“Breastfeeding Failure” is an Oxymoron

Lately I’ve been wondering if “breastfeeding failure” is an oxymoron. I mean, to fail at something don’t you need to have a predetermined understanding of what failure is and what success is? Must you not be able to assess and quantify? But breastfeeding is a relationship—not a test—and success looks different for everyone. A teen mom, the mother of a preemie, a woman working outside of the home, a stay at home mom: might breastfeeding not look different for a woman in each of these situations?

So why is it that so many women in our society today feel as though they failed at breastfeeding? Is it possible to even fail? If you breastfed, even for a short time, were you not a breastfeeding mom? How is it then that you can do something, but yet fail at it?

In almost every other human endeavour, we give credit for the attempt; we give credit for the effort; we give credit for the action. I am unsure of exactly what determines “breastfeeding success”—is it the WHO guidelines, the AAP, my mother’s experience, the local La Leche League members? It seems that are there many criteria that we hold ourselves and other women up against when it comes to breastfeeding failure. If you are one of the many women who believes she failed at breastfeeding, my question for you is “Who told you you failed?”

It was only when the breastfeeding relationship with second child was coming to an end—a  relationship that had been a three year odyssey in healing—that I began to think about my first breastfeeding experience and how the emotions surrounding that first breastfeeding effort affected my nursing relationship with my second child. It was at that point that I realized “breastfeeding failure” might very well be an oxymoron.

With my first child, my son, I had every intention of breastfeeding. I floated through my pregnancy thinking everything was going to be rainbows and sunshine! And then at 30 weeks, I got hit hard with pre-eclampsia and my plans began to dissolve.

From the start I pumped, expressing milk every two hours around the clock. My breast pump soon became a permanent fixture in my living room and remained so for the first year of my son’s life. Breastfeeding was more challenging than I could have ever imagined, and even though my son received far more breast milk (albeit by bottle) than most babies in our modern world, I still felt like a failure.

And I know I’m not alone. I’ve heard from many, many women over the past several years who feel that they failed at breastfeeding, and even more heart wrenching, feel they failed their children. Women who have struggled to breastfeed, who have believed the motto of “breast is best”, and who have in many cases gone to extraordinary lengths to try to provide their babies breast milk, are feeling enormous guilt and a burdensome sense of failure.

Breastfeeding is a biologically expected activity, but it must also be socially supported. If we were to follow our biology we would breastfeed our infants until they naturally wean, which Katherine Dettwyler’s research suggests is somewhere between 2.5 and 7 years of age. If this is the criteria we’re to use for “breastfeeding success” then almost every breastfeeding mom and baby are failures!

But in our human experience, breastfeeding is not only biologically led, it is also largely influenced and supported (or not supported) by our society. The division between what is biologically expected and what is socially supported can create a tremendous amount of difficulty for moms. When it comes to breastfeeding—and many other activities in life—moms will look around them to determine what success mean,  and our society presents some questionable determinates of breastfeeding success.

So I’ve come to this conclusion: “breastfeeding failure” is an oxymoron. You either breastfeed or you don’t. You can’t breastfeed—regardless of how long it lasts—and be a breastfeeding failure. How can we fail at something that has no predetermined finish line? You may not be satisfied with your experience; you may not reach your intended goal; but you do not fail when it comes to breastfeeding.  You do not fail your child when you have given everything you could and done everything you could do to breastfeed.

The reality of the situation is that due to the biological nature of breastfeeding and the expected relationship between a mother and her child, when breastfeeding doesn’t work out, there is a loss felt. This loss is sometimes not recognized as a loss and as a result many women carry with them feelings that they identify as guilt and a sense of failure. Just like any other loss we experience in life, it is important to recognize it and grieve it. There are things you can do to work through the loss of a breastfeeding relationship and to refuse the label of “breastfeeding failure”:

