FFF Friday: “I would appreciate people accepting that the pain I endured was real “

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.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They also are not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts and feelings, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.

This week I had the pleasure of participating in an interview on the Lamaze International-associated blog Science and Sensibility. The comments got a bit heated (as one might expect), and I found myself frustrated by the refusal of some folks to separate a criticism of specific types of advocacy from a criticism of breastfeeding. That’s why I was so thrilled when I realized Cathy’s story was next in the FFF Friday queue. She so beautifully articulates why it’s so vital for breastfeeding advocates to understand how it feels to “fail” at breastfeeding. And her ultimate message is so profoundly simple, and so seemingly obvious- yet for some reason, it’s a difficult one to impart. I appreciate how clearly and intimately she illustrates a point that so many of us want to make, and find ourselves too frustrated, fed up, or defeated to defend.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,



Cathy’s Story

Well, my breastfeeding journey started 12 years ago, before the birth of my beautiful daughter. We lived in Canada at the time she was born and a “Breast Is Best” type of incentive was already in full swing. I had been informed well before conception that it was the ideal. After reading endless parenting books and scouring the information that my doctor had provided me, I had come up a list of priorities for my upcoming birthing experience. At the top of that list was breastfeeding. I had another important incentive. My mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer the year before I became pregnant. I knew that in addition to all of the positive benefits for the baby, breastfeeding my baby would also help me reduce my already elevated risk for developing breast cancer. I had read about the difficulties that one may encounter; cracked nipples, bleeding nipples, poor latch, thrush, mastitis, engorgement, avoiding bottles of expressed milk to avoid nipple confusion, etc. Nothing deterred me. In fact, I was so committed to the idea that I hired a doula. I cannot stress enough how important breastfeeding was to me, even before giving birth.

Fast forward, to the vaginal birth of a 9 pound 7 ounce baby. I just have to say, my body went through a lot. I did not have an episiotomy. My body was allowed to do what it needed to allow for Baby B. to enter this world. I am keenly aware that if I had not been fortunate enough to give birth in modern times, I would have likely bled to death. I was in rough shape, but my doula helped me with the first few breastfeeding sessions in the hospital and I was grateful. Even though I felt like I had been run over, apparently I got a gold star for breastfeeding. There were no swag bags. There was no crib-side formula. The nurses also checked to see if Baby B. was latching correctly. She sure was latching and even the expertly packed, medical grade lanolin was not helping my very sore nipples. I didn’t have much milk, but I knew that I shouldn’t until my milk came in. The baby was very intolerant of my lack of milk. They say baby size doesn’t matter, but I felt like my sizeable baby was hungry and angry at my boobs for not providing. She did survive, as I was told she would. And my milk did come in. It was the pain that was unbearable. I had to nurse in private because I cried with every feeding. But, I had read that the pain goes away if you are nursing properly. I was also assured by my doula and my doctor that the pain would subside. I had my gold star for Baby’s latch, so all I needed was to give my breasts time to toughen up.

Once home, I broke out in hives from head to toe. I’ve never had an allergic reaction. Not ever. I was not only miserable from the painful recovery and excruciating pain from nursing, but now I was an itchy mess. An itchy, pink mess because I could not and would not take anything for the hives while nursing. I was told I could apply calamine lotion, hence my pink and messy state. It was a really tough time, but I remained committed to breastfeeding, through tears and gritted teeth. Unfortunately, the pain never went away. As many lactating women know, there’s this little device called a nipple shield. It is supposed to help. I was so hopeful that it would, but I cannot even tell you the pain that I endured with that little devil. Now, if you are in the midst of a struggle yourself, I would still recommend trying the nipple shield, because for many it is a godsend. I have many friends who swear by the shield to help alleviate the pain. I cannot tell you why it didn’t work for me. I have tried it with each subsequent baby and it has remained that way with me with each attempt. On baby number four I even bought two different brands. I would have tried 20 different brands to find one that worked! I tried pumping…both a manual hand pump and an electric pump. I was hesitant knowing about nipple confusion, but I was at a point of desperation. I have been through three different electric pumps and one manual pump over the course of this 12 year BF journey. The manual pump is the only one that ever allowed for alleviated pain, but in a one hour session, I’d be lucky to get half of an ounce.

