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Sometimes Boobs Just Don’t Work … And It’s OK

July 1, 2016

I’m writing about my experiences breast feeding because it didn’t exactly work out for us, and after the first time it left me feeling really awful about myself. If I had read something like this at that time, I think it would have done wonders for my morale.

When you’re a new mother, having breast feeding difficulties, all you get told is to keep trying, and all you read or see on the subject are breast feeding success stories where biology concurs all, in exactly the way it’s supposed to, and it’s not fair. It’s not fair to make those of us who do everything right to feel like we’re failures who clearly don’t love our children enough because we didn’t try harder even though the outcome from impossible is still a non result.

Sometimes boobs just don’t work, and that’s a fact.

I do not disagree at all that human breast milk is the very best thing for human babies, but sending that message exclusively is damaging to the women whose bodies let them down.

Breast feeding your baby is a deeply personal decision. There are plenty of women who are physically able to do it, who choose not to, and that’s absolutely fine. I’m not going to judge, but in all honesty I am jealous, because I did everything I could to breast feed my babies but my milk production was just too low to nourish them.

The most frustrating thing about my situation wasn’t the fact that my breasts weren’t working, but the fact that I made SOME milk, it just never increased in volume the way it was supposed to, no matter what i did.

With my first pregnancy I even started lactating a bit before the birth. I thought that it was a positive sign and that I’d have no trouble after my daughter was born.

After the baby came I got some help from the midwives at the hospital and from my mother-in-law to ensure that I was getting her latched on correctly and at first things continued looking very positive. She latched on and she was swallowing, but I noticed that she only swallowed a few times before it just turned to comfort sucking.

I brought up my concerns to the midwives and they said that it was normal, and it was fine. She was getting all of the nourishment that she needed.

Even when every “wet” diaper she produced was full of urates (pink crystals that look like blood that appear when baby isn’t getting enough fluid) they said that it was normal, and fine.

We went home and continued feeding the little Muffin on demand as often as she wanted to be fed but the same problem was apparent. Only a couple of swallows until she comfort sucked herself to sleep and I just felt that it wasn’t right in my gut. At night she was howling with hunger, but the visiting midwife assured me that I was producing far more milk than I thought I was. She observed the baby feeding and even though she was losing weight… told me to keep doing what I was doing.

I had a complete meltdown at one point because I was looking at her little leg and I noticed that the skin was visibly loose where it had been plump when she was born. I had her at my breast so often that my nipples were raw and bleeding and it was excruciating, but the milk volume just wasn’t increasing. I wanted to give her formula, however I was under the impression that if I did I would be ruining my chances to breast feed her and I would let everyone down, especially myself. Every midwife I spoke to was adamant that I should NOT attempt formula.

After a few days, when the midwife came for her home visit, she weighed my daughter and decided she had lost enough weight that we had to take her to the sick infants ward at the hospital. She was also horrifically jaundiced because there wasn’t enough fluid going through to flush out the biliruben in her system.

At the hospital they took her to a room where we were not encouraged to be with her unless she was eating. There was a separate parents room (sort of like a hotel) where my husband and I stayed. They placed a tube down her nose and into her stomach and syringed formula into it.

My heart broke into a million sleep deprived, crazy, shameful pieces when I saw her like that. It was my fault. I did everything they told me, I went against every instinct I had, and that’s why it was my fault.

Over the next few days I continued doing what I was instructed to do to get her well. It felt like my boobs were never in my shirt. She was in a room right outside the main entrance and they insisted on keeping the damn door to the room and the blinds wide open so that everyone who came into the ward saw me trying to breast feed and pump simultaneously in an attempt to stimulate my milk flow, but I didn’t dispute it. I was willing to do whatever it took to get my baby home again.

After she was fed the tiny bit of milk she got from sucking and from the pump, the midwife topped her up with formula though that bastarding tube.

Most of the midwives working on the ward were very encouraging and lovely but I still felt so judged. I just wanted to hold her and tell her how sorry I was, but I was afraid that if I broke down, I wouldn’t be able to get back up again. It was one of the worst experiences of my life and I just got though it because there was no time to dwell on how shitty the situation was.

