Executive Summary

I had a thought today that I would like to know the answer to. With so much publicized research being done on the properties of breast milk (antimicrobial, stem cell properties, brain development and so on), where is the research into real lactation problems? Where is the safe approved drug to increase milk supply (Metclopramide isn’t really ‘safe’ and Domperidone isn’t really ‘approved’), where are the actual diagnoses for supply problems? Maybe companies would rather head toward synthesizing the properties of breast milk rather than helping to fix bodies to produce it. After all it’s only several hundred thousand women a year, and formula does exist (my tongue is so far into my cheek it might poke through…)

I don’t know. I suspect there is not a satisfactory answer.

So I leave you with this. A short guide to various posts that are intended to be helpful.

I need help:

How to interview a Lactation Consultant

11 things a Lactation Consultant should know how to do (IMO).

Do I need help?

I find my tongue tie resources out of date, though you can see my experience here. For better information I would urge joining this Facebook group. They maintain lists of providers and are fairly knowledgeable about what is to be expected. If a provider is not on their list people can often recommend local alternatives (for instance I know of at least 4 laser tongue tie release places in New Zealand now, but none has made the general list. Do see the New Zealand Tongue Tie resources page instead.)

I need to combination feed-how do I do this?

The big fat Combo feeding FAQ

Walking the line

Benefits of

With low supply

SNS tutorial

Nipple confusion

Managing long term

Formula

Solids

Weaning

Body Image

What is causing this?

Able

Potential causes

Birth complications

Rare vs Undiagnosed

My most popular post

Making Milk beads

And the rest of my life.

I think I no longer feel bad, because it isn’t something I did wrong. It’s purely a medical issue.  A medical issue that some people would have me believe is my fault. A medical issue I cannot get satisfactory treatment for and that is largely undiagnosed. That makes me mad.

I lie. I still feel bad and somewhat inadequate, but I no longer feel guilt. I do wonder how much of my feeling bad is a normal level for someone suddenly faced with a non-life threatening failure of a body part. Somehow I can’t imagine people feel a mix of loss of gender identity and self loathing after losing a kidney or having a splenectomy. Or losing a finger or a limb. I’m sure there are other mixed feelings but I wonder how often self hatred/loathing/failure is a part of that.

Moving on from low supply.

Other than the frustration of feeding my second, things went well all things considered. I mean I had moments (many) I wanted to stop and it was more difficult in several ways. One because I had more support.

Back to that in a minute.

Another one was that I knew what my end goal was. With my first I was struggling on because I had been told I couldn’t, that I would fail. With Miss M I knew I could come out the other side and have a time of normalcy with a nurseling. And besides, she would love me no matter what.
Back to the more support thing. I lined up a supportive midwife and didn’t really have anyone around me telling me that I was terrible for using formula or anything. I had some stress in the hospital as midwives argued about how things would turn out, and brief moments of false hope that things would be normal, but it was not to be. My midwife I think thought I was crazy and wanted to give me permission to stop. I had a great online due date group (note: I highly recommend getting one of these. I joined a local parenting forum, mine was associated with a magazine, and when I became pregnant joined the month due date group. We formed a facebook group, there are about 30-35 of us, and it’s fantastic. Local is key, because you can swap tips about sales and local brands. And meet up! With my first I was a member of parenting community primarily UK and US based. So not really local at all. Also much larger and impersonal. I really think 30ish is the ideal number of people to be civil online.), and a weekly breastfeeding group attended by an IBCLC who was familiar with major breastfeeding issues. All around I felt like no one would judge me if I did stop. But I knew what I was aiming for so it was all personal drive, not some misplaced feeling of needing to prove I could do it. I knew I could. And if it turned out I couldn’t there would be people there to say well done you. If I had had that support with my first I would have stopped I think. But I didn’t and that’s how I have succeeded twice now. But wanting to stop is not a form of failure, nor should it be a source of guilt. It’s just a symptom of frustration. This time I knew my frustration was temporary.

I’ve come to think that so much mommy war crap is very first world problem-esque. Even low supply. Yes, it’s a big and valid problem, that is not as open, treated or acknowledged as it should be, but the guilt and regret is very much a western world bullshit thing to feel bad about. A bit of a tantrum which is negatively reinforced if you will. Our perceptions are skewed by the way we live. Yes, we have an inability to nourish our babies alone but in ‘the wild’ we would not be alone. Ok, not unless you were homesteading or repopulating the world. Much like we aren’t meant to be alone in the weeks and months after having a baby, and yet we often are. Yes it can feel raw and horrible and heartbreaking, and I’m not disputing that, but I posit that those feelings are a mixture of betrayal and being thwarted in our choices, combined with various breastfeeding movement backlash baggage. Betrayal as we’ve been told that we can do it-and then we can’t. Breastfeeding backlash baggage in that even though the issue is becoming more well known it still is not widely accepted so you have people disbelieving you, questioning your commitment and motivation. As if it’s a contest, or endurance event, rather than keeping a baby alive by any means necessary. Thwarted in that this was something you made the choice to do and that choice is taken away from you. I think the emotional repercussions from that is largely a construct of the other two. If you could not do some other choice would you feel so bent out of shape about it? Not likely…until people disbelieve you, question you, badger you and tell you the option you do have is wrong, repugnant and harmful. That leaves you as a sad little ball of raw despair.

