I Would’ve Done Anything To Breastfeed – Including Possibly Dangerous, Unapproved Prescription Drugs

breast is bestOne 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.

(Photo: Zazzle)

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  • LilysMommy

    I pumped, I visited breast-feeding circles, I went to lactation consultants, I took the drugs mentioned in this article and nothing worked. I was a mess.. a sobbing, hysterical, post-natal mess. I would have given my left breast to have a medical professional tell me that formula feeding was “okay”. Not until my Dr. told me that I wasn’t doing my daughter any favours being upset and stressed out each time I went to feed her did I finally let myself off the hook. I agree with the author that the “breast is best” tyranny needs to end.

  • bellasug

    There is a lot of information missing from this article. What risks are there, why hasn’t the FDA approved domperidone? The article doesn’t address these, just takes this issue and spins it into a political thing. I am taking domperidone for increased milk production. I am not a new mother, I’m feeding my second child. I successfully nursed my first child until he was 13 months old, however, this second time around I am having real problems with milk supply since pumping has never been efficient for me and causes my supply to go down. My certified nurse midwife presecribed domperdone after I asked for it. I asked for it after I spent hours pumping after every feeding, nursing eclusively at home, drinking fenugreek tea and taking supplements, none of which worked. She said she used it when she was nursing too when she had problems. It’s not hard to get, its available at most compounding pharmacies. The pharmacy told me they dispense it all the time, so someone, somewhere is writing these Rx’s. I knew what I was asking for. It’s not a miracle but it has helped keep my supply from slowly dwindling away which is what it was doing before, and I am still providing enough breastmilk for about 75% of my baby’s needs.

    • LindsayCross

      Hey there, according to Ms. Shapiro’s article, the FDA released a warning that domperidone should not be prescribed for breastfeeding mothers looking to increase milk supply because a form of the drug aggravated heart problems and could, in very rare circumstances, cause sudden death.

      I’m really glad it worked for you and like I said, I probably would’ve taken it as well had I known about it. But it does seem like a major risk to take when there are other ways to help nursing women instead of guilting them into possibly dangerous medical prescriptions.

    • bellasug

      Yes, I have read that warning. The form of the drug they are referring to is the IV delivery of it. Many people have used the drugs for years orally with little to no complications, which is no different from other drugs taken by lots of people for a myriad of reasons, all of which have side effects. Domperidone has an L1 (safest) risk for lactation and is approved by the Academy of American Pediatrics for lactating mothers. Is it that hard to believe that many women who take this medication make the decision to do so just like they would decide to start taking any other medication? With research, discussion with their medical provider and a weighing of risks vs benefits. I wasn’t guilted into this, or forced into this. I had all the support available to me, like lactation consultants (both in the hospital and once I returned home), books, insurance reimbursement for my pump, a place to pump at work. I didn’t have the lengthy paid maternity leave (8 weeks for the record), but since my supply problems didn’t occur until I was 5 months into breastfeeding, I doubt that was the issue. I’m not trying to be a smart-ass, but sincerely what other ways to help nursing women would you want to have happen? I’ve heard many people gripe that there are too many ways to help nursing women, to the point that it’s making other women feel guilty for not breastfeeding. I have yet to know anyone personally that felt harassed or otherwise lectured for formula feeding but there seem to be a lot of these stories on mommy websites so its happening to someone, somewhere. Is it the individual actions of the occassional pushy “lactivist” that is making some moms feel so guilty instead of helping them, or is it the entire campaign to increase breastfeeding rates across the nation? And if it is the latter how are we to “help” moms from feeling guilty from an ad campaign? “Breast is best” (but in small letters at the bottom “unless you don’t want to then it’s not really best, but merely just an option. PS: don’t feel guilty”? There is so much misinformation out there that an entire campaign had to be created to encourage women to breastfeed because for a lot of women, a lack of information and support led them to choose formula feeding. Not every woman..some choose it for their own reasons, but enough that an effort to reeducate the public and mothers on breastfeeding seemed like a good idea. Some people took on the idea overzealously, much like humans do with any cause, but the fact that these people are making some moms feel guilty justify the scrapping of the entire breastfeeding campaign? Because that is what it boils down to. The only way to make moms not feel guilty about what they are doing, whatever it is, is to not mention it either way. We seem to be hardwired to feel guilty, and the only way to avoid it is to not advocate either option. Breastfeeders get made to feel guilty( I certainly have had a few derogatory comments thrown my way), formula feeders get made to feel guilty. No matter which way you do it, someone is not going to be happy. But since medical professionals (backed by numerous studies) state that breastfeeding is the optimal choice it makes sense to educate moms about that, and offer them support to help them succeed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/julie.latimer.hicks Julia Latimer Hicks

    For crying out loud ladies – some of us can and some of us can’t; I’m talking about breastfeeding. It’s been a while (my kids are 11 and 15), but boy do I remember breast feeding. I too sobbed my way through with my first child who was a “nip and napper”. I went back to work after 12 weeks and hid in a storage closet to pump my breasts. You heard me right – hid in a storage closet. This was long before “nursing rooms” were available everywhere from Target to your employer’s office. My second child comes along 4 years later and sucks me dry every 2 hours. Nursing was a breeze with this second child. I thought he was some golden child the way my body just produced milk the right way and he knew exactly what to do whenever I put the boob in his face.
    The point is this – some of us can do it some of the time, some of us can’t do it at all. It does not make you a bad mother if you cannot breastfeed your child. I recommend that you give it a try but don’t beat yourself up. In the end, both of my children are the same insofar as the second one isn’t “shinier” or smarter or whatever else you want to say about what breastfeeding will do for children. Sure, it’s great when it works – even convenient. But when it doesn’t work, there ‘s little more you can do except beat yourself up or give in to the bottle. Motherhood is way too difficult to beat yourself up over this – just relax if you can’t breastfeed – you tried, didn’t you? That’s all anyone can ask of you.