Apparently I wasn’t suffering from a poor latch, mastitis or thrush. I felt extremely anxious and guilty for not being able to endure the pain. My milk supply started to dwindle. I believe that my stress level was so great at this time that my body started to fail me and I felt like I was failing my baby. My doula kept encouraging me, but eventually I started to supplement with formula. I was crushed. This was in no way my goal. I had some pretty hefty reasons for nursing and it was one of the lowest moments in my life.

Baby number two and number three, wash, rinse, repeat. Baby number two also coincided with the return of my mom’s breast cancer and her eventual death. I was more determined than ever to make it work…and it never did. I was living in the U.S. by this point and I sought a lactation consultant. Surely my doula and my doctor had missed something the first time around. With each pregnancy I would get myself pumped up to breastfeed, somehow hoping that, this time, I would be able to endure the pain and sustain my babies without formula.

I just had baby number four. All of my babies have been big and Baby E. has kept that trend up. No Gestational Diabetes or excessive weight gain, just big babies! Once again, breastfeeding was my goal, but this time I decided not to beat myself up if it didn’t work out. My husband could not have been any more supportive. He fully believed in my ability to decide what was best for Baby E. As he had previously, he left the entirety of the decision up to me. I cannot tell you how wonderful it feels to have that kind of support from someone and I am beyond thankful for him, even if that support cannot completely alleviate my feelings of guilt.

The pivotal moment in this long, hard journey came from a well- intentioned family member. This family member is a lactivist and upon hearing I was in tears after pumping blood, she approached my husband about a L.C. My husband told her to please not approach me about, as he did not want any additional pressure placed on me. He knew my twelve year battle with my boobs and he did his best to deter the offer. Still, the family member did contact me to “gift” me a consultation. This stung me almost as much as the nipple shield had so many times before. It was insulting, not because I was opposed to help, but because I had just had baby number four. It was insulting for her to assume that I had never sought help before, that I just needed to be informed. I could not and did not reply to her offer. As well-intentioned as I believe she was, there is no place for this over-stepping of boundaries. When will it ever be alright for a woman to say that she gave it her all and for others to believe her?

I am now in a place where I am more content. I look at my four beautiful, mostly formula fed children and know that breastfeeding is not so exceedingly better for a child. No one would ever know that I am mostly a formula feeder unless I told them. It doesn’t mean that I still don’t still grieve over it, but I can now state that I formula feed without feeling like I need to explain why. I am fine with sharing that breastfeeding hurt more than giving birth without an epidural. I can say it because I have done it. I don’t want a medal or super-hero status, but I would appreciate people truly accepting that the pain I endured was real.

One of the most hurtful aspects to me personally is, knowing that people think that because I am 100 percent behind a woman’s right to choose how she feeds her infant, that I am anti-breastfeeding, and NOTHING could be further from the truth. I envy any woman who is able to breastfeed. DO YOU HEAR ME??? I ENVY YOU!!! I feel guilt, I feel sadness and I truly grieve over not being able to breastfeed for as long as I wanted to. My guilt has been almost crippling at times. Please don’t put me in a box marked, “Bad Mommy.” I’ve already felt enough guilt and sadness to last me a lifetime. I celebrate breastfeeding successes. But one person’s success doesn’t give anyone the right to berate a woman for her feeding choice.

There was recently a post online stating that breastfeeding requires “effort.” I have known that for my entire adult life and I went far and beyond putting in “effort.” We are not lazy. We are not uninformed. Just as formula shouldn’t be pushed on a woman, neither should breastfeeding. Should it be promoted? Absolutely! But in our promotion of BF, we need to make sure that it is never at the cost of a woman’s feeling of self-worth.

To all of you who can relate to my story, we are sisters. So many of you have shared your struggles and they seem so far beyond anything that I endured. I will cherish these stories forever, because knowing that I am not alone has been the biggest part of my continual healing.


I love what Cathy says about the “sisterhood”. There is power in community- share your story and become an integral part of ours. Send it along to formulafeeders@gmail.com.

