What does a breastfeeding mother look like?

August 13, 2014. Posted in: BF Concerns: Child,BF Concerns: Mother,What is Normal?

By Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC

When you hear “breastfeeding mother,” what picture forms in your head? Do you imagine someone who follows World Health Organization recommendations and exclusively breastfeeds for 6 months, gradually begins solid foods, and continues breastfeeding for at least two years? Do you imagine someone who never needs to supplement her own milk and always feeds baby at the breast when they are together? Are these things necessary to be a breastfeeding mother?

The answer to that question is NO – you can create a breastfeeding relationship in a wide range of circumstances. Many find that their actual breastfeeding situation is not what they originally expected or planned for. Breastfeeding challenges can originate from incorrect advice, separation of mother and baby, health issues, prematurity, anatomical issues (cleft, tongue-tie, insufficient glandular tissue, breast surgery…), adoption, and so on. But even if your breastfeeding journey takes an unexpected detour, you are still a breastfeeding mother. Even if you are unable to produce all the milk your baby needs, you can still be a breastfeeding mother. Even if your baby is unable to latch, you can still be a breastfeeding mother. Every drop of breastmilk that your child gets is beneficial. Every moment at the breast that your child gets is beneficial. Breastfeeding is not all-or-nothing. Everyone has a different breastfeeding journey. Even if your breastfeeding reality is different than that of another person or what you had envisioned for yourself, you can create your own individual picture of breastfeeding success.

Here are some examples of what a breastfeeding mother looks like…

Photo used with permission

Photo used with permission

“I fed my baby breast milk via a combination of feeding tube and bottles/sippy cups. She was born with Pierre Robin Sequence, which caused her major trouble with eating and breathing and she needed a feeding tube and trach. I pumped for her for 18 months through several surgeries and hospitalizations. I am a successful breastfeeding mother.
-Janice Kurus

“I fed my babies at the breast with my milk and donor milk, with the help of domperidone and a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS). I have insufficient glandular tissue (IGT), likely due to undiagnosed hypothyroidism during puberty. My children nursed full term, until 4.5 and 5.5 years old. I became a LLL Leader and then an IBCLC because I wanted to help other mothers overcome their challenges. I am a successful breastfeeding mother.
-Kristin Cavuto
Oral care with breastmilk while intubated. Photo credit:  J.S.

Oral care with breastmilk while intubated. Photo credit: J.S.

“I fed my baby my hard earned pumped breastmilk, donor milk, and formula with a bottle and an SNS for her first six weeks. She was very sick and preterm, and I nursed a pump from her birth, every two to three hours around the clock, while nursing my baby with a bottle and an SNS. I fed, loved, and cared for my baby. I am a successful breastfeeding mother.
-J.S.
Photo used with permission

Photo used with permission

“I feed my baby donor milk using a Lact-Aid. I have IGT and don’t produce enough milk to exclusively feed my baby, but I am a successful breastfeeding mother.”
-Rachael

“I feed my baby my breast milk and donor milk or formula using a homemade SNS. I have insufficient glandular tissue. My first son nursed for two years, and my second son is still happily nursing at 8 months old. This is not the breastfeeding journey that I had envisioned, however, I am a successful breastfeeding mother.
-Rowena

“I fed my baby breast milk from the breast, but it took a while to get going as I have inverted nipples. We always tried the breast first, but if he couldn’t latch, I pumped and we fed with a bottle. A nipple shield helped as did the Medela nipple everters. By 5 weeks he had broken down my adhesions and we both had a much better time of it. I am a successful breastfeeding mother.
-Kaitlin Y. (P.S. Now I’m nursing my 2nd and he’s having it easy!)
Photo credit: Kaitlin Y.

Photo credit: Kaitlin Y.

“I fed my baby breastmilk exclusively for 10 months while working full time, pumping at work and nursing at night. Then, I grew tired, weary and stressed with pumping so I decided to combo feed, using formula while she’s at daycare and nursing when we’re together, for a couple months until she turned 1. Now she is on organic whole milk and solids foods and we still occasionally nurse once a day at bedtime. I AM a successful breastfeeding mother.
-Myra S.
Photo credit: Nyssa Retter

Photo credit: Nyssa Retter

“I have fed my baby formula and donor milk and now organic cow’s milk to supplement my low milk supply, using an SNS. My low milk supply is due to insufficient glandular tissue (IGT), but my baby is ALL about the boob and didn’t want anything to do with supplemental bottles. We’ve been using the Supplemental Nursing System (SNS) for over a year, and will continue to do so until my daughter decides to wean herself. I am a successful breastfeeding mother.
-Nyssa Retter