All I can really say is that parenting is so much more than the first few years, yet these years are consumed with ideals to do things the right way and when the right way, like breastfeeding, does not work out, or goes poorly we become bitter; consumed with sadness, guilt and regret, because honestly we don’t have bigger problems. Our first years ideals mean well, but the jealousy, the warring, the guilt of if you are stimulating your baby appropriately, enough, right, the worry if you are doing things the ‘best’ and frankly, fashionable way…. it’s all so much bullshit. There are righter ways and wronger ways to do things but so much of the hype sold to us in packages, physical or conceptual, is entirely irrelevant. Babies need touching, feeding, cleaning. To be comfortable and comforted. To be responded to. Kids need a hell of a lot more than that. You haven’t failed as a parent until your kids don’t call you after they grow up. They won’t even remember the first years. The first years are a start but what shapes a child into a person is ongoing interaction.

With that I will leave my next post with a compilation of links on various topics. This blog is not so topical to me anymore and no one likes an irregularly updated blog. I have moved on from low supply. I hope others with this issue can as well.
Oh, it will be a fact of life with my future and last child, but that’s all.  It’s moved on from being an emotional problem to purely a medical problem. I’ve accepted it is not fixable. I will never have a diagnosis (well not unless I can find a breastfeeding clinician). And I guess it doesn’t matter. My kids don’t care that they had to be born via cesarean section, that they weren’t fed 100% breast milk. My main focus now is actual parenting and I don’t know that I will have time or motivation to navel gaze about that. I’ll be learning as I go, and my right ways, or even the ways that things go aren’t for me to judge or write a how-to manual for anyone else. It’s just going to be regular difficult from here on out, so I don’t think my musings are going to be particularly relevant.

Let’s talk formula

Because someone needs to.  So here it is from me- someone who wanted to breastfeed and supports breastfeeding where reasonable, yet used and uses formula for medical reasons. Maybe that makes me a mostly neutral party. Maybe not.

First off- everything I learned about formula is self-taught or I learned from a Lactation Consultant. A good LC, on seeing that you want or need to use formula should be able to give you some pointers. Theoretically all formulas should be pretty much the same, brand name or budget. The WHO is supposed to regulate the ingredients and basic proportions. However-sometimes things are not so straightforward.

What you want out of a formula is to have it be whey based. Not casein based. You want the from birth formula. The follow-ons  marketed from age 6 months + are not as well regulated and unnecessary (though they are often cheaper…). If your child requires supplementation beyond 1 year, full fat cow milk can be given (or mixed with formula if you are concerned about diet or intake).

Cow milk is recommended because growing brains need fat. If your child does not like cow milk to drink (mine didn’t), just be sure to supplement with other high fat foods alone or in cooking. Food such as- avocado, cheese, coconut oil or cream, peanut or seed butters, butter, cream, lamb, olive oils, and so on. For extra calcium try various vegetables like kale, alfalfa, etc and fish like sardines, salmon etc.

Back to formulas. Whey or milk solids should be the first ingredient. Maltodextrin is a common additive and should be around the 3rd-5th ingredient. It is sometimes seen as the first ingredient- this is not necessary and may make your baby eat more- its a carbohydrate that is digested quickly.

If you are combination feeding you do not need any special formula. Any birth to 12 month one that suits you is fine.

This sort of thing

4seURmZ

Image credit

Is straight up predatory marketing. I was always ambivalent about formula companies being big and bad and preying on the breastfeeding mother, but yeah. Not after seeing that. I’m pretty sure people are eating it up too. I’d hate to be more cynical but I’d imagine that if the one on the left cost more people would be paying for that too.

Let me reiterate: You do not need anything special to combination feed. No formula is better than any other. In fact less is often more.

Some reading on safe formula use can be found here http://info.babymilkaction.org/infant_feeding/formulafeeding

Take 2: When you think you know what to do and are so very wrong.

Now that we have put the SNS away at home, a little earlier than with the first kid, I should get what I learned from my difficult second child down somewhere.
Well I say difficult, but she was difficult only because of my milk supply issues.
She developed very minor jaundice early on. Not enough to worry anyone but enough to get really really sleepy.

By 6+ days old we had to institute a waking and feeding schedule and we had to continue waking her for feeds until well over 2 months of age. Yay baby sleep you might think. Yes, on one hand this was nice because my first did not sleep and instead ate all the time. Sleep also makes it possible to do hard things. Like lots of pumping. But with low supply you do want an eager baby stimulating your supply. So every 3 hours I had to wake her up and then came the 1-2 hour long ordeal of keeping her awake through feeds just in time for the next feed to start. Every 3 hours 24 hours a day. Blargh. Wet cloths, undressing, blowing in her face, and even icepacks on her feet. And because she was so sleepy and not able to get enough from me part of this routine came to involve force-feeding with a bottle. She came to hate the bottle. In fact she hated anything not a breast in her mouth. Maybe having her tongue tie and upper lip tie lasered at 3.5 weeks oversensitized her but she developed into an orally particular baby.

As I knew how to use the supplemental nursing system I was eager to do that rather than bottles, but she became quite particular about the tube in her mouth. The medium tube which had a faster flow was not acceptable and occasioned screaming if it even touched her. The small tube was never fast enough initially (not that she seemed to care…) and often feeds would take over an hour to complete (even into her 4th+ month). Instead of latching her with the tube near her upper lip I started sliding it into the corner of her mouth around 7-8 weeks and that was the only thing that would work. If she detected it she would fight to get it out, preferring plain breast but of course that wasn’t an option. She developed aversions to one breast and for a while even one position because of association with the tube and I had to exclusively use it on the other one.
She made feeding my first look easy. Sure with number one I had low supply and I was learning as I went but after working out the initial technical problems and difficulty it became routine and predictable. Not so this time. Things were always irregular and a struggle if not an outright fight. I was tracking her intake, output and weight gain until nearly 7 months, where I pretty much stopped the tracking with my first by 3-4 months as things were so routine. The part that bothered me most was that she could not be trusted to self regulate with milk. she would stop and if we let her do that she would not gain appropriately so there were minimum intake volumes she had to meet. This often required waking her up and trying to get more milk into her. So it was a chore.

