When Breastfeeding Just Isn’t Going to Happen

Nothing makes me angrier than people telling new moms that they just didn’t try hard enough if they make the switch from breastfeeding to formula feeding. Sometimes it just isn’t a good fit for your family no matter how hard you try, how much you read, or how many resources you tap into. I think this story, written by Gemma Bonham-Carter, illustrates that perfectly so I asked if I could republish it here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. – Amy

For long before I was even pregnant, I had visions of myself as breastfeeding mama. One of those uber enthusiastic ones who breastfeed longer than most. My undergrad and Master’s degrees are in Public Health, with a focus in maternal health, and I have read way too many studies on the benefits of breastfeeding. I wanted to be one of those mums who breastfeeds openly in public to help reduce the stigma around that. I pictured loving the cozy time between me and babe. Well, it didn’t quite turn out that way.

A Rough Start.

I had a fairly long (30 hours) and traumatic delivery near the end (I didn’t end up in c-section, but had a post-partum hemorrhage and needed various interventions) – maybe one day I’ll share the birth story here on the blog – but needless to say I was exhausted and feeling pretty beat up by the time my sweet girl arrived. For her first hour or so (maybe a bit longer) in the world we just had some lovely skin to skin time, which was a great distraction for me and what was still going on in the bottom half of my body. When things had calmed down it was time to give her a bit of food. I was way too tired to even hold the baby, so my lovely midwife brought her gently to my breast and helped her latch. It didn’t seem to come naturally to Maya – she struggled and would come off frequently. I don’t remember too much from that moment, but I do remember yelping out in pain. I knew it was going to be somewhat painful (I had been warned!), but I no idea it would feel like that. We tried for a while longer, she might have gotten a few drops of something, and then just stopped for the time being as Maya was sleepy and I needed to get moved to a different unit in the hospital (it was about 9 or 10pm by that time).

That night in the hospital my midwife had gone home and it was just me, Dan, and Maya. Twice in the night the nurses came by to wake me and the baby up to do a feeding. Both times they brought the baby to me and as soon as she came up to my breast, she started crying. Screaming crying. They were insistent that she feed, but she just did not want to latch on. They shoved her face into my breast and when she did latch on, it was excruciating for me – I couldn’t hold her and just had to ball up my fists, close my eyes, and breathe through the pain. Maya would continue screaming (like that “just had my arm chopped off” screaming crying that babies can do), would latch for a few seconds, come off, scream, repeat, all while I tried to relax through the pain. By the time morning came around, my nipples were completely raw and bleeding. I got to go home that next day and received care at home from my midwife. Again, she tried to help get breastfeeding going smoothly, but again Maya would just scream, cry and pull away, all while I would be welling up with tears from the pain. I knew it was supposed to be painful in the beginning, but was it really supposed to be like this? I have been through various painful things before (gallstones, broken bones, labour?!) and I hadn’t imagined that breastfeeding would be up there with them.


Baby getting ready to leave hospital as mom struggles with breastfeeding
Time to head home from the hospital!


Getting It Done, One Drop At A Time.

That first night back at home, my midwife advised that we hand express the milk for Maya that night as she wasn’t latching properly and due to my high level of pain. My nipples were also a total wreck by that time, so the hope was that by hand expressing over night they might have some time to recover. I was also taking epsom salt baths and using lanolin cream like it was my job to help them heal more quickly. So that night we set our alarm for every 3 hours to feed. I had to fiddle around a fair bit to figure out how to hand express my boobs (this wasn’t a it-comes-naturally kind of skill I had in my back pocket – ha!), but got the hang of it. It was still colostrum at that point, so I would squeeze out drop by drop and feed it to Maya on my baby finger. It was like she was a bird. I would do 5 drips per boob for each feed, which would take about half an hour. Oh and I also started pumping that night to continue to encourage my milk to come in. I only had a single pump at home (the medela ‘swing’), so I would pump each side for 10 minutes at each feed. Needless to say, it was an intense night and I think Dan and I got about 1 hour total of sleep (poor Dan had been up through the night with me when I was labouring, then the next night didn’t get a wink of sleep in the hospital as he wasn’t given a cot, and so this was night #3 on zero sleep for him).

The next day my midwife came back to my house and advised me on getting a hospital grade double pump. It was a Sunday and quite a few places were closed, but we ended up being able to rent one from Shoppers Home Health. We got that home and I started on an 8x a day pumping schedule. We continued to try and get Maya to latch on, but she just wouldn’t have any of it. She would get near my boob and start to cry. We had to give her some milk from a bottle so that she would get something, so we started supplementing. I didn’t have any milk coming at that point, so my best friend who was still nursing her little guy would come by every day and drop some of her milk off for us (how amazing is that? I’m forever going to be so touched by her support in that moment). We used the medela calma nipple, as we had heard that it mimics the breast as much as possible, in the hopes that we would still be able to get breastfeeding working for us – we didn’t want her to have “nipple confusion”. So we did this for the next two days – pumping, bottle feeding, trying to breastfeed, etc – until we were able to get a lactation consultant who the midwife had recommended to come to our home.

