When Breast ISN’T Best – One Mom’s Challenge with Breastfeeding

by Jessica Heksem on September 14, 2015

When people started finding out my husband and I were expecting, one of the first questions people asked was if I planned to breastfeed. Of course I did! It’s what is best for baby! It’s natural! It’s free! It helps with bonding! Little did I know that none of those things were true…at least for my family. I never got around to taking a breastfeeding class, but I did watch a ton of YouTube videos by “natural mom vloggers.”  They all made it look so easy. I couldn’t wait to breastfeed my baby!

On May 30th, 2014 at 39 weeks and 1 day, my water suddenly broke at 11:30 am. I immediately started having contractions every four minutes. I was dilated to 3 cm by the time I got to triage at the hospital. By 2:00 pm I was having intense contractions every three minutes that made me moan and cry.  By the time I was admitted into my labor and delivery room, I was screaming out in pain and trying to make it through contractions that never really ended. They would peak, then ease up for about 10 seconds and then peak again.  My nurse kept saying how she couldn’t believe how close together and how intense my contractions were without giving me a break in between. I finally got an epidural which was the best decision I have ever made! By 7:00 pm I was completely dilated and ready to push. I had to wait 45 minutes for my OB to arrive to start pushing, but once I started, baby girl started to fly out! She was born at 8:02 pm and was completely perfect!

After all of the commotion had settled, I was asked if I wanted to breastfeed. Baby girl “latched on” immediately (now I know she actually did not have a correct latch). The labor and delivery nurse looked at baby nursing one time and said, “Looks good,” then left the room. I thought we were doing it correctly. My postpartum nurse and 3 lactation consultants in the hospital kept talking about how baby was “breastfeeding like a champ”. This made me feel great! I was so encouraged that breastfeeding was coming so easily!

We spent two long nights in the hospital, and we were discharged after a long night of painful non-stop cluster feeding. When I got home from the hospital, I took off my nursing tank only to pull of 2 huge scabs from my nipples that had stuck onto my shirt. I cried and cried not only from the pain, but from being so afraid to nurse my baby because of what it was going to feel like. My husband had to massage my shoulders and have me clench his arm when she latched because I would bawl every single time. I would wake up with my nipples stuck to my sheets and had to wet them to get them off in order to not rip the new scabs off. I tried every nipple cream I could find with no results.

In addition to bleeding nipples, I became extremely engorged and had clogged ducts the size of golf balls. I wanted to pump just enough to relieve the engorgement but the lactation consultants I had in the hospital gave me strict orders not to pump before four weeks or I would become engorged! Looking back I don’t know why I just didn’t do it anyway, but I was a first time mom and I wanted to do everything “right.” I saw my OB and he told me my breasts were “normal breastfeeding breasts,” even though when I saw him my breasts looked like huge lumpy bowling balls that were so tight they were shiny and had red streaks all over them. I told him I thought I was getting mastitis, but since I didn’t have a fever yet he said I was fine, and that breastfeeding “was supposed to be painful for a while.”

I dealt with this for three weeks. My baby literally needed to nurse ALL the time. My breasts never felt empty. Now I know she was hardly getting any milk. I was talking to one of my best friends who finally told me what I was going through was not normal. I scheduled an appointment with a lactation consultant outside of the hospital and saw her the next day. I was so excited to get this sorted out because I wanted breastfeeding to work!  She told me my breasts were very full and my nipples were extremely damaged. She told me she couldn’t believe I had not quit breastfeeding with how damaged my nipples were.
I liked her at first. Then she hooked me up to my pump. I pumped about half an ounce from each side even though my breasts were so full. She then watched my baby latch and told me I should be smashing her face into my boob more and told me that should help. She told me my baby had a lip tie and a posterior tongue tie but they were not so severe that they should be causing me so much pain, and baby should still be able to latch and empty my breasts.

Then she told me to have a good day! I was shocked that she was rushing me out so fast. I asked her what my plan should be, and if I should just pump and bottle feed until my nipples healed. She replied, “They are YOUR nipples. Do what you want.” I was so upset and cried the whole way home because I felt more lost and confused than I was before. I wanted so badly to breastfeed my baby but it felt like I had no hope.