Things that helped with this difficult baby?

  • Primarily putting the tube in the corner of her mouth. Here is a short and not very good video.

She so very much hated the texture of the tube that putting the tube against her upper lip lost us some breastfeeding positions for a while as she came to associate them with tubes in her mouth. The latch wasn’t great but it was hard to fight about drinking and fight about latch. Especially when she preferred to slip down.

  • Using the NG (naso gastric) feeding tube in a bottle. I was at the point where she would not feed in several positions, would not take the Medela SNS tubing the ‘right’ way and would not take a bottle and I thought I would have to finger feed her or start syringing milk into her mouth. Its a very frustrating position when you want and need help but you know that you know more about alternative feeding methods than any professional you might ask for help. I got one of these NG tubes-which by the way is fairly stiff and inflexible- and stuck it in the corner of her mouth…and away she went. It wasn’t bothering her.

So I then learned how to sneak the SNS tubes into the corner of her mouth. The SNS medium tube is far more flexible than the NG tubing but not nearly as thin and flexible as the small SNS tubing (case in point I have been through multiple small tubes as they develop pinholes just from regular use. At least 2 per child. I have not had to replace the medium SNS tubing through 2 children, but then I don’t use it every day either). But I learned to stick both of them in the corner of her mouth. And things worked. Mostly. Sure feeds took 20 minutes for ~60ml supplement on a good day (and 40-60 minutes on a not good feed- keep in mind this is after 10-20 minutes of regular breastfeeding). And the tube would wiggle and it would need a lot of adjusting (this is why I was happy I had the Medela SNS because when liquid is being consumed you can see air bubbles. Not possible with NG tube in a bottle method), but it worked. But maaaan was I glad to put it away.  No excitement that I was finally meeting her needs (+solids), just relief to be done with such a tedious fussy feeding regime. She’s been fine with plain breast. Which was part of the problem, as that is what she preferred and was not an option because of my supply.

Lesson learned. Never think you know what you are doing.

Not trying hard enough

Not trying hard enough is a phrase that has haunted me most of my life. For a long time it’s been applied vaguely at me in regards to weight loss. Despite my counting calories, and measuring or weighing most everything I eat and seeing no results. I bought into the idea that I must be doing something wrong and that I wasn’t trying hard enough. Now that I’ve finally (finally!) been diagnosed with PCOS I can give myself a little bit less of a hard time.

When breastfeeding went wrong and people actually said to me that I needed to work harder and that I wasn’t trying hard enough (also see: lazy, uneducated, and so on) I again bought into the idea that I wasn’t trying hard enough and it ate me up inside. I mean so many people were saying (mostly without knowing the specifics) that there must be something I was doing wrong.

Thing is, in a normal situation these things are not rocket science. They are simply not that hard. When you aren’t in a normal situation though, all bets are off. There are lots of variations on not normal, so be cool and give support.

This time around has been a really different experience for a lot of reasons. If I had more time I could write guides about horrible sleepy fussy babies with oral particular-ness and how much more this low supply gig sucks when you also have a toddler.  Most importantly though I know this time I am totally awesome and actually pretty damn hardcore for being able to do this.

I ran into some internet comments the other day espousing the same old tired bullshit that low supply is ultra rare and that people who say they have it are all a big bunch of lazy liars and blah blah blah. It made me a bit weepy because I’d forgotten how many of that type of ‘lactivist’ there still are. Here I’d been thinking that recent media exposure on the prevalence of breastfeeding issues had somewhat changed the landscape in the past two years. Ha, I say. Ha.

Someone else in the same stream of comments said something along the lines of ‘Well 99% of pancreases work so diabetes is ultra rare and you only think you have it’. Someone else countered with ‘Don’t eat 50 donuts a day and expect your pancreas to work’. I then thought, if anyone told a type 1 diabetic that eating donuts caused their disease they would just be convinced that person was a moron. Put it all in perspective for me. Anyone who ever thinks I didn’t or I’m not trying hard enough I can automatically dismiss as a moron.

Phew.

A fate worse than death

Sometimes I feel like not being able to breastfeed is viewed that way. Losing milk supply is a major worry for breastfeeding mothers. It rubs me a bit the wrong way when people who have successfully breastfed children so far start taking supplements and munching lactation cookies when their breasts don’t feel as full. Especially those whose babies are gaining well above the 140-210g/week.  Seriously makes me wince and/or want to pull my hair out.

Meanwhile all along I’ve been drinking teas, eating a lactation friendly diet, popping pills and pumping quietly. Quietly because when you are open about your lactation insufficiency people don’t know where to look. It’s something people openly say they fear and worry about but when it happens no one is sure what to say. Is sympathy the right response? Is telling people that it doesn’t matter if they breastfeed or not appropriate? Not really to either of them. Simple sympathy- I’m sorry- is probably the safest. Lately I feel that it’s almost more acceptable to talk about death than persevering through lactational insufficiency. It just makes people feel awkward. Some of them want to tell you you are wrong, others it scares.