Baby drinking milk from a medela bottle
So little! Look at those skinny legs!


A New (Exhausting) Plan.

Finally – the lactation consultant. I felt like this was going to be the solution. She checked for tongue and lip tie, and although Maya had a “slight lip tie” and very small mouth, it wasn’t anything that should have interfered with her ability to breastfeed. She helped us with positioning for feeding, which felt so awkward. I just felt like Maya was never comfortable or relaxed. The consultant saw that Maya would scream and cry when we tried to feed so took her off, fed her a bit from a bottle so she wasn’t starving, and then would try again. We used a nipple shield on me and the consultant syringed in some formula in to show Maya that milk would come from there (also because my milk hadn’t come in yet). By the time she left our house we had a plan: I was going to give Maya “breastfeeding lessons” once a day until it was going better, and then would increase to two, three, four times a day. The rest of the time we would continue to bottle feed with the medela nipple and I would continue to pump 8x a day for 20 minutes per time. We would continue to use the nipple shield until my nipples had recovered and “pulled out” (they are pretty flat naturally).

So that is what we did. Every day, usually mid-morning, I would try to get Maya to breastfeed. Some days she would latch on with the shield and I would be syringing in milk and she would maybe get a little from me. Most days though, she continued to scream every time we tried, and would latch for a few seconds and turn her head away. Even with the pumping 6-8 times a day and the breastfeeding sessions, my milk wasn’t coming in. I never really got engorged, and it wasn’t until day 10 when I produced any more than a few drops of milk when pumping. I gave Maya my friend’s breastmilk but also had to supplement in some formula. The first time I used formula I felt like I was giving her poison – all of the messaging around “breast is best” is great, but it does make you feel horrible when it doesn’t work out. The pain for me continued to be off-the-charts. The shield did make it moderately better… moderately… but it still felt like knives were being stabbed into my nipples. Every day I hoped that it would feel even a little bit better, and it never did. The days where we had an okay session in the morning, I would try to do another in the afternoon. But unfortunately we just never seemed to make progress, and for about two thirds of the day, every day, I just cried. Cried from the exhaustion, the pain (not just boobs but those “other” areas too – my recovery from the birth was pretty slow), anxiety around this whole new parenting thing, and mostly from my feeling of guilt and inadequacy around breastfeeding. I couldn’t enjoy even the quiet moments with my little girl when she was sleeping on me, as I was completely consumed by everything to do with breastfeeding. I went to some breastfeeding drop-in’s again, but without any major leaps forward. They did, however, make me feel like I was doing the right thing with supplementing and bottle feeding, which was positive. My girl was growing quickly and was super healthy – that made things a little easier.

Mom holding baby after struggling to breastfeed
In the thick of it – eyes swollen from crying, but trying to stay positive! See all that paper beside me? Those were my tracking sheets – I was keeping notes of every time I tried breastfeeding and for how long, every time I pumped and how much I produced, and every time we bottle fed her and how much.


A Weight Off My Shoulders.

At about the 3 week mark, when no progress was being made and I seemed to just be getting more and more down (literally crying ALL THE TIME, had no appetite, and was feeling anxious – I totally wasn’t myself), my Mum finally dragged me in to my family Doc. What I was doing just wasn’t sustainable. A lot of people had been telling me to just stop breastfeeding, but I had been stubbornly hanging on to it. I was insistent that I was going to be that breastfeeding mama that I had pictured for so long. I could barely get the words out when I got to my Doctor’s office – told her the story of the last few weeks through sobs. She didn’t even flinch for a minute in telling me that breastfeeding just obviously wasn’t working for us. It was time to stop. She felt that I was spiralling quickly into a post partum depression, and was what more important – that I keep trying to make breastfeeding work (possibly with never having success), or make a change and take care of myself and Maya? By taking care of myself, I would be a better mum and would bond with Maya. To be totally honest at that point, I didn’t feel like we had bonded. Every experience with her was associated with pain or frustration. It was time for that to end. As I walked out of her office, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I think I had just needed a medical professional to tell me that it was okay to stop. That it was in both my and Maya’s best interest. So from that moment forward I considered myself to be a pumping mum. I would do what I could to get her as much breastmilk as possible, but I wasn’t going to beat myself up about using formula. I was a formula fed baby afterall (my Mum struggled with breastfeeding too – low supply and me never taking to it — maybe foreshadowing my experience?). In the weeks that followed we got into a great routine. I pumped as much as I could (I kept to about 5 pump sessions a day for a long time), we had a good system for bottle feeding, and the best thing was I was SO MUCH HAPPIER and Maya and I totally bonded. I fell in love… hard.

Sleeping baby
Blissed out.