  • The first step to overcoming the lingering pain of a breastfeeding relationship that was not what you expected, not what you hoped for, is to reframe your understanding of what success and failure looks like. Who or what made the determination that you were a breastfeeding failure? Don’t give your power over to people, companies, media, or other groups that are not willing to recognize the success of your efforts.
  • Take back control of your experience. So you didn’t breastfeed as long as you may have planned; plans change. Things don’t always go as expected. Recognize all that you did do to make it work. Give yourself credit for your effort.
  • Consider your experience at the time. We have the luxury of looking back on our breastfeeding experience from a position of relative calm, hormonal stability, and rest. My guess though is that after your baby was born and you were struggling with breastfeeding, you were not feeling calm, hormonally stable, or particularly well-rested. It’s important to acknowledge the circumstances at the time and what you accomplished given the challenges. Then figure out how you will overcome those the next time around.
  • Grieve your loss. Breastfeeding is a relationship that is biologically expected. So when we don’t get that relationship, we experience a loss. As with any other relationship that ends, you need to grieve it. Just recognizing it as a loss can go a long way in helping you to come to terms with your experience. Talking about it will also assist you to process the emotions you are feeling. If you don’t work through the loss of your first breastfeeding experience, those emotions are likely to surface again with your next baby.
  • Learn from the experience and make it something positive. We can either choose to define our “failures” or be defined by them. Choose to define your experience as a learning opportunity and as a period of growth. You might use the experience to help support other women, take it as a lesson of persistence or humility, or use it as a vehicle to rail against the dangers of formula advertising. Whatever you take from the experience, let it be positive, for even in seemingly painful experiences there are opportunities for positive outcomes.

My final plea would be for all women to be kind and fair to each other—and to themselves. Question what success means and who it is that determines the criteria for success. And most importantly, avoid using “breastfeeding” and “failure” in the same sentence; I’m convinced it is an oxymoron.

Stephanie Casemore has experienced breastfeeding as a challenge, a gift, and a healing experience. She exclusively pumped for a year for her first child and nursed her second child for three years. Turning the challenges into a positive as an opportunity to support other mothers, Stephanie shares her experience through her books:  Breastfeeding, Take Two: Successful Breastfeeding the Second Time Around and Exclusively Pumping Breast Milk: A Guide to Providing Expressed Breast Milk for Your Baby.



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38 Comments | Last revised on 11/03/2011


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38 Responses to “Breastfeeding Failure” is an Oxymoron

  1. Jessica says:

    I am so glad to read this. Just the part about grieving the loss of a relationship hits home more than I would have expected. My first daughter weaned after the age of 2, and months later, I still grieve that loss. We had a rough start, a wonderful 2 years, and now we’ve moved on. It’s hard, as it really symbolizes how she’s growing up!

    • I think you’ve hit on just how powerful the breastfeeding relationship is, Jessica, regardless of how long it lasts. The fact that it is a relationship means that you’ll miss it when it is gone, just like any other meaningful relationship that ends. My daughter just lost her first tooth–an unmistakeable sign that she’s growing up–and I felt sad over this too. Growing up is bittersweet!

  2. Wow! What a powerful posting and so very true. Stephanie has really hit the nail on the head regarding how we as women and as a society need to redefine “breastfeeding failure”. Working with active duty military women, I see this all the time…because, due to their work situations, they cannot breastfeed for as long as they would’ve liked, they consider themselves breastfeeding failures. It breaks my heart to hear, and I try very hard to let them know that did breastfeed and that means that they are NOT a failure, that society failed them at supporting them in their effort to breastfeed.

    Thank you for writing this and I will be posting it to my FB page and website!

    • Thanks, Robyn. And thank you for all the work you do! Like you, I’ve heard from so many women who have done what many wouldn’t ever consider doing in order to make it work or provide milk for their babies as long as possible, and yet they view all their efforts as a failure. It is heartbreaking. Hopefully changing the language and perception of “failure” will help this. We’re not in it alone, and as you point out, our society must accept some of the responsiblity.

  3. Mama says:

    I always liken learning to breastfeed as being similar in difficulty to learning to drive a car. Some people just ‘get it’ with minimal help, others need a lot of help and most of us are somewhere in between.

