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Low Supply & High Guilt: How to Deal With Your Milk Drying Up

Aug29

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Dear cutest pregnant lady evah,
I’ve been reading Amalah for years – pre-Noah. I remember you posting one day that you had quit breastfeeding, including pictures of all the pump parts / accessories that you were throwing away. At the time, this was meaningless to me because I had no children. Fast forward to me with a 2 month old. I am back at work, pumping and supplementing, and oh! the angst and guilt and tears.
I always struggled with low supply. I have plenty in the mornings, it dwindles in the afternoon, and by the evening I had a seriously pissed newborn nursing hungrily for 2 hours at a time, sleeping for 30 minutes, repeat until dawn. After 3-4 (hazy memory) nights of this, I ORDERED my DH to make a bottle of formula. I cried as she gulped down 3 ounces and fell happily asleep. It was clear to me that my baby was hungry.
Undaunted, I went to see a LC. I WOULD NOT FAIL. She basically told me that I had low supply BECAUSE I supplemented and that I was just lazy and not wanting to stay up to nurse my child. She ordered me to nurse and co-sleep (which I’m not ok with). I went to see another LC, and she ordered me on herbs, etc. I’ve done the herbs, Guinness, extra calorie diet, oatmeal, pumping after feeding, 64 ounces of water, etc. No change. The only thing I haven’t tried is Reglan, but I’m a bit afraid of the side effects.
Now my beautiful daughter is in daycare and I’m pumping. She gets somewhere around 60-70% of her calories from me, 30-40% from formula. The formula amount keeps creeping up. The milk: she’s going to dry up.
I am OVERWHELMED with guilt and grief and angst and everything else about this. DH is the oldest of four and his mother BF all of them for a year, no problem. My mother BF me for 5 months, no problem. The guilt is multiplied by a thousand because I feel like getting those antibodies is so much more important with her in daycare (not to mention the run-of-the-mill daycare guilt). Why do my boobs suck? How do I let go and get over this? DH is tired of me crying over it. I am tired of me crying over it.
Help,
Drying Up

