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. (..cont) I had my second child 3 years later and it was a completely different scenario. I was still only producing milk from 1 breast, but she took it with no problems and I was able to keep my milk supply up with no issues what so ever without even pumping or anything unless she was away from me for an extended period of time. There was no need to even supplement, as she refused to take formula of any type or even pumped milk from a bottle. Reagan happily nursed until I finally weaned her at 13 months, when she went straight to regular dairy milk.
    I am expecting my 3rd child this summer and am not sure what to expect. She might be a natural nurser like Reagan, or a reluctant one like Tressie. Either way, I have decided to let my child choose what is best for them and we will go from there. There is no reason to be ashamed over not breastfeeding. As long as your child is healthy and happy, that is all that matters. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  2. I can definitely relate to some of this story. My daughter started boycotting the boob at 3 months old. We had struggled for a month or more, nipple shield, then weaning off the nipple shield, pain, then realized we had a bad latch and my daughter didn't like to open her mouth wide enough. We finally got it right, and I loved it! Then I went back to work and she started getting a bottle. She realized eating could be easier, and decided no more boob for her. She would bounce off the boob like she was repulsed by it. I cried so much, felt totally inadequate: I mean, how many moms can't feed their babies?

  3. Amen. My son only learned to latch properly on the right side. I went through about 3 weeks of hell trying to get him to latch onto lefty correctly, but he never got it and I ended up with a bleeding nipple. So then came the joy of pumping one side while feeding exclusively on the other. Of course, that wasn't inconvenient at all (rolls eyes).

    I, of course, felt guilty for pretty much hating breastfeeding. Probably didn't help that my hubby really really wanted me to breastfeed for as long as possible. But, when my babe hit 4 months, we quit. Cold turkey, which wasn't really that hard because by then my milk supply had gone down so much it didn't really matter. Breastfeeding was the most emotionally draining thing I have ever done. I felt like such a failure. But once we quit, my relationship with my baby blossomed. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I want to try it with the next baby, but if it doesn't work after a couple weeks, I'm going to switch to formula for my own sanity. Babies need a happy mom too.

  4. One of the things that amazes me with this story and the stories in the comment section is that no one has mentioned breastmilk banks or having a friend offer to share some of their abundance. I understand that the banks are rare and that for many people it may seem creepy to offer some pumped breastmilk to a friend, but there are no health or safety reasons that breastmilk can't be shared. I understand that formula is a good option, but it seems like a lot of mothers would prefer to feed their child breastmilk, and there are some health benefits associated with breastmilk. Maybe getting it from someone else should become more of an option, though this would have to involve removing any stigma that may make a woman feel badly about her milk production. It seems to me that finding ways to make life easier for a friend or stranger is far preferable to making things harder by adding pressure.

    • Heather,

      A friend of mine did offer me her "extra" breastmilk and made it very hard for me to gracefully say no – she meant well but was very pushy, thinking it was such a great solution to my feeding problems. I really didn't want it and it was very humiliating to be put in the position of pity, and unscreened bodily fluids aren't very safe either, if you have any reservations about that. I think screened, professional milk banks are a great idea for young babies, or mothers who are comfortable with the offer.

      Nearly every mother I know who breastfed and had a good supply had this kind of Mother Earth-like urge to share the abundance (must be nice!) and that's great, when it goes through a bank or is mutually comfortable… but when I fought my hardest for a few meager ounces and breastfeeding was a hard experience, formula was easier and a TON more comfortable than being put on the spot with a friend's pity. I was crying by the end of the conversation, feeling so diminished as a mom, and it damaged our friendship. I'm sure other people feel differently, but that was my experience as a new mom with supply issues.

    • Not to mention, milk banks charge about 3-4$ per OUNCE of milk. That could add up to 60 $ a day to feed your child, not to mention some women would have to drive great distances to get to the closest milk bank, there just arent many in the US.

      • Actually Heather, as Susan said, there ARE health risks associated with unscreened breast milk. I don't want to have to ask a friend, when was your last STI test and did you get an HIV test with it? I'm not judging people who have contracted STIs or HIV but some are passable through breast milk (HIV included). Also, some women don't have female friends/relatives.