    Just imagine how hard it would be to drive if you had never been in a car before, you had no-one helping you (or if they did, they just gave you a quick run through of the basic road rules and pointed out where the steering wheel was), all you ever read in the news was articles about all the car crashes and how much safer the bus is (formula ads) and any time you asked people about it they told you to ‘just take the bus – it gets you wherever you want to go’ and treated you with contempt for thinking you were ‘too good’ for the bus if you said you wan’t to keep trying to learn how to drive. Not many people would be driving at all.

  4. nurahsmith says:

    I am really glad I came across this article because I do feel like a failure and inadequate mother because I am not breast-feeding my son at the moment. I’ve tried but due to bad latch, I have alot of skin damage around my nipples and told to give breast feeding a break until I completely heal but until then I have to feed using a bottle which means the possibility of nipple confusion.

    • Hannah Butler says:

      Do not get discouraged! My son was preterm and also had bad latch due to a small mouth from being preterm and he had thrush. I developed a HORRIBLE yeast infection on my breasts (from the thrush) which caused cracks and the worst pain I’ve ever been in. I was told to give him formula every other feeding and to rest my nipples. I gave him one bottle and I hated the smell and he had gas pains from it so that quickly stopped. I decided I didn’t care about the pain I was just going to keep BFing since that was my plan. The first 13 weeks were complete torture. As soon as he would latch on I would start to sweat, cry and shake. I woke up every single day saying I can’t do this anymore but with encouragement and knowing what BM does for a baby I would keep going another day. Some feedings were great and I thought I was better and others were so painful I could barely stand it. He went on a nursing strike for three days and I was so scared he wouldn’t latch back on since I had to pump and give him a bottle for every feeding but we had no problems. I tried every single remedy I could find online and met with my LC and LLL leaders about twice a week. Once we hit about 13-14 weeks I woke up one day and didn’t hurt. I thought great another day pain free and tomorrow will be terrible again. But that marked our first day of no pain! I am so happy to say I kept going and to me we are a BFing success story. I have helped young mothers who think they can’t BF to keep going and encouraged so many women, so whatever you do don’t give up! You might have some struggles with the latch once you bring him back to you breast but it’s what God intended us to do so he will learn again. I had a crack so large on my right nipple that my OB asked if I wanted stitches for it so I can sympathize. I would honestly say to get him back on and try to nurse him as much as possible. It’s really like anything else, you don’t learn unless you try. Please keep me posted on your success and good luck!

      • Bethany says:

        This post helped my tears to stop flowing. My son is only four days old and breastfeeding has already caused be extreme pain, engorgement, and a huge sense of failure. He wasn’t latching correctly which caused my nipples to bruise, bleed, and crack. In his check up they congratulated me for sticking with it because he did gain a significant amount of weight and they taught me how to achieve a good latch. The technique worked great while I was there, but I haven’t been able to achieve it since I got home. Although I haven’t been able to make it work since being home (a matter of hours) and I can’t seem to stop crying because I feel like such a failure. I plan to continue to breastfeed whether it’s straight from the breast or via pump/bottle. I’m currently unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel of success. I do know that I will do anything for my son… Even if it means extreme pain.

        • Bettina Forbes, CLC says:

          Bethany, my heart goes out to you and I encourage you to go back to the office where they showed you how to achieve a good latch and have them help you again. Ask someone to videotape it with a smart phone and send it to you. Find a support group: call an IBCLC through ilca.org, or join a La Leche League group or Breastfeedingusa.org. You can also call a doula (dona.org) to ask about breastfeeding support in your area. Or ask a natural foods store or baby store if they know of a good breastfeeding support group . . . sometimes lactation consultants organize a group but it’s not widely publicized. Good luck, and whatever you do, don’t blame yourself–you are being failed by a system that does not provide adequate support and where there are too many Booby Traps. Be gentle with yourself!

    • VW says:

      So sorry to hear of your trouble. Are you able to see/talk to an IBCLC? They may be able to help you find ways to maintain your supply and avoid bottles for getting food into your baby. You could also contact Hman milk for human babies if you’d like to avoid formula and use human breastmilk instead.

