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What To Do When You Can’t Breastfeed

What To Do When You Can't Breastfeed

Our son was born a natural eater. He is 50% Navajo and they are known to be bigger sized babies. Further, my side of the family have all been chunky-good-eating babies as well. As a result, our son was a GREAT eater. When I would breastfeed him he would eat for 45 minutes to an hour at a time! Yes truly, he would eat about 30 minutes each side!

It was pretty intense. Especially considering that he had a really really strong suck and a bad latch. I worked with lactation consultants and once I started using this nipple shield it did help but I was still in A LOT of pain (cracked nipples and all). Further, it was emotionally painful for me as a mom, when around 6 PM he would start screaming for more milk but I was empty.

Despite ALL the tricks in the book, it seemed that I just couldn’t supply enough milk for his demand. I drank TONS of water, took the supplements (Fenugreek and others), ate the milk-producing foods, etc. Doing everything I could, my milk supply did slowly increase but not quick enough for my growing son.

Then just over one month postpartum, I started having  intensely painful gallbladder attacks. Interesting Fact: Gallstones/gall bladder attacks occur to a high percentage of women after giving labor. I figure that since my son was kicking my gall bladder for months while he was in the womb he didn’t help my chances either.

The pain eventually got so bad we had to rush to the emergency room. They put me on Morphine and Zofran. Despite this, I still couldn’t hold anything down (I threw up over 40 times in the space of a few days). Thus, I had no choice but to get surgery.

After the surgery, I couldn’t hold my son or breastfeed for a week (those were sad days). I pumped during this time. And although they said it was okay for my 2 month old to drink my milk (despite me being on narcotics) I only did it for half a day because he slept for hours longer than normal and it just made me nervous. Thus, I started exclusively formula feeding him and pumping and dumping my breast milk during my recovery.

And it was like my son was in heaven. He no longer was screaming for food and was sleeping better. He loved the bottle because it didn’t have an inconsistent flow like my breasts had. Once he started drinking out of the bottle it was like he was a different baby.

What To Do When You Can't Breastfeed

After I had recovered and was no longer on pain medication, I tried to breast feed him again. He had HORRIBLE nipple confusion. He would scream bloody murder when he was held to my breast. I tried multiple things but ultimately after lots of tries, my son’s dad and I gave up. I felt horrible. Nothing is worse than seeing a hungry baby scream for milk and not being able to get them to drink it. So we went back to the bottle which he took just fine.

I began pumping and continued feeding him mainly breast milk (through the bottle) and supplementing what I couldn’t supply for him over the next 3 months. By the way, I really respect mothers who exclusively pump. It’s twice the work! I would pump while he was asleep then feed him with the bottle while he was awake. I wasn’t getting much sleep because I had to pump at least 2 or 3 times at night and then hold him to feed him when he needed to eat. I had very little time for much else. I also had a lot of pump parts and bottles to clean and sterilize everyday.

Eventually the sleep deprivation and pumping became too much. I looked into feeding him goats milk but after doing a lot of research I found that it lacked the vital ingredients that are found in breast milk and formula. So after I weaned my son off of my breastmilk (at about 5 months) he went to formula exclusively.

What To Do When You Can't Breastfeed

I’m a total supporter of breast feeding. But for mothers who can’t (and please understand that there are situations when moms can’t-article on pros and cons here) exclusively formula feeding is wonderful as well. My son is super healthy. He has outgrown his baby weight, has THE longest eyelashes of anyone I’ve seen and is smart and healthy. Interesting Fact: Formula is tightly regulated and is a great alternative to breast milk.

Anyway, I didn’t think I would write about my inability to breastfeed because it’s a little tough on the ego to admit. But, I wanted to write this for any other mom who faces something similar (you’re not alone!).  Do you have any stories of difficulty or inability to breastfed? I’d love to hear them so I don’t feel alone as well.

UPDATE: After having my second (a daughter) and being in intense pain, I have gone to a doctor, consulted with multiple lactation consultants, and saw a specialist. My daughter’s pediatrician actually had Raynaud’s Phenomenon and suggested I go to a dermatologist. My dermatologist who has it too (she is currently breastfeeding) confirmed that I do have it.

Raynaud’s phenomenon is where your nipple doesn’t receive any blood to it while the baby is latched on. Without blood flow it turns white and is extremely painful both having the baby come on and off…even at random times it may flare up. When the nipples turn white they are shockingly painful especially as the blood flows back in and they turn to red and deep red.

LLC says this about Raynauds:

“Raynaud’s affects about 20 percent of women. It is a benign condition often characterized by sensitivity to cold in the hands and feet. Hands and feet turn white or purple when exposed to cold and may tingle, hurt, or become numb. These sensations go away with heat. Although vasospasms are most common in hands and feet, they can occur in the vascular systems of the breast and nipple. The resulting pain is intense and could easily cause someone to stop breastfeeding”. More info here.

There is a medication I began to take to make it less painful… but it does have side effects. It allows blood to flow more freely through my body. As a result, my skin is flushed and looks like I’m sun burned, I’m more puffy, and I had a migraine and bad headaches until I found out that I should take it at night to prevent headaches. It doesn’t kill the pain 100% (at least not yet), but it is very helpful. If I can’t get the pain all the way down, or the side effects of the medication under control, I’ll be switching my baby (3 1/2 months old) to formula again.

