Why I’m over and done with breastfeeding

Guest post by Summer Pierre

I’ve had some struggles with breastfeeding in the four months since my son was born. One of those struggles was just grappling with the SHOCK that it could be so hard. I am still grappling with that shock –- as it has been renewed again and again over the last 3 months with each twist and turn I’ve had to manage. The newest shock is that I’m throwing in the towel, that it actually never worked for us and won’t. This is perhaps the most painful shock of all.

I wrote a post about this issue after things had gone to utter shit and I visited with a lactation consultant. I was very hopeful then, clinging to my little plan with my knuckles going white. I was bound and DETERMINED to get this BALL ROLLING, dagnabbit. Give me a plan and I am ready for the fight! Friends and acquaintances came forward with their stories of breastfeeding triumphs over tragedies. I got some wonderful e-mails from some of you with your own stories of feedings gone wrong and right. My fragile spirit rose timidly. So we went ahead, trying to get my milk supply up and to fix Gus’ supposed sucking issue so I could get rid of the nipple shield. Little did I know, that at that moment things were as good as they ever were going to be and the only thing that was going to REALLY change was my attitude. I’m glad no one told me this bit of information. I would have been a basket case.

Sure, with night and day pumping, and herbs and oatmeal my milk supply eventually rose…for a time. Then it dropped again for no apparent reason so I had to go back to supplementing and pumping and pumping some more. I was panicked about the supplementing and would hate to give Gus any formula, freaking out every time I had to make him a bottle. I Googled (read: BAD IDEA) breastfeeding stories and testimonies about milk supply, about how it is very rare to not have enough milk while I pumped away night and day. Then just like that, my milk supply would still drop on its own for no reason. Gus also never NEVER wanted to nurse without the shield. We’d try, he’d sometimes latch on feed for about two minutes until he realized what he was doing and he’d suddenly wake up, INSULTED, like I’d just fed him a HORRIBLE IMPOSTER and it was OBVIOUS that I didn’t love him at all, otherwise I wouldn’t be putting THIS thing in his mouth. So back with the nipple shield, or what I like to call, the HATEFUL thing.

At the lactation consultant’s suggestion, I took Gus to see a craniosacral therapist. The therapist took one look at Gus and said in his very even-tempered calm craniosacral way, “I think you’re the one who needs the therapy.” He was right, of course. I was ragged with stress over how this was still not working. So I went. Nothing improved. The pediatrician did not agree with the lactation consultant on her belief that Gus had a sucking problem. So it was me again. And nothing improved.

After a tearful conversation with the lactation consultant (AGAIN) she gently asked, “Well, do you LIKE nursing?”

WHAT? HUH? What kind of crazy question is that? The thought had never even occurred to me. “Sometimes,” I answered, “when it works.”

“Well, why don’t you just feed him when it works?”

So that’s what I did, but it still required that I pump at least 3-4 times a day and sometimes my milk would drop anyway, but for about 2 weeks, it was okay. Except for the mastitis. That hurt like hell. And also the breast that produced milk, when it uh, FELT like it, no matter if I pumped the hell out of it. Sometimes it eked out milk, sometimes it just sputtered. At its best, it was about 50/50 with the formula, but I thought, I’ll take what I can get. Only, there was just one more problem:

The raging migraines that were starting to show up 3 times a week.

At first I didn’t equate them with the milk supply, but I started to notice that when I started a new dose of herbs and my milk supply went up, I’d be debilitated with violent migraines, the kind I used to get while on birth control pills. And you know what happened when I had migraines? I had to take medication, so it meant I had to PUMP and DUMP. And after 4 straight days of this, with Gus barely able to feed, he decided to tell my boob and its INFERNAL SHIELD to take a hike. He started to react as if I was offering a HOT POKER to his face instead of food.

Last week I had an appointment with my midwives, but for 3 days before I went off the herbs and I was curiously migraine free. So I asked the midwives if this could at all be a possibility, because these are HERBS right? Nature’s medicine! It turns out that YES it is a total possibility, because they aren’t just tinkering with my supply, but my hormones–so there you have it.

