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When Breast Isn’t Best

I wanted – desperately – to breastfeed both of my children.

Grace never latched on to my breast. Though I tried just after she was born, she refused. She would occassionally open her mouth for my breast, but wouldn't suck.

I've talked about Grace's refusal to latch before. She never successfully breastfed.

I didn't know what else to do, so when the pediatrician and lactation consultant told me to give her formula, I did.

Though I deeply regretted my failure to breastfeed Grace, I came to appreciate the formula. Formula made my baby gain weight. She quickly became healthy and strong.

The sting of failure lingered for years.

But this time!

Allie was rooting from the moment I first saw her. She was hungry!

As soon as she was cleaned and wrapped in a blanket, Allie was latched on and happily breastfeeding. My spirits were uplifted; she wanted to eat!when breast isn't best

Every time Allie showed signs of hunger, I put her to my breast. She ate.

Every hour or so.

All day and all night.

The nurses and their aides joked gently with me about cluster feeding, assuring me that it would slow down when my milk came in.

It didn't.

My milk came in the second day I was in the hospital. Milk leaked from my breasts throughout the day.

For seven days, Allie nursed almost constantly, around the clock. Grace was ignored and felt unloved. Joe felt inept and disconnected. I was a sleep deprived zombie who cried all the time.

My friends who breastfed their children called and emailed and Tweeted encouraging messages. It will get better. Breastfeeding is hard to learn. You're going to get the hang of it soon. Breastfeeding is a struggle, but it will become a lot easier soon. It will get better. It will get better.

Despite being latched on to my breast for hours a day, Allie didn't gain any weight. She was an ounce smaller at her one-week well baby appointment than she had been at hospital discharge. The jaundice that developed in the hospital had gotten worse.

I consulted the hospital's lactation consultant and left the appointment feeling refreshed and hopeful. I'd supplement Allie at each feeding with a little formula or pumped breast milk via a supplemental nursing system. She would surely gain weight.

She didn't.

I allowed Allie to breastfeed every time she showed signs of hunger. With the supplement, it was about every two hours. After she finished nursing, I pumped for forty-five minutes so that I could give her supplemental breast milk at the next feeding.

Grace felt more ignored than ever.

Because she was.

Out of every two hours, 120 minutes, I spent at least 90 feeding and pumping. Then I cleaned the pump parts and the supplemental nursing system parts. If I had time, I used the bathroom and got myself a drink and took care of Grace's basic bodily needs, like food.

And then it was time to feed the baby again.

This went on for another week. Allie still wasn't gaining weight, and I was sinking deeper and deeper into the mire of depression.

Doctors and nurses called to check on me. The pediatrician questioned whether we had heat in our home. She questioned whether I was eating. She sat and talked to me about my constant crying.

Just before leaving the exam room, she patted my knee and said, “You know, there is nothing wrong with giving your baby formula. It's a good resource.”

I cried. I didn't want to fail at breastfeeding again.

After another consultation with the lactation consultant, it was decided that I needed to supplement more formula at each feeding.

I continued to go through the motions of my life. I continued to wake every couple of hours through the night to nurse the baby. I continued to supplement and breastfeed around the clock.

I found a hands-free pumping bra on Amazon that allowed me to play with Grace while I pumped, giving her some valuable time and attention. A little time and attention went a long way at first, but then Grace wanted needed more.

Allie gained three ounces at her next appointment, a huge success.

But then the feedings started getting closer together again. Allie wanted to nurse every two hours, then every ninety minutes, then every hour.

My friends continued to call and email and send Twitter messages. It will get better. This is a growth spurt; it will only last a day or two. Stick with it. It will get easier.

It wasn't getting easier. It was getting harder.

Just when I thought I was getting better, my tears started flowing again. Allie began to refuse the supplemental feeding tube, screaming until I offered just my nipple.

I knew that the formula was what nourished her, what made her gain weight. How could she refuse it?

Melancholy surged. Tears and frustration returned. I felt detached from everything and from everyone.

As I drove home on Monday night, the third Monday of Allie's life, God spoke to me.

I know it was God because the words brought me incredible peace as soon as they passed through my brain.

You've really worked hard. You've done everything you could do.

It's time to give up.

Buy some bottles.

I cried but they were good tears. They were tears of relief, of hope.

