Monday, January 11, 2016

A Breastfeeding Story

This is a story that I have tried to sit down and write numerous times. Each time it is too painful to get anything down, so I have successfully pushed it aside until now. It is a story about pain in my heart, guilt, and shame. I wasn't even going to write this story, but I feel that I should so that it can be a support to others who have had/are having the same issues.

Before giving, before even getting pregnant, I knew I would breastfeed. To me, breastfeeding was the most natural, beautiful thing that a mother and her new baby could do together. I dreamt about it and couldn't wait until I was able to breastfeed my own baby someday. When I got pregnant I was sick and uncomfortable and unsure about giving birth, but more than anything I was excited about breastfeeding. I was sure that breastfeeding was where I would find joy in this whole process of having a baby.

After giving birth they placed Hazel on my bare chest. I asked the nurse if I should try to breastfeed and she said "no, wait until the baby finds your breast and she will nurse on her own time". An hour passed and Hazel had not found her way to my breast. They took her to clean her, weigh her, get her vitals etc., then she came back to me and I put her to my breast. Nothing happened. All of the beauty and magic that I believed would surround Hazel and me during our first time breastfeeding was not there. With each try to get her to latch, then each fail, my heart broke.

Over the next few days in the hospital I continued to try to breastfeed Hazel. I had a variety of lactation specialists come in and help me. They said I had flat nipples, so I was given a nipple shield. That helped, but Hazel's latch wasn't very good and my milk wasn't coming in as quickly as I thought it would.

We took our new baby home and promptly had an appointment with the pediatrician. Hazel had lost about a pound since being born (down to 5 pounds!) and needed to gain weight. My milk still had not come in. I was given instructions to drink dark beer, take fenugreek, drink mother's milk tea, use brewers yeast in cooking etc. I tried it all...still, my milk didn't come in. Hazel was not gaining weight and screamed day and night, probably due to hunger.

Breastfeeding was becoming frustrating. Where was the magic, the feel-good-feelings, the bonding? None of that was happening. I was taken over with sadness and stress by the whole situation. We were at the pediatrician every other day weighing Hazel and trying to get her to feed properly so that my milk would come in. She was diagnosed with a tongue AND lip tie. We had the tongue-tie corrected and that helped with her latch, but she still was not nursing well. She would cry at my breast, then I would cry. My days were filled with trying to breastfeeding, then pumping about a 1/2 ounce, repeat...all-day-long.

After a month of very little weight gain for Hazel, my milk STILL not fully in, an emotionally drained me, and a very cranky baby, we resorted to formula. When I began to supplement breastfeeding with formula, Hazel started to gain weight. She didn't stop crying, but she was gaining weight. I had overwhelming feelings of guilt giving her formula, but at the same time relief because she was gaining weight. All the while I was still trying to increase my supply in the hopes that Hazel would exclusively breastfeed.

At month-two Hazel's weight was still very low. She was gaining, but not enough. So the pediatrician and I went back to the drawing board. I took Hazel to the hospital for lab work, it came back fine. The pediatrician suspected a milk allergy so I cut out all dairy from my diet and we changed her formula to a hypoallergenic brand. Finally, finally Hazel's weight gain picked up and she started crying less. Over the next month Hazel had packed on a few pounds and wasn't crying at all anymore. It truly felt like a miracle!

Through this whole process though, what little milk supply I had tanked. I started with very little supply which has slowly gone down to just a few drops. Hazel is 95% fed on hypoallergenic formula. She uses my breast mostly as comfort once a day, sometimes none. I am happy that she is fed, growing, and content now, but I still feel pangs of guilt and sadness that it is not my body feeding her. We have not been able to have the breastfeeding relationship that I so desperately hoped for. The only way I am getting through this is by telling myself that she is getting fed and that is what's important.

So here I am, five months after giving birth, mourning something that I never really had. I had hoped breastfeeding would be the joy that I was seeking in this whole process of having a baby, but it has been the opposite. I have never felt so hopeless, stressed, and sad about anything else in my life as I have felt about breastfeeding. And that, is my breastfeeding story. It may be the biggest heartbreak of my life thus far.


  1. Thanks for writing this. I breastfed, but it was really hard in the beginning, and there's so much pressure to do that "right" thing. I don't want to downplay your disappointment: your feelings are valid. But I do want to say that reading this, I see a mother who made a great effort to breastfeed, and then made a sacrifice for the benefit of her child. That's good parenting.

  2. Oh my, Ellie. I read this with tears streaming down my face. I so feel your pain. I have shared so many of your same struggles with breastfeeding: slow weight gain, low supply, possible tongue/lip tie, the guilt of supplementation...ugh. I've been on a regimen of oatmeal, fenugreek, blessed thistle, mother's milk tea, flax seed, and brewer's yeast with negligible results. I FEEL you! I know the heartbreak you've felt through this process.

    I so looked forward to breastfeeding more than anything! I naively thought it would be easy, and there would be rainbows and unicorns and warm, fuzzy feelings. There have definitely been glimmers of that, but mostly there have been tears, guilt, shame, and uncertainty. I felt betrayed by my own body. I never expected breastfeeding to be one of the most difficult things I've ever done.

    I'm still breastfeeding, but having to supplement to make up for what I can't pump at work. Every time I pump I gradually get a little less than before. It's an emotional rollercoaster that I'm sure my husband is tired of riding on with me! I would never judge any mother for feeding her child formula, but I have been judging myself so harshly. Reading your story helps me by letting me know I'm not alone, so thank you for sharing. I wish we could have been a support for each other in the midst of our struggles. The initial post-partum period can feel so isolating. Anyway, thanks for being honest and sharing your story. Just know that you're doing an awesome job, and Hazel is one lucky girl to have you as her mom :)

  3. Oh Ellie,

    I wish they would have had blogs when I was a young mother. Maybe I wouldn't have felt so bad.

    I had some similar feelings about natural birth. The last thing I was going to do was have a C-section. Not me. But when Tara was having trouble getting here, and I knew that she would be hurt if we didn't do this thing, I did it. I had a C-section. I knew I wasn't supposed to feel bad about it, but I did. Even though I knew it helped Tara tremendously, I still felt cheated. It took a lot of time, but over time, I came to accept that I can't make it perfect for my children. I still can't. I can only do the best I can do.

    Hazel has the best mom in the world. You.

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