Friday, July 8, 2011

All Breasts Are Not Created Equally

I follow a local chiropractor's tweets and recently saw one proving how mothers can better bond with their babies. Before I even clicked on the link I immediately knew it was about breastfeeding. Two and a half years later the thought still makes my heart sink.

I'd read the research about the importance of breastfeeding, and to me there wasn't an option. Of course I'd planned to breastfeed; I wanted to do what was best for my daughter. I signed up for the class, read the books, bought maternity bras and had a supply of Lansinoh on hand. I thought I was prepared. I never expected it to be easy, but I knew it was the right thing to do. I'd never before heard of someone's milk never coming in. I didn't even know that was a possibility.

After my sweet daughter was born the nurse explained that typically babies have the most difficulties latching on. Not my Ellie. She latched on like a champion and continued to do so during our hospital stay. It wasn't until she was four days old that my husband and I became a little concerned. She seemed to be crying more, and my milk hadn't yet come in. I really felt nothing different. She continued to latch like she had been, but we began to realize she wasn't actually getting anything. Ellie's pediatrician confirmed she was losing weight but agreed that breast milk was best so we decided to give my milk a little bit longer.

I'll save you all the details, but overall I spoke with one lactation consultant by phone and met with two others in person. To this day I feel very angry toward them. The consultants agreed that though it's not normally recommended for new mothers, I should buy a pump and begin using it. So I did. I desperately wanted my baby to have what was best. Don't we all? I would pump for 25 minutes and only get about an ounce. I'd try to breastfeed Ellie first until she'd begin to get frustrated. Then I'd put the small amount of breast milk I'd pumped into a tiny bottle that was given to me by one of the consultants. This bottle had a very thin tube that was then taped to my breast so Ellie wouldn't lose the natural breastfeeding sensation. After that, I'd begin pumping again. "If you want it to work badly enough it will," I vividly remember one of the consultants saying to me. I grind my teeth at the thought of it. Of course I wanted it badly. I was obsessed with being able to feed my child. Only for whatever reason, I couldn't do it.

I was basically either trying to breastfeed or pump constantly, and she still wasn't getting enough. At one of Ellie's numerous weigh in appointments she was crying, and I was crying, and her doctor came into the room and offered some formula. Feeling defeated and hopeless and not wanting to starve my child I agreed to give it to her. Ellie sucked down the formula as fast as she could; it was obvious how hungry she was. That made me cry harder.

My husband is a good man. He'd been trying to gently tell me we should try switching to formula, but I'd been very adamant. If you know me well or know my family you know I come by it honestly; it's in my blood. But on the car ride home that day we agreed that changing to formula was the best option for our family. I was devastated, but I knew he was right. I'd done the best I could do. And I felt happy that our baby was finally full. I was also relieved that I could spend more quality time with her instead of being constantly hooked up to the pump. But I also felt ashamed, and I had so many questions without answers. My breasts were still duds. I'd read and heard so much about how sore they're supposed to get, and I still felt nothing. I'd prayed so hard to feel that pain and to be able to do what I was supposed to do and nourish my child. I couldn't understand why I was inadequate. I felt as though I'd failed at my first and most important role as a mother.

The formula quickly helped Ellie get back to her birth weight and then some. I was happy she was healthy, but continued to feel so guilty. And embarrassed. For over a year, at every well visit a nurse would ask whether or not she was breastfed, and I felt the need to explain that I'd tried. I'd really, really tried. I felt I was being judged at each and every visit. Maybe they were being critical. Maybe I was just paranoid. Why in the world didn't they just put that into her chart? It's not like I could begin breastfeeding at six months.

Having to answer the dreaded breastfeeding question is something that has haunted me so many times. Just two weeks ago I took Ellie to her first dental appointment. On the paperwork I had to complete was a question about whether or not my child was breastfed. I checked that she wasn't and didn't have as strong of an urge to add a comment that she wasn't bottle fed by choice. I'm now more at peace with the fact that I tried my best, but thinking about it still stings a little. And although I can't and would never argue with the research that says it is best I can tell you for a fact that it's simply not possible for every mother. Even ones who also want the absolute best for their babies.


