My Struggle to Allow my Son to Self Wean Despite IGT

Cloth diapers? You mean those fabric squares you fold a million times and try not to hurt your baby while they squirm as you attempt to put a very large safety pin through? Breastfeeding? But I failed miserably at that with Shawn, do I *really* want to go through the pain and devastation when I fail again? I couldn’t handle that… Babywearing? That I can do! I have a Baby Bjorn! Wait, what do you mean those aren’t good for babies? ERGO’s are great or get a MOBY/woven wrap, huh? That’s one of those big, long pieces of fabric right? How in the world does that hold a baby? It can’t be safe! Certainly not safer than something with straps and buckles right?!? When Derek and I decided to start trying again for our second child in April 2011, I realized just how much things had changed, myself included since having Shawn in January 2004. As I started to learn more, I realized just how many things I now wished I had researched better at the time and done differently, which is saying a lot because I had to have read over 2 dozen books cover to cover, some multiple times. I also looked at *hundreds* of websites and read every pregnancy, baby and parenting magazine I could get my hands on.

Learning to decide what’s right for me and my family vs. trying to find the one “right” answer has proved to be a very difficult experience for me. One that I continue to struggle with on a daily basis. Facebook has proved to be invaluable in my quest to be more natural though and enabled me to find many things that I never would have discovered otherwise. Being able to pose a question to dozens, hundreds or even thousands of other parents, to be given anecdotes and opinions, yes, but also scientific research, links to blogs/websites, of course, but also to science journals and the information to find people at the tops of their field giving lectures on video, and everything in between, has made me grow and learn so much more than I ever imagined, even as the child who read encyclopedias and the dictionary for fun.

I can count on my hands the number of times I saw anyone nurse their baby prior to age 16 when I interacted with a brand new mom who started coming to Walmart everyday while I was working late at night to nurse down in layaway by me, I even brought a chair out from the break room for her because I knew she would be there. Looking back now, that was likely her way of getting used to nursing in public but at the time, I didn’t know why she wanted to be at Walmart with her newborn every day after 8/9PM. While most of the women in my life nursed for a few weeks, they all switched to formula within a few months at most. I never understood why they stopped when they had explained what they were doing by saying it was better for the baby but I believe it was that they went back to work and at that time, there wasn’t even the basic supports in the workplace (or in general) there is today. Despite not having any role models for it, I always knew I would nurse my (future) children and for at least a year. Once I became pregnant at 18, I started to research everything I could on having a baby, including breastfeeding. I learned how much better it was for baby and that it was associated with so many great things from higher IQ’s and better immunity to being more emotionally stable, and I was more determined than ever to make it the whole year as recommended at the time, truly believing it was just a matter of choice to breastfeed.

It was a struggle from the beginning (I know now that’s likely at least in part because I had him circumcised, believing I had researched the best choice, before the rebuttals came back and there wasn’t actually a connection to lower STD/HIV rates…) with the nurses at CMMC threatening to give him sugar water because I told them I was too tired after finally falling asleep the night after he was born after being up all the previous night giving birth, and the following day entertaining guest after guest with no rest. Apparently he had slept longer than 2 hours and that wasn’t allowed… I nursed solely for about a week but my husband insisted on feeding him too (despite my trying to tell him that he could be in charge of everything else, he *had* to feed him…) and because I was only pumping an ounce or so at a time, and had no support, no one around me who had nursed that I could talk to, who could tell me that was actually good for that time period, especially after nursing, we introduced formula. It was the beginning of the end and I’d only just started. I was a failure as a mother and my only child was still a newborn…That was what triggered my PPD with him, why did my body have to be attached to my mind? Why would someone who is so passionate about breastfeeding be born into this body?

We didn’t get pregnant with our youngest for nearly 9 years but while we were trying, I knew I had to do something to figure out how to nurse this time and was determined to do so no matter what! When I discovered that all my symptoms pointed directly to IGT, Insufficient Glandular Tissue (basically, my body didn’t make enough of the milk producing parts during development that women need in order to nurse successfully…) I was devastated but still determined to give it my all! I never had a clue that IGT even existed, or that it’s why I didn’t succeed with my older son. I never heard the term before I was pregnant with Angel, so I beat myself up over it for a long time and blamed my husband’s lack of support/understanding but it was just the perfect storm at fault.

When I was told about IGT as a possibility, I searched out information on it and everything clicked. I always thought my breasts looked odd but never brought it up to anyone besides my husband who just assured me that breasts come in all shapes and sizes and he’d seen plenty like mine. I finally had an explanation though and I was determined to succeed despite any diagnosis.

I ended up with no choice but to do a cesarean with my second due to him turning breech around 34 weeks after being head down, ready to go until then. We tried everything to get him to turn so I could have the natural birth I planned but that’s a story for another day. On the day of the surgery, they scheduled me to arrive at 9am but were delayed with the woman ahead of me for hours! (funny side note, her son was named Ronan, same hospital, same day!) They ended up giving me 3 full bags of fluids and starting a 4th before I got in the surgery suite. I am grateful now that I had planned to hold off on everything, we didn’t have him cleaned, weighed or anything else, just out of me and directly on my bare chest covered with warm blankets. By the time he was weighed a few hours after birth, he was 8lbs 9oz and his meconium (which should have been thick, black and sticky, tar-like, similar to his brother’s even after staining) came out like when they broke my water at 9cm with my oldest… After all those bags of fluid, it came out basically like chunky discolored water (and I was painfully swollen)…

His weight was a struggle from the beginning, his lowest weight was around 7lbs 3oz on day 2 / 3, they were refusing to release him until he was back to birth weight. I wanted to save formula for a last resort but while I went to visit the ER while Rohan was upstairs with Dad (after they had released me but not him so I couldn’t get medical care on the maternity ward anymore) telling him to call me on my cell if he seemed hungry and I would come straight back up, I got back to find him sitting there with one of those little Enfamil bottles with the tall thin nipples (the *exact* one I insisted never be used because our older son had issues latching after being given them…) and he did not look impressed “this is NOT Mama’s milk!”

