I Was Unable To Breastfeed And Did Not Find Out Until 8 Years Later

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    It was the three words I heard too late that still gets me. Three words that would have changed everything, if only more awareness and attention was given to a condition that affects so many women; one I spent years not knowing I had, but lived with every single time I tried to breastfeed both of my children. The condition that made me feel like I had to continually defend and prove to people that I just didn’t make enough milk to feed my babies, no matter what I did. The condition that left me feeling guilty, and somehow at fault.





    Insufficient Glandular Tissue.





    Those three words defined two years of not nursing my two babies. Two years of time lost, of desperately trying to make nursing work, of feeling like a failure. Hours spent in lactation offices, doctors offices, health food stores, and trips to another country to purchase medication not sold in the U.S., just because it promised to increase my breast milk. Moments spent stowed away in my house, hooked up to supplemental nursing systems, breast pumps, and weighing my baby after feedings.





    After everyone else went to sleep, I would fall apart. A severe case of postpartum anxiety made my obsessive attempt to make breastfeeding work almost seem insane. I would replay the words in my head that I was constantly told, each time I asked for answers:



    Maybe you’re not trying hard enough.




    You’re not drinking enough water.



    You must not be putting baby to breast enough.



    You’re too stressed.




    Those who were close to me couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t just give up and switch to bottle feeding. My body wasn’t capable of producing enough milk to feed my babies; it was time to throw in the towel.




    As for me, I kept telling myself one thing: Whatever isn’t working must be my fault. It felt like no one understood, including myself.




    After all, in the era of “breast is best,” the only message that new moms often hear is that breastfeeding is the No. 1 (and sometimes, only) way to feed their baby; even though an estimated 4-5% of women are physically unable to produce enough milk to feed their babies.




    Women with insufficient glandular tissue (IGT) can have widely spaced “hypoplastic” or underdeveloped breasts that are more tubular in shape than round, with a flat space of about 1.5 inches or more between their breasts. This is very different than simply having small breasts. Mothers with breast hypoplasia have breasts that grow very little during pregnancy, if at all, and on the third to fourth day postpartum, their breasts simply don’t fill with milk as they should.




    Women with IGT often see multiple health care professionals without even getting a diagnosis, much less comprehensive care. And just like me, they’re often left to feel as though their lack of milk production was somehow their fault, and left to fend for myself. Producing milk is a natural act; one that our bodies should be able to do. And their failure to do so at such a highly emotional time in our lives can leave you feeling cheated.




    But detecting the condition early can help. According to the website Not Everyone Can Breastfeed, there are some strong indicators that you may have IGT including:


    You didn’t experience any changes in your breasts during pregnancy.

    Typically, they’ll get bigger and more tender. Other changes also include larger nipples and something called Montgomery’s tubercles (aka little bumps on your areolas).

    You didn’t experience postpartum breast engorgement.

    In your first week after giving birth, your hormones will shift and your milk should come in, whether or not you’re breastfeeding. Not expelling it often leads to engorgement, which can be very painful, but should subside in a few days.

    Your baby is not gaining weight.

    It’s abnormal for a newborn baby to lose more than 10% of his birth weight.

    You don’t hear any swallowing sounds when you breastfeed.

    This could also be a result of a poor latch, and would need to be ruled out before presuming IGT was a factor.

    Your breasts are hypoplastic.

    Many people with Insufficient Glandular Tissue exhibit “hypoplastic breasts” (which you can see good examples of here). They may be small, widely spaced, and somewhat tubular in shape. However, not all people with hypoplastic breasts will have IGT, and not all people with IGT will have hypoplastic breasts.

    You think your baby isn’t getting enough milk.

    It is common for all mothers to think at one point or another that their baby is not getting enough breast milk. A true warning sign is a baby that is not wetting or soiling diapers enough.





    After my youngest turned three, I finally decided to push all of the struggles and conflicted feelings about breastfeeding aside. It wasn’t until recently, with all of the pro-breastfeeding campaigns, that I have begun to revisit those two years of my life. It has taken a long time to gain perspective and see the lengths I once went to nurse both of them. And to be honest, what I’ve come to realize is that I did fail my children — but not because I couldn’t exclusively nurse them. I failed them because I couldn’t get out of my own way.




    It wasn’t until I had an annual mammogram two years ago that I was diagnosed with hypoplastic breasts. There they were in black and white: the words I needed to see eight years ago. The words that would have changed everything.




    The truth is, some women with hypoplastic breasts can produce enough milk to feed their baby, while others will produce at least some milk. Unfortunately, though, some of these women won’t be able to produce any. And if I had simply known to ask for this information when starting on my breastfeeding journey, I truly believe I would have still chosen to nurse my children as much as possible. I just would have done so with much less pressure and anxiety. I would have allowed myself to enjoy the bonding and closeness more. There would have been supplements and pumping with no shame or guilt, and if there was ever a time when it felt too much, I would have looked at other options.




    Of course, all is not lost on my experience; what I have learned is invaluable: I need to trust my instincts more, and listen to what my body is telling me. And so should all women.




    Take it from me: Believe in yourself and keep asking questions — until you have the answers you need.




    Culled from

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