But when people with normal supplies ask about how to help their milk supplies I grit my teeth and give them tips.  If no one else has given advise first. I admit I drag my feet. I mean I think I understand. I have to meticulously track volume and my child’s weight and I worry when top-up volume is dropped. But when you are fully breastfeeding you don’t have any type of gauge other than output, and intermittent weigh ins, which may not be all that satisfying. So hard breasts means there is plenty of milk there for the taking and is thus a comfort factor. I must be unusual in that I initially trusted my baby and my body to do what was correct despite evidence to the contrary. Over-education isn’t all great.

 

Deficient.

I do often wonder if there is something mentally wrong with me for doing this mixed feeding malarkey. In my cynical moments I see myself as a mother willing to risk starving her child out of stubbornness. At this point I know my breasts do not lactate appropriately. There is no tricking, hoping or stimulation that is going to make that not be the case. I don’t think formula is that bad or I’d maybe motivate myself to get some donor milk. Despite that I am now citrus, tomato, brassica, onion, garlic, pulse, and gluten free to keep my baby reasonably happy. Yeah if you’d told me ever that I would be on a restricted diet feeding a baby through a tube I would have thought you were crazy. But here I am. Anyhow. But at some level I can not let go of breast feeding and go completely over to the bottle and formula. Now that we are at the point where it isn’t complete hell to mix feed (seems to be 12 weeks is the magic hump) I seriously wonder what is wrong with me.

I see mothers blithely (so I imagine though I’m certain the reality included tears) say that they stopped breastfeeding due to low supply and I wonder why not me? Since this method is definitely not the standard way of dealing with low supply I do wonder of those that have low supply how many would like to be educated about management option and how many prefer to stop outright.

Last time I persevered because it was a giant fuck you, a because-I-can to everyone who told me I couldn’t. This time, in light of a tricky, overly sleepy baby who is not easy to feed and is orally particular, I wonder why I am so stubborn and dangerous.

I do know that once solids are established my feeding rig will be packed away and things will be…normal. Is that reason enough though? To deal with 6-7 months of difficulty for another year of unfettered breastfeeding before I have to encourage weaning and do it all again?

It’s certainly been harder with two. The mixed feeding takes more time than a healthy breastfeeding relationship so the older child misses out. We had planned three children when we were being logical (before kids) but the idea of doing this feeding regimen again is depressing at minimum. The only thing that makes me consider doing this mixed feeding thing again is that we can self wean. The perks of being the youngest.

Why a correct diagnosis is important.

Or how wait and see doesn’t cut it.

For the first 8 months of my first child’s life I thought I had low supply, probably from insufficient glandular tissue. I wanted a definitive diagnosis though and couldn’t find anyone to give me one. Then around 8 months, after we’d transitioned to just solids and breastfeeding and put the SNS away in the closet I noticed something that led me to believe that a posterior tongue tie might be the real problem. I couldn’t get a diagnosis for that either, but the more I read and researched a tongue tie did seem to be present. That discovery filled me with hope. Hope that next time would be different, that there was something I could do to make things better. So I planned my next breastfeeding experience around that. I lined up tongue tie release, made my midwife aware of my history and suspicions and mostly did as I was told- to wait and see because this time things might be different. I was told different child, different mouth shape, maybe no problems this time. I was dubious, and didn’t use as my midwife anyone who refused to take my concerns seriously, but I did get some variation of wait and see from everyone I talked to.

Just to hedge my bets I drank various teas throughout my pregnancy and made all my postpartum meals full of lactogenic ingredients.

And then I had my second baby, not how I planned, in fact things went in a way I hadn’t thought to plan for, but I had her and it was ok. Not great, not bad, but ok. And there was an obvious tongue tie, not a posterior one, and there was some waffling about whether it would cause problems from the hospital lactation consultants, and my midwife went to bat for me and we got it snipped anyhow. It made the latch a bit better and things were going normally. We were proceeding with caution, and I was getting some varying opinions on whether intake was good. Some people said looks good, some people were concerned about swallow frequency. I was a little stressed out, but I was assured that if I hadn’t had any history that no one would be worried. I was cautiously optimistic. Things were already different and better by leaps and bounds in terms of latching and output and weight loss.

After 5 days we went home. My milk came in, though there wasn’t engorgement as such, just a feeling of fullness and heaviness. I wasn’t too worried. After all some women don’t have much engorgement, right? Yes, but. Be concerned when you keep running into signs and symptoms that by themselves don’t mean much but when accumulated paint a more dire picture.

We’d had 8% weight loss by day 6. Well within normal ranges. Considering last time we’d had 11%+ by day 5 and more after that, 8% was fantastic. Output was good, my optimism was increasing. There was still concern about swallow frequency, but things seemed to be going well.

By day 11 only 60g (2oz) had been gained. Normal newborn weight gain should be at least 30g/day. I’d been expressing milk on top of feeding to boost my supply and to give as top ups to combat the cluster feeding. My midwife wanted me to get more than 2 hours sleep per day to help my milk, and also because having a toddler and a newborn isn’t sustainable on 2 hours of sleep out of 24.

The baby was sleeping more and more. We were feeding on demand, but where #1 had screamed and cried and never slept unless held, this one would sleep for 4+ hours, fall asleep at the breast and was generally very lethargic. I was pumping 4-6 times per day on top of feeds, and giving that milk via the SNS. Output was still good.

