When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Work…Part 5

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This is the fifth and final post in a series about breastfeeding and my very personal experience with it. If you haven’t read previous posts, it might help to start with Part 1.  

Being cautiously hopeful was wise. I used the hospital grade pump for the first week we were home from the hospital and starting using the supplemental nursing system about a week after that. I was taking my herbs and drinking my mother’s milk tea every night. We tried to correct all of those breastfeeding “mistakes” that were made with Big Brother. But, just like with Big Brother, there was no engorgement, no clear indication that my milk had come in. And, as the days went on, it was clear that Little Brother was growing more frustrated by nursing (as he wouldn’t get enough). Given the information I had found, I wasn’t surprised. Disappointed, but not surprised. Notice the key word–disappointment. Not despair, not devastation. My psyche was MUCH better this time. I was prepared to face this.
It was a BIG help that Little Brother was a much better nurser and we were prepared emotionally & logistically from the get-go. Although nursing was still crazy painful in the beginning, we kept at it longer and it did get much easier. A HUGE improvement from the situation with Big Brother. And, my milk production improved. A couple of pumping sessions I actually produced one full ounce!! Which was (sadly) a really exciting accomplishment! That said though, I still produced no where near enough to sustain Little Brother. This time, in a 24 hour period, I was making about 4-6 ounces of milk total from pumping and a couple of times, I even got 8! In addition, I was still nursing him at least a few times a day–so he was certainly getting more ounces there. It was incredibly time consuming though–hours of being hooked up to the baby, pumps, supplemental nursing systems, and feeding bottles.

That was really difficult with a 3 year old around and he was definitely feeling neglected many times. So, Little Brother and I made it 3 months and then our time came to an end. While I certainly wish my circumstances were different, I am at least glad that we saw improvements with Little Brother. And, once again, I am cautiously hopeful that we’ll see even better results with #3.

Before I became a mom, I had NO idea what a “hot button” issue breastfeeding is and would become for myself. It is such a personal decision and experience, yet one that EVERYONE seems ok with asking you about. And, furthermore, one that many are comfortable making judgments about. 
I have been given disgusted looks by moms who are nursing while I mix up a bottle of formula. I have been hurt by comments. I’ve been angered by articles/blogs that further the myth that “every woman can nurse” and make judgments about women who don’t breastfeed, that bash formula companies and the “poison” they make. Well, that “poison” HAD to save my children from starving to death! I was once offered a sample can of formula from who I’m sure was a very well-meaning mom who said, “Do you want this? We don’t use this stuff in MY house”. Ugh. There was even all kinds of drama raised by some over moms writing positive reviews of the Similac Baby Journal App
It saddens me (and has personally added further to my feelings of failure) that some are so quick to judge or who don’t seem to think about moms who would LOVE to be able to breastfeed their child, but physically can’t. Dear Chrissy addressed similar feelings in a post saying, “There is no blogger (and I like this one), no activist, no commenter or outspoken Twitter user that can inflict a pain on me deeper or more profound than the absolute agony that I put myself through when I failed to breastfeed my child, but if you want, you can give it your best effort.” I completely agree, but will say, that it still hurts–those comments reopen emotional wounds that run very deep.
So, there are many reasons for sharing my story (and in so much detail):
1. I want other to-be/new moms to know that no matter how badly you want to and how hard you try, breastfeeding might not be possible for you. Yes, it’s rare. But, it’s unfortunately true. The notion that “every woman can breastfeed” is a MYTH. Contrary to what some sources may tell you or how you might be feeling, not breastfeeding does NOT make you any less of a wonderful mom and your kiddos will be OK. 

2. I want more OB/GYNS, Mid-wives, Pediatricians, nurses, lactation consultants, etc. to be knowledgeable about breast hypoplasia and helpful to women trying to breastfeed with the condition. I want more breastfeeding resources to be HONEST and include more detailed information about conditions leading women to have difficulty nursing.

3. I want other moms and judgmental breastfeeding advocates to take a moment to stop and think before they speak (or write). Some women don’t breastfeed. For some, it’s a choice. For others, it’s not. When you see a mom feeding a child formula, you have no idea of the circumstances. You have no idea what that mom and baby have been through on their journey. You have no idea if that was a confident decision the family made or if that mom is fragile and grieving how her body has failed her. Think about how much you love(d) nursing your baby; think about how important you think it is that your perfect food is the only thing that nourished your most precious babe for months; think about how hard it was for you the last time you nursed and that bond was over….then try for just a minute to imagine if your body wouldn’t have allowed you to do that. Think about a momma who wanted desperately to do that, who envies the milk you produce, who has tears streaming down her face, still dealing with that loss and those body issues 4 years later.
So, please don’t look at the formula in disgust. Please don’t comment about not breastfeeding. And, please don’t judge.  