The struggle was over.

I gave myself permission to give up, and I felt good.

That very night, Joe fed Allie formula from a bottle, and she slept for three hours straight. He took care of all of the feedings that first night so that I could sleep.

I needed to sleep.

The next day, Allie drank a bottle about every three hours. She napped in between, and she slept soundly enough that I could put her down.

For the first time in her life, I could lay her in the bassinet, in the bouncy seat, or in the swing. She didn't mind not being held all day.

I played with Grace. We colored. We played princesses and dinosaurs and doll house. We watched movies together; Grace sitting in my lap. We read books together.

I took a shower, my third shower in three weeks.

Allie has been drinking formula from a bottle for a little over a week now, and I couldn't be happier.

I know that the female body was designed to breastfeed. I know that breastfeeding has incredible advantages for both baby and momma.

And I know that it didn't work for us.

In the end, I'm glad I tried. I needed to try. But I do wish I'd given up a little earlier. I wish I'd been easier on myself.

I want other new mothers to know that they don't have to run themselves into the ground, into depression, and into emotional detachment to feed their babies.

Formula is not the enemy.

It's okay to feed your baby formula.

It's okay.

© 2011 – 2018, Tara Ziegmont. All rights reserved.

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51 thoughts on “When Breast Isn’t Best”

  1. Oh, girl. You are so brave to write this. I struggled with my first child to breast feed and it didn’t work, at ALL. And going to formula was one of the best choices we ever made. Mother’s have enough guilt to last us a lifetime – don’t put – I kept my sanity and fed my child on that list. Kudos to you for writing this.

  2. Thanks for sharing your story, Tara. I know this must have been so hard and to put it out here takes courage. I was completely unable to breastfeed with Rayna and I suffered a lot of guilt and feelings of failure as a woman, as a mother. Now with this pregnancy I have more “resources” and I have to say that I feel even more pressure to make it work this time, no matter what. This is a great reminder to do what is right for your own family.

    • Yes! I think every mom who tries to breastfeed but can’t make it work goes through the same feelings. That’s one of the main reasons I published this post.
      Use your resources. Twitter was great for problem solving. But in the end, if it doesn’t work out again, give yourself a break. Think of me, okay? 🙂

  3. Breastfeeding didn’t work for us either. I never tried with Charlie (I was very young and uninterested), but with Elizabeth I did try. She never latched. I pumped for a while, but I didn’t seem to produce enough milk to fulfill her. I had zero support, so I gave up and went to formula. I never looked back. She gained weight and was finally thriving. It was the best decision for us. Don’t ever feel bad about doing what is best for you and your family.

    • I think support is so important. I had lots of support from professionals, but no day to day help. Joe had to go back to work just 3 days after we came home from the hospital, and no one else was able to help out. Things may have been different if I had help. But they may not have been different, too. I’ll never know (and I’m not willing to sit around wondering).

  4. I wish it would have worked out for us. I think it’s the best thing most of the time, too, which is what made me so reluctant to quit.

    Thank you so much for your support and compassion the whole way through my process, Amy. I appreciate your friendship more than you know.

  5. I tried to Breast feed both my sons as well, and your story is similar to mine. I could cry for you. Thank you so much for sharing your story because it is not told enough…All mothers need to know it doesn’t always work as much as we would love for it to

  6. I am SO PROUD of you for writing this post! Lana went through the EXACT thing with her first baby, Kathryn. It was crazy that she spent 90 minutes our to 120 breastfeeding or pumping, or cleaning the pump. I felt so sad for her and was trying to encourage her in every way, letting her know she was NOT a failure when she finally went to formula. But, I know she felt as you did. But, what is most important – you have a healthy baby who is bonded with her mother and other family members, a mother who is rested and mentally strong to care for her child and rest of her family!
    I am impressed you did as much as you did. As a nurse, I know how many women give up after the first day. I totally understand, and would never make a woman feel bad for her choice. You do what is best for you and your baby. Only you know what is best – no one else does.
    Love you!

