FFF Friday: “I made myself sick with guilt at my failure to breastfeed.”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.  

In this week’s FFF Friday, Amanda  shares the story of her “surprise” baby, and the less pleasant surprise of how trouble with breastfeeding can wreak havoc on one’s mental state. I love that she dubs FFF a “sisterhood’ – that is exactly what I had hoped to achieve with this blog, and it’s really encouraging to hear that we’ve created that together.
I’ve spent more than a solid week reading every post at FFF and really immersing myself in the sense of “sisterhood” that I am getting from this community. Meaning that I’m not the only one who started out with all the best intentions to breastfeed my daughter, only to end up switching to formula when it didn’t work out as planned. In my current state of PPD, this is important for me. I’m so glad this community is here. Even if a person chose to formula feed right away, it’s still a connection because I’m formula feeding now, and know that it is a very valid choice.

I had the most spectacularly average, (one might even say boring) pregnancy. In as much as the fact that I shouldn’t even have gotten pregnant in the first place. I never really wanted children. I like them, but could never picture myself being a mother. Being responsible for another entire life scared me witless to the point of getting my tubes tied shortly after my 30th birthday. Doubled with the fact that I have some serious issues from my childhood that make me question my ability to parent and raise a child that can deal with life in a way that I never learned to, really put me off wanting to have any.

However, shortly after my 31st birthday, a scant year after I had gotten my tubes done, I got pregnant. There were literally 4 things against this happening. First, my fiancee had always been told that he’d never be able to have children, that he was essentially infertile. Second, my tubes are tied. Third, the OB who performed the surgery said that she discovered scar tissue so intense on my left fallopian tube that she was unable to locate my left ovary, questioning if I even had one. (Turns out I do, but that tube would be impassable.) Fourth, by all rights, it should have ended up ectopic and trapped in my tube. But it didn’t. So needless to say, I, who am regular like clockwork was staring down at a positive pregnancy test 16 days late for my cycle was shocked to my core at the twist my life was about to take. And I knew that I was going to be a mother in that instant. Everything changed.

Needless to say, I intended to breastfeed. Simply because it was cost effective (aka free) and in the long run it’s nature and I intended to follow nature’s course. I was completely formula fed by my mother, that was the way things went in her generation. I know logically that formula is perfectly fine and I turned out without problems, but I wanted to breastfeed because I wanted that connection to my daughter that perhaps I missed out on with my mother. (I think that thought is silly now, feeding a child with love, breast or bottle creates an amazing connection. Period. I feel more connected with my daughter now that I can bottle feed her without stress than I did while breastfeeding.)

So at 4 days past my due date, after 46 hours of labour, and an emergency c-section my daughter was born at a very healthy 8lbs 13oz. (I asked them to re-do my tubal ligation while they were in there before sewing me up. The OB reported that the clips were still in place. Which figures, but is amusing to me.) She was rushed away to the NICU for blood tests due to a tear in her umbilical cord, so I didn’t get to see my baby for the first little while. I trembled in overwhelming shock during them stitching me back up, but was confident because her daddy was with her even when I couldn’t be. When she was brought to me in recovery, within an hour of birth, they helped me get her latched and get that all important colostrum into her little tummy. I thought it went really well. How wrong I was.

I assumed this was something that just should happen automatically and naturally and without needing much assistance. I thought my body would know what to do and that it would be an immediate rapport between me and her and that it would be an awesome thing. I was so naive.

There were several latch issues with her from the beginning. I couldn’t get her on correctly, her latch was always too shallow. The first day and a bit this posed no problem as I wasn’t in any pain, so I didn’t realize that there was anything wrong. I had several different nurses giving me totally different advice on what to do and how to do it. It was overwhelming and confusing.

At one point the hospital LC came to visit me and helped me learn the football hold, which helped greatly considering the c-section and the sore abdomen, and this was an ideal hold for helping me to avoid belly pressure.  I practiced this hold exclusively and started to feel really confident in it. 

In all the reading I’d done online about breastfeeding and birth, not one place I read mentioned that after a c-section it takes longer for your milk to come in. I had no idea. Added to this exhaustion, a “semi-private” room with a really, really rude girl in the next bed, and a lack of knowledge on how to handle a newborn I was already starting to feel overwhelmed and stressed out. At one point when she was just crying so pitifully because she was hungry, I sent her to the nursery and asked that they give her food somehow so she wouldn’t be hungry anymore. Turns out they finger fed her, which I thought was polite because it took away my worry about nipple confusion.

