Failed at Breastfeeding? - It's Okay

I drove myself to the edge of a nervous breakdown trying to breastfeed a premature baby with a tongue tie and failing, then topping up with formula, then pumping, then sterilizing, then changing.

baby holding a flower
Baby's hand in mother's hand - Image by Blanka Šejdová from Pixabay

The days following the birth of a baby can bring tremendous stress. There may have been expectations of an easy breastfeeding experience. For many reasons, it might not work out that way.

It is already a massive adjustment having a precious new baby to look after, not to mention what our bodies undergo. But breastfeeding troubles can bring with it many additional stressors.

You should never feel guilty about doing what's right for you and your baby - if that means you need to stop breastfeeding, that's okay. What's important is that BOTH you and your baby are happy and healthy!

Failed Breastfeeding

I Will Not Agonize Over It Again

Yvette's story

I find it very insensitive and disrespectful for people to insist that there is no such thing as a woman who can't breastfeed. I felt like a failure after my first baby could not get enough breast milk to gain weight. So with my second child, I was determined to succeed.

After two months, I was not meeting my baby's demand for milk and was exhausted from pumping milk around the clock.

I had chosen a pro-breastfeeding pediatrician who advocated for mother's milk only for the baby's first year. In my baby's third month, however, he asked me to relax, supplement my milk with formula and enjoy my baby. I am so grateful to him for letting me off the guilt trip.

The bond with each of my four children has everything to do with our intense love for each other; the countless hours spent together - not just feeding them but looking out for them, cuddling them, spoiling them, disciplining them, and being their unconditional, eternal number one fan.

It's not the most natural thing in the world. I cannot stand all the posts on Facebook and forums that ridicule and criticize all moms that formula feed.

I tried and tried for eight weeks. If I wasn't Breastfeeding, I was pumping. It took over my life so much I could not enjoy my daughter. I had to supplement her at two weeks because she had lost too much weight. I was so depressed and down on myself.

The day I gave her her first bottle of formula, I cried because I knew I had failed her, but it was so good to see her guzzle down food. She was so hungry.

The most I ever pumped from both breasts in a day was an ounce. Maybe it had something to do with a c-section and not having my child latch for two days because of being in the NICU.

The birth was traumatic for both. But regardless of all those women who are pro-breastfeeding, before you try to preach to the women who formula feed, stop for a minute and think, maybe it wasn't because the mom was lazy or took the easy road. Maybe, just maybe, it was an actual problem that the mom agonized over, became depressed about, and cried every night about.

Now I have a healthy, happy 9-month-old, and I will try and try with my next child, but I will not agonize over it.

newborn baby
Newborn baby - Image by jas from Pixabay

Mother of Eight

Kerry's story

I have been a mother eight times, and not one of them was I able to breastfeed. I was utterly devastated every time but never as much as I was three years ago when my son Joshua was born two months early.

I remember the nurses in the NICU asking me every day if I had brought my milk in for them to tube feed my precious tiny newborn son. I felt so terrible trying to explain over and over that no matter what I did, I couldn't produce more than a few drops of milk.

I cried every time I tried and always felt like a failure. Not only could I not keep him inside me long enough, but my body couldn't feed him either. I felt like I had let him down in every possible way! I wanted to be the one that gave him everything he needed to grow strong and healthy, and I had failed.

The nurses placed a crib card on my son's bed that read, "thanks, mom, for breastfeeding me." I went home that day and cried for an hour. I think my depression over this will never really go away. But I have a beautiful 3-year-old who is healthy and happy. That's all that matters!

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My Body Had Other Plans

Sharon's story

I'm a nurse, and I felt all this pressure to breastfeed and wanted to! But my body had other plans. My son was a superstar - he latched on great! But I didn't have enough milk for him. I had to call it quits at six weeks. I felt like I failed him! He was losing weight.

Luckily my doctor was very supportive and reminded me that I was not a failure. But it is hard not to feel that way when everyone around you talks about how great breast milk is. There are many empowering breastfeeding articles, but none on being unable to breastfeed or pro-formula.

