Courtesy of Caroline Hand

I Am Proof That We Ask Way Too Much Of Women Who Can’t Breastfeed

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In the hours after my daughter was born, as I was recovering from a traumatic birth involving severe preeclampsia, a nurse at the hospital asked me if I planned to breastfeed. Duh, I thought. Of course. Breast is best and all that, right? “Yes,” I murmured, in post-delivery stupor, not sure what she was getting at. “Her sugars are low; we might have to give her formula while you’re in the recovery room.” I told her that was fine. I knew I wanted to breastfeed but I also wasn’t going to be nuts about it. If the baby needs formula, sure, give her some. Anything to keep her healthy.

I tried to feed the baby whatever I could produce, but she didn’t seem interested. I have lots of cute pictures of her using my boobs as a pillow at the hospital.

Little did I know my breastfeeding adventure was just getting started. During the next two days at the hospital, the nurses tried to stimulate my colostrum; and by that, I mean they pushed, kneaded and pounded on my boobs so hard that I got bruises all over them. The nurses seemed surprised at the very little amount they could cajole out of my uncooperative breasts. Then they brought out the big guns, the hospital-grade breast pump, instructing me to pump every two hours. In the meantime, I tried to feed the baby whatever I could produce, but she didn’t seem interested. I have lots of cute pictures of her using my boobs as a pillow at the hospital. So we supplemented with formula that the hospital provided and gave her the microscopic amount of colostrum that the nurses were able to squeeze out of me every so often.

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By the time I left the hospital, I was eagerly awaiting that boobs-getting-as-hard-as-rocks feeling that so many friends had told me about. The days passed and nothing happened. No milk, no engorgement, no hard-as-rocks feeling. We continued to give the baby formula but you better believe my precious angel was still going to breastfeed. It’s the healthy way; no, it’s the only way. So I waited for my milk to come in because I just knew that when that happened, everything would be all right and my baby would start breastfeeding like a champ, and I could toss all those sample boxes of formula and nipples and bottles with drop-ins and sterilization bags. I was going to breastfeed, people! There was no other option.

Finally, finally, finally my milk came in on day 8 of my daughter’s life and I was thrilled. Now we could start the breastfeeding in earnest. Except guess what? She still wasn’t having it. All of my breastfeeding attempts resulted in her taking a lovely snooze on my no doubt very comfortable ta-tas. I took to walking around our apartment topless, ready to breastfeed at a moment’s notice, should my baby be interested. She never was. So we continued to use formula and I kicked the pumping up a notch by renting a hospital-grade pump from a pharmacy. This will do it, I thought. This is what we need.

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Our postpartum doula told me to take something called fenugreek to stimulate milk production. I was told to you can buy a special tea that will make milk just start erupting out of your breasts. We spent a ridiculous amount of money to have a lactation consultant come to the apartment. Lo and behold, with her two hands holding the baby and my two hands pumping my boobs to stimulate milk flow, the baby was actually able to get some milk. It was a miracle! Until I realized that the lactation consultant’s two hands weren’t going to be there for every feeding and whoamIkiddingthisisanightmare! The lactation consultant said to just wait a little longer, that the baby will get the hang of it, don’t worry! So I kept trying.

Every two hours I attempted to breastfeed the baby (usually with poor results), then gave her a bit of formula, to um, keep her alive and then pumped to get whatever tiny amount of breastmilk out that I could.

I bought a contraption called a Supplemental Nursing System that was supposed to trick your baby into thinking it was drinking milk from your breast, when actually it was formula from a little tube (attached to a bottle) that you had snaked down your neck, taped to your breast and inserted into the baby’s mouth along with your nipple. Going to all these lengths was kind of insane, in hindsight, but "breast is best," and I had to try every last option before I was going to give up on breastfeeding.

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Courtesy of Caroline Hand

Every two hours I attempted to breastfeed the baby (usually with poor results), then gave her a bit of formula, to um, keep her alive and then pumped to get whatever tiny amount of breastmilk out that I could. It was usually an ounce, occasionally two, and I knew that wasn’t enough. What was wrong with my boobs? What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I do this very natural thing that everyone in the world does? It was a dark time. Many tears were shed (by me, not the baby, who seemed perfectly content).

In the 45 minutes that I had been feeding her, she’d gained an ounce. One measly ounce.
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The cycle of attempted breastfeeding, formula feeding and pumping went on for about two weeks until I was at my wit’s end. As a last-ditch effort, I went to a clinic at my pediatrician’s office wherein a lactation consultant would be there to give advice and to weigh your baby pre- and post- breastfeeding to see how many ounces she’d gained. This would in turn let you know how much milk you were producing. I sat there for about 45 minutes with my mom, trying to breastfeed the baby and lamenting the difficulties of breastfeeding (which no one ever tells you about, by the way) with the other women there.

Courtesy of Caroline Hand

Finally, it was time for my daughter to be weighed. In the 45 minutes that I had been feeding her, she’d gained an ounce. One measly ounce. “You need to pump,” the LC told me. I told her I was pumping religiously. “You need a hospital grade pump,” she told me. I told her I already had one. She seemed stumped by this. “Well, just keep at it,” she said, and walked over to the next mom. And that was the moment I knew I was done with breastfeeding. I couldn’t “keep at it” any longer. It was taking over my life to the point that I wasn’t even enjoying my new baby, just constantly stressing about the fact that I couldn’t breastfeed.

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When I stopped, I felt a huge sense of relief. No more desperate attempts at breastfeeding an uninterested baby. No more two-hour feeding cycles. And for the love of god, no more pumping. I was liberated, but I was also devastated. I had so wanted to breastfeed and I had failed. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as not being able to breastfeed; no lactation consultant, nurse or doula ever told me.

Not being able to breastfeed almost broke me, but please don’t let it break you. The weeks of anxiety I experienced over this were simply not worth it. My daughter is now a healthy 6-year-old who rarely gets so much as a cold and hasn’t ever had to take antibiotics. She is awesome and she is thriving and as much as I would have loved to breastfeed her, the bottom line is that I couldn’t, despite my best efforts. So while breast may be best, sometimes it’s just not an option. Don’t nearly lose your mind over it like I did.

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