World Breastfeeding Week – and my own harrowing tale

In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I’d like to share my experience breastfeeding. I might be going way off topic here, but it’s the summer, there are no school lunches to eat and so I retain the right to blog about anything remotely related to food, nutrition, education, and schools. Breast milk is a baby’s first food and is an infant’s perfect made-for-baby food. Since studies show that breastfeeding prevents obesity, I believe it is relevant for the blog. If you don’t want to read about breastfeeding, feel free to skip the below. You have been warned…

I wanted to breastfeed my baby for 12 months like all the experts recommended. I knew my mom had breastfed my sister and me, but I knew that we had been bottle fed too. I learned while I was pregnant that my grandmother had bottle fed my mother exclusively (it was the 1950’s and formula was new and en vogue).

I took a breastfeeding class at the hospital while I was pregnant. My husband and I jointly took a birthing class at the hospital and breastfeeding was covered so he was exposed to similar information. My husband was supportive of my breastfeeding because he was exclusively bottle fed and has severe asthma. We had read research that breastfeeding decreases the risk of asthma and we both wanted our baby to not have a medically-involved childhood like he had experienced.

In the hospital after the birth, my little baby was interested and excited to breastfeed. I was encouraged by his little baby bird mouth and proud of myself for feeding him. Towards the end of my two days in the hospital, one nurse came in and said, “I don’t think he has a good latch. I’m going to send in a lactation consultant.” I was slightly offended mostly because she was the first nurse to notice a problem. But my breasts were taking a beating from his vigorous sucking so maybe she was onto something.

The lactation consultant visited me just before we were going to leave the hospital. My milk hadn’t come it, but I figured I was providing colostrum so it was no big deal. She said, “I’m very concerned.” Her demeanor was gruff and rude and I took it personally that my baby was not feeding properly. I started to cry. I told her, “Look, we are just about to leave the hospital with our baby. I don’t want to hear this right now.” She left and came back with nipple shields. We left the hospital with formula samples in a formula company provided, hospital approved diaper bag.

My husband and I went home hoping that everything would be alright. After a night of about 90 minutes of sleep, we were supposed to see the doctor the next morning. We went to our pediatrician (a great guy) who told us that the baby had lost too much weight and we needed to supplement with formula. I was devastated. My pediatrician’s office has a part-time lactation consultant/nurse practitioner on staff, but she was not in the office so the doctor sent us back to the hospital to see their lactation consultant again. I told my husband I couldn’t go back to that terrible woman who saw me before. Thankfully it was a different lactation consultant on call that day. During the session she gave our son two ounces of pre-mixed formula and we rented a breast pump.

Finally the next day my milk came in (FINALLY!). I started pumping because I couldn’t get the baby to breastfeed. Pumping is a weird feeling, but I got used to it. My mother also arrived to help us. I was so happy to see her that I cried. Unfortunately because of her work commitments, she could only stay for 48 hours even though she wanted to stay longer.

I discussed breastfeeding with her and I asked her, “How long did you breastfeed me for?” Her reply, “I weaned you when you were three months old.” It seemed like an insanely long time to have breastfed but it seemed doable. But I vowed that my goal would be to equal what she had done for me. I would do this for three months.

Unfortunately I could not get the baby to nurse. Every time I put him to the breast, he would cry mightily in protest. This vocal insult felt like a rejection of me. Thankfully, my milk production was high and I was able to meet all of his needs while pumping. But I wanted to find more lactation help. I was determined to get him back to the breast.

I was pumping exclusively for our son. During the day and throughout the night my husband would reheat a bottle of breast milk and feed our baby while I pumped for the next feeding. Lactation consultants advise that the mother should not give the baby a bottle if the mother also offers the breast. In my case this was especially important as he wouldn’t nurse. It was traumatic that I couldn’t feed my baby in my arms, but at least I could feel proud that he was getting breast milk.

Two weeks after birth I was so exhausted and my husband went back to work. I noticed a large red spot on my breast and called my pediatrician and my OBGYN. I had mastitis and I was put on antibiotics. It felt like having the flu with aches and pains, plus weepiness. My OBGYN referred me to a social worker and I was screened for post-partum depression. The diagnosis was “the baby blues.”

