Breastfeeding Journey: Michelle Plata
To help celebrate World Breastfeeding Week 2017, we wanted to take some time to appreciate all forms of breastfeeding journeys! Today, we bring you Michelle Plata’s journey with finding a way to maintain breastfeeding even if it wasn’t always with her own milk.
1. Did you breastfeed? If so, how long did you breastfeed for?
Yes, I breastfed each of my three children as long as I could, as best I could.
2. What, if any, misconceptions about breast-feeding did you encounter?
So many! First, that all women can breastfeed. That’s just not true.
3. Did you have any complications or challenges on your breastfeeding journey?
I wish I’d had “complications or challenges”. What I had instead was “disaster and heartbreak”.
During puberty my breasts didn’t develop normally. One didn’t develop at all. The other looked like it had been squeezed out of a tube of toothpaste. They were lopsided and widely-spaced. At age 15 I had two surgeries to reshape them into something that would look ok in a swimsuit. Even after that procedure, I was still ashamed of them.
When I got pregnant years later, I thought they would finally redeem themselves and feed my baby. Of course I discussed my medical history with every provider I saw throughout pregnancy, birth and postpartum. No one recognized the red flags that I might have a hard time producing milk. As a first-time mom, I didn’t either.
When my son was born, he latched on and stayed there for days. That’s to be expected. But he lost a concerning amount of weight and stopped urinating. He was dehydrated because I had no milk. I saw lactation consultants. Nursed. Pumped. Supplemented him at the breast. Help him skin-to-skin. Drank the tea. Took the herbs. Did all the things. My milk never came in. Crushed and exhausted, I gave up. None of the breastfeeding classes or books or experts I’d consulted had prepared me for this. It took a lot of therapy and rituals of release to work through the grief of that ordeal.
Eventually I came to a place of curiosity where I wanted to understand what had happened and what I could do differently next time. That’s when I learned about mammary hypoplasia, also known as insufficient glandular tissue or IGT. There was very little chance I would ever be able to provide enough milk to nourish a child, but there were ways I could redefine breastfeeding to better suit my body’s abilities.
4. Were there any specific items or resources that helped you through your challenges or that facilitated breastfeeding?
A supplemental nursing system allowed me to nurse my second child for 20 months, despite making no milk at all. There are different models available, you can even make one yourself, but I used the Lact-Aid. At first it was sort of tricky, especially since my daughter was preterm and had some feeding issues, but it got easier. Soon were using it in public and while I wore her in a carrier. I called it my third boob and came to think of it as adaptive technology: the same way someone might use eyeglasses or a hearing aid or a prosthetic limb, it’s just a tool that compensates for something my body can’t do on its own. There’s no shame in that. When my youngest was born nine months ago, I used it again. She’s no longer nursing, but she still gets donor milk in her bottles. Twenty-three mothers have shared their milk with us. It would have been wonderful to have been able to exclusively breastfeed, but that wasn’t an option for me so I’m grateful for all the ways I’ve been able to inclusively breastfeed. Ten years after my breastfeeding journey begin, I look back and see it as a beautiful, redemptive experience.
5. What’s one tip you would give a first time mom who is trying to breastfeed?
If you’re having trouble breastfeeding, focus on your why. Why is breastfeeding important to you? What is it that you most want to get out of the experience? For me what I most wanted was the closeness of a breastfeeding relationship. Even with my oldest, when I didn’t know I could use a supplemental nursing system long-term like I did with the other two, I found ways to meet my need for closeness. We would take baths together. I wore him in a carrier. I would hold him close to my body and sing to him while I fed him his bottles. It can be overwhelming to try to do everything you possibly can to make breastfeeding work. So don’t. Don’t try to do everything. Do what you can as long as it’s in service of your why. Then allow yourself to grieve the loss and make peace with letting the rest go.
Thank you Michelle for sharing your journey with us!