And day 15 came and the weight was the same as at day 11, 210g below birth weight. And the baby was so lethargic at that point that getting her to take a bottle was over a 1 hour affair of cold cloths, stripping, changes and so on for 60ml consumed.

So now we went into disaster management mode. I was to give 60-100ml via bottle every 3 hours day and night and pump afterward. We practically have to force feed the baby at this point.

It’s been a few days of that and hopefully birth weight will be regained in another day or two and we can revisit other feeding options, or even go back to feeding on demand.

And that’s where we are now. I wish we’d known before that IGT was the issue. I wish I’d been able to get that diagnosis. I could have been using the SNS from around day 10 or before and doing test weights to measure intake rather than disaster management of a lethargic and dehydrated baby.

Now I’ll likely have to contend with nipple confusion, breast refusal and possibly losing any kind of breastfeeding relationship. I might still be able to pull this situation out of the fire, but a diagnosis last time would have made this easier.

 

Body function and self image.

I referred to this in another post. I had thought to combine the topics, but both grew a bit of leg so two posts it is.

I realized sometime after I’d had my c-section how tied up in body image being able to birth normally was. Just a huge feeling of what are these parts of me good for if I can’t birth a baby. I’ve seen women dealing with prematurity expressing these sentiments as well. You begin to feel an inferior woman when your female specific parts don’t function as advertised. I’ve mostly been able to dismiss them as irrational as I knew from the beginning that my c-section was a baby issue, not mine, but it still rankles a bit. It’s certainly a body issue thing. Why have these massive hips if babies aren’t able to come out of them? What’s the good in being built as I am if none of it works right?

The breastfeeding issues we had were much harder to bear because for about 8 months I thought it was my issue and mine alone. I feel more now that it was a baby issue, but those 8 months of self loathing induced by looking at my inappropriately functioning body still linger. I often wished during that time that I had made a clean break for my psychological welfare. Once I got to not needing assisting devices I was happy enough I’d continued, but I had a lot of regretful feelings about being stubborn during those eight months. All the insecurities of adolescence over extra weight, uneven breasts, extra hair and body shape, all come crashing down when what’s supposed to work doesn’t. The more I read about what caused mother-side breastfeeding issues the more I began to focus self loathing on attributes I’d never liked but had come to accept as unchangeable parts of myself. All those things I long thought I’d learned to deal with or ignore. They were something it became more ok to hate about myself because they were signs of something wrong with me, outward signs of how I was failing my child.

I know body image during and post pregnancy is an issue that plagues a lot of women. Well, not just during and after pregnancy, but those who may have been secure enough before become less so when faced with pregnancy changes. So many seem to dread stretch marks, sagging skin and the other trials of baby-growing. It seems quasi-normal for women to be in a perpetual state of self-doubt and loathing over their appearance. I’ve been able to put that aside for the most part. Perhaps it’s the few years I spent living with nudity inclined strippers that has made me more secure in my body, perhaps it’s the years I spent purposely not shaving my legs as a teenager as social experiment, and still finding validation of being attractive, maybe it’s knowing that I’ve done what I can to lose weight and make my body healthier, or maybe I just have a strong sense of who fucking cares about that issue (certainly not about others apparently though). Whatever it is I have no issue putting on a swim suit or being nude in semi-public situations. I do find I’m still more ashamed of my breasts. Even though now I don’t think they did anything wrong, the loathing our breastfeeding issues awakened within me means I find their lopsided appearance shameful. Oh I still nursed in public, but showing them not in use gives me what must be a normal dose of modesty. I didn’t want people to see my source of shame. Even though it might not even be the case that they are faulty, or that the majority of anyone who would notice the unevenness would know it meant anything, it was something I began taking extra pains to hide.

Of course, now having been through that and out the other side there’s the comfort one can take in how our children love us no matter what we look like and how outwardly flawed we might be to others. I have dreadful upper arm flab, aka bingo-wings. However, my daughter loves them. Funnily enough I remember loving my grandmother’s upper arms as well. Not to the extent my daughter loves mine though. I think they act as a substitute boobie for her. She pinches them, nuzzles them and rubs her face on them frequently. It’s oddly comforting that my child loves such a conventionally unattractive part of me.  I used to comfort myself with that early on in our issues. That my baby loved my boobs even if they weren’t working right. It really hit home one day when she was about 15 weeks old. I was having her have nothing but a bottle all day in preparation for her going off to daycare. and every time I picked her up she’d stick her hand down my shirt and stroke my breasts and cry. It was heartbreaking, but after that day I didn’t cry every day about breastfeeding. (I managed to drop down to only around 5 days a week. Ha.)

Body image problems are not something I want to pass on to my current or future daughter. My mother, never noticeably overweight, was a constant dieter, constantly putting her body down and starving herself. I remember being maybe three or four and asking if I was fat and indicating hatred of my child-belly because it wasn’t something a barbie doll or iconic female body had. My mother got really upset with me. I didn’t understand why at the time, that she was upset I’d picked that sort of thing up. I just internalized it as there was something wrong, and so I remember. This was probably reinforced by my various family members having me weigh my food at age eight…

I don’t want concern about my body function to bleed through to concern about my body image.

Fussing over my body appearance isn’t something I do often. I only really feel frustration when I have to shop for clothing. Hopefully my general lack of concern with how I ‘ought’ to look versus how I do look will serve my children well.

Milk and casting resin jewelery tutorial

Updated at the bottom-after 4+ years!