I decided to pump until I healed because I couldn’t take the pain any more. When I got home and pumped 5 ounces (total), my breasts finally felt so much better! I gave my baby a bottle for the first time that night and that was the first time I think I bonded with my baby. I wasn’t in pain and she was full for the first time in her life! I was happy but still wanted to go back to breastfeeding. I researched and decided to get her tongue and lip tie fixed. We got then fixed at 5 weeks old and I thought we could go right back to breastfeeding! My nipples felt better for the most part. Unfortunately, since we didn’t get them fixed until she was 5 weeks old, she was unable to re-learn to breastfeed the right way. I then had to accept the fact I would be an exclusive pumper.

I became obsessed with pumping and my supply. My supply was very low. Since baby girl could not latch correctly, she never completely emptied my breasts and my body had regulated to this low supply. The same lactation consultant told me that I needed to pump every two hours to boost my supply. I wasn’t sleeping (now I know sleep is one of the best ways to ensure a good supply!). I was setting my alarm for every other hour to pump, even overnight. I would pump for 45 minutes  and only get out 1 ounce or less total. My nipples were so bad again from constant pumping. I was not making enough milk to feed my baby. I tried every supplement out there to boost milk supply and spent hundreds of dollars on them. I had to start giving my baby formula. She was hungry and I had no milk.

I was devastated and felt like the worst mom in the world. I felt very judged because of the whole natural parenting movement. I kept getting flashbacks of a YouTube video I watched when I was pregnant that showed a picture of formula and said “If you want to feed your baby breast milk instead of THIS STUFF, you may like my channel!” I was so stressed out because I wanted the best for my baby, and “breast is best!”  No one understood the guilt I was feeling, or the pressure I was putting on myself to give my baby the best. My husband had the best of intentions but would say things like, “Why is this SUCH a big deal to you? You are feeding her and that’s all that matters.” Comments like this just made me feel crazy and like my feelings were not justified.

Finally, one of my friends said something that made everything click for me. She said, “Maybe the breast actually isn’t best for you and your family.” I thought about this for a second. She was right! I did not have one fond memory of breastfeeding. I was in so much pain I was actually beginning to resent my baby. My husband was so stressed from seeing me in constant pain My baby never got full from it which made her constantly want to nurse. I know she could feel my body tense up when I nursed her and that made her tense. All breastfeeding was doing for my family was causing us pain!

This was the very moment I decided to give myself a break. I had worked so hard. I did everything I knew how to do to have a good breastfeeding relationship with my baby. It just wasn’t working for us. I decided I would pump and give her as much breast milk as I could, but also give her all the formula her little tummy wanted! I began pumping every four hours instead of every two. I finally relaxed and accepted our situation, and guess what? The moment I accepted it, I started making more milk.

Now, I know that stress is one of the biggest things that negatively affects milk supply. I began producing enough to only need to give her one bottle per day of formula. Now my baby is 7 months old, happy, healthy, and perfect. I am about to start weaning her from breast milk. My husband and I are going on a beach vacation in a couple of months and I don’t want to worry about pumping and bringing my pumping supplies and storing milk while we are there! I am now dealing with some guilt about weaning her, but I am proud of myself. I am proud of myself for doing what was best for our family. My baby was not happy while we were breastfeeding. None of us were.

Looking back, I wish I would have seen multiple lactation consultants, and followed my gut with pumping earlier to relieve my engorgement.  I wish I could go back and give my baby girl formula earlier, because I missed out on a lot of early bonding time with her. Now one of my favorite things to do is feed my baby a bottle, and watch her sweet little milk drunk (or formula drunk) face fall peacefully to sleep with a full belly.

I want other moms to know that feeding your baby formula is awesome! So is breastfeeding! So is exclusive pumping! It is awesome because you are feeding your baby and keeping a tiny little human alive and that is amazing.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan September 15, 2015 at 10:17 pm

Wow. Thank you for sharing this. My story is similar. It is so friggin hard, but at the end of the day I’m just grateful to have a healthy baby.