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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30 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “I would appreciate people accepting that the pain I endured was real “

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. My heart is aching for all you endured with your breastfeeding journey! Not just the physical pain, but the emotional pain as well. I am (almost) a lactation consultant and my job is to help women reach their breastfeeding goals. I firmly believe my job is NOT to make women feel guilty about their infant feeding decision or try to force breastfeeding on everyone. I get so angry when I see breastfeeding “advocates” tear down moms who choose to formula feed. It doesn’t matter whether a mom decides before birth to formula feed or goes to formula because breastfeeding didn’t work out – no mom should be made to feel bad about her feeding decision.

    • Thank you Sara!!! It is a comfort to know that you are entering your field with such an open mind. You will be able to help so many with your positivity and understanding.

  2. This story really hits home for me: our few differences are I’m a FTM and I had thrush. I was symptom free until it moved into my breast…. DEEP inside. Similarity: I suffered my Worst. Pain. Ever. Think hot razor blades inside your breast at all times, and hot magma with razor blades coming out of your nipple. My sons doctor would not treat him as he was “symptom free” so I would improve and then regress again as I got thrush, over and over and over. (I do realize there are home remedies but I was not aware or did not know how to get some of them) and the kid did end up with a yeasty diaper rash after it was too late…. Anyhow….. I can relate, and I have nightmares weekly that my son falls further and further behind because I did not breastfed, and my succeeding friends make it even worse (and the ones who are failing but are too proud to talk about it). Talk about guilt. I find myself defending myself to complete strangers even when they don’t ask!! Thank you for sharing. This one really hit home for me.

    • Sarah, I am so sorry to hear about your battle with thrush. You are doing what is best for you and your baby. Your son will be just fine. No guilt allowed…I know, easier said than done;-) Thank you for commenting!

  3. I very much agree that just because someone formula feeds their baby either by choice or by necessity, that they are NOT anti breastfeeding. I don’t get why the “advocates” out there cannot see they they are mutally exclusive. I support feeding one’s baby any way they CHOOSE.

    I’m so sorry for your pain. I was in constant pain with my first, we lasted all of 4 weeks and I hated EVERY minute of it. With my second we made it 3.5 before I got severe (thought not as bad as some I’ve read about) mastitis. I totally relate to the razor blade feeling. I dealt with it for a week and after a week of NO sleep and such excrutiating pain we made the switch. For some reason I didn’t feel much guilt once I made the decision with my first, but I did with my second. I think more because I enjoyed nursing him (until those last 2 weeks) & I felt a loss. I don’t regret my decision, it made life easier (once I got used to bottles again – I forgot a couple of times to take one with me!) & let my hubby help some so I could spend time with my first.

    Thank you for sharing.

  4. Wow, I am sorry you went through all of that and still found people obnoxious enough to offer “help.” I am glad you have reached peace with how your babies were/are fed. I think it is fine to grieve the loss of something you wanted so much, but to still be ok with current circumstances.
    I know it is hard, especially with a first baby, to see the big picture. When women have their first babies, they are often told to take it one day at a time. That’s great advice for getting through the newborn phase, but can also allow women to obsess over things that are, ultimately, trivial.

    Here’s what I mean: we have all heard how BFing is better and it prevents x,y and z, and makes your kids smarter, and reduces the chance of breast cancer and on and on. The thing is, the vast majority of these benefits are merely associations—there is no proof that breastfeeding, in and of itself, will lead to these awesome outcomes. Without the overall big picture, it is easy to blame yourself for not BFing, for any little thing that happens. My baby got a cold, it’s all my fault for not BFing! My baby rolled over 2wks later than my friend’s baby, it’s my fault for not BFing! And after your children are older, you can look back and see how silly that is. Of course those things don’t happen based on how the baby is fed. Everyone gets colds–no one likes it when a little baby is sick, but unless you keep that kid in a bubble, he will catch a cold at some point.

    My children seem to be asthmatic. I wish they weren’t, but I know there is nothing I could have done that would make a difference. You know why? Because their father and I are asthmatic. My mother and sister are asthmatic (and my sister was breastfed). One of my husband’s sisters is asthmatic. The biggest risk factor for asthma is a parent or parents with asthma. My babies also had another independent risk factor: they were premature and boys. I just can’t believe that breastmilk could have overcome their genetic and circumstantial propensity for developing asthma. It is not worth dwelling on though—it is what it is, and luckily we have an excellent doctor, as well as years of personal experience.

