By Beverly Reed, MD
As a physician, most of my training and career has depended on me doing well on tests. I could study and memorize and practice, and it ultimately would lead to a good grade or accomplishment of my goal.
But, there was one thing that I failed at no matter how hard I tried: breastfeeding.
Growing up, I was oldest of 5 kids. I saw my mom breastfeed all of my siblings. She was a pro, and she made it look easy. I never questioned if I would be able to do it. Of course I could do it!
During residency training, I had a lot of patients over the years tell me that they had problems with breast milk production. I gave the usual advice (don’t supplement, add in pumping sessions, etc). However, when it didn’t work, I couldn’t help but wonder if they were trying hard enough (terrible, I know).
Well, I got the answer many years later when I faced the same struggles myself. I clearly remember sitting in the NICU, trying to pump, while watching my newborn preterm infant in his isolette. Tiny milk drops were barely coming out. My lap was filled with breastfeeding books and articles with sections highlighted and post-it notes all over the place. And I look over to my left and see a teen mom playing Candy Crush on her cell phone while milk is pouring out of her breasts into bottles. What was I doing wrong?
The guilt was terrible. I tried all types of medicines, supplements, even a supplemental nursing system. I set my alarm and pumped every 2-3 hours, day and night. I kept thinking- maybe I am not trying hard enough. But, I was never able to get more than an ounce of breast milk. My baby never latched. I felt like a failure. If I lived long ago, would my baby have died?
It was a painful time in my life, but over time, I had a couple of realizations:
- Thank goodness for good formula options! Breast is best, but when it doesn’t work out, our formula options today are wonderful. My son is now 5.5 years old, and he may be one of the smartest kiddos that I have ever met. And guess what? We bonded just fine! Everything turned out okay!
- Would my baby have died a long time ago before formula was around? Probably not due to a lack of breastmilk. One of my favorite midwives explains that long ago, it was completely common and acceptable to breastfeed each other’s babies. Isn’t that amazing? Women have been helping each out for a long time.
While I ended up not being able to be a breastfeeding master, I learned that breastfeeding is not a test of whether or not I could be a good mom. I made up for it in other ways, and I am glad that I had this experience so that I can be an understanding, supportive doctor for others who are dealing with the same problem.
Dr. Beverly Reed is a board certified Ob/Gyn and Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility Fellow. She has a passion for understanding how our environment influences fertility and is actively involved in research investigating BPA. Dr. Reed started her training at Texas A&M and went on to complete an Air Force Residency at the San Antonio Uniformed Services Health Education Consortium. Her service in the military took her to Langley Air Force Base where she served as Deputy Medical Director of the busiest Labor and Delivery in the Air Force. After serving her country, she moved back to Texas with her husband and two sons. She is currently a Fellow at UT Southwestern Medical Center. In addition to environmental factors, she is also interested in various methodologies for IVF stimulation. Dr. Reed wants all women to be well-educated in women’s health and childbirth.