One of my clearest memories of new motherhood, outside of all that awesome new baby smell obviously, involves sobbing over a bottle of spilled breast milk. I had just finished pumping, mere minutes after nursing my daughter. I wasn’t making enough milk and some nurse or lactation consultant had suggested pumping directly after nursing so that my body would think the baby needed more. I dutifully spent hours with that contraption hooked up to my breasts, barely pulling out a couple extra ounces of milk. But those ounces were like liquid gold. They were a fraction of another bottle. They were another day that my daughter would be fed the natural way, the best way.
I went back to work early on in my pregnancy. It wasn’t because I missed my job so much that I simply couldn’t stay home. It wasn’t because I was a high-level executive, who was much too important to miss a month of work. It’s because I was a broke single mother and I needed the money. I’m pretty straight-forward about that fact.
At the time, I had plenty of doctors, nurses and lactation consultants tell me that if I could just be home to nurse my daughter every two hours, I wouln’t have had any trouble with my milk supply. That would’ve been really nice, but I also wouldn’t have had money to pay rent. Or buy groceries. Or pay the car insurance. So it just wasn’t a viable option for me. Instead, I tried every tip I could get my hands on to increase my milk supply. I drank fenugreek tea. It’s gross, by the way. I ate oatmeal for breaskfast. I even drank a couple Guinness Stouts. Any old wive’s tale you could find, I gave it a go. I pumped religiously. I woke up in the middle of the night to nurse or pump.
And if, at the time, someone would have told me about a prescription medication I could take to increase my milk supply, I would’ve. I soooo would’ve. I felt so guilty at the thought of not breastfeeding, I’m pretty sure I would’ve done anything.
Apparently, I’m not alone at all. Eliza Shapiro has an article in The Daily Beast about prescription medications that women are taking to increase their milk supply. The pills aren’t approved to help with lactation. They’re actually used to treat gastrointestinal issues. But women are taking them anyways. Explains Shapiro:
“The drugs are typically prescribed by lactation consultants—specialists who help women cope with breastfeeding issues—who say the pills can increase prolactin, the hormone responsible for breast-milk production. But a growing chorus of doctors says there is little if any evidence that the drugs—one of which has not been approved by the FDA—are actually effective at boosting prolactin. More troubling, they say, the drugs can pose serious health risks to women who use them.”
So who on earth would be crazy enough to take a non-approved drug that has serious health risks on the off chance that it will help you make more breast milk? New mothers. New mothers who have been told over and over again that if they truly love their baby and want to give them the best possible chance in life, they’ll do whatever it takes to breastfeed. I was one of those moms.
Now, we’re seeing a backlash against the extreme pressure that mothers are under. Women are ignoring all that “Breast is best,” advice. I think that’s partly because it doesn’t seem like advice anymore, it feels like a commandment.
When I think back to that moment, sobbing over a half-full bottle that ha been knocked over while I juggled a baby and a sterilized milk bag, I know that I would’ve eagerly signed up for any drug that would’ve made breastfeeding easier. I would’ve ignored the possible risks, like depression, and considered it worth the chance. I think that very fact just goes to show how full of guilt mothers are when it comes to breastfeeding. And it also shows why we don’t need wonder drugs, we just need more support for moms who are trying to do it all. Don’t give women a prescription, give them paid maternity leave. Don’t take away the formula in the hospital, approve the ordinance giving sick days to all workers. Give women support, not guilt, and you’ll really see breastfeeding numbers increase.