The Lactation Hotline Gone Wrong

baby-boy-breastfeeding Image via Shutterstock

It was just a few days after bringing Penelope home from the hospital when I found myself locked in the bathroom at 1:30 in the morning, trying not to wake my husband. I was crying out from the shooting pain while desperately dialing the number on the sheet of paper I was clutching. I knew breastfeeding would be tricky, but felt reassured when the nurse at the hospital told me there was a 24-hour “lactation hotline” for me to use as a resource. I have a pretty high tolerance for pain, and I was at my limit.

Earlier that evening, I screamed so loud while feeding her that my husband got nervous. I considered begging him to run out and get formula, so I could give her something else during the middle-of-the-night feeding other than my poor, beat-up boobs. Instead, I powered through and figured I’d deal with the next feeding later on. Which led me to my 1:30 AM desperate dial.

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Finally, someone picked up.

Strike one: It was a man who answered the phone. A MAN. I considered hanging up, but one glance down at my bleeding, sore nipples and I figured I’d take a shot. I took a deep breath, cleared my throat, and asked to speak with a lactation consultant.

To my dismay, the man flatly explained that the lines were “backed up” and I would surely receive a call back from the lactation consultant in about four hours. FOUR HOURS.

I told him he didn’t understand, that I needed to speak with someone right away, but he assured me that he did in fact understand and would have someone get back to me just as soon as they could. I would have to feed Penelope again before that point, and would just have to suffer through it.

To the men out there, it may be tough to comprehend the predicament I was in. Let me explain it in a way that may help you put yourself in our shoes. Here goes:

Imagine you awaken in the middle of the night. You look down, and notice that your balls are on fire.

Before you have enough time to panic, you hear what appears to sound like a screaming piranha. You realize, to your horror, that the only way to get the piranha to stop screaming is to latch it on to your flaming balls. You are in quite the pickle.

You remember there is a phone number for you to call where you can speak to the only person who could help you put the fire out in your balls and calm the piranha, so, trembling in pain, you dial it. A woman answers.

WOMAN: “Hello, Flaming Balls Hotline! How may I help you?”


WOMAN: “I’m sorry to hear that, sir. But our call log is backed up at the moment. I do, however, understand your frustration.”

YOU: “Lady, are you serious?! You don’t even have balls!”

WOMAN: “Yes sir, that’s correct, I do not have balls. But I can assure you that someone with balls will get back to you within the next four hours to help you put that fire out. You just hang tight.”

YOU: “FOUR HOURS!? What do I do in the meantime about the piranha?!”

WOMAN: “Well sir, the piranha needs to eat. Why don’t you go ahead and attach it to your flaming balls, or it will starve. Your call is important to us and will be answered in the order in which it has been received.”

Gents, does this paint a better picture? It’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it?

It was in that moment, after ending the call, that I wanted to light that piece of paper I was desperately clutching just minutes before on fire. I wished that, instead of that number, I had a single number to reach every other woman up at this ungodly hour fighting through this same battle.

I just knew if they too had heard there was a wait time of four hours that our collective energy and fury would bring us all together, a herd of sleep-deprived women to descend upon the office of the lactation hotline. We would bust down that door, nips blazin’, with a crazed look in our eyes and say, “Are you sure you don’t have an earlier opening?!”

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But then I also realized, that maybe they really were that backed up. Maybe they were doing all they could to help other women who, just like myself, were awake, alone, and crying on their bathroom floor right along with their babies. Helping them through this middle-of-the-night feeding that would make or break their commitment to breast feed. We couldn’t bind together like a herd of angry villagers, but knowing they were awake and going through the same thing made me feel just a little less alone.

And it wasn’t this guy’s fault that he accepted the unfortunate position of manning (no pun intended) the lactation hotline.

I do, however, have one request for the lactation hotline managers of the world: I’m all for equality in the workplace, but please, if that ever happens again, have a woman screening calls and delivering wait times. There are just some things that only we know how to say to one another.

And, I promise, I’ll never apply for a job at the “Flaming Balls Hotline.”


Related post: Why Men Can’t Have Babies


The Scary Mommy Community is built on support. If your comment doesn't add to the conversation in a positive or constructive way, please rethink submitting it. Basically? Don't be a dick, please.

    • NoAdditives says

      Me too. With my first, I didn’t know about lactation consultants or where to find them. My mom was no help (she now claims she felt like I didn’t want her help-don’t even get me started…). I didn’t know what to do. My son was too hungry and I made the “mistake” of giving him a bottle of formula and after that he refused to nurse. He was drinking 6oz at a time (yes, really) and I had a toddler to take care of, so he ended up on formula just like his sister, though I did briefly try pumping. My third had an over active tongue thrust reflex that the lactation consultant refused to acknowledge, claiming I just need to keep trying, which only ended with us both crying hysterically. I pumped for 7 months and thanks to a generous oversupply, she got breastmilk for a year. My fourth had a mild posterior tongue tie that I didn’t feel comfortable clipping, so I pumped for her as well. She didn’t get as much milk as her sister because I was pumping 60oz a day by the end of the second week, and our deep freezer was filled within 4 months. I have regrets about how it all worked out. I feel like maybe if I had been able to get help with my first I would have been able to make it work with the rest. But they’re happy, healthy, and very smart, so I guess it’s ok.

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  1. says

    Perfect. LOL!
    Sad tho, that she didn’t know it’s perfectly ok to “break the commitment” to breastfeeding in that situation and offer the baby a bottle until her nipples had a chance to heal. :( Sometimes nursing sucks but it shouldn’t be torture.

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    • Lana says

      It’s not okay because the first 40 days suck and it’s painful and it’s a lot of work but it’s this first something that we need to do for them. All about supply and demand – once you introduce the bottle it’s a slippery slope – you body adjusts and you lose your supply. I applaud the dedication. Way to go, don’t give up, only gets better from there.

