Prev Next
Grieving the Breastfeeding Relationship That Never Was

Grieving the Breastfeeding Relationship That Never Was

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I’m a long time reader of your blog, and when I found out I was pregnant last year I started reading your pregnancy calendar and Advice Smackdown. Reading your calendar every week was one of the things that kept me sane while dealing with insomnia, back pain, and seven months of nausea. It helped me appreciate the crazy things going on in my body and helped me laugh at myself a little, so thank you!

When my husband and I decided to start a family, I immediately knew that I wanted to breastfeed exclusively for at least six months. Being successful at it was something I worried about my entire pregnancy. My mother breastfed me (but not my two older sisters) until I was two and didn’t have any difficulties. But both of my sisters struggled with their daughters. My oldest sister had a daughter four years ago and was never able to get a good supply. Her experience was terrible and she always made BF sound like a horrible marathon of crappiness. She switched to formula only when my niece was three weeks old. Because of their experiences, I really worried that I would have a similar one.

I had my son in March and at first things went well. But when we went for his second well visit, he had dropped a pound and his pediatrician had me start supplementing. My little one (LO) gave me a hard time latching on in the early weeks — he would go from zero to starving in two seconds flat and would be so hungry he refused to latch on. I started a system where I would give him just a little formula to take his hungry edge off and then bring him to the breast. It was working really well. In a week, he was thriving again and I was pumping enough to start building a stock of breast milk.

Then, when my LO was just over two weeks old, he had a temperature of 102. We took him to the ER immediately. You know it’s a scary situation when the ER waiting room is full, but you are taken right in without waiting :-\ Because it’s unusual for an infant that young to have such a high fever, they had to run a slew of tests on him. The worst was a spinal tap to test for meningitis. It was the scariest experience of my life. I was able to breastfeed him without any problems the first day, but that night he started to leave the breast hungry. We were admitted and stayed for three nights and by the time we left, he was getting more formula than my milk. The stress of the situation made my supply plummet. Thankfully, the fever was due to an UTI (we were there for so long waiting for test results and so that he could be given antibiotics through an IV). After seeing his pedi and urologist, we had to have another test done and found out that he has a mild urinary reflux. It was an all around awful experience, but we’re just happy it wasn’t anything more serious.

After my supply dropped so drastically, I started seeing my lactation consultant more regularly. I did everything she suggested: took copious amounts of fenugreek, always offered the breast before giving the bottle, and pumped every time he ate for at least 15 minutes. My day consisted of sleep, breastfeeding for 20 minutes, bottle feeding, pumping for 15 minutes, changing his diaper, rinse, and repeat. I even got a prescription from my OB for domperidone, which isn’t FDA approved (which means it isn’t covered by insurance…). I was spending over $150 a month on supplements trying to help my supply and it seemed like my whole life centered around the liquid gold that is breast milk.

Now, my son is 4 and a half months old and he’s almost exclusively bottle fed. We do one recreational breastfeeding session in the morning that is hit or miss (sometimes he’s just too distracted to drink) and I’m lucky to pump a half an ounce a day. The problem is, I just can’t seem to stop mourning the breastfeeding relationship that I won’t have with my son. This week being breastfeeding week, it’s shining a light on something that feels like a personal failure. It feels like my body is betraying me. And every article that Huffington Post publishes about the benefits of beast milk or fighting for the right to nurse in public, my heart breaks a little. When friends in my mom’s group complain about cracked nipples or mastitis, I’m just jealous. Logically, I know I’ve done everything I can to be successful at this. But emotionally, I feel like I’ve failed at my first job of being a mother. I just can’t seem to let go of the dream. I keep hoping that tomorrow my supply will magically kick in. At this point, I know it’s doing more harm than good to keep trying this hard. But I also feel like the instant I decide that enough is enough and put away the pump, it’ll just feel like giving up my son and myself.

I’m really hoping you can lay some advice on me that will help me get past this hurdle. I’d like to be able to focus on enjoying my son rather than feeling guilty about how I’m feeding him. Thank you so much!

Hugs, lady. You’ve done great. You’re DOING great.

I won’t blather on with the details I’ve probably shared a million times before, but yeah. I had a lot of trouble breastfeeding my first baby, and ended up right where you are, around five and a half months. He would nurse in the morning, kinda. If I was lucky, again after daycare, but again only kinda. I pumped whenever I could at work but the output was so paltry it wasn’t even worth dragging an ice pack back and forth. One morning, he was extra distracted and didn’t latch on when I offered, and I remember staring at the ceiling and finally thinking, “Okay. We’re done.”