 

I was curious about this and I had some left over milk that my kid will not drink. I think it got all lipasey in the freezer and it’s past it’s best by date anyhow. Besides, she’s suspicious of anything not water in cups. So I had loads of milk to play with (I’d tried to donate it a while back but we got crossed signals and I didn’t try again). I live in New Zealand so the artist that does commissions in the US is not an option for me. Plus I’m a naturally curious person and I’ve done resin casting before (though of scientific specimens). So be warned, this is a long picture heavy post. The step by step procedures (with pictures) are at the end, after I explore some things that didn’t work (or worked not so well), so if that’s what you want, skip on down. I’m not going to do any commissions (as I said, I live in NZ), this is just a starter guide for those interested in DIY milk-resin work.

I found this but I thought I’d try a few other things as well

I tried plasticizing milk via the vinegar-casein method and it really did not work. My milk separated some, but the globules did not stick together. They were so tiny that they just passed through my ultrafine cheese cloth.  I’m not sure how it’s been done by other people. I know the Etsy artist who does commissions in the US and a French design company both have plasticized human breast milk. I know the Etsy artist uses relatively small quantities, and from looking at her work I’m quite curious as to how that much precipitate comes from the volume of milk she requests. I’ve made cheese in the past and I know how cow milk precipitates, so I’d expect even less from human milk. Perhaps some sort of dehydration method. Well, whatever it is, it’s an interesting trade secret.

This is my milk after adding rather a lot more vinegar than the cow milk plasticization recipe called for (and lemon juice when the vinegar failed to do anything).

Still pretty liquid. The image doesn’t show it well, but there were tiny tiny precipitates in there. They, however, did not stick together. I left it sit for a bit with not much change. And they went right through 2 layers of ultrafine cheesecloth. So chalk that up as a failure.

Anyhow, on to things that did work, in various ways.

So what you need:

  • Polyester clear casting resin. Mine is called Klear Kast. I bought 500ml of it (about 2 cups). You can get this from craft stores and even auto body hobby shops. Make sure it’s clear. There are some resins that are white and opaque when they harden. By the way, this (500ml) was an excessive amount even for experimenting. 250ml (1 cup) should be more than enough for any milk casting project alone. You’ll even have enough with that for some other small projects. Only buy more if you plan on doing some deep casting (like making paperweights or something).
  • Moulds. There are special resin casting moulds. They are kind of a heavy duty thicker translucent plastic. Again, check a craft store. I suppose you could try some of the cheaper chocolate or candy ones. I can’t really see any reason why not to use a chocolate or candy one. The resin does get hot and will melt things (left over resin setting melted the little plastic medicine cups I had mixed it up in), but surely something you pour molten candy or chocolate into would hold up? I don’t know. Use at your own discretion. The chocolate/candy moulds tend to have more intricate designs, which you may not want for your resin project.
  • Small plastic or paper cups for mixing in-disposable.
  • Popsicle sticks (or some other wide thing to stir with, aka something disposable eventually)
  • Gloves, face masks and a well ventilated work area.
  • Toothpicks
  • Your milk (you don’t need much if you know how you want to use it, otherwise if you want to play around you may need more-also consider playing around with cow milk if your milk is in short supply). I’ll include volumes of how much I used for each process. Make sure you pasteurize your milk (by heating on the stove or microwaving it until it’s nearly boiling) before using. Otherwise any bacteria in there can continue to grow and turn your project all kinds of colours you may not have intended.

Things you don’t need but may want depending on what you want to do

  • Commercial resin spray- (I found cooking oil left a bit of a cloudiness to some of my castings). I’d say you may only need this if you are working with a complicated mould. All of my shapes came out without using it.
  • Dyes if you want them.
  • Pictures, other beads, mementos, glitter etc.
  • Modelling clay. I bought Sculpey (I let my daughter pick a color, she picked sparkly blue) because I had an additional idea in mind. If you just want milk shapes, you can get any, preferably oil based,  kind.  If you might want coloured shapes as well, get something that you can bake like Sculpey or Fimo. If you aren’t a very good sculptor, I’m not an artist, but I have done some sculpting, there are push moulds available for this type of clay.
  • Plastic wrap
  • syringe or eyedropper-disposable is best. You’ll likely want one for your milk and possibly another one for resin use. I got through all my testing, though I reused some, with less than 5 disposable droppers.

So the numbers are 1: My thawed microwaved milk, 2: toothpicks, 3: my casting resin, 4: toilet paper for wiping stuff up (didn’t have paper towels), 5: That’s a straw for getting out air bubbles (didn’t need it), a wide handled scoop which proved to be very handy for stirring things since I didn’t have any popsicle sticks, and plastic bags (for cleanup, but also because I didn’t have plastic wrap), 6: plastic droppers for dropping milk, 7: My clay shapes, 8: my mould, and 9: my plastic medicine cups for mixing in.

So here’s the thing. Preparation is key. Get everything you might want and do a dry run, without resin made up, before you make your resin up. The resin brands vary and some have as few as 3 minutes of working time once the catalyst is added/ the solutions are mixed.

You should make up your resin in very small batches as it will harden up and be unusable if you forget something or are doing anything layered. Stir the resin and the catalyst/hardener with a popsicle stick in the plastic cups (while wearing your gloves and mask in your well ventilated area). The directions on mine has how to make up various volumes. The smallest was 1 ounce (30ml), so I pre-measured that volume with a marking pen on the side of one of my plastic cups. Everything has clothespins on it because it was windy and stuff was blowing away.