(Totally random aside! Why do I always feel compelled to start columns with some kind of phonetic non-word expression? Like I just typed “ay yi yi,” which I’m not sure I’ve ever actually said out loud, but it’s like a compulsion here. Anyway. Moving on.)
First, a little personal backstory for those who may not know my own breastfeeding history — Noah was gigantic (9 lbs, 15oz.), my milk took over a week to come in, and it was always a tenuous, inadequate supply thanks to some botched cyst aspirations and scar tissue. We supplemented occasionally from the get-go thanks to a SUPER AWESOME HAPPY diagnosis of “failure to thrive” because Noah lost way, waaaaay too much weight in that first hazy week — my time of “exclusively” breastfeeding probably totaled a whopping month. Maybe. Probably not all in one consecutive chunk of days, either. I too did everything the lactation consultants recommended, but I always struggled to keep up with Noah’s appetite.
I went back to work full-time when Noah was 12 weeks old. I’d pumped and pumped and pumped in preparation, hoping to fill just a FEW of the dozens and dozens of breastmilk storage bags I’d cluelessly bought while pregnant. Noah drank my entire pumped supply on his FIRST DAY of daycare. It was a pathetic game of catch-up after that. I probably got a bottle’s worth of milk from the pump every three days or so. I tried leaving work at lunchtime to actually nurse, but that soon became undoable and unrealistic. We resumed nursing on demand at home, but it soon became clear that Noah was only interested in nursing when he wanted comfort — when he was hungry, he wanted that damn bottle. And who could blame him? He needed FOOD. Serious FOOD.
After about two months of this, I was right where Drying Up was. The more I relied on the pump, the longer Noah slept at night without eating, the less milk I had. Finally, one morning I put him to the boob and he pulled off in a righteous fury. Nothing there. Not a drop. He never, ever latched again. I kept pumping for a couple days, upped the fenugreek, just in case it wasn’t really and truly The End, but it was. Five-and-a-half months. Two weeks under my worst-case scenario goal of six months, a pathetically far cry from the year that I really wanted.
I wish I could tell you, Drying Up, that quitting/weaning/whatever-it-was was some fabulously freeing experience for me — oh! I could be free of the guilt and enjoy my baby! — and I guess there was that side of it. I really did believe I’d done everything I could, but that my baby and my body had made the decision for me and it made little sense to fight it. I also was extremely conflicted about being back at work. So that didn’t help the creeping thoughts of “if I’d just been able to stay home with him this never would have happened!
But. Hell. That’s life. We do the very best we can for our children given our own unique circumstances. Like you! Back to work after two months? My God, I commend you for even being able to navigate a hallway without smacking headfirst into walls, much less keeping up with pumping and multiple LCs and all of the rest.
Mamas with temperamental supplies like ours…well, the pump just doesn’t cut it sometimes. (I’m assuming you’re still on a hospital-grade rental, and not a hand pump or other small, less-powerful travel/portable kind.) Our babies are more efficient at getting the milk out, and our bodies respond best to the sight and feel and smell of that little downy head rooting around down there. Not so much with the cold plastic of a goddamned milking machine, no matter how many photos we stare at or little hats we smell while trying to pump. The stress we feel over the lack of significant output doesn’t help either.
Again, this isn’t FAILURE on anybody’s part. It’s just life. Modern life in this country, with terribly short maternity leaves and hectic schedules and SO MUCH PRESSURE from ourselves and society to do it all and to do it all perfectly.
60-70% breastmilk? That’s OUTSTANDING. That’s a lot of antibodies there. Antibodies that she’ll have long after you’re done nursing. Seriously. Forget what that ratio might be in a week or two weeks or a month. Accept a standing ovation for what you’re doing right now.
(And for the record, Noah had two ear infections while in daycare — one before and one after we weaned. He’s had exactly one more ever since. He’s been on antibiotics once. The only other medication he ever takes is a week or two of Zyrtec in the spring. He kicked a speech delay roundly in the ass and is, I AM SORRY, unbelievably smart and healthy and awesome. I dare anyone to find a mother and son who are more closely bonded, pea-in-a-pod style, than we are. And hey! He’s pretty nuts about his Dada, who also got to feed him a lot of the time, as well.)
I’m totally just rambling here, I know. Obviously I don’t have some awesome solution to offer you. Maybe try the Reglan (I never did — my LCs finally admitted that my breasts were probably working at full capacity, what with the duct damage, and never really recommended prescriptions). Maybe try a different pump. Maybe just hang on as long as you can, doing exactly what you’re doing, knowing each day is a blessing but that all good things must come to an end.
In the “non-maybe” category — STOP comparing yourself to your mom or MIL or that self-righteous twit in your playgroup who never had any problems exclusively nursing her triplets until they were in the second grade but still clucks her tongue at bottle-feeders. STOP looking at this as a pass/fail exercise. STOP feeling guilty. (Note that I’m not saying you need to stop feeling disappointment or sadness — those are natural when something that’s important to you doesn’t work out as planned. But GUILT. The feeling like this is your fault or that you’re letting your daughter down when you are clearly kicking your own ass repeatedly trying to make it work…no. Stop that. Easier said than done, but…stopthat.)
I think, towards the end of our breastfeeding time, the only time Noah really WANTED to nurse was right when we got home at night. His daycare providers were lovely, wonderful women who were just crazy for him. His needs were met, his days were stimulated and fun, and yet he would divebomb for my shirt the minute we got home and settled in on the couch. I kept up this feeding as long as I could, and it was the reason I was most distraught that morning when I realized I was finally, completely bone-dry.
So that night, we came home. We settled down on the couch. I’d pumped several times that day and didn’t produce a drop. I was terrified Noah would try to latch and get angry again. But…he didn’t. He knew. But he also didn’t howl for a bottle or wriggle away from me. He curled up against my chest and sighed and sucked his thumb. I rubbed his head and cheeks and stroked his body the way I’d done while feeding him, and he looked up at me and smiled around his thumb, just like he’d done while nursing. And I knew everything was okay. I’d done enough. This was enough. For both of us.
For more Amalah advice, please visit her Pregnancy Calendar.


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About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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34 Responses to “Low Supply & High Guilt: How to Deal With Your Milk Drying Up”

  1. Jessica V Aug 29 at 12:31 pm Reply Reply

    Wow – just burst into tears at the end of your answer. Pregnancy hormones blow. I’m 30 weeks into my second pregnancy and already worried about how nursing will go. I couldn’t nurse with my first – I had a post-op infection and my milk dried up before I left the hospital. My body was so busy fighting the infection that it literally used up all the moisture in my body – one morning I woke up and not only was the milk gone, but my feet were suddenly back to normal size (had been huge the day prior). I tried pumping, supplements and an LC – but my son’s inability to pull out my nipple, combined with some lousy boob anatomy on my part, meant we were never really going to get anywhere. he thrived on formula and never looked back. My hope is that this time I can overcome the physical issues and that my milk will at least show up, but it is still a major concern for me (clearly as I am typing this through totally unexpected tears). Thanks, Amalah, for the great answer and personal backstory. It helped today.

  2. Leggynic Aug 29 at 12:33 pm Reply Reply

    Amy, Thank you for this. I’ve been reading Amalah, Zero to Forty, and the Smackdown for a few months now. I’m 32 weeks pregnant with our first and plan to breastfeed but appreciate your thoughts here. Even during my pediatrician interview this week he gave me the understanding to know it doesn’t always happen as planned. (He’s known me forever. I live in a small town) It helps to know there’s back-up when my MIL starts the guilt trips early. The concept of a breast pump perplexed her.

