When people learn about what I do most assume that I breastfed both my children. This would be the most common and logical thought, right? Well, this was not the case in my situation. My life was pretty hectic a few months before I had my first child (almost 12 years ago). We were moving. My husband and I drove from the Midwest to California, pulling a U-Haul and I tried my best to take many rest breaks along the way to get the blood moving in my legs and body. A few weeks after settling in I went for a routine ultrasound and after some long pauses from the ultrasound technician and then a stint in the waiting room I was told I had to go immediately to the hospital. A blood clot (DVT) was found in my upper thigh. Fast forward a few days and I was thankfully sent home and instructed to give myself an injection of medication (blood thinner) in the abdomen every day for the remaining 6 weeks of pregnancy and be on strict bed rest. No fun!
A week or so later I went in for a check-up and to see a specialist. It was during this time that my obstetrician and the specialist told me that once I gave birth I would have to continue to take an oral blood thinning medication for 6 weeks AND I could not breastfeed my child. They informed me that the medication I was to take was harmful to newborns because it passed through breastmilk. I was devastated. Crushed actually. I don't really know why I wanted to breastfeed my first baby so badly, but it was just something that I wanted to do. I wanted to experience it. I wanted to see if the breastfeeding horror stories were valid. I wanted to be the one to have that intimate connection with my baby. I wanted to be the one to decide if I could or could not handle it. I wanted to feed my baby. When that decision was taken away from me, I was deeply saddened. I shed some tears, but kept my dismay largely to myself and tried to move on.
My son was born by caesarean delivery unexpectedly. He was breech. He was fed formula by bottle and on day 3 in the hospital my milk volume increased tremendously. I went through pain, swelling, redness, and breasts feeling like a ton of bricks. Over the course of 24-48 hours, I told my body to stop making milk by applying bags of ice and cabbage and wearing a sports bra to constrict my breasts. The nurses on the floor did not really know what to do with me because my breasts had swelled to a massive factor and so I was a willing patient to try and do anything to stop the pain.
Fast forward 6 weeks post delivery. I went to my family practice physician for a check-up. I will never forget this visit. He asked me how I was feeling and if I was breastfeeding. I told him that I was not breastfeeding because I was told by the specialist that I could not breastfeed due to the medication I was on. He then stated that he was pretty sure I could still breastfeed while taking the medication. I think he saw a look of alarm on my face and he quickly said, "Wait right here. I will be right back." When he came back he opened a medical book, looked up the medication I was taking and said, "The medication you are taking is a class B drug. Although some of the medication does pass through breastmilk, there is no proven evidence that it would cause any harm to your baby." He then continued to say, "If you still want to breastfeed your baby, you can re-initiate breastfeeding now." I had two reactions when I heard this. The first was ANGER and the second was NO WAY. I was so angry at the specialist that told me I could not breastfeed my baby. Why did he not know what this physician knew? Why was there a disconnect? The question of me re-initiating breastfeeding was like talking crazy talk. At the time I did not understand how incredible the human body was nor how forgiving it can be. I did not have someone to guide me, educate me, or show me how someone could produce breastmilk after giving birth 6 weeks out. I was young and I was not from a family of breastfeeding women. This was a foreign idea to me. I had no idea how a woman would even attempt this. So, I did not breastfeed my first-born child. I did do the best I could with the resources I had. I did everything in my power to bond and connect with my baby. From reading to him every day, to giving him a full body massage every night, along with singing, cuddling, holding, rocking, crying, and laughing I did bond. Do I wish I had breastfed him? Yes. Do I sometimes still feel guilty about it? Yes. Do I dwell on it? No. Do I think I would have been a better mother to him if I had breastfed him? No. Do I wish I knew then what I know now? Yes, of course. Did I make sure I had the opportunity to breastfeed my second child? Yes…
The point to all of this is that each and every mother has her own story. Not every woman can breastfeed her child. Many circumstances can stand in the way. Many problems can be resolved though with proper instruction and care. The number one rule that lactation consultants live by is: FEED THE BABY. This is our main concern. We are baby and mother advocates. We want thriving, healthy babies. If this can be achieved with exclusive breastfeeding, great! If this needs to be achieved with breastfeeding and supplementation, great! If this needs to be achieved with exclusive supplementation with lots of skin-to-skin time, great! Whatever needs to happen to make sure the baby is getting the calories and nutrients it needs to grow and thrive as well as assessing the comfort of the mother is what truly matters. We want women to be educated and well informed about breastfeeding so that they can make informed choices. If your story is not the norm or if you had problems breastfeeding your child, don't feel bad! Every mother does the best she can with the tools, knowledge, and resources that are available to her. My hope is that all women continue to ask questions, trust their instincts, learn from one another, get educated on the many aspects of breastfeeding and ask for help when help is needed.
Please share my story with anyone you think may benefit from reading it and then I invite you to share your own stories with our followers. For further information or if you need help, please visit www.bfcofsd.com and send me an email!
"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning." ~ Albert Einstein
Heather Shabestari, BS, IBCLC, CEIM, is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and a Certified Educator of Infant Massage (CEIM). Her lactation training was completed through University of California, San Diego and an 8 month internship at Kaiser Permanente's outpatient lactation department.