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. Thank you for posting your story. I had almost an identical experience – I even started taking prescription medicine to try to increase my milk supply. I was spending 1 hour out of every two trying to nurse and pumping and my son and I were both miserable. I finally realized that my mental health was more important to my son than breast milk and quit after two months. But it was so sad and hard and I felt horrible every time I would take out his bottle and get judgmental looks from mothers who did not know my situation. After several months I read the article "The case against Breastfeeding" that was published in, I think, the Washington Post? Anyways, I felt much better when I learned the science is not the slam dunk they claim in terms of the benefits of breastfeeding in comparison with formula. Obviously, breastfeeding is the way nature intended, but for well-educated, financially stable moms who are giving their children all the best resources possible, breastfeeding does not make a difference. Thanks for having the courage to post this!

  2. Yes, it does work out for some people, some even easily. For me it didn't truly work out until about 2.5 months. Before giving birth it all seemed so clear, watched the 4 breastfeeding videos my birth center required, knew I could just call a LC if anything went wrong. Sure. It was a long story of bloody scabbed nipples, finger feeding, pumping day/night, a billion different bottles, a hellish ride with a nipple shield, but finally she got it. She's now been latching like a champ for a month- and when it does work well it's a lot more convenient than any other method. But I went through it all alone, because I was afraid of what people would say, and that's BS (on my part and theirs). For anyone else who's had to resort to a nipple shield and had people tell them there's no going back to the nipple after that, baby and I disagree!
    Sure breast is best, but here we are, a bunch of quite intelligent formula raised survivors!

  3. Hey, thank you for sharing this story. You managed to be touching and to make me snort out loud – twice. I’m about 6 months along in my first pregnancy and I know I’ll be getting a little anxious about bfing as the due date gets closer and closer . . . I think I’ll be able to be a bit gentler with myself if that doesn’t all go “according to plan” thanks to all the wonderful comments shared by the women here. Didn’t someone once say something about “best laid plans” anyway . . . ??

  4. Great post!

    So far, I’ve had it easy – easy conceptions, easy pregnancies, easy births, easy BFing (OK, except for the one miscarriage and the 10 seconds or so when #2 got stuck and the doc had to go in with 2 hands. I could live without a repeat of THAT for a lifetime or two).

    But I have had so MANY friends and aquaintances who have NOT had it easy, I’ve avoided (I hope) the it-was-easy-for-me-so-it’s-always-easy attitude. I’ve seen a lot of it and I do understand it (I know I’m not great at social niceties or heck, basic grammar when in the just-post-baby haze), but I still want to smack the mommy-judges upside the head.

    I’m one of the eldest of 8 kids, I’m planning on having at least one or two more, and all I can say is – find the joy, dump the guilt, whenever and wherever you can. What works for you, works. What doesn’t, doesn’t. People have been looking for what works for millenia, and look how many different solutions we’ve come up with! We’d all be much saner if we could focus on what we do that works, instead of what we do that doesn’t, or that by all experts ‘shouldn’t’ but actually does.

    Mommies for the Promotion of Maternal Sanity!

    And on that note, I’m going to bed ;>

  5. Thank you for this post conveying your frustrations. I had dreams of a blissful pregnancy, a dula assisted birth, and a happy fat breastfeeder. But when I gave birth to my son at 25 weeks all those plans went down the drain. Now at 90 days in the NICU pumping 6-8 times a day (and so so sick of people asking me if I am pumping enough) I still only get enough milk for one of my sons daily feedings, with the help of Reglan-twice.

    Its at the point now that I just want to enjoy the time I have with my son when I can be with him in the NICU and cut myself some slack.

    Plans are for suckers!

  6. We have pretty much the exact same breastfeeding story. Sorry you had to go through it all too…but at least we both have healthy thriving children! Even if they are formula fed. 🙂

  7. I too had migraine issues with the herbs. I didn’t realize I had low supply until I had to introduce formula for a medical reason. And then I realized I had been starving my son because of the Breast is Best propaganda. No, a healthy, thriving child is best. And that is completely possible with formula!

  8. Whoever says our society does not support breastfeeding was never around any of the people I was. I felt harassed when I DECIDED not to breast feed any longer 🙁 Like I was a horrible mother, depriving my child.

