What happens when breastfeeding doesn’t work out? It is important to allow yourself the freedom to feel emotions associated with that: grief, anger, relief. Society pushes mothers to move on if breastfeeding doesn’t work out, or worse, makes them feel guilty for it.
As a doula, I assure my clients they will always receive judgement free support from me.Whether you have a home birth, epidural, cesarean, breastfeed or formula feed: my support is unconditional. Your feelings are not wrong. You are not alone in what you are facing. If you find yourself overwhelmed in motherhood (who isn’t?) build a village for yourself; surround yourself with people who can relate to and encourage you. If breastfeeding doesn’t work out, give yourself permission to let go of any regret or guilt. Below, a mother shares what it can be like when breastfeeding doesn’t work out. May her story remind you that you are not alone. May it encourage you to let go of any guilt, and free you to feel any emotions. To the mom who was brave enough to share her story, thank you.
In 2010, I made the decision to have breast reduction surgery. While I understood that the consequences of surgery may include the inability to breastfeed any children that I may have in the future, the benefits far outweighed any disadvantages. To further complicate our situation, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in 2011. While this disease does not directly affect breastfeeding, it does effect my health and can be incredibly draining under stressful situations, both physically and mentally. In 2014, we found out we were expecting our first child and were overjoyed! After five years of marriage we were finally expanding our family! Throughout the pregnancy the thought loomed over me: would I be able to provide food for my children in the way that God intended? I spoke with my OB, and she advised that we prepare ourselves for both scenarios and educate our selves on both breastfeeding and formula feeding. And so we studied up, took online classes, and prepared ourselves for each option. We stayed optimistic that I would be able to provide our child with the valuable nutrients and antibodies that are attributed to breastfeeding. On April 26, 2015 at 7:44 PM, after twelve hours of laboring and multiple decels from our baby’s heart monitor, the doctor finally decided that it was time to operate and to get our sweet baby out. We welcomed a beautiful baby girl into the world via c-section. She was born with very low blood sugar, and she could not wait for my colostrum. We signed off on an agreement to give her pasteurized breast milk from a donor mother via bottle. She received this for the first few feedings of her young life. Her sugar levels finally stabilized after several long hours. It was definitely a struggle initially to breastfeed my precious little gift. I was incredibly sore and even bleeding at times. She grew frustrated and hungry. I was eating and drinking around the clock to try to keep my blood sugar up while we worked to feed. I had a visit from my endocrinologist who basically took me off of insulin altogether while breastfeeding because I was burning through my carbs so rapidly that the insulin was essentially useless. It only caused my blood sugar to drop to unhealthy levels. We had visits from the lactation specialists and an outstanding group of nurses who were all willing to spend quality time with us practicing positions, latching, and different techniques to help my baby and I connect. We did reasonably well in the hospital, with only a few hiccups and meltdowns that are typical to breastfeeding. I felt comfortable going home and continuing to work with my sweet little one to figure it out. When we left the hospital, I felt that we would most definitely be successful! We came home on a Wednesday afternoon and, with my husband and mom’s help, I napped when I was not eating and drinking or feeding her. It appeared both at the hospital, and for the first few feedings at home, that I had colostrum. We were incredibly hopeful that I would indeed be able to breastfeed. My daughter and I worked very hard during those first few feedings, but struggled. I was in great pain and cried through each feeding, while still trying to cherish my time with her. That night she cried and cried. For 16 hours she cried. My husband and I walked her, we rocked her, we read to her, and most of all, I tried and tried to feed her – sobbing the whole time. The next morning we went straight to the pediatrician’s office. I pumped before we left, for 30 minutes total (producing about a half ounce) and it was mostly blood with a few drops of milk – a bazaar shade of pink that will never leave my memory. I fed her when we got to the pediatrician’s office and prayed it would be enough to satisfy her. She downed the bottle in ten seconds. Ten. I counted each second as those precious, hard fought drops left the bottle. She cried and cried, begging me for more. I wiped away the tears from my eyes and walked into the doctor’s office, all the while praying that God would provide our doctor and us with wisdom. Our pediatrician listened intently as we explained our journey with breastfeeding and said, “Mommies always know how to beat themselves up – but they never give themselves enough credit. Let me give you some formula for supplementation, and please give yourself a break!” The nurse drew her blood. I took his advice and went home to feed my poor, starving baby. She took 2 ounces of formula and I promptly fell asleep, leaving my poor bewildered husband with my mom to take care of our sweet girl. Eight hours later I woke up to my world slightly shaken and my heart nearly breaking. Her bilirubin jumped (in just 18 hours) from 13 to 17. A nurse was on her way to our home to help us set up a phototherapy light and we learned that my dearest one was, essentially, starving on my milk supply. I tried to pump two more times after that. My daughter couldn’t be out of the phototherapy bed long enough to try to feed for a full 30 minutes. She was only allowed to sit slightly upright, while still in the bed, to feed from the bottle. Both times I cried from the pain of the pump on my breast and because I was only retrieving a half-ounce from both sides. My nipples were completely mutilated from her struggle to retrieve milk, and the milk was so bloody that it was nearly useless to give it to her at all. My strength was waning because I was unable to keep my glucose levels up, and unable to eat fast enough to stabilize them. As I watched my sweet baby stare up at the ceiling from her phototherapy bed and grip my finger, I knew that things could definitely be worse. Many, many things could have gone wrong during her delivery. Many, many things could have gone wrong during my pregnancy – at 24 weeks we were told to prepare ourselves for an early delivery because the placenta may no longer be viable. I knew that I could just as easily be staring at my little one through the shell of a NICU incubator. I knew that many moms before me have suffered countless hurts much greater than the hurt I felt in my heart. But I also knew that this, this breastfeeding thing, it was not working for us. My mom came in while I pumped for the final time. I explained my hurt and my decision. My mom works with NICU babies and has worked in labor and delivery for nearly my entire life. She is pro-breastfeeding. She believes wholeheartedly that “breast is best.” But she had watched our struggle over the last two days at home and supported me unfailingly while we worked to make it work. My mom held me while I cried and mourned the loss of this connection with my daughter. My husband held me when my mom left my side to go buy formula, and bottles, and everything we would need to be successful formula feeders. My husband fed me, bathed me, and put me to bed promising that our little “glow worm” (our daughter’s name during her time in phototherapy) would be well cared for while I rested. And then I slept. For hours and hours I slept. When I awoke, I cried some more. The loss of this hurt more than I could have ever imagined. Sure, I could have kept on trying. I could have kept on latching my daughter or a pump to my sadly mangled body. I could have kept stuffing carbs down my throat to keep up with my body’s demand. I could have spent more time beating myself up for my daughter’s pain. But for her, and for me, and for my husband it was no longer worth fighting for. It was no longer worth the physical pain for her and for me, the mental anguish, the hurt in my heart, and the toll it took on my already broken (from disease) body. Enough was enough. I closed the chapter. While I still long for this connection with my daughter and still mourn its loss, I know my energy is better spent working on my daughter’s health and my own. Since that time, my glucose levels are back to normal and she is a perfectly normal, perfectly happy, perfectly beautiful little girl. And I am so grateful to God for allowing me to be her mommy!