Photo credit: Nyssa Retter

Photo credit: Nyssa Retter

“I was prepared to face low milk supply when my fourth child was born. I had a freezer full of donated colostrum and breast milk, and a collection of syringes, medicine droppers, and supplemental nursing systems. I was not prepared for a baby with multiple food intolerances, a lack of dairy and gluten free donor milk and a baby who refused to drink hypoallergenic formula. We soldiered on with donor milk, surviving reflux despite my own elimination diet. At 6 months, we began baby-led weaning, and at 8 months, we were able to discontinue donor milk and the SNS altogether with the help of nutritious food and coconut milk smoothies. At 10 months, we are still going strong and my baby is happier and healthier than ever! I am a successful breastfeeding mother!
-Nyssa Retter

Photo credit: Tiffany Caruso Photography

Photo credit: Tiffany Caruso Photography

“I feed my baby breastmilk by bottle and exclusive pumping. We used to feed with a nipple shield at the breast, but my little one was too inefficient due to a tongue tie. He is on his second revision now and I am hoping to go back to the breast someday with bottles while I am away at work. Regardless, the important thing to me, is that he is nourished by my milk. I am a successful breastfeeding mother.
-Krista W
“Though my oldest child nursed until 11 months; he was only exclusively breastfed for 6 weeks and was supplemented with formula the rest of the time. I have IGT (insufficient glandular tissue). For three months he took most of his nutrition through formula delivered via a Lact-Aid nurser. After 3 months of pumping, Domperidone, and other galactagogues such as brewer’s yeast, I achieved almost a full supply and nursed him exclusively for 6 weeks. After that we moved on to a combination of nursing and formula given through bottles. He abruptly weaned at 11 months after I had stopped taking Domperidone. I am a successful breastfeeding mother.

“My twins were born 22 months after my oldest. I hoped I would have more milk, but knew that with IGT I would not have enough milk for two children. I took Domperidone again and tandem nursed them for one year. They got half their nutritional needs from my breastmilk. The other half came through formula delivered via Lact-Aid nursers and the occasional bottle. After one year, I stopped supplementing with any formula but continued to comfort nurse them (still tandem nursing) until they were 19 months. I am a successful breastfeeding mother.

“When my last child was born, I began taking Domperidone right away and also began supplementing with donor milk (from a loving sister-in-law) fed through Lact-Aids. We soon discovered that in addition to my IGT, we were dealing with another huge breastfeeding obstacle; she was diagnosed with tongue and lip ties at two weeks. The ties were revised at four weeks, and her milk transfer actually worsened as her tongue built up scar tissue. I pumped and pumped and fed my milk, donor milk, and some formula through the Lact-Aid. At one point I exclusively pumped and only gave her bottles for four days. Her tongue was revised again at six weeks. By eight weeks we put away the Lact-Aid nursers. Today she nurses round the clock and receives a bottle or two a day; often the bottles contain my pumped milk, but sometimes they contain formula. I plan to nurse until she is at least 18 months. I am a successful breastfeeding mother.

“Not a single one of my breastfeeding experiences has been easy, and each of my nursing relationships has looked different. None of them were what I imagined before I had kids, but each has been infinitely rewarding. I am a successful breastfeeding mother, and I am proud of that!”
-Marshelle

Photo credit: Nicole Harrigan

Photo credit: Nicole Harrigan

“I fed my baby breastmilk via an NG tube and with a Lact-aid for the first four months of his life. Nicholas was born with Down syndrome and spent his first five weeks in the nicu. I was told that “these kids don’t nurse,” (the implication being that I shouldn’t bother trying). I’d successfully nursed my older two children, so I knew that I had to try. He was very small and extremely sleepy in the beginning, so I pumped and he was fed via an NG tube. We started practicing latching with a nipple shield when he was a few days old, but he couldn’t stay awake for more than a minute or two at a time.

