Wives co-breastfeed son for two-and-a-half years

The lactation care provider glanced at her breasts and claimed, “You’re not going to be able to produce much milk.” Glenis Decuir, CBS, a young mother at the time, had just given birth to her first baby (now 17 years old), and while she intended to breastfeed her daughter, without explanation, without proper consultation and counseling, without a shred of compassion, the lactation consultant disparaged her intentions so tragically that Decuir not only did not breastfeed her daughter, she remained discouraged through the birth of her second child (now 14 years old) and did not breastfeed him either.

Decuir eventually learned that she has Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT) disorder.

“I knew my breasts looked different, but my mom’s looked the same as mine; I didn’t think anything was abnormal,” Decuir explains. “ I was young and wasn’t resourceful; no one explained anything.”

Though Decuir’s introduction to infant feeding was shrouded in the unknown and total neglect from care providers, her story takes a turn, epitomizing self-determination, advocacy and education, perseverance, resilience and empowerment.

In 2018, Decuir’s wife became pregnant with their third child. Because she would not grow and birth this baby, Decuir wondered how she would form a bond with him.

“It was very difficult for me to wrap my head around that,” Decuir shares.

Plunging into self-guided research, Decuir landed on the potential to induce lactation.

When she decided to embark on this path, Decuir reached out for guidance, but found herself in a void.

“Unfortunately, I received the most pushback from doctors, many of whom didn’t even know that inducing lactation was possible,” Decuir documents her road to co-breastfeeding. “I had to see four different doctors before I could find one willing to work with me. Being under the doctor’s care was very important because I had never done this before, and I knew I would be taking medications. After exploring several options, we chose the Newman Goldfarb Protocol as our method of induced lactation.”

For well over 20 weeks, Decuir delved into the protocol.

“Because I had really poor experiences with my first two and poor experiences with seeking help with breastfeeding professionals… I became an advocate… I had overcome so much adversity,” Decuir begins.

Laws state that we can pump anywhere, Decuir continues. And that’s what she did.

“I was pumping in every location imaginable! At my desk, in the car, the movie theater, Six Flags, and much more!” she writes.

Decuir goes on, “I decided to be very public about my entire journey on Instagram. One, I have the right to and I exercise every right, but it also opened a gateway to educating others.”

Prior to inducing lactation, Decuir reports that her children had never been exposed to anyone breastfeeding, “not even at a playground or anything,” she elucidates.

“This is how behind closed doors moms are with breastfeeding,” she says.

But Decuir and her wife’s approach is different; they are open-books with their children, she explains.

“They were old enough to understand scientifically, biologically, physically what my body was going to go through,” Decuir starts. “I educated them through a scientific standpoint, but also talked about normalizing breastfeeding. We talked about my daughter breastfeeding in the future, and my son and his role as a man in a household and how he can support his future wife to breastfeed.”

Decuir recalls the emotional and practical support her older children offered: “I cried in front of them, I pumped in front of them, I laughed in front of them; they helped wash bottles and Spectra parts…”

In sharing her journey with others though, Decuir wasn’t always met with such maturity and acceptance.

“I got everything under the sun,” Decuir remembers. Some told her it was disgusting, some found it weird, and some even went as far as to claim it child abuse.

Orion was born on September 2, 2018. At the time of his birth, Decuir was producing 16 ounces a day– quite close to what is considered full production– and had stored over 1,000 of her milk in a deep freezer.

Decuir says that she didn’t set forth focusing on the quantity though. “I wasn’t thinking about achieving full supply; I was thinking about producing anything. Even if it was only five ounces a day, I thought, I can at least do one feeding a day and that to me was worth it on its own.”

She continues: “Every time that I would latch Orion on, I just thanked Mother Nature and how amazing our bodies are. Maybe if I had birthed Orion, if I  had just latched him on, it wouldn’t have been a second thought, but because of what I went through–I worked real, real hard– every time I was able to latch my son, I literally thanked the universe. I was so grateful.”

Decuir and her wife went on to co-breastfeed Orion until he was two-and-a-half.

Throughout her breastfeeding relationship, Decuir remained visible in her efforts. “Having the power to go through that experience breastfeeding anywhere and everywhere in public, it became almost liberating and very freeing to be able to exercise my right, and in doing so I came across a lot of people. I took them as opportunities to talk more about breastfeeding and breastfeeding in public.”

At the start of her journey, in order to create her village, Decuir started a private Facebook support group. Today it has over two and a half thousand members.

Locally, Decuir serves as a breastfeeding support person through ZipMilk and is a ROSE Community Transformer, all on a volunteer basis. She has presented at the ROSE Summit in years’ past and is currently working on a book.

You can read Decuir’s former publications about her co-breastfeeding journey at https://aeroflowbreastpumps.com/blog/the-road-to-co-breastfeeding

https://www.baby-chick.com/what-is-co-breastfeeding/ and

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/co-breastfeeding_n_5c13eaf8e4b049efa75213e6.

For many, grandmothers are the village

Reflecting on her experience as a first-time grandmother, one of my colleagues and mentors expressed that, for most of us, “grandmothers are the closest thing to a village that we have.”

