Anonymous Mom: I Failed At Breastfeeding, Even With 4 Different Lactation Consultants

Anonymous Mom is a weekly column of motherhood confessions, indiscretions, and parental shortcomings selected by Mommyish editors. Under this unanimous byline, readers can share their own stories, secrets, and moments of weakness with complete anonymity.

Every pregnancy book I forced myself to read told me that I absolutely had to breastfeed. It was a non-negotiable. It was the only way to feed your baby.

I was convinced that I’d form an instant bond with the baby. The baby would look lovingly into my eyes as she lapped her nourishment from my engorged breasts. I would release endorphins during the process. I would begin to feel that loving connection with my daughter—only felt through breastfeeding.

It was the very life source for baby. The baby that is breastfed is healthier, gets fewer medical problems, wouldn’t develop allergies and would avoid other maladies. And on and on and on. I learned this through thick, door-stop like books and classes. Ah yes, there were classes. One of these three-hour classes came replete with videos on how to properly position the baby to latch on and how to squeeze your nipple into the baby’s mouth. I learned about breast massage and nipple stimulation and hot showers. I was prepared. I took notes. I watched my videos online. I even watched one on manual expressing. I nearly puked.

My first signal something was awry with this entire breastfeeding propaganda was when the lactation consultant told me I couldn’t think to go back to work until my milk supply was established. At least six weeks. I told her that was not possible. I was going back after two. Come hell or high water, I was going to be back in the office. But commitment to the process and to feeding your baby what she needs is most important, the consultant told me. But, I have to go back to work. It’s not a question. Period. She pressed on: I can’t imagine you not taking time for this. You’re her mother.

I felt like a failure. With my rotund belly ready to pop, I felt like I was already going to scar the kid for life. If there was a written test on breastfeeding, I would have passed with flying colors. If there was a driving portion, I would have failed…miserably.

First, I’ve never had a deeper understanding or appreciation of my breasts as feeding mechanisms. I’ve grown up thinking of them as sex objects and not as nourishment. So, it was quite a leap of faith to convince myself that I would commit to breastfeeding. But, I did. Really, I did. I was committed.

I had bought boxes and boxes of nursing pads for my leaking breasts. I bought freezer bags so I could store my extra milk. I had the most expensive pump on the market to establish supply and to pump effectively and efficiently at work. I had nipple creams and nursing tops—in all colors. I was all set.

But then came real life. Three weeks early and after a traumatic birthing story, tootsie roll and I were having technical difficulties—severe technical difficulties. Four different lactation nurses/consultants tried to help. We dutifully and eagerly tried every position and every hold technique and every bonding ritual known to man (and women). Nothing was working. If toots would get a proper latch, there just wasn’t much milk. She’d scream. Meanwhile, I waited and waited to get engorged.

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  • Vikky

    I’m currently breastfeeding my third child, so people are always surprised when I tell all first-time expecting mothers that “formula is just fine, the important thing is that the baby gets fed.”
    With my first child, I didn’t make enough milk. We were both having health problems. I gave her what I had, then supplemented with formula. The baby got fed.

    It sounds like the author gave her baby all the milk she had. I’m sorry that no one ever told her that was good enough.

    There are lots of pros to breast-feeding, but there is nothing wrong with formula–yes, I know everyone’s going to jump on that statement, just like many will say “but you should have tried this.” Stop that! She gave her baby her best effort, you can’t ask for more.

  • Ellie

    I am so sorry that you had to go through that. I couldn’t do it either. I just did not produce anything. I can deal with that. What was miserable is all the self-righteous people who made me feel like it was my fault, that I wasn’t trying hard enough. You know what? Screw them. They’re not the ones doing this.
    I *didn’t* try for my second child. Making myself insane once was enough. Both of my kids are very healthy and happy, and that works for us.

  • TheBeverlyHillsMom

    I tried and failed at breastfeeding. I wanted more than anything to do what was best for my baby but sometimes it just doesn’t work, its great that it comes naturally for some women but we often forget that it isn’t like that for everyone. I practically killed myself with my youngest trying to make it work and in the end it just was not what was best for anyone. Next baby I am not even trying I would rather spend those first precious weeks bonding than struggling.

  • Ordinaryperson

    Anonymous Mom is a weekly column of motherhood confessions, indiscretions, and parental shortcomings…

    Not being able to breastfeed your child isn’t a shortcoming, and shouldn’t need to be an anonymous confession, it happens to plenty of people. Cheating on your husband, yes, pot smoking spouse, sure. Low milk production?? Not really.