It was a complicated acceptance. Like being in a leaky boat already lost at sea, and letting the oars slip out of your hands and into the water.

On the one hand, yes, it felt good to finally STOP FIGHTING. STOP OBSESSING. To just accept what we’d been dealt, breastfeeding-wise and move on. We tried. We really, really tried. I was grateful for all the brief interludes where nursing actually happened and went smoothly. He was healthy and thriving. I loved him immeasurably. These were the things that mattered, rinse and repeat, over and over.

On the other hand, I am not going to BS you and tell you that I didn’t continue to feel pretty damn sad about it for awhile. That the well-meaning breastfeeding PSAs didn’t feel like a personal insult, that I never had to deal with some obnoxious know-it-all who couldn’t comprehend that breastfeeding can be hard and not work out sometimes. “But did you just try ?” That I never felt irrationally jealous when breastfeeding worked out for someone else.

Time helps. Time brings perspective on what a tiny little blip breastfeeding is in a human’s life, and how it pales in importance to the motherly duties ahead. Time means feeding your baby real food and moving on from formula and putting regular milk from the grocery store in a regular cup. I found deep meaning and joy in making homemade baby food, and then in cooking and baking for my family — healthy, wonderful, delicious food that makes them happy while nourishing them as best as I know how. (With the occasional batch of insane chocolate brownies, of course.) Having more children helped, and getting a do-over on nursing, and being generally more successful at it — while also reinforcing that I didn’t “fail” my firstborn in any way because I “only” nursed him for a few months and never exclusively.

Of course, I look back and still wish things had worked out differently — not necessarily for my son’s sake though, but because I feel sorry for my poor first-time-mom self who wouldn’t stop stressing out over it. For her sake, I wish nursing had not been so fraught.

So give yourself time. It’s okay to feel sad and grieve. It’s okay to be a bit wistful and say you wish things had turned out differently. It’s also okay to hurl your pumping supplies out the window and give HuffPo articles the finger and declare Boob Emancipation and enjoy the prospect of just…being with and enjoying your baby instead of nursing nursing what else should I try what else can I do oh God oh no oh God.

You fought an amazing fight. You did amazing work and I commend you so highly for sticking it out as long as you did.

Above all, you fed your baby. Brava, Mama.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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 Ama...

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 [email protected].

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.

icon icon
chat bubble icon

Comments

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Kate
Guest

I know exactly how you feel. I have insufficient glandular tissue and never made more than 180ml in a day despite trying everything to increase my supply. I got a lot of support through a Facebook group for women with low supply and IGT. Also talking to a psychologist really really helped me come to terma with it all. You are not alone. And it does get easier. My girl is three and a half now and I don’t blame myself anymore for what happened.

Elizabeth
Guest
Elizabeth

I feel your pain. I had the exact experience except my daughter eventually screamed at the sight of my breast…insult to injury. ;( It was one of the hardest things, and so many tears when it should have been a happy time. My daughter is now 2, but breast feeding week still stings. However! I am now completely at peace with how it all went down. I could never pump more than 2-3 oz in a whole day, and my baby was starving!! Bottles gave me a freedom, but still allowed me to bond with my baby. People who say… Read more »

friend
Guest
friend

Please don’t be so hard on yourself. Time will heal this hurt.

Also, please think about discontinuing the domperidone. There are good reasons its not FDA approved. Seizures can be a side-effect. My SIL, in a similar situation to yours, took it for increased milk production and ended-up having a seizure and a hospital stay. Its not worth it.

Ashley
Guest
Ashley

Oh yes, this. I feel so bad for women that have to deal with this. I’ve had my own struggles, but we managed to power through and sometimes I still wonder if it was worth all the stress and agony. You did great! Even though my baby is breast fed, I still want to give the finger to the HuffPo articles and punch all the smug bf-ing mothers that act as though the women that have to stop just didn’t try ‘hard enough’. Of course I’m pro bf, but it is such a small thing in the big picture. I… Read more »

Katie
Guest
Katie

Another IGT diagnosis here. It’s awful, and I still feel a twinge when I see other moms nursing happily. But formula isn’t poison–it’s actually pretty amazing stuff, when you think about it. And the freedom to just enjoy your baby? Is amazing.