  3. fruitlady Aug 29 at 1:00 pm Reply Reply

    I was a guaranteed 2 oz per breast period. My first son was 7.5 pounds. Milk came in fine. There just wasn’t much of it. He grew fine, started solids fairly early, and I never thought much about it. At nine months my husband and I separated and emotionally I was tapped out. My milk was drying up, but since I never made that much to begin with I didn’t notice right away. About 3 weeks into it I figured it out and put him on formula. He inhaled a full bottle in about 3 minutes or something and I realized that even though he was getting solids he wasn’t getting his adequate supply of milk. I was even more depressed as I had set a goal for breastfeeding for at least a year and there was literally nothing left to give. To compensate, I kept him on the enriched formula until he was two (seems crazy to me now that I did that) but I guess I felt I had to make it up to him. To see how much he drank and how good he started sleeping after that I wondered if he had been always a little hungry since birth…poor baby! My second son was 9 pounds at birth. Gained weight consistently. Never seemed to be bothered by the same low quantities but weaned at 6 months when he teeth came in. He was a gum biter (hard gum biter!) and thought it was funny! The teeth were the last straw for me. I didn’t have the same guilt for whatever reason. He was obviously thriving. He also only stayed on formula for the first year. I think we all have to cut ourselves some slack and not feel guilty. But feel empowered that if we do have low supply we have some good options for supplementing!

  4. Crystal D Aug 29 at 1:02 pm Reply Reply

    Excellent post! I am 38 weeks along with my 3rd girl and let’s just say breastfeeding and I, well we are not a fit made in heaven. I have tried, tried and I will try again, but you know what, this time I am NOT going to feel the guilt if it doesn’t work out for me. The second time I did learn that crying is no way to spend your first month with your newborn child. So when it got to be too much, I’d just make a bottle and get over myself. This time I’ll try again. I want it to work. I want to treasure that experience. But if it doesn’t happen I know both she and I will be just fine.

  5. Elizabeth Aug 29 at 1:08 pm Reply Reply

    I took reglan. it made me sleepy and i did later have some PPD, but i think that was more about not wanting to go back to work. Reglan did increase my supply. i took fenugreek every day for 2 years as well.
    I gave up on pumping about 2 weeks back to work because it just depressed me (3 drops isn’t even worth saving). but my supply stayed about the same if not increasing from the lack of pump stress. i nursed him at lunch. My son took bottles of formula at day care and one more bottle from daddy before bed. all the rest was my milk until he started solid food. He weaned when he was 2.5 years old.
    It isn’t all or nothing. 60-70% is awesome! i highly recommend finding a support group. keep going mom, you are doing great!

  6. chiquita Aug 29 at 1:15 pm Reply Reply

    I know it seems SO BIG right now, but there are plenty of other ways to bond. I tried for almost 3 months, and at the end I was pumping more for me than for her. I wasn’t getting a significant amount of breast milk and just decided to say enough is enough. Now at 5 months, my daughter is happy, healthy and growing.

  7. Melissa Aug 29 at 1:19 pm Reply Reply

    Thanks for that reply Amy. I was back at work after six weeks of maternity leave and the boobs were never quite the same, despite a ton of at work pumping breaks. After a failure to thrive diagnosis at 4 months, we had to start supplementing and that didn’t help things. I stretched it out to six months before the boobs had just flat out had enough. It was rough, admitting that I was done, especially looking at my BFF who is weaning only now at 13 months. NOT comparing yourself to others is one of the hardest parts of parenting but one you should strive for because once you stop the comparison game, things get a lot more fun. You were right on the money as always Amy…good smackdown.

  8. Becca Aug 29 at 1:33 pm Reply Reply

    Amy, GREAT ANSWER. Dried Up, you are doing so well! You are doing exactly what your daughter needs, breastmilk or no, formula or no. That’s what formula is there for!
    Just want to say for new-to-be moms; some women are lucky in the breastfeeding arena. Some aren’t. You have no idea which you’ll be when the time comes, and nothing you can do now will prepare you for it. I was a lucky one. For some unknown reason due to nothing I did, breastfeeding came easy with nary a sore nipple or an engorgement. Don’t fret about it before-hand. Nothing you can do will change what is going to happen, except trying your best and knowing that sometimes it is harder than other times. I did not purchase any pumping supplies before the baby was born. I did not want to pump while we started nursing, and didn’t want to buy a pump if I couldn’t use it later. I ended up getting a pump a few weeks before I headed back to work and building up a small supply.
    Anyway, long comment to say:
    1. It isn’t ALWAYS hard.
    2. Feeding and loving your baby are the most important, however breastfeeding happens.