“We brought him home with the NG tube still in place, but he was also taking the occasional bottle, and we continued practicing latching with the shield. I purchased a Lact-aid when Nicholas was about 3 months old, and it took us a few days to get the hang of it, but we muddled through and made it work. Once we got the hang of it, things really took off, and after a few weeks, we were able to ditch the shield and then the Lact-aid. Nicholas is now 17 months old, and still nursing like a champ. I am a successful breastfeeding mother.
-Nicole Harrigan

Photo credit: Stephanie Scott

Photo credit: Stephanie Scott

“I feed my baby breast milk, donor milk and formula from a bottle in addition to bare breast. Previously I have also used the Medela SNS and Lact-Aid. I have suspected IGT and definite insulin resistance (IR) that, combined with high palate, made breastfeeding a challenge for all 3 of my babies. But we did it, each one longer than the last and still going strong with my youngest. I am a successful breastfeeding mother!
-Stephanie Scott

Photo credit: Lise Smith

Photo credit: Lise Smith

“I fed my daughter expressed milk via a bottle and an SNS. I did so while we worked through a tongue tie, lip tie, a poor latch, and extreme weight loss. We fought through it to nurse for years. I am a successful breastfeeding mother.
- Lise Smith

“I fed my baby breastmilk, donor milk and formula using my breasts and bottles. Despite a year of extensive work with an IBCLC and a doctor specializing in lactation, I was never able to produce enough milk to meet my little boy’s needs. I am a successful breastfeeding mother.” -G.C.

Photo credit: Brittnae Hoyt

Photo credit: Brittnae Hoyt

I am a successful breastfeeding mother even though I am unable to make milk. After 6 excruciating weeks of trying every herb, tea, food, prescription medication, lactation consultant, and pumping technique, I surrendered to the fact that my IGT will make it impossible to feed my son my milk. After countless tears and feeling like a failure, we decided to feed through an SNS to keep as much of a bond as possible. It is awkward and clumsy, and we are still working on it, but it is worth it to preserve any aspect of a breastfeeding relationship with my precious son. We are looking for milk donors, and are currently formula feeding. He is happy and thriving and even though it hurts my mama heart to feed him formula instead of my milk, I am learning to be gentle with myself.”
-Brittnae Hoyt

Photo credit: Michelle Dahlmann

Photo used with permission.

“I feed my baby a combination of my milk & donor milk using an SNS. After my breast surgery my husband and I realized we wanted one more baby. When we found out we were expecting we were very excited. I couldn’t help but worry about whether or not I would be able to breastfeed.

“During my pregnancy I met a mother who had a freezer overflowing with milk. I asked her if she would be willing to donate the milk to me in case my baby needed it. She was more than happy to help. She donated 50-100oz a week until baby was born.

“When baby was born I immediately latched him to my nipple. He latched really well! Unfortunately, no milk came out. After 24 hours of no wet diapers or sign of milk when pumping; I decided to introduce his donor milk using an SNS. 5 days later my milk started to come in. I was able to pump out 10ml.

“Not all my milk ducts were functioning well enough. Some, produced milk but the milk had no pathway to get to the nipple. I quickly developed mastitis in both breasts. I was told by the doctor that I needed to stop breast feeding and that I would get back-to-back mastitis if I continued to nurse my baby. I was told I had to stop stimulating the milk ducts to produce milk so they wouldn’t make any milk that couldn’t get out. I was devastated. I reached out to an IBCLC. She encouraged me to continue nursing baby. She told me the body had a way of knowing what it needs and the breasts will find a way to work. I held onto that little bit of hope and continued to nurse baby.

“Four weeks later, the damaged milk ducts dried up and stopped producing milk. My working milk ducts now produce up to 8oz of breast milk a day. That is a success. I am a successful breast feeding mother.
-Michelle Dahlmann

Photo credit: Stephanie E

Photo credit: Stephanie E

“I feed my baby breastmilk and formula using my breasts and bottles. I have a combination of IGT and insulin resistance. I have worked incredibly hard for my son to have 10-12 ounces of my milk each day. I am a successful breastfeeding mother.
-Stephanie E

Nursing on the road, under an apple tree. Photo credit: Sean Smith

Nursing on the road, under an apple tree. Photo credit: Sean Smith

“I fed both of my babies a combination of breastmilk and formula. Both girls were born after long labors via c-section and lost more than 10% of their birth weight; I got lots of pressure to supplement, a lot of conflicting advice from LCs and even IBCLCs, and was generally overwhelmed and unprepared for a fight, especially with my first daughter. Even with my second daughter, armed with much more support and knowledge, I succumbed to so many booby traps and got so overwhelmed with all that happened in the hospital. My first daughter only received breastmilk for 12 weeks (the little I was able to pump…she was very adamantly reluctant to breastfeed and we both found the SNS too fiddly and frustrating). As an infant, my second daughter spent lots of time at the breast and nursing was supplemented with bottles of formula and my breastmilk (due to low weight gain and output…supplement was carefully calculated by me to not interfere with my already low supply). Once she turned one, we weaned her from formula and the bottle (and me from the pump); she continued nursing and is still nursing these days at three and a half. I am a successful breastfeeding mother!
–Sara R. Smith