Dear Crissy

When breastfeeding doesn’t work

Similac StrongMoms Ambassador

On August 3rd, 2009, I gave birth to my tremendously handsome son, Evan.

As a first time mother, I spent most of my nine months of pregnancy wondering what life would be like once my baby was born. I knew that while there would be many new challenges and perhaps even surprises in store for me, I could be certain of two things. First, that I would love my baby and strive to be the best mother possible, and second, that I would breastfeed.

Loving my baby? That, was a piece of cake. From the moment I saw his face, it was a done deal—I was hooked. I wish I could say that my goal of breastfeeding was so easy.

When the nurse brought Evan to me after the initial rigmarole of measurements and testing, she told me it was time for him to have his first meal; I was ready to jump right in. I did have some success breastfeeding initially, but during the next two days in the hospital, latching became increasingly difficult, and I spent hours working with the nurses and lactation consultants on staff.

At this point I was both physically and mentally exhausted, but still hopeful that we would get the hang of things. Before I took my son home from the hospital, I received a lesson in pumping, but felt confident that I would be feeding from the breast, and reaping the benefits of that skin-to-skin contact soon enough.

After arriving home, I continued to try to breastfeed my son every couple hours. When you are facing failures at such frequent intervals, it really begins to drain you emotionally. Why wasn’t my baby latching? Was I doing something wrong? Why was this so hard?

As I continued to struggle, I managed to keep up with a rigorous pumping routine. After four weeks, the pumping was just not enough to keep my supply up. My milk dwindled, and then dried up. Feeling devastated and somewhat hopeless, I got in my car, went to the grocery store, and bought a can of powdered formula.

It took me weeks of tears and deep heartache to finally accept the way things were. I had failed to breastfeed my son–something that I was so sure would be an integral part of motherhood for me. I felt guilty, I felt inadequate, and I felt that I had been robbed of something very special.

As I write about these memories, I cringe a little inside. Writing about the topic of breastfeeding almost always stirs up a range of reactions from other mothers, and I feel compelled to explain myself. Yes, I know how important breastfeeding is and I know that it is best. I know that formula will never stack up to breast milk in any number of ways. I know. I know.

Could I have given my effort more time? Probably. Could I have called in another lactation specialist? Sure. Honestly, after writing almost an entire paragraph now, disclaiming my experience, I realize that this wound is still open, and that while I probably don’t need to be so defensive about my choices, I am.

Recently, I believe I discovered the reason Evan had such a hard time breastfeeding. He seems to have a tight upper frenulum, which is the connective tissue between the lip and gum. I have this too, and I am not sure why it never occurred to me that it may have been passed down. Older children often undergo a simple surgery to cut the tissue, but in my case, it has never been enough of an issue to merit “fixing”.

Evan is now 6-months-old, and absolutely thriving. He is bright, healthy, and did I mention tremendously handsome? I didn’t have time to feel inadequate forever, I mean, taking care of a baby is a demanding job! I was able to come to terms with the reality of my own experience, and you know, regardless of what some may say, formula is not the devil–and I am not the devil (or a bad mother) because it’s what I feed my baby.

That said, if I am ever blessed with another child, I will give breastfeeding my best effort again, and hopefully with a little more been-there-done-that confidence and wisdom, I’ll have better luck.

    20 Comments on “When breastfeeding doesn’t work”

  1. Dear Chrissy,

    Reading your experience with breastfeeding was like reading about my own. I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy 5 months ago. Before he was born I had taken the fact that I would breastfeed for at least 6 months for granted. It cant be that difficult right? WRONG! I had problems with my supply from Day 1. While my son was a good latcher (eventually! we tried various holds!) what I produced was just never enough. I would spend hours feeding him only to have him come up crying and fractious. Eventually even our doctor agreed that I just wasnt lactating properly and we had to resort to formula.
    I was not prepared for the deep deep guilt that I felt at having to do this and that I had some how failed at being a mom. Mom’s are supposed to breastfeed right? I took solace in the fact that he got atleast some breast milk till he was 3 months old at which point my supply totally dried up.
    In hindsight, 2 months later, he is none the worse for it. He is a bouncy, bright eyed little man who is interested in the world and loves smiling at new people. I’ve since returned to work and like you said just dont have the time to dwell on this.
    Thank you for writing so honestly about your experience. It helps to know there are other mom’s out there who have had similar experiences. These are things people just dont tell you to expect when you’re pregnant! I also take certain comfort in the fact that I was formula fed entirely and havent turned out half bad! :)