You are a good mom. Definitely a “good enough” mom. Like Amy says, breast feeding is a blip in the grand scheme of time. And in the meantime, buy the formula proudly 🙂

Cypress
Guest
Cypress

Thank you! I went through something similar, although I was the one who got an infection.  My c-section did not go as planned, and extra surgery was required.  I was able to breast feed for nine days, and then I was re-admitted to the hospital.  I pumped through my first stay (one week) and then breast fed when I returned home for four days.  When I was re-admitted because of further complications it was just too much to pump.  My nutrition levels had dropped too low.  I have to say that I felt horribly selfish and depressed about it.  2… Read more »

Julia
Guest
Julia

check out the Fearless Formula Feeder’s blog and FB page, lots of support for combo feeding and FF moms there.  Suzanne Barston’s book Bottled Up was also so helpful for me

SarahB
Guest
SarahB

Can I just say how impressive it is that you tried so hard in the face of such obstacles? Really, truly impressive. You can say with a good heart that you tried everything, that the early hospitalization threw a wrench in the works, and pay yourself on the back. Right now, let me also say that your hormones are probably not doing you any favors. A few weeks after I breastfed my son for the last time, it felt like my head cleared out of nowhere. Like I’d been in a bit of a fog and didn’t even know it.… Read more »

Shannon
Guest
Shannon

You are a rock star for all your efforts so far! I had a similar issue with my first child – undiagnosed tongue tie, poor latch, low supply – which led to me exclusively pumping. I had to keep adding formula until I finally gave up around 5.5 months. It was so hard to make that decision. BUT! Once I made it, I felt free! My baby was happy, healthy & bottle fed. She’s now almost 5 & strong/healthy/awesome and we are still totally bonded. Things went much smoother with my second child. In fact, she is almost 2 yrs… Read more »

S
Guest
S

I’m sorry it’s hard – trying is hard, feeling that way is hard. This is also a ridiculously common experience. I have twins, so I’ve experienced everything bad about breastfeeding, the pain oh god the pain, the supply issues (hello! 70 oz!) It felt so unfair to only breastfeed one kid, I mean, who does that to twins?! But the benefit of dealing with two newborns at the same time (amongst alllll the bad – don’t do that – and mastitis a dozen times is asssss), was that I was made fully aware that it wasn’t me, it was the… Read more »

leslie
Guest
leslie

Oh my gosh. I just had to comment on the fact that the SAME EXACT THING happened with my daughter at 8 days old. Unexplained fever, trip to the ER, tons of horrible tests, hospital admission….all for what turned out to be a UTI. I don’t think I have ever cried so hard as I did when they did a spinal tap on my poor, helpless little girl. I know that wasn’t the purpose of your letter, but it was just uncanny to read about your situation, b/c they kept going on at the hospital about how rare UTIs are… Read more »

Zarya
Guest
Zarya

I have just one question for you and your sister: were your children thoroughly evaluated for lip and tongue ties?

C
Guest
C

I’m not trying to start a flame war or anything, but… this mom is grieving a part of motherhood she desperately wanted. And which I also had to accept the loss of and give up at around 4 months. This question, while legitimate, isn’t much more helpful to her than what Amalah said about “But did you just try ?” 

Right now OP needs to know she’s not alone, that its ok, that the guilt/pain does lessen. She doesn’t need more questions making her feel that she just didn’t try or isnt… ENOUGH, not matter how well intentioned.

IrishCream
Guest
IrishCream

Not an exact parallel, but I had a lot of regret and grief over having two C-sections, instead of the birth experiences I’d hoped for and are held up culturally as the ideal. Time helped. The further I’ve gotten as a parent and the more amazing experiences I’ve had with both of my kids, the less my regrets bug me. Right now you’re in a phase when feeding is such a Big Thing, but when your son is two or three, no one will be talking about nursing or formula-feeding. It’s taking up a lot of your emotional energy now,… Read more »

Elle
Guest
Elle

I was almost exactly where you are about six months ago…the domperidone, the pumping (Gah! SO MUCH PUMPING!), the teas and herbs, the baby pulling off my breast and screaming in hunger, the sense of frustration and failure, and the supplementation growing as my supply waned. We ended up salvaging our nursing relationship by the time my son was about 5.5 months, but it was so much work and stress that I sometimes regret pushing through. I can’t get back all the times I couldn’t pick up my son to comfort him while he cried because I was hooked up… Read more »