While sick with mastitis I met with the lactation consultant at my son’s pediatrician’s office. She did the unthinkable: she got my son to nurse! I was thrilled, but when I got home I couldn’t repeat it. I told my husband that if I had to pump exclusively for our son, it was ok because I was getting used to it. The constant rejections from my baby were almost too much for me. I ended up having to give him a bottle myself.

I quit offering the breast to my son because it just seemed like “too much work.” And when he was six weeks old, I got mastitis on the other side. Luckily I caught it early and went straight to the lactation consultant. I told her I couldn’t get the baby to breastfeed. She was able to get him to breastfeed during the session in her office. She looked me in the eye and said with all seriousness, “You’re going to have to push his face right into it.” That still makes me laugh!

I went home and took her advice. He started crying when I offered the breast and I just pushed his face right into the breast. He nursed! I was overwhelmed with relief and pride. From that point forward he stopped getting breast milk in a bottle.

Shockingly breastfeeding became easy. I was able to nurse during the night quickly and efficiently though not lying down, which I never mastered. There were no more smelly bottles to wash. And my husband didn’t have to get up in the night, which made him very happy. All of a sudden I felt a bond to my son that I had not experienced before. I viewed him differently. He was no longer this alien being, but my baby. I’m sure it was oxytocin because nothing else had changed. That’s one powerful human drug!

Just as breastfeeding was finally getting easier, I had to gear up to return to work when he was nine weeks old. I was worried that all my work to breast feed would be for nothing. I invested in a breast pump and returned the hospital’s breast pump that I had been renting. I was able to pump at work in a small, semi-private/private room. When I wasn’t at work I was able to breastfeed my baby at home. The only bottles we washed were the ones from daycare. As a working mom, breastfeeding was a great way for me to be able to be close to my infant in a way that no other caregiver could be.

After that difficult start, I was able to breastfeed for 13 months, thereby far exceeding my original goal of three months (the length of time I was breastfed). There were dips in my milk production after seven months and formula had to be supplemented sporadically then, but whenever I was with my baby I was able breastfeed him. Around 13 months of age he refused to nurse and self-weaned. I never had to wean him off of a bottle since he wasn’t crazy about the bottles he got at daycare and didn’t drink from a bottle at home. Additionally I lost almost all the weight I gained during the pregnancy though I’m still carrying 5-10 stubborn pounds. My little guy was a massive, chunky baby (gotta love those fat rolls) but is now a slim, active toddler.

I have a healthy, thriving child who is the inspiration of this blog project. My kid is in childcare so he gets sick a lot (like every toddler I’m told) so a history of breastfeeding can’t prevent everything! We’re still waiting to see if our son develops asthma. But my husband and I continue to be breastfeeding advocates. Recently I caught Mr. Q on the phone discussing breastfeeding with a buddy of his who is about to become a father. I got a little choked up when I heard him talk about the benefits.


What I learned and now believe:

1) No woman who wants to breastfeed should leave the hospital prior to her milk coming in, in effect without a way to feed her baby. It’s criminal to let mothers like me leave the hospital with formula samples. If our country is serious about increasing the number of women breastfeeding to help combat a host of ailments, we need to be entirely more baby-friendly and less formula-company-friendly.

2) All new parents should accept every offer of help they get from family and friends. We told family not to come right after the birth because we wanted to “bond” with the baby. Can you laugh with me! HA HA! We were so bonded we didn’t have time to pee, eat, or shower.

3) If a woman is screened for post-partum depression and results come up in the “baby blues” range, someone should still follow up. The social worker asked me when I was two weeks post-partum, “Do you experience moments of joy during your day?” I replied, “Of course, I have a beautiful baby.” “Then you are not depressed,” she stated emphatically. However, when I compare how I felt during those first six weeks with my baby to how my friends felt with a newborn, I can find only one friend who went through what I did. Normal people were a lot happier than I had been. When/if I have another child I’m going to be more aware and GOD FORBID I have another rough time of it breastfeeding a newborn!