Thank you for reading!
Whole series: 
Part 1
Part 2  
Part 3 
Part 4 
Part 5

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I’m Sara, a mom to three adorable boys living in the Arizona desert. As a former teacher, I love sharing my passions with others. So, have a look around for creative inspiration about cooking, creating, celebrating, traveling with kids, and more everyday mom endeavors!


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22 Responses

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I have tried to bf all 5 of my kids. The longest I made it was 6 months. I had to supplement from day 1 with each of them. I felt like such a failure. You think it would be the easiest thing in the world, it is not. They think that pcos is effecting my milk supply, but not sure. I tried everything, not much helped. If it weren't for formula my babies would have starved. I have also been hurt by others' comments. Once again, thanks so much.

  2. I hope this reaches the new moms that need to hear it. What a wonderful message. I was lucky enough to have plenty of milk. Yet, with both children, it just suddenly "turned off" at 7 months. Almost to the day. I know I was supposed to nurse for a year… but when they're starving, they're starving. Formula is wonderful stuff! Keeps our angels smiling and healthy!

  3. Thanks so much for reading & commenting, ladies!

    @Mayasmom: I'm so sorry it was such a struggle for you too. In my research about what might be going on, I did discover quite a bit about links between PCOS and low supply. Good for you for making it 6 months though!! 🙂

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Our stories are very similar in many ways. I've never heard of breast hypoplasia before, and considering the trouble we had with breastfeeding, pumping, and weight gain in my son, I can't believe no one mentioned it to me. I too have been devestated over spilled milk, set my alarm to get up and pump every 2-3 hours only to get a tiny amount, and struggled with the feelings of guilt and inadequacy. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  5. Thank you for posting such an intimate look at this issue. I had a terrible time with breastfeeding my son and it took me at least two years to stop feeling devasted and guilty. He is 3.5 yrs old now and completely health, happy and well attached to me. Wish I could have found your type of post when he was a baby! I'm sure it will help many moms!
    Happy Spring!

  6. Sara – Thank you for sharing your BF journey. I found myself struggling in many of the same aspects on my journey but only feeling like a failure when I'd hear other new moms say how much milk they had and how easy it was. Every day of nursing was a challenge. I spent 1.5 hours of my work day just trying to get enough milk to make it to the next day. I was blessed to nurse as long as I did and it was only because I finally found peace and comfort in knowing I did what I could. I'm hopeful that more professionals do become more aware of Breast Hypoplasia. Just telling women to pump more and nurse more isn't always the answer. I am so grateful for your honesty and openness. It has touched my heart! – Jill

  7. When it comes to breasfeeding, I always say "Your boobs, your business!" b/c we never know what is going on. It's not ours to judge.

  8. I tried to breastfeed my first and was dry.
    She had lost weight so when we had the second it worried me so much that I quit before I left the hospital.

  9. This subject is so difficult to broach, everyone has an opinion, and for some reason there's an insane amount of competition and finger pointing involved. I totally agree with Shell, it's no ones business but your own. Thank you for sharing your story, more women should. I wrote a post about my experience here:
    And even though I had a much easier time of it than you did, the guilt is always there no matter what we do.
    All I can say is that I hope the emotional pain fades for you in time. Luckily breastfeeding is only one of a million ways we can bond with our babies and show them we love them.

  10. Thanks very much for sharing this. My little one is almost 6 wks old, and my first few weeks were HARD as my milk didn't come in (and after reading your research summary, it seems I have a number of the 'symptoms' you mention) and we worked with supplemental nursing. Things are much better now, but the failure I felt with a screaming hungry baby those first few days will take a long time to fade. With the push to promote breastfeeding as a viable option, too few of the resources mention how hard it might actually be for reasons beyond a mother's control.

  11. Thank you for sharing your story. I'll never take for granted the fact that I've been able to nurse my 3 babies.
    I also want to applaud you for being SO very persistent, nursing and pumping around the clock, to give your babies any little bit you could. I hope that someday they understand and appreciate the sacrifices you made (and undoubtedly continue to make) for them. Many mothers would have given up far sooner. You're a great example of selfless love!

  12. That is amazing sacrific and love to work so hard for so little. Thank you for writing this. Breastfeeding my first was downright frustrating (and torturous) but like you I plowed through. Now on my third I have learned so much and I am feeling so much more confident.

    Breastfeeding is not easy and there should be more information out there telling women this. Thank you!

