My breasts and I have a rocky relationship. When I was fat I had quite a pair of bazooms, as my bubbe would say, but they didn’t get a whole lot of play. And by that I mean: Nobody wanted to play with them. Then I lost 100 pounds, and 85 of them came from my chest. What was left resembled a pair of deflated water balloons, and I obsessed over my sad, floppy bosom to a ridiculous degree. I even considered surgery to give me some of the perk I never had. (My therapist shut down that conversation with a single sentence: “OK, but before you do it, let’s talk about why you feel the need to be perfect.”) But my husband Stephen loved all of me, and I learned to accept them.
And then came pregnancy. My deflated water balloons were refilling, and fast! During the second trimester, when I was clearly pregnant but not yet assuming whale proportions, I felt as sexy as I ever have. By the time I gave birth I was absolutely thrilled with the state of my breasts. I had no idea what was in store.
Harry was born at 37 weeks exactly, not early enough to be considered premature, but early enough to have two problems common to near-term babies: jaundice and a poor suck. (Later I learned that they’re intertwined – my boy was yellow because he wasn’t getting enough from my breasts.)
The pediatrician kept Harry in the hospital for an extra night. I’m pretty sure that was the worst night of my life – leaving the hospital without my newborn was heart-wrenching enough, but knowing that they would be feeding him formula sent me over the edge. I’d been a bit brainwashed, you see. I’d come to believe that formula would somehow hurt my baby (breast is best!), and that introducing a bottle in the first days would put him off breastfeeding forever. I know: It’s a hospital. They wouldn’t knowingly do anything to hurt my baby. But the postpartum hormones pushed that reassuring thought aside right quick. The hospital sent me home with a flimsy little manual pump and instructions to use it every three hours, both to extract colostrum (the highly concentrated initial milk that would help Harry get over his jaundice) and to stimulate my milk production. Result: Less than a teaspoon of colostrum after four pumping sessions, sore wrists from working the pump, and nipples so raw I was afraid to let Harry anywhere near them.
And so began my seven weeks of breastfeeding hell. I warn you, this story isn’t pretty. But it’s also extremely atypical – please don’t assume this might happen to you.
My bazooms were certainly getting play now, though not the kind I had wanted way back in the day! Instead they were receiving attention from a bevy of lactation consultants.
I wound up seeing four of these wonderful women, each one devoted to helping mothers breastfeed their babies, before I finally found the specialist who held the answers for our particular set of problems. The first lactation consultant was new to the job and, apparently, clueless. The second advised bacitracin for my nipples, but didn’t offer much help for Harry’s latch. LC number three solved my pumping problems (with a hospital-grade pump and the right size breast shields) and determined that I had supply problems as well, but still couldn’t fix Harry’s issues. Fourth was a phone consult with an MD/LC, who put me on a crazy pumping regimen to increase my supply: 7 to 10 minutes every hour. Can you imagine being hooked up to a milking machine for 7 to 10 minutes every hour, on top of caring for a newborn?
At Harry’s two-week checkup, his pediatrician was thrilled with my boy’s progress but distressed by mine. As she put it, women who have been told to follow regimens that don’t let them take care of themselves almost always decide to give up on nursing, since the stress and frustration are so great. She suggested I call Freda, the woman who ultimately saved my breasts – and my sanity.
Freda Rosenfeld, IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant), is a straight-talking, quirky goddess. With techniques like the Jim Carrey (an exercise for Harry’s mouth, which made his tiny face look as rubbery as the comedian’s) and full support for formula supplementation (she assured me formula wouldn’t kill my kid, and that like breastmilk, formula is food), she soon had Harry well-fed, satisfied, and nursing like he’d been doing it all his life – without causing me pain. And for my supply issues, she introduced me to a word, and a world, which would become quite familiar: galactagogue.
Galactagogues promote the production and flow of milk. Freda had an impressive arsenal of galactagogues for me to try, some herbal, many of them specific ingredients. For me, a combination of things worked: cups of raspberry leaf and nettle tea plus loads of oatmeal, barley, and almonds. It was a challenge to my sleep-deprived brain, figuring out ways to work barley into my diet (oatmeal and almonds were easy), but I did it.
It took five more weeks, weeks in which I wondered daily why exactly I was putting myself through this, but Freda and her lactogenic ingredients did finally solve my supply issues. I still gave Harry formula occasionally, but it was more about convenience than necessity. By now you’ve probably realized that as much as I thought I’d be an earth mother – nursing-til-kindergarten, co-sleeping, sling-wearing – none of those things actually worked out. When Harry self-weaned at ten months I was wistful, but relieved. And the day we returned that rental hospital pump I felt like a prisoner wrongly accused and suddenly released.
So now my breasts are fully mine again. We’re still not the best of friends (when I look in the mirror, I often sing, “Do your boobs hang low/Do they wobble to and fro :”), but they did their job and I’m proud of them. You go, girls!
I realize that my case is a little extreme. If you’re reading this and you’re currently pregnant with your first, please don’t be scared – the vast majority of my friends had nothing even close to my particular set of challenges. Most of them managed to get their babies nursing happily before they ever left the hospital. On the other hand, it can’t hurt to have expert help lined up, just in case. Ask your mom friends to recommend a lactation consultant or two now. While breastfeeding is completely natural, as everyone says, it isn’t always easy-and there’s no way to know ahead of time if you’ll have trouble. No mom friends to ask? The International Lactation Consultant Association has a searchable database on their website, www.ilca.org.
Excerpted from PARENTS NEED TO EAT TOO: Nap-Friendly Recipes, One-Handed Meals, and Time-Saving Kitchen Tricks for New Parents by Debbie Koenig. William Morrow/imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, copyright Debbie Koenig, 2012.
Looking for a galactagogue-rich meal? Try Debbie’s recipe for whole-grain pasta with greens and beans – three foods that are all considered lactogenic.