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When Breastfeeding Sucks

By Amalah

bounceback_dove.jpgSo I’ve been trying to write about this topic for…oh…I don’t know. Ages. It keeps coming up as A Topic I Should Cover but then I try to write about it and give up after a few halfhearted paragraphs.

Look. Sometimes breastfeeding doesn’t work out. Like, at all. Or even just enough. Sometimes you have to quit. Sometimes you just want to quit.

I have a hard time writing about this topic NOT because I don’t believe that, or because I secretly think that women who quit just didn’t TRY HARD ENOUGH or didn’t read the right book or go to the right lactation consultant or do X, Y, and Z while using the right pillow and the proper football hold. I have a hard time writing about this topic because I know that there’s nothing I can say that will stop some people from thinking those things…about other women, or about themselves. We’re all just so hard on each other, and ourselves.

Whenever I see this topic come up on the Internet, the following drama seems to unfold:
A woman on the verge of quitting posts her struggles, her difficulties, her admission that she hates it and wants to quit but worries she’ll regret it, that she’ll be letting her baby down, face judgment from friends and family, her exhaustion and frustration dripping through every word she types.

A few supportive comments trickle in, tempered with well-meaning but unasked-for advice and solutions, like OH, HAVE YOU SEEN A LACTATION CONSULTANT? HAVE YOU TALKED TO LA LECHE LEAGUE? I HAD ALL THOSE PROBLEMS TOO BUT THEN I DID X, Y, AND Z AND NOW I’M STILL NURSING AND IT’S GREAT. YOU CAN DO IT! BREAST IS BEST! YOU JUST HAVE TO KEEP TRYING.

A few more supportive comments trickle in, tempered with well-meaning but perhaps specious anecdotal proof that FORMULA EXISTS FOR A REASON. IT IS JUST AS GOOD. DON’T LISTEN TO THE BOOB NAZIS, MY KIDS NEVER GOT A DROP OF BREASTMILK AND THEY ARE ALL ASTRO-PHYSICISTS AT HARVARD, WHILE MY SISTER BREASTFED HER KIDS BUT THEY’RE ALL IN JAIL. FACT!

Then it devolves from there. Knee-jerk judgment over anyone who dares to quit and NOT feel terrible about it. Supportive breastfeeding advocates getting grouped together with genocidal maniacs. Everyone getting defensive over exactly when it’s “okay” to quit and when it’s not, the implicit suggestion that you always could have done more, tried harder, aren’t a good mother because you just flat-out hated it all, or needed to go back to work, or required medication or surgery, or just the occasional break that a bottle of formula offered.

One draft I wrote actually did try to list out a lot of circumstances that might mean breastfeeding wasn’t the best option, but I quickly deleted it because duh, like it’s at all up to ME to decree what’s an “acceptable” reason for any grown-ass woman to opt for one feeding method over another.

Breastfeeding was really, really important to me. It was…not really great, the first time around, and never worked the way I wanted it to. By the time I quit (or really, “we” quit, as Noah was pretty much over it by five months or so), I was a weird mix of disappointment and relief and resentment and wistfulness. I was glad I got to nurse at all, I was sad I couldn’t nurse longer, I was finally okay with the fact that I could stop and still be exactly the mother I always wanted and needed to be…and yet I was mostly afraid I was going to get judged or graded by someone.

So…I guess that’s the only thing I really want to say about this topic, at least for now:

Sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you hoped or thought. Sometimes you have to quit. I totally understand, and you don’t have to defend yourself to me or anyone. I’m sorry if you’re sad about it. I’m happy if you’re happy about it. I’m proof that it might work out differently next time if you try again; I’m absolutely no reason you should feel like you have to try again if you don’t want to. Fist bump to anyone who tried and did or couldn’t and didn’t.

Photo by hapal

Amazon Mom

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.

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Jen
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Jen

I love you, that is all. Except, maybe, thank you for this.