  5. Melissa says:

    This is the most important part: “And most importantly, avoid using “breastfeeding” and “failure” in the same sentence” at least when talking about someone else’s breastfeeding experience. The word “failure” brings up terrible feelings for many people, which can prevent any constructive actions.

    However, not everyone is sent into such a dizzying emotional freefall just by the use of a word. I don’t see anything wrong with a mom setting a breastfeeding goal for herself (WHO recommendations for example) and then using the words “success” or “failure” to describe her own results. Many people can use these words as simple descriptions, without triggering the emotional tumult you describe.

    • You may be right. A word is just a word, but words in our language often come with many connotations attached to them. Over the past several years I’ve communicated with hundreds of woman who feel that they have failed at breastfeeding and failed their children because they were not able to breastfeed. For these women, the idea of failure is a strong emotional reaction to their experience. They have taken on all the responsibility when more often than not they did absolutely everything they could to make it work and often perservered through tremendous pain and exhaustion. While the word “failure” can be used without all the negative connotation on an individual basis, I do believe it is horribly misused in most cases. Goals are great, but they also need to be realistic. And not meeting one’s goal doesn’t always mean you failed.

  6. Charlie says:

    I think women feel they’ve failed when they’ve felt forced to stop breastfeeding earlier than they would have liked…

    • Lisa says:

      They also feel they’ve failed when shamed by others after discovering they biologically cannot and will never be able to breastfeed. Some of the feelings of failure come from how society and especially the “breast is best” groupings tend to treat women who either choose not to, or cannot breastfeed. So for some of us “earlier than we would have liked” is actually.. “not at all”.

  7. Erin says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. My breastfeeding relationship with my daughter wasn’t exactly what I wanted, so when my son was born I was determined to have the breast feeding relationship that I’d wanted. My son was born with a very tight posterior tongue tie that went un-diagnosed for 6 weeks until he lost weight. His pediatrician refused to believe he had one, and it took me seven weeks to get his tongue clipped, after all was said and done our breast feeding relationship was ruined, and I was suffering from PPD. (during those seven weeks I was pumping around the clock only to see my supply keep diminishing, and I was also getting donor milk for my son)

    Today my status this was my status on facebook: I didn’t fail at breastfeeding my son. I SUCCEEDED at breastfeeding a severely tongue-tied baby for SIX weeks. This is after months and months of very angry, anguished posts about the loss of my breastfeeding relationship due to sabotage by the medical community that was supposed to help us but refused to listen to me.

    • You show just how powerful the language we use can be, Erin! You definitely did succeed! Anger can be a powerful thing. I have always said that if we can channel all the guilt and grief into anger at the systems and lack of support that make breastfeeding difficult, we could create real change for moms and babies. Use your anger! :)

  8. Chelsea says:

    I feel this way. I planned to breast feed my 2nd baby I didn’t with my first.. But she wouldnt latch on right which made me hurt really bad && then she wouldnt latch on one side so it was overly engorged &* hurt really bad.. But now she has thrush dr said shes had it since birth & she got it on my breast so my breast had been really itchy & hurting & had red bumps all over them so i just pumped a little milk for her but I couldnt get no more than 2- 2 1/2oz from both breast that was pushing it now i can barely get 2 if i’m lucky.. i’m afraid my milk has decreased b/c i’m not feeding her directly off my breast & been giving her formula for the milk i couldnt pump. I feel so emotional about not being able to get her latched on right & not giving her my breast milk every feeding, ..

    • Chelsea, the fact that you’re perservering shows how dedicated you are! You need to get good information now. Do you have access to a lactation consultant (IBCLC) who can help you deal with the thrush and keep your babe breastfeeding? I’d encourage you to seek out help. Thrush can be a real problem, but it should be able to be overcome.

  9. Kristi says:

    As a physician who feels like it is a constant tug/pull with others in the medical profession (although it has improved considerably through the years) I applaud what Stephanie writes about breastfeeding success and leaving failure out of the vocabulary. There are many different variations of breastfeeding based on a mother/child’s situation. By labeling any part of what that mother has done as a failure we have provided a negative feedback and the emotional turmoil can be great, especially when that mother may have had different expectations.