So last weekend I started the slow process of weaning myself from breastfeeding and I am just going to say it, it’s been very very sad. I had wanted in my heart of lowered expectations to make it to at least 6 months, but I can’t even do that. I need to be healthy and happy for Gus, instead of forcing my supply on myself and him. Having come from a breastfeeding culture, THE HIPPIES, I never in a million years thought this is the way it would go. Also, as a result of being around people that have never had ongoing supply problems, I haven’t had a lot of empathy. It’s been a lot of HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE? It’s possible, OKAY?

And while I’m on the subject I’d like to say to all the “experts” who write crap on web pages and in books about how RARE it is not to have enough milk, SHUT THE HELL UP. Tell that to the women in THIS video. Tell that to the woman who told me she got into a CAR ACCIDENT because she fell asleep at the wheel because she had been pumping throughout the night to get her supply up. Tell that to the other woman who told me about sitting at a support group at the La Leche League, with a ROOM full of low milk suppliers, where a woman bragged that her two month old had finally started gaining weight and was SEVEN POUNDS. A TWO MONTH OLD. (Even the La Leche League leader a.k.a lactivist was like, “Lady, it’s time to give your baby some FRICKN FORMULA!”).

It’s weird, in a society that doesn’t supposedly support breastfeeding, I haven’t felt a lot of support around not breastfeeding or knowledge about why women don’t breastfeed (thank you to those who have reached out their non breastfeeding selves to me!). It’s been a real eye opener –- another in the long list that is under the title MOTHERHOOD.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go feed my healthy, thriving son.

Comments on Why I’m over and done with breastfeeding

  1. I'm so glad you've shared this story. It is NOT easy for so many women and those who do have an easy or at least relatively easy time should be compassionate and understanding. Never judgmental.

  2. Good for you for doing what is best to keep yourself sane. Low supply due to PCOS and breast hypoplasia here. I still nursed for two years, supplemented with formula till the first birthday, ended up with a great kid and a passionate, raging hatred for La Leche League and other 'lactavists' who deny the truth that some women just can't produce enough milk on their own even with herculean efforts (if you're involved with LLL and reading this, rest assured that I have no beef with you unless you have told a woman that it's "almost impossible" for someone to fail to produce enough milk for her child or that she's "just not trying hard enough" or doesn't "want it enough"). There's a reason that women have been nursing the babies of others for hundreds of years, and that's because some women (the ones who got to be the wet nurses) produce more than enough and some of us barely produce anything at all. This isn't new.

    • This comment totally brought something new to my eyes — I always thought wet nurses were for the rich as a “convenience” thing, but your observation now makes me think maybe rich people could afford wet nurses when the mom didn’t have enough milk, and that the poor babies just died. Maybe it’s true that some women don’t produce enough milk.

      Thanks for your insight. I do try not judge, but you’re right, it’s hard to understand how it’s even possible not to breastfeed when I personally only had a few small problems at the beginning that were easily fixed and when many of the moms I know had zero problems (I was even jealous of them!).

      Just like co-sleeping or not, attachment parenting or not, working or not, no one is a complete hippie, complete yuppie, complete techno-mom. Everyone has to find balance somehow.

      I work and pump and get mad when someone gives the baby a bottle when they know I’ll be home in ten minutes and could just breastfeed. I do EC part-time and feel guilty when I need get stuff done and don’t want to pay attention at that particular moment. I never planned on bed-sharing but then discovered how to nurse on my side and loved the extra sleep. I plan to do BLW but you never know if it’ll work or not.

