I’m not one to promote bottle feeding, after all I am a neonatal nurse and as a result, it is part of my job description to encourage breastfeeding where possible. Regardless of this, I have always tried to take a balanced approach with the mother’s I have dealt with especially considering I hadn’t had any children (and therefore hadn’t experienced the challenges that breastfeeding can pose) I didn’t feel I was in a position to be preaching to them. To be honest, now that I have had a baby and experienced the challenges, I still don’t think I can preach to them. All I can do is explain the benefits of breastfeeding, be honest about it being a tough journey (that in theory should get easier but for some this isn’t the case), and that help is there when and if they need it.
In Australia, we are very lucky because we have a 24 hour telephone support service we can call on and we have breastfeeding counsellors and lactation consultants (LC) (for more info on these two roles, click here) at the ready to help us out if we are ready to throw in the towel.
I think LC’s are far more knowledgeable than any Doctor out there when it comes to breastfeeding. They are the experts. I should know. I wanted to get my LC certification at one point (it is still a dream among many) so that I could offer the very best advice and support to the mothers in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). When I looked into the course, I had to complete a huge number of hours of breastfeeding coaching to mothers before I could even take part in the further learning. After completing the course, I would then have to pass (with a minimum 80% if I remember correctly) the LC exam in order to achieve the recognition. THEN each year I would need to prove to the board that I had continued with updating my knowledge on the latest research around breastfeeding so in a sense, the learning would never stop. So LC’s are definitely the experts.
So anyway this brings me to my experience with breastfeeding. Don’t worry, if you are male and reading this firstly I want to congratulate you for getting this far without being turned off! If you are sitting there thinking, ‘Oh no… Don’t talk about boobs in this light! It completely ruins my perspective of how sexy they are!’ Well then don’t worry because I have no plans on talking about boobs… just uteruses and contraception… now I’ve lost you haven’t I? Bahahaha!!!
So my experience with breastfeeding was great to start off with. After BG was born I allowed nature to take its course by holding her on my chest and she found her own way to the breast. It is amazing if you have never seen it, the baby actually knows where to go and will wriggle their own way there. So anyhow, my milk came in within 36 hours (which is fast) and everything was fine and dandy.
For the next 6 weeks supply was up, baby was happy and I was happy – really enjoying the bonding too. At the 6 week mark I went back to my OBGYN for my last check up before heading back to PNG where the support is non-existent. In this meeting we discussed contraception and since I had previously had Mirena (Intrauterine Device or IUD) and found it to be suitable for me, I asked her if I could have that. She almost leaped with joy and replied, ‘Oh I would really love it if I could send you back to PNG with that because then I KNOW you won’t fall pregnant due to supply of contraception issues. It gives good cover and did I mention you cannot fall pregnant for 12 months because of your caesarean?’ So that was it, I got my IUD right there and then and from that moment on my milk supply decreased and decreased until I wasn’t making enough to even get a 20mL feed (and BG required roughly 120-150mL per feed).
I didn’t make the connection that my milk supply was possibly lowering to non-existence because of this until about 6 weeks ago when a friend contacted me to ask if I had ‘noticed’ the correlation as she was currently experiencing it. I was so frustrated when I realised that this was probably the problem because I felt that I had not been properly informed of the effects that Mirena could have on breast milk supply. Had I been told I wouldn’t have agreed to the Mirena and instead would have gone with an alternative.
For so long I had wondered why all my efforts were making no difference. I had started getting up at 3am again just to express to stimulate milk production; I fed 2 hourly to stimulate milk production; I took Fenugreek tablets; drank Fenugreek tea (some women claim it helps but there is no scientific studies that prove it); I had warm showers to encourage let down prior to feeding; I ate well; I drank lots of water; I slept when BG slept to ensure I was well rested; I manually expressed; I expressed with an electric pump and tried various settings; but it was all in vain! I cried and cried every second day when I could see that it was getting worse and I couldn’t meet BG’s needs. I hated that I was losing the battle. I just couldn’t work out what the problem was. I kept asking myself, ‘Why was everything ok until I got to PNG? Why am I the only woman in my family to have this problem? My mother had oversupply issues for goodness sake!’
When BG was 6 months I had been breastfeeding and complimentary feeding (topping up with bottles) but was still determined to try and get to my goal of breastfeeding for 12 months. In hindsight, who was I kidding? I was working against the IUD!!! Anyhow I went to the GP at the Aussie High Commission here and he agreed to let me try medication to get my supply back up even though he felt I had done enough and made it to 6 months which is the minimum recommended. I went on Maxolon (Metoclopramide) 3 times a day and my supply went up within a day! I was sooooo excited even though it still hadn’t come up enough to remove the complimentary feeds all together.
After 2 weeks of the Maxolon I started to have dizzy spells all the time. I was a bridesmaid for a friend during this time and was so embarrassed after the ceremony that I asked my husband if I looked drunk walking down the aisle because I was having a dizzy spell as I walked down it and felt as though I almost lost my balance. He assures me it wasn’t noticeable but I still cringe at the thought! Anyhow long story short (sort of), I had to go off the Maxolon because it was lowering my already low blood pressure to worrying depths (70/50 for those of you who understand it).
My battle had been lost and I was devastated.
So after my battle, would I still encourage breastfeeding over bottle feeding? Hell yes!!! Despite my emotional ups and downs, I would definitely recommend everyone really gives it a go and I mean really really invests their time and effort into it. It is by far the best for your baby and you (it has been proven to reduce your risk of breast cancer).
The moral of my story is… double check all your medications with your LC including those that you wouldn’t consider a problem because EVERYONE takes it or something similar. I’m still trying to find some scientific evidence that Mirena does this however a quick google search brought up claims from MANY women experiencing the same effect I had and that’s enough for me. Next time I will not be getting the Mirena until my breastfeeding days are done- that will surely tell me if it was the Mirena or not.