Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Let's Talk About Breastfeeding

All throughout my pregnancy, I heard stories of how difficult labor is, how hard it is function on so little sleep in the newborn stage, how hard it is to not have any "me" time. Everyone failed to mention, however, how hard breastfeeding is, and I really wish someone had told me.

I don't want to scare anyone who is pregnant, or still trying, but breastfeeding, and eventually deciding to stop, is one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life.

Once my milk came in, Kieran had a pretty good latch, and was a good eater. He ate best in the football hold on the right side, but we were able to do the "normal" cradle hold on the left. My nipples were sore for a few days in the beginning, but they never cracked or bled.

From the outside, it looked like we had breastfeeding down. But internally, I was constantly worried about my supply. I started pumping almost from day one because I thought Kieran would be going to daycare one day, and I wanted to have an ample freezer stash built up. I could never get more than an ounce out of each side per session, but everyone told me not to worry because what you were able to pump wasn't an indicator of what baby was able to get.

At Kieran's one month appointment, he had only gained 12 ounces from birth and had dropped from the 92nd percentile to the 43rd. At his two month, he had only gained a pound and 7 ounces. At four months, he had only gained two pounds, 10 ounces and was up every 45 minutes throughout the night to eat. I knew then, that he wasn't getting the food that he needed.

Even though I was pumping multiple times a day, breastfeeding on demand, taking fenugreek, eating oatmeal, and drinking enough water to drown, my supply was still tiny. It was suggested that I start supplementing with formula to make sure Kieran was getting the nutrients he needed.

Breaking out that can of formula I had hid in his closet "just in case" was the hardest thing I ever did. I bawled when I gave Kieran his first bottle of formula because I felt like such a failure and a bad mother. Everyone told me that "breast is best" and no one complained about how difficult it was, so I figured I was doing something wrong.

Since starting formula, my supply continued to drop, and eventually pretty much disappeared. I decided last week to stop breastfeeding when I tried to feed Kieran and he screamed at the breast because nothing was coming out. I was only getting half an ounce after pumping both breasts for 30 minutes, so I knew my supply was next to nothing.

Deciding to stop breastfeeding has come with a lot of guilt. I had dreams of breastfeeding Kieran until he self weened, even if that meant he waited until he was two. My dream of a drug free vaginal birth was taken from me, so I was really hoping breastfeeding would work out, but it was just one more thing my body failed at. I am thankful that Kieran was exclusively breastfed for 4 months, and getting some breast milk up until 7 months, but I will forever wish it was longer.

Even thought I know I'm doing what's best for my son, there will always be a part of me that will feel guilty for not trying harder, for not trying one more supplement or pumping schedule that promised to increase my supply. Even though I talked to Kieran's pediatrician, and the hospital lactation consultant, both who told me to use formula, I wonder if I had searched for a more understanding expert, that things would have turned out differently.

I am lucky to have met a wonderful group of women on Twitter who have supported me throughout these tough decisions. Some of them exclusively breastfed, some exclusively pump, some do a mix of formula and breast milk, some use formula. All of them, however, have never judged me for my decisions, and have always been there with a kind word. I've also learned that I'm not the only one who has struggled with breastfeeding, or the guilt of not succeeding.

I wonder why women can swap stories of torn vaginas and multiple-day labors like they're nothing, but they can't discuss the difficulties of breastfeeding. Is it because breastfeeding is supposed to be so "natural" and admitting to anything else will be looked down upon? I, for one, vow to share my difficulties in hopes of letting expectant mothers know that breastfeeding is hard work. There are resources out there that can help, and I am always here if you have questions or need someone to talk to. Over my TTC and mothering journeys, I have met a lot of wonderful women, so if I don't know the answer, I'm sure I can find someone who does.

If I can offer any advice to expectant mothers, it is to have someone on your side who will support you in your breastfeeding journey. My husband always cheered me on while I tried to breastfeed, and was a wonderful shoulder to cry on when I decided enough was enough. I'm sure I would have given up a lot sooner if it wasn't for the support of my husband and Twitter friends.

Anyone else had breastfeeding difficulties? Have any amazing resources, tips or tricks to share?