Jessicawp
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Jessicawp

I think getting into a good mindset when you are pregnant will help when you have just had the baby and are hormonal and sleep deprived. And having the support of your child’s pediatrician is crucial as well. My son was born with a cleft lip and palate and was not able to breastfeed, no matter what the hospital lactation consultant said about trying different holds. The ENT and pediatrician encouraged me to pump if I wanted to but both really stressed that feeding my baby was far more important than how I was feeding him. With their support and… Read more »

Dawn
Guest
Dawn

Ah, breastfeeding. So did not work out with my daughter. We tried, dear Lord we tried but naive first time mother I was, never cottoned on to the fact that she just wasn’t getting enough from me. Plus I didn’t use my pump to establish a good supply so the pumping at work thing just didn’t work very well. We gave it up all together at around 7 months since there was nothing left. Now with my son who is 4 months old I was hyper vigilant about the supply establishment; in fact I have a large upright freezer almost… Read more »

Dawn
Guest
Dawn

Okay, I posted this earlier but it still hasn’t shown so here it is again: With my daughter we never did really get the whole breastfeeding thing established. As a brand-new mommy I had no idea that she wasn’t getting enough from me. By the time that I got it figured out, my supply was minimal and nothing would help to increase it. The whole nursing thing petered out for us by 7 months. I was diappointed but also a bit relieved as I would spend the equivalent of my lunch hour pumping for maybe 4 oz. For the entire… Read more »

Danni
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Danni

OMGosh, same here. I tried to breastfeed and about four days after my daughter was born she decided she wasn’t going to latch anymore. At all. I called the LC, got schooled in the proper “holds” and NOTHING worked. So I started pumping. I currently pump about a bazillion times a day (okay, not really, but it feels like it) and sometimes I absolutely hate it. But I make a lot of milk and so far we haven’t had any supply issues, so I just keep doing it. My goal is to make it to one month. Then two… then… Read more »

Camille
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Camille

I think we need to change the language we use when we discuss this topic…”quit” has such negative connotations associated with failure and giving up, and that’s the implication when a woman who started out breastfeeding decides to do something different. Mothers must make decisions based on circumstances (work, low milk supply, illness, baby not feeding well, whatever), and if we look at choosing to not breastfeed that way, as a decision that is made rather than a failure, it might be a step in the right direction of taking the judgment out of the conversation about how we feed… Read more »

Jessica
Guest

It was important to me to breastfeed my son, and luckily, at 4 months in, we are still going strong, but I remember reading this article by Emily from Not That You Asked, and thinking YES…
http://parenting.ivillage.com/newborn/nbreastfeed/0,,fsmqvdvw,00.html

Julia
Guest

When a mom really wants to breastfeed but her nursing relationship is ruined because she got lousy advise from so-called pros, it’s sad. But otherwise, I’m quite stunned by how many people think it’s their place to tell other people what to do with their boobs. Holy crap, people. They’re called boundaries. Learn some! I have a friend who has been lectured in a grocery store for buying formula. What this well-meaning, yet totally out of line, stranger didn’t know is that my friend is a cancer survivor. Kind of hard to breastfeed WHEN YOU DON’T HAVE BREASTS. I hope… Read more »

Hanna
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Hanna

It never fails to take me aback when mothers assume that other mothers aren’t trying to do what is best for their children. Be that breastmilk, or formula, all anyone is doing is trying to figure out what works best for their child and family. THEIR family, not anyone else’s. If for you that is breastmilk, great! If for you that is formula, great! We’re all just trying our best – I love this post for being so supportive of mothers and their decisions. The judgement we can do without. That’s what we have in-laws for, right?

Nicole
Guest

We are at 7 months of breastfeeding and formula supplementing. Not because I don’t produce enough, but because I didn’t want breastfeeding to be the hill I die on during this parenting gig. Knowing that she’s full and happy and thriving means I can focus on other stuff – like being the best mom I can be.
But the first 6 weeks? Sucked. Especially since my milk didn’t come in until day 5.
I would like her to nurse throughout flu season and then I’d like my body back, thanks 🙂
And thank you for posting this.

Valerie
Guest

Amy, thanks so much for this.
I had my first baby (a boy) in November, just a few weeks after you had Ezra. I constantly found myself looking to your archives to read about your experiences breastfeeding both boys. I found them to be so helpful and encouraging. So thanks for those, too.

Sarah
Guest
Sarah

Well written……..I remember many of your words on this subject from your blog (and others) while my daughter and I were struggling.
Thankyou.

