Erica Goehring, Washington, Pennsylvania
I had always wanted to be a mother. I had explored the many details of pregnancy, babies, and parenting for years. I felt ready for the next chapter of the life my husband and I were building together. However, when a family member asked if I planned to breastfeed, I realized that feeding my baby was one area in which I had a lot to learn! Breastfeeding simply made sense. My body had been made to feed a baby, right? It was the natural thing to do, and I expected nursing to go well.
To my surprise, breastfeeding began with many challenges. The month before my baby was due, I attended a La Leche League meeting. I wanted to learn everything I could know about nursing my child. Thankfully, I had made that brief connection, so I could go to a reliable source when trouble arose. I would come to see that the relationships with other parents who were committed to parenting through breastfeeding would be even more important than the specific information they had to share.
Although my baby was born healthy, my son did not gain weight as expected. We returned week after week for weight checks. I analyzed every decision I made; each feeding was under intense scrutiny. Was his latch correct? Was he sucking effectively? Was I allowing him to end the feeding when he was satisfied? Could I hear him swallow? I had read the books and watched the videos, yet my baby was not gaining weight appropriately.
After many doctor visits and lactation consultations, I offered a formula supplement. Nonetheless, I continued to breastfeed on demand. Comforting my son at my breast reminded me that we could still have the bond I imagined, even if many of his calories came from a different source. I felt constantly supported by my family and the new friends I was making at my local La Leche League meetings. The other parents and the kind Leaders always made me feel welcome. They praised my determination to nurse even as the need for supplemental feedings increased. When I doubted myself, they reminded me that I was nourishing my son with every drop of milk I could make.
For many parents, the one-year mark signals the time to wean. I had expected to follow the same guidance. But having fought hard to have a breastfeeding relationship at all, I knew that 12 months was not the end for us! Having a one-year-old meant that I could end the supplement. My little boy was eating a wide variety of nutritious foods and nursing frequently. I felt such freedom to leave behind the bottles and powders and simply enjoy the act of breastfeeding freely and confidently into toddlerhood. Later,with some gentle encouragement from me, my little guy was able to wean when he outgrew the need, even sharing a beautiful tandem nursing experience with his little brother.
By the time I was expecting my second child in 2008, I had become a La Leche League Leader. I was using my story to help other parents to overcome obstacles and to prioritize human milk even when things did not go perfectly. As I prepared for my new baby’s arrival, I was certain that I would be successful this time. Soon, however, we were caught up in the same cycle of disappointing weight checks and frequent visits with lactation consultants. I was breastfeeding by the book, but my tiny boy would not gain weight. Finally, a wonderful lactation consultant who had been a longtime La Leche League Leader herself reminded me that my story would not be wasted. She encouraged me to continue helping others. Although I never had a clinical diagnosis by a doctor, all signs pointed to Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT). I had the physical characteristics and the repeated low milk supply despite appropriate monitoring, adjustments, and support. Somehow, having a label for my struggle helped me to make peace with my experiences and move forward. I approached the arrivals of my subsequent children with knowledge and confidence, empowered to make the choices that were best for our family.
I am now the mother of five wonderful children—all breastfed, all supplemented with formula and later, donor milk. When my second child was in that early period of many weight checks, I was introduced to the at-breast supplementer. The simple but ingenious device led to better weight gain for each of my babies and bolstered my identity as a nursing mother, a title that held value to me.
Sixteen years since becoming a mother, I carry some what-ifs, but I know I did two things right. First, I researched breastfeeding and found a La Leche League Group before my baby arrived. The decision to walk into a meeting in July 2005 helped me to build a support network that would affirm my priorities and offer acceptance. Second, I persevered. Choosing to stop breastfeeding at any point would have been a legitimate choice, perfectly justified and acceptable. My story, however, ended with an unexpected kind of success. With the aid of tools and friends, my children enjoyed long, healthy breastfeeding relationships. They received the nutritional and relational benefits despite a far from perfect beginning.
- Low Milk Supply: lllusa.org/low-milk-supply/
- Hypoplasia/Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT): lllusa.org/igt/
- Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT): www.llli.org/insufficient-glandular-tissue-2/
- Is My Baby Getting Enough Milk?: lllusa.org/is-my-baby-getting-enough-milk/
Please send your story ideas to Amy at [email protected].
Supporting Breastfeeding Families–Today, Tomorrow, Always
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