I Support You: An Interview

Created by Cary Lynn Davis

If you are friends with me on Facebook you’ve probably seen me post a few things about the I Support You movement.  Check out the inspiring posts about it over on the Fearless Formula Feeder, Mama By the Bay, and I am Not the Babysitter as well as this quick overview from HuffPo.

Here’s what the I Support You Movement is all about:

The I Support You movement is a respectful, empathetic, compassionate exchange between parents.  We all feed our children differently, but we are all feeding with love, and in ways that work for our individual circumstances and family dynamics.  I Support You is the first step in helping formula-feeding, breast-feeding, and combo-feeding parents to come together and lift each other up with kindness and understanding. We have chosen to announce this movement during World Breastfeeding Week, to honor the commitment of those who fight for better support for breastfeeding moms; we are inspired by this, but believe that by changing the focus to supporting all parents, we can truly provoke positive change without putting the needs of some mothers above the needs of others. The “I Support You” movement aims:

1) To bridge the gap between formula-feeding and breastfeeding parents by fostering friendships and interactions.

2) To dispel common myths and misperceptions about formula feeding and breastfeeding, by asking parents to share their stories, and really listening to the truth of their experiences.

3) To provide information and support to parents as they make decisions about how to feed their children.

4) To connect parents with local resources, mentors, and friends who are feeding their children in similar ways.

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This movement is near and dear to my heart.  If you know me or have read my story here on my blog you know my breastfeeding experience was a struggle and ultimately we combo fed for three months and then exclusively formula fed for the remainder of Gretchen’s first year.

I’m joining the movement and raising awareness by interviewing my friend Brie, who has some great insight to share regarding infant feeding and how we can all support each other.

Describe your infant feeding experience in a few sentences: (breastfeeding, pumping, any supplementing, etc)

Charlie was exclusively breastfed from birth to 6.5 months and we were lucky enough to have a pretty easy time of it from the start. I returned to work when he was 3 months old and pumped for him at work, and nursed at home. At about 6.5 months, his demand outstripped my supply so we supplemented with a few formula bottles a week. He is now 10 months old and I plan to continue nursing indefinitely, but I will quit pumping at a year.

What has been the hardest part of your breastfeeding experience this last year?

I didn’t anticipate how hard it would be lose my personal space and freedom. Since Charlie nurses a lot and I pump 2-3 times a day, I get “touched out” very easily these days and don’t like to cuddle or snuggle as much as I used to! And I really would love to be able to take an occasional day trip alone without worrying about pumping or nursing.

Tell me about a time you didn’t feel supported in your feeding choices.

Now that Charlie is getting older, people are starting to ask when I’m weaning him. People are really supportive of breastfeeding until your kid starts walking and talking and sprouting teeth, and then it becomes weird to a lot of people. Recently, when I asked an eye doctor about a medication he had prescribed and whether it was safe for nursing, he asked how old my baby was and “when do you plan on cutting THAT off?” I told him that nursing was cheap and easy and I had no plans to and he definitely raised an eyebrow.

Tell me about a time you felt supported.

I’ve been lucky enough that I’ve pretty much always felt supported, except by random strangers whose opinion I don’t care about! My husband, family, and friends have all been behind me 100% from the start.

What has been your proudest moment thus far related to feeding your son?

Honestly, I don’t know that I’ve felt much pride along the way. I feed my baby, and that was always a given. I was fortunate enough that breastfeeding came pretty easily to us, and we didn’t really struggle much. I’m just doing what needs to get done in the easiest way I know how, like any other mom out there. Breastfeeding, for me, isn’t really an accomplishment since so much of our success has just been dumb luck. I’m proud that I have a totally awesome, healthy, adorable 10 month old, but how he got there is just kind of a fact of life.

How do you show your support for other moms struggling with feeding issues? What words of wisdom can you share?

As far as supporting other moms, I think it’s so important to never judge or make assumptions. Be open about your own experiences but understand that everyone is different.

When it comes to wisdom, just remember that nobody gets a medal for how they feed their baby. Formula has actually improved my breastfeeding relationship with my son–I’m no longer stressing over “just one more ounce” when I can easily top off a bottle of breastmilk with an ounce or two of formula. The first time I gave my son a bottle of formula, I cried because I felt so much relief and it was such a non-event!