Kimberly
Guest

THANK YOU AMY. I HEART YOU! Before I had my son, no one told me that breastfeeding might not physically work. And then my milk never really came in (I actually had to ask my LC if the drops in my pump were milk or colostrum!). So we moved on to formula. I say that as though it weren’t the most agonizing decision EVER. It was…at the time…and the raging hormones DID NOT HELP. My outlook on life improved immensely, but I was SO disappointed. I see that poor woman in pictures, and I just want to give her a… Read more »

Cheryl
Guest

Great article on a sensitive topic. As a first time mom, I was completely ignorant about breastfeeding. I missed the lactation class at the hospital due to a scheduling conflict, and when my son was born, everyone kept telling me my milk would come in 2 or 3 days. Well, I kept waiting, waiting, waiting, never saw my milk come in. Never had the let down. Never leaked very much. My son had trouble latching on, and the hospital lactation consultant spent all of about 45 minutes with us, told me he’d figure it out with practice, handed me one… Read more »

Elizabeth
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Elizabeth

I’ll admit it — I just didn’t really “like” breast feeding, no real problems, just didn’t like the tied down feeling . . . it’s not for everyone. I weaned my son about a month ago at 8 months. He’s very healthy (loves real food!) and we are both very happy!

Ms. Krieger
Guest
Ms. Krieger

I want to second the person who said we shouldn’t call it “quitting” when someone stops breastfeeding their baby early. It isn’t “quitting” when you’re stymied at every turn by the way our society is set up. And I mean it. Our society is not breastfeeding-friendly. There are so many horror stories about women who want to breastfeed but it hurts/they have no supply/their kid doesn’t like it, and yet breast feeding works almost 100% of the time in other societies/situations where women have all the time and support they need. So many women in the US have to worry… Read more »

bessie.viola
Guest

Thank you for this. I tried so hard, and it never worked for my daughter and I. I exclusively pumped for 10 months, and my milk dried up at random. Literally, one day I was pumping 10oz in a sitting; the next I was lucky to get 3oz. Nothing I did fixed the situation. My body was just done.
I still feel guilty over it: that it wasn’t direct breastfeeding, that it didn’t last a year, that maybe if I’d tried harder…
So just thank you for being such a kind voice of reason.

Jill G
Guest
Jill G

Thank you, Amy. I am newly pregnant and am astounded at the ignorant comments by relatives already being thrown my way. We should be free to live our lives and try to be good enough parents without the world feeling they have to comment or share their own life experience like they are an expert. This was very well written and also is a good reminder to treat others as we would want to be treated, hold our tongue, and just be supportive of other women.

Laura
Guest
Laura

Oh, I heart you. I’m one who emailed poor you, a stranger, in tears, after my mother-in-law told family members that it was my fault my son wouldn’t nurse well because I let him use a pacifier. Oh, the anger. The guilt. The fear. The tears. Did I mention the anger? But he’s ok. I’m ok. We’re all ok! Just… blaharrg is all I can say. But I love you for your post.

lindswing
Guest

Just because it used to make me really self-conscious when I heard about how much others got while pumping, I want to say something. A couple of commenters note the amounts they get/got while pumping, one implying that 4 oz a side was not very good. Everyone’s supply is different, and I usually only get 3-5 ounces total per pumping session. When I wait way too long and get 4 ounces from my then engorged “good” side, I get ridiculously excited by the bounty. Most babies only eat about 30 ounces per day until they’re about 6 months old, making… Read more »

Danni
Guest
Danni

Thank you! I get about four ounces per pumping session and was considering that a good thing, as my freezer and fridge are pretty stocked. My baby doesn’t even drink that much right now and a friend of mine said she probably won’t shoot through my stored supply very quickly as babies simply don’t drink that much at one time. As long as my baby gains weight and has plenty of diapers, we’re fine. And if we’re ever not, that’s why formula was invented. 

Cobblestone
Guest
Cobblestone

I was so lucky. I knew that I was willing to fight tooth and nail for the first 6 weeks but everything after that was gravy. At 16 months we were down to a single bedtime boob and the end was in sight. Then I got pneumonia and antibiotics that promised to re-write ShortStack’s DNA into some sort of mutant boneless glob so there was one last bedtime boob and then Done. Today is 10 days, and the bedtime routine hasn’t become whatever it will be next and he still grabs at my shirt and then shakes his head no.… Read more »

Danni
Guest
Danni

Thank you! I get about four ounces per pumping session and was considering that a good thing, as my freezer and fridge are pretty stocked. My baby doesn’t even drink that much right now and a friend of mine said she probably won’t shoot through my stored supply very quickly as babies simply don’t drink that much at one time. As long as my baby gains weight and has plenty of diapers, we’re fine. And if we’re ever not, that’s why formula was invented. 