  • CW

    Are you talking about Reglan? I tried that when I was having supply issues with my oldest. It worked briefly, then stopped. Reglan is FDA-approved (though not specifically for low milk supply) and there wasn’t anything in the fine print about it causing cardiac problems.

    • LindsayCross

      Reglan was the other drug that Shapiro talked about in her article. You’re right that it’s not FDA-approved for breastfeeding, but is for gastrointestinal illness. One of its side effects is depression though, which can be difficult for new mothers already. And the FDA did put out a specific notice saying that Reglan shouldn’t be taken for low milk supply in 2009 because it wasn’t actually proven to help with supply and contained some risk of side effects.

    • CW

      I took it in 2002, so obviously that pre-dated the FDA’s notice. It did help for about a week and a half but then my supply went down again.

  • heather r morgan

    New mothers don’t need more guilt. I think the stress of trying to breastfeed added to the stress of life with an infant doesn’t help a lot of us.

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  • lactmama

    You seem to have had a lot of uninformed people going thru your life who call themselves professionals. You do your best. The true idea is to give comfort at the breast. If something comes out – great – if not – need to think of what else (that is a whole other game). This business of women in the US pushed into taking meds in the beginning, attaching themselves to a pump, etc and increasing the stress – is a no no. Baby to mama, baby needs to feel mama. Mama needs to feel baby.

    You need support and people around you who are intelligent thinkers.
    Formula in NYCity hospitals will be treated as a medicine – because it is. A baby’s tummy at birth is the size of a marble. That is what is needed to fill it 5 cc each time.
    Putting a large amount of formula down the baby’s throat is not the way to go. Think forcing a balloon to expand and then think fat kids.

    No one is taking the stuff away. What is being done is making the maternity departments more baby friendly – i.e. thinking of the baby as a valued human and not a commodity. If a mom does not want to breastfeed or other, and wants formula – she will get it. No big deal. This mom has the right to learn how to give and prepare a bottle correctly and to learn about the various brands – not the freebie that the hospitals and companies push on you. This is protection not persecution.

    If I took you out of the hospital in a wheelchair and did not let you get in your car without a baby seat for baby and seat belt for you. Safety issues.

    the reason you see all of this anti breastfeeding stuff the first week of August is because it is World Breastfeeding Week – all of the antis have to come out of the walls.

    Women who have tried their best and know it – have no guilt. When one makes a decision based on knowledge and facts one is not guilty.

    If I were a new mom on the internet and posting – I would be screaming my guts out for good help. People who are experienced with lactation, know a lot about child development, have a lot of empathy for mom’s discomfort and a way of putting across info that is not threatening. This is what needs to be done. This is not what I think most of you have received.

    I am making all of these comments as one of the lactosaurs out there, who has been helping moms for decades, who breastfed her children for what seemed like decades and who sees a lot of bullcrap on out being foisted on women who are at their most vulnerable.

  • Mary

    I don’t understand sometimes when a mother says she didn’t make enough milk, she pumps and pumps and nothing! The reason I think this is because I breastfed two babies successfully and when I tried to pump, I could only get like an ounce of milk. Maybe it was the pump. maybe it was human error. But I do know that I produced enough milk for two chunky babies (I bf my first for 15 months, my second baby for 3 years). If I used what I pumped as an idicator of whether I could produce milk, I would have failed at bfing as well.

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  • Sarah Mullen

    I am a TRUE low supply mom… Insufficient glandular tissue. My baby gets half an ounce out of each breast (weighed feedings) and then I’ve managed another half an ounce out, pumping. If I do a straight pump, I get anywhere from half an ounce to two meager ounces. I squeeze my breasts dry. My last baby, she latched great, I shoved a breast into her mouth, and she’d just start sucking (not so much with this child) but at 3 months, with breastfeeding 1 and a half hours of every 2 hours, then pumping, she was ONE OUNCE over her birth weight. I’d rejected the pediatrician, I rejected my husband’s advice that she wasn’t getting enough… I was GOING to breastfeed this child NO MATTER WHAT. I cry when I look at her pictures from that time. I was BLIND. I finally took her to WIC, and I truly didn’t think she was that thin. It took me by surprise when even WIC said she was, and to supplement. I was going to try Reglan, my husband forbid it due to my past problems with depression. He is a wonderful man, and I usually listen to his wisdom. Usually. I didn’t have enough money at the time to do Fenugreek, but a lovely woman sent me some Domperidone, and that boosted my supply to the 2-3 ounce level, and I was able, her 5th month, to feed her from the breast, and after that, we went to a combo of solids and breast feeding. But all my children have had some formula, though this time around, I have a local mom giving me milk, bless her. But I went on a trip to visit my dad, who’s ill, and I’ve had to supplement with formula, and it hasn’t been horrible. Not at all. I figure though, I only have to maintain this schedule for 5 more months. I am a work at home mom, I CAN do it. But I will never blame a woman for not wanting to. I am tenacious, but I most certainly have my moments of wanting to quit. Just quit, and have a life that doesn’t revolve around breast feeding and pumping, and fenugreek and mother’s milk tea, and wondering where my Domperidone I ordered from Canada went. And being that I am about to start home schooling, I may HAVE to quit, and I won’t feel guilty about it at all. I’ll just accept it as what I have to do. I have bigger fish to fry.