    Random House Dictionary defines FAILURE as follows: (1.) an act or instance of failing or proving unsuccessful; lack of success (2.) nonperformance of something due, required, or expected (3.) a subnormal quantity or quality; an insufficiency (4.) deterioration or decay, especially of vigor, strength, etc

    failure. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved November 05, 2011, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/failure

    We are far from ‘sub-normal in our performance’ of breastfeeding no matter how we accomplish it. We were not ‘required or expected’ to breastfeed but we wanted to do this as a mother (for varied reasons). And I doubt any of us who had difficulties (or it didn’t go all sunshine & rainbows), did not ‘deteriorate…lose vigor’ in their effort & determination to continue providing breast milk or make adaptations to their life situation (i.e. the active duty mom who finds her breastfeeding cut short by a deployment to Afghanistan or Iraq is not a failure because she did not meet her goal of 1 year, etc.).

    There is nothing wrong with a mom setting goals for her breastfeeding experience but encouraging moms to what was your ‘real experience/describe your successes’ provides a much better outlook than continuing to label our breast feeding experiences that may not meet our preconceived goals as ‘failures’ only continues to put blame back on us-the mother and what was attempted. Giving it (the breastfeeding experience) a negative connotation.

    We need to continue to place breastfeeding in a positive atmosphere and get rid of the negative modifiers/descriptors–and it is only us the breastfeeding moms no matter what our goal and then experiences were who can do that. So everyone will “Drive the car” of their choice

    • Maria says:

      As I finish my first week in Afghanistan, the shock and pain of leaving my 4 month old son is just rising to the surface. With short notice to deploy, I was a woman on a mission trying to produce and pump as much as humanly possible before I left the country. Our plans for minimum 1 year of breastfeeding vanished and all efforts to ship milk home were crushed, too. I was grieving my loss of a natural birth (to include experiencing a cesarean section) before the news of this deployment and am now working through how to cope with not completing our breastfeeding plan. The losses seem minor after rocket attacks and loss of life around me but my personal sadness is still fresh.

      My hope for the future is that might son would be proud of his mom for making tough decisions and seeking his long term well-being above all. Being away is tough but my husband and family are incredible.

      Thank you for this article and for providing me another way to see myself as a mom and a woman.

    • Lisa says:

      And yet there is such a thing as “Insufficient Glandular Tissue” which is definitely an insufficiency and falls within the definitions you gave of “failure”.

      IGT is my story. It took till my second child was hospitalized before someone realized something was wrong with me. I had given up on my first child’s breastfeeding experience.. lethargic and struggling to recover from jaundice on my 1/3 oz of milk per feeding, I caved and without knowing about my IGT.. I gave him formula. Turns out, it likely saved his life.

      Even then.. with my breasts biologically unable to produce anything but drops… I have struggled with both medical professionals and with staff when I gave birth, and with WIC.. and with anyone who doesn’t realize that not every woman has the ability to breastfeed. It was never that I didn’t want to. I did! I tried everything there was to try. I slept probably in 20 minute spurts day and night trying to feed, and pump frequently to “up my supply”. And yet.. I failed. Yes.. failed. My body just doesn’t have this ability.

      However.. because I have found kind hearted people like the author of this article, I feel less like a failure despite my technical and literal insufficiency. There is so much emphasis on breastfeeding, which is very good in some regards because it’s natural, should be normal, and in most cases is the best alternative if mom can swing it time-wise and supply-wise. But the flip side of this is that while we are touting breast is best.. because it is… we are inadvertently shaming mothers like me who feel second rate because of the language.

      I’m ok with being a failure at breastfeeding and being “insufficient”. I made my peace with that. I look at the positives in it all and now I revel in being a mother and feeding my baby, playing with my baby, and enjoying every moment. In the end it really doesn’t matter what they ate for the first year of their life as much as it matters that they are well cared for and loved. In that department I am anything but a failure, and it’s the one that counts.

