When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Go As Planned

Even before my pregnancy I knew I wanted to breastfeed.  I researched breastfeeding and the many benefits for mom and baby.  I read articles about the deep bond formed during breastfeeding and I attended the breastfeeding class offered by the hospital.

Entering motherhood I was hopeful and optimistic and possibly naive.  Within minutes of Gemma being born I was holding her skin-to-skin and as I had read in all my wonderful research this was the perfect opportunity to begin nursing.  My hospital nurse helped me latch her on and I was in awe.  This was it.  This was how I would feed my beautiful baby.

Breastfeeding was Painful.

By the second or third time I nursed Gemma, I started noticing the pain.  Everything I had read told me that initial pain was common but it should ease up as she nurses.  Since the pain only seemed to get worse I contacted the lactation consultant.  She told me I was already having some damage.  However, no need to fear.  We practiced some different holds and she showed me ways to help Gemma latch on correctly that shouldn’t be painful.  Everything looked great.  Yet I was still in pain.

Breastfeeding was Tiring.

Gemma cried a LOT in the hospital.  Every two hours a nurse would come in and want to know when I nursed her.  Uhmm, you mean nursing should have a start and stop time?  It seemed like she wanted to nurse constantly!  I found myself questioning… was I doing it right?  Was she getting enough?  Why did she not want to be anywhere except at my breast?  We chose not to use a pacifier because I had read about “nipple confusion”.  The hospital didn’t give us one anyway.  I was the pacifier.  But I had also just given birth.  I was exhausted and hurting and I started to realize that I was not having the beautifully peaceful moments of bounding during breastfeeding.  It just made me more tired and again… it was so painful.

Breastfeeding was REALLY Painful.

By the time we took Gemma home I had already lost faith in this beautiful dream of breastfeeding.  Oh I was still nursing but I no longer wore rose-colored glasses.  I was in so much pain it was excruciating to even where a shirt.  I was cracked and bleeding.  Yet, my little bundle of joy needed to be fed.  I reached out to another lactation consultant.  We met up with her and again she helped with positioning and how to latch her on correctly.  I left feeling hopeful.

That hope lasted until the next feeding.  I would cry every time I nursed her.  I dreaded when ever she was hungry.  Talk about a lot of GUILT.  How could I dread when my baby was hungry.  There were many times when Dallas held our screaming baby because I just needed a minute.  One minute with her not needing to eat from me.  The pain was so unbearable.  At two weeks old I finally couldn’t take another night of torture.

The night before I had cried for almost an hour as I fed her.  I wasn’t going to do it again.  I was miserable and Gemma could sense that.  So I defrosted one of the stored bags of breastmilk I had already collected.  All the research said to wait.  If I gave her the bottle she might not go back to the breast.  But I couldn’t wait.  I was an anxious mess.  The thought of nursing could send me into hysterics.

So I gave her a bottle of breastmilk.

Ya’ll.  It was so glorious I cried tears of joy.  So I gave her another.  And another.  Two days later and I realized I had become a mom who exclusively pumps.  I kept telling my husband and family I would start nursing her soon.  I just needed to heal.  However, after the two weeks it took for me to heal and I would still cry, thinking about attempting to nurse her.

Pumping was hard too.

I jumped into exclusively pumping.  I set timers and bought equipment and I would lug that pump anywhere and everywhere.  It was better than the pain… but it became a pain.  After four weeks of exclusively pumping I had completely healed and the inconvenience of pumping was really starting to weigh on me.  I had shoved the guilt of failing to nurse deep down inside but it was slowly starting to rise to the surface.  Yes, I was feeding my baby breastmilk… but it was out of the bottle.  Could I really pump every 2-3 hours and make enough milk to keep her satisfied.  TWICE I had come close to running out.

So, I finally attempted to nurse her again.  There was a lot of prayer and some tears beforehand.  She wouldn’t latch without a shield but she did drink from me.  TWICE.  But that was all it took for the pain to begin coming back.  Maybe it was partly mental.  It didn’t matter.  I didn’t want to dread feeding my baby.  So I stuck with pumping.

At 7 weeks old, I finally had to supplement some formula.  There were tears because of that as well.  I had gotten a clogged duct and my milk supply dropped drastically.  Gemma girl was HUNGRY.  So she got a few bottles of formula.  My normal milk supply returned but I could no longer keep up with my growing baby.

There is no Shame.

I’m still learning not to blame myself.  Gemma is now eight weeks old and gets about half of her milk from me and the other half is formula.  I try not to read too much about breastfeeding anymore.  There are so many wonderful women who overcome MOUNTAINS to breastfeed their babies.  I did not overcome my mountain.  But Gemma is growing and healthy and so happy.  That counts for something!  Maybe that counts for everything.  I’m not sure.

I will keep giving her breastmilk for as long as I can but I’m no longer putting pressure on myself.  I’ve realized while it’s disappointing that my breastfeeding dreams didn’t come to fruition that I’m still caring for my daughter the best I can.  I am a better mother when I’m happy and healthy and when I don’t cringe at the thought of feeding her.

So I’ll enjoy my full on formula baby girl and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that maybe with baby number 2 I’ll finally get to see the beauty in breastfeeding.  No pressure though.

I’d love to hear your breastfeeding thoughts and journey.  Send me an email or leave a comment.
Don’t forget to check out my Pinterest for all different breastfeeding, pumping and milk supply information!

-Brittany Smith-

11 thoughts on “When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Go As Planned

  1. Girl, I know this pain…both physically and mentally. My situation was similar. I also just didn’t make enough and it didn’t fill up my baby. He was losing weight, etc! He flourished with supplementing, and finally as a formula fed baby. I finally stopped beating myself up. Instead of breast is best, my new mantra was fed is best. There’s a story about my second child/second attempt I’ll tell if you’re curious. Just know it’s normal and Gemma is going to be just fine!