I also found out that my daughter has lip tie. It isn’t severe but it is enough to make things a lot more uncomfortable for me. She has mild tongue tie too. Overall, the main aggravator of pain for me is Raynaud’s.

Many children I know who were not breastfed are very healthy. What is most important is that mom and baby are both healthy. Do what you can to make that happen and don’t feel guilt or resentment if someone doesn’t choose your same path.

So what should you do if you can’t breastfeed? Guiltlessly switch to formula and don’t let the judgements of others bring you down.

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28 Responses to What To Do When You Can’t Breastfeed

  1. Colleen says:

    I just wanted to say a big THANK YOU!!! My daughter has gone thru some of the same issues you had with breast feeding, she got to the point that all she did was cry while pumping (her daughter’s tongue is to big for her mouth and can’t latch) it hurt her so much, cracked nipple, yeast infection, you name it. She was not getting enough milk for her daughter and she felt like she had failed her. Her husband and I had to finally beg her to stop trying and put their daughter on formula. When I had her I had no problems breast feeding so it was hard at first to understand all of her issues. She weaned her from breast milk to formula and she sleeps better and seems fuller after she is feed. I printed your article so that I can let her read it and let her know she is not alone. Also thank you so much for the information about the wholesale formula, I just happen to be a member of Sam’s Club. Thank you again and I wish all the best!!

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Colleen- Thank you for this kind comment! Yes ensure your daughter that she is not alone. There is so much pressure to breastfeed and while I understand how important it is it’s also really important to have an emotionally healthy experience as a mother and baby. She tried, I tried and that’s really all that we could do. Thanks again!

  2. Felicia says:

    I am very thankful that I was able to breastfeed my two children. These kind of problems could happen to any of us. All of us, as mothers, have to give up this competition/ judgement of each other about breast feeding and many other topics. The most important thing is that we love our children and are doing all we can to give them nourishing, loving starts in life. I’m so glad that you were able to find a nourishing alternative for your son and that you can share this less expensive alternative with any who might need it. Congratulations on your pregnancy!!

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Thank you for this kind comment! I couldn’t agree more that we all should give up the judging and realize that loving our children is the most important thing to do. You said it very eloquently, thank you!

  3. I also have to shout out a big ‘thank you’ for writing such a sensitive post. I, too, despite my best efforts have trouble producing enough milk to feed my babies. I seldom get past six months. (In fact, at my last son’s six month check up it turned out my supply had dropped so much that he hadn’t gained any weight in three months!) With a new movement on the “breast is best” front, I often feel like I have to justify to everyone, especially my family, but even strangers, why I am bottle feeding. It is not by choice but because I have no other choice. As I am expecting my fourth this fall, it does give me some comfort to know that other mothers really do experience the same thing I do when it comes to feeding our babies. Thank you again for sharing.

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Sarah- Thanks so much for the kind comment. I totally agree with you on feeling like we have to justify ourselves! I understand the “breast is best” efforts but it is so true that many women can’t supply enough to keep up with the demand. It’s something I think many people fail to mention when writing about the benefits of breastfeeding so when it happens to us we are left feeling guilty and inadequate. So thank you for your kind comment!

  4. Emyle Prata says:

    I just wanted to thank you, Anita, for an inspired story. I had the same issues with my first daughter- despite desperately trying to breastfeed and supplement taking, my supply dwindled to nothing in the first month she was born. It -did- feel like defeat, opening that free can and measuring out a bottle. But you know what? I tried. You tried. We are there, nurturing our children through either breast OR bottle, and they still love us the same.

    AND you found a way to save money on it! Love love love this post. :)

    • Anita Fowler says:

      You’re so welcome. Thanks for sharing your experience as well! I really appreciate hearing from others who had difficulty breast feeding so I don’t feel so alone in this.

      Mother’s who nurture their children with love is the most important thing! I totally agree with you there! Thanks :)

  5. Stephanie says:

    Thank you so much for your story! I’ll spare you the deets, but in a nutshell, thanks to too small pump flanges and nipple shields causing excruciating pain, nipple confusion brought on by using bottles in the NICU and the aforementioned nipple shield, and frustrating exhaustion brought on by all of the above, we stopped breast feeding after about a month. So kudos to you for making it to 5!! I was devastated that I couldn’t do it, and was pretty depressed about it for a while. Once I came to terms with it, I was determined to at least use a good formula. We started with Similac Organic, because that was the only organic option at Babies R Us (for a store for babies, their formula selection is incredibly lacking). The next time I was grocery shopping at Kroger, I saw that they carried an organic brand of their own, that was comparable to the Similac and over $10 cheaper per can!! We switched and haven’t looked back! He’s thriving on the formula, and is a pretty content and laid back baby.

    I would have loved to have exclusively breast fed him for at least a year, but it just didn’t work out that way for us. It’s always comforting to know that we’re not alone in our struggles, especially when it comes to parenting.