One interesting twist in the story was that at around the 3 month mark I felt like I had emotionally recovered from those horrendous first 6 weeks, and was thinking that it wouldn’t hurt to just try breastfeeding again. So I brought Maya into bed with me and offered her the boob. You know what? She latched and didn’t pull off right away! She actually went at it for 10 minutes on each side. I was crying, but this time with happiness. There was pain for sure, but it was totally manageable pain. The kind of pain that I expected would come with initial stages of breastfeeding that would dissipate over time. The kind of pain that would curl your toes at first and then you could relax into. Had this been what it was in the beginning, it would’ve been a different story. It was validating for me, as since giving up on breastfeeding I had continually wondered if I had been wimpy about the pain. Was it really as bad as that, or was I just overwhelmed with everything else going on at the time? Well, after that 3 month breastfeeding session, I knew that it really was off the charts. This was what it was supposed to feel like. And can you guess what happened after that? I tried breastfeeding her once a day for the next 10 days or so, and she refused it every. single. time. Would never do it again as much as I tried. Little rascal.

A Multifaceted Problem.

Now that I have had half a year to reflect on the whole experience, I know it came down to a few different things. Maya’s super small mouth and my flat (and possibly more sensitive than usual) nipples (I think our anatomy just didn’t match up well), my late-to-come-in and low supply milk, my emotional state at the time after a frightening birth, and Maya’s reluctance to breastfeed. All of those things put together just meant that breastfeeding wasn’t going to be in the cards for us. And despite struggling with a lot of guilt around it, that was OKAY. I have done lots of other great stuff as a Mum to help my little girl be healthy and happy. And you know what? There have been a lot of benefits to bottle feeding. Dan was able to really bond with Maya over feeding time and play a very significant and helpful role in those early weeks and months, that a lot of partners don’t get. I wasn’t tied to Maya which meant I was able to get away for some time to myself (or for a date!) when needed. Plus, we were always able to know exactly how much she was drinking, which was helpful. It’s okay when things don’t go as planned. You make the best of it and move on. Heck, this whole parenthood thing is a trip and I don’t think anything ever really goes as you expect it to.

Dad bottle feeding baby


I’m writing this post for a few reasons. Mostly for myself – it is healing in a way to get things down on paper (er, computer), but also in case there are any other new mums out there who might be struggling with breastfeeding. I know I was reaching out to every mum I knew to ask questions about their experience breastfeeding and found a lot of comfort in chatting with a few folks who had similar stories.

Our next recos:

Breastfeeding in the First Four Weeks – 4 Things You’ll Be Glad You Knew

Formula Feeding Gear Basics

I Packed Up the Pump – For Both of Us

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When Breastfeeding Just Isn’t Going to Happen

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  • hang on – this story could also take the step of encouraging mamas and partners to find out more about breastfeeding before they have their baby, don’t let nurses or midwifes force babies onto the breast (try baby-led attachment during skin to skin time) and know that the earlier that the supply is established the less likely there are to be supply issues, so get pumping as soon as there are any difficulties, but continue to try breastfeeding unless taking a break to heal sore nipples. parent education and health professional education should not allow these sorts of situations to happen!!! reach out to organisations like La Leche League and the Australian Breastfeeding Association, that is what they are there for!

  • This post completely describes my experience with breast feeding. Getting over the fact that it just wasn’t going to happen was a long process. Baby number one was born premature and unable to latch so from the beginning I was pumping. I never had problems with supply (in fact I ended up donating my milk) but I do have naturally flat and sensitive nipples. Despite all our efforts, sessions of finger feeding with a tube in the NICU, and weighing my daughter before and after a feeding to check if she got anything it just never worked. I ended up being a pumping mama for 6 months – which looking back was no small feat.

    Baby number two arrived late (!) and I was convinced breast feeding would work this time. From the beginning it was complicated. Every feeding was torture and I was bleeding from cracked nipples despite using lanolin like a champ. There was no pleasure whatsoever. I still have images of my crying daughter trying to feed and having blood around the creases of her little mouth. This time, a little wiser (and with the support of a midwife who said she had never seen nipples so ravaged), I turned over to bottle feeding after a few weeks. Although I did feel guilty, this guilt lifted pretty quickly when feedings became privileged moments of cuddling together as she enjoyed her bottle, neither of us in tears.

    By baby number three I didn’t even try and completely assumed bottle feeding. And you know what? My children are all beautiful, healthy, and smart (they aren’t overweight, they don’t have diminished intelligence or social problems which have all been nebulously linked to bottle feeding in various studies). If it works out – great. If it doesn’t work out it’s not the end of the world to feed your baby by bottle. Please be kind to yourself.

  • I had a similar experience. If any new moms are going through this the best advice I have is to get a second (or third or fourth) opinion from a different lactation consultant. My baby ended up having a tongue and lip tie that went undiagnosed by two pediatricians and the first two lactation consultants we saw. I’ve found that the more experienced consultants are often better at spotting the tongue and lip ties. After we had laser revision done he is nursing much better. The earlier you do it the better your results will generally be so if you aren’t getting anywhere with your pediatrician and/or lactation consultant don’t be afraid to try someone new!

