FFF Friday: “If you plan to breastfeed, educate yourself.”

In the wake of this latest wave of breast vs bottle debate, I wanted to share a story which focuses on how to best prepare for a successful nursing experience – and which gives hope to those of you who want to try again with future children. After all, being a FFF is also about supporting breastfeeding, and trying to help others who want to nurse to do so happily and easily. But when it doesn’t work out, we all need the confidence and strength to realize that formula (or combo-feeding) can be an excellent alternative. 

FFF Alison T. tells us how life got in the way of her best laid plans, and how she overcame these obstacles to be the happy, healthy mom she is today.

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Like nearly everyone else who’s shared their story on this site, I planned to exclusively breastfeed my first baby. In fact, I was so confident in my ability to do it that I didn’t take any classes or do any reading about breastfeeding. I knew so many people who had successfully breastfed that I didn’t forsee having any trouble.

I went into labor two and a half weeks early. Not only was I not mentally prepared to give birth this early, but I also hadn’t stocked up on last-minute items, including a pump or bottles (I know, I know – I just figured he’d be born late). No big deal, I figured – I’d just buy those things after I brought the baby home.
My labor lasted 24 hours, but it went well and was fairly uneventful, except for one thing – I broke my tailbone during it. Yes, it’s just as painful as it sounds. You may wonder what that has to do with breastfeeding – believe it or not, it has a lot to do with it.
My son had to go to NICU right away for some breathing problems, so I didn’t get to try feeding him until a few hours after he was born. With the help of the nurses, he latched on right away. Unfortunately, the only position that helped him latch was the football/cradle hold, which was bad news for me – it meant I had to sit. My tailbone was so crushed that even with the assistance of a blow-up donut, pillows and blankets, I couldn’t sit comfortably. I tried to feed him lying down, but he kept falling asleep while eating and couldn’t latch for a sustained period of time.
The next few days were absolute torture. Every time my son would cry, I would feel a sense of dread. I was in too much pain to feed him for more than a few minutes at a time. The pain was so excruciating that painkillers didn’t even take the edge off. I would feed him for a few minutes, try to change positions to ease my pain, and he would fall off and start screaming. He never slept more than an hour at a time. My nipples were cracked and bleeding to the point where my son was spitting up red because blood was in my milk. And he kept losing weight. Determined to keep breastfeeding, I saw two lactation consultants who convinced me to keep working at it.
I finally escaped for an hour and bought my very expensive Medela breast pump. Because of my pain, I had to pump standing up. The pump was great, except for the fact that I couldn’t produce more than two ounces at a time, and that took 25 minutes. Oh, and that pumping was nearly as painful as feeding. My life became a cycle of pump, feed, change, repeat. I got no sleep and had no time to eat, shower or do anything for myself.
At the end of the first week I started feeling sick. I developed a 102-fever, aches, chills and a headache. This was the absolute low point of motherhood for me. I felt like I wanted to die. Here I was, a brand-new mom, supposed to be bonding with my beautiful baby boy. I was in excruciating pain on both ends (nipples and tailbone). I hadn’t slept more than an hour per day in over a week. And I was so ill and weak that I could barely hold my 6-pound son. Oh, and he still wasn’t gaining enough weight.
My husband watched the baby while I went to the OB, who diagnosed me with mastitis on BOTH SIDES. Yep, double mastitis 6 days post-partum. I broke down in the doctor’s office and started bawling. I mean sobbing hysterically. I just couldn’t do this anymore. She wrote me a script for nipple cream and antibiotics.
That afternoon we took the baby to the doctor for his one-week checkup. He’d been screaming from hunger all morning and was quickly going through the meager 1- to 2-ounce bottles I was pumping, which were all pink with blood. The doctor offered us a sample bottle of Enfamil and I nearly cried with relief. I think deep-down I knew all along that I needed to try formula, but it was like I needed a pediatrician’s permission to make me believe it was really OK.
My son guzzled the 2-ounce bottle in a matter of minutes and fell asleep in my husband’s arms. Sound asleep. I think he slept for 2 hours straight, which was the most he’d slept all week.
For the next week I continued to pump and supplement with formula, but my supply became less and less. I knew deep down that if I wanted to retain any sanity I needed to hang up the pump. So I did. My son is now 8 months old and has been exclusively formula-fed since 2 weeks. He is doing great. And so am I. I truly believe that if I had continued to breastfeed, I would have suffered from severe PPD and would not have been the great mom I am today.
My experience taught me many things, especially this: if you plan to breastfeed, educate yourself. Take classes. Read. Talk to other BF moms. Don’t assume things will work themselves out, because it’s a lot more difficult than you might think. If we have another child, I fully intend to give breastfeeding another try. And I’m pretty sure that the second time around – knowing what I know now – I’ll be able to make it work.
But I also know that if breastfeeding is making you utterly miserable, it may be time to reconsider. My son needed a relaxed, attentive, caring mom and while trying to nurse I was the opposite of that. I know breastmilk is best, but we should all be so grateful that modern technology and chemistry has given us the option of nourishing our babies in another way.
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Have a story you’d like to share? Send it over to formulafeeders@gmail.com. Confession is good for the soul. Or so my Catholic friends tell me. 🙂