  6. Michelle says:

    Anita, may I ask if during your breastfeeding struggles, you had your son checked for tongue tie and/or lip tie?
    I ask because a lot of what you’re describing (nursing for a long time at each feeding, bad latch, painful/cracked nipples, baby crying for more even after nursing – though of course they often like to comfort nurse, too, which is fine and totally normal) is very symptomatic of having a tongue tie. If he has a tie, it may be not that you weren’t making enough milk for him, but that he couldn’t efficiently transfer milk, so he just couldn’t get enough out.
    I just wanted to put that out there as a possibility (my daughter had those exact symptoms and it turned out she had a tongue tie – so the warning bells were going off for me when I read that!) that is still worth looking in to, as ties can also affect tooth health and speech later on.

    • Anita Fowler says:

      I haven’t no. The lactation consultants never mentioned it. I will look into it. Thanks for the suggestion and sorry you had to go through that pain as well :(

      • Michelle says:

        Unfortunately, a lot of providers (doctors, lactation consultants, etc.) aren’t familiar with ties, or if they know of them, believe incorrect info about them. There’s a Facebook group called Tongue Tie Support For Babies that has providers familiar with ties, along with a community of parents whose children have them or suspect they do.

  7. Michelle says:

    Oh! And I also wanted to mention the option of donor breast milk if a mother wants to/needs to supplement. The vast majority of the time it is totally safe to use another mom’s milk for your baby. I can name a couple of resources for this, but I’m not sure if you want links given in your comments, so I won’t do so unless you give the go-ahead.
    I have seen moms connect with other moms locally in Facebook groups whom they are comfortable with to help each other out, as well.

  8. Samantha says:

    After years of health issues, hospital stays and surgeries, we were shocked when we figured out I was pregnant. When my daughter was born, awesome and completely healthy, the Pediatrician didn’t want me to breastfeed due to the meds I was on. I was so blessed to have a healthy baby girl, that if the worst that happened was that I couldn’t breastfeed, then I would take it and be grateful. My daughter is a perfect 6 yr old now, and while bottle feeding isn’t the recommended thing these days, I applaud you for your story and making those of us that didn’t have an option feel less ostracized by society. Best of luck with your next child, just remember, the goal is a happy and healthy Mom and baby. :)

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Samantha- Oh I’m so happy for you! Yay! It’s so wonderful to be able to be a parent. My heart goes out to those who can’t :(. Your welcome. I really hope it helps those who feel ostracized and those who are doing the ostracizing to perhaps be a little more open minded ;). Thanks again!

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Thank you so much! What a nice thing to say. Yes it is very important for others to be open minded. I think we should celebrate motherhood and not judge or scrutinize any women who is brave enough to bring a baby into this world and raise him/her in love! I’m actually posting about that very topic this next week. Thanks again and I’m very happy for you!

  9. megan says:

    For your next baby or anyone else reading this article who may ne struggling- contact your local La Leche League. There may be a leader near you who can come help you for free. Obviously, you didn’t feel comfortable feeding after such strong painkillers and had no choice but often just having someone next to you holding your hand or changing small things can make a big difference. http://Www.llli.org is the website to find a group near you.

    • Anita Fowler says:

      I appreciate the suggestion. I worked with a lot of lactation consultants. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. & we should really celebrate the fact that mothers do have other options when it medically just doesn’t work to breast feed. I feel passionately that mothers should support and celebrate other great mothers wether they breast feed or not.

  10. Carley says:

    I just found your post via Pinterest. I want to thank you for mentioning Raynaud’s. I had this problem (I still think I do, too) after having my first. Now, pregnant with my second, I’m terrified of BF. The pain was horrific. I will attempt to BF again, with 6 weeks as my goal, but I was the happiest mommy to finally accept formula for my baby. I was able to be present at the feedings, focusing on my baby and not pain.

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Carley- Thanks so much for commenting! I’m so sorry you have had to go through this tortuous pain. It’s been very difficult for me both times breastfeeding my kids… but my dermatologist did say that it can come and go and sometimes with some children it doesn’t manifest itself at all! So there may be hope for you this time around. Also, the medication I’m on does help and not everyone responds with side effects like I am experiencing. I have to try a much lower dose because I simply can’t sleep with it. Also, its causing other issues like headaches, swelling, redness, flushness, and indigestion.But like I said, that isn’t everyone. Also, apparently using heat helps some quite a bit (like putting handwarmers in your shirt… but I can’t really do that all the time because my baby snacks). These are just suggestions IF you are wanting to get to week 6 like you said your goal is. Also, if you do get it again, I’d see a dermatologist and see if you can get something to help it.

  11. […] on correctly, but there may be a larger issue at hand. My good friend, Anita, wrote a post about what to do when you can’t breastfeed, including her experience with Raynaud’s Phenomenon (which I will explain more […]

  12. […] didn’t take long for me to figure out why.My first son was extremely difficult to breastfeed (our story here). Our experience did not line up with anything I was expecting. I really struggled to exclusively […]

  13. […] down and lower supply so after drinking from a bottle just once, he refused to breastfeed after (full story here). As a result, I had to pump for months. It was […]

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