 
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breastfeeding, my story: part 3

part one   part two

This part of my story was the hardest to write because I still have a lot of anger and frustration over some of the “helpful” advice I was given, but I really wanted to share those emotions even though they are still raw.  So maybe some well-meaning (or not) individuals might think a bit more before offering advice to a mom struggling with breastfeeding.  

Around 6 weeks I stopped going to the breastfeeding support group.  The weighed feedings were depressing and stressed me out.  The LCs leading the group offered me no advice that I hadn’t already read on Kelly Mom or in one of my online communities.  One mom in the weekly group was regularly pissing me off and making it a very hostile environment for several of us (many of us attending had premature babies with latch/supply issues).  She openly criticized those of us in the group that were supplementing with formula.  I wanted to reach across the table and bonk her over the head with my brest friend pillow.  The weeks she wasn’t there were decent and I had some great conversations with the other moms struggling with breastfeeding, but soon it was clear I dreaded the group and wasn’t getting anything from it but more frustration.

I was slowly reaching the acceptance stage by this point and was just breastfeeding Gretchen on demand and following up every feeding with a bottle.  She was gaining weight thanks to the formula and I was grateful.  I found a local moms group that was accepting of everyone;  those breastfeeding and those formula feeding, and started going every Friday.  It was so good to get out of the house and connect with other moms.

Around 12 weeks Gretchen started refusing the breast.  She was hitting a growth spurt and going on nursing strikes for 12-24 hours.  She was screaming at my breasts again, something she hadn’t done since the early days before my milk was in.  I knew it was time to wean and over the course of a few days we did.  Sudafed dried me up and just like that we were exclusively formula feeding.

I was so happy I had been able to breastfeed for 3 months when at one point I didn’t think I’d get past the first week, but I also wished our breastfeeding relationship hadn’t ended so soon.  I was disappointed that I didn’t have the “easy” and “natural” breastfeeding experience that so many books and friends had touted nursing could be.  I was frustrated that my body and my baby weren’t able to make that happen.

I knew going into it that breastfeeding could be difficult, but I was expecting difficulties such as  cluster feeding, cracked nipples, clogged ducts, and oversupply/engorgement (lol, as if).  I really had no idea how exhausting it could be and I certainly had no idea what kind of emotional toll it would take.

During those first three months of Gretchen’s life I got some really great advice and encouragement from friends and family.  I also got some horrible advice, was judged by other moms, and felt so much guilt and disappointment over how things were playing out.  I soaked in encouraging words like “every drop of breast milk you give her is a gift” and “it gets easier” (and it did get easier after about 6 weeks just like everyone said.  “Don’t quit on a bad day” was probably the best advice I received.

some of the hurtful advice I was given when people learned I was struggling with my supply (assvice really):

  • I needed to spend more time with my baby (24/7 wasn’t enough??)
  • I needed to just stop formula feeding altogether and trust my body to produce milk (so starve my child in the meantime??)
  • I needed to pray harder for God to increase my supply (what the…I still have no words, this is SO insulting and I heard it from multiple people.)

I didn’t respond to those comments.  I honestly could not think of a response that wasn’t “go !#@$ yourself” in many cases, so saying nothing was the better road.    I did de-friend a few individuals on Facebook during that time, they weren’t true friends anyway.  99% of people were supportive and encouraging and gave great advice, but there were a select few whose comments still bother me.  I never expected people to be so critical.

I remember the first time I went to Costco to stock up on formula with my stack of formula checks (many of which were given to me by amazing, non-judgmental friends that were fortunately able to EBF).  Gretchen was sleeping in her car seat in the cart and I had about 6 canisters of Similac stacked up in what little cart space was left.  My shoulders got stiff and I was giving the side eye to people around me as I hurried to the checkout.

You see, I remembered the story a friend had told me about being approached by a total stranger at the store when she was buying formula.  In front of her two small children, the middle-aged woman said something to the effect of “you know, breastfeeding really is best!” and then marched off.  I had all kinds of great little quips in my head, prepared for anyone to criticize how I feed my child.  Fortunately it didn’t come to that, but I still prepare things to say every time I buy formula, just in case!

Gretchen at 6 months.  Growing, thriving, and hitting all of her milestones like a champ.  Bottle fed and happy.  

I have one more post in the works about my breastfeeding experience, a review of Suzanne Barston’s book “Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn’t.”  Her book and her blog helped me process my experience, expanded my understanding of the issues surrounding infant feeding in our society, and made me more compassionate towards myself and other moms.  I want to re-read it before blogging about it though, it’s worth a second read for sure!