Zarya
Guest
Zarya

I’m sorry if my comment was misinterpreted, and I’m truly sorry for your loss of breastfeeding the way you had imagined and hoped and dreamed. I, too, suffered a great deal for the first 4 months of breastfeeding and was told to quit many times. I was in agony, she couldn’t latch, nothing worked, pumping, teas, different positions. I dreaded feeding her and sobbed most days and nights for the first month of her life. It was horrendous and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Then I discovered she was lip and tongue tied. We saw a pediatric… Read more »

Tiffany
Guest

I had been so good at keeping my expectations about how motherhood would go loose… but breastfeeding was the one thing I just expected would happen. HAH, since children pretty much exist to laugh at our expectations, guess who pretty much never got to breastfeed successfully, like, at all? I was sad about it for a while, and sensitive, and sighed internally every time I heard another mom talking about nursing. And yeah, the constant, well-meaning but irritating and irrelevant advice from everyone who had ever successfully breastfed an infant was just insult to injury. (PSA: Successful use of your… Read more »

Caroline
Guest
Caroline

hello, you sound so down, I’m so sorry for your awful experience after so much effort. I had a terrible first baby feeding experience too, but a VERY wise midwife (and I was in the UK where they are militant about breastfeeding!) took my hand and said ”you have made every effort. It’s a two-way street and your little boy is completely happy and thriving. Aren’t you pleased you really exhausted the possibility and that you have other options?” Then she advised me to have a large glass of wine! Seriously though, your next baby might be 100% different. I… Read more »

Jenny
Guest
Jenny

I have to chime in that I also ended up in the hospital with my 8 week old who was running a fever and he ended up having a UTI as well. He has an ongoing problem with his urethra. It was so crazy to read about another baby UTI.

liz
Guest

My little guy (now 12 years old!) hated breastfeeding. He wanted to face OUT and see the world. He hated being worn unless he was facing out, too. 

I pumped forever. FOREVER. 9 months, never really enough to sustain him, and supplemented with formula and I just finally had. enough. But I still feel sad about it.

Albi
Guest
Albi

I have IGT as well…I spent my whole pregnancy memorising books on breastfeeding.  Breastfeeding for me was like going to a final exam on material I knew inside and out…and failing because I didn’t bring a pencil. I took an unholy host of herbs, breastfed and pumped around the clock, was prescribed Reglan.  My baby could suck, wasn’t tongue-tied….and the worst moment was when we took her to pediatrician the day after we were discharged and she had lost a whole pound.  I was starving my baby! I’m not much of a crier, but I just sobbed.  For three months… Read more »

Yet another Amy
Guest
Yet another Amy

Oh, how this letter brings back memories.  I had a terrible time nursing my first daughter.  She was very sick when she was born, was in the NICU for 8 days, and we just never got the nursing thing down, despite many, many visits with many different lactation consultants.   It was so devastating, and such a hard decision to just give up.    Because it feels like such a failure. OP, I totally feel you.       I was able to nurse my younger daughter for about 6 months, but I never really had a great supply, and… Read more »

Amy
Guest
Amy

I echo Amy’s sentiments above – (I am another Amy too:) – it never occurred to me that breast-feeding would be a challenge I couldn’t overcome easily – and I was devastated. I did alot of searching online, lactation consults, trying remedies, pumping until it interfered with time with my daughter and leading a healthy life for both of us. Pumping is a great option and can take you a long way – formula also works for all of the above reasons. My daughter is healthy and happy and I am proud of where we got to but as time… Read more »

April
Guest
April

Off topic a tiny bit, but my daughter has urinary reflux. We did a hospital stint like yours at 6 months. It was hell. She was exclusively breastfed and had never had solids. They were giving her sugar and babyfood in the ER and I just felt so out of control and upset. The spinal tap was hands down the worst experience of my life. I still feel traumatized by all of it. If she had gone off breastfeeding after that it would have been truly difficult. She is almost weaned now at 2 but my hormones went nuts when… Read more »

Kim too
Guest
Kim too

I guarantee you that when you walk into a pre-school class, you will not be able to tell the difference between who was breastfed and who wasn’t.  Same goes for natural childbirth, crying it out, and all those other “crucial” decisions that we think are black and white and oh so important. They just …aren’t. Humans are complex critters, and there are lot s of ways to be a good mother. None of which is meant to deny your feelings, because those are real and deserve respect. But a full, happy baby you can cuddle instead of pumping is pretty… Read more »

Anne
Guest
Anne

It’s a thing you have to mourn and no one can tell you how. When my not one year old have up the boob for food I cried for a whole day. Then I was depressed for a month, it was like the PPD all over again and then the sun came out and it was all okay again. Mourn it and then move on.

