Modern Parenting

What I Learned by Failing to Breastfeed

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I was a self-proclaimed breastfeeding expert even before my baby was born.  I knew how healthy it was for him and for me.  I was knowledgeable about nipple confusion and feeding schedules, and I even knew a ton of different ways to get your baby to latch just right.   I was so determined to get it right that I read an entire book about breastfeeding–yet, I still failed at breastfeeding.  Not only did I fail, but I spent a considerable amount of money failing at something that was supposed to be free.

My breastfeeding troubles started at the hospital.

After my baby was born, I put him on the breast as soon as possible.  I had the normal new mommy fears that a lot of women have—is he getting enough?  Is it even coming out? Has he latched? I requested that a lactation consultant come to my recovery room to help me out, and she told me that I was doing just fine and that he had a great latch.   That was the first (and last) free lactation consultant I ever saw, and she was dead wrong.

When we got home, things got worse.

Breastfeeding isn’t pain-free for anyone, but for me it was excruciating. The baby was never satisfied, even though I fed him constantly. This couldn’t be normal!

My little angel wasn’t satisfied because he wasn’t latching well—and he wasn’t getting very much food.  It was so painful to feed him that I had to give myself a little pep talk  before every feeding session–I had to talk myself into the torture.

I started noticing that I was not only cut open and chapped, but I was bleeding as well.  You could literally see the blood in his bottle when I pumped, and it was covering my nursing pads.  I would do everything I could to stop the bleeding, but every time I fed the baby or pumped, the wounds would re-open.  This is when the spending spree began…  I bought everything to try to fix my problem—creams, cooling gel pads, and I even tried the lettuce leaf trick—but nothing worked.

I was so desperate to breastfeed, I sought professional help.

I needed a lactation consultant, even though the only one covered by my insurance was the one at the hospital—a one-time freebie.  So, bracing myself for the expense (but desperate for relief), I went to another consultant.  After seeing the state of my nipples and watching my baby latch, she simply told me “I am so sorry, I have never seen anything this bad, but all I can tell you is to keep trying.”  I paid over $100 for that advice.

I tried everything.

I watched every “flipple” video, every “sandwich” method demonstration, and looked up every bit of info I could get my hands on.  Then I tried, and I tried, and I tried.  I saw three more lactation consultants, and each of them gave me some kind of printout with the same information about latching that I found on the web for free, along with the same methods I had been trying unsuccessfully for two months.

Turns out, there was a bigger problem going on.

My little baby wasn’t gaining weight like he should, and it wasn’t until we saw our midwife that we found out what was really wrong—our baby had a tongue tie and two lip ties.  It affected his latch—making it almost impossible–and if we did not get it corrected, he was likely to have a speech impediment and orthodontic problems—not to mention being unable to breastfeed.

We paid for the surgery to fix his ties, and I was counting on the procedure to turn breastfeeding around for the better—but it didn’t.  He had learned to bite instead of suck, and even though we went to yet another specialist ($$$) to help him with this (and bought very expensive special bottles), he never got out of the habit.

I had to quit breastfeeding. 

I was at my wit’s end, struggling with postpartum depression, and I was blaming this poor little baby for not being able to latch.  I was so angry and sad and confused.  I wanted to breastfeed so badly, I had tried everything and spent so much money, and yet he just would not do it.  I felt like I had failed at motherhood.

The day I stopped breastfeeding was filled with more tears than I like to admit.  Even though I had nothing left in me—quite literally—I did not want to let go even though I knew it was the best thing for both of us.  That was the day that changed my relationship with my baby forever.  I no longer had to endure feeding him, I could rejoice in his smiles and actually enjoy being with him!   I finally felt like I loved him for the first time, and I felt happier than I had been in months.

Looking back now, I have slowly started to accept that I did not fail to breastfeed.  I failed to be flexible, and it was expensive. I spent money on books, creams, and consultants.  And I spent so much of the most valuable resource for a new mom—sanity—because I was stubborn and determined.

I still believe that breastmilk is the best food for a newborn baby–but your happiness and peace of mind will make you a better mother, even if your baby drinks formula.  At the end of the day, your baby will benefit the most when you are the best mom you can be, and sometimes that means being flexible and letting go of anything that holds you back.

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