  • Thank you for this. After 2.5 months of low supply and low self-esteem, as well as a recent diagnosis of PPD, I decided the other day to stop trying to breastfeed or even to pump. I now use that time to actually have a good meal and enjoy time with my baby and husband. It feels so final and it feels like admithing defeat, but I can’t keep doing it. I’m so glad to know I’m not alone.

  • I feel for you. There is just so much pressure to breastfeed these days, but I was not as persistent as you were! My baby lost way too much weight due to poor latch and my supply taking awhile to come in, so we had to supplement formula in the beginning. We eventually cut back once she was back up to her birth weight and she did fine the first month, gaining over a pound, but then at her 2 month, she only gained 7 ounces, leading the pediatrician (ours is also a lactation consultant) to believe I have low supply (she did fine when she only needed 2 ounces, but now that she needs more, it’s not enough), so it was back to supplementing. Now at 3 months, she is beginning to totally reject my breasts whenever I offer them, so it might be the end of breastfeeding completely for me.

    Sure I could have tried harder to increase my supply, but I preferred getting sleep in (and keeping my sanity) whenever I could over pumping. Plus pumping is just not fun and the most I ever got was an ounce (out of both breasts combined!), so it didn’t seem worth it and I quit trying after 2 weeks. Remember your health and well being is just as important and all that matters is that your baby is fed.

  • I as right there with you 15 years ago. My son was 3 weeks premature and did not want “work” for his nutrition, according to our lactation nurse. My milk never came in and I cried many tears. I also came to the conclusion that he had already been getting mostly formula and my time with him was more important. I am glad to say that noone ever made comments to me. 8 years later when our second was born I tried again, but my body would not cooperate. Both of my children have always been healthy and are currently 7 and 15.

  • I could have written this exact story myself, from the intense dedication to breastfeeding from the very start, to the postpartum depression and obsession with nursing, to the supplementation and exhausting pumping schedule, to the surprise breastfeeding session weeks later that brought tears of joy. This was me. One day, I will write my story to hopefully find some closure and healing. I hope to be able to write with the same eloquence and beautiful message that have embedded into this story. Thank you.

  • This so mirrors the experience that I had with my first born. I still remember those days of pumping. bottle feeding him a little, trying to latch him, his screaming, and my feeling like a failure. I think it’s great that you are sharing this story. It took me like two months or so to become a pumping mom, and I felt a ton of guilt about it then. One word of encouragement though is that each kid is different. My daughter took to breast feeding like a champ, so if you have more children don’t be afraid to give it another try.

  • Gosh. I vividly remember a friend (a paediatric nurse) who, after having her first baby said to me that she used to be wholly in favour of breastfeeding, but having battled with it herself, said that she now tells her patients that even if you only breastfeed for a day or an hour, you’ve done fantastically and don’t feel bad about it. She realised on experience that it is just not as easy as it looks, dream or no dream. A midwife friend had a similar experience with her first. It’s probably the downside of working in that industry, you’re so indoctrinated with breast is best, that to do anything else feels like a massive failure. Which it is not.
    I have had 2 (second is just a couple of months) both were easy feeders. Straight on within 20 mins of birth and off they went. But the first ended up being bottle fed due to dehydration on day 2, and me having medical issues a week later. My second I am bf (at 7 weeks now) and I hated it for the first 5. Hated it. Hated the dependency it created, the leaking, the clothes to suit it, the fact that I had to do everything – hated it. I’m still a bit iffy and I have introduced one bottle of formula a day. And you know what? I won’t apologise for that. I have another child who needs my time too, it gives my husband a chance to bond with our second and it gives me a much needed break, even if it is just for a few hours to play with no.1.
    Do what suits you best and do not apologise for it. You’re a person too and you cannot sustain that level of work just to feed a baby. I remember being upset about 5 days after my first was born and trying to feed her, and a midwife telling me to calm down, because they can sense when you are struggling and upset (even if it’s not about feeding). I’ve never forgotten that and it’s proved true time and again.

  • I could’ve written this myself! Thank you for posting this. As a mother, "breast is best" is kind of shoved down our throats a lot and when breastfeeding doesn’t work out, you can’t help but feel like a failure. My milk just never came in. I knew that having pcos meant there was a 15-20% chance it would affect breastfeeding for me and unfortunately it just didn’t work out. I tried pumping, lactation cookies, hand expressing, lactation consultant, and nothing working. My son was getting next to nothing from me. Around the 12 days mark, my husband and I talked about it and I said I can’t continue doing this. Every time I pumped it was a disappointment because I’d be lucky to get 5mL if anything. I just couldn’t take it anymore. We switched to strictly formula feeding and we were both much happier.