  3. I totally feel your pain. With both of my children, I started out with an abundance of milk… So much that I would literally spray all over the bathroom walls when getting out of the shower. (Inconvenient, to say the least.) However, about two months in, both times, my milk supply declined dramatically. I went from pumping 6-8 ounces to barely getting one. My first child also refused to nurse without a shield. With both of my children, I ended up throwing in the towel when they were about 4 months old. The milk just stopped altogether. I don’t regret it though… Both of my kids are healthy and strong (and intellectually gifted!)… So giving them formula during their infancy had no negative effect whatsoever. I couldn’t ask for healthier, happier children…and self. 🙂

  4. I think this (US) culture is very polarized on many issues and breastfeeding vs formula is no exception. When I am around many mothers who breastfeed they often slam women who formula feed, when I am around women who formula feed and they find out I breastfeed, they become so very defensive and abrasive (no idea what they talk about with only formula using moms.) There seems to be no middle ground. In my opinion the choice of how to feed your child is an intensely personal one and really no one else's business.

    As for some people saying only a small percentage of women not able to breastfeed, I do not know the stastics. All that matters is that you fall into that percentage right? I know I'm on the opposite end of the supply spectrum, had I been born in the past I'd probably be a wet nurse with how much I produce! (I breastfeed my baby, my toddler and pump and extra 4 to 8 oz a day for freezing and still get engorged.) However for ever one woman I know like me, I know 10 who struggle. They can't all be the lazy bums that so many lactivists paint them to be.

    I think you have done all you can do, if not much more! As a long sufferer of migraines I know how hard it is to be remotely human (much less a mom!) with a migraine. It is unlikely that your child is going to remember if you breastfed him but he is going to remember if you were fully there for him with all your loving support. If you need to formula feed to give him all that support, so be it!

    And I'm with Shannan, if the people you surround yourself with are negative, run from them – FAST! Being a mom is already hard enough with that strain.

  5. With my son I had to use a shield (flat nipples apparently? Who know? Not I!) and then he refused to nurse without it, and I also supplemented with formula with him until he decided at 7 months he didn't want the boob anymore. It was a sad day. But we got over it (as in I got over it.) As long as we feed our babies and they are healthy and grow, isn't that what's important?

  6. I had problems such as this with my first son. I gave up after 2 months. I have never felt guilty about bottlefeeding, supplemental or full. Because it's about providing my child with whatever they needs by any means possible. But I will say this.. sounds like this is a first time child? perhaps the next time around will be a little easier.. and the time after that.. easier still.. depends on how many children you want. If you do have more, you may find it easier. If you don't have more, take solace in the fact that you have done what's right for you, and provided for your son's needs now. And society be damned. I've known too many breastfeeding moms with problems and guilt about supplementing and bottles. I emphatically tell them to stop! No one else matters but her and her child and meeting those needs. Even one day of breastmilk and it's antibodies is better than no days at all.. it's all icing on the cake of providing.

    Now that you've made your decision, you can enjoy your feeding time with your son, no stress!
    -Carolyn

  7. if it doesn't work, it doesnt work. i'm battling through my own bfing problems. no one should feel bad about choosing to give their baby formula 🙁 your a supermom for doing all that you did

  8. I feel so bad you haven't had more support! I was on the flip side in a way. The women in my immediate family never breastfed and always seemed to push the idea I wanted to away, so when I started having difficulty, it was just a constant barrage of 'give up'. I commend you on trying so hard! You put in ten times the effort of those who have it easy, and you can brag about that!!

    • I’m right there with you! The women in my family never breastfed either, so I was constantly barraged with “I think she’s still hungry”, “How do you know she’s getting enough?” day in and day out! As if I didn’t have those thoughts myself, their “concern” really wore me down at times. I stuck with it and kept reminding myself that I have to trust my body and my baby to know what they’re doing.

  9. The difficulty of breastfeeding is the big, dirty secret of motherhood! Some people take to it right away, but with my first I was torn up and bleeding for 4 months. (And here's where people will usually offer such helpful advice as 'did you see a lactation consultant?' or 'he must have been latched on wrong', etc,… because I have must be living under a rock with no idea what I was doing if it was not going well.) I wish I had stopped trying to breastfeed sooner. It totally impeded my relationship with my baby. I spent all day dreading his next feeding.

    Now with my second son, it hurt like hell for the first 6 weeks but my milk came in strong and everything worked out from there. I'm sorry you went through this but it is totally something people don't talk about enough. Everyone wanted to freak us out about labor and lack of sleep, too, but nobody ever told me breastfeeding might hurt like hell and leave me worried all day long about whether or not my baby was actually eating anything.

