Frank Re-Run: Spilt Milk
Me: (sobbing, both hands laid gently on my enormous Dolly Parton breasts) “I don’t know what to do, the milk won’t stop, they’re agony.”
Midwife: (flicking through my notes) “Lucky you, most women have the opposite problem.”
Lucky me. In our first two weeks at home, I saw 5 midwives, 3 lactation experts and 2 doctors. I was desperate to breastfeed. At 14 days we started formula feeding. Writing this, two years down the line, I am crying. I had many problems, the root was my milk over-production.
This is my story on engorgement, over-production, the tit falls and the pointers.
I began lactating in my second trimester, enough to warrant breast pads, which in hindsight I should’ve taken out shares in. When G was born, pain aside, breastfeeding was OK. Then the milk “came in”. My GiGantic (GG) bras were too small. I resorted to vests stuffed with sanitary towels, the kind you are given in Sex Ed. I leaked through my clothes and a shroud of towels around four times a day. Sleeping was difficult. I lay immobile, rooted by pain and the prospect of having to change my bedsheets… again.
My first steps into motherhood: a failure, all because of engorgement: a ‘minor problem lasting a couple of days’. My minor problem eventually dried up, but 5 months later. Even now, after successfully breastfeeding my second child, failure haunts me.
What went wrong? I had all the goods for successful breastfeeding. Most people didn’t fully appreciate how ‘lucky’ I was until I gingerly pulled my top up, the enormity of my problem becoming clear. The beasts were gigantic, rock hard and pouring. Most responded: “wow, you are producing a lot of milk…. Have you considered donating?” Great, now I feel useless and guilty. I was defeated, the lowest place I have been. Nobody understood. Nobody could help.
Everyday brought a new midwife, a new hope. I explained my issues. They gave me the same ill advice – advice like use a breast pump, always offer both breasts and feed regularly through the night. I dutifully followed. I don’t blame the midwives, they admitted to limited knowledge on the subject. They did everything possible to help. When G was 5 days old I was sent to the experts. They attached me to a double breast pump. Before it was even switched on I had half-filled the bottles! Once expressing, the bottles were overflowing within minutes, my breasts nowhere near empty. I was advised to completely empty the breasts twice a day and express for each feed.
My husband bottle fed the baby, allowing my nipples to heal and helping with the horrendous let-down pain. I barely held my baby. I didn’t feed him.
We switched to formula. My decision, made by me… alone. Returning the pump was tough. I walked down the narrow corridor, pushing the pram, awkwardly navigating through doors. I handed over the pump.
“Have you cracked it then?”
I had to admit failure: I smile. Inside I’m broken.
“No I had very bad pain during feeding and the engorgement hasn’t improved.”
She was kind. She told me severe engorgement is linked to a forceful painful let-down. It was a well-recognised problem.
Thank goodness, this is a ‘thing’ I can blame. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my baby enough to persevere.
Now I am stronger and I am incredulous that mothers need an excuse to switch to formula. However, I am not naïve. I know how weak it sounds saying ‘it hurt’ or ‘it was difficult’. Those should be ample enough reasons, but for some reason they are not.
When pregnant with baby number two I did my homework. I visited lactation experts, browsed the web, read books and hired DVDs. I was realistic in my expectations and used my new found knowledge to tackle breastfeeding D. I am still breastfeeding him at 8 months old but I still produce too much milk.
It's now easier but the sanitary towels remain, breast pads are changed regularly and the muslins are still stuffed down my top during feeds. My breasts are perpetually full, mastitis around every corner and let-down is painful.
I’m not the archetypal breastfeeder, but I am normal.
My eyes are wide open to over-production. Given the choice, I would breastfeed in a heartbeat.