Courtesy of B R Sanders

I Couldn’t Breastfeed & It Was Harder On Me Than My Kid

By
Share
Ad failed to load

When push came to shove, and it became clear that formula was a true necessity for my kid, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was deeply wrong with me. I couldn't breastfeed my baby and I felt like I should stitch a bright red “F” on all of my clothing so everyone would know what a failure I was.

Here’s what happened: Arthur came a little early, right on the fence between full-term and preemie. They call it "late pre-term." He was a tiny thing, just shy of 6 pounds, squish-faced and squalling. The nurse showed me how to get him to latch, and I thought we were set. Since late pre-term babies sometimes struggle with breastfeeding — because late pre-term babies have difficulty latching, and have a more difficult time breastfeeding due to lower muscle tone, and tire more easily, according to Marianne Neifert's website, Dr. Mom — they held us an extra day at the hospital and gave us additional breastfeeding support (along with approximately a thousand Breast Is Best pamphlets). The lactation nurses also thought we were set.

Everything seemed to be going great. Arthur latched well and breastfed for half an hour or so at a time. But when I took him to the pediatrician a few days later, everything fell apart. He’d lost weight. He was severely dehydrated. Apparently, he’d been latching and just drifting off to sleep, cozy and warm and soothed by the skin-to-skin contact. But he wasn’t receiving any actual nutrition. I was mistaking the flood of gooey oxytocin hormones for milk let down, but my milk hadn’t actually come in. I cracked. I don’t cry often, but I cried a lot in that appointment.

Ad failed to load
Courtesy of B R Sanders

I went to see a pair of lactation specialists. There were more tears. Arthur’s latch was good, but that didn’t matter much if there was nothing to drink. When your milk doesn’t come in, as happens in perhaps 5 percent of cases, according to a report from Pediatric Clinics of North America, which may be a low figure due to underreporting, this is called "primary lactation failure." As in, your breasts are the primary source of milk, and they have failed.

The lactation specialists gave me some next steps to try: a prescription for a monster of a breast pump, and some fenugreek pills. The pills had me smelling like a Waffle House. The new pump was a free-standing thing that attached to both breasts at once. It was loud, and it hurt, and I hated it. I breastfed Arthur six times a day, and pumped eight times a day. I pumped sequestered in the bedroom, while trying to work on my dissertation and/or fighting back tears. The amount of milk my body produced was pitiful. Arthur went on formula to keep him hydrated and healthy.

Ad failed to load
I’d loved the feel of breastfeeding, even if it wasn’t actually feeding him. I’d loved the intimacy of it. And I couldn’t shake the immense feelings of failure that came with giving up.
Courtesy of B R Sanders

I went to my OB-GYN to see if there was a reason why my milk refused to come in. We checked my breasts for clogged ducts. They weren't. We did ultrasounds to make sure there were no errant bits of placenta still hanging out in my uterus. If your placenta decides to hang around, it may imbalance your hormones and prevent the rise in prolactin needed to trigger breast milk production. We never found anything that explained the lack of milk production. My OB sighed and said it just doesn’t happen for some people, and no one really knows why. Arthur’s latch stayed good, but over the next month, the already-paltry amount of breast milk my body produced dropped. Even with all the help, and the medical-grade equipment, and the supplements that made me smell like maple syrup, I somehow got worse at breastfeeding.

Ad failed to load

I lasted two months before I gave up for good.

Courtesy of B R Sanders

It was heartbreaking for me. I’d loved the feel of breastfeeding, even if it wasn’t actually feeding him. I’d loved the intimacy of it. And I couldn’t shake the immense feelings of failure that came with giving up. There were so many “shoulds” that kept forcing their way into my mind — you should keep trying, you should add in another pumping session, you should do this for him because you read all those pamphlets, you shouldn’t give up because of your own comfort. But the truth was, I wasn’t sleeping anymore. Even looking at that stupid pump made me burst into tears. I was miserable, and my body ached, and everything around me felt wrong. The truth was that I was only half aware of anything at any given moment because I was so fatigued and so overwhelmed and so buried in self-doubt and shame and self-imposed guilt about this thing my body, for medically mysterious reasons, so steadfastly refused to do.

