Breastfeeding Support: It Really Does Take a Village
You’ve heard that it takes a village to raise a child . . .we certainly have come to believe that it also takes a village to breastfeed a child!
In the past (and still in some countries and cultures of the world) a woman would always have her mother, friends, sisters, and other female relatives to help her when it came to the sometimes surprisingly difficult task of breastfeeding her baby.
In many of our lives today, we just don’t have that support network in place — and we may not be aware of how to create it.
We, Krista and Kelly, are here today as part of your village. We want to connect with you and share our stories, in hopes that they may be of help to you and other moms in this rewarding, though at times seemingly impossible, journey.
Our stories are amazingly similar — though they ended quite differently. May they encourage and help you along your path, wherever you may be.
“I Knew I Wanted To Breastfeed”
Krista: I knew I would breastfeed. In fact, I didn’t know why anyone would choose not to. And yes, I was fully convinced that anyone who formula fed did so by choice — by choosing not to attempt breastfeeding or choosing not to “persevere” through difficulties.
Kelly: There was never any question in my mind that I would breastfeed my child — it was one of the few things about becoming a new parent that involved no doubt for me. In fact, while I was reading up on parenting during my pregnancy, I became quite judgmental of people who did not breastfeed their children — how could you deny your baby the very best?
“I Knew Many Women Have Challenges, So I Prepared Myself”
Krista: Of course, I had heard all of the breastfeeding horror stories. In fact, positive breastfeeding stories were never really volunteered to me, so I knew that things can and do go wrong and, being a researcher, I looked it up. Our prenatal class had good breastfeeding coverage, and I read everything I could get my hands on. I knew the Booby Traps inside and out. Hey, I even spotted his tongue tie at our first feeding and pointed it out to the nurse!
I also made sure I had support. I got my husband onside — actually, that wasn’t a hard sell! And we hired a doula who would provide both birth and postpartum support for us. I was going to rock this breastfeeding thing.
Kelly: I read books that contained information about breastfeeding (though as it turned out, not the best ones). I had information from my midwives and many sources on the Internet. When my daughter was born I was given a packet from the hospital with all kinds of great information — what to do if I ran into problems, resources and people to turn to, suggestions on how often to feed and the best positions to use.
I took a great childbirth education class and paid attention. I made sure Bean was at my breast within an hour of being born and made that special bonding time with her a priority. I had a support network set up — midwives, accessibility to lactation consultants, my family.
All in all, I thought I was prepared and knowledgeable.
“That’s Why I Was So Surprised When I Ran Into Trouble”
Krista: Then the reality of breastfeeding hit me like a ton of bricks. I would scream and bawl and writhe every time he latched on. I could cope with the pain, but what I couldn’t cope with was the emotional toll the pain took. I loved my baby, yes, but not while I was feeding him. Then I hated myself for feeling that way because I knew it wasn’t his fault. And I hated watching my husband brought to tears by my pain, knowing he couldn’t do anything to help it.
Nor was I prepared for how completely vulnerable I would be in the midst of my pain. My confidence went out the window as soon as someone hinted that my baby was hungry (which is what the nurses were constantly telling me). After feeling like Wonder Woman for 40 weeks while my body performed this miracle before my eyes, I was suddenly convinced that the same body was failing miserably and that my baby was starving.
Kelly: I’ve gone into detail about this here, but to make a long story short — the whole thing was a disaster! Within days of Bean’s birth I was in hideous pain, my nipples were cracked and bleeding, my back was on fire.
It wasn’t “working” and I couldn’t figure out why. Bean was not gaining weight fast enough — something that terrified me as a new mom. She got to a point where she would scream her head off most every time she was put to the breast. I got to the point where I wanted to scream (and sometimes did) because the pain of her sucking was more than I could bear (something I now believe to be a combination of thrush and latch issues — I also don’t think I was pulling her off the breast properly).
“I Sought Help”
Krista: One of the things I had read over and over before the baby came was how important it was to get help if you run into breastfeeding issues, so that’s what I did. I saw two lactation consultants and two public health nurses. When I told them it was hurting in spite of appearing to be a good latch they mostly just shrugged and told me to do it again, exactly the same way. When they did say something, the extent of their advice was to give formula. Their “help” was so off-putting that when we hit our crisis moment a few days later, I was too scared to go to any of the public lactation resources. Luckily, we had that doula!
Kelly: I paged my midwife every day, sometimes multiple times a day. She came to see me at my home. I visited a lactation consultant. I had also seen a lactation consultant in the hospital when Bean was born. Both of them were utterly un-helpful, unfortunately.
I tried different supplementary forms of feeding to give my nipples a break — the Lact-Aid tube feeding device; spoon and finger feeding. (I had gotten the strong impression along the way that if I gave baby a bottle, breastfeeding would be over).
I read my hospital packet and resources online; I spoke with lactation consultants on the phone.
Nothing they suggested seemed to be working.
“After 10 Days, We Hit A Wall”
Krista: After a week and a half, I was hanging on by a thread. Rather than breastfeeding until he self-weaned like I had wanted to, I was now hoping I could stick it out for 6 months. I hated giving up on my dream, but the truth was that I wasn’t sure I had any other choice. (And you’ll remember what I thought about choice before I started this.) Naturally, this was the exact moment when things went from bad to worse. Out of the blue, the baby started screaming and shaking his head when I tried to latch him. For six long hours he wouldn’t eat and he wouldn’t stop wailing. I thought he was finally telling me what the nurses had been warning all along — that I was failing.