This colleague, a lactation care provider herself,  described the intricacies, sweetness and sacredness of watching her daughter step into motherhood. My colleague’s notes described her thoughtful presence without overbearance, leaving space for her daughter and her new family to learn and to bond. For instance, she cleans the house, prepares their bed with sun-dried sheets, and sits at the foot of the bed while her daughter and granddaughter nurse. In this dreamy scenario, grandma, baby and parents are all met with challenges, however those challenges haven’t become insurmountable thanks in part to this level of grandmotherly support and care.

This week we bring to you some work that details grandmothers’ powerful influence on the perinatal experience and beyond. A 2016 systematic review found that “a grandmother’s positive breastfeeding opinion had the potential to influence a mother up to 12 % more likely to initiate breastfeeding. Conversely a negative opinion has the capacity to decrease the likelihood of breastfeeding by up to 70 %.”

Healthy Children Project’s own Barbara O’Connor, RN, BSN, IBCLC, ANLC – Faculty Emerita designed and authored the Grandmothers’ Tea Project for the Illinois State Breastfeeding Task Force (2011).

Through O’Connor’s interactive curriculum, grandmothers are invited to learn about breastfeeding through three activities that pose breastfeeding scenarios:

“The Grandmothers’ Apron activity updates grandmothers’ knowledge about the importance of breastfeeding.

During the Grandmothers’ Cell Phone activity, grandmothers talk about breastfeeding myths and barriers.

In the Grandmothers’ Necklace activity, participants create a beaded necklace to remind them of ways they can offer support through loving encouragement, updating their breastfeeding knowledge, and being helpful.” (As described in A Grandmothers’ Tea: Evaluation of a Breastfeeding Support Intervention)

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee.

Author Jane S. Grassley, RN, PhD, IBCLC and colleagues encourage perinatal educators to explore the curriculum for A Grandmothers’ Tea as they found that grandmothers and mothers who attended the teas in their study enjoyed their interactions with one another and with the class content.

Their work also unearthed a phenomenon of defensiveness in grandmothers who did not breastfeed their own children. The authors explain  “Grandmothers who did not breastfeed may feel defensive about their infant-feeding decisions because of the current emphasis on the health benefits of breastfeeding (Grassley & Eschiti, 2007)”  and advise that “perinatal educators can invite grandmothers to share their experiences and validate the cultural context in which these experiences took place.”

In this realm of validation and healing, Midwife Andrea Ruizquez of Partera Midwifery explores the implications of the Mother Wound. On Partera Midwifery’s Instagram page, Ruizquez writes:

“Props to all the people navigating complicated mother child relationships as adults. Now that I am in my 40’s I find myself reconnecting with my own mother in a deeper way. There was a time when we were estranged from each other. I learned how to recognize that I needed boundaries and practiced maintaining them. I am learning not to get triggered by my mother’s ways, and have compassion for her reasons behind them. I extend this sentiment to all of my grandmas ancestors who are in my lineage.

I am having more compassion for myself, and the ways I am like her my mom. I am learning to love myself deeper and become a more conscious mama to my children. I am still learning to love my child self that did not get all of her needs met, and I reparent myself with love. I feel myself heal.”

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee.

Cultural beliefs held by grandmothers have the potential to influence healthy infant feeding practices. In Grace Yee, Retired IBCLC and Tonya Lang’s, MPH, CHES, IBCLC  Cultural Dimensions in Promoting, Protecting, and Supporting Lactation in East Asian Communities, they explained the prominent roles of aunties and grandmothers in the early postpartum. One example includes how colostrum is sometimes regarded in older generations as impure or unhealthy. Yee and Lang suggest that instead of positioning tradition and culture as a hindrance, to reframe barriers to breastfeeding into potential strengths. Respect of elders’ traditions and cultural practices will establish trust and foster positive relationships, as noted in Monique Sims-Harper, DrPH, MPH, RD, IBCLC, Jeanette Panchula, RN PHN, BA-SW, and Patt Young’s, Health Educator, CLE work entitled It Takes A Village: Empowering Grandmothers as Breastfeeding Supporters.

The physiological imprint of breastfeeding withstands generations and the sensations of milk production may surface decades later as mothers become grandmothers. Grandmothers who have previously breastfed have reported the tingling sensation of a phantom milk release when holding their grandchildren.

In South Sudan, grandmothers are relactating to help manage severe acute malnutrition. This practice has been documented elsewhere like Natal, South Africa and Vietnam for example.

Barry Hewlett and Steve Winn’s study on allomaternal nursing indicates that while this practice occurs in many cultures, “it is normative in relatively few cultures; biological kin, especially grandmothers, frequently provide allomaternal nursing and that infant age, mother’s condition, and culture (e.g., cultural models about if and when women other than the mother can nurse an infant or colostrum taboos) impact the nature and frequency of allomaternal nursing.”

Photo by Наталия Игоревна from Pexels

For an illuminating anthropological perspective, read A Biocultural Study of Grandmothering During the Perinatal Period by Brooke A. Scelza and  Katie Hinde. Their “findings reveal three domains in which grandmothers contribute: learning to mother, breastfeeding support, and postnatal health and well-being” and “show that informational, emotional, and instrumental support provided to new mothers and their neonates during the perinatal period can aid in the establishment of the mother-infant bond, buffer maternal energy balance, and improve nutritional outcomes for infants.”

We would love to learn about your perinatal and infant feeding experiences as grandmothers or with grandmothers. If you’d like to share, please email us at info@ourmilkyway.org.