There are a few ways to do this. You can have abstract patterns, swirls etc, or you can have shapes.

To make abstract swirls, layers you mix the milk in (along with dyes, glitter, other beads etc) right before you pour it in the mould. It will not mix well. Use a popsicle stick or toothpick to mix it as it’s in the mould even. You can also pour a layer of resin (or dyed resin), wait for it to set, and then pour a milk mixed layer, set, pour another layer etc for a layered look.

Here are some results where I mixed about 10-15ml of my resin with around 4ml of milk. I mixed it really well and after a bit got it to be only bubbly looking, but of a uniform color. I poured that into a few moulds. On the left picture you can see that from the 10-15mls with added milk I got 4 (3 shown here) whole shapes and a few partial dribbles (shown in other pictures below). The right picture is a closeup of the bubbly appearance of the mix. I have no idea how this will hold up long-term, but after a few hours it was solid enough to remove from the mould. It was however tacky and flexible for several days. In subsequent tests of this method I had gummy shapes after letting the pour set overnight. So when you mix your milk and resin you will need to A) add extra catalyst, B) allow it to set for several days. Generally, after 2-3 days the gummy ones had set fairly well and hardened off after a week. I don’t think this in itself is a good long-term piece of jewelery. The milk resin cast shapes seem a bit brittle in texture. Maybe embedded in resin or coated with another clear coat they would be fine. I did find that it casts up much harder (not gummy) if you increase the amount of catalyst. I made several milk mix castings that are white, bubbly and opaque this way. This will only work if you have the kind of resin where you add a smaller amount of catalyst, rather than the kind where you mix equal volumes of two solutions.

          

To make shapes:

Mould your shape out of modelling clay. You are going for a bas-relief effect within your resin mould. So if I were to make a heart I’d make it sort of flattish and only finish it on one side. Make sure it is nice and smooth. You also want it to be smaller than the perimeter of your mould, so there will be resin all along the edges. A deep shape also works better than a shallow one.

Here are the shapes I made. I kept it simple and smooth-edged. So hearts, starts, moons. Make sure you measure them to your mould. Will they fit inside?

Now  wrap your model in plastic wrap. I used freezer bags and rubbed out the lines. Plastic wrap is a lot better since the freezer bags tended to un-cling (from themselves, the clay etc).

Pour your resin to the level you’d like your shape at, or halfway. Deeper holds the milk resin mix better and makes more of a contrast in the finished product.However, you don’t want your resin to go over the top of your clay shape. It will be very difficult to remove. So a deep, but straight edged shape is best. Now, while the resin is still liquid, use toothpicks to hold the model in place, shape and plastic wrap side in the resin.

Allow the resin to set for at least 24 hours (cover it with something, like a clean box, and set it out of the way. You pretty much can not bring this stuff inside unless you like the smell of varnish and paint thinner. So garages are cool. If you don’t have one, put a box upside down with rocks on it over this outside for the night). Now,  remove the plastic wrapped modeling clay, which should pop right out (but you may need to dig out), and dropper, pour, or syringe your milk-resin mix in there. See below for what happens if you use straight milk (even frozen). Allow your milk resin mix to set for at least a day, if not several days. Now, pour (or dropper, droppers work well for this) another thin layer of clear resin on top (you can always make up more), sealing the milk in and fill the mould the rest of the way.Don’t be afraid to overflow your mould a bit. You can sand off any imperfections later on. If you want to do a layered thing, maybe a photo or other memento you can put the photo in first or after the milk, but there should be a layer of resin between them.

So here are the various photos and what I did

Round 1:

From top, clockwise: Milk resin mix large oval, resin with clay shape large oval, milk resin mix small oval, milk resin mix long bar, resin with milk resin mix swirled in long bar, resin with clay shapes rounded rectangle, resin with milk resin swirl hexagon, milk resin mix heart.

Shapes held in place with toothpicks-solidifying

   

Set up, in the mould, after.

These were the initial ones I did where I put the clay (oiled in one case) right in the resin. I thought the oil, or the oiliness of the clay would allow it to come out. Alas, after much digging I only got most of it out. And blue dusty stuff everywhere.

Here they are after removing as much of the clay as I could (still blue tinted, as you can see. So unless you want that, use plastic wrap!):

With milk in:

I put milk in the recessed bits and froze it overnight, then poured clear resin on top of it. The milk when it thawed rose up through the second layer of resin. So that’s why you don’t use plain milk. These would have turned out great if I’d used a milk resin mix. It’s a shame these had the clay sticking issue (and the further milk issue) as these turned out very crisp.Well, lesson learned, experimentation and whatnot.

After less than an hour:

After several hours:

So that’s why I recommend mixing the milk and resin before putting it in the bas-relief shape. It’s a bit bubbly looking, but produces a slightly cleaner end product. You can see the results of putting a previously cast milk-resin shape into a larger shape above the heart in the second picture above. See below for finished versions of everything I tried. Still only 4ml or so of milk (which can actually make rather a lot of castings with the 10-15ml of resin).

Here’s round 2 in the mould:

Clockwise from top: Clear resin with previously cast milk-resin embedded in it, bas-relief resin with pure milk shape (used straight clay, had to dig out, left blue residue), clear resin with clay shapes embedded, bas-relief round 2 with plastic wrapped clay 1, bas-relief round 2 with plastic wrapped clay 2, milk resin mix squares (2 of them), bas-relief resin with 2 pure milk shapes (again, blue residue), clear resin with milk-resin swirled in it (hexagon), bas-relief round 2 with plastic wrapped clay 3, 2 drop shaped milk resin shapes, and 2 long rectangular milk resin shapes, trapezoid clear resin with swirled milk resin.

