When Breast isn't Best

Julie Ryan Evans reports from the breastfeeding battlegrounds.

In Her Words

From the Breastfeeding Battlegrounds

When breast isn’t best

-Julie Ryan Evans

Julie Ryan Evans“Breast is best!” Those are the words that have haunted my days and nights since the birth of my daughter nine weeks ago. Every time I see that catchy little saying about breastfeeding written on a poster at the doctor’s office or on a can of formula or on the freaking bumper of a car I’m stuck behind in traffic, I have a strong desire to scratch it out with a black marker or at least add an asterisk that says: but not in all cases.

Now, before you call the lactation mafia, believe me, I’ve done my homework. I don’t need to be educated. I know the nutritional and developmental benefits of breast milk inside and out. It’s truly amazing that our bodies can produce this perfect food for our children, and it’s a wonderful option IF you can provide it for them.

If, and at what cost to the rest of your life and sanity, however, are the questions – questions I’ve struggled with every single day since I delivered my daughter. Here’s a glimpse at some of my thoughts as I’ve battled to breastfeed for the first time*.

Day 1: Lila Claire is born. I’m elated and exhausted after her long-awaited birth. She has a little extra fluid in her lungs and needs to go to the transition nursery for a few hours, so I’m not immediately able to breastfeed her as I had planned. While I’m waiting for her to be brought to me, a lactation consultant comes in to help me pump. She and the other nurses ooo and awe about the huge amounts of colostrum I’m producing.

When I’m finally reunited with my daughter and put her to my breast, she latches on a like a champ. It’s the most natural, beautiful thing I’ve experienced and I’m moved to tears. I’m loving lactation; my body was made for this.

Days 2-4: Sheer and utter pain like hot, dull (those hurt more than sharp right?) needles being poked into my nipples. My eyes spill tears, and I can’t help but audibly wince (scream?) every time she tries to nurse.

I start justifying in my mind: I wasn’t breastfed and neither were my siblings; we all turned out just fine. My husband is sent in search of Lanolin. I keep reminding myself of the calories I’m burning …

Day 5: Lila Claire’s first doctor appointment – 24 hours after discharge from the hospital. She has gained six ounces. Though still painful, it’s working. I’m nourishing my daughter, and she’s growing.

Days 6-13: The pain has eased, and we’re getting into a pretty good routine. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I look forward to each feeding session, but they’re getting better. Maybe I’ll keep going for a few months. I am a proud, natural breastfeeding goddess. Maybe I should join the La Leche League?

Day 14: Lila Claire’s two-week checkup. I’m so excited to see how much weight she has gained with all the breast milk she’s been getting. Instead, she LOST 2 ounces. The guilt, the tears, the fear that I’m doing her wrong are overwhelming. The doctor suggests I’m not eating enough and that I supplement with formula and start eating ice cream. Great.

Days 15-16: Terrified that I’m starving my daughter, I decide I will be a pump-only mom. I will pump and pump then bottle feed her so that I know exactly how much she is eating. I will make sure she is nourished with breast milk, because it is BEST … which I see printed right on the bottles I use to feed her the supplemental feeding of formula the doctor recommended I give her. It’s actually even printed on the cans of formula – “Breast milk is recommended”!

Day 17: Pumping AND feeding is about all I do … oh except for washing and sterilizing all the bottles, nipples, breast shields, membranes etc. over and over and over again. My hands have aged a year in just the past two days.

I’m ready to give up. I hate pumping, and breastfeeding is too ambiguous, too scary for me not knowing if I’m starving her. I feel like a total failure – as a mother, as a woman.

Day 18: I can’t bear the thought of another day washing and pumping and feeding. I decide to put her to the breast again, but I’m trying to convince myself it’s OK to quit too. I start telling my friends I’m thinking of giving up to see if anyone tries to talk me out of it … no one does. They all, diplomatically say, “do what works best for you.” But they don’t tell me how to deal with the guilt.

Day 21: Three-week checkup. I undress Lila Claire and carry her to the scale … 7 pounds, 13 ounces. She’s back to her birth weight. I had hoped she’d be a little heavier than that, but the doctor says it’s pretty good. I can stop the formula supplements. I’m feeling better … a little at least. That afternoon I nurse for the first time in public and feel strong and proud and committed … though VERY annoyed that a man chose to sit on MY bench while I was breastfeeding when there were clearly plenty of other vacant benches around!

Week 4: She’s eating for shorter periods and falling asleep every time I put her to my breast. NOTHING (undressing, tickling, talking, singing) I do will wake her up to continue the feeding … until I lie her down. Then she screams. So I pick her up to try … over and over again. I have no clue how much she’s eating … maybe she only gained weight last week because of the formula. Am I starving her again?

Every time I walk into my laundry room I see the free sample cans of formula sitting there, tempting me. I HATE BREASTFEEDING … there I said it. Let the La Leche League come hunt me down. I want to like it, but I just don’t. I want to do it for my daughter, but the stress of it all can’t be good for either of us. Every day I consider giving up.

Week 5: Now she’s screaming every time I try to breastfeed her. Does she have nipple confusion already? Thrush? Clearly she hates breastfeeding too. I’m a failure at this.

