When I was 25, after years of trying to conceive, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Other than fertility issues, I never really thought about how that diagnosis would affect me in other ways. After only two rounds of Clomid, I finally got pregnant for the first time! A co-worker had also just found out that she was pregnant with her first, and through our pregnancies, we developed a deep bond that quickly developed into an amazing friendship. When she first asked if I was going to breastfeed, I immediately said no way! I had never in my life known anyone who breastfed, and neither did my husband. I was completely ignorant on the subject. She continued talking to me about it and finally convinced me that I should at least try. After a male co-worker of my husband, whose wife was also pregnant, had a conversation with him about how awesome breastfeeding was, he came home to tell me that I should breastfeed too. So, I made up my mind that I would try. When my breasts never grew or hurt throughout my pregnancy, I never gave it a second thought other than being a bit upset that I hadn’t gotten that perk of pregnancy–big boobs! My daughter was born at 38 weeks via cesarean section after nearly 24 hours of labor and my body doing nothing. I felt like a failure for the second time. Not only could I not get pregnant on my own, now I couldn’t give birth on my own either. This drove me to be more determined than ever to breastfeed my beautiful Cecilia, even though I had virtually no support from my family. Well, she latched immediately and nursed for what seemed like hours. Things seemed to be going well, but in reality, they weren’t. She wasn’t pooping much, became severely jaundiced, and my nipples had become a cracked, bloody mess. However, I pressed on through the pain. After 5 days in the hospital (3 of which were spent with her under the bili lights for the majority of the time), we went home. I continued breastfeeding. A couple days later, we took her in for her 1-week checkup, and she had lost a full pound. I was devastated. At the suggestion of my doctor, I continued nursing, pumping immediately after (even though I got NOTHING out), and supplemented with formula. With no real support and very little education about breastfeeding, our nursing relationship ended at 8 weeks. I had no explanation. No answers. I was crushed.
Fast-forward two and a half years to my third pregnancy (2nd live birth). I was determined to make breastfeeding work this time. Again, the fact that my breasts did not grow didn’t really cause me much concern. William was born in April of 2012, latched immediately, and nursed beautifully. I saw a lactation nurse several times while in the hospital. Other than mentioning that many women with PCOS struggle with breastfeeding, she didn’t have anything negative to say. His latch was perfect, and he seemed to be pooping and wetting fine, even though he continued to lose weight. Again, at the first checkup, my baby had lost nearly a pound. By the next week, he had continued to lose. We started supplementing, but I was determined to make it longer this time with breastfeeding. A friend added me to a local breastfeeding group. That was both the best and worst thing that could’ve happened to me. I was made to feel like a terrible mother for feeding my child formula, aka poison. I wasn’t trying hard enough, needed to pump more, nurse more, drink more water, take this pill or that one. I was told that “my body was made for this” and that I just needed to work harder. I was devastated and spiraled quickly into severe postpartum depression.
Finally, a mom in the group asked me some questions about my breasts. (The good thing that came out of my joining the breastfeeding group!) I had always hated them! They were super tiny (even though I have always been plus-sized), and they are very oddly-shaped, as well as widely spaced. They are triangular-shaped, point downward, and my nipples turn inward. They are also very uneven. Although I didn’t know it (and had never even heard of it), I had all the classic signs of IGT (Insufficient Glandular Tissue), also often referred to as breast hypoplasia. My breasts are deformed. Yes, it is a medical deformity! I joined an IGT support group on Facebook. Finally, I was connected with women just like me! Their stories were my story! Their breasts looked just like mine! They got it. It was like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. The black cloud of depression was lifted! I didn’t cry anymore. It wasn’t my fault! I really was doing all that I could! Through this group, I learned that giving my baby formula was not wrong! It did not make me a bad mother. In fact, it made me an amazing mother for realizing there was a problem and doing what was necessary for my child to thrive!
Although IGT is considered rare, it is so much more common than many believe it to be. There hasn’t been a real study done in over a decade. In that decade plus, there have been many advancements in the medical world, specifically in fertility treatments. Many women who suffer from fertility issues, such as PCOS, have been given the chance to bear children with all of these new advancements. PCOS and IGT often go hand-in-hand. Because we women are now bearing children (where it was impossible before), we are also wanting to and trying to breastfeed our babies, only to realize that we struggle in this area as well. IGT is real, and it is more common than we think. Doctors are becoming more aware of it, and women are being diagnosed more often and earlier on.
One of the best things I learned along the way is that breastfeeding doesn’t have to be all or nothing. With the help of formula as a supplement, I was able to breastfeed my son until he weaned at 8 months. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was downright hard! I pumped an ungodly amount, even though the fruits of my labor were minuscule. I took a plethora of herbal supplements that are known to help increase milk supply (also called galactogogues), including fenugreek, blessed thistle, green superfood capsules, Dairy Queen*, and Shatavari. I consumed unrealistic amounts of green smoothies, lactation cookies, and oatmeal. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it, and I wouldn’t change any of it!
I’ve learned so much along the way, but the most important lesson I learned was not to judge. We are all mothers just trying to do the best for our children. We don’t know each others’ personal situations. Choose your words wisely. One comment can be the breaking point for a mother, especially a struggling mother who is reaching out for help. Don’t assume anything. And, most of all, never make a mom feel guilty about her choices!
It has become my mission to educate the breastfeeding community about IGT. Even if I can connect with one struggling mom and let her know that it’s not her fault, then I feel like my job is done!
Mother to Cecilia 4.5 and William 1
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