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

This subject just points to a huge problem we women have, with this culture of judging and competitiveness, when what we really all need is support and compassion. Every single mother and child relationship is different, and only those two individuals know what is right for them. Case in point: I have three children. I was raised by a obstetric nurse/lactation consultant who gave me all the info about breastfeeding and told me to read and and decide what I wanted to do. When my oldest son was born, she came to stay with me for 2 weeks to help… Read more »

Maria
Guest
Maria

Thanks Amy, this is so perfectly timed for me. This morning marks the first day that Jakob will be strictly on the bottle… at this moment he’s in our bed for his first feeding like always, and his daddy is feeding him. By the sounds of his chatter and cooing, I know he’s going to be just fine! As for me, there’s a little of the “shoulda-coulda-wouldas” there, but I’ve done so much thinking about it, and I KNOW it’s the right decision for us. We gave it a few days shy of six months, it wasn’t working for either… Read more »

eva
Guest

I third the “don’t call it quitting breastfeeding” comments. Quitting just sounds bad and implies such judgment.
Re. pumping: I never got more than an ounce or two when I pumped but I was exclusively breastfeeding my daughter for the first 6 months. For some women (me!) the pump just didn’t stimulate letdown, and my daughter slupring on my boob did. I am confident that she got WAY more from me than the pump ever could since she grew and thrived just fine.

Dori
Guest

this post made me cry, Amalah. I wrote this last night: http://dluthyceramics.com/blog/?p=412 and it’s as though you had heard my heart’s sad struggle, thank you thank you.

Olivia
Guest
Olivia

@lindswing, I’m right there with you. I hesitated to comment on this thread because the actual breastfeeding part has been a breeze for me and my daughter. But, the pumping has been another issue. For a short time I got up to 6 oz per session (both sides combined) and all was well. Then at about 4 months old, she hit a growth spurt and weirdly, my pumping supply decreased to about 3 oz per session. She raced thru the freezer supply, and at 5 months my husband had to start supplementing with 4 oz of formula a day while… Read more »

Stefanie
Guest
Stefanie

When I was pregnant, I was very much of the belief that I would breastfeed, but if it didn’t work out I would be ok with giving formula to my baby…until my baby was 2 weeks old and had a growth spurt my boobs couldn’t keep up with. When my husband suggested formula, I totally freaked! It felt like he was saying that I was a failure who couldn’t feed my child. Now we’re past that hiccup and doing great, but every time I talk to my mother she asks me when I’m going to start supplementing with formula, did… Read more »

tomegan
Guest

More hearty thanks from this new mamma for writing this, Amy – we’re six weeks into pumping and formula supplementing, and I’ll say that the decision to move away from awful latching disasters to pumping was one of the hardest I’ve ever made – feeling like a failure, horrified I’d regret it – totally agonzing! Now, when I look back on myself six weeks ago, I just want to give that poor, postpartum sad woman a giant hug (and the glass of wine someone mentioned earlier). Our relationships with our babies (and our breasts, and our pumps) are unique paths.… Read more »

Danni
Guest
Danni

I know. I had to make the decision to exclusively pump when she was four days old. I’ve tried since then (half-heartedly, I admit) to get her to latch on but she won’t.  We’re still pretty new at this (baby makes two weeks in two days) but as long as I’m pumping and getting milk I’ll keep feeding her my expressed milk. If something goes wrong, we’ll switch to formula. My head recognizes that this is the logical path to take, but my heart hurts from time to time. I stopped following the breastfeeding and natural birth forums that I… Read more »