  • Thank you for this. This very closely mimics my breastfeeding experience with my first. We had different issues with my second, but each only got about 2 weeks of my breast milk and as much as I know it was the right decision for my family for me to stop pumping I still feel guilty.

  • Just cried while reading this. My fourth child is now four months old. I successfully breastfed the first, but not the last three. I was determined this time to make it work. I did everything "right" this time- skin to skin as soon as he was born, after a home birth no less. I put him on my breast every 20 min for a week. I saw a lactation consultant by day three. But by day 8, he was losing weight and I was losing my mind- again. I tried the foley cup, the finger feeding, the supplemental feeding tubes, power pumping, fenugreek, mother’s milk tea and every expensive "breastlike" bottle nipple I could find. Nothing worked, he was taking more and more formula and latching less. He began to reject me on a regular basis. I started using donor milk- which was great for him, but emotionally challenging for me. It is a very humbling experience to have to heat up another woman’s milk when your baby rejects your breast. My supply is almost gone. I cant even pump an ounce anymore. The last few nights, he refused our only successful nursing session. I’m done, he’s done. Your post is giving me permission to let go.

  • I want to add another "Thank you" to the list. Like the others, I had a similar experience and had no clue that low supply could even be an issue until I facing it head on. After 4 months, I’m still sad, but when I look at all the progress I’ve made I’m proud. No one can accuse me of not trying, that’s for sure! And to all you mamas who gave it your all and it just didn’t work out, "GOOD JOB!" 🙂

  • What an amazing and descriptive story. As a retired nurse, and an adamant breast feeder (my first 2 babies), I also had my eyes opened, when after delivering twins at 24 weeks gestation, and eventually trying to breast feed the surviving one (had the pumping schedule for 3 months), I realized that since he too screamed and by this time preferred the bottle, "it was okay" if he had to grow up on formula! I have had one more baby (who is now 22), and do realize that "breast is best", but only if EVERYONE is thriving… If Mom is not doing well, then she needs to do what is best for HER and their RELATIONSHIP :). A loving positive bonded relationship, with formula, is more important than breast feeding. (my thoughts only!)

  • My story down to a tee too!! My paed at 3 weeks also told me to stop an dhis words were "Marie Antoinette and Queen Victoria HAD to breastfeed, you don’t!"
    Now heavily pregnant with no 2 and will give it a good go but the minute the emotions start, we’ll switch to a bottle – at least I know I’m not alone!

  • Thank you for this post. I was also unable to breastfeed and didn’t get help before I spiraled into a post-partum depression. Took my husband dragging me (kicking and screaming) to the doctor to finally overcome the guilt, sadness and overall bad feelings I was having.

  • Thank you so much for this post. It’s like you have written my story. I felt so depressed and guilty about not being able to breastfeed. It helps to know that I’m not alone.

  • Thank you for writing this. I struggled for seven weeks (all pure hell) to bf my first. Even when the lactation consultants were telling me it was time to stop I still was determined to continue. A lot of it was the quilt I felt about wanting to stop and feeling like I wasn’t a good mother. With our second I tried again and things were better starting out but quickly started to be more painful again. When she broke a blood vessel I was Ok with being done. With our third I decided to not bf and try pumping. I felt guilty about my choice and most of the nurses weren’t sure what to do with a pumping mom. I struggled for a few weeks again with feelings of being a good mom but with the support of many friends (one being a lactation consultant) and midwives I felt good about my abilities as a mom. Sometimes bf just doesn’t work and it is ok.

  • Thank you thank you thank you! Add in a csection, preclampsia, and a tongue tie and that’s mostly my story too. It was soo hard hearing "it will get easier, just try x," and it’s "just harder with flat nipples but DON’T USE A SHIELD or he’ll never nurse right!" Eventually it comes down to what is comfortable for you and your family. I still have regrets and hearing similar stories really do help because when you’re going through it no one tells you how common it is, you think it’s your fault and "if only" plays through your mind too often. Six months later I have a lovely healthy baby that shares an incredible bond with me despite being bottle fed breastmilk.

  • This is so much like what I went through. Thanks so much for sharing. Breastfeeding just isn’t possible sometimes, no matter what us moms do!

  • I feel compelled to comment because what you wrote just brings back so much of my experience with my little one, Theo. The beginning for us was a little different as he was 8 weeks premature, and so he had a very steep learning curve to feed, as he had to learn to suck (too early to have a suck reflex yet) and come off a naso-gastric feeding tube. I had to use a shield due to having fairly flat nipples and very large breasts, and such a tiny little baby boy, and he couldn’t latch without it. Unfortunately that led to my originally huge and plentiful supply dropping massively, and even though I was double pumping with a hospital-grade machine, it wasn’t cutting it. I felt like such a failure when I finally stopped breast feeding him, and I felt like the worst mother in the world the first time I gave him formula, especially because he was premature. I beat myself for such a long time, and I still feel guilt about all the what-ifs. I’m now 19 weeks pregnant with my second (and Theo has just turned 1 and is fine!) and am hoping so hard that not only will I have a healthy full-term baby this time, but I will be able to breastfeed. I’m not sure how I will feel if my experience is repeated, but maybe I will be able to remember this article and try to let go the feeling of guilt at not being able to breastfeed. Thanks x

  • So good to read this and the comments. I also had a vision of myself as a proud breastfeeding mother. After enduring limited mobility due to pelvic girdle pain, a long labour and a pretty violent c-section with a huge baby (10lbs 14.5oz/4.95kg!) I struggled with my milk supply and latching on and ended up mixed feeding for 3 months with the help of nipple shields. At three months my baby refused to feed from me at all and it felt like a personal rejection.