By the time we were ready to leave the hospital, she was so hungry and crying all the time because I had nothing to really give her in the way of milk as it wasn’t coming in. She was down to 8lbs 1oz and they were almost not going to let me leave. I was absolutely dreading another night in the hospital room near someone who literally was making my skin crawl. I asked to feed her something. The brought me a sample bottle of Enfamil which she guzzled down greedily. This further compounded my worry of lack of milk. The nurse who had been the nicest and greatest help sent us on our way with 7 more sample bottles, all of which would be used in the subsequent first few days at home while my milk was coming in.

5 days after her birth my milk arrived, and all seemed to be going well. Except that I was in immense amounts of pain every time she latched on. I dreaded feeding her. I would sob in tears of agony and kick my foot to the floor each feeding, with each latch on both sides. My partner was sick for me, he hated that I was in so much pain and wished there was something he could do for me, but there isn’t much to be done. It’s my duty to feed her, that was supposed to be the thing I was at least able to do.

We spoke to several different lactation consultants, luckily as part of Canadian health care, this consultation was at no cost to us or it never would have happened. They each tried to improve her latch, open her mouth further, try different holds, but nothing seemed to improve. The pain was so intense that I daydreamed of quitting every time I fed her. Two weeks into her life, I finally found out what was wrong. I was showering when I looked down at myself. I noticed some white marks on the sides of my nipples that I’d never seen before. Lo and behold, the source of the problem. I had cracked nipples. When I’d read about this issue, I always pictured cracks on the surface of the nipple. So I never realized that they could happen on the sides. They were very large, crescent shaped wounds on the side of each of my nipples, essentially in line with my daughters lower gum. She was tearing me apart, and I didn’t even know it. When my milk had come in, it came with a vengeance. I had a serious oversupply issue, and such a forceful letdown that she was chomping my nipple in an attempt to keep from choking while feeding. She would often come off the nipple and cough and struggle, but it took awhile before I figured out the connection. Our public health nurse who was coming in to visit weekly to check on us and weigh our daughter said she has never in her career seen cracks as bad as the ones I had. Despite the judicious application of lanolin, I was still suffering through feedings in a tremendous amount of pain. It’s like nothing I’d ever experienced.

I continued to put on lanolin, but knowing now that I had serious wounds I sought help and treatment. $50 in two different nipple ointments later, the wounds weren’t healing. After 5 days on the first ointment, the LC suggested I start pumping to give my nipples a break. I’d pump for her every feed, and I stayed a bottle ahead of her at any given time. I did this for 3-ish weeks. The wounds were still not healing. Though the pain was greatly reduced while pumping as there was no chewing action occurring which was somewhat of a relief, it still hurt. My issues with oversupply and forceful milk ejection led to a fore/hind milk imbalance, and even through pumping, she wasn’t getting enough hindmilk to satisfy her tummy. So she was feeding often, and my little wee electric pump was starting to not cut it in terms of keeping up with her demand. So I researched and discussed with my partner the aspect of Exclusively Pumping and feeding her bottled breastmilk and making it work that way. So we rented a hospital pump and I started my regiment, ensuring I was emptying each breast and pumping 5 minutes past the last milk coming out which I hadn’t been doing before. 3 days after renting this, my stress level was so high and I was so miserable we decided it was better for my health mentally and emotionally to just switch to formula and call it over. My wounds still weren’t healed and it was clear in the bottled milk that it was all watery and the layer of “fatty” milk on top was almost non-existent, where before it had least been between the half-ounce marks. She was very fussy and her bowel movements turned to the green associated with too much lactose, and not enough fat. I felt defeated.

I waffled for days back and fourth after buying that first case of formula. If only I tried harder, if only this, if only that. If only. I made myself sick with guilt at my failure to breastfeed. I was miserable and in near constat tears. I am in the middle of postpartum depression. I have always struggled with depression. I had been on anti-depressants at the beginning of my pregnancy, but opted to stop taking them for the health of my baby while pregnant. It was not easy by any stretch. Now, having sought the help of my doctor and discussed my concerns, I am back on my anti-depressant and now fully fine with the fact that my daughter is getting consistent food in the form of formula that isn’t tainted with mood altering drugs that are meant for me. There simply isn’t enough research to suggest that breastfeeding while on any anti-depressant is safe for the child, so I am so much more grateful for formula and making sure that I am mentally stable to take care of my child.

I truly believe that switching to formula has helped to alleviate a lot of the stress that I was feeling around having a baby and the issues that I was having in regards to her being entirely dependant on me for her food and my fears that my milk wasn’t good enough. She switched to formula in her fifth week, she is seven weeks old now and beautiful and interactive and adorable. My wounds have finally completely closed after 2 weeks of no nursing/pumping. 

