Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Breast Feeding Gone Wrong


Recently I received private messages from two friends, both asked my opinion on whether they should keep trying to breast feed or not. When breast feeding goes wrong, it can go really wrong, and what then?

[Just a disclaimer before any other women decide to jump me and cut my boobs off - I fully support breast feeding women. I think it is one of the most incredible things a mother can share with her baby, and that if you are capable of doing it well then you should be doing it].

Women like me will continue to struggle to feed our babies when it just isn't working for us or them. Women like me struggle each day to reach the breast feeding milestones we had in our heads "If I can just make it to 6 months" or "12 months." Meanwhile we feel like we are on the verge of nervous break down from exhaustion and sleep deprivation.

Back in my breast feeding days I had joined a couple Facebook pages on breast feeding. One was very helpful while the other, which claimed to be all about supporting the breast feeding mother, just wasn't at all. The final straw for me (with that page) came when they wrote a status saying that any woman who claims she has low supply doesn't, and low supply just does not exist. It's always something else that is the issue because our bodies were meant to provide enough milk for our babies. What happened next was a bunch of women making all sorts of mean comments in the thread about their "friends" who had claimed low supply. Comments like "I've never believed my friend who told me she had low supply. I think it's BS and that she just didn't want to be bothered with the work that goes into it." I commented to the admin on the page that this thread was so discouraging, that I was trying so hard every single day to give my baby enough milk and it just wasn't enough, he had lost weight and I was forced to mix feed. Her response just wasn't good enough and so I ended up leaving the "support group." Don't stay in support groups that don't support you. Simple, right?

Have you ever seen anyone more tired in all your life?
I spent my days on my couch feeding or pumping or having that little guy sleep on me because of his silent reflux (- I didn't know what it was for the first 7 weeks but my son would wake and scream in pain every time I put him down to sleep). In my 'spare time' (HA HA), when I was able to leave my lounge room, I was washing bottles and making up formula and maybe grabbing something somewhat edible from the kitchen for myself, and peeing. Even when we did get our baby medicated and in his own bed for sleeps, I would still be pumping while he slept.

Besides the judgement you get from other mums there's also the friends and family who don't understand why you keep trying so hard to keep breastfeeding. Most who didn't understand have never had a baby so I would explain to them that before having my baby I didn't understand it either, just that it was something I wanted to do. I didn't know the surge of hormones that would come in to play, and how the oxytocin that my baby and I would give off to each other would make the experience almost addictive. It was incredibly bonding and I had a strong desire bordering on obsession that made me want to continue to try it even though it really was not working for us.

The amount of sleep deprivation that I coped with on a day to day level made me bat-shit crazy. I fixated on things I normally wouldn't have. My anxiety went through the roof to the point that when I did have the opportunity to sleep my mind and heart would just race.
I tried so hard to enjoy moments like these
I wanted so badly to bring myself and my baby to the point where we could exclusively breast feed (not believing the nurses who said I had low-supply), and I did everything I could to make that happen, including having my son's posterior tongue and lip ties cut.  [I wrote more about that journey in the magazine article I wrote on Post Natal (Partum) Depression, which you can listen to in podcast here. ]

One of the rare moments we saw our son's tongue because he had a posterior tongue tie
What I learned from this experience, and what I told my friends that asked for my opinion is that if breast feeding is robbing you of the ability to really enjoy your baby to the fullest then you should very seriously consider exclusively formula feeding. If you have done everything you can to have that breast feeding relationship with your baby and you are left feeling like your mental health is taking an unprecedented dive into the volcano of Mordor then it's time to ask yourself if the price you're paying is worth it. Are you getting what you want out of the relationship with your baby, while they are this little and beautiful, or is every day a painful haze of heavy eyes, and constant thoughts of SLEEP, SLEEP, SLEEP, and eyes that brim over with tears whenever anyone asks how you are?
Look at the crazy lady trying to BF on holidays in Canada, with my travel Brest Friend Pillow 
I think it's quite possible that I could have avoided falling into Post Natal Depression had I just let myself off the hook with breast feeding, if I just stopped feeling guilty about not being able to keep it up. I would have gotten more sleep. I know I could have enjoyed my baby so much more instead of looking back on those first few months and flinching at the pain I endured and put my whole family through.
I wish other people let me off the hook too. I'm so glad my husband encouraged me to breast feed our baby like he did but looking back I wish he had told me to quit sooner.