Since there are a lot of Moms who read this blog, if you blog about breastfeeding for World Breastfeeding Week, please link to it below:

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74 thoughts on “World Breastfeeding Week – and my own harrowing tale

  1. Timing is everything (this being World Breastfeeding Week). In a town near my home, a woman was breastfeeding her 2-yr.-old at a public park last week and was told by the town's Parks & Rec Dept. head that she could not openly breastfeed in the park. She was told that she would have to go into the restroom to do it. She had 3 other small children with her so that would mean she'd have to take all 4 kids into the park/beach restroom in order to breast feed the youngest child. I haven't seen the restroom at this particular park, but if it's anything like most park restrooms in this state, (1) yuck!, (2) there isn't an appropriate place for a woman to sit down and breast feed a child, and (3) there isn't an appropriate place to park 3 additional small children to wait for a mother to breast feed her other child. The lifeguard who initially told the woman that she couldn't breast feed on the beach commented that it's a family beach. Some "family" beach if you ask me!

    As mentioned in the article linked below, Connecticut Statute 53-34b states, "No person may restrict or limit the right of a mother to breast-feed her child." When the woman tried to file a complaint with the town's police dept., she was met with ridicule and left. Kudos to her, however, because she didn't let it drop. With the assistance of an attorney, she's now filing a police complaint and another with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. This is a link to the article:,0,3248771.story

    The notion that women's breasts are just sex objects needs to change in this country pronto. Breast feeding is NOT gross or weird or disgusting OR SEXUAL.

    Women who choose to bottle feed must also be respected for their choice and not made to feel as though they must defend that highly personal choice.

  2. Monica @12:28-
    Another option for you is to buy breastmilk. I'm not sure how to do this, but I know women who have donated their frozen milk for this sort of thing. Women who donate are vigorously screened and the milk is tested to ensure no drugs, etc is present in the milk. It may not be a solution for the child's entire 1st year, but it may get them through those tough 1st weeks.

  3. I also had a rough start breastfeeding. I had problems with milk supply so for well over a month I was nursing and then pumping after every nursing session. By the time you nurse, change a diaper, and pump, it's time to start over again. Exhausted doesn't even begin to cover how I felt.

    On top of that nursing hurt from the start. I was in a lot of pain – the kind of pain that leaves you crying and screaming obscenities every time you nurse. At one point, my daughter nodded off nursing and when I moved her, there was bright-red, bloody milk dribbled all down her front. Eventually, we figured out the problem was partly my daughter's latch and also a really severe case of thrush (whose only symptom was really severe pain).

    I was lucky though – the Lactation Consultant at the pediatric's practice stuck with us. She saw us once or more a week until things got sorted out and she returned all my sobbing voicemails. (The bloody milk one even got answered WELL after hours.) Now at four months, we're going strong and I'm so glad we stuck with it.

    If more women are going to breastfeed they need Lactation Consultants who will make sure things start strong and stay that way. I think that when women give up breastfeeding because it's too painful or too difficult, it says something bad about our healthcare system not the mothers. I was an extreme case but most women have some difficulties without support and reassurance many can't weather these problems.

    I also think that formula should absolutely, NOT be given to new parents in the hospital. It's not like you can't go get formula if you really need it – your baby won't starve in the time it takes to go to the local Kwik-E-Mart. And with formula on-hand, using it is an easy out when the road gets a little bumpy. I can't tell you how many times I wanted to just give up and give my daughter formula – having that complimentary can of formula made it all the harder to resist. In the long run I'm so glad I stuck with it.

  4. Mrs. Q-
    Kudos to you for sticking with it- so many women would have thrown in the towel and who could blame them?

    When we were looking for a birth hospital/OB/pedi, we specifically looked for a group that was pro breastfeeding (among other things). The nurses were wonderful, especially giving me lots of good tips to keep me comfortable nursing after an emergency C-section. they also offered a prenatal breastfeeding course which was really helpful for me and my husband. No bags of formula were sent home with us. Instead we were given a gift certificate to pick up a yummy & nutritious meal from Dinner by Design on our way home.

    My second son weaned at 14 months and became very sickly. He lost weight and was tested for everything from autoimmune disorders, leukemia, etc. It was a very scary time. Turns out he has a severe milk allergy and may also be allergic to soy. he is also at high risk for asthma. If he had been formula fed, I can't imagine how sick he would have been as an infant, when it would be a lot harder to figure out what was going on. Any way, thanks for sharing your story!