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      • Gen says

        Ok, not Ok, that is the debate, isn’t it? I was there with my firstborn and I can totally relate to this situation. Cracked, bleeding nipples is no joke. Ultimately, we do what’s best for our baby’s and our health – which may mean giving the baby a bottle at 2 am because you just can’t handle the pain any longer. No shame in that. I swear if it weren’t for the wonderful women in the La Leche League group (and some specially medicated nipple cream) I would never have been able to breastfeed my first child. I’m all for breastfeeding, but seriously, there’s no “bonding” when you’re both screaming in frustration – and pain.

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      • NoAdditives says

        It’s absolutely ok for a mom to do what she needs to do to feed her baby and maintain her own sanity, especially when there is no immediate support or help. Yes, it may be a slippery slope, but saying it isn’t ok shames mothers who only try to do their best. Mothers who try so hard only to fail (for countless reasons) and who end up crying years later because they wished it would have worked, because every time they read/hear words like yours they feel immense guilt. Because no matter how healthy, intelligent, happy, and wonderful their children may be, they missed out on a big experience of motherhood. They failed. There is no winning when the option is being judged for giving formula or recoiling in fear at the murderous, stabbing pain that will accompany latching a baby to your breast.

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      • fakemartinisandfailure says

        Why is it not okay? I understand where you are coming from but in her situation, she may have been having a serious issue, such as mastitis or another infection. Nursing may help in some situations but the ammout of pain that she was going through is NOT normal. Nursing in the first few weeks of life can be an uphill battle but the level of pain should not be tear inducing excruciating. If she was bleeding then taking a break for her own health’s sake is not the wrong thing to do. I had to in my case and My daughter still managed to figure out how to latch. I pumped which helped keep my supply up. Giving a bottle is not a failure. Going to formula is not a failure. Supllementing with formula is not a failure. A failure is not taking care of yourself or your child. A failure is sacrificing your health or your child’s health due to some sort of pride/stigma. The mommy wars is such a stupid thing.

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      • Mary says

        It is certainly ok to give a bottle of formula to a baby while trying to figure out how to breastfeed. My daughter was fed by my husband first as she wouldn’t latch on in the hospital. I pumped and pumped and we finger drop fed her and gave her three more bottles of formula before i got to see a lactation consultant. (i also made sure to pump when we gave the bottle to make sure i was “demanding” milk. The LC was amazing and I am still nursing my daughter at 19 months. I had an oversupply and donated 5000 ounces of milk to other mamas and their babies.

        My point is that it’s different for everyone, but mama’s should know that it is ok to use formula. It’s not evil and can help your piece of mind in knowing your baby is getting food, until you get to that lactation consultant.

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      • julie says

        This problem is due to bad nursing instructions on breastfeeding in hospitals. I breastfed 7 kids and never had sore burning nipples , if you are taught the correct way in the beginning this shouldn’t happen. Its quite clear the baby isn’t latched on correctly for that to happen.

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        • HeatherC says

          It is 100% normal to have bleeding and cracked nipples in the first month. Your nipples are toughening up. They do feel like they are on fire. If you didn’t experience this then you are lucky. But don’t scare other women thinking something is wrong with them please when it is entirely ok in the first month. Any time after however, (since they should toughened by now) there shouldn’t be much or any pain involved and definitely no more cracks and bleeding.

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        • Jennifer says

          Of course Julie, if it didn’t happen to you then you can just dismiss it. You are the center of the universe. Anything you can’t relate to doesn’t even exist.

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      • Scott says

        We went through a LOT of struggle and misery the first month with our first kid. Ended up with him on forumla – and going straight formula for #2.

        Other than the pain of buying the stuff, the kids are perfect, healthy, and pretty far ahead of the curve development wise. In fact, the kiddo that never got breast fed is fatter and healthier than the one who did.

        To each their own – parenting is hard enough w/out people tossing out ridiculous claims that something “isn’t ok” when in the vast majority of cases, it is completely ok.

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      • Samantha says

        Yeah, I was told the same thing; “it’s not okay.” So when I finally HAD to give a little formula I thought it was a finite thing…and never tried BF again. Your logic is damning.

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  2. says

    This is hysterical and true. Bless her for not wanting to wake her man up. When I found myself in that position at the exact time of night with our three-day old, I went ahead and cried right in front of him while he was trying to sleep so he could share my pained misery!

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      • fakemartinisandfailure says

        I can totally understand where you are coming from, My LO is 9 months old now and I remember one time when she was only a few days old. My husband is active duty military, and he had to go into work in the morning. I was running on fumes and my daughter was screaming her little head off. I had ran through the list (wet/hungry/uncomfortable/tired) several times to no avail. finally at 1 in the morning I had put her down in the crib (still screaming mind you) and sat on the bed and starting bawling my eyes out asking for his help. Bless him he got up and what do you know he got her to calm down and go to sleep. hugs for you mama and keep up the good work :)

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  3. says

    It’s so annoying, they give you this number at the class and at the hospital and I remember getting a 24 hour call back time the one time I used it… I know there’s probably not many people staffing that number, and they are probably also volunteers; but is exactly what’s wrong with this country!

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    • It's me says

      When I called the number given to me it was answered right away but I got lukewarm help. The issue was my baby was lazy and only latched on long enough to get a taste then fell asleep. She never cried or fussed so that wasn’t a problem but she also never ate. even in the hospital they were getting frustrated with me (really, as if I created this issue to annoy them) because even they couldn’t wake her fully for her night feedings.

      Well in order to access the situation they recommended I make an appointment with them at $150 per hour. No joke, $150 per hour. And some have the audacity to wonder why every mother doesn’t BF…

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