    • It is my understanding that milk banks, because of the limited supply, should be for special circumstances, like wanting to give an adoptive child breastmilk or for babies who can't tolerate formula and their mothers can't BF for whatever reason.

      Also, a lot of the benefit of breastfeeding comes from the bond and the intimacy, which can be achieved even when bottle-feeding

      • My understanding is that milk banks will reserve the milk for babies who really need it, but beyond that will willingly dispense to anyone with a doctor's prescription. Insurance may not cover it, though, and yes, the processing the milk banks do makes it expensive, so that is a serious barrier. They do, however, ship the milk so it's not necessary to drive to pick it up.

        Because of that cost barrier, I know women who have felt comfortable with accepting breastmilk from others, and they have often offered to pay for the donor mothers to be screened for the few (but sometimes serious, like HIV) diseases that are transmissible via breastmilk. I think the emphasis, though, is that they felt comfortable accepting it, and generally actively solicited it – not had it pushed on them by the donors. That does sound like a horrible experience.

    • Thanks so so much for your responses. I had no idea it was so complicated. This is one of my favourite things about this site – people are so willing to politely inform you when you're misinformed – I was aware that screening for things like HIV is necessarily, but are there any other health issues that I'm missing?

      I imagine it would take a very specific kind of friendship and serous screening to make something like this work. It's most definitely not an option for everyone. I had no idea that breast milk banks charged for their services (this may sound really naive, but I'm not a mom and I'm from Canada so I really don't know what this type of service would cost here or elsewhere).

      Susan – I am so sorry that was your experience with your friend(s). Sometimes people who try to be overly "helpful" are worse than people being judgmental.

      Thanks for responding – I really appreciate it. Next time, I'll so some more homework before posting.

  5. If you have another baby– try breastfeeding again!– for all 6 kids I've had, breastfeeding has been a different experience with each kid . Some it was rocky and some it went smooth as glass…

  6. Summer – thanks for such an honest, brave and obviously painful post. My personal philosophy is that happy moms = happy babes. If anyone ever gives you guff about not breastfeeding (why people would do this is totally beyond me!), I say give 'em hell!

  7. great lil' article, thanks! i haven't even given birth yet, and i feel pressured by the lactivists and anti-C-section people. i read all this dire stuff about how society doesn't give enough support for breastfeeding ,and western medicine will force a cesarian on you.

    what i see in my social circles is undue pressure to conform to what happens to work for some women. hey, if your infant latches right on and the whole thing works great, good for you! if you don't need a C section, that must be nice! (every woman in my family for three generations has had to deliver via C section, does that mean they all missed the "real" birth experience? are all their kids, me and my cousins, terrible people?)

    so, nicely done. do what you can do, the best you can, with your given circumstances. your kid'll be happier that way in the long run!

  8. I had some really interesting conversations with my mom about breastfeeding dogma — she helped me see how, given what they were up against back in the '70s, the Le Leche League-style BREAST IS BEST stridency was really important. When you're trying to turn around a cultural trend, a little dogma and hardcore activism goes a long way. But now that breastfeeding is much more the norm, that dogmatic attitude can actually be damaging. It really helped me to understand some of the strident "lactivism" once I had the larger historical/cultural context in mind…

    Also, even as a breastfeeding mother, I gotta say that having a can of formula in the kitchen cabinet did wonders for my sanity. Even though we haven't had to use it yet, just knowing that it's there helps lighten the mental burden of "omg, my body is responsible for nourishing my son."

    • I have definitely seen that as the history that has lead to this point. There's needs to be a new approach with a line between being super supportive of breastfeeding and setting women up for a personal tragedy, or giving unrealistic expectations. When you read the La Leche League breastfeeding information and often in their classes, its easy to get a soft-focus mental image of you and your baby sitting in a room with in with him suckling contentedly as you gaze down at him in utter peace. I can see the difficulty in getting women on board with breastfeeding if they picture what most women look like for the first few weeks of exasperated, one-step-forward-two-backward learning, but just like labor books that underplay labor pain, I think they are doing an injustice to the experience of many, many women.

