Adventures in Breastfeeding or How I Almost Lost My Will to Live

17 Nov

I always assumed that when I had a baby I’d breastfeed.  There wasn’t much thinking beyond that.  Maybe some hazy visions of my sweet chubby baby and I having these special nursing moments, but even those were only on the edge of my thoughts.  Oh to go back to the days of the sweet, innocent joy of being COMPLETELY WRONG.

Looking back, it feels like breastfeeding, Oliver, and I were not meant to be.  What I had assumed would just feel natural and “right” was uncomfortable and complicated.  Because of the drama at the end of my delivery I had to be flat on my back being stitched up for over an hour instead of having the immediate skin to skin nursing we’d heard was essential to laying breastfeeding groundwork.  Then, when I was finally able to try for the first time, he was already in his newborn coma and, when awake, couldn’t seem to latch on right.  We tried different holds, each one more awkward than the next, and then it was off to the nursery for a bath for him with the assurance from the nurses that we’d try again later.  Barely into it I was already feeling like I didn’t know what I was doing and that what I was doing, I was doing wrong.

Over the next two days in the hospital we kept at it.  Nothing was going wrong or badly, but I didn’t know if it was going well or right either.  Even though the nurses and lactation consultants were positive, I was just so unsure.  I didn’t know about the latch, whether or not he was getting enough to eat, if my supply was coming in or not, and really, it just hurt.  I met with a lactation consultant every chance I got and I swear I showed my boobs to half the hospital.  In fact, if you wanted to come in my room you had to look at my boobs first.  If you wanted to stay more than an hour, you had to touch them.  In other words, I was trying to get all the help I could get from anyone who came my way.

Although I’m jaded now, when Michael and I left the hospital I was still sure that I was going to breastfeed–using formula hadn’t even crossed my mind.  We had a great visit with a lactation consultant right before we left and I was sure my supply would come in and it would just get better and better.

Long story short, it never got better.  Actually, it got worse.  At the pediatrician visit the next day Oliver was right at the 10% mark for weight loss.  We came the next day and while he had gained weight it still wasn’t enough to get us through the weekend without a visit.  This was also the first visit where I cried in public about how hard breastfeeding was.  My nipples were cracked and blistered and bruised (sharing is caring, right?), it was taking me 90 minutes to feed him and then 45 minutes later he wanted to do it again.  My supply was sort of there, but mostly not and definitely not like it should have been.  Breastfeeding hurt, I was exhausted and I still hadn’t had my zen moment of breastfeeding bliss.  I guess my woe and strife was major enough that by the end of our appointment we were out the door with formula and instructions to “top him off” after I fed him so my boobs (and mental state) would have time to heal.

We gave him formula the rest of that day and that was that.  Six days later I had decided to quit breastfeeding.  In between the first night of formula and quitting there were multiple appointments, phone consults, desperate emails to friends, the purchase of an expensive breast pump, herbs, and about 1000 emotional meltdowns.  I couldn’t do it.  I would cry.  Oliver would cry.  There was nothing for him to eat.  Pumping sucked.  And, no matter what, after all of the nursing torture, we’d still have to give him a bottle to fill him up–the ultimate slap in the face after the struggle of a nursing session.

Now, when I think about it too long, the decision to give up breastfeeding makes me feel guilty.  I wonder if I should have tried longer.  Tried harder.  Tried something different.  I wonder if I was doing something wrong.  I wonder if it was my lack of confidence that did us in.  I wonder when I’ll stop feeling like a failure each time someone asks me whether or not I’m nursing.  I could wonder forever.  But no matter how much guilt I feel, all of that is overshadowed by the sick feeling in my stomach, the anxiety, the dread that comes back when I think about those days and nights at home trying to get it right. I was missing out on my baby.  I was making myself crazier than hormones were already making me.  And while a part of me feels like I’m almost anti-breastfeeding at this point, of course I’m not.  If it had worked for me I’d be doing it right now. I guess I just wish someone had told me it was going to be so hard.  That while some people have zen nursing moments from the beginning, it’s not like that for everyone.

Now if only I could go back and give my pregnant self a heads up.  Hey, by the way, breastfeeding isn’t going to work for you but  IT’S OKAY.  You’re going to give it a shot.  You’re going to try long enough, hard enough and in the end you’re going to make the decision that’s best for you and your baby.  Yeah, it’s formula, but it’s been a happy baby (and mama) ever since.


5 Responses to “Adventures in Breastfeeding or How I Almost Lost My Will to Live”

  1. Erika November 17, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    I’m sure it’s not possible to capture all that went on or even how you feel about it now. I wouldn’t say I feel guilty about not even attempting breastfeeding; more like I feel guilty for not feeling guilty. I admire you! Promise me one day when teenage Ollie is driving you crazy, you will use “cracked, bleeding, bruised nipples” on him.

  2. Operation Pink Herring November 19, 2011 at 6:39 pm #

    I loled so hard at “if you wanted to cone into my room you had to look at my boobs first.” Every appointment we have now I try to show the doctor /nurse/LC my boobs. Why doesn’t anyone want to see at my poor, bloody, yeast infected nipples?

  3. Blanche November 22, 2011 at 9:28 pm #

    The thing is, the nursing nazis want you to feel that you are a failure if you aren’t the perfect milk producing machine, no matter why it hasn’t worked, because that makes them powerful.

    I, and many others, say poo on them. It doesn’t matter how your baby is fed – boob, formula, or some combination of the two, as long as it works for you and your baby, and you are both happy.

    And you are absolutely correct, there needs to be more ‘nursing can be hard or impossible despite your best efforts’ included to balance out the nursing is bliss publicity.

    • Sarah November 23, 2011 at 8:38 am #

      I love your comment! I totally feel like it’s going to be my mission now to inform all of my pregnant friends that it’s going to be hard but it’s going to be OKAY. I think b/c I didn’t know it was supposed to be that hard that I thought I was doing something wrong. I wish it would have worked for me, but everyone is happy now and I know that’s what really matters.


  1. You down with PPD? Yeah you know me! « Thirty Mother - November 22, 2011

    […] couldn’t stop crying.  And crying.  And crying.  Of course we were dealing with all of the breastfeeding crap, but it was more than that.  I was an emotional wreck and this was uncharted territory for me.  […]

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