  7. I just had a light bulb moment. I never before considered that struggles would happen along the way. I was thinking that it got easy once you started and you just breastfed until you felt like stopping. Does anything in life work out that way?
    Kudos to you for realizing that it wasn’t healthy. You’re right. That’s what we do. 🙂

  8. This is not failure. This is progress. Inspired progress.
    Formula is not the enemy. We, as women, are too hard on ourselves. I’ve been very fortunate and have been able to breast feed all of my babies. It came at a price though – severe sleep deprivation which lead to PPD…..sometimes breast is not best and that is totally okay!!!
    Good on you for writing this post.

  9. The most important thing is that there is a happy, healthy momma and baby. You didn’t fail at breastfeeding- you succeeded at meeting your babies’ (both of them) needs. Breastfeeding doesn’t make or break you as a mom! Love your babies and just do what’s right for them.

  10. Darling, sometimes breastfeeding doesn’t work! I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s ridiculous how *many* babies are on formula just because moms don’t want to breastfeed, but the stuff was invented for a reason. Sometimes boobies fail. It’s not *your* failure. It’s a failure of health or circumstances. How could you possibly feel guilty for that? Moms who couldn’t breastfeed in the past would have to hire a wet nurse or take huge risks with goat’s milk or watered-down cows milk. Thank God for formula when you need it!

      • 100 years ago a “wet nurse” was common and expected. The new mother often did NOT even feed her own baby, someone else (often her own mother) would do it. They did not simply nurse their own children, they helped each other nurse and would supplement with cow milk and goat milk if necessary. These things are all social taboos now, but we have formula and that works for us in our society. I nursed my first three. My last would not. It was 6 weeks of hell trying to make it work. So. Grateful. For Formula.

        • I didn’t even know what a wet nurse was until I read a biography of Marie Antoinette in the last month or two. I was fascinated by the concept, but I thought it was something that was specific to the nobles. A lot of babies had wet nurses? Did those women nurse their own babies?

          • I honestly don’t know. I would have to research. I DO know that in the bible (so a REALLY long time ago) that when Ruth had a baby her mother-in-law, Naomi, nursed it. I believe a wet nurse is hired to nurse a baby, but that I’m sure when a poor mother herself could not provide, neighbors and mothers jumped in to provide.

  11. Amen sister! And isn’t it wonderful how comforting it is to serve a God who completely understands our stuggles here on earth. We labor in vain at being perfect and trying to do everything we believe is right. There was only one perfect One. This was my lightbulb moment that came when I was struggling (and still struggling with my firstborn). I was reading in my Bible about the building of the Tabernacle and how God gave certain people certain abilities and gifts to get the job done. The lightbulb… GOD gave and I needed to stop stressing about every developmental concern the world and all the earthly doctors and child psychologists distract us with that make us mothers of today so manic! I realized that if I trusted God completely with my children and had faith that God created them for doing His work and he WILL supernaturally give them the abilities to do whatever He wants them to do no matter what I do or fail to do! How freeing! All I need to do is seek God and his kingdom and his righteousness and he will take care of the rest. Praying that we all are given ears to hear what God is saying to us. Rest in Him Tara!

    • Thank you so much! Reading your comment made me think about how He created mothers and fathers so differently. We have such different (and important) strengths and roles to play in our children’s lives.
      We just have to trust, don’t we?

  12. Good for you, Lana! I’m so glad you stopped by to weigh in. I’m not kidding when I say I wish I’d switched sooner. I was so hard on myself for so many days. But I did what I thought was best at the time, and that’s what all mothers do, right?

  13. I’m so glad you made the decision ahead of time, Sarah! Before Grace was born, I went to classes and heard choruses of “Everyone can breastfeed if they just try hard enough.” So that’s ingrained in my brain, you know? That’s largely why I felt like such a failure when I couldn’t breastfeed Grace. I was convinced that everyone could do it, and there was something specifically wrong with me.
    I am astounded by how many other women (women that I KNOW and have known for years) have had the same experience that I did. We try so hard, and it just doesn’t work out. And yet, no one talks about the inability to breastfeed. Why is that?

  14. YES! That’s it. You gave him the gift of a healthy, happy mother, and I believe that is more valuable than breast milk. A dear, dear friend told me (the day after I quit) that she was really worried about me in those days, and that – even though she is very pro-breastfeeding – she’s was glad I quit, too. She worried that I was harming my own mental health in trying so hard to make it work, and she was right.
    So many others have commented that we have to do what’s right for ourselves and our families, and they are correct. It’s a shame that we feel such guilt about doing it.