  9. Also, don't forget that you can breastfeed all you want and still end up with a sickly kid – like me! My mom never used formula, and I'm still a complete medical wreck. 🙂

  10. Fantastic! I bf my munchkin for 19 months before she self weaned, but have friends who have had (and are having) many varied problems, and the option that no-one ever mentions is choosing to be happy and (relatively) stress free and using formula! its as if bfing is taboo in mainstream society, but stopping bfing is just as taboo within some circles! The most important thing about being a mum is to trust yourself, your intuition, and your ability to make the best decision available to you.

  11. DUDE! I, like many others who have commented, went through a similar herculean effort to breastfeed my son- round the clock hospital-grade pumping, taking 20+ pills (herbs and domperidone) a day, nipple shield, finger feeding, home visits from the lc. We made it three months! When I first realized I was going to have to supplement (a few days after he was born), I felt like someone close to me had died. I grieved for a while. The funny thing was I was really prepared, open and ready-for-anything when it came to giving birth, but that breastfeeding would be sooooo hard for me NEVER EVER crossed my mind for a second. When it happened like it did, it was a huge blow.

  12. Thanks for sharing your story, Summer. As an adoptive mama, I sometimes feel guilty that I never attempted the adoptive breastfeeding protocol, even though it would have been an actively bad decision for me, my kid, and my family. I know that, and yet I STILL FEEL BAD ABOUT IT. Mother guilt, mother shame–I hate it, and I especially hate that we do it to each other. Big hugs to you.

  13. I was an exclusive pumper for 11 months. In the beginning, I pumped 12 times a day for the first 4-5 months and then pumping every five hours till at about 10 months I stopped producing enough milk. I took the fenugreek, I drank the mothers milk tea, those last few weeks I ate oatmeal twice a day until I accepted defeat and gave her the formula a month later. But seriously when I would make up with a few of my still nursing mommy friends (one of them ironically a member of LLC) they actually tried to tell me that I should have – in their words- "kept up the fight" and my milk would have come back. To that I said, "Whatever – my baby is healthy and I gave her 11 months of breast milk and seriously there are more important things to worry about in the big scheme of things" I don't talk to a few of those mommy friends anymore and that is cool with me. If the people you surround yourself are negative, run from them – FAST. As a mom, I already have enough guilt, I dont need anyone adding to the fire.

  14. diversity needs to be embraced – what works for me may not work for someone else … what my friend swears was the only way for her, might be totally unsuitable for my circumstances – we need to understand that in parenthood and in life nothing is black and white – wish there were books that said this .. they all seem to shout there is the only way … find your own path and be kind to those who choose a different one.

  15. Good for you for making the best choice for your baby. Not all moms can breastfeed. That is why there is formula. I think some women can forget that, and think that formula was invented as some sort of evil plot to kill babies. (Not minimizing the ways in which it has been used for profit over the best interest of babies, but still.)

    As an adoptive mother feeding my daughter formula was always expected and still I felt guilty about it. But when I saw how fast and how well she has grown I got over it. Feeling bad didn't change what I had to offer to her for food, and she certainly doesn't seem to suffer for it.

  16. There is so much debate about this. My opinion is that your baby is small for such a short time. If the herculean efforts to breastfeed are interrupting your enjoyment of your precious, sweet smelling bundle of love, then for the love of god, don't breastfeed. Save the mommy guilt for really, really important things…like potty training.

  17. Great article! I am as much of a lactivist as anyone can be, but I recognize that there ARE mothers out there that literally do everything humanly possible to make it work and it still doesn't work out. Thank goodness we have formula to feed our babies.

    I've come to the conclusion that society just doesn't support mothers/women/families in general. Whatever decisions mothers make, we face criticism. Breastfeeding over X months? That's gross! Formula-feeding? Neglect! Crying it out? You're cruel! Co-sleeping? You'll spoil your baby!!! Going back to work? Your kids will turn out bad! Staying home? Your kids will turn out bad!

    • Seriously, sometimes it seems like there's just no way to win! Damned if you do, damned if you don't…The only thing you can do is your best and try and ignore all the noise and judgemental BS out there.