I can’t help but wonder if I would still be fighting this hard to do it if it wasn’t supposed to help me lose weight. There I said that too. I’ll also say that during much of my time spent pumping I consider the need for a breast lift at some point in the near future. Could I do it? What kind of message would that send my daughter? How much would it cost, and how badly would it hurt?

Week 6: Somehow (probably from the guilt) I haven’t given up, but I’ve given in to giving her a couple of bottles of formula a day. The rest of her meals are breast milk. I get her to nurse a couple times each day for a while before she screams, and the rest is pumped. When someone asks me if I’m breastfeeding, I give them kind of a dumb, blank look. Sometimes I try to explain the mishmash of meals she’s getting. Once I just burst into tears.

And that’s where we are now: some pumping, some nursing and some bottles of formula. Because I can’t pump as often as necessary and because she’s not nursing regularly, my milk supply isn’t increasing quickly enough to keep up with her. I see more and more formula in our future, and I wonder how long I’ll rent the breast pump.

But I’m OK with this situation … mostly. There’s still a lingering sense of guilt with each bottle of formula I feed her. I know I could have tried harder, done more. But that’s how it is with parenting. There will always be more we could have done, should have done – more books that could have been read, more games that could have been played, more healthy meals cooked, more patience practiced. But we can’t beat ourselves up for it all. We have to find a balance … or at least strive to.

One thing I know I’ll never question though is if I loved them enough. And for me, that’s enough.

* While Lila Claire is my second child, this has really been my first experience with breastfeeding. Because my son was born so prematurely, he wasn’t able to latch on. I pumped for about four months so that he would have breast milk to supplement the formula he had to have for his growth.

Check out more of Julie’s Posts: Newborn Fear, The Longest 40 Weeks, Help Me Name My Baby! and They Brought Me the Wrong Baby!

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0 thoughts on “When Breast isn't Best

  1. Breastfeeding is one of the hardest things I’ve done– for some people it is just difficult! I am doing the same thing- feeding and pumping and feeding and pumping and it consumes you! My baby is just over a week and I still have family here to help but if it is still like this when they leave I am not sure how long I can keep it up. I do remember from previous babies just when I thought I would have to give up, it got easier and worked out just fine.

    I had nearly the same battle I had with my son. It was so emotional and painful and it seems that no one ever understands. Knowing that you “get it” too has literally made me cry. THANK YOU!

  3. Um no…yes it is hard in the begaining and yes your child may lose some weight. I am so tired of hearing woman complain its to hard to breastfeed wana wana wana. With my first son i had mastites 3 time i only took antibotics once and still breastfeed him until he was 10 months old. I read this article while breastfeeding my second son you ladys need to get over yourselves if our ancestors could do it and still hunt for food and live without housing all while conquering the world you can do it in suburbia.

  4. @ Akisej12 – I registered just to reply to you, but don’t feel so special.

    I find it appalling you are so judgmental towards Julie, when it clearly does not affect you or your child AT ALL. Why do you feel it necessary to berate someone simply by how they choose to feed their child?

    Julie – I too had the same trials and tribulations you are going through. My son is a healthy and strong 14 month old, who was fed formula. I had such guilt for stopping breastfeeding, but I had to tell myself to let it go. Your guilt will pass with time, just don’t let it get to you too much :) Your daughter will thrive either way.

  5. Thank you.

    My sons is 3 1/2 and I had so many issues as well. After 8 weeks, he became a formula only baby. It is so hard for some people. Moms such as Akisej12 make it harder. We should all stick together and support one another on this wonderful journey of motherhood. NOT breastfeeding is NOT the end of the world. Ultimately you’re doing what is best for your baby, and that’s what matters =)

  6. I wanted to breastfeed my daughter, but between my full-time job (my partner forced me to go back to work the day I got discharged from the hospital because we needed the money) and the store I co-own, I wasn’t able to properly establish a breastfeeding relationship with my daughter. She thinks my breasts are neat, but not so much for eating as for smacking. I had a great deal of guilt, too, but my daughter is doing fine and is extremely intelligent, so I’m not too worried about not earning my breastfeeding badge.

  7. akisej12 you are just a mean spirited person. You have no idea what Julie is going through or what her life is like to bash her like that. Get off your high horse just because you think you are better than she is just because something was easier for you. SOMETIMES it just doesn’t work. I had a C-section with my first child and tried to breastfeed, and after 9 days of pain, tears, and fear that I wasn’t doing it right, and when a lactation nurse suggested I CUP feed my son with a medicine cup to give him the nutrients he needed, I moved to bottlefeeding. Thank you Julie for sharing your story so those of us who have troubles can let go of some of the guilt, and shame on akisej12 for her attitude. You are not a nice woman! And I’m sure akisej12 thinks that her children have higher IQs and will be way better off in life than those who are not breastfed, but there’s something to say about kindness and personalities too, and you can’t learn that from being breastfed.