After a few days, she had put on enough weight for us to take her home and they told me to continue feeding her and pumping to get the milk flowing and then to top her up with formula once I was dry.

When she was about 4 weeks old and I was exhausted trying to feed her all of the time and milk myself in between with a soul destroying lack of success I admitted defeat, because I needed to take care of myself. Four weeks might not look like a long time but it felt like an eternity and my whole life revolved around my breasts. I was emotionally and physically drained and she was drinking mostly formula anyway as I was going dry so quickly. I realized that thankfully we live in a time where formula does the job. It’s not the best option, but it’s a million times better than letting a baby starve and it’s got all of the nutrients she needed to thrive. It’s not just as good, but its pretty damn close.

Today she is just over four years old and she is still thriving… a happy, healthy, bright child. At the end of the day I did my best and she turned out just fine.

I didn’t realize how bad the lasting effects from that whole experience were until three years later when we learned that we were expecting another baby and almost immediately I started having vivid, awful nightmares about failing at breast feeding.

These nightmares continued throughout the duration of the entire pregnancy.

I know that some women cannot lactate for one pregnancy and then turn into a fountain of milk for another pregnancy so I hadn’t given up hope for breast feeding my second child.

My midwife gave me a breast feeding video from the NHS to watch at home and I thought it would be a good refresher so I watched it, crying my eyes out through the entire thing.

I understand that there isn’t a lot of room for admitting defeat in the pro breast feeding message, I really do… but my GOD I tried so hard and that video just felt like my face was being rubbed in my failure as a mother. It’s just all “Try and you WILL succeed! Those who are not successful gave up too easily, let us all mourn their poor children who were born to mother’s who can’t be bothered doing what is best for their babies.”

Anyway… my breasts didn’t let down any milk during this pregnancy, even when the baby was overdue, but I didn’t let it discourage me.

As soon as she was born she immediately started rooting and I put her right on the breast where she latched on like a pro. She loved to breast feed, even when the milk was gone she just wanted to stay there and comfort suck. I was extra careful to stay hydrated and to keep my stress levels down but it didn’t matter… my breasts followed the exact same pattern that they did with my first born.

I discussed my concerns and explained what happened with my first daughter with the midwives and they assured me that everything was fine and I should keep trying. They said I was producing far more milk than I thought I was. I’d heard that song before, I knew it by heart.

I was trying to pump between feeds to encourage more milk to come and it was all just a repeat, in fact the pump was only effective this time around if the baby was screaming at the same time and if she was screaming, she was hungry so she got the breast instead. So the pump was in fact not useful at all.

Once again, my breasts rarely found themselves on the inside of my shirt.

When she was three or four days old I found urates in her diaper and I cried, because I couldn’t help myself. Then I gave her a bottle full of fresh formula. I didn’t wait for permission, or to speak to a midwife, I did what was best for my baby. No hospital, no judgement.

For 10 weeks she got both breasts for each feed and then got topped up with formula, but the number of swallows I was getting from her every time before it just turned to sucking never increased. It was draining me physically and emotionally again trying to keep up with the two of them and everything else I had to do so I decided that 10 weeks was enough. She was more than happy to transition to being exclusively bottle fed.

Maybe I could have tried for longer, but I had to function. I admit, I still felt horrendously guilty but she is healthy and she is happy.

Even though the whole situation with breasts that don’t want to make milk the way they’re supposed to sucks, I am thankful that I was able to produce some and that I was able to give all of that first milk to my children.

I am also grateful for learning very early on as a parent to trust my gut when it comes to my children’s health, even if it’s a lesson that I had to learn the hard way.

Every woman just has to do what is best for her family, and if her boobs don’t work when she wants them to or if breastfeeding isn’t the right fit for her… well thankfully there is always formula and there is no shame in formula… just happy, healthy plump little babies with full bellies, and what’s better than that?

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From → Mommy-ness

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