Ad failed to load
If I didn’t see him suffering then, what kinds of suffering would I miss in his future? I still worry about that.

When Arthur transitioned fully to formula, he gained back all the weight he lost, and then some. He grew fast, like a little sprout. I started sleeping again. I finally started enjoying being a parent. Now he’s a healthy, brilliant 5 year old. He’s in kindergarten, writing entire words! I still get weird twinges of shadowy guilt about having not been able to breastfeed now and again. What went wrong with my body? I’ll never know.

Courtesy of B R Sanders
Ad failed to load

Arthur is fine, and I am mostly fine. The experience left me with strange psychological scars. How could I have been doing so badly at something so important without realizing it? My baby was dehydrating in front of me and I hadn’t even seen it. With parenting, we're learning as we go, and every second is momentous and important and uncharted. We have to trust our judgment, and so often our judgment is just fine. But sometimes — either because of false assumptions or inexperience — it isn’t. And our kids suffer. And we don’t even realize it. If I didn’t see him suffering then, what kinds of suffering would I miss in his future? I still worry about that.

The thing with parenting is that it simultaneously gets easier and harder. You learn about kids in general as you go, and you learn about your kid. What they need and what they want, what you need and what you want for them. But every time you think you have it all nailed down, they change on you. They go through another seismic developmental shift, and they are, at once, the same kid and utterly new. They keep you on your toes. They are learning and growing, and you, as a parent, are learning and growing along with them. Which means you might miss something. You’re going to miss something. And it’s going to be horrible. But it will be ok. You’ll both be OK. We were.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

10 Reasons Why I Won't Apologize For Giving My Toddler A Pacifier

My first child had no interest in a pacifier. I tried a couple times to get him to take one, but he always spat them out and gave me an incredulous, judgmental look. But my second? It was love at first suckle. And after a while, the incredulous, judg…
By Jamie Kenney

Being A Dog Parent Prepared Me For Having A Baby, Really

I’ve always wanted kids; I was never as sure about raising a puppy. Then I spent six months living with someone who brought home an eight-week-old golden retriever puppy, and I see no way to make it out of that experience claiming not to love dogs. I…
By Heather Caplan

20 Of The Most Popular Unisex Names Of All Time, That You'll Be Hearing More Of For Sure

You might think of unisex names as a fairly recent trend, but the truth is these versatile monikers have been commonly used throughout history (well, some more commonly than others). That's why the team over at Names.org recently compiled a list of t…
By Jacqueline Burt Cote

How To Have A Date Night With No Babysitter, Because It's Easier Than You Think

After having children, many couples feel that their love lives immediately go out the window, but it's so important to make your romantic life a priority so both you and your partner can be the best versions of yourselves you can be. As we all know, …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

9 Ways Baby No. 3 Made My Family Feel Complete

My husband and I decided to have another baby right after we got married and, well, we had no idea what we were getting into. I got pregnant right away, endured a high-risk pregnancy, and, before I knew it, my third baby had arrived. Together, we emb…
By Steph Montgomery

8 Stereotypes About New Dads That Are *Totally* True

Much like new mothers, new fathers have a lot on their plate. Parenting can be scary and complex, especially at first and regardless of your gender. People want to do right by their kids, after all. And since all new parents are a hot mess, dads are …
By Priscilla Blossom

8 Differences Between Being Pregnant In Your 20s Vs 30s, According To Science

Whether you're planning a pregnancy, or just thinking about your future family, it's typical to think about things like child-spacing, how many kids you want, and when to start trying to conceive. When making your pro/con list, you might also conside…
By Steph Montgomery

16 Moms Share Remedies For Their Most Intense Chocolate Cravings During Pregnancy

For better or worse, pregnancy is usually synonymous with odd cravings. Sure, there are the stereotypical combos like pickles and ice cream that plague gestating women the world over, but there are other mind-boggling combinations, too, including but…
By Candace Ganger