We made it to 5 months. My son had pretty much decided at around 3 months that breast feeding was hard work for him and taking a bottle was so much easier. I should have taken his cue. He screamed and rarely stayed on the breast for more than 2 minutes a side. 5 months old is when I also started Zoloft. I grieved the breast feeding relationship for that first week after, but then I felt intense relief and even freedom. I started to enjoy my little boy in a way I thought could not be possible.
A wise woman once told me "Once your kids are in school no one will know the difference between the breast fed ones and the formula fed ones." 
I'll add to that by saying 'but I bet you'll be able to see the difference in the ones who weren't loved.'

*Read more about My Year Since Post Natal Depression here

40 comments:

  1. The quote at the bottom is so true. Good in you for trying, I'm sorry that it was so hard and that you weren't more supported. We do put a lot of pressure on ourselves. I have been breastfeeding since June 2012 with first my little boy and now my daughter. I have been lucky, but I don't understand why women can't be more supportive of each other. Thank you for sharing this story. Dani x

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  2. This is such a beautiful post and you've really hit so many truths here and taken me back to times past.
    I've had six babies and each had a very different breastfeeding experience (all kinds of troubles and there's been bottle-feeding too.) I do like to tell people that it wasn't until my fifth baby that I mastered the art of breastfeeding - 5 babies! Many more than the national average of 2!
    Breastfeeding is more than a mouth to breast - it's an entire family picture and so many factors need to be perfect to get it right.
    Successfully breastfeeding number six at the age of two now! X

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  3. Well said! breastfeeding was a bust here both times. Thank you for putting your story out there. Makes me feel brave enough to put mine out there! Although my two are now 3.5yrs and 19 months. What a wonderful thing that wise woman told you... she's very wise indeed!! Jx

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  4. ahh those breast feeding days. They were hard! especially for my first. Every mum and bub is so so different. And every situation is so different. You got to do what is best and what feels right x

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  5. Great post Jess, and beautifully said. My second had silent reflux and I wouldn't wish that on anyone, let alone the other challenges you were dealing with re: the tongue and lip ties. Anyone who judges any mother for the way they feed their children needs to have a long, hard look at themselves. The problem is theirs.

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  6. I'm so proud that you managed to go for as long as you did. No matter what our struggle is, we need support from our fellow mummies. No mother or baby is the same so how can we pigeon hole everyone? If only tired mummies could think straight hey? You did an excellent job so far. I'm lucky to still be able to breast feed but who knows what my next little one (if one comes along) will want and what I will be able to give them? I struggled to give milk any other way and munchkin never took a bottle and she would get herself all worked up. She was so happy to wait for me while I was on prac in a very hot November not drinking anything more than maybe 30ml. We're so hard on ourselves but should be glad that we can love our babies in everyday that we can :-)

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  7. I was one of the women with a limited supply. With my first baby, yes, in hindsight I realised I never attached him properly (my milk never came in). He went on the bottle at 4 months as he just wasn't gaining weight. With my daughter, I worked so hard to breastfeed and managed to successfully for about 4 months again - but it really took it's toll on MY health. I was so run down I got very very sick and wound up in hospital and so ... she went on the bottle too! And that wise woman is so right - now my kids are 20 and 18 who knows or cares how they were fed back then.

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  8. When it's easy it's good when it's not it's soul destroying! And three kids later I've had both lots. Love this post!

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  9. Ahh the old posterior tongue tie. Both of my girls had that and my youngest had an upper lip tie too. It can make the old breastfeeding a little painful. Anyway, I digress. I loved this post Thanks so much for sharing your story.

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  10. Thank you for sharing that Jody. I wondered if it gets any better with #2 but I know now it really depends on the baby. There are so many factors that come into play. That's why I love supporting the women that can breast feed too. It's a really difficult job even when everything goes right. It takes patience and time. I know some friends say breast feeding was a little bit of a break for them. I'd like to know how that feels...

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  11. Thanks @the parenting files - tahlia for stopping by and commenting. Did you have the support with your first while still in hospital or from a midwife?

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  12. @Amy Smith Thank you my sweet friend for taking the time to comment here. I know lot's of mum's who can breast feed find it hard when they can't get a break with the bottle. I know there are struggles both sides. We can't judge each other for hard work and trying that's for sure. You have such a sweet baby!

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  13. @Janet aka Middle Aged Mama Thanks for weighing in here. I have suspected that my low supply, if I did have it, would have been caused by the first 10 days when I was BF like crazy and Charlie was losing weight and screaming non-stop. If we could have corrected those ties in those first few days after birth I wonder how different our breast feeding relationship would have been. I don't think he was stimulating the breasts enough. I think I made the mistake of letting all those pro- breast feeding FB pages get the better of me, and pressure me to death.