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Jess September 21, 2015 at 2:09 pm

Thanks for sharing! I had some similar experiences with my first child and the guilt I felt when I decided to “let go” of the breastfeeding was horrible. The guilt disappeared once I truly realized how miserable both myself and my son were. I wish I saw a story like this when I was going through it all!

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Allison September 21, 2015 at 2:24 pm

My son was born 2 months early and has uterine growth restriction. I am constantly told that my baby won’t thrive on breastmilk alone and that he needs added calories in his milk. For this,reason I pump and fortify his bottles. This is in addition to breastfeeding. It’s like having twins. I can completely relate to the pressures that partners and professional place on moms and feeding their babies. I’m glad you are coming to some peace with this decision.

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Raya April 22, 2017 at 12:12 am

My son had IUGR, too! My pediatrician said I needed to put him on formula, but because of my amazing mom and mother-in-law, who both breastfed for years, I had enough support that I didn’t need to supplement. My son was born in the 3rd percentile and is now (at 1 1/2 years old) in the 97th! I am glad to hear from someone else who had to deal with IUGR, it is so scary. I’m glad you did what was best for your family and that you are all happy and healthy!

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Amanda September 21, 2015 at 3:39 pm

For starters I am also a May 30th birthday! My story is so much like yours I started nodding my head while reading. I am exclusively pumping and need to supplement various amounts depending on growth spurts. This is baby 2 and I started pumping in the hospital this time and it made all the difference. Do what you have to do for your family to be happy and healthy! No one who does that could be a failure.

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JennaB124 September 21, 2015 at 5:14 pm

I know exactly how you felt. My son was a preemie and the only stuggle he had was feeding. Even with a bottle he would end up choking. The suck, swallow, breathe pattern was the stuggle. I pumped during his NICU time and after all the time trying get him to latch every now and then. He just couldn’t figure it out. I had a hard time when I wasn’t able to pump enough for him. Once I got over my hangs ups I realized it was for the best. Everyone was much happier in the long run. A healthy baby is the goal! No matter how that is achieved.

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Rosita September 21, 2015 at 7:36 pm

Yeah my first thought was lip and tongue tie. It was excruciating painful with my first but it got better

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Rachael September 21, 2015 at 7:44 pm

Yeah my first thought was lip and tongue tie. Same start with my first. Thank God I knew some actual competent ibclc lactation consultants and one came to my home.right away to help. Without them this could had been me. The hospital and drs are a joke when it comes to the severity of lip and tongue ties in relation to breastfeeding.
Now my third is the exact same but I know better and took her to a dentist who trained under Dr. Kotlow himself(an expert). So now my 5 week old has her class 3 lip tie and class 4 tongue tie(worse) lasered and we are in the healing process. I
My nipples are still sore but they are tougher than the the bleeding/scabby mess they were with my first. And I know more tricks to get her to latch better as I’ve learned along the way.

I feel not judgment towards you sweet mama. I do hate that no one else besides a few talented preferred lip and tongue tie providers and ibclc lactation consultants has a clue about these ties and the pain/difficulties they bring in an already stressful time.

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Adele Sullivan September 22, 2015 at 3:34 am

Thank you for this. I tried to breastfeed my little boy, but we just couldn’t make it work and I thought – I don’t want to get to the point where I blame him, so I moved onto formula. He’s happy, he’s enormous and doesn’t seem to have suffered because he’s been on formula for the last 7 months. I have to be honest – I really don’t feel any guilt. I keep thinking I should but he was so desperately hungry and it was more important to me that he had something. I will always always advocate breastfeeding, but I don’t regret my decision and I don’t want anyone else to. It really upsets me when I see other women feeling guilty about it.

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Rebecca Kearns September 22, 2015 at 6:53 am

What a beautiful story of you figuring out what’s next for your baby–a full belly! You are an amazing mama and don’t forget it! We had serious nursing issues at first as well (including a tongue tie). We ended up having to tube feed our little one because he lost so much weight. With the grace of God, we met with an amazing lactation consultant, Linda, for several weeks. And I mean amazing! I am now able to breastfeed, but there is no chance I would have been able to do it without Linda and the support of my husband. Do know (for next time) that there IS great help out there!

xo,
Rebecca

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