  9. Liz Aug 29 at 1:40 pm Reply Reply

    Like Amy, I had a huge baby and my supply was nowhere near a match for his appetite. Actually, my supply was not enough for a preemie: 0.5 oz after TWO HOURS ON A PUMP. I tried various things you listed, with absolutely zero success. I was seriously sleep-deprived, hormonal, and oh yeah – MY BABY WAS STARVING TO DEATH. My pediatrician told me to just let breastfeeding go, and enjoy my baby. I got a lot happier, he got a lot happier.
    As for the antibody/daycare thing, my personal experience is that my child has been no sicker in daycare than his breastfed counterparts, and good hygiene practices on the part of the teachers do as much or more to trump germs than what babies eat. I also look at it as upping his chances of “perfect attendance” certificates in elementary school.
    Instead of thinking of yourself as a failure, please think of yourself as a success. Your child is thriving and happy, and has a mama willing to go to the ends of the earth for her.

  10. MrsHaley Aug 29 at 1:42 pm Reply Reply

    I think a lot of the guilt women slap themselves with about bf-ing comes from an expectation that it will work perfectly in an imperfect situation. Breastfeeding is designed (?word choice?) to work best every 2.5-4 hours, round the clock, for 10-12 weeks, at the very least. After that period of establishment, it’s still “supposed” to be pretty much round-the-clock, baby-only stimulation.
    There are so many women for whom this ideal is simply unworkable. Anybody with a job, for example! But even SAHMs with other children or those who are not willing/able to do night feedings or whatever … anything not that round-the-clock ideal is not going to work perfectly. Women in other societies who don’t have access to breast pumps or women of the past were/are able to practice that “ideal,” but most modern Western women are not, or can choose not to.
    Because our lifestyles and culture and freedoms allow us the flexibility to choose how/when we feed our babies, we can manipulate how/when breastmilk comes out. But that freedom comes with its own set of caveats — mysterious diminishing supply, pain, infections, etc.
    So I think we need to accept that the trade-off for so many freedoms and choices available to us re: lifestyle and child-rearing, etc., results in making breastfeeding more difficult than it might otherwise be if we were carrying our babies on our backs and sleeping next to them 100% of the time. The women who have made the choice / live under the expectation to do that (MILs of an earlier generation, for example) would have/will probably be more successful at it. Those of us whose lives are busier and more complicated should congratulate ourselves on 60%-70%!

  11. mama2etc Aug 29 at 2:21 pm Reply Reply

    Oh Lord, the breastfeeding guilt! So many of us beat ourselves up about it, it’s been built up into THE BEST THING YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR BABY. I wish we moms would give ourselves a break.
    My story: three kids, 13-4 years. Breastfed them all, with varying success. First son couldn’t latch on, and would not have nursed at all if not for the fact that I had a live-in lactation consultant (my mother). I nursed him 10 months, supplementing with formula after four months, when I went back to work.
    My second son latched on easily and nursed like a champ for 11 months, and I was able to pump enough milk to feed him when I went back to work after 8 weeks. My daughter cam along and I thought, I’m a pro! I couldn’t wait for that nursing bond with my only daughter.
    My daughter was diagnosed failure to thrive. She had a habit of sucking her tounge. She was tube fed and bottle fed and I pumped exclusively for four months. All I did was feed the baby and pump more food for the baby. At four months of age she figured out how to nurse, and suddenly my body no longer responded to pumping, and my milk instantly dried up. I was heartbroken.
    The moral of my story? Every baby is different. Every time you nurse a new baby, it’s fresh start. And it if doesn’t work out, it’s not your fault. Your baby will be fine. My daughter, the one who supplemented with formula straight from birth? She’s the only one of my children to NOT have asthma. And she’s smarter than both her brothers put together.
    All you can do is the best you can do.

  12. Amy Aug 29 at 2:38 pm Reply Reply

    You’re smart to be wary of reglan. It gave me a rip roaring case of post-partum depression. Bad news. Look into domperidone, and be compassionate with yourself. If a friend were having the problems you are, would you want her to feel crushingy guilty? Of course not. Do your best, and if you do, you have nothing to feel guilty about.

  13. Eliza Aug 29 at 3:10 pm Reply Reply

    One thing to remember is that even if breastfeeding didn’t work out with your first child, you get a new chance with each additional child. I breastfed my first for four months and quit after multiple cases of mastitis, bloody nipples, low supply, you name it! I was consumed by guilt, and my relatives made it hugely worse by suggesting that my baby was too chubby because of formula and she was bound to have weight problems all her life… all because of me and my stupid malfunctioning boobs!
    Fast forward to baby #2. He latched on perfectly from day 1, no mastitis, no plugged ducts, no bloody nipples, robust supply… everything was great. I was able to breastfeed #2 for over a year – even while pumping during graduate school. So you never know! And even if it never works out… don’t sweat it. We all know deep down that the bond between a mother and baby is incredibly deep, whether the baby is fed with a real nipple or a plastic one.

