By now we all know breastfeeding is awesome for so many reasons, but for many moms it's just not that simple. The lucky ones will say it's convenient and an amazing bonding experience—but then there are the other moms. The ones who try and try to make breastfeeding work but just don't seem to be able to produce enough milk.
These moms spend the precious newborn days desperately trying to produce more milk—making countless trips to lactation specialists, doctors, health food stores, and pharmacies for prescriptions to help increase milk. All while riddled with feelings of guilt and anxiety for seemingly failing at something that's supposedly so "natural."
As time goes on, these moms push those feelings aside and move forward with caring for their child, but very few forget about this emotional time. So imagine finding out years later that there was a biological reason for your low milk supply, a condition called hypoplasia or insufficient glandular tissue (IGT).
Never heard of it? You wouldn't be alone. Kathleen Huggins, author of "The Nursing Mother's Companion," claims most moms have never even heard of IGT and assume that nursing is going well until their newborn experiences an excessive weight loss or fails to gain weight.
So what is it exactly?
Mammary hypoplasia, also known as insufficient glandular tissue or IGT, impacts an estimated 3-4% of new moms and is a condition that can cause low or no milk production. In cases of hypoplasia, the mother has insufficient glandular tissue in her breasts—her "milk factory" is either missing key parts to its assembly line or is absent altogether.
These moms find they're able to produce varying levels of milk. Some may produce enough, some about half, while others may produce no milk at all.
According to the La Leche League (LLL), the unfortunate reality of hypoplasia is that while it's often easy to recognize in hindsight, the first clue that a mother has insufficient glandular tissue is usually primary lactation failure—her body simply does not produce enough milk. Even when everything else is in place for a good start to breastfeeding, the milk does not "come in" or isn't enough to sustain her baby.
Some of the visual markers of hypoplastic breasts includes:
• Widely spaced breasts (breasts are more than 1.5 inches apart)
• Breast asymmetry (one breast is significantly larger than the other)
• Presence of stretch marks on the breasts, in absence of breast growth, either during puberty or in pregnancy
• Tubular breast shape ("empty sac" appearance)
• Disproportionately large or bulbous areolae
• Absence of breast changes in pregnancy, postpartum, or both
Hypoplastic breasts may also be small or large. It's breast shape, placement, and asymmetry that indicate hypoplasia—not necessarily size. Mothers with breast hypoplasia have breasts that grow very little during pregnancy, if at all, and on the third to fourth day postpartum, their breasts simply don’t fill with milk as they should. These moms find they're able to produce varying levels of milk. Some may produce enough, some about half, while others may produce no milk at all.
If you believe this condition may be something you suffer from, it’s critical to seek out a medical professional who can recognize and diagnose this condition—not all do. And if at first you don't succeed, try someone else.
Moms who are fortunate enough to be diagnosed with hypoplasia/IGT during pregnancy or soon after birth, have the opportunity to learn about ways they can still breastfeed, even with limited milk supply. Whether it's with the use of an at-breast supplementing tool, swapping to a medical grade breast pump, the use of certain prescription medications like Domperidone or herbal supplements such as fenugreek, there are things struggling moms can try.
But most importantly, new moms need to do what's best for them—and that may not always be breastfeeding.
Whether they decide to exclusively pump, supplement breast milk with formula, or swap to formula completely, every mom deserves the same amount of support and encouragement for her decision to feed her baby and be healthy.
Isn't this motherhood thing hard enough as it is?