  10. Vanessa says:

    I didnt get any milk at all, 3 drops of colostrum and thats about it, would I be defined as a “breastfeeding failure” in that case? I dont fit in any of the above categories :(

    I still grieve now at the thought of something so “natural” being completely impossible for me. I pumped and pumped and pumped for 2 weeks 4x a day trying to get some milk to come in while my relationship with my daughter was put on hold because so much focus was put on breastfeeding and pushiness by healthcare professionals.

    Soon as I gave in to formula I felt a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I could finally bond and spend time with her.

    xx

    • Vanessa, I don’t believe you are a breastfeeding failure. Sounds like you did what you could do with the knowledge and support you had at the time and there is no failure in that. The cruel irony of breastfeeding challenges is that what should provide a closeness and connection between mom and baby often becomes seen as the problem and the barrier to that close connection. The emotional toll difficulties can have on you is enormous. There will always be “what ifs”, but what is important is that you grow from the experience. You do what you can with the information and support you have access to. If you have another baby, I would encourage you to find a knowledgeable, supportive lactation consultant that you can work with both before the baby is born and after.

    • Lisa says:

      Oh Vanessa!! I absolutely empathize! You aren’t alone.. this is my story too.

  11. Helen says:

    It has always amazed me that so many women who are breastfeeding, talk about it as if they aren’t. “I’m trying to breastfeed,” they say, even if they nurse their babies 24/7 and are giving no bottles at all. Even if breastfeeding is painful, the baby is fussy, you don’t enjoy breastfeeding (PPMD, D-MER, discomfort, whatever) IT IS STILL BREASTFEEDING UNTIL YOU STOP!!! One feeding counts, one day counts, one month counts, and one year–it counts, too. If we pursued our sexual lives in the same way we “try to breastfeed”, one awkward experience would leave us celibate for the rest of our lives. I know it’s not quite the same, but our expectations are so ridiculous. It’s hard to be assertive about breastfeeding in a bottle feeding culture, where everything is measured. But the pleasure a baby gets at the breast cannot be measured. Even if mom isn’t blissed out by breastfeeding initially, as time goes on things may just click in. And if not, the baby doesn’t care. For babies, breastfeeding is breastfeeding, and they are not looking for people to hold up signs with “10″ on them after a nursing, like people do at the end of an olympic ski jump event. Breastfeeding is an all-encompassing developmental task of daily living, done in regular close proximity with a baby. It’s a process and a relationship, not a mid-term exam to be graded. Aplause to all you ladies who are breastfeeding, however you are doing it. I feel very sorry for all of you who have had terrible problems and little help or support. Thinking about you all makes me feel all the more urgently that women who are breastfeeding, and it is working, should appreciate nursing even more and stop judging themselves so harshly.

  12. Maureen says:

    Thank you for this….reading this I feel like it was written for me! Which makes me feel as though I am not alone. My Son is now 2, but I struggled over the loss of BFing him for a LONNGGG time. Im saddened so much by this. BFing was rough at the begining but I trucked along, until he got thrush and then passed it to me. It was so horribly painful I just couldnt do it anymore. I felt it was affecting my relationship with him b.c I didnt want to feed him. So after 2 weeks, I stopped. I feel very determined to achieve my goals with our next child. Although I plan to set small goals….2 weeks, 1 month, 2 months, 6 months, one year, self ween. Although I want to get through the end….I dont want to feel “like failure” for not acheiving the large goal. Baby steps right?

    After reading now I know that I was a BFing Mom, my son received the best of the best….and he is now a happy mommy-obsessed 2 year old boy….I know, in my heart, I did what was best for US!

    I like how you said “Consider your experience at the time. We have the luxury of looking back on our breastfeeding experience from a position of relative calm, hormonal stability, and rest. My guess though is that after your baby was born and you were struggling with breastfeeding, you were not feeling calm, hormonally stable, or particularly well-rested. It’s important to acknowledge the circumstances at the time and what you accomplished given the challenges. Then figure out how you will overcome those the next time around.”

    That is soooo true!!!!! Im printing that out!!!!

    Thank you again!