    Now at five months, it helps me feel much more at peace with it all to read this.

    I had the endless pumping and the rounds of lactation consultants, volunteer supporters etc and felt that some of them were more motivated by ideology than by me and my son’s wellbeing.

    The people who helped me most were the midwives who gave practical advice and reassured me that formula milk is not poison! They helped me to see that our overall wellbeing was the most important thing and that sometimes breastfeeding isn’t part of it.

    It is only recently (actually, since he has refused to feed from me) that I have stopped feeling ashamed of bottle feeding publicly and am actually starting to get a bit bolshy about women being able to recognise, publically speak about, and enjoy the benefits of bottle feeding. Whilst not my first choice, formula feeding has helped to reduce my exhaustion, steady my mental health by giving me baby-free time, helped my husband bond with our son and helped us maintain our relationship by allowing my father-in-law to babysit while we go for date nights. My son has also bonded well with my father-in-law from this time with him.

    Thanks again to you all for sharing your stories.

  • THANK YOU! I feel so "shamed" when I see articles about breast feeding and how moms don’t try heard enough and give up too soon. My first child, my milk never came in, my daughter never latched, my nips never popped out. It was miserable I suffered for 8 miserable weeks trying so hard. Then my son came along and my milk actually came in a little bit, I pumped and tried to feed him but he would scream so loud and was so miserable, I thought who am I doing this for, if it makes him miserable. I pumped and pushed on for 10 weeks and once I finally decided enough was enough, our life smoothed out and I wasn’t tied down to pumping or trying to feed him. Feeding him involved pillows and a certain position I was a recluse in my own home because I wasn’t comfortable feeding him out of the house because he HATED it!
    Thank you for making me feel like a normal mom!

  • I always like to see stories like this. Not because I revel in the pain of mother who suffered the personal and social torment of bottle feeding, but because this does happen to people and women need to know they are not alone in their struggles. Despite what you may be told in antenatal classes – there are women who, for one reason or another, cannot breast feed. There is no preparation for this in the pre and post birth world. No information for mothers who fight the good fight and finally, with guilt and despair, resort to bottle feeding always with the nagging feeling that they have failed and are poisoning their baby. Well you know what: bottle is good, breast is better, FOOD is best. I struggled with breast feeding (flat nipples and a tongue tie) with some great support, nipple shields and antidepressants managed to come out the other side successfully breast feeding (I had no supply issues) but there was a certain cost to my mental health. I felt so betrayed by the the whole system around breast feeding that didn’t seem to be about supporting mothers and babies but seemed to be about supporting breast feeding even to the point of letting a child go hungry. These kinds of stories are a must read, not just for mothers current and future, but for all the people in the breast feeding industry who seem to think that feeding your baby should come with a side of guilt.

  • I have chills. Our stories are so, so similar, right down to our daughters named Maya. I really felt like I was reading my own story when I read this. Huge kudos to you for choosing what was truly best for you as a mother and for your relationship with your Maya. After months of exclusive pumping I also tried to get my Maya back to the breast (at 4 months). Mine went for it and I was able to put the pump away and continue nursing to 16 months. I’m still flabbergasted about it. Thank you for sharing this, and congrats, she is absolutely darling!

  • Thanks for sharing your story! I thought I was reading my own. It was soooo hard for me to let go of the "breastfeeding" dream. My daughter is five months old now and I still tear up every once in awhile that breastfeeding didn’t work out for us, but having a happy and healthy baby AND mom is what is most important.

  • This story is identical to mine! My boy had such a traumatic time being born he got admitted for 2/7 into ICU, he also screamed at the breast, 6 weeks later I was still expressing every feed and trying to BF every feed with no progress. My pump broke down at 6 wks (overuse lol), and in the day it took me to find my receipt, my milk stopped producing. I too went to my dr in tears that we never got to BF properly, he looked me in the eye and said "sometimes the baby doesn’t want to breastfeed".. game changer! From that day fwd I stopped beating myself up and got on with enjoying being a mum.. 2 years on I still wish things had been different but I know there’s nothing I could’ve done differently.. thankyou for sharing your story 🙂 x