Blackmarigold
Guest
Blackmarigold

My darling girl. I am so very sorry. I suspect you are sad over the loss of the breastfeeding relationship more than even the milk. I want to tell you that you can still have a breastfeeding relationship and feed formula. There is a product from Medela called an SNS. It is a bottle that hangs around your neck and has a tiny tubes that you tape to your nipple. While your son is nursing he will get milk, even if it is not all yours. No more pumping. Just cuddles and love and milk.

Melissa
Guest
Melissa

I’m so very sorry this happened and yes, please grieve for what you wanted so much.  However, you DO have a nursing relationship even if it’s modified from what you had yearned for.  You are doing great.  You are a GREAT mom.  

Anna
Guest
Anna

I had expected to hate breastfeeding, and actually in-a-way hoped it didn’t really work for me so I could just bottle feed. Then I had my daughter and realized I loved breastfeeding! Unfortunately at 3 1/2 months old, she quit latching on me completely and we moved to bottles. It made me so sad! However, one thing I did that I am so grateful for was having some professional photos done of me breastfeeding her during her 3-month photo shoot. The photos are beautiful and make me so happy. I did the best I could. She did the best she… Read more »

Katy
Guest
Katy

It’s okay to feel sad about not being able to BF your baby. It’s also okay to feed him formula. You went through a really difficult situation, and you are a good mom for making sure your son got the treatment he needed. You’ll be out of this tunnel-vision soon, and you may even feel relief if you do just “give up”. He is almost ready for solid food, so that will be another great way to bond with him and introduce him to all the healthy foods you love! My daughter was a super aggressive nurser–done in five minutes… Read more »

Victoria
Guest
Victoria

Oh my goodness, I empathize with you! My first daughter was no champion nurser, but basically the whole thing didn’t go as planned… breach baby meant c-sec, she was distracted and disinterested, always hungry, tried EVERYTHING short of the prescriptions.. We lasted until 6 month. Cue baby #2… an emergency placental abruption (when it starts separating for no reason) led to a preemie birth, she weighed just 3 lbs. Couldn’t latch onto me (even small, I was too big for her mouth), so I pumped like crazy and she had that for 5 months (2 of which were in the… Read more »

LAM
Guest
LAM

First, your baby is so lucky to have a mom who clearly would do anything for him. My son will be two this fall and Breastfeeding Week me for a loop, but not as much as last year. I spent 9 months with the same stressful feeding centered routine you described. I thought I wasn’t a good mom if I couldn’t do this one thing–oh the guilt. Even though there were TWO of us involved. So mourn–it’s hard. And after a reasonable mourning period, if you’re still making yourself miserable about it, please talk to someone. PPD and feeling like… Read more »

Martha
Guest
Martha

I’m in the throes of this right now, and let me just echo what’s already been said: it. is. rough. Our pregnancy didn’t go the way I expected. Expectation: This is going to be great! I’m going to do yoga every day! I’m going to be hiking at 8 months pregnant! We’re going to take all the right classes! I’m going to have a natural childbirth! This is going to be a magical time! Reality: Incompetent cervix, 10 weeks of bedrest, and our baby born 8 weeks premature by emergency caesarean. 5 weeks in the NICU. With the all-important exception… Read more »

Sangita
Guest
Sangita

My heart goes out to you! I am exactly in the same boat. Just cannot seem to let go. I too keep hoping that something magical will happen and it will just work. I have spent first 3.5 months of my son’s life obsessing over this and not enjoying anything. I have been dragging that hospital grade pump everywhere as that will get marginally better output.  I am not sure how and if I will ever get over this failure. All the media around how your baby is doomed if you do not BF does not help!  I keep looking… Read more »

Isabel Kallman
Admin

Oh, Sangita, please speak to a trained professional about these feelings you are having. I, too, felt very much like you and recognize my former and younger mothering self in your comment. In the meantime, please read this and see if you recognize yourself and your feelings as they may be symptoms of postpartum depression or anxiety, both of which are mood disorders that are TEMPORARY and TREATABLE with professional help: http://www.postpartumprogress.com/the-symptoms-of-postpartum-depression-anxiety-in-plain-mama-english