    Maybe some moms forget about the pain and worry of breastfeeding because it eventually works out (for some) and they choose to recall the sweet snuggly time with their little ones.

    Good for you for taking care of yourself!

  10. I have a Gus, too (also 4 months!) and I'm right about where you are. I'm getting really tired of listening to my family and friends gleefully tell me about how milk literally pours out because their shirts were ALWAYS SOAKED and how it's a wonder that my supply is so low. My Gus was born @ 10 pounds and was admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit for low blood sugar. I had no choice but to supplement my measly colostrum with formula right from the get-go. The lactation consultants were a joke at my hospital. One told me not to bother pumping while he was in the NICU. I had a friend smugly tell me that she breastfed almost exclusively for a YEAR. And just to add insult to injury, there are tons of billboards all around our city proclaiming "We breastfeed! And so should YOU!" Like it's SO FREAKING EASY.

    • I can't believe they told you not to pump while he was in the NICU!!! We were in the NICU, too, and for all the issues we had with unhelpful nurses who were really discouraging about BFing in the NICU, the lactation consultants were good about telling me how often I would need to pump to keep my supply. I really can't understand how they could tell you that!?

      • The LC's were (and I say this with as much emphasis as I can muster) RIDICULOUS. I was in the postpartum room for 2 days and I had 2 LC's drop in. And again, let me emphasize DROP IN–like, didn't even bother to sit down, threw a business card at me and determined that because Gus had a good latch, that I would be fine. BOTH OF 'EM! I asked about renting a pump after I got discharged (Gus would be in NICU for several days after) to keep my supply up and was told by Lactation-Consultant-From-Hell that "Oh no, don't bother to rent one, he'll just be out in a few days, right? You'll be fine!" I mean, I know they're probably pressed for time BUT SERIOUSLY. Water under the bridge now, because now I have a big, happy, healthy (mostly) formula-fed baby!

  11. 🙁

    I feel your pain, it's better to enjoy these moments than not, and if that means to quit breastfeeding, then by all means quit. I had low supply with my first child, and quit after three months. With my second child I took a lot of Fenugreek and quit pumping, this seemed to work for me, but everyone's body is different.

    The time with your baby, enjoying all the firsts, is so much more important than what is in his bottle.

  12. Oh wow, your story is so similar to mine! After about 3 months of breastfeeding, my supply significantly dropped. My daughter would cry every time I fed her because my breasts would run out of milk. I would then have to make a bottle with a screaming baby in my arms and then after she ate, I would pump so that I could try to build my supply up. And on top of it, I also had mastitis and couldn't feed her from one breast. After a month of that, I threw in the towel too. I did not want to make my daughter cry when I knew she could be satisfied with a bottle. I have had some regret about giving it up (even though I rationally know it was the best choice) but hearing stories like yours makes me feel better and not so inferior. Thank you so much for sharing!

  13. You sound like you have tried everything in your power to do what is best for your kiddo. Nobody can fault you for that. NOBODY.

    My son started self-weaning at 7 months and was completely done by 9. I tried everything you did; pumping non-stop, taking supplements, yadda yadda but he was just not interested. He acted like I was trying to kill him whenever I tried to encourage him to nurse. Many people told me it was just a nursing strike and babies don't self-wean before a year. Well, my son was the exception. I think the issue many women have with formula feeders are the ones who barely give it a shot (or no shot at all) before switching to formula. But you fought like a champ and I applaud you for that.

    You do whatever it takes to keep your sanity. Good on ya mama!

  14. this is *so profoundly* similar to what i went through, and continued to put myself through the exclusive pumping for 19 months (with decreasing frequency and increasing supplementation with cow's milk once she old enough). i also pumped milk full of blood a few times, and had migraines, and while the slow decrease was going on, would have horrifying periods 3x in the course of 6 weeks and excruciating ovary pain that was totally palpable but showed nothing on an ultrasound for months. the part that really got to me was her reaction, like you describe, as if i were shoving an instrument of torture forcibly in her face rather than offering her sustenance. when i walked out of our birth class after the one focused on breastfeeding i burst into tears, i guess i had some intuition about what we were really in for, on some level.