My husband suggested getting in the car at 2 a.m., and that’s where we stayed until 5. We drove around and around, trying desperately to soothe the Little Man. Finally (probably from sheer exhaustion), he did calm down. We went back home. I knew he must be so hungry and I was seriously considering giving him formula, but the truth is that I was too exhausted myself at that point to prepare it. I took the baby up to bed, lay down, and he miraculously latched on and ate.
In the morning, I called my doula and the first thing she said was thrush. Sure enough, the next day my nipples had fluorescent pink baby mouth-prints on them (he had obviously been broken out for a while). We went to a walk-in clinic, were told to buy a $3 tube of over-the-counter anti-fungal cream and within hours we were on the mend and on our way to a beautiful breastfeeding relationship.
Kelly: I had just decided together with my midwife that the problem was likely thrush. She suggested something called gentian violet as a solution — my husband tried 3 different stores and couldn’t find it before the pharmacies closed that night. I had also read in several places that gentian violet often was no longer effective due to different strains of yeast (thrush is a candida, or yeast, infection that can be present in both mom and baby, or either or. In my case, it was only in me).
I wanted to try a different remedy, but it was something my midwife was not legally allowed to prescribe — it had to be given by a doctor.
And that was the day it all came to an end.
Bean had not eaten anything for HOURS. She would not stop screaming. I was terrified and broken. I didn’t know what else to do or where to turn. All I “knew” at that point was that I had to feed my baby.
I gave her a bottle of formula. She drank it, and she was satisfied. The relief I had…I can’t describe it!
I felt horribly guilty — but I made the decision not to breastfeed anymore. I bought a tube of Monistat to heal my thrush, continued to feed baby formula, and that was it. I did not wean gradually or pump to wean — my breasts were painfully engorged for a few days, but it wasn’t long before the milk was gone and they were back to normal.
“The Reason I’m Sharing My Story”
Krista: Kelly’s breastfeeding story and my own are so similar. We had the same feeding intentions for our babies. We both prepared ourselves. We both did everything right. So why am I breastfeeding now and Kelly isn’t? Did one of us “succeed” while the other “failed”? No, one of us just got lucky.
At the crucial moment, the people around me happened to come up with the right solution. If they had sent me on a wild goose chase for an unavailable remedy (i.e., the gentian violet that was recommended to Kelly), I would have been formula feeding within a matter of hours because I was at my wit’s end.
You see, breastfeeding isn’t supposed to happen in a mother-baby bubble. We moms are supposed to have a lifetime of experience watching our mothers, aunts and neighbours breastfeed. Then, when it’s our turn, those same mothers, aunts and neighbours are supposed to circle the wagons around us and give us the benefit of their diverse experiences. But none of that happens today. Instead, we are forced to collect a team of supporters who are often strangers — they may have good intentions, but ultimately they have little invested in the outcome of our feeding relationship. When we’re stuck in this kind of isolation, sometimes the only thing separating breast from bottle is one of those strangers saying the right word at the right moment.
Kelly: I have continued to mourn my breastfeeding relationship. I have come to realize that though I thought I was prepared, there was so much that I did not know. One of the hugest things I have only recently come to realized is that I might have been able to supplement with formula for a few days or even a week and then gone back to breastfeeding.
I really believed that giving her a bottle meant she would never take the breast again, as the idea of nipple confusion was presented so strongly to me from the people and places I sought help.
I mourn the relationship, and I’m sorry I couldn’t make it happen — and I will do everything I can next time around to make it work.
But though I am literally bawling as I’m writing this now, I don’t totally blame myself. And I don’t totally blame my caregivers.
Our society and culture in many ways is not set up to support breastfeeding. There are a multitude of “booby traps” moms run into that cause them to stumble — or even give up — on the act of feeding their child from the breast.
Having support — and the right kind of support — can make all the difference in the world. I was not meant to try to prepare myself fully and continue on in doing everything myself. I was meant to have help — the more the better.
And I tell you that’s not always easy for me — I’m very independent and I like to think I have all the answers sometimes. I like to think that I can do it myself.
But when it comes to being a parent — and especially breastfeeding — I don’t think we were ever meant to try to go it alone.
That is why I don’t see this post as written in a way to show that Krista “succeeded” while I “failed.” In her words, her continuation of breastfeeding and my end of it was not due necessarily to anything we “did” or “didn’t do.”
In most ways, it came down to that support. And if there is one thing I can leave you with — one thing I can tell you — it is this: Get the support you need. Do anything you can — if you can’t get it in person, get it online or through a book or over the phone — just do it. That is one thing you will never regret.
Thank you for reading our stories. We hope that they have been in some way supportive and helpful for you. Please feel free to contact us if there is any way in which we can help you further or answer any questions, and know that there is help out there for you if you need it.
Krista is a former research biologist, an aspiring midwife, a happy wife to Mr. Fair, a proud attachment parent to her Little Man, and a proud Canadian. You can find her blogging at Think Mama, Think, and on Twitter at @KrissyFair.
Kelly is a SAHM at heart, but due to reasons of economy is soon to return from maternity leave to her secret double life as a barista. She is an aspiring doula and midwife, happily married to Dave and proud mom to baby girl Bean. You can find her blogging at Becoming Crunchy, on Facebook, and on Twitter at @BecomingCrunchy.
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