  13. liza says:

    thank you so much for this. I really needed it! My son latched right away and breastfed all the time. constantly in fact. was so fussy and started having blood in his stools. at 4 weeks was diagnosed with a milk protein/soy protein intolerance. I was determined to keep breastfeeding and cut out all dairy and soy. we were doing ok until he was 4 months and was so fussy again. I constantly worried that I ate something I wasn’t supposed to. I feared I was hurting my baby. then we started him on reflux meds, convinced he had it. he was barely gaining weight either. born at 7 lbs 5 oz and only 10lbs 14 oz at 4 months. his percentiles were slowly falling. was down to 1st percent at 4 months. I met with an IBCLC and we discovered I had a severely low supply. from months 4 to 5 I tried everything I could to increase it (except for taking domperidone) and nothing worked. I was devastated and so depressed. I kept BFing but had to give so much formula to settle him and get him to gain weight. he had so much catching up to do. I stopped BFing at 5 months. It just was becoming so hard for me to handle and I was constantly anxious and worried he wasn’t getting enough and that something I was eating was bad for him. the LC ins’t sure why my supply tanked so much. either I don’t have sufficient glandular tissue or b/c of my traumatic delivery and very high blood pressure both pre and post delivery up until 6 weeks postpartum. Even now I am so anxious and worried about how things will play out with my next baby and my little one is only 7 months right now! 9and I have NO plans to have another baby right now). I really want things to be different next time around. But I know from this great article that I need to stop focusing on the what ifs and things that didn’t work, and give myself credit for all that I did do and overcome and the 5 months I was able to breastfeed even though I didn’t make it as long as I had planned, what I did still counts. it’s just so hard to change your thinking.

  14. Stephanie says:

    Like Erin, my daughter was born with a very tight posterior tongue tie diagnosed at 4 weeks. the health professionals were focused on my inverted nipples and breast reduction as the causes of my baby’s inability to latch. despite these adversities I never expected to not breastfeed and after a natural labor I planned for, the breastfeeding never took off. I became so focused on it I was pumping milk 8 times a day and supplementing with formula. My daughter is now 7 weeks, I’m still pumping and gradually weaning her onto the breast via a supplemental feeding system so desperate am I to breast feed because I do feel like I have failed at something. I eventually broke down in a very impersonal mother’s group last week about how I feel as if I have failed to create a bond with my daughter with my stress of just trying to get her on the breast. I also gave my daughter reflux by using the wrong type of top-up formula. Why are there no resources on the best way to supplement feed? Why aren’t different scenarios of breastfeeding relationships discussed in hospital? I had to have those discussions with my husband and mother in tears.

  15. Amber says:

    Words cannot describe what I felt when reading this but I’ll try. I had my first baby at the age of 36 after wanting one my entire life. Part of my “baby dreams” was a passionate commitment to breastfeeding, both for the nutritional aspect as well as the emotional one. I thought I was prepared, having gone to LL meetings beforehand, having a homebirth partly to avoid any interference, etc. After having a flawless pregnancy and labor/birth, I was caught completely off-guard by having problems doing something I was told “every woman” can do. A perfect storm of events came at me – large breasts with flat nipples and small baby mouth, failure to latch immediately which slowed my milk, by the time it came in we were in the NICU for dehydration and the stress made it drop off a cliff (down to pumping 1 tsp from BOTH breasts!), bottle feeding at the hospital… etc. I had to try and induce lactation all over again and never was able to pump much and never ever enough to get her to want to stay latched once she was able to do it. She is now 9 weeks old and the most I was able to have was about 10 days where she did comfort nurse a wee bit, which was a sweet magical window of time for me. I totally understand what the other reader commented on focusing so much on the breastfeeding that you ignore the other aspects of bonding… I had come to that point as well, I had no idea who this little person outside of feedings. I worked with multiple LC’s, took all sorts of herbs and meds… to little avail.

    We are on the upswing now (I’m now able to pump about half of her milk a day… although not sure how long I’ll continue to do that) but I still have deep heartache over my “failure” (especially with everything I’ve learned in recent weeks I truly believe if I had known it all when she was born we might have overcome it but it’s too late now). It’s rare that people understand grieving this loss, most people just say “be thankful your baby is healthy” etc. I AM thankful, but I still grieve the loss of a relationship I never really knew. Thank you for putting this out there.