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    • Thank you so much! It’s amazing how well Gemma has done with formula. It’s true that fed is best, I have to remind myself of that when the guilt tries to creep back in. I would love to hear about your second attempt! It might be bad but I’m already hoping that whenever we have baby #2 I’ll finally get to exclusively breastfeed.

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  2. I too, know exactly how you feel. Unlike you, I didn’t get to hold my first baby right away to breastfeed or even just touch. They wisked him away to the NICU and I didn’t get to see him until the next day. I don’t think he was even well enough to try breastfeeding until he was about 4 weeks old. They had me pump but I hardly produced much milk. It was so depressing to see all the stored milk in the hospital’s refrigerator, filled all the way to the top of the bag or jar, when mine barely filled half. Because Matthew had Down syndrome, it also made it more difficult to latch one because of his low muscle tone. I remember get so upset that neither way was working. With my second, well he already was twice the size of what his brother weighed, and once again, I hardly produced much milk, so I had to supplement what I could not give him when he breastfeed. I think I only lasted about 4 months with him. I’m sorry things didn’t work out the way you wanted them too, but now you are not alone.

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    • Thank you so much for the encouragement! That must have been so difficult with the NICU stay, I can’t even imagine. I really don’t pump very much either. I tried all the tips and tricks to boost my milk supply but I still made just barely enough to feed her. I had to rely on donor milk twice before I finally started supplementing with formula. But four months is still great!

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  3. Hello, I can totally relate. The pain, the nipple shields, feeling anxious thinking about when my baby was going to wake up and want to eat again. When the midwife told me my girl had stopped gaining weight I cried for three days straight feeling like a failure, at breastfeeding, and as a mother in general. I cried all the way to the store, cried in the store buying bottles and cried feeding them to her initially. And then she was happy and she slept again and she gained weight. Hallelujah. Every time I start to feel guilty about not breastfeeding I just focus on her smile, her chubby cheeks and my intact nipples!
    Thanks so much for sharing your story.

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  4. I am going through the same thing with my second child. The exact same thing. Pain. Anxiety. Worry. Guilt. Did I mention pain?!?! I do all of the above right now…nurse, pump, and supplement. I have power pumped, made awful tasting smoothies, and ate lactation cookies until I was blue in the face. Although I am growing very impatient and tired of pumping and the time it takes away from playing or a nap (yeah right) I realized that my child still needs me for nourishment, whether it’s by formula or breast milk. He is growing and healthy. He is happy and such a good baby. Being a mother is tough! We worry about the decisions we make and how they will mold our children. As my mom friends tell me…you know what is best for your child and you are doing a great job!!

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  5. I am so glad I came across this article! My LO is one month today and breastfeeding has not gone as planned for me. My supply has never been able to keep up and I’m already having to supplement. Talk about guilt and lots of tears! Thanks for sharing!

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  6. I also read every breastfeeding article I could find and was pumped that I could provide everything my baby girl would need; but I didn’t account for the hemorrhage I would incur during childbirth; which would delay my milk production…and then find out my baby girl may not be able to latch because her chin goes in too far. Definitely heartbreaking but at least she’s being fed.

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  7. Oh I can relate! I remember with my first son questioning everything. Am I do this right, is he getting enough and many more. I was nervous and unsure if I was doing it correctly. At 9 weeks I finally stopped breastfeeding him, I was so relieved and sad at the same time. Like you I had all these beautiful ideas in mind about breastfeeding. Along came my second son. I just knew this was going to be better I was “experienced” haha no it was similar to my first experience with breastfeeding. My second son was a eater I didn’t make it as long 6 weeks. Now here I am with my third son sleeping so peacefully on me. He is 7 weeks. The third time is the charm for me. He took right to it just minutes after birth. My milk production isn’t huge, in fact I don’t pump at all. I find when I do he isn’t getting enough in feedings afterward for most of the day. I am fortunate to be a stay at home mom right now so 7 weeks and no formula supplement yet. Though I see that day coming. I don’t think there should be so much pressure from society to breastfeed your sweet baby. Not all women can and every baby is different. Each of my boys are happy and healthy and I am proud that I was able to provide atleast a couple months of a solid start with breast milk. Your doing great mama! I really applaud you for exclusive pumping! Even after 3 babies I never figured out how to pump correctly. Congratulations on your baby girl. Prayers that you will find your beautiful experience in your next pregnancies ❤️

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  8. This touches close to home for me. My daughter is 5 weeks old, and I have decided to give up on breastfeeding. She has such a painful latch and I have fought through blisters, cracking, burning pain for weeks. I understand the tears that come with every feed. I was no able to nurse my 1st born. I had an emergency C-section, and was readmitted in the hospital a week later, and my supply dropped drastically and she wouldn’t latch afterwards. I real neat myself up over it, and cried for what felt like months. I promised with this one that I wouldn’t put that pressure on myself. Well, I was wrong. We had trouble latching, so we used a shield and she was doing great. I tried after 2 weeks without it and it was painful. But I saw a LC and tried my best to correct her latch and fight through. But I am not at the point where the shield is even painful. I’ve already cried so much at the thought of not being able to nurse. And I hit my breaking point tonight. I think I need to come to terms with the fact that it just will not happen. I need to realize that ‘fed is best’. It really helps to know that so many other women share my struggle. And it makes me hopefully that I’ll overcome it.

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    • It’s so, so, so hard!! I have been there. I’m also pregnant with number two and I am telling myself not to put pressure on myself but I know it will still be so disappointing if it doesn’t work out. I just try to cling to the fact that my girl is growing and thriving and doing so well and that it is only me who is sad and struggling. Gemma didn’t know any different. In fact she thrived when we switched over to formula.

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