Sometimes, Breast Feeding Just Doesn’t Work

Sometimes Breast Feeding Just Doesn't WorkExpecting mothers are told a lot of things about breast feeding: “It is such a beautiful bonding experience.” “It will take two weeks to adjust, but it will get easier after that.” “Breast is best!”

But most are not told what I found out the hard way: “No matter how hard you try, sometimes breast feeding just doesn’t work.”

I was determined to breast feed. Nutrition and healthful living are important to me, so of course I planned to provide the utmost nutrition to my child. I took the nursing class offered through my hospital and discussed it at length with my friends who flawlessly breast fed their little ones.

So out popped My Girl and she was considered a champion nurser from the get-go. It wasn’t always comfortable and we had some awkward moments, but the lactation consultant making the rounds at the hospital said we were great. I was so excited my plan was panning out.

But then My Girl’s weight dropped too low within the first week of her little life. And she was severely jaundiced. And she wasn’t having enough wet and dirty diapers (new moms tirelessly keep track of these things). Next came the words I feared: “You need to supplement with formula.” I refused. Formula was poison, after all, and I would have a breast fed child.

Two days after this conversation, a home nurse came to check on My Girl in her bilibed, and her weight had dropped dramatically. The pediatrician’s office called in a panic and asked that I bring her in as soon as possible. My pediatrician simply said, “I know you want to breast feed. But my objective is a healthy child, and this child needs fat on her body.” She explained that her body was in starvation mode – she was impossible to wake for nursing sessions because her body was hibernating in order to store as many calories as possible to keep herself breathing.

But how was that possible? She was called a champion nurser and latched wonderfully and seemed to be drinking to her heart’s content. But she wasn’t. So I swallowed my pride and tearfully bought a can of formula. We supplemented with formula and pumped breast milk while I continued to nurse as often as possible. I wasn’t giving up.

At one of my countless lactation consultations, it was determined My Girl was an “ineffective suckler.” Born near-term at 36 weeks, she arrived before her suck-swallow-breath reflex had. But it was thought that she could mature her reflex by two weeks after her expected due date.

So for the first six weeks of My Girl’s life, I adhered to a ridiculous, breast milk-crazed schedule: 45 minutes of nursing, 20 minutes of bottle feeding, 25 minutes of pumping, 10 minutes of washing pump parts & labeling/rotating/freezing pumped bottles. This hour-and-forty minute routine was done every two to three hours. Best case scenario, I would have an hour and 20 minutes, but usually I had 20 minutes to brush my teeth, eat, bond with my baby, and – oh yeah – sleep and attempt to recover from bringing life into the world.

But I kept at it. “Formula is not an option. Formula means failure,” I kept chanting to myself. So I saw the entire lactation department at my hospital on a weekly basis, I called my sister’s lactation consultant several hours away, I sought out the La Leche League, I scoured the internet for tips and tricks, I used the dreaded SS system, I tried the nipple shield, I had friends offering advice and even positioning my kid at my boob in an attempt to get things going. But at our six week deadline, My Girl was only taking in an 18th of one ounce after a 45 minute nursing session. She was burning more calories attempting to nurse than she was actually taking in.

Then the focus turned from breast feeding to giving breast milk. So I ventured into the world of Exclusive Pumping – or EPing, as those in the know call it. I pumped 8-10 times every day. I woke up every day between 1am-4am to pump, even if my sweet baby didn’t, because that is the most productive milk window. I pumped in airport restrooms, during cocktail parties, in friends’ bathrooms, in the car – while driving. It was exhausting and incredibly inconvenient. But I was so head strong on avoiding formula, I did it without hesitation.

And from week two to month four and a half, my daughter didn’t have an ounce of formula. I was so proud of that. And then my pedestal was knocked from underneath me, and my body stopped producing as much milk. And then my frozen stash soured. And one evening I was at home with a hungry child, unable to produce any milk and without any pumped milk in storage. So we made a mad dash to the grocery store for a can of formula so I had something to give my screaming baby.

Then the focus turned from giving 100% breast milk to giving as little formula as possible. I tried everything to increase my supply: renting a medical-grade breast pump, popping fenugreek pills, eating oatmeal for eight straight meals, drinking Mother’s Milk tea and hoppy beer, power pumping for an hour straight, adding additional pumping sessions, looking at pictures of my baby while I pumped, taking perscription medication (that made My Girl projectile vomit).  Seriously, I tried everything.

Then at the five and half month mark, despite all of my efforts, my body just stopped making milk. And I started buying formula. And I became a completely less stressed mom. And I had so much more time to enjoy my baby. It felt like I had a new life.

Adding up all of the time I spent pumping, it comes to 26 straight days at that damn breast pump in less than a six month period. Essentially, I spent February attached to a machine. While I am so very grateful I was able to give my daughter breast milk while unable to breast feed, I can’t help but wonder how I would have approached the situation had I known that sometimes breast feeding just isn’t in the cards. And that formula is available for a reason. And that both ways of feeding result in happy, healthy babies. My Girl is proof of that.

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4 thoughts on “Sometimes, Breast Feeding Just Doesn’t Work

  1. Chandra May 17, 2013 at 11:33 am Reply

    I am so grateful for your friendship fellow EPer. And I love love love your honesty in this post. Thanks for keepin it real!

    • Whitney Williams May 17, 2013 at 12:31 pm Reply

      Aw thanks bud! It’s been glorious having someone to swap war stories with 😉

  2. icopiedthat June 26, 2013 at 11:01 pm Reply

    I had no idea that you had to go through all of this! Thank you for sharing your story to help other moms that fight so hard yet still are not successful. We need to spread the word so that “Mother Guilt” doesn’t kill some of us out there! We all try our best and at the end of the day a happy, rested mother is what is best for our babies! Like you said, “formula is there for a reason!”

    • Whitney Williams June 27, 2013 at 1:37 pm Reply

      You’re right about the mom guilt! There are so many things we pressure ourselves about & breast feeding was certainly one of those things for me and I’m sure so many others. As if we don’t have enough things on our plate! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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