When Breastfeeding Doesn't Work Out

by Sara Lindberg
Originally Published: 
breastfeeding nursing
Sportactive / iStock

I got rid of it the other day—the one thing that holds memories both utterly satisfying and truly painful. It has sat in the bedroom we call the nursery for nine years.

I had no idea taking a rocking chair out to make room for a tent would create such an overwhelming response of confusing feelings.

It was the third day home from the hospital when the nurse came to the house. While in the hospital, I had agreed to be part of a sample group to test out a home-visit program for new moms. I had not thought much about this decision at the time. In fact, I was confident that I would not need the services provided by the community health nurse when it came to breastfeeding. After all, I was an older mom with a lot of wisdom, research and determination to nurse my baby.

My daughter was not gaining, in fact, she was losing—fast. We agreed to try a SNS (a tube system that fed her formula while she nursed). We fed our daughter with a syringe, so as not to have nipple confusion. I took away her pacifier so she would crave my nipples more. I pumped my breasts until they were bruised in order to produce an ounce for her. Just the smallest amount to give her the nutrition I thought she needed; the only nutrition that I would allow myself to give her

We spent hours hooked up to a machine, researching herbs, buying medicine that can only be purchased in other countries.

Looking back at it now, I sacrificed her health for my pride. I would not give up. I would not supplement with formula. She was hungry and I was torn. I can still remember the first night we gave her formula from a bottle: I cried and she slept.

My second child came, and I pumped before he arrived. I took the medication and traveled to another city to have his posterior tongue tie clipped. I rented a scale and weighed him before and after nursing to see how much he gained.

I hated breastfeeding. There I said it. It was something I wanted so badly for my children and for myself, and it never quite worked out. There is resentment and anger on my part. I look back at the baby books, and I can’t remember a lot of those moments. The first years of both of their lives are a blur. I spent more time hooked up to a pump and an SNS than I did bonding with my kids. I feel cheated because of guilt—guilt that I placed upon myself from buying into the pressure new moms face.

I was determined not to fail at this a second time. All I had to do was work harder, take more supplements, increase my prescription that helped my milk supply, pump more, nurse more, eat more, rest more; everything was more and more.

I can still remember the last time I nursed my son. We sat in our usual spot in my childhood rocking chair. The moon always had a way of sneaking through the corner of his window and the light would shine just right down on his face. I spent many nights in that position. Hoping, willing, begging to have just one time where that special bonding took place, where this thing that is supposed to be so natural would just happen. I cried every time. I cried every time for 10 months with each child.

Then I cried for the last time.

Looking down at his face, I found myself feeling something different. Tears escaped my eyes as they always did, but this time was different; this time I felt relief.

My son just turned 6-years-old and it has taken that long to open up about this, to let go of the feelings of disappointment, failure, guilt, embarrassment and inadequacy, to recognize that I was angry and hurt that I could not produce enough milk to feed my babies.

After my youngest turned 3, I kind of forgot about all of this. I pushed it away. It wasn’t until recently, with all of the pro-breastfeeding campaigns, that I have begun to revisit those two years of my life. It has taken a long time to gain perspective and see the lengths to which I went to nurse both of them.

What I have come to realize is that I failed my children, not because I couldn’t exclusively nurse them, but because I couldn’t get out of my own way.

At an annual mammogram two years ago, I was diagnosed with hypoplastic breasts. There it was in black and white. The words I needed to see eight years ago. The words that would have changed everything: Some women with hypoplastic breasts can produce enough milk to feed their baby. Others will produce at least some milk. Unfortunately some of these women won’t be able to produce any.

If I had to do it all over again, I’m not sure I would choose the same path. The knowledge I have now has changed my view on this very personal topic.

What I do know for sure is that all is not lost on that experience—what I have learned is invaluable. Women must trust their instincts and believe in what their body is telling them. Consider what others say, but ultimately do what feels right.

This article was originally published on