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.


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12 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “If you plan to breastfeed, educate yourself.”

  1. I didn't really educate myself either. I also think if I had continued I'd have developed PPD, like you I cringed when it was time to feed him and dreaded it.

  2. OMG, I wish I had read this after having my son. My BF experience was similar to yours, and after 3 weeks of breast-bottle-pump every hour, I couldn't take it another day and went to all formula. Formula turned out to have ts own set of problems, but the good news? He is now 2 1/2, thriving, and the BEST eater (brussel sprouts, asparagus, you name it). Will definitely check back with your blog.

  3. I could not agree more. Last summer, I was visiting my family and happily breastfeeding my 4 month old while chatting with my pregnant cousin. My mom made a comment to her along the lines of, “Don't worry, breastfeeding is natural, and you'll just be able to do it because women have been doing it for generations.” As I am never one to miss out on an argument with my mother, I said, “Wrong!” I came very close to giving up breastfeeding with my son, because it was so painful in the beginning. I could only nurse on one breast for weeks because the other had a huge crack that refused to heal. Even pumping on the cracked side was painful. We did end up supplementing him with formula right away, which gave me time to allow my nipples to heal and get back to breastfeeding. I wish now that I had taken the breastfeeding class that my hospital offered. It's really not a no-brainer.

  4. How can we really know how successful breastfeeding was in past generations? With the knowledge of how high infant mortality was in the past, how can we assume anything more than that enough women did it successfully to keep the species going?

  5. That's a good question, Michelle. The assumption seems to be that before the advent of “evil” formula, all mothers breastfeed. However, my brief study of the history of wetnurses suggests that isn't true. Based on what I've read wetnurses were very common in Europe and the US across all social classes. Some mothers would hire wetnurses. Other mothers sent away their young children to live with the wetnurse and her family.

  6. I wish I had educated myself about breastfeeding. I, too, skipped the classes because I figured that it'd be easy since it's natural. If I'd done taken the class, maybe I would have had the will to persevere through the painful early days. (I can't be sure of that, though, because GOOD GOD it hurt.)

  7. Call me cynical but since all of the “education” I received from the hospital lactation consultants was completely worthless, I doubt that attending a class would have made a difference.

    Looking back, I realize how ridiculous it was. I was seen by 2 LCs while in the hospital. Neither one had any good advice but they were willing to rent me a pump for $100 per month. They weren't consistent about nipple shields. What they told me about when my milk would come in was completely wrong. I was told it would be in after 5 days but that's not the case with c-section moms. Honestly, the nurses were a lot more helpful than the LCs.