    Interesting read though. Sorry shitty people made you feel bad about something you had no control over.

  • another ‘failure’

    Breastfed for two weeks and cried in pain every time from the sensation of shards of fiery glass shooting from my nipples to my spine. Multiple midwives, lactation consultants and the breastfeeding helpline repeatedly told me it was perfectly normal. I ended up in the hospital hooked up to an IV antibiotic drip for two days with severe mastitis and breast abscesses that had to be needle-aspirated 3 times over the course of a week. Somehow this possibility was NEVER mentioned in my prenatal classes or readings. I cried and felt guilty for a day, baby happily switched to formula and we never looked back.

  • copycait

    Breast feeding doesn’t work for everyone. It’s OK not to breast feed. Really :) You’re doing a good job!

  • QueenMAB

    I’m confused, there are no lactivists here screaming to call in protective services.
    I couldn’t bf either of my children, produced less than 1 oz per day. The straw for me was my 4th day in the hospital, only kept longer as wasn’t able to bf, and the lactation consultant brought my boy to me to feed and so that he didn’t get confused she had him ‘lap the formula up like a dog’ (her words) from a medicine cup. I lost it and stopped trying to bf that moment.

    The stares from people in the mall and especially mommy groups was awful. I needed a support group at that time. Breast Feeders have la leche but I didn’t have anyone to help me through my struggle with not being able to nourish my child on my own.

    • Rebecca

      I went through the same exact thing with my daughter. I was told my daughter could not leave the hospital “in her condition”. The lactation consultants made me feel like I was purposely starving my daughter. With both my kids my milk didn’t come in til the 4th or 5th day. My daughter would barely eat and had no interest in latching on and my son left the hospital polishing off 4 oz. of formula at a time. I’m due with #3 next month and god help any lactation consultant who tries to come through my door.

  • kkg

    While I agree with the above comment that not being able to breastfeed is not a shortcoming, it absolutely feels like one when there is so much attention being put on how essential breastfeeding is, how you’re not a true mother if you don’t and the ban of formula in hospitals. When I read about eating nothing but oatmeal, drinking nothing but tea, pumping for a half hour and getting a half ounce from each side, scouring websites and forums for other people who barely produce – I laughed out loud. That was my life. For my second baby I gave it a try but started supplementing almost immediately and stopped after 2 and a half months because milk was only coming in once a day and it was barely anything. I’m stocking up the formula for baby #3.

  • K.

    To the author: I am so sorry that you had this experience. And I realize that your experience is what motivated you to write this and that it may come in handy to moms out there who are dealing with the same thing.

    To Mommyish: this article is really 5 years or so too late. Seriously. Here’s why: NO ONE who has half a brain has a problem with a mother who doesn’t breastfeed because she had physical problems doing it. With all the (helpful!) information out there on breastfeeding, I think you have to be living under a rock to not have an idea that breastfeeding, for a lot of women, is not all sunshine and roses.

    Now, what IS more relevant vis a vie breastfeeding is that articles about not breastfeeding always seem to come from women who physically can’t breastfeed–ie, we only talk about not breastfeeding and consider the bottle justified purely when it’s a matter of mom or infant health. BUT the truth is, breastfeeding, which generally is only available to women of a certain income (because if you are working two jobs and they’re both manual labor, I doubt you’re going to pump) is a LIFESTYLE choice. And there is a lot of pressure out there to downplay the importance of making that lifestyle choice or even to condemn women if they make a lifestyle choice, as in, “How can you jeopardize the health of your own child just so you don’t have to breastfeed.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of women who claim that they “couldn’t” breastfeed are saying that because they don’t want to be criticized for maybe it was more that they “wouldn’t” breastfeed.

    But even if you have an absolutely problem free breastfeeding experience (I did), you can still feel that breastfeeding is kind of a shit job. You can resent the fact that you are ‘on call’ 24/7. You can hate the fact that your time revolves around feedings. You can resent taking time away from yourself–or your work–to sit attached to a machine for 20 minutes a session (25-30 if you count the washing and the organizing of the 8000 plastic bits) and worry about it being 7.5 hours–or wait, has it actually been 8.5 hours since you pumped? You can hate that your nipples are sore. You can hate that your breasts are no longer sexual to you. You can hate ruining clothes. You can hate that engorgement (or just larger breasts) have robbed you of your favorite pastimes, like running or riding. You can hate having to carry around a special “nursing cover” just to run errands and you can hate the idea of pulling a boob out in public. You can hate that your line of work–maybe you travel a lot, maybe you use your hands a lot, maybe you’re on your feet a lot–make pumping a huge organizational feat. You can hate the loneliness of midnight feedings while your spouse snoozes away and then wonders why you’re bitchy in the morning.