  1. Amy,

    Don't be so hard on yourself! My brother was breastfed and I was not and I'm even more fabulous than he is! ;-)

    Love you,

  2. As hard as it is - you need to stop feeling guilty. You did everything you could to try to breastfeed and there is nothing wrong with that. You gave her whatever your body could produce and that is GREAT! You're a great Mom!

  3. Thanks, Ladies. Val, you are definitely fabulous! :) And, Maggie, thanks so much. I really appreciate both of your comments!

  4. Tics me off still that you were made to feel badly! You are a terrific mother, sister! Glad you are trying to let it go. Love you lots!

  5. I feel ya Amy!! Same exact thing with THREE children. None of which was I able to breastfeed exclusively. Sarah is 9 and it still 'stings' my heart at the thought of it.

    But, chin up! You're a great mother in every aspect!!! Love ya!


  6. Thanks, Steph! Love you too! I'd kind of like to pay those lactation consultants a visit today. It's probably for the best that I don't remember their names!

    Cindy, I didn't know you went through the same thing. So sorry. It stinks! I keep hearing of more and more women who go through this, but it's still sort of taboo to talk about it. Thanks for your comment! Love you too!

  7. I love your blog! With my first, he would seemingly nurse and nurse, for an hour or more at times and kept losing weight the first week or so. But when I would pump, I would get at least 25 oz a day. Finally, the lactation nurse at our hospital completely surprised me when she told me to put it in a bottle and go with it. I still feel like I spent most of my maternity leave feeding, then pumping, repeat....he caught up with me around 3 or 4 mos so we did both breast milk and formula. I stopped pumping at 6 mos. when I realized I could be spending all that time with him instead. I was so very excited when I packed away that dreaded machine! I just unpacked it last week the whole time praying that this time around works out differently, but if not, we'll just figure it out as we go along.

  8. Me again, because I obsess and there's no edit button. Most of my time spent pumping...confession...I'd also cry...because physically, I never got used to it and emotionally, I wanted to be "normal" like all the other moms I knew who had no problems and spent all that nursing time bonding with their babies.

    And YOU are a great Mom! I mean, anyone who could take care of any situation by what's in her purse clearly is nothing but the best!

  9. Thanks so very much for your comments, Heather! I wish you the absolute best of luck this time! I pray you have to use the dreaded breast pump as little as possible ... if at all!

  10. Hey Amy, I enjoy reading your blog. Breastfeeding was definitely something I struggled with as well but was something I had my mind made up that I was going to do prior to Charlie coming along. Well, 1 week out, I was ready to give up for sure. If it hadn't been for my mom and my husband, I probably would have. It did end up working for me better than for you but I'm still struggling 2 months later with one issue after another. Ugh! Anyways, you have very cute posts and you sound like a wonderful mother with a very cute, thriving little girl so looks like you are doing great! Take care! Stephanie (Matney) Wheawill

  11. Hi, Stephanie. Thanks so much for your comment. I'm so glad that you've been able to breastfeed, but I'm sorry you've had to struggle. It's definitely not something the "pros" ever really talk about. Anyway, it's great to hear from you. Charlie is a cutie!!! :)

  12. Oh wow! You just wrote, almost verbatim, what could be my breastfeeding story. However, I was made to feel like I had to keep trying with my firstborn for 4 weeks! I was seriously losing my mind when my sweet momma stepped in one day and gave Jacob a bottle of formula. He sucked it down and slept for 4 hours! It was a simple decision at that point to switch to formula.
    I tried once again with Jenna because like you, I felt so guitly after my experience with Jacob. Everyone said it would be different. Alas, I had the same results so after 2 days, I switched to forumla and had a much happier newborn. I too, feel the pangs of guilt when I have to answer the breastfeeding question and I feel that I have to explain. Thanks so much for sharing your story, it's comforting to know it wasn't just me!