Not being able to breastfeed can be a traumatic and upsetting experience, especially for mums that had their hearts set on breastfeeding their new baby.
And although there are a myriad of reasons why mothers may experience difficulties breastfeeding, (many of which can be either avoided or solved via breastfeeding management) a commonly overlooked medical issue is hypoplasia.
What Is Hypoplasia?
La Leche League describes hypoplasia as a condition in which the mother has insufficient glandular breast tissue. This is a technical way of saying that there isn’t an adequate amount of milk-producing cells in the breasts.
Sometimes, this can mean that milk production is not possible. In other cases, the ability to produce milk is not eliminated, but reduced significantly. Some experts link this condition to polycystic ovary syndrome, exposure to pesticides, hormonal issues and insulin metabolism problems.
Do I Have It?
Unlike other breastfeeding issues, hypoplasia is actually relatively easy to recognise. Research undertaken by Huggins, Petok and Mireles identified common characteristics in the breasts of mothers experiencing difficulties breastfeeding. These were:
- The breasts were more widely spaced apart than usual (at least 1.5 inches apart)
- The breasts had a tubular shape and looked empty
- Breasts were commonly asymmetrical
- There were stretch marks appearing on the breasts, despite limited breast growth
The KellyMom.com website (a great resource for evidence based breastfeeding information) also suggests two other characteristics, which could suggest hypoplasia. These are:
- Excessively large areolae
- A lack of breast changes during pregnancy, after birth or both
Another indication of hypoplastic breasts is that the breasts do not fill with milk within three days of birth.
Does It Mean I Can’t Breastfeed?
It’s important to understand that even if you have been classified as suffering from hypoplasia, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t breastfeed. Kellymom.com even advises that some mothers with hypoplasia can enjoy a normal milk supply. Many also believe that the first baby is the hardest in terms of breastfeeding and that in following births, mothers with hypoplasia can actually produce more milk.
Often, simply kicking off breastfeeding immediately after birth and then using a breast pump after three days will fuel milk production. The herbs fenugreek and blessed thistle can promote milk production too.
You may like to consider using a supplementary nursing system (SNS) to help ensure your baby has access to all of the milk available. Supplementary nursing systems also work to promote increased milk production.
Other tips are to massage your breasts to stimulate milk production and to speak to your doctor about natural progesterone.
And remember, each individual case is unique and your medical practitioner or lactation consultant (ideally an IBCLC – international board certified lactation consultant) will be able to advise you on the best steps for your case. So if you have your heart set on breastfeeding, don’t lose faith yet, there are still plenty of options available!
While you may not have the dream breastfeeding experience you had hoped for, there will still be a chance for you to connect with your beloved baby and supply them with the milk they need.
Further Breastfeeding Resources and Recommended Reading
- Check out BellyBelly’s Top 5 Best Breastfeeding Books (every mother or mother-to-be should have at least one of these books in her library!)
- Lactation Cookies Recipe to try and help boost your milk supply
- Join in on BellyBelly’s Breastfeeding Forum, which contains loads of great support and information. Our breastfeeding forum is frequented by the former Director of the Australian Breastfeeding Association, Barb Glare, as well as other breastfeeding counsellors, counsellors in training, doulas and midwives.
- BellyBelly highly recommends every breastfeeding mother or mother-to-be become a member of the Australian Breastfeeding Association, for great support, information, resources and friendships.