When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Work Out


It starts when you’re pregnant, the bombardment of advertising about feeding your baby. You’ll get mailers and coupons and product samples, all attempting to sway you towards one product or another, each touting its superiority over their competitors. Along with that is the constant pressure to breastfeed – ‘breast is best’, ‘every drop counts’, ‘miracle milk’, and other slogans designed to compete with the formidable budget of infant formula companies.

We’re not here to tell you how to feed your baby. We have faith that the decisions you’ve made for your baby and family are what’s right for you, right now, and are here to help where we can. Today, we’re talking to the moms who planned on breastfeeding, maybe even went to great lengths to breastfeed, and it just didn’t work out. If you don’t know that particular pain, then keep reading. And if you do, then know that we see you.
For many of us, we start out planning on doing all the things Best™. From birthing to diapering to feeding, getting all of the Best™ products and contraptions and accessories can be time-consuming, costly, but very important when you’re a new mom. Feeding is often a particular concern. We hear through the grapevine that breastfeeding is painful, or difficult, or time-consuming, or limiting, and decide that no matter what, we’re going to make it work, because it’s what’s Best™.

Some of us do research (not me, because I was naive and arrogant), and start assembling their resources before the baby is born. They join groups, attend meetings and start making connections. That’s smart; it’s infinitely easier to give your local breastfeeding peer counselor or lactation professional a call when you have met her face-to-face than it is to call a complete stranger. Plus, having a community of moms in a similar place in their lives to draw from makes those late-night second-guessing sessions easier to get through.

Once your baby is born, you’re determined to make it work so you put baby to breast…. and baby falls asleep. Or maybe baby has a tongue tie, or other issue that makes latching a thing that just isn’t happening. Or maybe your birth didn’t go as expected and you have some other hurdles to work through, either physically or emotionally, that you weren’t expecting. So you redouble your efforts, grit your teeth and try. And try, and try. You get a nipple shield. You see the lactation consultant in the hospital. It kinda works, but you’re still not ‘there’, and then you’re sent home. And the baby cries. And cries. And criesandcriesandcries.
Still, you’re determined. So you muddle through until you can see the pediatrician. You make an appointment to see a peer counselor, or hire a postpartum doula to come in and help, and it’s still not working. Maybe baby starts losing weight and you need to supplement. Maybe there’s an economical barrier towards getting a tongue-tie revised. Maybe you’re just exhausted, and need to stop breastfeeding so you can be the mother that you intend to be.

And that’s just it. Sometimes, despite all your best intentions and efforts, breastfeeding just doesn’t work out. Sometimes, it’s through misinformation; any mom can tell you how much conflicting information you get, even from reputable and knowledgeable sources. Trying to decide what’s Best™ when the answer isn’t clear is very challenging. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out because even though Mom is doing all the things right, Baby still isn’t getting it. Sometimes, there’s a physical barrier, like inverted nipples or a tongue-tie (or both in the same breastfeeding pair!!) that make it extremely difficult to get breastfeeding established. Sometimes, it’s a supply issue – either too much or too little, both are equally problematic. Sometimes, it’s medication-related, or some other health issue that makes breastfeeding impossible or shorter than planned so Mom can get the medical help she needs.

Rarely do we talk about how that feels – to be in a situation where you need to stop breastfeeding, or trying to. The emotions are complicated, and often overwhelming. Guilt is often among the top contenders. Sadness, confusion, frustration…. to name a few. On the other side of the coin, Relief. Happiness – yes, happiness. It’s okay to be happy that you can move on and focus on being a mom instead of trying to fit into a mold that isn’t working for you. If you’re struggling with these emotions, we encourage you to join us at the BBC Peer Support Meeting this week, or post about it in WMC Playgroup, or in WMC Self-Care Support and let’s talk about it.


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