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  14. @Emily @ Have A Laugh On Me It's nice to know it can go either way so maybe there's hope with my 2nd, whenever that is haha!

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  15. @Renee at Mummy, Wife, Me Did you get their ties cut?

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  16. Breastfeeding number five and six babies have been that 'break' experience you wonder about and it has (and continues to be), lovely!

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  17. No, breastfeeding has never made me lose weight, rather the opposite. It makes me ravenously hungry and then I eat the wrong foods.

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  18. It makes me really sad that women who can't breastfeed (or hey, just plain don't WANT to) are made to feel guilty or to persevere until they can (which in many cases will be never!). Unless a child is not being fed AT ALL, people should just butt out! I hope your friends find a solution that works for THEM whether that is persevering or switching to formula. x Aroha

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  19. This is such a great post and I hope that it helps women who are in the place that you were. I was 'lucky' that I had made the decision early on in my pregnancy that going back on medication after I had given birth was important. So I never had it in my mind that I was going to breastfeed. I did feel a lot of guilt though and found myself justifying the choice without people even asking about it. I was in a couple of formula support groups but they were often taken over by women who breastfed so they could 'teach' us why we were evil. It was really quite sad.

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  20. You are always such an encouragement Mel! Thank you!

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  21. Great article hun. I only made it until 6 weeks and she refused the breast completely but I still pumped day and night until 3 months and I just was not enjoying my baby at all. She had a tongue tie also. It's such an emotional battle.

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  22. LetsSupportMommiesJanuary 15, 2015 at 5:22 PM

    Thank you for writing this. I dealt with MANY issues breastfeeding including low supply. I was mommy shamed outside my own house: My neighbor's daughter was having a baby soon after I stopped BFing. I saw them outside by the mailbox and I went over to offer the samples of other formulas I didn't need to her in the event she chose to FF or ended up needing to for whatever reason. (My gal was on a specialized formula too) It was a nice talk with her mom about how hard it had been for us...and then she asked her daughter if she was going to BF or FF. Her daughter said verbatim: "Oh I'm breastfeeding, low supply issues don't happen. That's a myth." Lord I was pissed and so was her mother. She changed the subject immediately and then warmly said goodbye. Fast forward 6 months...daughter had the baby and saw me outside one day..."Hey there. I'm going back to work and I'm in need of formula for her during the day until I can come home and BF her. Do you still have samples?" Guess what? I gave her what I had. Because you CAN NOT know what it is to go through what another person experiences. Maybe pumping didn't work for her. Maybe she just didn't want to pump. Doesn't matter. I just hope other mommies can move beyond this mommy war crap and just SUPPORT ONE ANOTHER!

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  23. I so needed this today!!! I cried as I read it. Well said :)

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  24. Thank you. I think this is a very important message. I did breast feed (and didn't really enjoy it until kids #3 & 4). I felt so much pressure, and I couldn't think of anything else for the first few months of my first son. When I have the chance now, I like to tell new mothers that if nursing is not working for them, there is no harm or failure in switching to formula. It is a shame that women can't support each other to do what's best for themselves.

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  25. Breastfeeding is a hard slog. There is no way it is just a natural thing like so many proclaim. It's a learned habit from both Mum and bub. For 3 weeks after my first born, I expressed and feed him by syringe or bottle because he wasn't latching on. I was seeing lactose consultants and working hard to make it happen. It did. I was lucky we eventually got it together and I fed him for 18 months. I do think however, that it would have been so easy to get discouraged and give up at that point. Persistence and circumstance allowed me to feed but I understand that this isn't the way it works out for everyone and I wish social commentary would cut the crap with all the judgmental comments. Mums need to do what is best for themselves and their child. Period.

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  26. Reading this makes me feel sad and angry- I too struggled with low supply. What made it worse for me was the lack of education and support that goes along with it. They told me to give formula top ups- without mentioning that this would further impact my supply.

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  27. Kirsty @ My Home TruthsJanuary 16, 2015 at 9:11 AM

    Thanks for writing this. I was unable to successfully breastfeed any of my kids. The longest I lasted was 15 days with my youngest. She had lost weight, each feed was torture and I was losing my mind (so I can only imagine how you felt after 5 months!) It hurts to make the decision to give it away but once the hurt goes you are left with a sense of relief and with the chance to actually enjoy your baby. I loved feedings with her once the pain, the attachment issues and knowing she was actually getting what she needed was sorted out. It does not make any of us bad mothers to recognise when something isn't working and do something positive to help our babies grow and nurture our relationship with them x

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  28. Thanks for your comment Miriam. It is a battle and such an unexpected one. Who tells you it's going to be that hard?