AmyE
Guest

I’m impressed by my friends who are able to breastfeed for six months or more, but also impressed with my friends who choose not to breastfeed (for whatever reason) and don’t make apologies about it or try to run through their reasons as if they need to explain a very personal decision to everybody they know. It really isn’t everybody’s business. I think breastfeeding is best and all moms should consider it and try to do it, but I also think that every woman’s situation is different and private, and formula feeding is a viable option.
Amy
http://www.sofiabean.com

a father
Guest
a father

Thank you for this. Since our son was born, I have not been shy telling all pregnant friends that if breastfeeding doesn’t work, THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU, YOU ARE NOT BAD PARENTS. Our kid never took to it, it was bad for my wife, and despite lots of trying, and help from outside (help always comes in the form of “try this position, just push him in, and he’ll do it!” when we knew the all fo that, he just never got it right). Like with everything in parenting, we tried, and we adapted. My wife was distraught… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

Isn’t it truly amazing how judgemental our society has become around the breastfeeding subject? Since when are a woman’s boobs anyone’s business but her own? My daughter is 8 1/2 months old and I exclusively breastfed her until she was 6 months and have only today weaned her completely. The first 6 weeks of BF were pure HELL for us. Extreme pain for me, and emotionally, a total wreck. Mostly because everyone from the Lactation consultant to other moms made insinuations that if I stopped BF I was a failure. I’m glad I BF, but I am just as supportive… Read more »

Christine
Guest
Christine

I cried reading this…so nice to know I’m not the only one. My daughter is 4 months old is breastfed (technically) and supplemented with formula. She wasn’t a good nurser because of my low supply early on. Wish I knew to pump regularly to get it up. So now I pump and give it to her in a bottle. If I don’t have enough (which I never do) then I add a little formula in. Not exactly what I pictured going into motherhood, but it works. I’m hoping with all I know now the next baby will be better.

Christine
Guest
Christine

I cried reading this…so nice to know I’m not the only one. My daughter is 4 months old is breastfed (technically) and supplemented with formula. She wasn’t a good nurser because of my low supply early on. Wish I knew to pump regularly to get it up. So now I pump and give it to her in a bottle. If I don’t have enough (which I never do) then I add a little formula in. Not exactly what I pictured going into motherhood, but it works. I’m hoping with all I know now the next baby will be better.

Kim
Guest
Kim

Oh, my. When I first read this, I was 36 weeks pregnant, and a bit … well, I wouldn’t say smug, because I always knew I was lucky, but yeah. a little smug. I bf’ed my first for 18 mos. with zero problems – needed a shield for the first few weeks, but other than that, minimal pain, good latch, some oversupply issues that were easy to fix. Now – I have a new baby, and hamburger meat on my breasts. Holy cow. Of all the difficulties I anticipated, bf’ing was not one of them. I have a whole new… Read more »

Tina
Guest
Tina

I am 39 years old and am about 24 weeks along right now with my second child. My first is 6 years old now and she was breast fed for about 5 minutes. I never wanted to do it, never had the desire but everyone told me I HAD to just TRY it. Got all the “its best for your baby, you will regret it if you dont, you arent doing all you can for your baby..” uggh whatever! I dont plan on even trying this time. I just dont want too. No quitting involved, just no desire. With that… Read more »

Julie
Guest
Julie

Fist pump

stacy
Guest
stacy

I was pretty lucky — after some initial difficulties (which ran the gamut from needing to pump and bottle feed from days 4-8 because of latching issues, to nipple shields, to plugged ducts, to near-mastitis) I was able to keep my daughter on the breast until 7 months, when she just flat out refused to continue. I know my supply had been dipping since she started solid foods at 5.5 months, and I was planning on weaning around 9 months anyway, so I didn’t mourn too much. I mourned mostly over having to deal with bottles/buy formula/remember to bring it… Read more »

Erika
Guest
Erika

I gotta say that I was one of those frustrated people who sent you a 2am email looking for help with this. I was 6 weeks in and still had a lot of pain and didn’t know what to do, but was committed to breastfeeding. I told myself that I would do it through my maternity leave for sure (12 weeks) and if it wasn’t improved by then, I would figure out something else. I took some classes, I saw a consultant and learned a few things, but the fact is that we still don’t have a “correct” latch. But… Read more »

Kristi
Guest
Kristi

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. I cried while reading this post and all the comments. My third child is now 4 1/2 months old and I am struggling with the decision to either continue both breast feeding and formula feeding. With my first born, I breast feed for 6 weeks before my milk supply just disappeared, I think in part from stress of the passing of my father in law. I tried again with my second child but had a hard time balancing a 2 yr old and a newborn and he just didn’t want to latch. When I… Read more »