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Can All Women Breastfeed? 9 Women Describe What It Feels Like Not To Be Able To

When I got pregnant with my son, I immediately knew I wanted to breastfeed. I read book after book about natural childbirth and natural parenting and about how our bodies were “made to do this.” I initially wondered if all women can breastfeed, and my research seemed to answer that question. I read so much about how (almost) all women have the capacity to breastfeed, but that many were simply not knowledgeable enough (or not patient enough) to make it happen. I read every single bit of judgmental crap about the ways women avoid breastfeeding and vowed to do everything in my power to breastfeed successfully.

But then my son was born with complications and the breastfeeding took a back seat to saving his life. I was crushed in more ways than one. It was more than a week after he was born before I finally had the opportunity to attempt breastfeeding. Between labor fatigue, a major birth injury, plus anxiety and stress from practically living in the NICU, pumping was a nightmare. Worse still, I could barely pump an ounce a day, making it feel almost pointless.  

I met with numerous lactation consultants, one of whom mentioned I might have insufficient glandular tissue. I tried kangaroo care, herbal supplements, eating oatmeal, and even drinking a beer — nothing helped. In the end, I supplemented with formula and after four incredibly exhausting months, I finally quit breastfeeding. The guilt was overwhelming, but I knew it was for the best. When I see images of women breastfeeding, I still feel a tinge of jealousy and pain, but am also happy they are able to make it happen. I spoke with a few other moms to see how they felt when they discovered they couldn’t really breastfeed. Here’s what they shared:

“I Was Fine With My Choice, But Others Made Me Feel I Was A Horrible Person.”

It makes you angry because if you breastfeed, everyone now says you are wonderful. But if you make the choice not to, you are a terrible mother. You shouldn’t have to defend your choices. In the end, no matter what your choice, you face backlash. Might as well do what you feel is right for yourself and your family.

– Kat, who experienced complications while giving birth to her daughter and subsequently found herself in a lot of pain

“I Feel Guilty A Lot.”

I tried feeding after that, but both of us ended up very frustrated. I should have been more patient and asked for help from someone who was understanding. My girls were fine with formula and smart as any other, so I wasn’t too upset to bottle feed [my son], but a lot of other women look down on those who didn’t or couldn’t breastfeed.

– Jenna, who was unable to successfully breastfeed any of her children. With her girls, she was taking necessary medication that would pass into her breastmilk. With her son, she had gestational diabetes and, having been born prematurely with low blood sugar, was immediately given formula by the hospital.

“I Thought Something Was Wrong With My Body.”

I wanted to breastfeed and tried so hard, but it didn’t work out. I was angry. I was severely depressed ... [After my second birth and a] stint in the NICU gave us a rough start, [my second baby was] a bit better at it. Then things went downhill, but this time around, I discovered the lip and tongue tie. I was even angrier now that I knew it wasn’t my body. I’m still struggling, but I feel a lot happier overall. That said, I think it’s important to note that it’s a personal choice and the most important thing is that the baby is fed.

– Nikki, who had a traumatic birth experience with her first son, which resulted in a horrific breastfeeding experience

Sometimes We Feel Jealous

Every time my milk let down, my serotonin would drop. Additionally, I got zero privacy. I was made to feel guilty and still feel a little jealous when I see other women do it successfully.

– Hanna

“It Stressed Me Out So Much.”

I just couldn’t get the hang of it and my pump made me feel like a cow. I was on the fence about continuing when I came home to a semi-destroyed pump after my dog got a hold of it. I thought it was one among many signs so I weaned my son. At first, I felt like a complete failure, as society has made me feel like I had put my own needs above my child. That faded, though, and a week or so later I felt like without the pressure to breastfeed looming over me, that I had become the kick ass multi tasking mom God intended me to be.

– Hannah

And Because We Fear The Judgement Police, We Often Get Defensive

I knew going into my pregnancy that I would have difficulty. My solution was to gather as much information as possible because I figured it would help me maximize my chances. This ended up being a double-edged sword because sometimes the best sources for breastfeeding info are also the places where very militant anti-formula folks hang out, so I ended up absorbing a lot of negative messaging. When I had my son and struggled to breastfeed, I felt like people would view me as such a failure. Whenever I encountered other moms once I stopped breastfeeding at four months, I found myself launching into this whole defensive story, explaining my surgery and how hard I had tried and how badly I wanted to...as if that’s anyone’s business. And you know what? Not one person was ever judgey or rude. I discovered I’d grossly overestimated how much people at large care about how you feed your child.

– Anonymous, who tried to breastfeed years after she’d had breast reduction surgery.

“I Was Crying Cause I Felt Like A Failure.”

I was given pain meds that prevented me from breastfeeding, I was was pumping and dumping for three weeks. Once I was done with that, I was hoping to try and continue breastfeeding. Trying to reteach a one-month-old how to breastfeed was frustrating and hard... It took me talking to my mom and husband (to understand) that it was OK that I couldn’t breastfeed. I wasn’t a bad mom... I started feeling better with my decision to formula feed while pumping. Now my daughter is a happy, crazy, and healthy 2-year-old who still got the nutrients [she needed] from consuming formula her first year.

– Melinda, who had a difficult time breastfeeding her daughter after having to go spend a week at the hospital

“I Felt Relieved.”

[My son] lost some weight after we left the hospital, so I had to supplement with formula. Honestly, I had no idea how painful, exhausting, and frustrating breastfeeding would be. Dealing with recovering from the birth and having to feed my son every 2 hours made me feel like I was losing my mind. Also, I wasn’t producing much milk at all. I tried pumping and would only be able to pump enough for one feeding. I tried teas and supplements to help boost my supply, but nothing worked. After I went back to work, I decided to use formula exclusively and it was the best thing I could have done in my situation. Today, my son is a happy, healthy toddler, so no regrets here.

– Kristina, who tried breastfeeding after her son was born early at 36 weeks

Images: Jessica Blankenship; Giphy(8)