  5. Mrs. Q,
    While I do agree that breast-feeding is best for babies, there are some mothers who have no choice but to use formula.
    Two years ago, I received an intestnes transplant. When I was given my immune suppressants (a boatful of other medications) I asked if it was possible for me to start a family while on these prescriptions. The doctor told me it was possible, but I would be risking my child's health while he/she would still be in the womb and would most likely miscarry. Even if I did give birth to a healthy baby, if I breast-fed him/her, I would still be risking his/her health.
    It is absolutely not possible for me to stop taking my immune suppressants, or even forget to take them, for one day let alone 40 weeks. If I do, my new intestines would be rejected, and I would get dangerously ill and possibly die.
    Yes, I am aware there are mothers who donate their milk to milk banks (Is that the proper term for it?). However, I would not feel comfortable feeding my potential child milk that came from someone I don't know (Call me weird and paranoid, everyone else).
    Sometimes a mother is forced to formula feed. In my circumstances, formula-feeding (and most likely adoption) will have to be done. I would love to breast-feed my potential children, but a mom's got to do what a mom's got to do to feed her kids.

  6. Anonymous @3:46 — Oh my, wow. There is no question formula saves many babies' lives including children who are adopted, and I'm so happy it's out there for that reason. I just wanted to share my breastfeeding story for World Breastfeeding Week!

  7. I haven't had the time to read all of the comments, but I do think that this belongs on a blog about feeding our children. School-aged children start out as infants, no?

    I disagree with point #1. I'd rather see mothers be able to have a birth in their location of choice – either in the hospital or out-of-hospital. In many states, this is not an option. [Caveat – I did have a doula and did go to a hospital though it wasn't a horrible experience. However, if I were to have another child, I would choose to have an out-of-hospital birth. Birth is a natural process that does not, the majority of cases, need medical intervention.]

    Every new mother (including seasoned mothers with new infants) should have home visits by a midwife/nurse/lactation consultant during at least the first week or two at home with a new infant. Moreover, mother and baby should always be treated as a dyad, not as individual patients. The state of postpartum care (even for women without PPD) is mediocre at best.

    I am blessed to live in a community with an excellent childbirth education center that offers community and support to growing families, both prenatally and postnatally. Indeed, with their help along with other local groups, our community now has signed up (over?) 86 restaurants who have agreed to display the international breastfeeding logo to further encourage mothers to nurse their babies whenever and wherever they need to do so. My only sadness is that this is needed at all.

  8. Anonymous @ 3:46pm. Perhaps you and many other mothers aren't aware. Milk banks are REQUIRED to pasteurize the milk – indeed, that is why i chose not to donate my extra milk to the milk bank and instead connected with a local family to donate my unpasteurized (human) milk directly. So you'd be feeding your child a more complete food than formula but that isn't so different from the milk you would buy in the store — albeit, more appropriate for our little babies.

  9. Thanks for this post. I agree that there should be more support from insurance companies for breastfeeding support.

    I had to pump exclusively for A YEAR, renting a hospital-grade pump for $60 per month. None of these costs were refunded by my insurance or by our FSA. Although that was much cheaper than formula, I was appalled that this was not covered.

    Breastfeeding is as normal and natural as having a baby. Support your breastfeeding and pumping moms!

  10. Also, while insurance companies don't always compensate for pumping, WIC does. WIC mothers CAN get a breastpump and lactation education for FREE.

  11. I think most of the problem would stop if LC's were all educated that colostrum is ALL a baby needs for the first few days of life.

    It's NORMAL for milk to not come in for 2-4 days. NORMAL. We need to stop teaching women that there milk should be in before this time.

    This, I believe, is the major beginning of most of the traumatic breastfeeding starts. Women whose bodies are acting completely normally are told they are deficient.

    If an LC is concerned that your milk hasn't come in after 24 hours…find another one. 2-4 days is standard, normal, and fine for your baby. Babies do not need formula suppliments while waiting for milk flow to start during this window.