  13. What an excellent series! When my son was born he was a "lazy sucker". He would open his mouth and wait for the milk to come to him. I had to be very creative with feedings and it took 3 weeks for him to finally get it. With my daughter I dried up at 7 months and she was sensitive/allergic to all of the formulas. I fed her goat milk. Her doctor was furious. But my girl thrived. We mommas know best and we just need to remember to trust our own gut and do what is best for our little ones. My babies are 12 and 16 now and are perfectly healthy kids.

  14. Oh, I am feeling so bad for you! Breastfeeding mania is so very much out of control. I, too, felt like a total failure because the first attempt was a disaster. I felt I had to vindicate myself when the second arrived!

    This is such a bizarre and stupid cultural thing that has ground around breastfeeding, making it the be-all and end-all. You are not alone–could not possibly be even close to alone on this statistically speaking. Thanks for speaking up about this.

    I had a well-meaning but thick-headed friend who militantly carry on about breastfeeding as essential. Ironically, she could not breastfeed her second child for some reason. She never said why. However, I never heard another snarky word about mothers who did not breastfeed again.

  15. I had the exact same problem and gave up around two weeks as well on my first daughter. It was also diagnosed on my second attempt and I managed to feed with the SNS for six months. I was on domperidone, Fenugreek, Blessed Thistle and pumping constantly when not nursing. I have now found out I'm expecting number three and I'm determined to get a handle on this again. I had heard about some women treating it with natural progesterone during pregnancy so I am looking into that. It makes sense if you consider transgenders can actually grow breasts by taking progesterone. I wonder if this is a non-surgical option for people like us. There is so much work to be done. Thank you for your story and asking people not to judge. I found the LLL people well-meaning but completely clueless and not in the slightest bit helpful. They did not know about IGT and didn't want to hear what I said. :/ Here's hoping this time will get better!

  16. I read every entry and hung on every word. While I do not have quite the supply issue you had, I have had a lower than normal supply with every baby. I have never NOT had to supplement. Even this time, my best yet, and I have had to give my daughter bottles of formula from the very beginning. Like you, I never leaked and it took my milk unusually long to come in. I average 2-3oz. per sitting at the pump these days. I was keeping up for awhile, but not anymore. I get tired of seeing women boast about their oversupply “issues.” I don’t consider that to be an issue at all. I wish I had that problem. I have also had a sleepy, jaundiced baby with latch issues that led to nipple confusion and an outright nursing strike. I pumped for six weeks to give him my milk before my output was no longer worth the effort. In the beginning he was pitiful and screaming his head off too. He was my first baby after the loss of my premature son. He was my miracle and he was starving. I broke down at the LC’s when she told me he was dehydrated. I was so guilty that I had been so determined that he not have formula that I had refused to supplement him for 5 days. My poor poor little baby. All I did was make his problems worse. I have lost friends over these issues because of their hurtful judgements and also because they felt the need to rub their successes in my face. I WISH a single person would have been supportive and encouraging (including my own husband), but they just weren’t. You tried as hard as you could. And although your nursing relationships were not what you had hoped, you didn’t fail anyone. To be able to give your boys any milk was a success. Never believe otherwise. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your experience. I am not happy that you had this difficulty, but I am glad that I am not alone.

  17. Wow, wow, wow. Thank you for sharing your story.
    I’m one of the lucky ones. I had no problems (other than some pain at the beginning) in nursing #1. With #2 scheduled to arrive tomorrow, I’m hoping for a similar experience.

    But I have friends and family who weren’t so lucky. Who had problems. And one who, despite wanting to, never found any love or enjoyment in the chore of nursing her child. And felt all kinds of guilt that it made her a “bad mom.”

    There is no question on the Harvard Admissions Application asking High School seniors if they were breastfed. Is it great? Absolutely. But it is not the defining factor in determining the future success of any child.

  18. Thank you for your post. I also have IGT and have experienced the same heartbreaks as you. I would like to blog my story one day, too. Thank you for being brave enough to share!

  19. Your passion in series is clear. Your love of your children and your determination to try and try and try again when most would have given up much earlier shows your dedication as a mother who only wants the best for her children. I am so sorry you have had such a hard time. My heart breaks for you as you really wanted it to work, but your story will help so many deal with the guilt of not being able despite best efforts! xoxo

  20. I stumbled upon this quite by accident but I’m so glad I did! I have had such a similar experience to what you describe. I also believe I have IGF and have had two failed bf experiences. Did you ever get a professional that was able to confirm a diagnosis? Who is actually qualified to do that? I’d like to see someone who can tell me “yes you have this, and here are a few things to try.” Thanks for opening up and sharing. While going through my traumatizing experience with my first baby I felt so alone, like I was the only one who couldn’t do what my body was made to do. It was a dark place and my family was very worried about me. Now, pregnant with my third I have a whole different outlook. I have two happy, healthy children that love me and are perfectly bonded to me.

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