Hard Time Accepting This

Melissa's story

I gave birth to my son via c-section after going through labor with tremendous back pain. When it came time to push, they realized he was too high up and angled. Later I also found out he was face up.

A day later, we were told he had a tongue tie and a significant one. We didn't see it as a big problem, we would get it fixed, and that would be that. Little did I know this was the start of a tough breastfeeding journey.

For the first few months, we struggled with what I later found out to be his latch. I would sit in the chair crying as he nursed. I would cry from pain, frustration, and the thought of failure.

We finally got the latch fixed, and things were great until my supply dropped around when I got my IUD. I researched and found out that your supply levels out at a certain point. So, I continued feeding on demand, and my supply continued to drop. My son always seemed to be hungry.

I pushed the thought of formula out of my head - it wasn't an option. When I returned to work, I still faced a low supply and struggled to pump enough. I spoke with a lactation consultant and had my pump checked, but nothing worked. I was forced to accept formula for supplementing at daycare.

Today we are at six months and are facing the end of breastfeeding. Not by choice but because my supply continues to drop. I am having a hard time accepting this. I feel like I am mourning the loss of it. Parts of me feel like I have failed even though somewhere inside me, I know that six months of breastfeeding is an accomplishment.

I don't know anyone else who has gone through a similar journey, so your stories have helped me a little - though I have a long way to go in accepting all of this.

bottle feeding
Bottle-fed baby

I Didn't Choose Formula

Ladan's story

After being so depressed, I searched for any support group to make me feel a little better. Surprisingly, many sites support breastfeeding and cheer for successful moms, but absolutely none for moms who wanted to breastfeed but couldn't.

I had difficulty with both of my sons, and I cannot believe what a terrible feeling it is to fail at breastfeeding. You feel like less of a woman.

My newborn would drink a whole 2 oz bottle after being at my breasts for more than 90 minutes. I gave up at month 4 with my first son and at day 7 with my second because I had a 3-year-old who also needed my attention, and I could not sit there for long hours with tubes and all other kinds of BF accessories to help with breastfeeding.

Go, girls. I wish people knew that some moms don't choose formula for their own convenience but to feed a crying, hungry, frustrated baby.

No Quality Time With My Son

Charlotte's story

I'm so glad pages like this exist! I, too, had my heart set on exclusive breastfeeding - I was so excited for that magical bonding experience with my baby.

After an arduous and slow labor, my son and I were both exhausted - I tried for hours after delivery to feed him with encouragement from the midwives and doctors.

He could not get the hang of it - after cup-feeding him a couple of times, I was reassured that eventually, he would latch on, and I was still encouraged.

However, after several hours I was told that we would not be allowed to go home until they had seen him feed one way or the other. I was devastated! This put a lot of pressure on me to get him fed, and I was stressed! (Probably making things a million times worse!)

I tried all night - hand expressing colostrum and dropping it into his mouth via a syringe - I saw midwife after midwife, each with a different technique and suggestion, but we still couldn't do it.

By the following morning, with still no sleep, I gave in to formula and was discharged. I was determined to continue at home - I saw midwives, community support, and nurses and still couldn't get the hang of it - he couldn't latch on.

I felt like such a failure, and it was upsetting - by then, my milk had come in, and I was expressing as much as I could and topping him up with formula. This worked for a few weeks, but as his appetite increased, it was getting too much - I found myself either feeding or expressing and getting no quality time with my son whatsoever.

I was truly devastated. Luckily my husband and midwives were encouraging and supportive and explained how lucky I was to have the option to provide my son with an alternative feeding method.

I later discovered that my son has a laryngeal stridor (a blockage that disrupts airflow in the larynx). This does not cause him problems; at five months old, he has grown out of it). According to the research, I have read, it would have made it difficult to breastfeed.

As mums wanting to breastfeed, there is an awful lot of pressure to justify why you are bottle feeding. I still feel the urge to tell the whole story when asked about our chosen feeding method - ridiculous, I know. I have come to appreciate that as long as we are healthy and happy - there isn't much else to worry about!

If you need breastfeeding support, please contact a breastfeeding helpline in your country.

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