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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tara's Tangent: You Arent’ a Bad Mom if You Don’t Breastfeed

[I want to preface this post by saying that I mean no harm or judgment here. I am stumbling with words to write this because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings because the last thing a Mama needs is to feel bad about her parenting. This is just a reflection of my experience based on my own beliefs.]

I know, I know. I am breaking the golden rule of blogging and putting an “off topic post” on here. But I have been mulling over in my head some thoughts on my struggles with breastfeeding and figured I would post this in case it could in any way help someone else. I hope this might help people who may feel out of place because of low supply issues.
Click the image to open in full size.
I struggled with low milk supply with both of my children and the entire experience initially left me feeling like less of a woman. That is what we were built to do, right? And I hear people talk about the benefits of breastmilk and avoiding feeding their kids that “icky formula” and I instantly felt a surge of guilt.

Let me start with baby #1.
She was in the NICU for a short while and in that time I got bruised up due to poor education on breastfeeding and a lack of support from my recovery nurses. I couldn’t breastfeed, so I pumped. I blamed that on my low supply. Although maple syrup  emanated from my body for months (thanks to fenugreek), I never pumped more than 4 ounces a day. Well after drinking one quart of mothers milk a day, pumping 12+ times a day, power pumping, supplemental nursing systems, shields, shells, breast compressions, pumping in between feedings (and even waking up every 2-3 hours while dear daughter is awesome and sleeping 8+ hours a night!), pumping after feedings, reglan, increased protein consumption, fenugreek, homemade hands-free pumping bras (a lacy orange one, might I add!), exclusively pumping, sage avoidance, parsley avoidance, dairy avoidance, feeding tracking, chocolate avoidance, spicy food avoidance, ice cream avoidance, boppys, lactation consultant after lactation consultant, asymmetrical latching, lanisoh, bedside pumping, reclined feeding, nursing vacation, switch nursing, formula avoidance (that didn't last long!), extra sleep, increased calorie intake, La Leche calls, cleft palate bottles, Dr. Brown bottles, zero flow bottles, vent air bottles, blessed thistle, attachment parenting, and oatmeal, it was safe to say my battle with breastfeeding was over.

It was solidified by the fact that little one grabbed the SNS system while I was feeding her and managed to throw it on my brand new laptop and ruin it.

I gave up at 3 months and spent the next 12 months kicking myself for this decision. I felt like a terrible mother. When I went to feed her in public nursing rooms, I felt alienated and out of place, even though I needed a calm place to feed my baby her bottle.

Then Baby #2 came
I wanted to think it would all be different, but I knew in my heart it wouldn’t. I told doctors, nurses, and lactation consultants about my history of low milk supply and they immediately “hushed” me, as if dredging up the past was taboo. I wanted to use this fresh start as a chance to troubleshoot, but no one would listen. I endured terrible pain for 6 weeks. All the sources out there say if you have pain, you are doing something wrong. But guess what? I wasn’t. I went to multiple LCs who all confirmed a good latch. I went to an ear, nose, and throat specialist to confirm baby wasn’t tongue tied. Finally some good friends told me to endure the toe-curling latching pain for a few weeks and it would go away. And it did. But sadly the supply didn't come in fully. I was told that there is no such thing as running out of milk, you ALWAYS make milk, and yet I saw the opposite. So I felt wrong. I was certainly making more than with my first, but little man was dropping in weight to drastically low levels and nothing I did helped. Finally the LC concluded that I may have hypoplastic breasts because there is a large space between my breasts, which meant less breast tissue and therefore a low milk supply. I had to supplement with at least 12 ounces a day. You would have thought that I would have been upset, but I left the office feeling relieved.

I did everything I could do.

And that leads me to my current reflection on supplementing my child. I want to feel guilty. I want to feel awful. But I don’t at all. Instead, I feel like I have an even greater sense of pride because I know I did everything I could to breastfeed my baby, which I felt was important. It is put very well in “Making More Milk”: “It is about the commitment you made to give your baby the best start in life and the tremendous effort you put into pursuing that goal.”