  2. Thank you for writing something so honest. Your story sounds like a carbon copy of mine. I had my baby’s tongue snipped and she still couldn’t latch. I beat myself up for months and in a way I still am. But she’s now 6 months now; beautiful, happy and very very loved. Hopefully I’ll be able to BF my next baby…? But if not, I know that formula is fine and we’ll all be ok.

  3. We had the exact same experience with our son! I remember the night I finally excepted that fact. We had been to the Dr that week and he explained that Dallin needed to gain more weight. He was worried about failure to thrive. It was about 2 in the morning and Dallin was crying and I was crying while I was trying to get him to latch on. Finally my husband, who was practically in tears from not being able to help his tired, hormonal wife, told me it was OK to let go of this dream of mine. We didn’t need to keep feeding pumped breast milk from a syringe to keep him from getting nipple confusion (Yup, one lactation specialist had us to that. It took and hour to get 3 oz into him and then it was almost time to do it again) or keep beating myself up over it. Once I accepted it really did feel great. I pumped for 3 months and after that we went to formula. We never did figure out why he has such a hard time. My theory is he was a lazy, easy going baby so it was just too much effort for him. But that same trait is also why he started sleeping through the night at 6 weeks. Crying was just too uch work for him :) I also think breast milk is best, but I know a lot of people who only did formula and their kids are just fine. It is a very personal choice, which is why it is such a touchy subject. In the end we are all just doing what we feel is best for our child and family. Thank you for sharing this. I know it was posted a few years ago, but I am glad I read it.

  4. I had a very similar thing, and I feel just as terrible as you did (I am not sure when you wrote this). It is a painful thing to go through. My baby is four months old, and I still feel wretched. I keep going over and over it, trying to figure out where exactly it went wrong. I had an emergency c section as his heart rate dropped, then he would only latch on once, with a lot of help, while in the hospital. A midwife put him on formula, but assured me it wouldn’t interfere with the breastfeeding. I feel I went down every possible avenue to fix it, including domperidone (to increase supply, it worked, but stopped working after the course ended, and I was scared to take more). In retrospect, if I had understood the situation better, I would have hired a nanny to help me out for the first month, so I could concentrate on expressing and breastfeeding! I feel very upset about it still, as the reality now is a long way from what I anticipated. I think of those few times when he was breastfeeding, and how sweet he looked (he would then, usually, come off crying for more to eat. Eventually my husband said what I already knew, that he was only satisfied after consuming a significant amount of formula). I hoped to combine feed for longer, but when the health visitor came around, saw us breastfeeding, and asked me if it was always like that (he was screaming blue murder), I began to realise I was fooling myself. One of the worst, if not the worst, experiences of my life.

    I don’t know if this is relevant to you anymore, as I hope you have moved on completely and have resolved this now, but I just wanted to say I understand. I am an intelligent, conscientious person, who had every intention of breastfeeding, but it did not happen. I will always wonder if there was more I could have tried, but simply I don’t think there was. I do have to avoid mother groups and so on now, to avoid questions about feeding, as I find it so painful.

    I did research into formula versus breastmilk, so I could understand what he was missing (so to at least be prepared), and one thing I can say is that the wonders of breastmilk really do seem to be overstated in comparison to formula. Truly. Somehow though, although I know that, it doesn’t help me feel better.

    Anyway, thank you for your article, and I wish you the very best for you and your family.


