"I still feel angry and betrayed by my body": When breastfeeding doesn't go as you planned


Guest post by Monica
"Don't bite the breast that feeds you" burp cloth by Etsy seller NewbeesShop
"Don't bite the breast that feeds you" burp cloth by Etsy seller NewbeesShop

Nursing was especially difficult for me… My first child, P, would eat every two hours, if not sooner, for that first three months. Which, coupled with my insistence on not giving him nipple confusion, meant I didn't get any sleep. I began to resent him. I felt like a slave.

My husband convinced me to continue pumping after my milk came in so that we would have a stash and, eventually, so he could feed the baby too. I was so sure that I was supposed to be everything P needed that letting my husband help me felt like giving up on what was supposed to be a beautiful relationship. Even with the sleep deprivation rendering me useless and belligerent, we were able to scrape by that first three months. Then my menstrual cycle showed up, and with it the last of my milk. I was literally pumping all day to get just three ounces.

At six months P bit me while I was trying to nurse him on a plane, and I nearly threw him onto my husband's lap and said, "That's it, I am done." I went exclusively to pumping and supplemented with formula. To this day, nearly three years later, I still feel angry and betrayed by my body.

While pregnant with my second child, R, I prepared myself for difficulty breastfeeding — the same experience I had with P. I adjusted my nursing expectations from nursing for a year to making sure he had colostrum and then three ounces a day. This time I lasted a week before I decided to start pumping exclusively.

I meticulously calculated how much milk I pumped and how much he was eating — trying to figure out if I would have enough to reach my goal by the time my menstrual cycle came and dried me up. I pumped at least eight times a day for at least 15 minutes, if not 20. I pumped in the middle of the night to get better results, cutting into precious sleep. I pumped hands-free while driving, during meals, and basically anytime I was guaranteed time when my children were contained. My menstrual cycle showed up when R turned two months, and my milk supply actually went up. I kept expecting it to go away any second, but even if it did at that time I had a nine months' supply of frozen breast milk. I hit my goal, and R was only 11 weeks old.

It was maddening that my body was able to give my second son what he needed and not my first. I wish I had known in the beginning that I wasn't built for nursing; that I should have been pumping all along. I ended up pumping enough milk to feed twins. Once I had a year's supply of milk I planned on donating all my extra supply. I intended to pump as long as I could for as many as I could. I didn't want another mother to feel the way I felt when my body gave out on me with P.

Fast forward to the present. It's been seven months since I stopped pumping. I fed another little one who was unable to drink formula for nine months. The experience of donating my milk has healed all the residual betrayal I felt towards my body for its failure with P.

I really want all new moms to know that for some breastfeeding comes naturally. For others it is the most difficult, frustrating, and demoralizing experience in their lives. That coupled with sleep deprivation, postpartum depression, and life in general, and you can find yourself in an awful place emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Adjust your expectations, know that you are NOT alone, and surround yourself with the love of your family, friends and fellow parents. Whether or not you are able to nurse your baby does not define you as a woman or parent. I say this to women who nurse, who supplement, and who fed their baby formula from day one: You do the absolute best for your baby, and that is what truly matters.

Every one of us has a struggle with one or more aspect of this both challenging and rewarding journey. Talk about it, I guarantee you will find someone who has had a similar experience. When that happens it is like a weight off your heart.

It takes a village to raise a child, and that village is there for parents too.

  1. Thanks for this. I still haven't gotten over my first baby refusing to nurse (he's 7 now). I tried so hard to get him to nurse and nothing worked. We would both end up crying every time and all the advice I got was to try harder. After all, nursing is natural and there wasn't any real reason that anyone could tell why it wasn't working, so I must not have been trying hard enough. I really appreciate hearing from other moms who weren't able to make nursing work. It makes me feel like I'm not so much of a failure in that regard. I was able to nurse my second, in fact, she finally weaned at 3 years old but I still totally have guilt and anger about my first.

    • Nursing is the way humans traditionally feed their young, but it is natural for it to not work for some and to work for others. I wish I had known that before I started this journey, I would have been prepared for all the emotions that came with not being able to nurse. I hope you find peace with your experience, your son is so blessed to have a mom who loves him so much.

  2. OMG. Demoralizing, yes, and that feeling of being defective. Neither of my kids ever latched properly, the first because of engorgement, jaundice, and nipple confusion, and the second because of a tongue tie that was clipped but not fully corrected, and a sprinkling of laziness and sleepiness over both kids. I tried to pump exclusively with both kids but no dice. Either I had serious supply issues or my boobs just hate the pump. I was lucky to get 3oz total per pump, and my second child was voracious. I needed to supplement with both kids. My oldest got 5.5w of breastmilk and my youngest got 8, and neither ever had just breastmilk without needing to supplement at any time. I'm still sad about not getting that breastfeeding relationship with my kids that I envisioned. I keep thinking how, a couple centuries ago, my kids would have been weak and sickly at best or starved to death at worst. Shaming from the breastfeeding community doesn't help either. There's always the message that I just didn't try hard enough. To hell with that.

    • Nipple confusion, the one thing that I didn't have to contend with, though I asked the doctor every appointment if that was what was wrong. I love how hard you tried for your kiddos, you did amazing. And yes, to hell with that.

    • A couple centuries ago, people who developed type 1 diabetes died within a few years. But we view insulin as a medical miracle, not as something shameworthy and horrible. Yes, it's better overall to have a functional pancreas, but if that's not an option, the best thing to do is to take insulin. Medical advances have made it possible to survive despite your body (or your mother's body, as the case may be) not functioning perfectly, and in my opinion, we should take advantage of that. It might be ideal to be able to breastfeed, but if you can't for whatever reason, formula feed. I don't think formula feeding should be any more shameful than insulin injections.