Putting Sunscreen On Your Kid Doesn't Have To Be A Fight — Here's How To Do It

I am almost translucent, so me and sunscreen are basically besties at this point. Even though my children are beautifully deep brown thanks to my husband's genetics, I still slather them like biscuits being buttered because I refuse to take risks wit…
By Cat Bowen

7 Things A Mom Really Means When She Says She Doesn't Want Anything On Mother's Day

Every year my family asks me what I want for Mother's Day, and every single year I tell them the same thing: Nothing. So, by now, they know that when I say "nothing" I absolutely do not mean "nothing." In fact, there are more than a few things a mom …
By Candace Ganger

19 Moms Share The Way They Cured Their Pregnancy Comfort Food Cravings

I was obnoxiously sick during the first trimester with, "lucky" for me, both of my pregnancies. For the first three months I lived on saltines, lemonade, and fresh bread. Once I was able to eat, however, all I wanted was savory and sweet comfort food…
By Dina Leygerman

8 Fascinating Facts About Babies Born In May, The Luckiest Month Of All

The height of all things fresh and springy, May is an excellent month to have a baby. It's a time of growth, graduations, and outdoor celebrations. And these fascinating facts about May babies will give you more reasons than ever to appreciate childr…
By Lindsay E. Mack

I Used To Judge Formula-Feeding Moms — Until I Became One

The other patrons in the hip Brooklyn restaurant probably couldn’t care less what I was feeding my baby, but I’ll always remember the shame I felt as I quickly mixed up his bottle of formula in front of them. I admitted to my childless friend that I …
By Katherine Martinelli

7 White Lies It’s Necessary To Tell To Keep Your Relationship Healthy

Telling lots of lies typically isn't associated with a healthy, strong, lasting relationship, and that's still certainly true, but not all lies are exactly the same. Though you've probably heard from someone at least once or twice that the lie they t…
By Lauren Schumacker

The Skinny Jeans That Saved Me Postpartum

Accepting my post-pregnancy body is hands-down one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It’s something that I still work on every single day. During my first pregnancy, I was 20 years old, so I managed to bounce back quickly. In fact, I dropp…
By Allison Cooper

7 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say They Feel Safe

In those first weeks of new motherhood, it can feel like you need an interpreter for your newborn. With their limited means of communication, figuring out what message your baby is trying to get across to you can be a challenge. With time, however, y…
By Kimmie Fink

Here's Why Dogs Are Obsessed With Babies' Poop, According To Science

Most family dogs seem to understand babies, and they're more than happy to make friends with the newest member of the pack. It's adorable... for the most part and until you go to change your little one's diaper. Suddenly, you're wondering why dogs ar…
By Lindsay E. Mack

6 Signs You're Meant To Have A Big Age Gap Between Kids

There's a five year age difference between my two children, to the day. Their age gap wasn't planned but, for a variety of reasons, works well for our family. And since I was so focused on having a second baby, I totally overlooked the signs that wou…
By Candace Ganger

Here's How To Introduce Your Pet To Your Baby & Make Everything As Calm As Possible

Our home, which we lovingly refer to as “the funny farm,” is filled with four-legged family members. We have two crazy beagles and two cat jerks, and boy are they loved and spoiled. (As they should be.) But we are now finally having a baby of our own…
By Abi Berwager Schreier

Here's The Right Birth Method For You, According To Your Zodiac Sign

If you're pregnant, you've probably given childbirth some serious thought. Some moms-to-be prepare a meticulous birth plan, while others are comfortable just going with the flow. And me? Well, I made a plan... but that plan was useless when faced wit…
By Steph Montgomery

My Dog Knew I Was Pregnant Before My Family Did

Growing up, I was 100 percent sure I'd be a mom one day. To a dog, that is. My baby plans came later. And once my husband and I were sure we wanted both a dog and a baby, we'd add to our joint dog-and-baby name list over Sunday brunch or on date nigh…
By Melissa Mills
)}