  5. I totally understand and get this post! I was able to nurse my first daughter (with a few struggles at first) for over 6 months so when my son came along 18 months later I thought it would be a piece of cake…WRONG!! It seemed like he was latching ok, but after he got that initial burst of milk, he just wouldn’t suck properly, if at all. I had no idea what to do, but nursing every 15 -20 minutes was NOT working, especially with an active toddler running around! He had a slight tongue tie but the nurses and midwives didn’t think it was causing a problem since he could stick out his tongue. We never checked his upper lip. So I too turned to pumping, which also worked for 2 months, but it just doesn’t work as well as a hungry baby! My milk also dried up and I had to make the dredded guilt felt trip! I understand all you have gone through, and even after successfully nursing his younger sister for over a year, am still filled with guilt (4 years later) that I didn’t try harder, reserch more and try a little longer. THANK YOU so much for writing this post! Try not to be so hard on yourself! You are a GREAT Moma!!

  6. your doing good mama, your both beautiful!

  7. Hi there,
    Im mum to 8 month old Lily, i was also determined to breastfeed, tbh when i was pregnant failiure wasnt even an option, stupidly i just thought my body would jsut make enough milk for her and everything would be rosey. Any way at her 6 day weigh in she had dropped 14% body weight, we got readmitted to hospital, she had loads of blood tests and got a canular fitted( heartbreaking) just incase she needed extra fluids(she didnt) and i was forced to give her a bottle, well it was either that or they would put a tube into her stomach and feed her that way which i couldnt do, she had been through enough at that point. So for the next 3 months i breast fed and bottle fed every 3 hours, would pump for at least an hour between every feed and still my milk didnt come, i was devistated, i would sit at 3 am in tears pumping and all i would get out was half an ounce, soo at 3 months i quit.

    I felt soo guilty, i mean soo guilty. I once posted my story on a forum and was slated and made to feel even worse. Even now i still see breastfeeeding mums out there and think i wish that was me. But!!!! lily is happy, healthy and turning into an amazing young lady.

    I just wanted to say thanks for your honesty, its a rare qulaity and you should be applauded for it

  8. I stumbled across this today and I just want to say thank you. I am the first time mom of a 6mo old little boy. When I read this I felt like I had written it. I still feel guilty that I was unable to breastfeed but it is nice to know that I am not alone.


  9. Seems like we had almost identical experiences, and like you, I’m also now worried about my ability to breastfeed my 2nd child. My son had a tight tongue, the membrane between his tongue and the bottom of his mouth. I spent much of my first few weeks of motherhood in tears, feeling like I was suffering from post-partem depression. Finally my husband pointed out that almost every time I cried, it was about the breastfeeding or the pumping. He was right, and I decided I’d be a better mother to my son if I was in better spirits. We went to formula and almost instantly everything got better. I started to LOVE being a mother! I do hope it works better this time around, but I’ve stopped beating myself up about it. My son was always the happiest baby in the room, and healthy and slept through the night at 2 months! I know I made the right decision for me and for my baby.

  10. Tongue tie is something that is very normal but not easily caught by nurses due to the fact that breastfeeding isn’t as popular as it once was. My friend gave birth to her son 2 weeks before I had my little boy and she had the same problem. Finally she went to a lactation consultant who caught it and they had his upper frenulum snipped. The first question I asked the nurses after my son was born was, “Is he tongue tied?” They said, “No.” 3 months later I visited a lactation consultant and she said my son is tongue tied… however, it’s not severe and he’s growing great so there’s no need to snip it. We do the best we can! No one can say you didn’t try. :)

  11. Crissy,
    I could almost feel the weight of your emotion in this post. While others may pass judgment we tend to be our own worse sources of guilt. It sounds like you did everything you could. Thank you so much for sharing this. If only one mother reads this and feels less guilty about their current situation, you will have made a huge impact.

    I would love for you to share this on my breastfeeding blog – Simple Gift Stories. The truth is I started it, but it is not my blog. It is a blog for any mother who has ever had any issues/questions/doubt/joy/reward/etc. in breastfeeding.

