Are you still there? Thanks to my readers for sticking with me. 🙂 In my first post, Born Hungry Part I, I summarized my experience breastfeeding my daughter (MD). I discussed the multiple problems we encountered, things we tried, what worked and what didn’t, and the outcome. And the guilt and frustration of it all.
In Born Hungry Part II, I summarized how with my son (LM) I unwillingly relived aspects of my first breastfeeding experience. I discussed what went wrong this time, what went right, how I made peace with it all and how things are going now.
In this final post on this topic, I’m going to dig through some family history, and make the environmental connection to breastfeeding difficulties, bringing this blog full circle, in a way.
If you read both of my previous posts on these topics, I salute you. There was a lot there. That was after I had condensed some timelines and removed some sections to improve the flow.
There was a lot I didn’t get to talk about. Like how at about three months MD and I had a breastfeeding breakthrough (she was nursing, looked up at me, unlatched and cooed and smiled at me) which is what made me want to pick it up again.
I didn’t talk about how I bought an SNS, but ultimately ended up not using it because every time I looked at it the thought of cleaning it 8 times a day made me want to throw up. (I salute any woman who has tried this contraption).
I didn’t talk about how my iron should likely have been tested as well as my thyroid. I’ve always struggled keeping my iron up and it was probably lower than it should have been after giving birth due to the extra blood loss. Some of the symptoms I experienced (cold all the time, extreme fatigue) were certainly consistent with anemia, which could have impacted milk production.
I didn’t talk about how nursing sessions with both my children would regularly last for an hour or more. I didn’t learn until later that this can be normal See Frequent Nursing. It just felt like my milk was made of water.
I didn’t rant about jaundice, how we’re not provided with enough information about it; how our parents’ generation were taught to fear it; how PHNs tell us not to worry about it; and how if it’s only tested once in the hospital how the heck do we even know what the levels are in our baby.
I didn’t talk about how I think there should be more research done on breastfeeding science. I didn’t get a chance to review much of the primary litterature, though from what I have read it seems most studies are decades old. And my experiences breastfeeding seem to lead to more questions than answers.
And I didn’t go into much detail on how I felt we were brainwashed to breastfeed. Mind control is defined on Wikipedia as the process by which individual or collective freedom of choice and action is compromised by agents or agencies that modify or distort perception, motivation, affect, cognition and/or behavioral outcomes. In our case, persons in a position of authority continually and consistently bombarded us with information on breastfeeding, that breastfeeding was the only choice and that there were no other acceptable options, at a point in time when we were most susceptible to being coerced.
I did blast nurses and the health care system. I didn’t mean to. I know they work hard, skipping lunch and pee breaks, not to mention exposing themselves to contagious diseases when no one else will.
I just needed to vent my frustration somewhere. But getting it down on paper as it were also helped me see why, with such limited resources, they spend time helping the women who are having “minor” difficulties breastfeed better, rather than getting to the bottom of why another woman is having supply issues when it seems all avenues have been exhausted. But I still think we, as a health care system and as a society, could do better.
We could do better preparing expectant parents, giving them the information they need to make an informed decision, providing more logistical support when the baby arrives, and preparing their support systems with the most up to date information. We could do at least this much.
Breastfeeding is not only an infant health issue, a public health issue, a preventative health care issue, and a women’s rights issue. It is also a mental health issue (women who experience difficulties breastfeeding are at greater risk for postpartum depression – and it’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario as to which is cause and which is effect), and an environmental issue.
I didn’t talk about how I spoke with female relatives about their experiences breastfeeding. (They had no supply issues; one had issues with the latch with their first child and no problems with the second).
Both of my grandmothers had passed away many years ago, and I knew that both my mom and dad had been formula fed. My mom said her mom (my maternal grandmother) tried to breastfeed, but she “didn’t have any milk”. It was the 1940s, when formula was being promoted and breastfeeding knowledge was going out the window, so who knows what was really going on.
My mom breastfed me for five months. I was exclusively breastfed until four months (except once at 6 weeks), but between my two and four month check ups I had lost weight, so she had to supplement with both formula and Pablum to get my weight back up.
She was plagued by guilt for years, which led to her continually feeding me. I became overweight (50 lbs at age 3, 90 lbs in grade 3) and have struggled with my weight all my life. She wasn’t provided with any counselling to reassure her that it wasn’t her fault that her supply went down. In the 80s, she was taught to feed on a 3-4-hour schedule rather than on demand (she had no support from her mom either, since as I mentioned above she hadn’t breastfed). Also, I was crawling at four months of age, so my energy demands, and therefore her milk production, needed to be even higher. She also wasn’t provided with any information on how feeding on demand could boost her supply.
When I was researching the symptoms of IGT, I also read about the suspected contributing factors to this type of abnormal breast anatomy. Ironically, obesity is one of them.
Another suspected contributing factor – endocrine disrupting chemicals. As I discussed way back in Week 1, endocrine disruptors mimic the bodies natural hormones, such as reproductive hormones. This is a simplified explanation, but when these chemicals “bind” with the body’s tissues in the place of the hormones that should be there, the tissues don’t develop and/or don’t function properly. It is thought that exposure to these chemicals during fetal development or during puberty inhibit proper breast development, leading to IGT (see La Leche League and Environmental Exposures and Mammary Gland Development).
Endocrine disruptors such as BPAs are found in many plastics, such as plastic baby bottles and bottle liners (BPAs have since been removed, but would have been present in the 80’s). BPAs were also used to line food packaging, such as formula containers (see Health Canada and ABCNews).
Ironically, it seems that my mom’s difficulty breastfeeding may have led to my own difficulties. Between overfeeding me due to a “starvation complex”, the bottles used to supplement, and the formula itself, I would have been exposed to endocrine disruptors during infancy. Whether that was enough to impact later breast development is hard to say. (Do the formula companies know this? Was this their plan all along? Is it all a conspiracy?)
Or maybe it was something she was exposed to while she was pregnant. Or maybe it was something I was exposed to during puberty. It would be interesting to survey some of my childhood friends born and raised in my community around the same time to see if they’ve since had any difficulties breastfeeding.
Makes me glad, for my daughter’s sake as well, that I’m trying to eliminate endocrine disruptors from our life by using glass dishes instead of plastic, natural cleaners, etc. as I’ve discussed elsewhere in this Blog.
I tell you, if I ever find out that we were exposed to a chemical growing up that caused this, I am going to go all Erin Brockovich on their asses.
Which actually got me thinking . . . another group of common endocrine disruptors is the halogens, such as bromine and chlorine. Both of these chemicals are commonly used in swimming pools. We had a pool growing up, and I practically lived in it every summer from age five until I moved to university. Having said that, bromines are in the same group as iodine and therefore bind to thyroid tissue, not reproductive tissue. But still . . .
Hopefully I’ve been able to break the cycle somewhat, and my daughter, if she so chooses, will have an easier time breastfeeding.
Whatever she chooses, ultimately #FedisBest.
For more information about endocrine disruptors and pools see: