This month Finn sat down with Lydia Sasse, his podcast partner on Wandering Into Wellness, to chat to her about her experience with breastfeeding and to discuss the pitfalls, and hopefully some useful tips for mums on how to cope with the common challenges and live a full life around this new routine.
F: So obviously we do a lot of work educating about breastfeeding in our shop, and it’s a fascinating area to me, especially I can never have any real insight into how it feels as a mum from a practical standpoint! Bringing you back to before you had a child - did you have any idea what you were letting yourself in for?
L: No, obviously I’d worked around birth, both as an active birth coach, and a pregnancy yoga teacher, and I also used to work as a super nanny so I’d been around kids and babies for a really long time. I guess I had always thought that I would want to breastfeed, it just wasn’t a question for me. I knew a lot of friends who had done extended breastfeeding and I’d read a lot about that, and also the World Health Organisation statistics around the lengths of time that mum’s continued breastfeeding around the world on average, which is usually 2 years and upwards. So in my head that was what I was going to do.
F: But had you seen challenges for other mums in your role as a super nanny that had made you consider like, “maybe this won’t be straightforward”?
L: Not in that situation. I teach mum and baby yoga, and I had a lot of mums coming to me at the end of classes, and they had challenges with breastfeeding. What seemed to be coming up a lot was tongue tie, and it seemed to be really common. So I knew about tongue tie and I knew about the challenges it might present but nothing really can prepare you for how challenging it can be. I grew up in a natural household, my parents were kind of alternative. I didn’t have any issues in my head about..like I didn’t think I’d be shy about doing it in public. I was very much like - I’ve got boobs, I’m gonna do it! That was kind of my attitude. I didn’t read a whole lot about it, honestly I thought it’s just going to be natural.
F: Okay so then when you had your own kid, what happened? What went wrong and what compromises, if any, did you have to make?
L: Well the first couple of weeks seemed really good. I had a really good milk supply, he seemed to latch really well. He fed for a really long time, so there was that, but then a lot of new babies do. It was obviously really tiring but it was fine. And when we were going for check ups he had gained loads of weight, he actually never lost his birth weight, which is a bit unusual. But I thought, you know, I’ve got this and I was doing all the different holds. The only one I never mastered was the one where you put them on the bed and you lie above them, and kind of drop your nipple into their mouth.
F: Sounds complex! Do many people do that?!
L: Yeah it’s a common enough thing, it’s great for drainage and getting to supply in different areas. I just couldn’t. Then when we got to the 6 week check up, and by that stage he wasn’t sleeping at all. He went from the 90th percentile down to the 40th in terms of his weight. Which still isn’t that low, but I guess it’s the drop that’s the issue. Then they started to come around and weigh him every 3 days. All that time I’d been asking did he have tongue tie because it was something I was so aware of, and he’d be checked by a doctor, 2 midwives, a lactation consultant and everyone said “no no he doesn’t”. But, I was getting breast pain at around 6 weeks, and not the nipple pain that you get in the beginning, but shooting pains, up through my boobs into my chest and right into my armpits. That soreness continued when he wasn’t on the breast. So i knew there was something wrong, but nobody could give me any answers, and eventually I called another lactation consultant and she told me he had really sever posterior tongue tie. Because it’s at the very root of the tongue it’s very thick, so this was preventing him from lifting his tongue up, preventing him from making the right shape. So what he was doing was sucking really really hard with the front part of his mouth to latch on, and this meant he wasn’t drawing all the milk.
F: So how is he at blowing up balloons now?
L: He is actually epic at blowing up balloons, mad I hadn’t even thought about that, but none of his friends can blow up balloons. He’s been able to do it for years though!!
F: Hahaha - maybe he’ll be a magician for kids parties when he grows up!
L: Or a trumpeter!! Anyway, so because he wasn’t drawing all of my supply, my supply started drying up. So he kept losing weight. And the pain I was feeling was vaso spasm or vaso constriction which is where the nerves are getting constricted from extreme pressure.
F: Vaso constriction is blood vessels though not nerves right?