    Maybe there is good lactation education out there but not in my experience with either the hospital LCs or the classes. I even reached out to a LLL leader and didn't get any advice that I hadn't already found on the internet.

    I really wish that the medical community would devote more resources to finding out why some women experience significant pain and supply issues instead of just scolding us.

  8. @Anonymous (the one just above this comment):

    Personally, I feel the same way. I had a lot of “education”, living near an affluent community in LA (where I live is lower income, but I delivered at a hospital that caters to demanding, health-conscious, wealthy people), and being a health/wellness writer… I would say that I had everything going for me, in terms of having no breastfeeding “booby traps”. But even the most renowned LC in our area couldn't help my son latch, or the nerves in my breasts to be any less damaged, or keep my son from being intolerant of the proteins in my milk.

    I think you raise a valuable point – that yes, education is important, but sometimes no matter what you do, things don't work out. I think this is a point that many breastfeeding advocates ignore – they have this rose-colored view that if society changes, it will somehow miraculously “fix” the legit problems that keep some women from nursing.

    In sum – while I think if someone wants to nurse, they should certainly prepare themselves in the best way possible – but if it still doesn't work out, it's okay to say “enough” and move on.

    I also love your last point – I think I may use it as the topic of a post this week. Thanks for that.

  9. Anonymous 10:47 – I had a very similar experience with LCs at my hospital. I don't see how a BFing class would have been helpful. I took a Babycare class, which discussed BFing (never ONCE saying that it may be painful), and an all-day Lamaze class, that also discussed BFing, again not ever saying that it may be painful, assuming you're “doing it right.” When I needed help, the LC was useless. She simply said, “it all looks good, you shouldn't be having any pain.” Well, I was having pain. Lots of it. When my daughter tore apart my left nipple, NO ONE ever mentioned using a shield. They suggested I pump, but I didn't know shields existed. I would have rather tried a shield instead of going right to pumping. Pumping was much too stressful for a depressed new mom.

    I feel like my region is especially bad about LCs, because every mom I know whose given birth in my region has WANTED to BF and has failed. That's at least a half dozen moms.

    I'd also be curious to know why some women seem doomed from the start and others find BFing to be a piece of cake.

  10. @FFF, let me just tell you that you rock! I'd call myself a “timid” formula feeder. I just refuse to ever discuss it with anyone and try to avoid feeding my daughter around AP-ish moms. I can only imagine the kind of crap you must get from having this blog.

    We're the majority…why are we so cowed by the breast police?

  11. I'm a little late here but I just came across your blog. The name intrigued me! I am very blessed to be able to breastfeed my 7.5 month old but it did not start out easy and I almost gave up. I had great support from public health nurses and LCs (I live in Canada & the post partum follow-up is excellent here, not sure about the states). BFing was very painful but with a nipple shield and the LCs help we got through it & it is wonderful now. Anyway, I'm glad your blog exists to dispel the myths of why some women don't (can't) BF. Your story is amazing, i think I would've given in long before you did!

  12. I am SO HAPPY to have found your blog. I come from a long line of women who formula-fed their babies, me included. I personally have never ever felt the burning desire to nurse my baby. I also come from a long line of women who have large cysts in our breasts which need to be removed from time to time. The pain that these cysts cause is incredibly painful to the point my husband cannot even hug me. I have always been determined to fed our daughter, due in October, with formula. However, with our due date quickly approaching, I feel like nursing is being shoved down my throat and I feel absolutely horrible that I (a.) don't have a desire to nurse and (b.) have a condition that would make it extremly tough and painful for me to do so.
    Reading your story has given me new hope that I can get through this time and that our sweet baby girl will grow up to be perfectly healthy. I wish society didn't look down on mothers for deciding not to nurse. I know I will have more ups and downs before delivering her in October – thank you so much for having a wonderful blog that I can turn to! 🙂

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