  15. Wow, you really gave it your all. That is something not everyone even has the mental willpower to attempt! I have a pretty low supply (I never leak, I'm never engorged, and other things), and I don't respond to the pump at all. At night when my supply is down, I give a bottle of formula to my 3 month old. SO WHAT. What I'm doing is exactly perfect for us. He's alert, meeting milestones early, and has a cute layer of chub-chub he wouldn't have without his supplement.

  16. Cierra, my daughter self-weaned at 7 months. I didn't kill myself over trying to get her back on the breast (since I had planned on weaning around the 9 month mark anyway) — so after a 4 days of engorged breasts and a child who literally could not be less interested in sticking my boob in her mouth – I went through my frozen stash and then moved on to formula. Interestingly, the weaning coincided with her sleeping through the night for the first time ever. So you know — child sleeping 12 hours but not breastfeeding vs. child waking every 4 hours? Hmmm. Tough decision….. (er, not really)

  17. Wow. Maybe it's where I'm at in the country but everyone asked me through both my pregnancies about breastfeeding. I'm fairly certain some of them actually examined physically my breasts while doing it, and I'm not making that up.

    I had a reverse experience. I was fairly ambivalent about it and not committed to it at all. In fact, maybe mildly hostile. Clearly I could see the medical benefits, but also felt OK with bottle feeding despite my earth-mother-mother and her protestations about her radical late 60s nursing of my brother and I. I made an agreement with myself: 4 weeks before I quit, hell or high water, then I'm done. I figured I'd devoted much longer times than 4 weeks that to ridiculous, pathetic, painful, futile pursuits (like….JERKS I dated). I did have a rough start with my first baby. I got mastitis. But after probably 14 days, we smoothed out and I really loved it. I nursed the second one for two years, shocking everyone including myself. Of course, the second one was much easier since one of us knew what we were doing.

    Give yourself a break. You did a great, amazing job to stick with it as long as you did in the circumstances. My close girlfriend has struggled horribly with breastfeeding after each of her two IVF babies were born. She worked 80 times as hard as me for a fraction of the reward. The second time though, she was able to give herself a break and quit early. We all need to be more gentle with each other.

    • I'm KelliK's "close girlfriend" and Summer, I can so empathize with you. These first few months are so very precious and go by so quickly it's just amazing. And having spent them trying to sort out why my own body failed me so miserably was a mistake that I was simply compelled to make. As so many others mention, the politics surrounding breastfeeding are completely polarizing and I got wrapped up tightly in them. Convinced by the lactavists and beaten down by the "breast is best" campaign, I refused to formula feed my first son and caved to the pressure of "waiting it out". He was hospitalized at 5 days old with an astoundingly high bilirubin and had lost over 20% of his birth weight. I spent far too much time, emotion and energy trying to give my him 5 or 10% of his nutrition from breastmilk and then supplementing with formula until he weaned himself at 7 months and my biggest regret is that I'll never have that time back to be able to correct (what I perceive now to be) my selfishness and stubbornness and simply enjoy the precious gift that was entrusted to my care.

      • i should also mention that I was much more prepared for my 2nd son; starting on herbs at 35 weeks of pregnancy The good news is that I had already suffered a huge loss and it was much easier for me to face the subsequent loss head-on. Baby #2 never really liked bfeeding and after 3 months decided that he'd prefer the bottle and after a couple of fights with him acting like the devil himself was being shoved down his throat, I gave up. The difference is, I never looked back.

        That is not to say that I don't still have days that the tears come for the loss of what I wished for. But even those days are getting farther apart and the tears dry up much faster. I have 2 beautiful, perfect, healthy, thriving boys and not a soul can tell how they were fed as infants. Nor is it anyone's business but my own.

        I'd say to anyone who's suffering with this: Give your beautiful child a squeeze and hang in there. Better days are coming.