L: Yeah but the two things happen in tandem, so while the little lips are squeezing so hard, it’s like getting frostbite, and when they release the nipples are white. And afterwards, when the blood rushes back in, you get all that pain. And at the same time, because you’re anticipating the pain, you start to constrict all the chest muscles, and everything gets so tight.
F: Okay so what remedies did you use and which ones of them were successful?
L: In the beginning, every mum knows you get cracked nipples and it gets really sore, and it’s the WORST thing. I had one section of my nipple literally hanging off. But mine wouldn’t even be considered bad. And I found these colloidal silver nipple shields - they’re a silver cap, you just keep it in your bra. It collects excess milk, which keeps the nipple tissue soft. And the milk itself as it’s in contact with the nipple helps to heal, and helps prevent infection. Then the colloidal silver helps to further prevent infection and the shield aspect prevents your nipples from rubbing you clothes, which can be super painful. And my midwife said she couldn’t believe how quickly my nipples healed, she had literally never seen cracked nipples heal that fast. From then on she was recommending those nipple shields to everyone. They’re an investment, they’re about €50-60, but….you would do anything to not have to feel that pain.
And then so for the vaso spasms, I got recommended to do a pectoral and breast massage. There’s a guy called Jack Newman - he’s got loads of breastfeeding and alternative parenting things online. So you massage vigorously above the breast for 60 seconds, and then between them, underneath them and at the side body around them and that helps to just release constriction in the tissues. And tightness will add to pain sensation, but also it helps support milk supply and to prevent blocked ducts.
F: And that ties in so well with what we heard from Master Mantak Chia on Wandering Into Wellness, when he spoke about the importance of daily breast massage for releasing Qi from the breast tissue, and this even having a role in breast cancer prevention.
L: Yes!! And the other things were a lot of shoulder stretches and chest openers. Actually I have a video on my Youtube that demonstrates all of this.
F: And is this just useful around breastfeeding?
L: Well you can use it during pregnancy too, when the breasts start getting really heavy, and basically all the movements that a mum does in the early stages of motherhood, holding a baby, rocking them to sleep at night, pushing a buggy - all of these movements are bringing your body into that roundedness. So the movements I’ve posted are all things mums can do at home, and they don’t need any special equipment or anything.
F: Okay, so milk flow wise - did you have continuing issues there? Or once you used the nipple shields did that also support your milk supply to significant degree?
L: No, not really. I was never going to recover full supply, because he had such a sever tongue tie and he had asymmetry in his tongue muscles so he was moving one side of his tongue lower than the other. I went to see a craniosacral therapist which really helped but, um, unfortunately for us it was an extreme case. But what i was able to do, because I really wanted to maintain breastfeeding and I was basically going to kill myself to keep it up. It became a full time effort to keep milk supply up. I took natural galactagogue supplements from earthmother.ie, and I made breastfeeding cookies which used oatmeal, fenugreek, brewers’ yeast and flaxseed which all enhanced the supply. Then I was pumping after each feed. Then after pumping I would hand express. Then it would be time to feed again!! So I basically stayed in the house and milked 24/7, until he was about 6 months old. But it was a commitment - if i’d had another child I couldn’t have made that commitment because it was literally all I did. And it was really hard for me mentally. You know as a mother, I felt I wasn’t able to provide for my child, and that’s the most fundamental thing that you feel. It’s your choice whether you decide to exercise that right or not but for me I hadn’t considered another way. To consider bottle feeding it was heartbreaking for me, I just really didn’t want to go there. So eventually around 6 months, I just couldn’t keep it up any more, and he was really reacting to how stressful feeding was. He was bashing my boob trying to get more milk out, and it was really narrowing our world. He wouldn’t feed when anyone was talking, and then only in a dark room, and only on our own. So I couldn’t leave the house. Eventually I had to start supplementing with formula.
F: A serious comedown.
L: Yeah. I used goats’ milk, which is used as a formula by loads of traditional cultures when they’re in that situation. And it has loads of immune boosting properties, and it’s much closer to breast milk than cow’s formulas are.
F: Yeah in terms of the size of the fat molecule it’s much smaller than cow’s milk, so a lot of kids have digestive issues when cow’s milk formula is introduced, plus the difference in proteins, and the difference in immunoglobulins and antibodies, there’s so much in cow’s formula that is just necessarily different from breast milk no matter how much it’s augmented to match breast milk’s nutritional profile.