  15. Aren’t we fortunate that our husbands don’t feel the same pressure to make breastfeeding work that we feel? Joe, for one, doesn’t even comprehend it.
    It got like that with Grace and me. She was only a few days old, but it was obvious that she was getting really mad. Her face would turn purple and she’d shriek at me.
    I’m impressed that you tried again each time despite your struggles. Way to go!

  16. I think your experience is so common, Angie! With Grace, the lactation consultant had us do that same finger feeding with the little tube. Once Grace got the food that way (the easy way), she wouldn’t even try to latch any more. I kept trying, though, until Joe asked me to stop. He was right.
    I wonder if the nurses really intended to bully you or if they were just trying to be encouraging. After I’d decided to quit, a couple of friends told me things like, “You’re almost through the hardest part. Keep at it!” Knowing my friends as I do, I know they were trying to help, but it did feel a lot like bullying, like more pressure to do something that just wasn’t working for us. I know what you mean.

  17. oh my dear tara. YOUR POST MADE ME WEEP. i had the same problem with my children. i just wasnt giving them what they needed thru breastmilk. i am so glad God spoke to you and told you to buy some bottles! now let’s deal with that post partum depression…

  18. Thank you for this. My children are 16, 5 and 5 and I STILL have struggled with my not breastfeeding long enough and having to ‘settle’ with formula. My oldest ate if he was awake and I couldn’t keep up. Formula could. The twins wanted more than I could possibly produce. Formula could. I know how you felt. Thank you for letting me know, all these years later, that its ok. You rock!

  19. Thank you for this. My children are 16, 5 and 5 and I STILL have struggled with my not breastfeeding long enough and having to ‘settle’ with formula. My oldest ate if he was awake and I couldn’t keep up. Formula could. The twins wanted more than I could possibly produce. Formula could. I know how you felt. Thank you for letting me know, all these years later, that its ok. You rock!

  20. I read this days ago and all I can say is that the obvious difference in your facebook, twitter and blog posts are enough for anyone to see how much you were struggling. I won’t lie I was worried, so worried and like you said I am as pro breastfeeding as you get, but a healthy mom , a mom who is connected and attached, a mom who can parent and not feel like she is drowning is so much more important than how your baby is fed. You put more effort into bf Allie in a few months than I did in years of nursing my kids , that doesn’t make you a failure it makes you a good mom, and knowing when to say it’s time to try something else makes you a great mom.

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  22. I breast fed my first child successfully. After that, I never understood mothers who wouldn’t breast feed. It’s perfect food, it’s free, all that. But then I had my second child, who wouldn’t latch, and would only consume the milk that let down. I couldn’t stand feeding him every hour. My nipples were in excruciating, toe-curling pain. I ended up pumping exclusively, but it was then that I discovered that breastfeeding truly is not for everyone. Especially with a second child, a mother’s sanity is a vital factor in the decision to continue breastfeeding or not. Congratulations for having the courage to value your sanity, and your ability to care for both your children.

  23. Really, really amazing post! Thank you so much for sharing this! My child thankfully latched on well from the beginning, but I didn’t produce enough milk, so we had to supplement formula. I breastfed as much as I could, even pumping milk at work, until my daughter was 8 1/2 months old. I kept reading all these articles to keep me going… it’s best for your child… less likelihood of obesity… your child will be sick less often. Well let me just say that the idea that your child will be sick less often is totally UNTRUE. My kid gets sick with a cold all the time! She’s sick so much more often then other kids we know, including formula fed kids. I think the message you’re sending is really important. It’s important to know that you’re not a failure. What if my second child (due in a couple months) doesn’t latch on? What if I’m so frickin exhausted and missing my daughter so much that I just don’t want to do it anymore? Shaking up a bottle of formula is a heck of a lot easier and quicker. It’s ok to give up. In the end, you know you did what was best for your child and your family and you’re a good mom for doing that. And if I’m in the same situation, I hope that I’ll be able to tell myself, “it’s ok, I’m not a failure, I’m a good mom.”

  24. First off, good for you for giving it your best shot. Secondly, good for you for recognizing when it was time to let it go.

    I had a similar experience with my first child, but her problem was latching on. And I had a c-section with her so it was very hard to get comfortable to nurse. When we finally decided to let breastfeeding go, for the sake of all our good, peace filled the home and we could really enjoy our new life with a new baby.