  14. Stephanie Aug 29 at 3:19 pm Reply Reply

    I breastfed my daughter (1st child) for two weeks, and I absolutely hated it. My pediatrician told me “Formula is just fine. Don’t make yourself miserable.” It was such a relief to enjoy feeding my baby.
    I breastfed my son (2nd child) for about four months (everything was so much easier the second time around!) and only stopped then because I was n antibiotics and couldn’t get a straight answer about how safe my milk was for him.
    My son–breastfed, supposed to be less prone to allergies, has a peanut allergy and asthma. My daughter, on the other hand, only has mild seasonal allergies, and no asthma.
    My point is, don’t beat yourself up. You do the best you can at the time with your children and that’s enough. Breastfeeding is great, if it works for you. When it turns into something you dread or makes you feel inadequate, it’s not so good. Formula is great, too, and the nutritional differences between the two are very small.

  15. Marnie Aug 29 at 5:48 pm Reply Reply

    Oh, the guilt, the guilt, the GUILT! And it seems to get worse when they learn how to talk.
    One thing I would like to add is that the amount of milk you get when you pump is not necessarily indicative of how much milk your child is getting when she nurses.
    My boobs HATED the pump. I even had the really super nice Medela Pump-in-style. But it didn’t matter – I just could not produce more than about half a feeding for that stupid pump. When I pumped at work, I had to do what I lovingly referred to as “baby porn” – every day when I went into my little room I took with me the pump, my daughter’s picture, and one of her little blankets. I had to hold her blanket and concentrate VERY HARD on her picture just to get to letdown, and then I only got a a couple ounces out of each breast. Then even that started to decline and eventually, I couldn’t get anything out.
    All the while my daughter was nursing and growing like a weed, so clearly my boobs liked her better than the pump. We did start supplementing with 1-2 bottles of formula around 6 months. At about 8 months, after a nasty bout of mastitis, my milk dried up unexpectedly and quickly – in less than 2 days. I’m pretty sure that first winter in daycare did more to build her immune system than 6 months of breast milk.
    I know it’s been said, but it’s worth taking on as your mantra: Do what’s right for you and the baby. The rest will all come together.

  16. Nic Aug 29 at 10:34 pm Reply Reply

    I would just like to second the domperidone previously mentioned, it worked wonders for me. Where I live (WI) you have to have it compounded at a special pharmacy ($70 for about a 4-5 week supply, when you take ~3 per day), but it was sooo worth it for me. It was like a magic pill. You can get a few extra poops a week from it, and you have to slowly taper off it not just stop cold turkey, but all in all (for me) it was great. And I work 50-60 hr/wk with 2 kids, and managed to nurse my 2nd child for 14 mos. And I am a measly producer, or at least I was before domperidone. I went from 1-1.5 oz/pumping up to 4-5 oz per pumping session. Remember, the baby will need less once s/he goes onto solids, too, it makes a big difference.

  17. Cobwebs Aug 29 at 10:43 pm Reply Reply

    My son was also huge, and I was never able to produce more than a few teaspoons at a time. That pretty much guaranteed that he was going to be bottle-fed.
    The thing that really pissed me off was the attitude of the lactation consultants. Even after I tried everything possible to increase my supply, they acted as though my inability to produce was somehow my fault. I knew that I was giving it my all, and didn’t appreciate the implication that I was a poor mother because my udders were apparently for decorative purposes only. Some LCs are a tad…zealous.
    Enough with the guilt, Drying Up! You’re doing great. Save the guilt for all the *other* parts of parenthood that make us feel inadequate.

  18. cmhd Aug 29 at 11:54 pm Reply Reply

    I don’t think a smackdown has ever made me cry, but I guess there’s a first time for everything. Mamas, do what you can. There are other ways to love your babies.
    cmhd

  19. Mary Aug 30 at 10:23 pm Reply Reply

    I am 47 years old, so that means I am old and wise and you should all listen to me. I have three kids, and breastfed them all with varying levels of success. One went for over a year. One bit me every single time and got himself weaned much earlier. One decided she was bored with it sooner than I was.
    They have all grown up to be lovely, healthy young people. The one who nursed the longest needed ear tubes for constant ear infections WHILE he was still nursing, and believe me, we didn’t make that decision lightly.
    What I’m getting at here is that while you’re doing it, nursing seems like the most important thing in the world. It is wonderful, and important, and I’m so glad I could do it. But your kids are going to grow up into really interesting, fun people no matter how they’re fed. The thing is to feed them enough. However you do it.
    In 20 years, you aren’t going to care whether they were breastfed or bottle fed or some combination. You’re going to be fussing about college, or lack thereof, or whatever. Please try to relax and enjoy this time. It will be gone before you know it, and no one but you will care what they ate their first year. I promise.