  18. Ugh. I hate that women/mothers are made to feel like there is a right and wrong side of the breastfeeding/formula issue, like being a mother isn't hard enough as it is. I EBF'd my daughter until 6 months, and weaned her at 13 months, so when new mama friends ask me for advice and share their struggles with me, they are always surprised when I tell them if it's making them miserable and it's not working, then just go to formula–it's what I would've done, and if I worked? Forget it–I hated pumping so much that if i were working, that would've been the end of BFing for me. Either way, your baby is being nourished and cared for.

    (And BFing is not the panacea it's made out to be. I have at least one friend who reported having PPD while BFing, which went away when she stopped BFing. It's probably more common than we think.)

    And the next time someone gives you shit about being stronger or whatever, I suggest you ask them when's the last time they gave BIRTH in a damn cab.

  19. You did a good job, mama.

    I know the pain and sadness of weaning before you're ready. But I promise, the rawness of it will diminish. Your baby boy will thrive. And you will be glad that you made the choice to do what was best for BOTH of you.

  20. My little girl is 4 months old and I did not breastfeed. I had a couple different reason but the main reason is migraines. I am on daily meds that I stopped taking to get pregnant and of course stay off while I was pregnant. I knew if I was going to be a good mother I would have to go back on those meds or I would not be able to function.

    I was lucky to have just one or two migraines while pregnant. I heard it could go either way , some women gets ton some get none. After I had her within the first week I had 3 migraines I knew I was making the right decision to get back on my meds and not breastfeed.

  21. There is no shame in not breastfeeding. There is no shame in breastfeeding. How you feed your child is not what makes you a good mother. Doing what's best for your baby is. Very few people accept awards and thank their mothers for breast feeding. They thank their mothers for their support and love. Sounds like you've got that in spades.

  22. Summer, I am so sorry to hear what a horrible time you've had and my heart goes out to you and your sweet Gus. I had a similar frustrating eight weeks of trying EVERYTHING – constant visits to three different LCs, herbs, pumping 8x a day on that damned hospital grade pump, getting mastitis, getting thrush from the antibiotics, exhausting myself, and watching my beautiful, precious, lethargic, struggling daughter slowly try to regain her birthweight. I filled out feeding charts and counted wet diapers every day and prayed I'd get the 25 ounces into her one way or another, and every time she gained those fucking numbers went up and there were more ounces to coax into her. I fought so hard and my supply never rose or stabilized and my daughter never had any success nursing – something I thought would be so "natural" was the hardest and most grueling work of my life. And yes, I heard from every single woman who had a huge milk supply or an effortless time, and just wanted to die from being so tired and so sick of the struggle.

    We used formula, and honestly the worst part of the whole thing was the UNBELIEVABLE amount of shit other people gave me. I watched my daughter grow – gain those precious ounces and then pounds (!!) and her eyes got brighter and she turned into herself, the sweetest transformation of my life. And meanwhile, I got so many glares, strangers telling me she would never truly love me or bond with me because I "only" bottle-fed her, and nasty comments. The first time anyone ever smiled at me feeding her in public was when I fed her solid food for the first time at a cafe at nearly eight months – it was like someone turned the lights and heat on in the dark, cold room I'd been stuck in and other people suddenly weren't assholes anymore.

    Your last sentence made me cry. Thanks for this whole honest, fantastic post. I hope your next three months with Gus are as joyful and easy as the first three were hard and frustrating, and it only gets easier and easier from there.

  23. I was bound and determined to breastfeed my first daughter. Well, she did not have that same conviction. As a matter of fact, she hated it. She would fight against my breast or just didn't have any interest at all. I could only nurse from one side due to an inverted nipple, so I had low supply in the first place and swapping back and forth from breastmilk to formula seemed to upset her stomach horribly. Then the mastitis kicked in. I literally counted down the days until the 3 months that I had promised myself that I would try nursing were up and then happily gave up breastfeeding. We were both much happier and still had (and continue to have) a healthy, loving relationship…(cont)

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