    I had the opposite problem. My son would eat for five minutes, sleep for 20, eat five, sleep twenty. By the time two months rolled around I was so sleep deprived I was suffering constant headaches, vomiting, and horrible depression. Besides, I was producing so much milk I went from an F cup to JJ. Uh… that’s 5 sizes an excruciating pain. I felt like I was constantly pumping because, since he fed for such a short time, I still had to pump after! I had to make a decision: Would putting my baby on formula make me a better mom? I could be more attentive, focused, and not so sick & down. So yes, it did. The funny part? My son had breast milk just shy of 11 months, despite having only been fed au natural for 4 months. Even the NICU babies, and my own friend’s [who wasn’t able to produce her own milk] preemie were able to benefit. Yes, there was THAT much milk. The downside to that was, stopping was painful, both physically & emotionally.

    We all stop breastfeeding for different reasons. No one should judge another woman for their decisions. As moms, we need to support one another because… well, who else understands?

  9. This is a really awesome article for me to read, just to prepare.

    It is likely that our baby will get milk from its birth/other-mother, early on — 1-3 months’ worth or so. And we’ve been offered another, very loving source. I want to try to breast-feed. This means getting a pump and using it every three hours, and if I eventually make milk, freezing it, from January on. It might mean taking hormones. The ones endocrinologists use for lactation are basically those in birth control pills, which give me migraines, so I might not be able to do this. If herbs can also cause migraines, well, I’m screwed.

    So you know what? I’m going to be realistic. Between me, the biomom, and our gifted breast milk, we will do our damnedest to do right by our baby with the best food possible. At some point we might have to go to formula and/or cow’s milk. And you know what? That’ll be okay, too.

    I am granola-crunchy in so many ways, babywise. I also have to be realistic for our situation.

  10. I didn’t have any trouble breastfeeding – my daughter could latch right away, my supply was good, etc. But I HATED it. I hated being sleep deprived and covered in milk all the time and always, always having someone touch me. I never felt that magical rush of love we’re supposed to get from nursing; I felt like we bonded far, far better when she WASN’T nursing because I didn’t resent her then. I made it 3 weeks of exclusively nursing and then started supplementing, and the first time my husband gave the baby a bottle I sobbed facedown on the kitchen floor because I felt defective. I was prepared for nursing to be hard; I was not prepared to hate it because NONE of the pro-BF literature mentions that possibility. I spent a good two years feeling like I had failed my daughter in the most profound way because I was so invested in the BF party line. We did about 50/50 nursing and formula until my daughter started doing the “you are killing me” reaction to nursing at three months; then I pumped for three
    more months and then gave up.

    I felt betrayed by lactivism, and after those two years of guilt I started to
    feel really, really angry. I understand the need to support new nursing mothers, I do. But I refuse to accept that supporting them should come at the expense of telling them the full truth. What I tell women who ask me about BFing is, “There’s a pretty steep learning curve; not everyone can do it; you may love it; you may hate it; it’s ok to stop when you want to stop. And it’s not anyone’s business but yours how you feed your baby.”

    My daughter is 4 now and this is still a really emotional topic for me.

  11. I am just now reading this article, as I am in the throes of breastfeeding my 6 week old. I have had the opposite problem- oversupply and an overactive letdown that makes every feeding akin to a game of roulette: will my baby scream and arch away because the milk is choking him? Or will this be a calm, uneventful feeding, fulfilling for both of us? It’s really hard to have to face this numerous times a day, every. damn. day. When it doesn’t go so well, it’s frustrating for him, I’m sure, but also really frustrating for me.
    NO ONE EVERY SAID THAT BREASTFEEDING WAS HARD. But shit, it’s WAYYY harder than I ever imagined, and it’s only been 6 weeks.

  12. I would just like to say Thank You for sharing your story. Mine is a similar story. I’m begining to let my milk dry up now, after working with a lacation nurse, who also put me on herbal supplements, had me breastfeed with the hated nipple sheild, because he would not latch without it, then supplement a feeding with formula, then pump, to try to pick up my milk supply. With him on a 2-3 hour feeding schedule, I felt like all I could do was the regimen. I was exhausted, and I was stressed, and although I tried my best to not let my son feel it, I’m sure he did. Even with the nipple sheild he had a shallow latch, and was causing alot of nipple damage, and it was so painful I would have tears streaming down my face as he nursed. The lacation nurse told me that this may not get better until he was 3 months old! I decided to exclusivly pump and give him expressed breast milk and formula, but like you, my supply was inconsistant. I’ve finally decided, I’m done, but am still stuggling with the guilt of that decision. Searching the internet for some support in this decision, (which there is not alot of), I found your article, and made me feel alot better. So Thank You again

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