  3. Thank you for sharing this. I never went to exclusive pumping but we frequently had nursing sessions that were followed immediately with formula. I had to carve out time at work to pump, with each session taking ~25 minutes plus a few minutes of setting everything up plus walking back and forth to the lactation room that was in a completely different building than I worked in. My productivity improved so much after we went to 100% formula. I hate washing dishes and I haaaaaated washing pump parts constantly even more, and that was with a double set of parts to (in theory) only have to wash every other day.

    There was one woman in the new moms group I was part of briefly who exclusively pumped pretty much from day one. She was still doing it when her baby was eight months old! I don't know how much longer she kept with it but she's a freaking rock star to me. Amazing.

    • Totally hear you on washing the parts, such a friggin' hassle!! I applaud you for pumping and working, I think that would have been my limit.

  4. I hope when you talked about donating your milk, you donated it to a milk bank so it could be pasteurized before being given to a vulnerable infant. There was a case in South America where women where sharing fresh breast milk and many children got extremely ill. Milk banks also ensure the milk ends up with the ones who need it most. If you have an excess of milk, please look into a milk bank.

    • I did look into milk banks; the ones I found that were in my area were not accepting milk for one reason or another at the time I need to make room in my freezer. I joined Human Milk for Human Babies for my area on Facebook and there were a lot of moms on there that needed milk immediately. Seeing as I would have been feeding my son the milk anyway I knew there was nothing wrong with it. The young women who I gave my milk to had a child who could not have formula, her stomach would expand and she couldn't hold it down. Her daughter also had a heart condition that landed her in the hospital every few weeks since she had to wait until she was a year old to get the operation she needed. She was a single mom and unable to hold a job because of her daughters needs. She was definitely in need. I also gave milk to a mom who simply needed to supplement her supply since it dropped off while she went back to work and she needed a weeks worth to build up her stash. She was also in need. Many people have many different situations and not necessarily the same answers that others would. I would suggest to anyone looking into donating milk to look at all the options and choose the one you are most comfortable with.

      • Thank you for donating. My twins were in the NICU for 3 months and due to contracting Necrotizing Enterocolitis (a horrendous disease that destroys the bowl lining) my daughter could only have breast milk. She survived thanks her amazing doctors and donor milk. In the States donor milk from a milk bank is prohibitively expensive outside the hospital. Choosing between a babies life and paying the rent is something no one should have to deal with.

  5. Thank you for sharing. I had a terrible time trying to breastfeed. The first week of my son's life was the hardest of mine. We tried everything we could and nothing worked. It severely damaged our bonding. I started pumping at that point and things got much better. Nipple confusion was our next problem. It became apparent that exclusive pumping and bottle feeding were going to work best for our family. Over the first 10 months of my son's life I continued to exclusively pump. It was at times nightmarish but I asked myself everyday if I thought it was worth it, and I said yes each time. For me, it was really isolating. There are almost no resources out there for exclusive pumpers. I know it's hard so people assume mothers don't do it, but we do! We are out there and we need support too! I should also point out that it was difficult for my husband as well. Not on the same level as myself of course but it was really hard for him to watch me suffer. He felt fairly helpless at times. I weaned my son onto organic formula at 9-10 months and off of it at 12-13 months. He is happy and healthy at 18 months now. However, I am really glad breast milk is something I don't have to think about ever again. Motherhood should be the great equalizer, but I fear it's still a very judgmental position for a lot of women and that's a shame. Being a parent is so difficult we really should receive support and not criticism from other parents.

    • When I started pumping I found ONE sight that actually had information all about pumping, not just a few tidbits and then the rest on nursing. One. All the moms I talked to either exclusively nursed or pumped when they had to or couldn't pump at all. I am all for information on how to get moms to their goals on nursing but we really need to have more resources and support for women who just can't.

  6. Well said! I still feel lucky that nursing was never a priority for me, so when no milk ever came in I just said, well it's formula for you kiddo! However, I know so many mothers who still beat themselves up that they either had to supplement/pump/give up altogether—and we are talking years later. I wish I had the exact right thing to say to them, but it seems that no matter how hard I try, they can't get over the feeling that they weren't enough. Not that it's my job, obviously, but it makes my heart hurt to think they don't feel they've done enough, when they are exactly what their child needs–milk or no milk. I am pregnant with #2, and we'll see if milk comes in. My boobs had zero change the first time around, but this time I've gone from not even filling in my A cup to becoming almost a C, so there is hope. I refuse to beat myself up about it either way. Formula feeding was just soooooooooooooo damn easy and convenient—expensive, but easy and convenient. My thought at the moment is, if milk comes in I'll pump and feed with a bottle so when she heads to daycare there won't be any problems. Good luck to all in their journey! Seek help wherever you can, and don't beat yourself up over anything:)

    • Well said! In my situation the problem lay in that I didn't realize that breastfeeding wasn't a guarantee. I thought obviously it is a natural part of life so it will be something we could do. During all my prep work for becoming a parent NO ONE told me that there could be issues! My mother didn't nurse me but I thought she had so I didn't even think to ask her. In "baby class" the topic wasn't discussed, not even in the lactation class. It was assumed that you would nurse, period. It simply was never presented as an option so I was blindsided when we couldn't. I hope expecting mothers see this and don't feel blindsided as well, or they don't have issues at all!

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