I sat there with tears rolling down from my eyes . . . again. I had no idea breastfeeding would hurt this bad. What was I doing wrong?
I felt like I was failing.
I was mere weeks into being a new mother. Someone innocently asked me, “So how is breastfeeding going?” I remember telling them, “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I would gladly go through labor with no pain meds again rather than to do this.”
That may have been when I started to realize that something wasn’t quite right.
My baby was born on a Thursday. Seven hours of intense labor brought our beautiful baby girl into the world. And it seemed for that instant everything was absolutely perfect. Yes, I had torn spectacularly, I had yelled some impressive profanities as I experienced pain like never before in labor, but she was here! She was gorgeous! And she latched right on with no problems! I was overjoyed! I thought to myself, “Oh, thank God! She’s going to be a good little breast feeder!” How wrong I was.
We left the hospital that Saturday ready to hit the ground running with this new parenting thing. But then things started to crumble. The baby would latch, but she wouldn’t latch well. Breastfeeding became increasingly more painful. She wasn’t gaining weight. She had lost a pound since being born. I was in pain, my milk supply was suffering, I was worried, and I was in frequent tears. Every time the baby would latch, my heart rate would skyrocket, and I would brace myself for the inevitable toe-curling pain. The pain was so intense I spent many nights sobbing.
I was failing.
I saw the lactation consultant more times than I ever thought I would. And I tried everything: pumping, nipple creams, nipple shields, different pump shields, prescription nipple creams, different positions, fenugreek tea, different milk supply tea. We even took the baby to a pediatric dentist to see if she had a lip or tongue tie (which she didn’t), and nothing seemed to help.
The pediatrician (God bless her) was so kind as I sat in her office sobbing. I was devastated that our baby had lost a whole pound. The pediatrician calmly gave us some formula and told us to supplement the breast milk with a few ounces per day while we got the hang of breastfeeding. It was like the sun came out. The baby slept better. She was less fussy. My sore nipples got a break!
But why did I still feel like a failure?
I remember sitting with my midwife about 6 weeks after the baby was born. I told her about my breastfeeding troubles and how I felt like I was letting my baby down because, at this point, I was feeding her more formula than breast milk.
She asked me, “But are you actually failing? Because what does your baby need? To be safe and fed. And she’s both of those things. You need to take care of yourself.”
I think it was a week after that that I called it quits on breastfeeding, and it was one of the best things I ever did.
Yes, I felt guilty, but my baby was gaining weight. She was happier. She was calmer . . . and so was her mom. I wasn’t letting her down or failing her by making this decision! No, it was the exact opposite. I had finally made the choice that was better for me, my baby, and my family.
Yes, for a few weeks after that decision, I still felt like I had failed. But each day I realized more and more that it doesn’t matter if the baby is breastfed or bottle fed. What matters is that the baby is fed, safe, and loved. That’s ALL that matters.
That isn’t failure– that’s success.
Originally published August 2017.