  8. you guys dont get it you gave up. I had a hell of a time breastfeeding my first son IT IS NOT EASY i will give you that, howevr we live in a society where if thing arent easy we give up. we are programed to, because we are all slaves to a system and if we didnt give up so easily then….maybe we wouldnt be slaves and no i dont think i am less a slave than the rest of you how ever you lady have shown that you give up easy i had mastitis three times look it up it an infection of the tissue in the breast when your baby doesnt clear the duct because my first son was also a lazy eater and had trouble gaining weight but i stuck with it and while he may not be a genius because of breast milk i think that is silly and children do thrive on formula, he is 2 and half and has never had a runny nose is not allergic to anything, he is very health and for me i weigh 112 pounds and have had two babies in two years. you see you when disgust me because…..you are celebrating giving up…like blogging about quitting college so what you failed get over it dont blog about it.

  9. This is specifically for akisej12 —

    OK, so now you’re calling other mothers failures because they ‘give up.’ I don’t see any of the mothers here celebrating. You’re a charmer.

    I’m glad I don’t know you in real life. Oh, and you have to throw in the fact that you’re 112 pounds. Well, good for you. I’m sure that qualifies you for a big prize in motherhood as well.

  10. Julie- you have captured all my fears here in your article! I’ll be having my first baby in 3mos and I am so worried that I am not going to be able to do everything “they” say you have to do: breastfeed, swaddle, yadayadayadayada. On top of that, I have a feeling my mother AND mother-in-law are going to be all up in my business about all of this stuff – judging me on my parenting abilities.

    Additionally, my sister never breastfed. She pumped and used formula and my mother was just beside herself saying things like “your children aren’t going to learn critical sucking techniques.” Please! I have never seen my nieces struggle with a straw!!!

    And as for you, akisej12, you are just a self-righteous, mean-spirited person. Julie is obviously baring some very emotional and raw perspective on what she is going through and none of us want to hear what you have to say about it!

  11. i know that after my sister-in-law had my 2nd niece, it was difficult to get back in to the groove of breastfeeding for her and her husband – ok that sounds wrong but you all know what i mean. i think it should be that way – the husband helping the mother of his child do the latch-on, etc.

  12. I can’t imagine a mother deliberately choosing not to breastfeed — that is something I believe is just wrong. Breast IS best — there’s not two ways about it. On the other hand, when someone is so obviously struggling and trying as Julie is, and is so clearly concerned with giving her baby what is best — then that is truly commendable. None of us is perfect. In the end the most important thing for our children is that we love them and do our best.

  13. Julie, I’m sorry you had such an unhappy experience with breastfeeding. I think family support is a really big deal. My sister is 16 yrs older than I am and breastfed all five of her kids. My mom breastfed as well though since I am the youngest, I have no memory of that! Because of my sister’s role-modelling, I simply never doubted that breastfeeding would be an easy, rewarding experience, and it really was. Still… there really isn’t enough info/ support out there. My milk started to dry up when my daughter was about 4 months old and I wasn’t expecting it. I just didn’t have much body fat in the first place and couldn’t keep up with her growth. I finally figured out what was up when she didn’t gain any weight her 4th or 5th month and ended up force-weaning her, which was traumatic for both of us. Her doc never asked about my milk- that would have been a big help.

  14. yall still dont get. It not even about brest is best, my complaint is….you all are saying it is ok to give up if something is to hard….it isnt your individual fault but the fault of a society that has told you if something isnt easy give up. this is this is a statement of life. You are ignorant if you do not read what i really wrote in the context of life.

  15. first, thank you for all of the nice comments. I really appreciate them. Akisej12–I do understand what you’re saying, and to some extent agree about the giving up part. I very firmly believe that people give up on things way too easily and aren’t willing to work hard enough before throwing their hands up and walking away. Learning that perserverance and how to work hard at something are values I hold very important and want to pass on to my children. In this case, I did give up to some extent, but it was more about taking inventory, realizing that I wasn’t ready to stop the rest of my life to meet this goal. I had to weigh both sides, including my mental stability, ability to be a good mom, and a host of other issues, and I made a choice. Chosing something different, isn’t really giving up in many respects. In others, sure it is, and I have a certain amount of guilt around it. But my daughter is thriving and growing and happy and beautiful, so we’re doing OK.

    I have so much respect for women who can carry through for long periods of time with breast feeding. I do think it’s the best choice … but not in all cases.

  16. Thank you Juie for seeing that you gave up one this thing it does not mean you are bad in the least bit it just means your are part of a sick society, you had no choice but to be born into, no of us did, its like blaming the roman for being roman. if humanity saw its flaws instead of attaching themselves to them then maybe, things could get better. Julie you and I and every one else on this planet is all the same we are all human. I was angry not because you gave up because, society allows for failure and discrimination, in a world were technology has infinite potential for any human to fail, we should all be aloud to be, game over. peace prevails

  17. Akisej12, you have an absurd perspective, and next time you would like to create a convincing argument, perhaps some punctuation and proper grammar will aid you. Also, this is a blog; if you, as you have written, are not a fan, maybe you should try something more up your alley – like People or even television if reading isn’t your thing.

    As for the brave women who have struggled with the tiresome trials of difficult breastfeeding and breastfeeders; thank you for sharing your stories.

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