    As the saying goes, you can’t tell which schoolchildren, or college graduates were breastfed and which were not. The only way to know is to ask their mothers. If you want smart, successful children, feed them healthy food, be invested in their education and raise them to be decent human beings. There is no evidence at all that breastmilk could substitute for those activities….when we see criminals, we don’t automatically assume they were formula fed, we assume they didn’t have a healthy supportive home life while growing up.

    Sorry, I will get off my soapbox now. I just hate seeing excellent parents getting so upset when they don’t need to be. And I can’t stand the jerks who foster that sort of thing….they should get a life. Anyway kudos to the original poster for reaching peace, kudos to Sara M for working on being an excellent LC, and to Sarah B—be easy on yourself. Your son is fine. You are the best mother for him and don’t let anyone tell you differently.

    • Thank you for your post AmyM. You are so right about inherited risks. I know both BF & FF fed babies with asthma and allergies. It takes a lot more to raise a healthy, productive child than breast milk. Somehow, we’ve been made to feel like it is the single best thing that one can do for their child. I still wish I could have BF, but my children are proof that the love we give them and the time we spend with them is so much more important that how we ever fed them.

  5. “I would appreciate people truly accepting that the pain I endured was real.” That sentence really hit home for me. I was lucky enough to no longer be in constant pain after a few days of BFing (although let-down felt like my nipples were going to pop off and I did have some shooting pains in my breasts for time to time), but one thing I resent is the statement that every mother makes as much milk as her baby needs. The 1-2% statistics that is bandied out is for women who produce no milk at all. According to many lactivists, if you are not in this 1-2%, you will always make enough milk if you nurse enough. Well, I nursed constantly, but my supply would not increase. DS had enough milk to survive, but looking back on pictures I am overwhelmed with guilt… He was so skinny! Being told that it’s “not possible” really hurts. We are not stupid. This is what happened to us and it is REAL.

    Thank you for sharing your story, Cathy!

  6. I am so sorry you had to go through so much pain! You’re fabulous for doing over and over (and over and over) what is best for your health and your babies’. I am especially impressed you didn’t punch your lactivist family member in the nose!!:)

  7. Thank you for your story! After being in the NICU for 2 weeks, son never latched. I met with dozens (literally) of lactation specialists and I tried every day for weeks. I finally gave up and ended up pumping for 11 months and when I finally quit (I went back to school and my hornone rollercoaster was starting ro have a toll on my marriage) and had to start formula-feeding, I felt like a complete failure. I cried for days. Eventually I realized there was nothing I could do or change. My son never knew the difference and he couldn’t care less about the change. He is the same healthy, happy, beautiful baby boy. I will still try to breastfeed every child I have and I will try to pump if I can’t BF, but motherhood goes on whether you BF or pump or use formula.

    • Well said Dani and please don’t EVER feel guilty!!! Formula feeding has provided me with real peace and happiness. We all need to do what works best for us! Thank you so much for your post!

  8. Wow! My story was posted Friday and I had no idea!!! I am going to read through the posts now:) My excuse is that my eldest is now twelve and was performing in Swan Lake this past weekend. I am just catching up today!

  9. I had similar problems. It was just EXCRUCIATING for me! Interestingly, my LC told me that pale-skinned women with pink or peach undertones have much more pain with bfing, even if everything is going well otherwise. Wonder if that could have been a contributing factor here?

  10. Cathy, I’m so sorry that my offer to gift the services of an IBCLC when M was born was so offensive. My intent was not to judge or harass in any way. I knew you were suffering and hoped to find someone who could help you during those incredibly difficult first days. My personal experience was that hospital-based “lactation consultants” are not Internationally Board Certified and offer unhelpful, conflicting advice, and that solid advice was extremely helpful to me. I’m sorry I stepped over the line and hurt you.

    • 🙁
      What a terrible way to find out your offer to help was taken in such a way.

      I would have assumed her feelings would have been shared before posting them online.

    • Unless you were really asking your cousin over and over again if she wanted a lactation consultant and she kept saying no and you kept insisting, it doesn’t sound like you need to apologize for anything. If she really didn’t want the help you offered, couldn’t a simple ‘No, thank you’ have sufficed?

      • Emilia & Linda,

        Hmmm….I never actually mention that the family member is my cousin, nor do I indicate that the family member didn’t know about the hurt she caused.