  20. Kai Aug 31 at 10:08 am Reply Reply

    What Amy said, plus one thing: please don’t take Reglan. I nursed my daughter for two years, but I finally quit pumping at 11 months. When she was seven months old I began having serious supply issues during pumping. After trying everything else, I went on Reglan. The only thing worse than going on the Reglan was coming off of it. Yes, you may be fortunate and it may work wonders for you without any side effects, but there is a significantly good chance that you won’t be. My supply went up, but I was also a basket case of anxiety, nerves, and tears. It was a horrible, horrible four weeks. My daughter deserved a happy, sane mommy more than she needed breastmilk at day care. And my job and husband certainly didn’t deserve the freakazoid I became.
    You are doing wonderfully, mom! Keep pushing along and be confident in your choices. You TRIED and are TRYING. Standing ovation over here!

  21. Sue Aug 31 at 5:41 pm Reply Reply

    Amalah and the rest of you: I’m old enough to be your mother — wait, maybe I AM your mother! — and I just want to gather all of you in my arms and say, “It’s not your fault.” Breast feeding is hard. I tried to nurse both of my daughters but encountered one obstacle I couldn’t change: severe jaundice in both of them caused by an enzyme in my milk that interfered with their ability to process bilirubin. This is not — repeat, not — normal newborn jaundice. The kind my daughters had almost always requires supplementing. I threw in the towel early with Daughter No. 1. But I was determined to BF Daughter No. 2. The 6-7 weeks after her birth are a blur of nursing, bili testing, supplementing, bili testing. I was so desperate that I tried one of those bag-and-tube gizmos that allows a little formula to flow into the baby’s mouth while he/she is on the boob. Then I got a breast infection. Stronger women than I — including most of you — nurse right through them. I couldn’t. Nursing was over. I take comfort in knowing that my daughters received antibody-rich colostrum. At ages 29 and 27, they’re healthy and happy. I know I did the right thing, and you will, too.

  22. Annie Sep 01 at 11:02 pm Reply Reply

    Amy’s story is quite similar to mine. I was sad for a long time about having to supplement with formula, and then switch to formula full time and stop nursing when my son was 4 months old. But one day I looked at how healthy and happy he was and I stopped feeling down about it. Shit happens. If this was all I had to feel sad about, I figured I was in really good shape.
    I did want feeding to be a bonding experience for my baby, so when I feed him a bottle I find a quiet place, I cuddle him up, we look into each other’s eyes. Plus, my husband likes being able to nurture our son by feeding him as well.

  23. Colleen Sep 01 at 11:13 pm Reply Reply

    *giving Drying Up a standing ovation*
    that is my story as well. I’ve always had to supplement with both of my boys. First one I gave up after 6 weeks of his screaming in hunger and frustration. Second one I made it to 7 months, but was a freakin’ mess. I pumped 20-30 minutes three times a day at work and would only go home with 8 oz each night. I was on all the teas and herbs and oatmeal and more fluids than I could stand drinking and no change. I took Reglan and while I would go home with 12 oz each night (still not enough for his three bottles he drank at school), the biggest side effect was that I was BEYOND drowsy. I mean, yes, I was tired from being up twice a night feeding my eating machine, but I nearly fell asleep while driving first thing in the morning when I didn’t actually feel tired, and while eating (which ticked me off more than anything). And once my docs cut me off the Reglan, I was back down to 8oz pumped a day. I was miserable. I cried and cried. I finally decided to slowly reduce pumping at work and only feed him first thing in the morning and at the end of the day, and he would just get formula in-between. It was the best decision I made. I wasn’t feeling crazy from trying to squeeze in pump breaks at work; wasn’t feeling like a failure from seeing so little in the containers I put in the fridge; since I found out that my boobs were the slow-refill models, I actually had enough in the morning and enough in the evenings for him. No screaming because he was still hungry. It made our time together calmer and I enjoyed it a lot more.
    We didn’t wean until he weaned himself because he caught the flu (dang inaccurate vaccine!) and couldn’t breathe well enough to nurse efficiently. He refused to nurse for the next three days, and by the time he tried again, I had no milk left (despite my frantic pumping). He wasn’t overly upset (just hungry), but I was a crying mess again until I realized that I gave 110%. He was happy, he was healthy.
    So, regardless of how this plays out, just remember you tried your best and THAT is truly matters.
    p.s. I would like to smack your first LC who put a hormonal sleep-deprived guilt-ridden woman on a guilt-trip. That was a crappy way to handle things and I’m glad that you had the wherewithal to get yourself another LC that understands real life and that no two boobs are the same…even the two on one woman’s chest. At least she gave you other options instead of tearing you down.