    You can be perfectly capable of breastfeeding and your child can be perfectly capable of breastfeeding and you can still hate breastfeeding for all these “lifestyle” reasons and more and choose to bottle feed–and–STILL BE A GREAT MOTHER. And your child can STILL BE A HEALTHY CHILD.

    I’m tired of reading articles about the women who couldn’t breastfeed. I want to hear more from the women who wouldn’t. We never hear that voice.

    • Vikky

      “the truth is, breastfeeding generally is only available to women of a certain income” THIS!! We need more I-had-to-go-back-to-work-why-are you-shaming-me-for-the-baby-bottle stories!

  • wee1

    So nice to hear ALL these voices in the comments. I had plenty of milk, but my son learned some breastfeeding method that was painful for me and no matter of therapy could make him change his technique. I did exclusive for 3 months, including a two-week international trip, nursing through the pain with the hopes of it rectifying itself! When I went back to work, he went on a combo of pumped milk and formula because I couldn’t handle the stress of being his only food source. I stopped nursing him at 6 months after a business trip during which I pumped 5 times a day, including in a weird storage room overlooking the conference floor at Javitz Center. After all that I did, I still can’t shake feeling guilty about the formula. But y’all just made me feel a bit better. Thank you.

  • Jennifer

    I actually met with NINE lactation consultants, at two different hospitals and at our pediatrician’s office. My daughter was a 31-weeker, and I pumped around the clock for the seven weeks she was in the hospital. I tried all the tricks–the power-pumping, the fenugreek and barley, even Reglan (which actually seemed to work a bit in the 48 hours I was on it–but I’m one of the lucky few who get suicidal on it, good times). I was so, so hard on myself. Why didn’t anyone ever tell me that breastfeeding preemies almost NEVER works out?! All the pros were just happy to let me torture myself (sometimes literally, when I was squeezing the hell out of my boobs to convince more to come out), presumably because Breast Is Best, when I was barely making enough for two (one-ounce!) feedings a day. A few times the nurses gave me the side-eye when I brought in a day’s worth of pumping. “Is this it?” one of them said once. Girl, I will slap you. I finally stopped beating myself up once she got home, and after actually letting myself sleep 6 hours between pumping sessions, I got 7mL total. That was the end.

    I’m still pretty bitter about it, even 18 months later. Here we are at our most fragile, postpartum hormones raging (me with the added bonus of severe preeclampsia, which included a readmission when my blood pressure went haywire, and a super tiny preemie)–and we’re being bullied. While it’s wonderful that our society has “relearned” that breastfeeding is great, it is not always possible–whether for medical, economic or lifestyle reasons–and people just need to lay off!

  • TheSquirrel

    I’m pregnant with my first and I’m a little worried about my chances for successful breastfeeding. My youngest sister tried to breastfeed, but her workplace just would. not. allow her enough time to pump. For me and my sister, it absolutely is a lifestyle choice– work and maintain your health insurance (including baby’s) or go on welfare. My other sister tried and couldn’t produce enough milk. It got so bad that some horrible nurse accused her of starving her son on purpose!

  • Leslie

    People can be so brutal, new moms get criticism no matter what it is they try to do. On that note, are you in the states? I’m guessing so based on your mat leave. I have to give you mom’s kudos for dealing with newborns while still having to work full time, unbelievable, you’re like super hero’s!

  • Michele Fore

    I went through the exact same thing. It was so frustrating for me. I had my baby and was in the hospital for a week (no complications, just because). I had the lactation person try to help. My milk didn’t let down(?) until after I went home for some reason. Some lady came to my house after that to try to help me with it but my daughter just wouldn’t latch. I did the pumping thing as long as I could. I still feel incredibly guilty about it, especially now that I know what kind of unhealthy crap is in formula. It never occurred to me to find anything healthier and I don’t even know if that existed 10 years ago. It did seem like at times people were pushing the formula thing. They were very quick to give it her when I was in the hospital.