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  29. @Kirsty @ My Home Truths exactly! And the nurses don't want to promote not breast feeding so they don't tell you just how much you would enjoy your baby if you didn't breast feed (because you have problems doing it). They don't tell you how you can still stare into your babies eyes with bottle feeds and still snuggle them close. You can. It's not the exact same but there's still bonding and enjoyment.

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  30. @Kaz @ MeltingMoments It's like a shock to the system, isn't it. As if having a baby isn't shocking enough, now you have to figure out why feeding them isn't coming easy. Doesn't seem fair.

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  31. Thank you so much for taking the time to write your story here @HandbagMafia A lot of these comments are reminding me about some of the details about the difficulties i was faced with. One of them was finding good lactation consultants that didn't cost the moon. A new baby is already expensive and that just made it harder. I found it tough to find resources to help me too. My GP was very supportive of me but did leave a lot of the figuring it all out up to me, which was daunting. Thank you for positivity!

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  32. @Vicki @ Knocked Up & Abroad haha! YES! they do need to cut the crap with the social commentary. Lot's of hurtful comments said. I always think it doesn't take much to try and put yourself in someone else's shoes and see their pain so why don't more people do it? Good on you for persisting. We did some syringe feeding to get him back on the breast after his lip and tongue tie were cut. He bottle fed for a week after and made me ball my eyes out, until great lactation consultant got us back to mix-feeds

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  33. It's a shame that the views on formula and breast feeding seem to be on extreme opposite ends with no middle ground. I love that women these days are supported in their choice to breast feed, well in most places. But they need to be just as supported when they pull out a bottle. So many people jump to assumptions about the "lazy mum" who thinks her baby is an accessory and not work, so therefore uses a bottle. My first thoughts when I see a mum bottle feeding now is "I wonder what her story is, and what she's been through to get here ... look at how she loves her baby."

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  34. It brings a lot of stuff up. Thank you for leaving me a comment. Makes my heart full.

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  35. This is such a good example of what happens when you judge someone before listening, or trying to walk in their shoes! How kind of you to give her what you had considering what she said. Such a forgiving act on your part. I want to share this story on my FB page. I hope that will be ok with you.

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  36. @TeganMC Oh this brings up a whole other issue i hadn't thought of touching on Tegan! That of having to explain to other people why you don't breast feed so they can judge whether it's a justified reason. I know you're so great at being open about mental health. I am on here but I am not sure how I would respond in your situation faced with someone in person. It's really none of anyone's business why you aren't breast feeding, and to be faced with having to tell someone about your mental illness because of it is just unfair.

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  37. @Aroha @ Colours of Sunset Exactly!! We should all be focusing on the babies who are getting little to nothing of either breast milk or formula. Way to nail it on the head!

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  38. This is a wonderful post. I only made it to 2 months. From the day my son was born at 36 weeks he just wouldn't feed properly and was put into special care because of it. I tried and tried and tried. He was always so unhappy. He would always fall asleep feeding. He was always hungry. The support I got was crap and then I thought I was the problem. My PND wasn't diagnosed until my son was 19 months but looking back, I had it from the early days. I remember the anxiety, the dread, the sinking feelings, gosh it was horrible. I tried exclusively pumping for a little while, oh what a nightmare. I can remember feeling so guilty when I decided to exclusively formula feed and I felt as though I had to explain myself to people. I really can't wait to give it another try with my second, whenever that may be. I feel as though I have learnt so much since then and I know to be less hard on myself, next time I might just have a chance. Love the last quote.

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  39. Brilliant post! I wish I had relied on more support and help when I was breast feeding. I put a lot of responsibility (or should that read: pressure) on myself to keep going. I had nipple thrush for 6 weeks and I still kept going. No one was making me - just me. I thought (somewhat foolishly) that breast feeding my boys no matter what was how my love for them could be measured. I couldn't be more wrong. I look back on my breast feeding journey with fondness but still, there were extremely trying, challenging moments.

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  40. Just read this fabulou, honest post after viewing your lactation cookie recipe. I am one of 'those' mums whose milk came in late, had low milk supply, attachment issues as well as reflux. It didn't make for a combination of success. I think I lasted about a month with my first baby and about two weeks with my second as I could feel myself spiralling down very quickly. The decision to exclusively formula feed was the best decision I could have made for me and my baby at the time. I am due at the end of this month with baby #3, so let's see how I go this time round. As you said, you can still bond and have those special moments regardless of whether you breast or formula feed - the love for your baby doesn't change because of this.

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