FFF Friday: “I feel like I’m the only one with this condition.”

This week’s story is one of those great examples of why there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to women and breastfeeding. Ally’s reasons for choosing formula are quite specific (although I bet there are other women out there with similar issues, and just don’t talk about it), and no amount of support would have changed her unique anatomy. And there is no reason why a woman like Ally should feel the need to defend her uniqueness. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Ally’s Story

In today’s “Google” era, I feel like you can find anything on the internet.  When I became pregnant and later a new mother, I was pleased with the wealth of information, opinions, ideas, and common ground available on every baby topic.  You can seriously bury yourself in the “baby side of the internet.”  Any question, any ailment, any milestone, any condition…you can always find someone who has been through it before you…well, almost always.  Maybe I haven’t found the right combination of words to “Google,” but I still can’t find any information, opinions, ideas or common ground for my “condition.”

Ever since I went through puberty, I have had VERY sensitive breasts.   Before I even understood what was going on with my body, I remember running into a wall with my chest and it HURT.  And it seemed to never stop “hurting” after that.  It’s not like a pain kind of hurting, it’s more of an extremely uncomfortable tickle that kind of makes me want to vomit.  I do not like my breasts, especially my nipples, being touched at all, not even with my own hands.  I cringe anytime anyone, even my poor husband, comes near them.  They DEFINITELY are not an erogenous zone, more like a no-touch-zone.  I’d rather have a pap smear than a breast exam any day.  I don’t even like washing them in the shower.  I guess you could describe me as phobic of having my breasts touched; I know it’s partly a mental thing as well.  The only topics I can find on the internet regarding breast/nipple sensitivity are related to menstruation, pregnancy, and/or breastfeeding.  No, this is every day since I’ve had breasts.  I hate them.  I AM THE ONLY ONE??????

Needless to say, I knew breastfeeding was going to be hard for me.  I didn’t register for any breastfeeding supplies, but I did buy nipple shields (I figured they were my only hope) and researched renting a pump because I would “try.”  Well, after latching my baby for about 15 seconds and then crying and quitting, then trying the pump for about 15 seconds and then crying and quitting, I became a formula feeder.  I described the pain as worse than labor and delivery.  I read so much about women/babies with latching issues, supply issues, and some pain issues, but never anyone with a pre-existing sensitivity condition.  The ironic part is I think my baby would have been a good latcher, and I think I had a pretty good supply even though it was never used.  Today, I still wince if my baby lays funny against my breast or touches them through my clothes and bra.  How did I ever think I would allow his strong mouth and sharp fingernails near my bare nipples?…yikes!

I, like many of the women whose stories I’ve read on FFF Fridays, was shocked at how many people asked if I was breastfeeding and why not.  I felt like a crazy person when I tried to tell them why without sharing too much detail.  Nobody understood.  My mom suggested I just make up something “normal” like he was tongue-tied…I usually just said that “it didn’t work out for us”.  Unlike many others who I read about here, I never really felt guilty because I knew my baby was just fine on formula.  When the lactation consultant came to my room at the hospital, my only question for her was how to get my milk to dry up; I guess you could call me fearless at that point.  It is more embarrassing to me than anything: one, because of societal pressures and formula stigma, and two, because my “why” is so different and I feel like I’m the only one with this “condition.”  Maybe there is someone else out there reading this who has this condition and will know they are not alone.

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Feel like sharing your story? Email me at 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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9 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “I feel like I’m the only one with this condition.”

  1. Congrats for being so “fearless” and knowing what you had to do from the beginning to be physically and emotionally healthy and comfortable in feeding your baby. I went through months of physical and emotional pain trying to breastfeed, even though we had started supplementing with formula when my baby was 4 days old.
    My breasts are not as sensitive as yours but are definitely much more sensitive than anyone I’ve met or spoken to. The pain I felt when breastfeeding was like a burning white-hot sensation – just horrible. On par with a contraction. Turned out my son did have a tongue-tie and a lip-tie. When I went to have it corrected (when my son was 3.5 weeks old) in hopes that my pain would go away, the lactation consultants assured me that immediately following the procedure, the pain would be gone completely (or at least, that’s the experience most women have.) I put him to the breast right after he was clipped….. and there was no change. I was sent home to embark on my new journey of breastfeeding. I returned to the clinic 24 hours later in tears, asking, “Are there some women who can’t breastfeed just because the pain is so awful? Not because of supply or any other issue, but simply PAIN?” And they responded…. Yes. WHY HADN’T I HEARD THIS BEFORE!?!?!
    The lactation consultants actually saved me. They told me that breastfeeding is like a marriage – if one party (mommy) stays in the relationship “just for the sake of the kids” as it were (because she feels like she should) it’s not healthy for anyone.
    Anyways, all this to say, you are not alone. I too quit because of the pain and although I am now able to breastfeed my baby twice daily (with minimal pain), and formula feed the rest of the time without any guilt whatsoever, it took me a long time to feel okay with this. I applaud your courage and fearlessness.