  12. Thank you for this. Your breastfeeding story starts alot like mine although I did end up EPing (exclusively pumping) for 6.5 months before he got too mobile for me to be able to sit for 20 minutes at a time all those times during the day to pump. And crazy how I came up with the possibility of EPing on my own. Not even the lactation consultant mentioned it. It was breast or formula as the only options. THERE is an INBETWEEN option!

    It was so hard to be "rejected" by a week old baby but I'm happy to say at almost 3 years old, we are quite well bonded and I am proud to know I gave him the best start I possibly could.

  13. "Do we really need to ban them as a political statement?"

    No, we need to ban them because it's not in the best interests of most children. It's not political, it's fact.

  14. Wow, what a story! You had me chocked up with your terrible experience at the hands of the LC in the hospital and by the time I read about your turnaround I was in tears!

    I'm so glad you persevered, found good help finally and that things turned around for you. Your experience is an inspiration and your lesson summary is spot on!

  15. Awesome story!! It makes me so sad when I hear story's when people give up BFing b/c it hurts a little, you went through the ringer and still succeeded. I breastfed my daughter until 16 months, thankfully we didn't have many problems (our nurse in the hospital showed me the shove her face in it technique). My son is 6 weeks old and nursing very well, I have just recently had cut dairy out of my diet though, which is difficult, but worth it. The second time has been much easier.
    I got a diaper bag from the hospital from a formula company also, it was labeled for breastfeeding mothers and had formula coupons, samples, and information about how similar to breastmilk their formula is. No wonder women give it up so easily!
    Thanks for sharing your story!

  16. Mrs Q, I had a similar experience to yours – it took a few days for my milk to come in and during that time my son would try to latch but not really get anything much because I wasn't producing much colostrum and he began to seem to hungry and frustrated. On his first visit to the pediatrician we were told he had lost too much weight and they gave us formula to give him, which he hungrily gobbled up. My milk finally started to come in but my nipples were just too sore and I couldn't get him to latch properly anymore so, like you, I started pumping (weird feeling, until you get used to it!) and bottle-feeding him my milk and then gradually started weaning him off the formula. Once he was happily drinking the pumped milk I was able to get him to latch and breast-feeding became quite easy after a while.

    Unfortunately after a few months I developed mastitis in both breasts – ouch, it is the most painful ailment I've ever experienced. I was feverish, my whole body ached, and for a day or so I just felt like I was going to do die. It took me some weeks of taking antibiotics before I could rid myself of the nasty infection and during that time my poor little boy had to go back to drinking formula. He didn't seem to like formula much anymore – he started getting a bit constipated and constantly cranky. When I finally recovered I started squeezing out my milk just to get it all started again and was able to get back to breast-feeding quite soon.

    I had planned to wean my son at 12 months, but when he did get to that age I thought "poor guy, he lost more than a month of breast-feeding because of my infection, so I'll give him an extra month or 2 to make up for that" and I let him continue for a while. Hahaha! After that he didn't want to stop and he was 2 years old before I finally managed to wean him. He was walking, talking, would run after me, try to climb up me and get at my boobs. I was quite desperate to wean him by then. It was becoming too funny. In the end I'm sure it was a good thing he continued so long. 🙂

    When he started daycare he was continuously sick all through winter for the first 2 years and so was I because I would catch colds and other infections from him. I think you're going through that now, Mrs Q, but don't worry that too will pass eventually.

  17. Lucy – thank you! our experiences mirror each other's. Thanks for reassuring me that the constant illnesses will fade…. I am waiting for the day!

  18. Yes, my son is 6 now and quite healthy and only got sick a couple of times last winter (which is good considering we are in Canada and our winters are long and cold!) so I think he did eventually develop resistance to the "daycare bugs". Not sure I did though, I got sick more often than him this past winter!

  19. I love breastfeeding. I tell everyone to do it. I read only a few books while I was pregnant, one of them being "So That's what They're for!" by Janet Tamaro, which in my opinion is one of the best. It shocks me at how similar everyone's stories are in the States – "my milk didn't come in" or "I couldn't produce enough" is something I hear so often from people who live there. I had my son down here in Brasil and breastfed until he was two years and two months. Everyone here breastfeeds for the most part because it is often the cheaper alternative in a country where a vast section of the population lives on R$600 a month (about $300 USD). I have never had anyone here tell me a doctor told them to supplement after 24 hours of life. Breastfeeding is the norm here and you can pretty much do it anywhere, at least in the section of the country I live in. All the stories people tell in the USA are so similar that it frightens me to have a child there; I am afraid of the lack of support and positive feedback and I can see how it can be so discouraging.