  12. You really don’t need to explain yourself, but I understand why you might feel like its necessary. I always feel sad when moms who really wanted to breast feed had troubles, and then to add insult to injury – feel like they have to defend themselves.
    I also couldn’t nurse my son at the breast at all due to a medical issue with him, and wasn’t able to pump as long as I had wanted to. I can relate to the deep wound that sort of disappointment leaves.

    When my daughter was born, we had no issues. Not a one. Except that at almost three years old she still would have happily nursed every hour or so :) The whole experience was really healing for me.

    I know this post is almost a year old – just wanted you to know that I “get” it!

  13. When I went back to work I had to start giving my son a bottle during the day. Once he had that bottle, he wouldn’t go back to the breast. It was a battle to get him to latch on and breastfeed. Eventually, defeated, I gave up. I was told that it was just “easier” for him to get it from the bottle and that he had to work harder for the breast so he didn’t want it. I accepted that answer. Until reading this post, many years later, it never occurred to me that the reason it was “easier” from a bottle could have been that he was tongue tied! He was unable to stick out his tongue, it was causing problems with his bottom teeth when he got older and he ended up having to have that clipped. Maybe he really did have to work a whole lot harder and the bottle nipple allowed him to hold his tongue differently than around my engorged breast! Thanks for posting this!

  14. Hey, Listen,

    I produce milk like a cow. Honestly. Someone should market me. My kids latch with no troubles, and I could be la poster child for la leche league.

    And I can’t stand the pressure that bf moms put on ff moms. It makes me physically ill. We should be each other’s biggest cheerleaders, and as such, I applaud you for trying. Keep on loving that baby boy.

    Cause at the end of the day, that’s what they need most. Our love. Not a momma that’s freaking out trying to “do what’s best.”

    • I just wanted to say a huge THANK YOU for what you said. I too had horrible trouble and struggle week after week of trying to make breastfeeding work. I longed for that relationship and the satisfaction of providing for my son (still do) and yet I found myself exhausted and completely depressed. I’m finally “over it” as far as feeling bad about it. But the sting from a lot of other moms who breastfed successfully is really awful!! There is nothing worse than being so down on yourself and feeling like a failure, knowing the facts, and finally getting yourself to be ok with the end result just to be put down again and again for it by other moms like you didn’t do enough and like you don’t love your child. Your support to all mothers regardless of how they feed their child is really comforting and rare. Thank you for that!

  15. You are not alone- I had a terrible time with BF, too, and ended up using formula. The hardest part was the feelings of defeat and loss. I knew my baby would be fine on formula, but I felt so inadequate. It took me over a year to get over it.

  16. Good for you, I had something similar happen. Ian is a happy healthy 2 year old at this point and I don’t beat myself up over what happened.

  17. Thank you for sharing. My daughter’s trouble latching wasn’t her, it was me, shape wise (I’ll spare you the details). I too was convinced I’d be the swollen udder type of rigorus breastfeeder my mother, grandmother, and several aunts had all told me they were. But like you after a few weeks of poking, prodding, and more people seeing my breasts than I ever thought I would allow, we switched to formula.

    Its so nice to hear someone else admit they had trouble – the books, nurses, consultants, and sucessors make it sound like its the easiest thing in the world right?

    You may have become my newest favorite blog. Thank you!


  18. My second just didn’t get it. It was painful, but I finally called it quits. Then I felt the need to explain myself to the whole world. I know the feeling. Crazy, isn’t it? I was even told that my son’s brain would never be what it should have been because he was not breastfed. Do you think that’s why I tell him to get his shoes and he comes back downstairs with a book? lol.

    Funny thing: My son rarely gets sick…if he does it lasts like 24 hours….he had maybe two ear infections. Oh and his brain…well..he maybe forgetful when it comes to some things but he scores in the high 90s on the standardized tests.

    I think our kids will be okay. lol.

  19. Thank you for all your honesty in your post. You have a great blog. I’m following you from under 100 followers club on mbc!


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