  1. Brava darling, for laying it bare. I agree with every word and even though we're lucky enough to exclusively BF now, I worry every day that my supply will dwindle again. If I were still public I would take your lead and write my own post, but instead I vow to be honest on the subject with everyone. Thanks for writing this. You're a wonderful mom and friend xoxo

  2. Oh I'm so sorry It was so hard for you! It sounds like you tried as hard as you could and you shouldn't beat yourself up! You did WAY more than what most women would do! Just love that sweet babe and feel proud! - non pregnant and pissed (my computer is not letting me post as myself, grr)

  3. It is hard. So hard. I agree!! I cried my eyes out multiple times and almost threw in the towel a few times. My pediatrician said it best, "it may be natural but it's not easy". Don't feel guilty. At all.

  4. Breastfeeding is so difficult, and not something that I hide or sugar coat when the topic of breastfeeding comes up. I had nipple damage and dropped supply with Gus. I had dual nipple damage with Lucy. The best thing I did was find a private lactation consultant that would come into my home to help me with getting good latches and trying different positions.

  5. I know it is easy for me to say, but do not feel guilty at all! At least you got to experience it with him for the time that you did! My milk never came in, so my little one had to be on formula. If that isn't sad enough, he had a protein and milk sensitivity, so he had to be on Nutramigen, which cost us $37/can and it only lasted 4-5 days! No matter how a baby is fed, what is important is that he/she is getting nutrients and love!

  6. (Ugh, just lost my comment I typed - sorry if you end up getting this twice). I'm so sorry that you are feeling guilt. It sounds like you did everything you could to breastfeed as long as possible, and your boy benefited from that in many ways. And now he is getting all the nutrients that he needs, which is the most important. I get almost annoyed at all the "breast is best" talk because it makes formula sound like a poor runner-up. And it isn't. Sure, there are many benefits to breastmilk, and yes it is mostly recommended, but sometimes that just doesn't work out for a mama and formula becomes the best option. A woman shouldn't have to feel bad about that.

    Of course, I know that doesn't help if you had dreams of that breastfeeding relationship. You did it though, for awhile!

    I too cannot believe that no one talks about how hard breastfeeding is. I cried at every feeding for two weeks because I was in so much pain, and it was stressful, and my emotions were high. I was lucky that it improved after seeing a lactation consultant, and I have a mostly positive experience now. But it was hard, and I felt like I was failing because no one told me it would be that hard. I'm so glad you're speaking out about this!

  7. Oh Aislinn. I am so sorry that your dream of breastfeeding came to an end. It is such an amazingly complex and challenging bond between mother and baby. I think that the media does lots to show the misery of sleep deprivation and dramatic labors, but breastfeeding is strangly omitted almost entirely. Thanks for sharing your struggles to help others. You are an amazing mama!

  8. First thing I want to say is: you are in no way a bad mom.
    Second thing is: you are an awesome mom!

    I consider myself lucky in that I had several people tell me while I was still pregnant that breastfeeding is HARD. (Maybe that's one of the advantages of being an older mom--most your friends have already had kids...)

    I was forewarned, and *still* I found it hard work. And, as you know, I am extremely fortunate to have an ample supply and shocked all my doctors, nurses, and LCs with how much milk I produce. And you know what? It's still hard work. It's exhausting, it literally saps you, your nipples get sore even with a good latch, you get a bleb, you get mastitis, and sometimes your baby screams and you feel inadequate for not being able to satiate her appetite. And then an excess lipase issue can trip you up so you have to scald your milk...

    ... All this to say, even when it comes easy, it's bloody hard work and imma nicely bitchslap the next person who claims breastfeeding is free...

    But most of all, yes: why do so many people (women / male partners) not share their struggles with others? I read an article recently which mentioned the lactation consultant profession and added in parentheses "yes, that's actually a thing" to inform the ignorant masses that, yeah, breastfeeding is HARD.

    Like infertility -- hell, ben like constipation -- just because our bodies are designed to do something, it doesn't mean it will always work 100% of the time. And we need to be more open about that. Thanks for taking the first step. You are an awesome advocate, ally, friend, and mom!