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Lactation Failure: It Happened to Me

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Not sure what else to do, I went on a tear of western and eastern medicine. The acupuncturist gave me a tincture to rub on my sternum and prescribed a pig’s blood soup, available in Chinatown. The lactation consultant weighed my baby before and after a feeding and pronounced that she was getting milk, even though the baby had soiled her diaper during the feeding (explaining the weight gain) and there were literally three squeezable drops of yellow-ish liquid emanating from my breasts. Though she is quite well-known in New York City and the subject of a New York Times profile, the LC also told me that she’d never heard of a body that just couldn’t produce breast milk. She gave me some exercises to do with the baby’s mouth, suggested that I use a supplemental nursing system or spoon-feed formula, and that I Just Keep Trying, the unofficial motto of LCs everywhere.

A week after the birth, the pediatrician gave it to me straight: my daughter had lost more than 20% of her birth weight and needed nutrition immediately. “Formula is perfectly fine,” she said, in sharp contrast to everything else I’d heard. And then she added this: “Your milk might never come in. It happens sometimes.” 

My whole body exhaled. Though I was still swimming in panic and shame, she had confirmed my quiet suspicion and given me a free pass to do what all my instincts urged: feed my baby however I could. To keep her alive.

Three and half years later, I continue to wonder: why didn’t the midwives and lactation consultants admit that lactation failure was even a possibility? Amy Evans, M.D., a pediatrician in Fresno, CA with a subspecialty in breastfeeding, told me that at least 5% of women have medical conditions that make breastfeeding extremely difficult or impossible, including insufficient glandular material and breast hypoplasia, which is what I have—breasts with underdeveloped ducts, that just don’t have the apparatus to create an adequate milk supply. Hypoplastic breasts have some identifiable characteristics, like fullness on the sides of the breasts but not in the middle, yet not one person I consulted ever mentioned this condition, or even examined my breasts. I learned about it from a friend, who heard about it on Facebook. I had to seek out a breastfeeding doctor to confirm it.

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