  • The Pagosa Lactivist

    I’m a lactivist and I don’t condemn any mother who tried and “failed” in their words. A real lactivist is a person who wants parents to TRY to breastfeed, not just immediately give them formula because breastfeeding grosses them out or scares them. We are trying to change people’s opinions about breastfeeding, that its normal and natural and people shouldn’t give breastfeeding mothers a hard time. We want to get as much information out there as possible so some “well-meaning” nurse doesn’t give their baby formula in the hospital and now their baby refuses the breast because of nipple confusion. That is what a crazy lactivist is all about. I’m heartbroken for those of you who feel like “failures”, you are not a failure, ESPECIALLY when you’ve tried to the point of exhaustion to breastfeed. There is a small percentage of women who literally cannot produce enough milk, but how would you know if you don’t try everything out there? And most people don’t. Which is fine, but for those women who actually can breastfeed but were given poor advice, they lost out and that is what we are trying to prevent. Of course formula is okay, your baby will thrive. But don’t take your anger out on us, saying that we make you feel bad for not doing “what is best”. You tried. HARD. And thats all what counts and that should be enough for you.

  • Happytrails

    Am I reading my own past thoughts? This is eerie except I didn’t stock up on supplies. My first bf for 4 months and was slow to grow. I started supplementing and pumping would get a few strong streams and then just crap out. Not even enough to save. With #2 I did some research and talked to a LC. turns out I have what’s called hypoplastic breasts and I am biologically incapable of producing enough. Just can’t do it. I did attempt when #2 was born for the first 6 weeks. After that he wanted nothing to do with it and I was ecstatic.

  • Maitri

    I pumped exclusively for both of my kids. With #1 I pumped for 8-9 months and then finally quit. With #2 I pumped for 4-5 months. It’s exhausting. I’m in the “whatever works for you and your family” camp.

  • Elizabeth Griggs Fowler

    Thank you for writing this!! I was hospitalized when my baby was 6 weeks old after struggling with production and latch from his ‘high palate’ since day one. I had a horrible blood infection that required surgery for the skin infections it caused and several transfusions. They told me to stop breast feeding so nothing would be passed to my little Lochlan and I obliged. I still leak a few drops here and there and wish I were still breast feeding him but I understand that he loves his formula and food and definitely his mama. Our bond was not compromised by my breasts not cooperating but with the push to it, it took me a long time to tell myself that and mean it.

  • Jess

    My milk didn’t come in for ages and my baby was this cranky little thing who refused to open his mouth, so he lost ~500 gms (…he was 4kg) and I was, of course, devastated. He had formula in hospital, where we were stuck for 5 days due to the emergency c-section, and I saw the lactation consultant multiple times. It was only when he was two weeks that I could manage to latch him on without a syringe full of pre-expressed milk. Breastfeeding was toe-curling, absolute agony, and my nipples were shredded (and later on, I got Reynauds in them!). He had colic and was a constant nurser and basically my entire life revolved around feeling like shit and trying to poke him full of breastmilk. When my GP said that he wasn’t getting enough bm and to give him formula (he was completely wrong btw, and, actually, I suspect I had oversupply), I doubled down and would express whilst feeding and then express in between feeds. I was obsessed, exhausted, emotionally dead, in constant discomfort, just so single-minded. I had three months of mat leave which I extended to a year, because I just could not manage breastfeeding and Real Life. At ten months I gave up pumping, which was a blissful event. He still bfeeds at 15 months. So yes, overcoming breastfeeding difficulties is possible, when you have the physical capacity, and stacks of leave, and a partner, and a mother who lives metres away, and a dutiful sister, and friends who bring you food, and the income to afford the leave and the breastpump and the special freezer just for breastmilk to make sure it stays safe and the expensive containers, and no other children to look after…

  • momsweds

    Just gotta put this here for the record… Solid food, whether you are breastfeeding or formula feeding, should NOT be introduced until 6 months. Babies need milk/formula until then, or they are at risk for nutritional deficiencies.

  • AP

    Thank you for this. Mothers NEED to know that there are many who are NOT physically able to produce adequate amounts of milk, through NO fault of their own, and that no matter how many of the tricks and tips they try, it will not increase their supply. I’m one of those mothers. I have been told by 4 lactation consultants after both of my pregnancies that I have insufficient mammary glands and tissue. This is a physical issue and won’t resolve or be fixed…and that’s OKAY! It took 2 births and 1 entire year of debilitating post partum depression to come to that realization, but it’s OKAY! My children are BEYOND healthy, smart, and happy being formula fed.

    My stress over breastfeeding, peer pressure from other mothers, and WANTING that bond with my babies most definitely contributed to my PPD the second time around. We put too much on ourselves as mommies, and it’s not necessary. If we are making sure our little ones are well fed, take them to their doctor’s appointments, play with them, hold them, and LOVE them…they are going to be as fine as if not more so that all the exclusively breastfed babies in the world.

    It’s not where the nutrition comes from…it’s the love and care behind it. Go be a great mommy! :-)