Brave Milk Making Mamas

Hi have some clients who really blow my mind.  Really.  They are awesome.  The stuff they go through just to give breastmilk to their babies is awe-inspiring.  Months and months of IVs and drains and repeated surgeries–and still breastfeeding.  Tongue-tie and lip-tie revisions on their babies and sore nipples and open wounds and nipple shield.  Flat nipples, hand expression and eventually nursing just one on boob (hey who said you need both of them!?).  Feeding tubes while nursing at the breast or on a finger.  Donating hundreds of ounces of breastmilk to babies who need it because their mamas can’t make enough.  Moms who are humble enough to accept donor milk because they know they aren’t making enough.  Mamas who spend lots of time and money on lactation support, pumping bras, different breastpumps to see which one works better, herbs, homeopathic remedies, coconut oil, herbal balms, Kinesiotape and castor oil compresses.  One of the moms I know even wore a vacuum drain on her breast for 8…weeks…straight…and couldn’t drive the whole time while her baby nursed on the other side.  Really.  A-mazing.

Nursing a lil' pumpkin in public (aka NIP) in a pumpkin patch!  Thanks to this gutsy mama for permission to use this photo!

Nursing a lil’ pumpkin in public (aka NIP) in a pumpkin patch! Thanks to this gutsy mama for permission to use this photo!

This is why I do what I do.  Some people work as a doula or breastfeeding counselor or lactation consultant because babies are so cool.  Not this girl.  I do it for the moms (and I usually love their partners, too, especially the involved and loving and supportive partners who are there through the thick of it to support mom).  I watch them develop into such gutsy women through this process.  And sometimes, yes, being a gutsy mama means knowing when to be at peace with making just 10% of the milk your baby needs or even quitting nursing or exclusive pumping altogether.  Breastfeeding isn’t easy for everyone.  And now, more than ever, more and more mamas who want to breastfeed are discovering they have underlying issues that prevent them (sometimes) from making enough milk. Or their babies have anatomical issues that prevent them from sucking or swallowing well.  Sometimes there are ways to work with what you’re given and improve it.  Sure, it’s “natural”, but hey, sex is natural but we all get better at that with practice, too, right?  [Correct me if I’m wrong on that one and tell me your secret!! Wink!]

Unfortunately, as you may know, there are many barriers for women who want to nurse (or one could say to babies who want to nurse).  What are the barriers? Medications in labor, surgical birth, uninformed staff in hospitals, necessary or unnecessary interventions on baby, mom’s past history with breast reduction or augmentation, mom’s medical history related to diabetes, thyroid, iron, polycystic ovarian syndrome, insufficient glandular tissue, baby in the NICU, pumps that suck (or rather, don’t suck well), pediatricians who are uninformed and push formula instead of quality lactation support…the list goes on.  In some moms there doesn’t seem to be a reasonable explanation for what happened.  And other moms have all the risk factors and are able to nurse successfully.  Oy.

Most moms, statistics show, quit within the first week.  In the United States, as of 2010 data, only 16% of babies were exclusively breastfed to 6 months of age (the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all babies be fed exclusively breastmilk until the age of 6 months and continue to be nursed until 1 year of age or longer, as long as mutually desired…the World Health Organization recommends at least 2 years or longer).

Given that data and those barriers, it’s a wonder that American women continue to breastfeed their babies.  Did you breastfeed?  How long?  What helped you continue as long as you did?  What hindered you?  Share your comments below and by doing so, you’ll be supporting the other women that see your comments.  Band together, gutsy mamas!