  2. Don’t feel alone! I didn’t have your problem exactly, but I did have an extreme aversion to breastfeeding that wouldn’t go away no matter what I tried. I could also never find any reference to that, except for women who nursed during pregnancy, or after sexual trauma (which I didn’t have). It was kind of like fingernails on a chalk board, just worse. It was not D-MER (which I read about), as it would come and go randomly during nursing sessions. I would try to breath through it, and I drank tons of water, but whenever it hit I got nauseous and would clench my fists, try to distract myself, count and so on, but I would often have to stop a nursing session because it just got too bad (my poor baby would cry, which made me feel even worse). I did eventually get to a point where with combo-feeding (mostly formula), I was able to have one sleepy nursing session a day that was usually okay. But I just couldn’t continue to nurse much more than that. Anyway, it just is what it is. (And by the way, I LOVED bottle feeding my baby! The agonizing nursing sessions were more than made up by the wonderful bonding and cuddling we had while bottle feeding.) I am not at a point yet myself where I can say any wise words – but, please don’t feel alone. I was not being present with my baby when I nursed him (it’s more like I tried to leave my body). But I was present with him and fully aware when I gave him a bottle, and I believe that is worth so much more than a few more antibodies. And I agree with the above poster that it is awesome that you knew what you needed, and asked for it – way to go. 🙂

    • I had the same experience with my attempt at breastfeeding my daughter! When I started, I had issues with pain, but after the pain got marginally better, I started getting this horrible, cringe-making, skin crawly feeling while she was nursing. It was a very visceral feeling and made me want to fling her away from me. I too tried to look it up, but found nothing about the sensation other than in women who were nursing while pregnant, along with the explanation the it is the body’s way of trying to get you to wean your first baby in preparation for the new one, which didn’t help me any as she is my first and only baby. After a few weeks of that, I decided that my baby would appreciate much more having a mother that could look lovingly into her eyes while she drank formula rather that one who was gagging and crying while she drank breast milk.

  3. You are not alone! This is my story- I have actually sat down to write it and put down some of the exact same sentences!!! I have said many times I’d rather have 10 Pap smears than one breast exam. My symptoms are not as strong as yours but the issues that came up are the same. I was lucky to have supportive hospital staff and recently learned how supportive my ob is-though during my pregnancy I was afraid to say anything to him. I would love to speak with you about this in more detail. Your writing this has meant a lot.

  4. It may be nerve damage from the initial trauma of running into the wall???
    I have pretty bad nerve damage in my breasts/nipples. Mostly they just feel numb, unless they are touched, then it changes to extreme discomfort and makes me a bit panicky. …I guess it’s like if your skin is numb and someone is poking you on your numbed skin?
    My poor husband…he can only touch them for a few seconds and then I start saying stopstopstopstop…if he doesn’t he gets sucker punched :-s
    I would say go to a doctor who specializes in NERVE damage, NOT gyno issues, even though it’s a problem with your “Female parts” this does not seem to be a “female issue.” Though any diagnosing would definitely include a lot of touching and probably a mammogram D:
    I don’t tell many people about this because it’s none of their business and I don’t want their pity.

  5. This is Ally, the writer. Thank you for your comments. Claire- you almost made me cry…”this is my story”…ahhh, I’m so relieved knowing there is someone else out there! Have you tried to Google it too? Writing my story was so therapeutic. Thank you all for reading.

  6. Thanks for your story Ally. It made my morning. I was very moved and really, really sympathize with the loneliness that can come from having an a-typical condition. I read this blog because I’m not breastfeeding (medication issue), but what I wanted to say here isn’t about breastfeeding. I do not share your condition, but I do have something called vulvodynia, which is unexplained pain of the vulva. As in, my husband and I have not had vaginal intercourse in almost a year, and there is no obvious cure. So I relate to pain that’s confusing, isolating and personal. I’m sorry you have to be “outed” by bottle feeding. It’s not fair. But pain is pain, and it’s real. By bottle feeding you are making a brilliant choice.

  7. I am a hospital LC (for the past 6+ years) and I encounter a mom who cannot tolerate the sensation of latching every month or two. My first question is “are you quite sensitive normally?” The answer is always yes. Some can tolerate pumping and choose that direction as an option at least for a while – sometimes for long term. Some cannot tolerate the pumping sensation either. The pain or extreme sensitivity is way beyond the common latch soreness that occurs for most in the first couple of weeks – even with a “good latch” at times. This different pain is almost instant as baby latches and does not get better with baby on and is often excruciating. If they choose to share the issue with friends, I explain to them that they will likely hear “oh yeah, it hurts some but then gets better”. I tell them that THIS is not THAT pain. Latching a baby and then grimacing and writhing in pain for the whole time the baby is latched is very much NOT normal. I worked with one mom who was trying again with her third child and was very sad that it just was not going to work. I’m grateful for the stories here that can help moms not feel alone.

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