Thanks again for reading my story and my ramblings.  I hope sharing my story was helpful to another mom struggling as I did.

breastfeeding: my story (part 2)

You can find part 1 of my story here, I think I can aptly call that first week “the beginning” and what I’m sharing today will be “the middle”

My milk came in a week after Gretchen was born, but I was never engorged and never leaked.  We could see and hear Gretchen swallowing and I was getting milk when I pumped, but even though I pumped after every feeding, I was only pumping about an ounce a day (on a good day).

Tyler was AMAZING through all of this.  He got up with me for every feeding at night, holding a cold wash cloth on the baby to wake her when she fell asleep on the boob, holding her over a cold air vent to jar her awake, doing compressions while I held the baby in place (we needed 4 hands to breastfeed at that point!)  I was exhausted and still waking to feed Gretchen every 2.5 hours.  I’d breastfeed her for about 20-30 minutes, then we’d give her the bottle (which she took to easily thank goodness), then we’d burp her (which could take 5-10 minutes), then Tyler would put her down for a nap while I pumped.  By the time we were done I had maybe 60-90 minutes before the next feeding would begin.  This made leaving the house nearly impossible for me.

Gretchen really was never awake that first month, and I was rarely asleep!  Maybe 20-30 minutes a couple of times a day she’d have her eyes open but otherwise she was sleeping.  Everyone kept telling me to wait til her due date as she’d wake up then.   I clung to that hope.

At her 2 week appointment Gretchen was just at birth weight and we got permission to stop waking her to feed so often.  My pumping output was still dismal and I resented that pump so so so much.  The summer Olympics were on during this time so I basically watched weird sporting events during the day while feeding Gretchen and pumping, and then cleaning my pump parts and starting it all over again.  I went to the BF support group weekly for weighed feedings and they were depressing.  One week Gretchen got 2/3rds of an ounce.  Another week she got about 1/3rd of an ounce.  The milk just was not there.  I was taking the supplements, pumping, drinking a shitload of water, but to no avail.  My milk supply was not increasing despite my best efforts.

We researched medications available to nursing mothers to increase supply, but found that the side effects of reglan are scary (severe depression, diarrhea, sedation, gastric upset, nausea, seizures and twitching).  Domperidone has fewer side effects but isn’t FDA approved (and often has to be ordered from Canada!)  I was not willing to take this step, it just seemed too drastic and too risky.  This article came out around the time I was debating this issue and it really resonated with me and solidified my decision not to try off label drugs.

I cried a lot during those first  weeks and wanted to quit breastfeeding so badly but held on to the advice friends gave me, especially “never quit on a bad day.”  Tyler hugged me and gave me pep talks and finally Gretchen’s due date arrived.  She did wake up some, but it wasn’t a drastic change.  My pump rental was expiring and I returned it to the hospital.  I was so done with that thing, it had done nothing to increase my supply and all the time and effort I was putting in for approximately 1 oz a day was not worth it.  We needed much more than that to supplement so we had to rely on formula.  We’d long since run out of the free samples from the hospital and switched from ready to feed ($$$) to powdered Similac ($$).

Bonding with my baby was extremely difficult that first month.  I was growing to resent her and resent the pump.  Tyler got to snuggle her and play with her and was clearly bonding with her and I was stressed out and in tears worried about how much she was eating.  The grueling feeding schedule was taking its toll on my mental health.  I remember crying while she cried during a feeding one night thinking “I just want to be able to enjoy my baby.”  Breastfeeding was not the warm, lovey dovey, bonding experience the books had promised it would be.  It was anything but.  When I turned the pump in and accepted that supplementing with formula was just what we were going to have to do, things really started to turn around for me mentally and emotionally.

I don’t want to give the impression that I hated breastfeeding, I really didn’t.  I loved the snuggle time, I loved that Gretchen was getting some milk from me, and along with it the benefits that breastmilk has to offer.   Breastfeeding got much easier as Gretchen gained more head control and we were able to find more comfortable nursing positions.  I spent the first 6 weeks or so nursing in the glider or on the couch with my brest friend pillow (so much better than the boppy for nursing!) but once she got better at nursing we would often nurse in the laid back or side lying position on the couch or bed.   I got lots of smiles while breastfeeding her and she would just stare at me in amazement sometimes and it melted my heart.  I really cherish the memories of that time in our breastfeeding relationship.