  24. Meredith Sep 02 at 3:12 am Reply Reply

    Now, I’m not in any way an expert, but I really wish there were more encouragement of a middle ground between breast-feeding and formula feeding. It really seems like a large group of moms would be more fullfilled and relaxed knowing it’s not all-or-nothing.
    For my story, my son was born and we had a normal amount of trouble learning to breast-feed. We went home from the hospital and it quickly went south. I learned I had an inverted nipple which prevented latch-on and grew to the size of a bowling ball. With a great lactation consultant (and some nipple shields and nipple guards) this was remedied. 4 weeks later and I’m sobbing every night as my son nurses for 3 hours straight. He had colic, but he was also STARVING. If only someone had given me permission to give him a bottle!! I went back to work and pumped, and my supply dwindled and my son learned, “Hey, a bottle is so much faster than that silly boob!” We were done at 9 months.
    I quit my job and became pregnant with baby #2, a girl. I thought this would be so easy, and at first, it was. My milk came in so much faster, she was a champion nurser, and no colic. I thought everything had gone perfectly and weaned her a few days before her 1 year checkup. It turned out she had not gained any weight in 3 months. She could not transition to cow milk and I had to start formula! I’m sure common wisdom would say that her poor appetite led to a low supply of milk, but I’m also sure that I just had a low supply in general. I was actually glad to put her on formula because, for once, I could SEE how much she ate, and it was shockingly little. I wonder if she had been bottle fed from the beginning we might have caught her poor appetite earlier.
    Good luck with all your efforts and use this as your first lesson in learning to trust YOUR instincts, which really helps alleviate the guilt!

  25. Liz Sep 02 at 11:48 am Reply Reply

    Oh honey honey honey…
    I experienced the same thing… THE.SAME.THING.
    Please do email me and I will sooth your jangled nerves over this. I felt the guilt and I YEARN for that breastfeeding. At one point I thought if I just TRIED harder… pumped ALL NIGHT LONG, or took some medication to boost the supply… what ifs killed me.
    But, I did try hard. I tried really hard, and you know what, we did breastfeed, until she was 4 months old.
    I sobbed those same tears the first time we gave her a bottle. All I could think was… I’m starving my sweet sweet baby girl.
    But you’re not, you’re giving her what she needs. Which is: food (breast/formula), love, and snuggles.
    Please do email me – I’d be happy to offer any support that I can.

  26. heels Sep 02 at 12:13 pm Reply Reply

    Formula is not poison! Yeah, breast is best… if you can get it. My son and I didn’t have trouble with latch or painful nipples or anything significant like that, I simply couldn’t produce enough to satiate him. After 4 weeks of trying and having him lose weight, I finally broke down and gave him formula. I had a LOT of guilt, but, ultimately, I had to remind myself that it was my job to provide my child with whatever he needed to survive and thrive, and that I couldn’t let guilt or social pressure stand in the way of that.
    (And can I just say that I cannot BELIEVE that the LC made you feel that you were lazy. Eff that noise. I so feel like finding her and smacking her right now.)

  27. just beth Sep 02 at 12:42 pm Reply Reply

    Why oh WHY is feeding our child such a hot topic?? From breastfeeding in public to supplementing to exclusive bottlefeeding, people, RELAX. (not the people here, the people here rock. those OTHER people) I am a breastfeeder, I love it, but it’s HARD. I don’t think ANYONE can rightfully talk about another person’s experience and decision with any kind of true perspective. I love your answer, Amy, and I love your dedication, Drying. Feel empowered that YOU can make the best decision for YOU and your family. And anyone who asks? I give my Mona Lisa smile and say, ‘well, it’s what works for OUR family’.
    Just to be a little bit of the devils advocate, I bet that the first LC you talked to didn’t mean that you were lazy… I’m CERTAIN that it felt like she meant it like that, and that is totally not cool. I’m an active La Leche League member, and I know that they state that feeding on demand is really the only way to get your supply up. I haven’t even heard about the medication you mention, but I have been very, VERY fortunate with my breastfeeding. So my advice? Feed on the breast as much as you can, as much as makes you comfortable, and then leave the rest to the bottle. It’s OK. Your baby needs YOU, not just your boob. :-)
    Good luck!
    xo
    b.

  28. Katie Sep 02 at 1:58 pm Reply Reply

    I’m a full-time workin’, full-time mommy-in’, part-time breastfeedin’, part-time pumpin’ mess. I mean – woman.
    Working and pumping is HARD. Being away from your precious angel-baby all day is HARD. Trying to fix a low supply is HARD. All of this is HARD. You deserve a freakin’ GOLD medal for attempting it. You deserve a CHOCOLATE medal covered in gold foil for keeping at it and not giving up.
    But if you give up breastfeeding, you’re not giving up being a good mommy. You’re just giving up breastfeeding.
    Sweetie (can I call you sweetie?) ANY breastmilk you can give your baby will help her ward off illness. Like Amy said, not all babies get raging ear infections from daycare. Some do, but it’s not a given. Your little girl’s mama is so strong, so she will be, too.
    Formula is NOT the devil. Breastmilk is NOT the end-all be-all of motherhood. There’s this thing called “the middle”. The middle is, a lot of times, where happiness lives.
    Good luck to you. I’m here to email anytime.