    • Bettina Forbes, CLC says:

      Thank you for sharing your story! We’re sending big hugs to you and hope that you come to peace and self-acceptance and realize that it’s the commitment, and the love, and the bonding that matters, not how much milk is made. Your experience is one of the reasons we are working so hard to build awareness and support for screened donor milk. This post may be helpful: http://www.bestforbabes.org/yes-you-can-breastfeed-successfully-no-matter-how-much-milk-you-make Good luck and your baby is very lucky to have such a determined mama!! –Bettina

      • Amber says:

        Oh I admit I’m very aware of donor milk but 1) it’s expensive and 2) honestly… I know it’s screened for disease but not for diet. I’m not 100% convinced that “breast is always best” if the diet of the mother is poor. Of course this is coming from someone slightly fanatical about nutrition ;-)

        I actually purchased a Lact-Aid too on top of everything but unfortunately, that only works if the baby latches! By the time I got the knack of it, my little latching window had disappeared .

        I just pray this isn’t my only shot at it! Because I really do think that next time it will happen – I’ll be anxious of course but I really think most of my problems came out of ignorance in how to handle it rather than a physical ailment (which makes it all the more frustrating). I’m going to be READY to face problems next time as opposed to floundering around wasting time (without realizing it of course).

        What angers me is how little my local La Leche helped me… EVERYONE kept telling me to contact them and I would repeatedly reply that I had contacted them and they were no help. Oh, they were supportive but not a single leader asked me to demonstrate latching, or make a suggestion or even offer to help. I was just told repeatedly not to give up and “every woman can breastfeed”, “it’s all in your head if you can’t do it” etc. I know there IS a mental aspect to it but dammit, it wasn’t ALL in my head! LOL

  16. Gemma says:

    I know this was months ago, but I just wanted to say how touched I am by your article. It’s made me feel so much better about my current “breastfeeding” relationship. After a beautiful homebirth I had a 3L PPH and all the problems that came alone with it. My son being taken away from me while I went to theatre to get repaired, difficulties latching him on with drips in both elbows in hospital, issues with milk coming in… Since then we’ve dealt with low supply, oversupply, cracked bleeding nipples, overactive letdown, nipple thrush and 3 counts of mastitis. Nursing him was never a beautiful bonding experience for us. We were both stressed and I was beginning to resent and fear him. A breast pump saved our relationship. He’s 6 weeks old now, and for the past 2 weeks I’ve been expressing 8 times a day and bottle feeding. My own and other’s opinions have made me feel like a lesser mother because he’s not nursing, though he’s received nothing but my own breastmilk. It’s heartbreaking mourning the loss of what was supposed to be a wonderful experience for us both. I’m both happy that we’ve bonded so much better in the past 2 weeks, but ashamed at the same time that we’re not doing it the “right” way that nature intended.
    I just wanted to say thank you for taking some weight off of my shoulders and making me feel like less of a failure!

    • Bettina Forbes, CLC says:

      Bravo! You are an incredible success. Thank you for sharing your story with us, and kudos on the tremendous effort you made and the mom-made wonderfood you are providing for your son!

  17. clare pettinger says:

    Needed to read this. My twin boys are 15 months old now, gorgeous healthy beautiful boys. A good friend of mine has just given birth to twins and she has taken to (tandem) breast feeding with great ease. I felt sick when she told me that, I had no end of difficulty, my boys just wouldn’t latch on, I pumped 4 times daily for 8weeks then ‘gave up’ and went onto formula for my own sanity 9and that of my babies)….I do feel like a failure and I think my ‘greiving’ process is still ongoing…i need to deal wiht this so intend to write an article onit. As a registered dietitian and nutritionist I was appalled at how easy it was not! I know a lot of women who suffer in silence and need more support to deal with what they consider to be a failure but you rightly point out is an oxymoron!! excellent point well made thank you

  18. Pingback: What is breastfeeding success? | BB-blog

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