Whoever invented the phrase “breast is best” must have been a man. A man with worthless nipples. The title of this entry may seem harsh, but it’s true. Breastfeeding was the single most difficult thing I’ve ever done (or attempted to do). It was harder than giving birth. It was harder than being pregnant for 9 months. The physical and emotional toll of breastfeeding, well, it SUCKED for me—pun not intended but do what you want with that. If I could have fed my child with my tears, he’d be in the 100th percentile for weight.
I want to start this off by saying I think breastfeeding truly is incredible. I wanted to do it, I really did. It just didn’t work out for me and my baby. I’m not here to bash women who choose to breastfeed. Honestly, I’m in awe of you. Whether you breastfed for one day, one month or one year, you should be very, very proud of yourself. It’s a sacrifice no matter how your journey pans out. I know not everyone’s journey was or will be as difficult as mine, I know this because plenty of people found it helpful to tell me how easy breastfeeding was for them.
Disclaimer. This comment is not helpful.
I wanted to breastfeed my baby but did not set high expectations because I’ve heard it can be difficult. I figured if I didn’t set the bar high, it wouldn’t be as upsetting if it didn’t work—turns out it was still devastating. I wanted to give it my all and hopefully be successful. Deep down I thought we’d have some trouble getting started but in a few days we’d be golden. Before having a baby, I thought the most difficult part of breastfeeding would be not being able to enjoy wine even after I’d already given it up for 9 months. I told myself I’d give it three months, and if I felt like I was done breastfeeding at 3 months, I’d stop.
I made it three weeks.
My baby and I began our breastfeeding journey shortly after he was born. My baby was born 3 weeks early by force evacuation—meaning I was induced. It wasn’t his choice to come early. My little 5lb baby was rooting (that’s a term for the sucking motion babies do) so I shoved my nipple in his mouth and thought, oh my gosh, look! We’re doing it!
*Cue Morgan Freeman’s narration voice*
We were not doing it. We were doing nothing of the sort.
The magical picture I had painted in my head of my baby being born and feasting away on my boob within hours of birth was far from our reality. It’s far from any mom’s reality. There is no feasting right after birth. There is nothing to feast on. Your true milk supply does not come in for a few days, so in the first few days you’re dealing with a drop of colostrum here and there. Which is normal. I knew it was normal, I read the books. But because my baby was so small it gave me a lot of anxiety that he wasn’t eating when he desperately needed the calories.
We had several visits from different nurses, lactation consultants and doctors while in the hospital. Each one with a slightly different technique on how to get my baby to latch. Each one squeezing my breasts with their rubber gloved hands trying to express just a drop of milk. This one suggested the football hold, that one suggested the pillow prop, and her? She suggested stripping baby down to his diaper every time I tried to feed as to keep him awake. Newborns are sleepy creatures and tend to fall asleep on the boob. None of them were successful in getting him to latch, but encouraged me to keep trying.
When I was evicted from the hospital 2 days later, with my baby and my aching nipples, I went home with a 24-hour supply of “just in case” formula and a breastfeeding pamphlet with a very happy mama on the front. The lactation consultant suggested I start pumping often to stimulate my milk supply and to continue to try working on my baby’s latch. I did everything she told me to to get my baby to latch properly. I booped him on the nose with my sore nipples, I caught him mid yawn and shoved my nipple in his mouth like a sneak attack nip. I stripped him naked and blew on his face to keep him awake. I football held and crossbody held and pillow propped him. It was 38’ outside and I was always topless and ready to strike if he seemed hungry and ready to feed.
My baby did not want to latch.
He was too small.
He did not have the energy and his tongue was always on the roof of his mouth.
He was losing weight.
And I was frustrated, exhausted and my boobs were really starting to hurt—bad.
When my milk supply did finally arrive and my boobs looked like they were about to explode off of my chest, I made yet another appointment with a lactation consultant. My baby still wasn’t latching right after days of endless attempts, tears, lanolin, ice packs, heating pads and dreaded pumping sessions. After that visit, we seemed to be getting somewhere, but she encouraged me to keep pumping eight times a day to keep up my supply while me and baby figured it out.
