel MIGHT be a judgmental look) from another mom, or dad, or whoever, while you’re bottle-feeding. This one was really hard for me, because I am very pro-breastfeeding and it was a big adjustment to be part of the bottle brigade. I had no choice, though, and that’s the reality. Your job is to feed your baby, and if that means bottles, it means bottles. Do not let anyone intimidate you–you’re doing exactly what you must do to keep your baby healthy.
* You confront your own preconceived ideas of what your breastfeeding relationship should have been like. For a long time, it made me very sad to see my nursing pillow sitting there, because during my pregnancy I had imagined, so many times, using it and nursing my baby. And that just did not become reality.
* People tell you to get over it because you have a healthy baby. You can be thankful for your baby and in love with your baby and still feel sad. Grieving for the nursing relationship you’d expected is totally normal.
In a nutshell, being unable to breastfeed exclusively hurts. My daughter is almost 4 and thinking about it still hurts–enough to make me feel a little ill. But facts are facts: there is nothing more I could have done. I tried it all. Formula fed my babies and grew them into the amazing people they are today, and I’m grateful for it even though I am sad that I needed it.