L: Yeah there’s also loads of lauric acid in breast milk, one of the saturated fats that’s really important to control microbial balance in the gut, so i used to add coconut oil to bottle feeds, and once he was eating solids I made sure to include it in his diet. Eventually after 6 months or so, he was just refusing to breastfeed so that took the whole decision process out of our hands.
F: Yeah the nutritional profile in coconut oil is so interesting, and one of the things it contains a lot of that raw dairy also does is sulphur compounds, and around 50% of these are lost in the pasteurisation process. So with formula feeding it becomes so important to get sulphur rich veg in as soon as they start taking solids because they’re such a vital factor in bone building and all connective tissue, skin etcetera. So there’s my annoying knowledge.
L: So I didn’t have a success story, I didn’t have the experience that I’d hoped to have.
F: What do they say - win or learn eh?!
L: That’s it! What it did was give me massive compassion for the women coming into my class, and I could never have understood that if I hadn’t had this experience. And I think it gave me a massive awareness of the challenges that are present in today’s society as far as women breastfeeding is concerned because we don’t have the knowledge and support around it. That’s why so many people fail...
F: So for busy wives, busy mums - maybe they don’t face the same drastic issues you suffered but they may have ongoing issues with milk production or other breastfeeding problems. Do you have any quick tips or tricks for them?
L: So in Asian cultures they have this thing called sitting the month - the fourth trimester - where you stay in your bed and other members of your family come and look after you, feed you, massage you - and that time is just for building up milk production, making that connection with the baby and learning their feeding cues.
F: Wow! So where does that go on exactly?
L: It happens in India and China, it’s called Xu Yee...something!!
L: And also it happens in tribal cultures in Africa, sort of like a red tent thing. In Namibia, there’s the Himba tribe, and they go during the last stage of the pregnancy and the first while after birth they go and live with their grandmothers and the grandmother teaches them how to feed etc.
F: All that loveliness of the oral tradition…
L: ...and I think that’s why there’s less issues there. They still have the same issues with milk supply etc, but because they grow up with this support network they have people there physically teaching them. And we don’t have that art any more, because even our parents generation were taught about formula feeding so...
F: Yeah there’s a generation gap - I mean it’s the same with food production and preparation, seaweed harvesting, bread making etc etc.
L: I think that’s a really important thing to do. I know it’s a really hard thing to do, but basically going to bed for a couple of days with your baby if you’re having difficulty with milk supply it really helps the body rest and builds that bond.
F: Absolutely. So let’s say mum gets to 6 months, she HAS to get back to work, and her time is suddenly cut, but she really wants to persist with breastfeeding as much as possible. Are there times of the day when milk supply is much more readily available, or are there other practices you can adopt to support the practice?
L: When there are, but every baby is different and every feeding cycle is different. Basically if women are going back to work then they’re going to have to pump. Unless their partner is going to be able to bring their baby to them. But obviously they can introduce those galactagogue foods into their diet, like the fenugreek and oatmeal. And having the breastfeeding cookies beside the bed or making sure to have them first thing in the morning is going to be great. And anecdotally the breastfeeding cookies make a huge difference in only 2 days! And for me it really helped to maintain supply up to the 6 month point, and I don’t think I would have made it without them! Also carrying your baby as much as possible, and that contact stimulates milk production.
F: Oh right, so is there an established link between milk production and oxytocin?
L: Absolutely, yeah. So women who are out and away from their babies will often see another mum with her baby and they’ll have that warm and fuzzy moment of like, “Oh! Cute!” and they’ll suddenly have milk pouring out of their boob!! So one thing mums can do if they’re at work and they need to express, they can bring something like a blanket that smells of their baby and that will stimulate oxytocin too.
F: Hahahah! Okay so now it’s Ladies Bring Your Blankets To Work Day!! Okay Lydia thank you so much for all that info and I hope all our readers will get great help from you sharing your experience, many thanks for your time.
Catch up with Lydia Sasse on @yogawithlydia