Open Letter: When Support Turns Sour
“[Part One: First Steps to Healing]… I encourage you to speak out. Send a letter”
Healing Breastfeeding Greif by Hilary Jacobson
Dear Online Support for Low Milk Supply,
Before we start, I would like to say, I blame no one but myself for the outcome of my breastfeeding journey. ‘I failed’, myself and my boy. Part of this was failure to access the right support, despite visiting the GP, health visitor and Dr Google. The support I tapped into, though well intended, pushed me further from breastfeeding success, towards breastfeeding grief. This letter is a practical step towards healing the emotional fallout that accompanied my breastfeeding cessation.
To set the scene, I need to take you back to last year. I'm a zombie mama; sleep a distant memory, a long-lost friend. With a crappy milk supply, a miserable mini and a toddler in tow. Second time around you're expected to ‘have this’; the ground support isn’t there. I was vulnerable with no faith in myself. Not getting the answers I needed from healthcare professionals, I turned online for help:
“Do you really have low milk supply?”
Paragraph One: The assumption that my fears are unfounded, doubted by the experts. Signs that are NOT valid indicators of low supply; include: frequent nursing, short feeds, a fussy baby, baby waking at night, low pumping output or decreasing output and soft boobs that don’t leak. Check, check, check. I conclude; there is no problem to be fixed. This living hell is life with my two minis. I need to grow a pair (balls because the boobs aren’t working) and get on with it. I make a mental note to stop trusting my mama instincts. But here I learn that the blame is not mine alone; I label my boy ‘fussy’.
Paragraph Two: Potential causes of low milk supply: supplementing with formula, bottle preference, using a dummy, and scheduled feeding. I've created the problem by messing with supply and demand. We are supplementing because my mini has crossed three percentiles. My breast averse mini battles my boob; skin-to-skin in a wrap with a dummy is the only respite I can offer. Scheduled feeding, not doing that, a small win? But as a result, I haven’t slept for more than 30 minutes at a time for months. I must man up and accept responsibility.
Paragraph Three: Finally some practical advice: increasing your milk supply; take a nursing vacation, nurse frequently, make sure baby is removing milk efficiently (ah yes with the handy ‘milk gauges’ you can buy for your boobs on Amazon?!), avoid bottles, avoid dummies, and give only breastmilk. But we are already topping up because I'm no longer able to express. I can't let my baby drop further percentiles. I’m angry with my body, despite my best efforts, my boobs are failing to function. The advice I am following isn’t working and I can’t follow the remaining without proper guidance.
The practical advice isn't practical for me. No mention of supplemental feeding devices as an alternative to the bottle; to stimulate my supply while topping my mini up? Or that as your breastfeeding boobs change, your breast pump flange size may need to change or parts may need replaced? That conditions like reflux may manifest as or create supply issues. You can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.
Paragraph Four: Formula is not the answer. I feel fear, that expert help will remove the formula, cold turkey. Frozen out by fear, I don't seek help from a lactation consultant. The one person who might have got me back to exclusive breastfeeding. My heart is heavy with blame, shame and fear. So now, even when bottle feeding, I take no joy in nourishing my mini.
The Concluding Paragraph: Towards the bottom of the article, a blurb about how rare low supply is, reminds me I don’t have a genuine problem. And advice to seek help from a certified lactation consultant. But my problem has been dismissed, I don't trust my instincts, I am beyond help. Low supply is very rare and likely my own doing. I blame myself and my ‘fussy’ boy. I don’t need to be told I’ve screwed it up, I'm not strong enough to take criticism. But I am strong enough to feed this baby even if it isn’t the way I planned. Goodbye breastfeeding, hello grief.
Support should start from a place of compassion, free from assumption. The concern is, by giving low milk supply airtime we blow up the issue, making mamas doubt their own milk supply and creating problems where there are none. Milk supply is a spectrum. We don’t want to screw breastfeeding up for the masses by playing to an insecurity, but low supply mamas, although in the minority, do matter and we are doing them a disservice. Real or perceived, low supply poses a real threat to breastfeeding success; don't underestimate it. Our only assumptions should be; mamas feed with heart and that's the most important part.