I feel a sense of pride that I am committed to feed my baby in the way that works best for him, no matter what. I currently use a LactAid SNS system and I love it (no ruined laptop yet this time around).

I think there are a lot of opportunities for guilt out there. People constantly told me that I was doing something “wrong” to have a low milk supply (I swear if one more person says I need to drink more water I will go nuts!).

Bottom line: in my opinion, it is always helpful to do what you can, but what makes you a good mom is not whether or not you breastfeed. Doing everything you can to do what is best for your baby is what makes you a good mom.

I think this is my pumping mantra:
"We aren’t measured by the ounces in bottles but rather by the grit and determination behind those ounces” - "Making More Milk" by Diana West


  1. Love this!! I, too, struggled with a ridiculously low milk supply with both of my boys. My mom and sister did, too. Must be genetic. I pumped and did ALL that I could until no more milk would be produced. The first was 6 weeks, the second 10 weeks. I pumped around the clock. Neither boy had nursing troubles. I just did NOT produce. Who wouldn't want to breast feed....it is FREE!!! So not all moms have to do formula by choice; we have to do it because it is our only option.

  2. You should post more stuff like this! You're an excellent writer and you wrote it without being judgmental or throwing a pity party, IMO. It's an excellent post! I do think it's important for moms to give breast feeding a try, but if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. Breastfeeding doesn't come easily to everyone. Kudos to you for giving it a herculean effort!

  3. Thanks you guys. I am still shaking from writing it. My heart is racing. I am so worried I will offend, but it is an issue close to my heart.

  4. I went through the exact same thing mama! Like I was told by a Doctor, "Breastfeeding is natural but it doesn't come naturally to everyone". Sometimes it's just plain hard and infuriating. My DS only got 3 months, but I don't think he's any worse off for it.

  5. Your story sounds exactly like mine. I tried everything possible, and I do mean everything, to no avail. I felt constantly judged like I was making excuses as to why I couldn't breastfeed after so many failed attempts, but I eventually realized that the person judging me the most was myself.

    After 4 months of constant struggle and pain, I had to throw in the towel. I, like you, was looking for answers, and was also eventually diagnosed with hypoplastic breasts (this revelation came after doing my own research since no one could mention this as possibility before!). I cut myself some slack and although I'll try again with my next, I am going to do so guilt-free, knowing that I will try everything but will not blame myself if it doesn't work out as planned. Thank you for sharing!

  6. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I am still struggling with low supply. I pump three times a day at work for a total of 4 ounces...no matter what I've tried...and I've tried everything. I laugh to think how much formula I could have purchased with all the pumping/supply products I have purchased! But it was still worth it to try. My breastfeeding/supply manta is, "As much as I can for as long as I can." Reading your post helps bolster me in my efforts, it really does! So again, thank you, thank you, thank you!

  7. So intresting. I'm a breast feeding mom now and at first my milk was not coming in and my mom who is an herbalist gave me 3 cups of a tea called milk flow and from there on out I was flowing like the Nile. 6 others girls had babies around the time I did and I'm the only one still breast feeding the rest all said not enough milk. My son was 9.5 23 inches when born and doubled his weight in 2 monthes . Blessed I guess!!!

  8. Thanks everyone for all of your supportive comments. You have no idea how comforting that is.

  9. Great post.

    You said you did have more milk supply with your second, right? Could you tell a big difference in output? I am just curious because I've read literature that said subsequent babies tend to go better with supply (something about receptors in the tissue...).

    I had supply issues with my first and it crushed me. Hoping if I have a #2 it will go better.

  10. Thanks Kristin. I did make MUCH more with my second. With my first I could never make more than 4 ounces a day. My second gets about 13 ounces a day from me. I have heard taking Goat's Rue helps too (and they say to start taking it when pregnant). I didn't do that this time around, but I will probably with #3. There is more info on my issues here (http://www.paddedtushstats.com/2011/06/padded-tush-stats-tangent-you-arent-bad.html). I highly recommend using an SNS if you have supply issues. It's pretty discreet (I am using it in the picture in this post). Sorry to hear about your supply issues. I understand that frustration. Feel free to email me if you ever need to vent or have a question, I am passionate about talking about it.


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