  18. I breastfed both of my boys for about 6 weeks; both of them were supplemented with formula right off the bat. My first son never latched at all, and everything was given to him in a bottle. (This made staged sleep MUCH easier for his dad and I.) My second son latched so hard that he cracked & bled me immediately after birth. I pumped for him, too, when I realized that I was in excruciating pain while trying to feed him without the bottle.

    My supply was tolerable at best. I produced better for my 2nd than for my 1st, but then I was trying to juggle feeding schedules plus pumping schedules plus a toddler plus healing from my tubal plus sleep. Taking the pumping schedules out of the equation (the only thing that was removable from that list) created a Mommy who wasn't on the brink of tears most of the day, and who could enjoy her kids.

    Breastfeeding isn't for everyone, and sometimes the best decision you can make for your child is the one that keeps you sane. Mommies know what is best for them and for their children. Do what you know to be right, and everyone else be damned.

  19. I loved this post! I am ALL for breastfeeding and agree that breast is best. But I am SO SICK AND TIRED of militant breastfeeding is the only way types. They are the reason that women feel guilty when they supplement and they are the reason that, when women find themselves struggling with breastfeeding, they get so stressed out. Breastfeeding is a complex thing and in order to have a good milk let down, a women has to be relaxed so her brain can secrete the right hormones to let it all happen. It is very hard to relax when a women is stressing out because she thinks that if she can't feed then her baby will either starve or be physically and emotionally stunted for life by formula. That is why we must rise against the crazy militants and promote breastfeeding as best but formula as a perfectly healthy option. I think that when we de-stimatise formula, there will be a lot less stressed women and a lot more successful breastfeeders.

  20. AMEN!! My son is 4 and I still get people that GAWF at me when I mention that I didn’t breastfeed. Believe me, I tried…but threw in the towel when pumping day and night got one ounce. ONE OUNCE!!

  21. I went through this with my first born, and with my second on the way I am planning on trying again. With my first, my milk came in slowly and then BAM suddenly there it was, only it didnt want to come out. The pain was horrible. I would pump and get nothing, my daughter was losing weight and frustrated, I was frustrated, when the milk decided to come I was soaking pads left and right and STILL she was losing weight…and then my (Now ex)-husband said, lets give her a bottle. I was mortified…and also relieved. She gained weight and I felt sad, but it was better for her. Still I am planning on trying again…we will see!

  22. So this is my first comment… and I just wanted to tell you that you made me cry, Mama. I have been carrying that "shame" of not being able to breastfeed my son for 8 YEARS. I also worked with lactation consultants… and tried the herbs… and pumping… and after two weeks one of my nipples had no skin left on it where Sebastian had been trying so hard to get milk. I can't even begin to count the number of nasty comments I got about how I never tried hard enough or screwed my son out of a good start. I tried.so.hard and cried so many nights because I just couldn't get it to work. Thank you for writing this…

  23. Wow. I love stumbling across raw stories that tell it like it is. No, not everyone can breastfeed. I have a ton of admiration for how hard you tried to make it work. If i had been in your boots I would have done the same thing. No one should judge anyone for not being able to breastfeed or any life circumstances around why someone just doesn't. I write at Breastfeeding Moms Unite! and like the title suggests I'm all about just that. Having moms of all different breastfeeding backgrounds unite and support each other. Thank you for your story.

  24. That is really frightening about the 2 month old at 7lbs. I've seen it too… I am a strong believer that this low-supply problem is a much bigger deal than we've been told. I know the argument against it is that "how could the human race have survived if so many women were legitimately unable to breastfeed?" But here's the thing – there have always been wet nurses, or other women in cultures where it's "normal" to feed another's baby – ie, there's always been some sort of breastfeeding "alternative". And if you look back in history, the infant mortality rate was also wayyy higher than it is in modern times, and we can't really know how much of THAT was due to insufficient supply, right?

    Anyway – I want you to know that you are NOT alone. There's a few women who frequent my blog (the Fearless Formula Feeder) who've also had low supply. It sucks balls. You did your best and your baby will thrive on formula, as I'm sure you already know. And thanks for having the bravery to put this out there in the blogosphere!

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