  • Thanks so much for posting this. When I had an awful struggle with breastfeeding is was so hard to find stories like mine, like Gemma’s. Insufficient glandular tissue and low milk supply quashed my dream of breastfeeding like a champion. It was devastating and, like Gemma, I really grieved for the loss. There was little info about it online at the time (I had my baby in June 2013… Not ages ago!), which is crazy because it feels like the internet has info on everything but the topic of breastfeeding challenges that are insurmountable. Anyway, it’s just so great to see these stories on Pregnant Chicken, which was pretty much my bible when I was pregnant and even now. Thanks for being such a strong advocate for all Mums 🙂

  • This could be my story word for word. From the traumatic birth, not being able to even hold my daughter for hours afterwards to her crying at every approach to the breast. It was heartbreaking for me, and emotionally I was wounded by this for a long time afterwards. I ended up pumping exclusively for a year and was able to support my daughter’s needs but with #2 soon to join us I already am preparing myself for the possibility that it may not work again. Sometimes our babies have entirely different plans than our own and I’m just grateful that I was able to support and provide for her needs in other ways.

  • I found your story through Pregnant Chicken. Thank you so much for sharing this!! I teared up reading this, since my little girl would also scream and scream when put to the breast. The nurses and lactation consultants tried all of their usual tricks, but nothing seemed to get her to latch and stay on to eat. I didn’t even have supply issues, she just would not eat from my breasts. I had one light in the tunnel moment at 4 weeks, where we had this awful day (she had colic too) and I finally just stripped off my shirt, propped myself in bed, put her on my chest, and she actually latched and starting eating. She ate for 20 minutes on one side and five on the other and then fell into a blissful nap. I was elated and I was sure that our struggle was over…..But, as with your little girl, my daughter just would not do it again. So, I just quite trying. And I was wracked with guilt. Being a mother is hard, and I am now set on spreading the message that not breastfeeding does not make you a bad mom!

  • Thank you for sharing your story! It is absolutely wrong for anyone to shame a mother for not breastfeeding, but it’s especially sad when someone tries so hard and still feels bad that it doesn’t work. There have always, ALWAYS been women and babies who couldn’t make breastfeeding work– that’s why we have the term "wet nurse"!

    However, it’s another thing to say that the systems we have in place to troubleshoot breastfeeding problems are inadequate. Lactation consultants and doctors vary wildly in their ability to do basic things like diagnose tongue and lip ties. I saw FIVE different lactation consultants before anyone even looked at my son’s lip, which was very tightly tied. I can’t understand why I hear so many stories in which a baby had a "slight" tie, but latch was extremely painful, and the doctor or LC didn’t recommend trying a frenectomy. The symptoms are there; why no treatment? That seems like the medical community failing to adequately troubleshoot.

    Breastfeeding doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and it’s unreasonable to expect mothers to "educate themselves" to treat what is really a medical problem. We can’t expect them to be doctors as well as mothers. Doctors, nurses, and LCs need better training in breastfeeding problems to help mothers through situations like this one. There will still be times when breastfeeding won’t work, and that’s okay. But better medical knowledge will help make those times rarer, and that will be good for everyone.

  • I’m not going to lie, this brought me to tears. Before baby came I read the books, took the classes, and did everything possible to ensure that breastfeeding would go smoothly. Well, baby came and things were rough from the beginning and just got worse. I had at least 4 LC appointments and at least 7 LC phone conversations, I tried everything and nothing helped. He screamed all day, every day, but everyone just told me that “babies cry a lot, keep trying” and “breast is best”. Despite my misery (and baby’s) I kept muddling through until his 2 month appointment. My munchkin was born at 90th percentile for weight and at his 2 month appointment he was 5th percentile. I felt like a complete failure. We started supplementing and by month 3 he refused to breastfeed. I started pumping, telling myself that “every ounce counts” but after weeks of getting ½ to 1 oz per pumping session I gave up. Now at almost 5 months he’s healthy and happy and so am I. If I have another baby I’ll definitely try again but I’ll know that no potential benefits of breastfeeding are worth baby not getting enough milk or the emotional and physical pain involved when breastfeeding just doesn’t work.

  • thank you so much for sharing! i had the same experience with my first – he was NOT having it. my second was game, but my boobs weren’t. at first i thought it was working out, because she would just chill out on the boob for an hour at a time, but when we took her in for her checkup it was clear that she wasn’t getting any sustenance. they sent me to a lactation consultant and she said, "OH MY LORD, what have you done to yourself?! because my nipples were just like hamburger meat at that point. but I was like you, thinking I was just a wimp and trying to suck it up. eventually even the lactation consultant said "this just isn’t going to work," so we did this crazy syringe/tube contraption and I stuck for that as long as I could but it was FAR from the blissful relaxing bonding experience I had imagined. when I told my daughter’s pediatrician I had stopped breastfeeding because it just wasn’t working he rolled his eyes at me and said, "well, i’m quite certain if you HAD to make it work, you would have." easy for you to say, old man who has never had someone chewing on his nipples 12 hours a day?!?!?