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one of the only pictures I have of us breastfeeding, I experience bittersweet feelings when I look at it.

part 3 coming soon, I’ve decided it’s the hardest part to write about. (part three can be found here)

breastfeeding: my story (part 1)

I’ve recently been inspired by the Fearless Formula Feeder to share my story.  My hope is it will encourage a more open dialogue about the struggles that often come with breastfeeding and the challenges of being a formula feeding family in a “breast is best” culture.  I have a lot to say so I’ll be writing a few posts about it.  This one is about the first week of Gretchen’s life and my initial experience with breastfeeding.

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our first family photo taken a few hours after Gretchen was born at 35 weeks and 5 days

I had always planned to breastfeed, but in the back of my mind I knew it wouldn’t be easy, as so many friends have so openly shared their struggles with me.  I read books, took the breastfeeding class offered at our hospital, and had the name and number of a highly recommended lactation consultant programmed into my phone just in case.  I didn’t register for or buy any bottles, and I threw away any formula samples that I received in the mail or at the doctor’s office.  I’d read that having it in the house was a black mark against one’s chances for successfully breastfeeding, and I wanted to do everything I could to make breastfeeding successful.

Sunday:  Gretchen came into the world just shy of 36 weeks at 5lbs 13 oz and we did immediate skin to skin contact just like all the books recommend.  She latched right away and had “crazy eyes” as we like to call it.  Like “HOLY COW WHAT IS GOING ON THIS IS AWESOME!”  I gave birth in the middle of the night on a Sunday and all the nurses were extremely helpful in getting her positioned and latched as it became more difficult to do after that first time.  Since Gretchen was born so early they were watching her blood sugar and temperature very closely.  Both were low and I was encouraged to feed her every 3 hours.  Because Gretchen was so sleepy and not sucking very well the nurse brought me a pump to see if I could express some colostrum to give Gretchen through a cup or a syringe.  I got nothing from the pump so we started supplementing with ready to feed formula via cup feeding, thinking we’d only need to do it for a day or so until my milk came in and the baby was over her sleepiness and then we’d be set.

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Monday: A lactation consultant came by my room to observe a feeding. She said we had a good latch, handed me a folder of info, and said we’d be well on our way once my milk was in.  No mention of renting a pump or any information about the breastfeeding support group they had weekly.  There was a flier for the support group in the folder but it did not state where or when it met, simply that it existed.  Gretchen’s temperature and blood sugar were improving by the middle of the day and even though she was always asleep, we knew that was a normal and figured she’d wake up and get more interested in eating soon.

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Tuesday:   Gretchen’s blood sugar and temperature regulated and we were discharged from the hospital with instructions to keep breastfeeding every 3 hours and supplement via cup feeding after she nursed until my milk came in.  We took all the formula samples we could fit in our bag home in hopes we wouldn’t have to buy any formula ourselves.  I was still running pretty high on adrenaline at this point but the lack of sleep was catching up with me.  We knew we were fortunate that Gretchen had spent zero time in the NICU despite being a late term preemie, but we were so nervous about taking home such a small baby and having to care for her ourselves.  She was just so tiny and fragile.  Tyler was immediately over protective (and still is to this day).

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Wednesday:  We saw Gretchen’s doctor in the office and learned she was quickly losing weight (down from 5 lbs 13oz to 5lbs 6 oz) and becoming jaundiced, so we had to come in daily that week for blood draws and were told to breastfeed/supplement every 2-2.5 hours around the clock.  Gretchen had plenty of wet diapers but hadn’t pooped since birth.  I scheduled an appointment with the LC I’d heard good things about for that Friday.   Gretchen’s doctor encouraged us to go to the breastfeeding support group for a weighed feeding and told us where and when it took place (turns out it was held in a room in the maternity ward where I delivered Gretchen.)  At one point I thought my milk had come in, not really sure why, I think it was wishful thinking.  My breasts felt fuller but I wasn’t getting anything when I tried to hand express and Gretchen was growing increasingly frustrated at the breast.

