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My Boobs Failed Me: When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Work

One of the things I never questioned about being a mom was my desire to breastfeed. Breastfeeding has so many benefits for mama and baby—it just seemed like a no-brainer.

And even though I knew, intellectually, that my big boobs didn’t necessarily mean more food for my baby, it seemed like I had good equipment for the job.

During my pregnancy, I read books, dragged my husband to a lactation class  and was prepared with the information on my local Le Leche league. I prepared as much as I could before my daughter was born. I was ready to work at the latch, get help from experts, trust my body to feed my baby, and persist! 

We Tried So Hard

My baby, husband, and I cried through feedings for more than a week. We visited with lactation specialists at the hospital where our baby was born, twice. I called the hotline enough they recognized my voice.

My poor kiddo’s small mouth was no match for my giant nipple. And I wasn’t producing enough milk to entice her to stay hooked on for any length of time.  To help our girlie eat, we tried nipple shields, special holds, and even a special bottle to increase her sucking power. To make me more comfortable and increase my milk supply, I tried different nipple creams, cooling pads, teas, mother’s milk supplements and oatmeal.

Feeding the baby became a round the clock ordeal. She took her sweet time to nurse, latching on for a minute, getting off the nipple, screaming and fighting against latching on again, getting latched on, getting off the nipple, screaming. This awful process repeated itself every two to three hours.

And Then

One week after we brought our baby home, it was my birthday. I noticed that my right breast was especially painful, red, hot to the touch, and I had chills. The doctor at Urgent Care diagnosed me with mastitis. Instead of celebrating with cake, I got antibiotics. 

It was incredibly painful to breastfeed my baby and she wouldn’t stay latched on long enough to actually eat enough. Our daughter preferred the bottle and breastfeeding was causing me extreme anxiety and pain. So I decided to pump and feed her from a bottle.

Pump, Pump, Pump It Up!

For three long months, I pumped.

I devoted hours every day hooked up to the breast pump. I was determined to give my daughter the benefit of breast milk. The trouble was that I faithfully pumped, and pumped, and pumped, and could only collect enough milk in a 24-hour period to fill one bottle. 

Hanging It Up 

Shortly before I went back to work, we visited my sister. My sister and her husband had a baby six weeks after our baby was born. We were staying with her and I opened her freezer to see a stockpile of breast milk. Not only was her little boy well-fed off the breast, she was pumping another bottle’s worth after feeding the hungry little guy. It was like the Olive Garden “buy one, take one” menu. He’d fill up on milk and then his mom would pump more for later. 

I went to the guest room and pumped and cried. I only collected 3 ounces. Not even enough to make a Babybel cheese. My breasts were failing at their only biological function. And I was done trying. 

I tearfully announced to my very supportive husband that I was done with the pump. I was done with the hurting nipples. And I was done being tethered to the pump for hours every day. No longer would I be flashing truckers as I was getting set up to pump while we were on a road trip. 

Honestly, I was so disappointed about my whole breastfeeding/pumping experience from beginning to end. I never got to a point where breastfeeding was even tolerable. I never got to a point with pumping that I could provide all the food my daughter needed. In short, I felt like a failure.

Moo-ving On

There were two mental shifts that happened before I felt okay with my decision to be done with torturing my boobs.

First, I was strangely comforted by the thought that had my baby  been born pre-formula, I could have probably kept her alive until my sister had her baby, and then my sister could have fed both our babies! Somehow working out this hypothetical scenario made me feel better. 

The second mental shift came from hearing that both my parents were fed “formula,” which at that time consisted of water, evaporated milk and corn syrup. They turned out fine! And surely baby formula had advanced since the 1940s and 50s!

If I am blessed to be able to have another baby, I will absolutely try breastfeeding again.

Every baby is a different experience, and I know someone who became a champion breast-feeder the second time around even though the first wasn’t so great.  I will gear up all over again, ask for lots of help and give it my all.

And… I’ll call it quits a lot earlier if it just doesn’t work out.

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