  29. Jennifer Sep 02 at 3:24 pm Reply Reply

    Everyone has already said it, but it is worth repeating. Breastfeeding is hard. It is even harder in this hectic society of ours.
    I stayed home with my daughter for 4 months, and spent the first two in tears. She breastfed all the time. She was never full. I worked with two lactation consultants. I tried the herbs, the teas, the massive amounts of liquids. When my girl wasn’t nursing she was crying. So was I. Our pediatrician finally told us that enough was enough. He suggested that we nurse for 15 minutes per side, and then offer a supplemental bottle. If the baby wanted it, great. If not, great. The point was to have a full baby and a mom who wasn’t on the verge of a breakdown.
    Fast forward to today. I have a chubby little girl who nurses in the morning and at night. She still gets a supplemental bottle at daycare, and she eats enough solids to feed a grown-up! Everything feels so very hard and important in the beginning, but it does get better! Do what is right for you and your family.

  30. Carrie Sep 03 at 4:56 pm Reply Reply

    Just one more of the same. I really wanted to breastfeed and really tried. It just wouldn’t work. I held off giving her formula hoping my supply would improve, but I was afraid she was still hungry. The ratio of breast milk to formula kept shifting and by the time she was 4 months old, I just didn’t have any more. But, to me, the most important thing was that I was feeding her, regardless of what I was feeding her. Formula is a lot better option than failure to thrive. Give her what milk you can, but don’t kill yourself trying to do it. You can’t take care of your baby if you don’t take care of yourself first.

  31. Laura Sep 03 at 5:41 pm Reply Reply

    I am “Drying Up,” and I just had to say thank you to all of you. I’m still managing to pump / nurse about 70% of her daily intake. Just yesterday I managed to go 24 hours without formula.
    I have to thank all of you, especially Amy, for your encouragement and kindness. When my daughter smiles and laughs at me, I’m learning that it’s not because of my milk, it’s because of ME. I’m forgiving my body for not being perfect, and being gentle with myself. Thank you everyone!

  32. Emily Sep 04 at 2:30 pm Reply Reply

    Tearing up here too! I felt terrible low-supply guilt (why can’t you relax? why don’t you medicate? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOUR BOOBS?) and I stayed HOME, so I also got a lot of tsking from random women because I didn’t even have the working out of the house low-supply excuse. When I told my LC that I was going to stop forcing my baby to breastfeed when he got so frustrated but instead feed him expressed milk in a bottle because he liked it better that way, she told me that he might like to go run around in traffic too, but that sometimes parents had to do what was right for their kids.
    And eventually, I got over feeling bad. This is a silly hurdle. If it works, it works, if not, not. The baggage REALLY isn’t worth the weight of carrying it.

  33. Missie Sep 05 at 1:37 pm Reply Reply

    I’ve read most of the comments here and I have to agree…Drying Up, you need to quit beating yourself up over this!
    My son, now 12, didn’t have a problem breastfeeding..oh, except he wanted to do it 24/7! My milk supply was fine, but just not enough for Mr. Piggy McEatallthetimePants. So at about two weeks, we supplemented with formula, then by one month, he was exclusively on Similac. It is not the end of the world to put your child on formula. Yes,yes, breast is best, blahblah, but listen…millions of us were exclusively formula fed and we are not out knocking over 7-11s or leaving our children by the side of the road. It’ll be okay. Formula is not your enemy. It’s meant to be a helper. It’s not like formula has crack or aspartame or whatever else in it. It’s okay to feed your baby that stuff…it really is.
    My daughter, now three, latched on and didn’t let go ever. I was also at home with her full time, so breastfeeding was not such an issue as it was when I was working. But we still supplemented her with formula because sometimes? I needed sleep! Daddy could take care of her. Grammi could feed her. That was okay too. I breast fed her until about eleven months, then the child turned into the All Solid Food/All The Time Channel, and life wasn’t the same.
    Look, either way you do things, whatever way you do things, this remains true..Motherhood is rife with opportunities for guilt. You have not even begun to scratch the surface of the guilt you will experience during the course of this child’s life. In a few years, you will look back and say, “I was all worried about breastfeeding?”
    You sound like a great, caring, loving mom. Do what you can do, make the decisions right for your particular baby, and things will work out.

  34. jen Jan 24 at 12:32 pm Reply Reply

    I have been crying and mentally beating myself up for days because I can tell that my eight-week-old baby’s and my time breastfeeding is already done. I tried so hard. We nursed all day. I pumped and pumped, and some days could cobble together a whole ounce of pumped milk. I repeatedly visited a LC. I read books and websites that told me I must not be trying hard enough, I must not be willing to put in enough time. This, trying to establish my milk supply and feed my son, is all I did.

    Thank you for this! I know that my husband and son need me, breastfeeding or not, but I couldn’t get over all this guilt. Reading a blog hasn’t magically lifted away all the guilt, but you’ve helped me more than you know…

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