For as long as I can remember, I looked forward to breastfeeding. My mother speaks quite fondly about her own experience, so I always assumed I would follow in her oversupply footsteps when my time came.
When I became pregnant for the first time in 2018, I wholeheartedly prepared in the months leading up to my daughter’s birth. I attended a breastfeeding class at the hospital, read several books, and gathered tips from friends and family. My efforts were met with nothing but positive reinforcement. Everyone from the pediatrician and OB/GYN to advertisements and even strangers on the Internet all enthusiastically applauded my intentions. It seemed everywhere I turned I heard the same message: Breast is best!
The entire time, no one ever mentioned the possibility that my supply may never come in. I had certainly heard about women opting out of breastfeeding, but I ignorantly interpreted that to mean the mother made enough milk but preferred formula and bottle feeding instead. I was also aware of cases where women struggled to breastfeed, but I was under the false impression that any issue could be remedied by working with a lactation consultant, repairing the baby’s tongue-tie, taking fenugreek, or eating lactation cookies. My viewpoint was also reinforced by the medical community, as I even had a pediatrician I interviewed tell me the only reason breastfeeding doesn’t work is because the mother doesn’t try hard enough right after her baby is born (don’t worry, I didn’t hire that guy).
Imagine my shock and horror as I sat in the hospital bed with my day-old baby in my arms and received a devastating diagnosis. The kind lactation consultant informed me that I have hypoplasia or Insufficient Glandular Tissue, also known as IGT. She explained that women have IGT for a variety of reasons, which can include ductwork and nerve trauma, a history of breast augmentation, hormonal complications, or instances where mammary tissue did not develop during adolescence. At the time, I wasn’t aware of anything in my past that would cause my IGT. It wasn’t until 2020 that I discovered I have a thyroid condition that may have been undiagnosed in 2018 and a contributor to this problem. I felt devastated as the lactation consultant predicted I may never make more than 25%–50% of the milk volume my baby required to thrive. At the same time, I felt deceived. Why had I never heard about this possibility before?
Herein lies the problem. While messaging like “breast is best” is well-intentioned, the narrative lacks information to fully prepare pregnant mothers about what they may encounter. Despite receiving routine prenatal care where I was asked if I planned to breastfeed, no doctor or nurse practitioner had ever mentioned IGT. As I began to grieve the breastfeeding experience I hoped to have, I wished I’d known sooner that IGT existed. I could have better educated myself on alternative feeding options instead of receiving a crash course on formula, bottle, and tube feeding in the hospital. With more awareness up front, I certainly wouldn’t have been left feeling like a failure on day one of my motherhood journey.
I tried my hardest to give my daughter what my body was able to produce. Every two to three hours, 24 hours a day, I breastfed, pumped for 15 minutes on each side, and bottle fed. By the time each feeding session was over, I only had about 45 minutes left to sleep. Even with my husband helping me, it was an unsustainable, grueling process, and rather ineffective to boot. The most milk I ever made in one pumping session was 12 milliliters. It became clear that my supply challenges weren’t going to be fixed by eating a cookie.
After two months, I bid adieu to breastfeeding. I began exclusively formula feeding, which was the best decision for my daughter and me. She was fed and sleeping like a champ, and my mental health was restored. For the rest of the year, I came to truly love our formula journey and felt very bonded to her during every feeding. Looking back, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
After having this experience, I’ve met several women who have shared their silent struggle with milk production, and a few have admitted they also have IGT. For the same reason I’ve decided to speak publicly about my miscarriages, I’m also an open book when it comes to my breastfeeding and formula feeding journey. If sharing my story helps one person feel less alone, then it is all worth it. No matter how a woman chooses to feed her baby, fed is always best.