Here are the results from a more successful round.

Here are the processes and finished products from all rounds:

So what ultimately worked well.

Bas relief casting and pouring a milk resin mix (~4mls milk to 10-15 ml resin) into the recessed shape.

How to do:

  1. Mould your shape (that you want to be made of milk) out of clay and wrap it in plastic wrap.
  2. Make sure the shape fits in your mould (resin shape) and pour resin prepared per manufacturers directions into your mould.
  3. Place your shape supported by toothpicks into your mould, and make sure it is about halfway submerged in the resin. You don’t want it to be too much more than halfway or it will be difficult to remove.`
  4. Allow to set. After 4-6 hours you may be able to remove your shape, but allow to set at least overnight before doing the next steps.
  5. As you can see I’m reusing some of the plain milk experiment ones.
  6. Do any cleanup (removing errant clay, plastic wrap etc, any scraping you feel necessary and so on)
  7. Prepare a small amount more resin per manufacturers directions. Pour a smaller volume of it into a separate cup and add milk. I used 10-15ml resin and 4ml milk and had way more than I needed. I found 4ml milk in 10-15ml resin gave a uniform whiteness that still hardened up if I used extra catalyst. I also found that increasing the catalyst increased the setting speed. Mixing the milk and resin before adding the catalyst often gave a smoother mix.
  8. Stir up the milk resin mix until fairly uniform. It may mix well and it may retain a bubbly appearance (like oil and water)
  9. Pour (or dropper with a disposable dropper) some of this milk resin mix into your shape. Allow to set (You can pour clear resin over the top of this, but you risk the milk floating out) for a few hours if not overnight.
  10. A few examples
  11. Make up more clear resin per the manufacturers instructions and pour another layer, fully filling your mould, over the top of your milk resin mix. Allow to set at least 24 hours or per manufacturers instructions.
  12. Drill any holes and you have jewelry.

Here are some examples of this technique. You’ll notice some surface imperfections from resin rundown, but those are easily sanded away with a fine sandpaper. Cast resin polishes up well. You’ll also notice that some of the milk shapes are quite light. This is due to the shapes not being deep enough. This is after something like 4 or more separate shape runs and over a month of work, so I was getting a little tired since I had some I liked fairly well. Now that I (and you) know what to do I’ll adjust my future shapes accordingly. Deep, and well away from the walls of the mould.

Setting a milk-resin mix shape into a larger clear resin cast

  1. For this you will need a smaller mould whose shape fits inside a larger mould.
  2. Prepare a small amount of milk resin mix. I used 4ml milk to 10ml resin which made several castings.
  3. Stir until well mixed.
  4. Pour into first mould. Allow to set at least 48 hours (this will be tacky and flexible when you pull it out)
  5. Pour clear resin into second mould
  6. Place milk resin shape into second mould. Push into position with toothpicks.
  7. Allow to set
  8. Drill holes and you have jewelery

I actually like the way this one turned out best in terms of opaqueness and general appearance. Too bad I didn’t have many interesting shapes that fit into other shapes!

Swirling milk resin mix into resin

  1. Make up some clear resin per manufacturers instructions
  2. Pour off a small amount to a separate cup and add your milk. Stir to mix.
  3. Pour some clear resin into your mould shape of choice, but do not fill.
  4. Pour some milk-resin mix into the mould.
  5. Use a toothpick to swirl however you like it
  6. Pour more clear resin on top
  7. Allow to set per manufacturers directions
  8. Drill holes and you have jewelery

Here are some various examples of this technique.

Now that I have spent over a month testing things (getting resin on my brand new camera 😦 at least it’s only on the screen) and writing this post here are some more photos of my finished products. Here are some of my favourite results:

There are 6 (3 matching pairs) cast milk resin mix,  3 swirled resin mixes (2 small ovals and heart), 2 bas-relief cast shapes (oval with heart and trapezoid with heart), and 1 cast milk resin inside clear resin (oval in oval).

A close up of the non-solid milk resin cast ones. Same as above.

These all still need some minor sanding and drilling…but no drill yet so I can’t show off finished products.

Other tips. If you wanted a dyed layer decide if you want an opaque or transparent dye and where you want it. If you want an opaque dye, for example, behind your milk shape, you’d proceed as I described until step 9, then dropper a circle (or other shape) of dyed resin on top of the milk resin mix, let that set, then finish off with clear resin. Similarly if you want the whole thing translucently dyed, just use that instead of clear resin. If you want beads, glitter, a photo or other memento do a mock-up of how things will fit together so you know what order to put things in the resin.

 

Edit: Hey I see this post is getting really popular. I’ll try and put up some pictures of my resin cast milk over a year after I made them.

 

Edit 2: So it’s now been over 4 years, I’ve moved nearly every year, have 3 kids 4.5 years apart, and I have a job, so have been busy.

BUT! I dug these out (I still haven’t done anything with them. I have plans involving dremel tools, drilling and mounting them on some wood- we’ll just see if I ever have time for that). It’s November 22nd 2015.

They have yellowed. I put them on a black background to show maximum contrast. But only to an ivory kind of colour. I still think they look quite nice. Especially for being left in various boxes stored away for so many years.

I tried to pick ones that I showed above.

So here they are, with and without flash.

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