    I am thinking of having another baby next year and for that reason I can know it will be at least three years before I think about returning to live in the USA. I want to have the same positive, free, supportive experience here that I had with my son.

    On the topic covered in the post, although my son was breastfed exclusively for the first six months and has had only natural food and natural juices(nothing prepackaged in a can – too expensive here!) that we made him, he still has problems with asthma, and eczema. But he is a very healthy kid, eats right, loves veggies and fruits, and climbs anything that will support his weight. He has always been a small kid (I am only 5 ft. tall, so that's expected) and has never been chubby at all. That might be genetics, or it might be the natural food, or it might have been the breast. There isn't a real way to point a finger at one in particular. But I encourage everyone to breastfeed – it's what your breasts were made to do! Have faith in yourself! You can do it!

  20. Just feel the need to quickly share my story:
    It took me 5-6 days for my milk to come in with my first. There was no way that the insurance would pay for me to stay that long. But I wish it would have. Not great lactation specialists in the hospital or out of it. Horrible nursing experience with anger emotions every time I started nursing. Looking back mostly I think this happened because no one had given me realistic expectations of nursing so I think with lack of sleep and hormones my body went into hyper-sensitive survival mode that did not allow me to bond with the baby. Finally we had to go with bottle feeding as I kept having to go on meds so I'd have to pump and discard. Once I decided I wasn't a horrible parent for bottle feeding and could feed my baby pain free without the worry of meds in the milk, the bonding was awesome.

    However, I deeply desired to breastfeed with my second. I knew the benefits and knew more what to expect. My milk took about 3-4 days to come in this time and THIS time the nurses sent me home with a supplemental nursing aide that delivered formula through tubes that I attached near the nipple so my baby could stimulate my milk production while getting formula. This proved to be a life saver, along with using a hospital grade pump for 10 days to help my milk production get up to speed and get the calluses I needed to nurse without pain. I am so glad I stuck with it and this time I was able to nurse for almost 13 months (albeit having to supplement about 7-8 months again).

    Besides all the benefits to the baby, my favorite thing I learned from reading a book about breastfeeding (while breastfeeding 😉 was that full-time nursing burns as many calories each day as running two miles each day! Who would have ever thought with my horrible first experience that I'd be such a proponent of it now. I tell my friends now, don't give up. Try it for two months to build up the calluses and teach your child how to do it–then see if it works for you.

  21. I know this is late, but it's so heartening to read your experiences and know that I wasn't the only one.

    When my twin sons were born (via C-Section) I was determined to breast feed. I'd heard all the health benefits, I wanted the best for my boys.

    My milk came in early, and I produced a lot…but the boys wouldn't latch. The hospital, without asking me, provided the boys with bottles and would feed them formula while I was sleeping. The lactation consultant was verbally abusive. I was in pain.

    But I kept trying.

    I took the boys to a doctor the day after I came home from the hospital. They had lost even more weight.

    And every trip to the doctor from then on was the same. Less weight on them, more fussiness.

    I lasted one month, and then I couldn't do it anymore. Twenty-four hours a day, I was either pumping or bottle-feeding, and it took a bad toll on me.

    I'm glad that you managed to pull through, and I'm glad that my boys are healthy, happy three year olds now…but any time somebody tells me that 'anybody can breastfeed', I always say softly, 'no, not everyone can'.

  22. I just had a baby a month ago, and I think it's horrible that you didn't find out until weeks after getting released from the hospital that you basically have to shove the baby's face into your boob. That was one of the first things they told me at the hospital when I was having difficulty getting my baby to latch! And it wasn't even a lactation consultant who first told me, it was a nurse.

    I'm glad you eventually got the hang of it. My heart goes out to any mother who's unable to breastfeed. It must be a horrible feeling.

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