I desperately wanted to go home but they refused to release him until the 5th day. I had been up all night with a lady down the hall and another baby crying incessantly while mine was silent so I spent much of that night on my laptop researching. I came across a study on “false birth weight” following mom receiving fluids before birth that showed his weight loss to be within the normal range in comparison to the babies whose moms didn’t have fluids. When the pediatrician made her way to us that morning, I presented her with everything I’d found. Between the study and convincing them that my anxiety from being there, not able to sleep, being away from my husband and older son, all alone with a new baby and someone having broken into our home while they were at the hospital with me, was why my milk hadn’t come in. I begged the pediatrician to let us go home, promising to come to her office for daily weight checks if she wanted. It was a bit better after going home but I never became engorged the way most women do when their milk comes in. We were home though and nursing was going well for the most part.

I pumped every spare moment in an attempt to produce more and he was never given another drop of anything but my milk, either from the tap or a medicine cup and syringe. Pumping was more stressful than anything else, and after a weight check where our original pediatrician (who didn’t have any children herself but “planned to breastfeed”) told me my breast milk wasn’t “good enough” and instructed me to *solely* pump for *days* to “see how much I produce” despite me explaining that babies are much better at getting out milk than pumps, especially for me and that I would lose my already delicate supply if I did that… I brought up my concerns with and subsequently switched to the head of the practice.

When his weight issues continued despite trying different galactogogues, pumping, etc. I conceded that it was in his best interest to start giving him a bottle of Baby’s Only Organic formula to help him gain weight. I bought a Medela Calma to try and keep him working for the milk like he would need to on me, and my husband would give him 2-4oz per day. I never fed him with a bottle myself, that way he would only associate me with nursing, if he wanted milk, he needed to try. Luckily, the numbers on the scale were not as important to his new doctor as keeping the growth curve and watching milestones (which he was often ahead on) so while we continued the weight checks, they became much less frequent and much less stressful, leading to more milk. Throwing another complication into our nursing relationship, Rohan got his first two teeth at two months old! Some thought I would (should?) stop when he got teeth, or began biting on purpose, when he started solids or started signing milk (if he can ask for milk, he’s too old… well, he can ask for grapes too, should I stop giving him those as well?!?) but he didn’t agree, so neither did I.

I tried so many things to produce more milk, from brewer’s yeast in lactation cookies, to Reglan and mother’s milk tea, extra water, oats, avoiding the mint family for YEARS now (which is a struggle given mint chocolate is a FAVE of mine!) and everything in between but *only* domperidone has made any significant difference in my supply. My lactation consultant from the hospital was the first to ever mention it to me but I didn’t know what she was talking about until a friend gave me the rest of her box of Vomistop and I realized it worked within the first week! When I started to run low around 18 months, he was still very emotionally connected to nursing and definitely not ready to stop but Domperidone is not FDA approved (though it is readily available in other developed countries like New Zealand) so you can’t just buy it at the corner drug store in the USA. I became extremely upset about my body and again started to feel like a failure because I was going to have to stop before either of us was ready. It felt meant to be when an angel mama reached out to give me the last of her bottle which would take us beyond the WHO’s 2 year minimum

DSCF4318Recently, on occasion, Rohan has started laying down to bed at night, nursing for a few minutes, then rolling over and falling asleep. Usually a half hour or so after we lay down I am carefully coaxing him off my breast without waking him up, a clear sign that he has begun to wean, and it’s a bittersweet moment. I took this picture that first night recognizing it to be the beginning of the end. I am extremely grateful to have made it this long, my goal being “longer than a month/I made it with Shawn”. I am also excited by the idea of having my body back to myself after the past 4+ years have been consumed with pregnancy and nursing; and while I fully intend to have another child one day, I do not want that day to be soon, even remotely, with the sole exception being if it would be my only chance. If my husband were to change his mind sooner than I prefer, I’d do it in a heartbeat, especially if I had the opportunity to choose a daughter to complete our family (also guaranteed not to have downs given our increasing risk or any of 400+ other diseases/disorders including the breast cancer gene) through IVF/PGD but I don’t foresee us ever having an extra $10-15K laying around, and even if we did, it would be irresponsible to spend it on having her before we buy a home that we can sustain on our own, but it’s definitely a dream of mine. While I would absolutely love more sons just as much as I love Shawn and Rohan, we cannot, absolutely cannot, have more than one more and I honestly don’t know if I ever would feel complete without having a daughter of my own. The idea that Rohan could be my last baby with my husband makes this hard moment that much more difficult but given my struggles with IGT and even getting pregnant with him, I always go back to being grateful that I even have the option of allowing him to self wean when so many don’t even make it to a year.

I often wonder, as I am sure most parents do, whether or not I am doing the right things for my children, and this is one of those things in which people who do not understand, become very judgemental but it is also one thing I know is 100% the right thing, to allow him to stop whenever *he* is ready. I completely understand that this is not for everyone, I didn’t even think it was for me until we got to this point. When he was an infant, I would say “if he makes it to 3, I’ll stop” but when it came, he still very much needed to continue. After reading about the benefits of self weaning, I am okay with that for now, figure we’ll reevaluate around Christmas if he hasn’t stopped before then on his own… and it looks like I’m not alone! 

Did you breastfeed your children? How long did you nurse? Did you have any struggles?


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