        • OK, I’ll say your family member. But unless she was really continually getting on your case about seeing a lactation consultant and you had said no, how did she hurt you? Could you have not simply said, ‘No thank you’?

          • As I mention in the article, the offer was respectfully declined and then presented a second time. I also mention that I believe the family member was well-intentioned. I have no idea what your situation is but let’s say you have a baby and you are planning to breastfeed and while you are taking a shower a nurse asks your husband, “Would your wife like to give the baby some formula?” Your husband replies, “No thank you, she is going to breastfeed and it is written in her charts.” The next time the nurse comes in you are both there and she says, “Are you sure you don’t want to try the formula?” It is not the initial question that is upsetting because it is merely a question. Once someone has replied “no thank you or declined the offer, that should be the end of the story. Does that make sense? Add some wack-a-doodle hormones for the full effect:) The family member, who truly was well-intentioned, and I have worked all of this out, but this might help you better understand my emotions. Thank you for your question.

    • Jennifer,

      I realize that you had the best of intentions. I apologize for not letting you know sooner that I did feel hurt. You just happened to make the offers after an incredibly long and painful journey. As much as I can now appreciate that you truly were trying to be helpful, I ask you to please understand that I did not write this to purposefully hurt you. I expose a lot of deeply personal information in my piece. I only meant it to be an honest reflection of my grief.



  11. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I had a very similar experience with my first son. Blood squirting out into the pump and everything. I am now formula feeding my third healthy, happy baby boy. I appreciate so much what the whole experience has done for my perspective. Thank you!

  12. I completely relate to your journey and struggles. I, too, had been determined to breastfeed and felt like everything about my motherhood identity revolved around it. When I tried and tried, sought out consultants and other help, and had so much pain I cried while I fed my baby, I gave up in disgust. I was heartbroken over not feeding the way I wanted to and the way I was “supposed” to feed my baby. The pressure I felt to breastfeed, at all costs, was enormous. I even had a nurse tell me that cracked and bleeding nipples are fine and that she herself endured them – like it was a badge of honour. Congratulations to you for trying through so much hardship and four big babies. Isn’t it enough that new moms are fighting their own personal battles and learning so many new things about themselves and their new life – why are new moms made to feel like criminals if they cannot or do not breastfeed? I agree that it sometimes feels as though some people judge and think you haven’t tried everything. What is “everything” and when is it enough? Thank-you for sharing your story.

    • Karen,

      Thank you so much! Congratulations to you for recognizing that there are other factors that need to weighed when one is struggling with infant feeding, such as a mother’s health and well being. If a mother is crippled by breastfeeding, a baby will surely suffer more than if she is content and formula feeding. I love to use the analogy of the use of oxygen on an airplane. You are supposed to make sure that in the case of an emergency, you apply your oxygen mask first so that you will be able (and alive) to help your child. I believe the same thing is true with breastfeeding. It should be promoted and a woman should have every tool available to her to help make it a success if that is what she chooses to do. But, it should not be pushed to the point that a woman feels worthless as a mother if she “fails.” If there is one thing I know from this forum it is that women are carrying around a TON of guilt over not breastfeeding. I have really found a lot of peace through reading other’s stories and I wanted to share mine in the hopes of helping even just one other person. A big thanks to Suzanne for allowing our stories to be heard:)

  13. “I would appreciate people accepting that the pain I endured was real.”

    The fact that we even have to SAY this is an indicator of how ridiculous the pressure to breastfeed has gotten. It used to be just men who told women pain was all in their heads.

  14. Thank you for your story. What a great community—if only it had been around 8 years ago when I was struggling with the very same issues! It’s so wonderful to feel understood.

  15. Thank you so much for sharing Cathy; you are right about us all being sisters. Women really do need to act more sisterly to each other and that starts with being honest. I had a very traumatic birth but agree the pain of breastfeeding for me surpassed the pain of labour. Some people don’t seem to believe this and just say ‘if it hurts you aren’t doing it right’ which is rubbish as 4-5 LCs and midwives confirmed my baby was positioned correctly. I don’t know many women who have had an easy breastfeeding experience- most gave in and admitted defeat and we need to realise there is nothing wrong with that. At no other time in life do we judge or belittle someone for trying their hardest and choosing to go a different way; especially with something as personal and intimate as breastfeeding and mothering our babies.

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