I am so glad I found this community, and I am totally happy to say that I was fed formula, and so my daughter too is fed formula and we are all okay. Added to that, I love that my partner can feed her just as equally as I can and he can participate in that bonding as well. It’s good for our family. While I’m sad breastfeeding didn’t work out for us, I am glad that there are options available to keep my daughter fed and healthy and me mentally stable and healthy.

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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10 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “I made myself sick with guilt at my failure to breastfeed.”

  1. Wow… I had glossed over exactly how awful I felt in the first month and a half of my daughters life. Reading this really brought back how hard it was to be a first time mother struggling with PPD. It is not easy by any stretch.

    All the exhaustion, and hormones, and guilt really packs a whollop! Giving up breastfeeding and going on anti-depressents likely saved my life. It most certainly saved my relationship with my daughter.

    As of today she is in her 18th week (or 4 months and 1 week old. I don't know which to go by, it's kind of confusing, lol) She's started teething, she rolls both ways, and she's determined to start crawling! She “talks” all the time, she laughs, giggles and grins. She's super headstrong, literally and metaphorically lol. She loves her jolly jumper and sleeps in her crib (Finally, *grin*). Overall she's amazing.

    Being able to be present mentally and emotionally for her, and to enjoy her every day (even when she's up at 5am, lol) because my depression is being successfully treated is a complete blessing. Just as she is a complete blessing.

    I am grateful every day to the core to live in the world today where there are lifesaving feeding options available that allow a child to be nourished and allow a mother the ability to provide it in the way that is best for the entire family.

    Thank you for all your inspiration… without the FFF community, I might still feel terrible about the fact that failed at breastfeeding, even though I'm succeeding at formula feeding 🙂

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. Not that you need to hear it from me, but it sounds like you made the best decision for your family. And yay for Canada and helpful public health nurses!

  3. Those accounts brought back some memories to me. I had severely cracked nipples too and it hurt like crazy everytime he latched on, a shirt brushed against them, water from the shower, and so on. I swear he was biting me with his gums and that it was like he had teeth already. I remember checking his gums to see if they were there. When he got on formula I remember being surprised that they even started healing, it took a long time though.

    I think it's awesome you tried to BF for so long despite the sad outcome, that would have taken a lot of strength. I stopped really early on. I'm also glad you were able to find a good solution and that the guilt is leaving though.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story with us. It reminded me of my early days with my daughter. I am glad you are feeling better, bonding beautifully, and watching your baby grow and develop. All the best to you!

  5. I'm so glad that you are feeling better, and I love that you mentioned anti-depressants and breastfeeding. It makes me very nervous to see pro-breastfeeding campaigns saying the drugs contraindicated in breastfeeding are fewer than we are led to believe. I agree that the research isn't there, I trust that doctors know the research isn't there, and I definitely don't trust people that claim what doctors are saying is wrong.

  6. I'm sorry to hear that you had such a horrible time and I hope you and your daughter, who made it into your life against such odds, enjoy the bond you have as she grows.

    I wonder if it's realistic to expect that all mothers should have their milk come in by the third day (although I know that you had so many issues that compounded your problems). It would be interesting to see if any research has been done on this. The reason why I'm bringing this up is because my milk came in with my first son, who was born by ventouse after an induction with pitocin. I only fed him every 4 hours in hospital. However, with my next 3 children, who were all born at home and fed frequently in the first few days (every time they stirred, I put them on the breast), my milk also came in on day 5.

    I also had the cracks around the base of my nipples, with my 2nd child when she was a toddler and after my 3rd child was born. After this I heard another woman who had also had cracks like this say that her doctor thought it was associated with her vitamin B deficiency…and vitamin B deficiency is something that I had previously had.

    I don't want to detract from your story by making these observations, but when I see something that rings a bell for me, I can't help but comment 😉

  7. No that's fair. At first because of the c-section and being all hooked up, they'd bring her to me when she was fussy. After they let me out of all of the cords and IVs etc I kept her in my “room”. Every time she woke up I'd try feeding her. The second day, I “fed” her non-stop from 5:30am until sometime after 11am. She'd cry every time I thought she was done and took her off. So I'd switch sides again and again. I remember passing out and being afraid I'd drool on her head.

    And I agree, I don't think every mother has their milk at the same time. Other mom's that I talked to, c-section moms especially all said they got milk on or around the 5 day.

    I've never been told that I have a Vit B deficiency, but I suppose it's not impossible. Wouldn't it be great if it were something so simple to fix for everyone? 🙂

    Observations are always good.

    And yes, the bond we have now is amazing and makes my heart sing every day 🙂


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