  • Thank you for posting this! As I was reading, it was like reading a page out of my own diary. I had a very similar experience after having a c-section, and my son just refused to latch. After failed attempts one right after the other, I became an exclusive-pumper, as well, but even that was a struggle with a colicky baby and low milk supply. My sons pediatrician finally told me to stop altogether. It was the best thing for my son and I, both. Three years later, I am 2 weeks away from baby #2 and I am trying to be more emotionally prepared for the journey, however I still hope to give breastfeeding another try.

  • Good for you Momma! I am a huge "Breast is Best" believer and had always imagined nursing my kids for a year or more.But you know what? Each of my three boys have had to switch to formula after I returned to work at 6 months, 5 months and 3 months old. I tried to pump, but it just never worked- I always dried up within a week or two no matter how many times I tried to pump each day. I did as much as I could for them as long as I could, but in the end formula is what worked. The worst part is always the guilt you lay on yourself, but know that you are doing the absolute best for your children. Even if it doesn’t go to plan.

  • I cried while reading. I was where you were almost exactly 8 years ago and then 2 years after that. My third child (now 1) is the one that screamed at the breast. Just screamed like we were trying to kill her.
    I too felt like I didn’t get a chance to bond with either baby by focusing on nursing and when was the next feeding and OMG is he/she getting enough, etc. I wish I was fortunate enough to have awesome supply and babies that latched well. No, but we are fortunate enough to have tons of help and supportive medical staff to say that this isn’t working, let’s try something else.
    Thank you for sharing your story.

  • I cried. I was where you were almost exactly 8 years ago and then 2 years after that. My third child (now 1) is the one that screamed at the breast. Just screamed like we were trying to kill her.
    I too felt like I didn’t get a chance to bond with either baby by focusing on nursing and when was the next feeding and OMG is he/she getting enough, etc. I wish I was fortunate enough to have awesome supply and babies that latched well. No, but we are fortunate enough to have tons of help and supportive medical staff to say that this isn’t working, let’s try something else.
    Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Thank you for this post. I wish had read this before when I was going through the same problem. I wanted to breast feed so badly, I wanted to have natural childbirth too. I had a C-Section and my milk supply never came in. I was so upset and felt that I was a bad mother at the beginning. All the lactation consultants and La Leche people made me feel like I was committing a crime against my little girl. You know what is really a crime? leaving your child starving because you want to feed your ego. If breastfeeding doesn’t come, it’s not the end of the world. Giving a bottle with love is much better than hating every minute of the breastfeeding experience. Thank you for writing this post, more people out there should write about stories like ours.

    • "Giving a bottle with love is much better than hating every minute of the breastfeeding experience." I think this is the best quote ever.

  • Thanks for sharing your honest story! As a first time mom 2 years ago I had no idea how hard breastfeeding would be. My daughter was born at 29 weeks and she was so small she never got the latch down. My story ended very similar to yours and I pumped for 8 months. I to found myself crying in frustration and wish that I had your story to read back then to realize I wasn’t the only one who battled with breast feeding!

  • Oh thank you! This has been the best thing I’ve read and thank goodness my baby is sleeping because I’m crying. I had the worst experience with breast feeding and tried three lactation consultants, herbs, pills, heat compressions, pumping non-stop, and listened to everyone I knew giving me advice and telling me to "hang in there". I, too, didn’t feel like I had bonded with my baby, which added to my emotional trip, and I cried for months. I hated people because they kept trying to encourage me to keep going and I just wanted to punch them. Most of them had no clue what I was going through – either breast feeding was easy for them or they didn’t even have babies yet. I finally had to give it up. I had one good cry and then moved on. We’ve been so happy ever since. You are right though, sometimes writing/reading about it makes it very therapeutic. I beat myself up for the first three months of my baby’s life – and I will NEVER do that again. Thank you for understanding and sharing.

  • Thanks so much for sharing your story!! I can relate to stubbornly hanging onto something that clearly wasn’t working, and then being so relieved to hear a doctor say, you have permission to quit and take care of yourself as well as your baby and start enjoying your time together. I wish I had read more stories like this when I felt alone and guilty when things didn’t go according to plan.

  • Thanks for sharing your story Gemma! I’m about 18 weeks along with my first and also picture myself to be the "breast-feeding super mom". At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to read your article, not another negative story". But, I’m so glad that I did. It wasn’t negative, it was just your experience and I feel just a little bit more prepared for this new experience in knowing that it just doesn’t work for everyone, and that’s okay. Hopefully I’m able to successfully breastfeed, but if not I will try to keep your story in the back of my mind and take comfort in knowing that I will be just as good of a mom if I were to have been able to breastfeed. So, thank you!

  • You have written my story. I felt so guilty because "Breast is Best", but what ended up being best for us was formula feeding. I wasn’t enjoying my son until we bottle fed. It did take a few weeks of mourning the loss of my dream to breastfeed but when I look at him today at 8 months old – happy and healthy – I know I made the best decision.

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