The Breastfeeding Blues

When my baby was born 6 weeks ago, I thought I was fully prepared. I had read books, taken classes, meditated, washed all the baby stuff, organized, decorated, etc. Boy, oh boy, was I wrong. After my birth went completely differently than I expected, I thought nothing could surprise me, but then I tried to breastfeed. Ohhh, breastfeeding. It’s one of the greatest challenges I’ve ever been through as a woman and it feels like no one really talks about it. I know I can’t be the only one who’s ever struggled with it. I know that for a fact now that I’ve started asking other moms about it…but, for the most part, it seems as if most women are struggling in silence. Why is that? Is our society so weirded out over boobs that we can’t talk about the experiences we have when we try to use them for nature’s intended purpose? The general attitude seems to be this: We have these boobs on our bodies and, no matter what size they are, they feel like the wrong size. For our entire lives we are told that these boobs have a very important purpose and that is to make a nutritious elixir for our offspring. We are also told that if we do things right and we lay our babies on our chest right after they are born, they will latch onto these boobs and these boobs will feed them. Well, what if that’s not what happens? What if one or more of those stars don’t align and things don’t work like they are supposed to?

I’ll tell you what happens, because it happened to me. I can’t make enough milk to feed my baby properly. And that was and continues to be so-o hard for me. For the first few weeks, I flat-out couldn’t accept it, so I just tried harder to make it work. I went to multiple lactation consultants. I fed my baby formula every two hours through a device called a supplemental nursing system, because I wasn’t ready to give into bottle feeding. I rented more than one hospital-grade pump and pumped after every feeding, took supplements and drank lactation tea. I even broke down in my doctor’s office, begging him to check and see if I had any retained placenta that was preventing me from making milk. I read books, did online research, talked to numerous women who had experience breastfeeding, ate oatmeal every morning, suffered through drinking a Guinness. But, nothing worked. I was still making droplets of milk and nothing more.

I felt like a failure of a mother. My lack of lactation (see what I did there?) left me filled with guilt and shame and embarrassment. As I nursed, I would look down at my baby and her perfect latch and think about how she deserved better. I would think about how my body had already failed her once by almost killing her as she tried to exit it, and now it was failing her again by not producing enough food to keep her alive. I thought about how Matt would’ve been better off having a baby with some other woman who could produce more milk.

I knew that this mindset wasn’t good for me or the baby, so in an attempt to make myself feel better I started a list in my phone titled, “Things I CAN offer my baby even though I can’t make her enough milk.” I added things to the list as I thought of them. As the list grew, my confidence as a mother grew a little bit, too.

I still haven’t fully accepted that my boobs don’t work like they’re supposed to. I still have days that I feel like Matt and Lennon deserve better. I still have days where my tears fall onto Lennon’s tiny body as she nurses. But, I continue to nurse her anyway. Then afterwards, I feed her with a bottle so she can grow big and strong. And then she looks up at me and gives me a look that seems to say, “I don’t care how much milk I’m getting, I’m happy to be here with you,” and I grow stronger as well.

If you are a nursing mother or a mother who’s trying to be a nursing mother or a mother who can’t nurse but wishes she could, I see you and I think you’re doing a great job. In fact, if you’ve ever done anything that made you feel like a failure of a mother, I see you and think you’re amazing because you care enough to feel like a failure, even though you aren’t. I encourage you to make a list like I did so you can see all of the wonderful things you are giving to your child. Below is my list (it’s a work in progress), and I’d love to see yours, too.

Things I CAN offer my baby even though I can’t make her enough milk:

  • Unconditional love
  • A tiny bit of breast milk, which is better than none
  • Trust
  • Round-the-clock care
  • Snuggles
  • Songs with personalized lyrics
  • Kisses
  • Lots of smiles
  • Compliments
  • Honesty
  • A rocking motion when she’s fussy
  • A warm chest to cry against
  • A warm shoulder to spit up on
  • A warm bath followed by a foot massage
  • A safe place to sleep
  • Adventures
  • Book-reading sessions with many different voices
  • Clean clothes
  • Written accounts of how much she means to me that she can read when she’s older
  • A mom who hears her cries, studies them to try to figure out what they’re about and genuinely wants to make it all better
  • My attention (all of it)
  • My time (all of it)
  • Presence
  • Affection
  • The best bottles money can buy
  • Attention to detail so she never misses a feeding or has to sit too long in a dirty diaper
  • My hand to shade her eyes from the sun

7 thoughts on “The Breastfeeding Blues

  1. This is so refreshing and honest, And relatable in so many ways! Sending so much love to you and baby Lennon. I’ve been meaning to text you since you wrote about Lennons birth story, offering my solidarity in the crazy overwhelming newborn days! It’s comforting to see someone else also have their idea of what having a baby looked like also get completely turned around. Everything I thought it would be turned out to be a 180 difference, once in a while for the better! The only thing I know for sure is that this is the baby’s world and I’m just living in it, but we just do our best to enjoy the good and bad moments!

  2. My dearest Ginger, wow!, it has been a journey unplanned, but I admire the strength and determination with which you have faced it all, mixed with a few honest moments of tears. You are a fabulous mom! I, for one, do not think any less of you, in fact, am even deeper in love with my daughter. It is amazing watching you be such an all giving mom! And Lennon is a very happy baby as a result. I love you always, Mom/Grandma

  3. There is SO MUCH powerful stuff happening when you nurse her that has nothing to do with milk volume… clearly you realize this and are going above and beyond to do it… inspiring!

  4. Your so not alone. I so remember having some of these same thoughts when I was nursing. It was such a challenge. Nigel NEVER latched on to my breast. But like you I never gave up. I pumped and pumped and that alone was a challenge in itself. I was so frustrated and irritated nevertheless I was determined to somehow breasts feed my baby boy. After what seemed to be six 6 long months of pumping, my breast simply said “Angi your done honey” I was disappointed yet I knew I had given it my all. So hats off to you honey! You doing an awesome job and thank you for sharing your story. Your right we “woman” need to have these conversations freely and openly if for no other reason, to support one another and to encourage each other. Our babies love “US” no matter what. Hang in there Mommy. I cant wait to meet my beautiful baby cousin💕With Love

    Angi

  5. So glad to see that you put your experiences in writing, Ginger. Your words will be understood and appreciated by those of us who often feel as if we don’t have enough of what it takes to be the mother our child really needs.
    Your list is a beautiful idea for keeping focus on what’s most important. I will encourage other new mothers to create their own, and keep adding to it as their child grows and their needs change.
    I’m grateful to have met you, Matt and your beautiful baby girl, Lennon. ❤️

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