A Pediatrician Mom’s Breastfeeding Story

I have the great privilege of working with an amazing physician and mama to a toddler, Dr. Andrea Johnston on a follow up book to The Pregnancy Companion. We are hard at work right now on The Baby Companion manuscript. Our hope is that this resource will provide peaceful guidance for moms walking through their exciting yet hard days with a newborn. We welcome input from moms on what they think should be included in a faith-based baby’s first year book. Please feel free to contact us through our website with your input. Today we are sharing a sneak peek of the book (rough draft) in which Dr. Johnston tells her breastfeeding story. Please understand that the book will greatly encourage and support exclusive breastfeeding but for those moms who simply are not able to, we know this story will be an encouragement.

The Doctors POV: My Breastfeeding Story

For some moms, day 4-5 comes and you still don’t have any milk. This is what happened to me.  My baby went from weighing 9 lb 9 oz all the way to 8 lb 9 oz – a whole pound down. He was bright yellow from jaundice and starving. He was 5 days old and I had nothing to offer him. I tried every old wives tale in the book, including taking supplements such as Fenugreek, prescription metoclopramide (Reglan), and eating raw baker’s yeast. I would have done anything to have made my milk come in more. I latched him on every 1-2 hours and used a hospital grade pump in between. And still, I was only getting drops.  Add to this my day 4 hormone tidal wave and I was a sobbing, crying mess.  The harder my son cried, the harder I cried too.

Every book I read and every lecture I had heard talked about how “calming” it was to breastfeed. I was made to feel that if I would only do it right, I would have a supernatural wave of stress-relief hormones and my mind and body would relax. Breastfeeding was not calming though – I felt as if I needed 8 arms to hold and prop and latch and get everything right.  I’m sure my blood pressure spiked 20-30 points every time I tried.  He hated it.  I hated it.  I dreaded each feeding because I knew it would be an awful experience for both of us. I again sought answers online and in books, finding a common theme — if I would just “relax”, my milk would come in. 

But how could I relax?  My baby was starving!  Thankfully, I had some pediatrician friends who came to my rescue. They sat me down, looked deep into my crazed eyes and gave me permission to give my baby what he really needed – milk in any form possible. So I made him a bottle of formula, just knowing it would ruin his life forever.  (That’s what you hear, right?)  I could hear the formula hitting his empty stomach and echoing like rainwater dripping into an empty barrel. I’ve never felt so guilty in all my life. I’m a pediatrician – if anyone should know they need to breastfeed, it’s me, right? But after he ate and I saw him finally relax and rest, I started to let go. 

Over the next few days, he slowly began to gain weight. I was still latching him and pumping as much as I could, but supplementing with formula as well. He was happy. I was happy – well, I was still a little crazy, but I was happier than I had been the week prior.

I continued to pump and latch as much as possible over the next week. On my best day at about 3-4 weeks postpartum, I pumped 6 ½ ounces total in a little over 24 hours. I was elated – 2 bottles worth of milk. Slowly though, my milk supply lessened and lessened and when he was 7 weeks old, I woke up one morning and was completely dry. My breastfeeding days were over. My husband can tell you I was quite emotional over what I considered to be a huge failure.

One of my favorite Bible verses is from Jeremiah. (I said this verse constantly during my most difficult days of medical school!)

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the LORD. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’” Jeremiah 29:11 {NLT}.  

Some days I WAS a “disaster”! But I would repeat the first part of this verse over and over: “I know the plans I have for you”. God knows what he is doing. I had to trust that my lack of milk was truly part of His plan, for whatever reason. And I knew that all he would ever expect from me as a mom (and therefore all I should expect of myself) is that I do my best. I really held on to this – yet still allowed myself to mourn for an experience that I had wanted so badly.

Now when I look at my child, the last thing on my mind is worry over what food he got in those first few months. He is a smart and happy toddler, full of energy and learning new things every day. He is not deficient somehow because I had to give him formula. I am proud that I was able to give him any amount of breast milk in those first weeks. Even though I didn’t exclusively breastfeed, I still consider my experience a success. 

I hope that every new mom will find encouragement and support no matter what food you choose to give or are able to give your newborn. Of course, I encourage the mothers in my office to breastfeed right from the start. I fight side by side with them to attempt every avenue to get their milk established. I cry with those that cannot. I support those who are unable to for other reasons, or who simply choose not to. It really will be OK no matter what happens. If you are having difficulty or feeling guilty, you are not alone. Please talk to your pediatrician or OB/GYN and see what resources are available in your area.

– excerpt from The Baby Companion {this story written by Dr. Andrea Johnston}

Moms, what is your breastfeeding story? Did you struggle? If you did, were you able to breastfeed exclusively after fighting hard to see your milk established? Or like Dr. Johnston, did you move to formula?

{Photo via istockphoto.com}

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