Let me paint a picture of what pumping your sore boobs eight times a day while being more sleep deprived than you’ve even been in your life, all while simultaneously keeping a newborn alive is like. It’s a living hell. Honestly, this is hard for me to write. I have such PTSD about pumping and breastfeeding that I have a physical reaction to the thought. That buzzing and sucking and whizzing sound a pump makes sends chills down my spine. The feeling of two plastic cones tugging at your already screaming nipples is the most confining, unnatural, horrific feeling in the world. Plus, you have to sit up straight (and slightly hunched forward) to catch the milk when you just want to lay down, and you can’t care for your newborn when you’re strapped to a breast pump either. It’s a recipe for a total mama breakdown.
But, I continued. I persevered. I tried. Society told me I had no choice. Everyone told me I had to give him my breastmilk, it was best for him. I wanted what was best for my baby. I was pumping and bottle feeding him my expressed milk 8x a day like I was told. I spent the time I wasn’t pumping or feeding cleaning the pump parts and bottles. I felt terrible when I supplemented with formula, because “supplementing” implied the work I was doing wasn’t enough. I wanted so badly for it to “click” like everyone promised and for it to work out. I would try to get him to latch before each session and for a few days, he was doing it. But still, his latch wasn’t quite right, and my nipples paid the ultimate price. After a few more days of bad latches and constant pumping, my nipples began to crack and bleed. When I say this was painful, it’s an understatement. I had to bite a kitchen towel when it was time to feed him because the pain was so great I’d scream and I didn’t want to scare him. I can’t even begin to describe the pain. Once your nipples start to crack, they then start to scab. But scabs can’t heal when those nipples aren’t allowed a break. They’re needed every three hours.
The song Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked was actually written about nipples, did you know that? Kidding, but maybe I’m not. I’ll have to look into that.
One evening, when I noticed the 2oz of milk I had worked hard to pump was tainted pink with blood, I completely broke down. No one else seemed to have these problems. No one else was screaming out in pain, no one else feared their baby’s next meal because you knew the pain that was about to happen. Well, at least they weren’t talking about it. Every time I’d hook up to that pump, the tears would stream and stream and stream down my face. I wasn’t sobbing, but the tears would just flow uncontrollably as I looked around with a defeated, exhausted, glare, just listening to the whooshing and buzzing of the pump.
I was doing what I was told was best for my baby. But what about what was best for me?
Around week 3, I woke up from one of my less than 3-hour sleep intervals in so much pain. My right boob hurt so badly it took my breath away. I had chills and my whole body ached. I didn’t think too much about it, I was too tired. So I grabbed my heating pad and popped more ibuprofen. That next day I didn’t leave the couch. I felt as though I had been hit by a bus. The baby laid next to me in the rock’n play while I continued my around the clock pumping. That’s when I thought, could this be mastitis? When I finally took my temperature, I found I had a 102 fever. I had a red, hot patch on the extremely painful breast. I had mastits. I had the boob flu. I don’t wish that nonsense on anyone.
Mastits is a clogged milk duct that becomes infected. It’s very painful and causes fever, chills and body aches along with the breast pain. You need a ton of antibiotics, and also you have to massage out the painful clogged duct. Oh what fun that was!
It was that night that I looked at my husband and said I can’t do this anymore. I am living in a hell I don’t wish on anyone. I’m in an endless cycle of pain, bleeding nipples, pumping, cleaning pump parts, popping ibuprofen and antibiotics and straight up trying to survive. All while trying to care for my newborn on zero sleep. I was absolutely miserable. Everything hurt. It was not a bonding experience with my baby. It made me fear him.
I didn’t want anyone to tell me to keep going at that point. I didn’t want anyone to tell me I was doing such a great job and they were proud of me. I wanted someone to tell me it was okay to stop.
Please, just tell me I’m not an awful selfish mother if I choose to put an end to this hell. The guilt I felt was so heavy on my heart that I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
The moment I said out loud I was done, I immediately felt some relief. Mostly guilt, but some relief that I was putting a stop to the madness. I could now focus on bonding with my child and not fearing him every 3 hours. You can’t stop breastfeeding cold turkey, so I’d continue my pumping hell for a few more weeks until my supply dried up. During my weening, I’d get mastitis yet again. This time, with an abscess that would protrude out of my breast and cause a nice scar that I still rock 4 months later. It adds some flair to the deflated, stretch-marked bags that hang from my chest now.
It’s a nice daily reminder of my breastfeeding journey.
I truly hope that others do not have as hard of a time with breastfeeding as I did. But if you do, please know you’re not alone and you should not feel any guilt about stopping. 4 months later I still feel guilt, but my baby is thriving with formula, and I’m much more relaxed mom knowing I can feed my child without pain.