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Thursday:  We were back in the doctor’s office for more bloodwork to check Gretchen’s billi levels.  She was turning a nice shade of orange by this point and Tyler was in full on freak out mode.  He’d never heard of jaundice and was googling all kinds of things and freaking himself out.  I was much calmer about it, knowing that many of my friends had gone through it with their babies and everything had been just fine.  Getting Gretchen to eat and poop were key in getting her billi levels up, so we fed her and fed her often.  I had consulted with many of my friends online about our breastfeeding issues at this point and they were so incredibly helpful and encouraging.

However, over and over I was hearing  from them and reading online that I should be pumping if I was supplementing, and moms that had been in a similar situation as myself had been sent home with a pump and instructed to pump every time they supplemented with formula so that their supply would not suffer.  The helpful LC at the hospital never mentioned that.  They’d sent me home with the pump flanges and tubing from my one failed attempt at pumping in the hospital but I was given no info on pump rentals.  When I called the information desk at the hospital to inquire I found out I could rent a pump at the BF support group where we were headed that afternoon.

Gretchen would.not.wake.up. during the group so I didn’t get to do a weighed feeding (I did however get to whip my boobs out in front of a group of total strangers, lol.)  Gretchen had dropped another 2 oz, down to 5lbs 4oz.   I did get my pump but no instructions on how to use it.  Thankfully youtube filled in the gaps for me!  I started pumping right away (after every feeding) but just got a few drops of colostrom as my milk still wasn’t in yet.  I got a call at the end of the day that Gretchen’s billi levels were leveling off and we breathed a sigh of relief.  Goodbye jaundice!

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Friday: 5 days after her birth my milk still hadn’t come in and Gretchen was screaming and crying when I brought her to the breast (and by that point I was crying too!)  When she wasn’t screaming and crying she was fast asleep and difficult to arouse for feedings, typical of late term preemies.   I got so tense and filled with dread before every feeding.  I was letting her breastfeed for 10-15 minutes per side (although I had to pull her off and wake her up every 2-3 minutes since she kept falling asleep) and then we’d supplement with the cup.  15-20 ccs after every feeding.  She gulped it right down.

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I remember going to the LC that Friday and Gretchen was inconsolable in the car, I was trying to time it so she’d be due for a feeding at the LC’s office but she had woken up early and was hungry.  Tyler missed our exit and I was pissed that we were running late and the baby was upset.  We had read so much about “nipple confusion” that we were afraid to introduce a pacifier, for fear it would ruin our chance of being able to breastfeed.  So we were using our pinky fingers to soothe her when she needed something to suck on.  I remember sitting in the waiting room with my pinky in her mouth.

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The LC was amazing.  We met with her for 90 minutes and she helped me improve our latch, gave us tricks for keeping our sleepy baby awake and sucking, and taught us about doing compressions to bring the fatty hind milk forward.  I felt so encouraged during that one feeding in her office.  It was a weighed feeding but at the end when we weighed her she had gained nothing.  Nothing.at.all.  She hit her lowest weight yet: 5lbs 2 oz.  I was armed with information and new techniques to try but no milk, the key ingredient to breastfeeding!

During our consultation the LC asked lots of questions about my medical history including a question about whether or not we’d had difficulty getting pregnant.  As a matter of fact, we had.  After going off birth control in early 2011 I never ovulated on my own and I needed Clomid to get pregnant.  The doctor suspected PCOS but while I had some of the classic signs, I didn’t have any cysts on my ovaries or irregular labwork, so it was never an official diagnosis.  The LC informed me that many women with PCOS have problems with low milk supply.   Other issues she noted were that my breasts never changed in size while I was pregnant  and I’d had zero leaking of colostrum during my third trimester.   Both of these things can be normal and not indicative of one’s ability to breastfeed, but sometimes they are a clue that difficulties are ahead.   She gave me some mother’s milk special blend supplements and detailed instructions on how much to take and how often.  She also fitted me with a hands free pumping bra and told us it was okay to use bottles instead of cup feeding.  Less messy and unlikely to cause nipple confusion if we used the right kind of bottles (we went with Tommee Tippees, they are very boob like!)  I can honestly say if we hadn’t met with this LC we would have given up breastfeeding before the end of that first week.  She armed us with enough strategies and confidence to persevere until Gretchen reached her due date, the first goal we set for ourselves.

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That was the first week of Gretchen’s life and it had been a complete roller coaster.  I thought we’d been through the worst of it with her premature birth and jaundice, but the next few weeks proved much more difficult as the adrenaline wore off and hormones and sleeplessness set in.

click for part 2