    I realize having a baby isn’t all rainbows and sunshine (trust me, I’ve had 5 now, lol), but it shouldn’t be so dreadful and depressing that life is a drag. Not to mention, we need to do what is best for our babies…nourishment is best. Formula is great as an option when breastfeeding just doesn’t work, which was our case. 🙂 *Hugs*

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  27. Oh my goodness, I can’t even tell you how comforting it was to read this! Thank you for writing about your experience! Both of my babies were born prematurely and had trouble sucking but I wanted to breastfeed so badly. I wore myself out breastfeeding my first baby around the clock, every two hours, 45 minutes each feeding plus pumping. Everyone told me it was cluster feeding, or just how newborns are, but at 2 months she’d barely gained weight and had spent a week in the hospital with severe jaundice. My lactation consultant finally handed me a bottle of formula and said, “Sometimes it just doesn’t work out.” I sat and cried as she hungrily sucked down that first bottle of formula because I felt like such a huge failure. My second was even more premature and spent weeks in the NICU. I felt like I was more prepared the second time around and starting pumping right away, but at two months I was having the exact same issues and, as you talked about, my older child felt severely neglected. Now, almost a year later, I can see what a blessing it is to live somewhere with clean water and readily available formula. But I still feel moments of extreme guilt and failure. Thank you again for the reminder that other mothers have shared the same struggle!

    • Thank you for commenting. I’m sorry that was your experience, but you are DEFINITELY not alone. I hope your moments of guilt and failure are fewer as time goes by. You have nothing at all to feel guilty about!

  28. i just wanted to say that this is SOOOO close to my own personal story! So close it’s crazy – my second baby is now a month old, we are actually combination feeding (when she’s grumpy etc I breast feed and I am able to express a little bit but as I still worry about my first daughter’s weight at 2.5yo we are mostly formula feeding) and I was recently told off for not enjoying my family more and realised a few days later that I had my first day of not crying the whole time!

    Must return to this blog! 😉 XXX

  29. For something so natural it sure doesn’t always come easy or work for everyone. I’m sorry for the issues you had!

    I hesitated to write this because I don’t want to imply that you should have done anything different or that you made wrong decisions or that this even applies to you at all, but I just feel like if sharing this information can make a difference for just ONE mama out there then it needs to be shared. I hope it’s ok with you that I am sharing it here.

    Posterior tongue tie is one thing that can cause tons of breastfeeding issues, from plugged ducts to mastitis to failure to thrive to baby wanting to nurse 24/7. It can also, but not always, cause painful latch.

    My fourth baby, the first I struggled to breastfeed, had an upper lip tie and a posterior tongue tie. She made a clicking noise when nursing, slipped off and struggled to maintain suction, couldn’t keep a pacifier in, bit the bottles to get the milk out because she couldn’t lift her tongue in the back…and three lactation consultants missed it despite me specifically, repeatedly asking about her tongue and lip. It just really isn’t well known at all as an issue. 🙁 Fortunately for us I did come across information online and I knew that it can be genetic and that our family is predisposed to tongue ties, so I was able to find an experienced, educated provider four hours away and take my three month old there to have a five minute laser freeing of her tongue and lip ties. No anesthesia was needed. It made an immediate improvement.

    If somebody is struggling and thinks that tongue or lip tie may be possibly the reason, I encourage joining the Tongue Tie Babies Support Group on Facebook.
    There is a providers list of professionals skilled in identifying posterior tongue ties (which are not always visible at first glance). There also is a wealth of information in the files! Dr. Larry Kotlow’s website, is also a good resource. And the Advocates for Tongue Tie Education twitter account is here:

    • Thank you for sharing. I’m all for knowledge and supporting moms wherever they find themselves.

      I’m not sure I’ve ever shared this in public before, but my first daughter was tongue tied as well. After trying so hard to breastfeed for the three days we were in the hospital, we realized there was an issue and took her to a surgeon. Her issue required a very minor surgery on her third day of life – but by then, she completely refused to latch on at all. She would scream and scream and scream and she never latched on again. It was very painful (emotionally painful) for me, but in a completely different way than it was this time.

      The problem with my second baby (and perhaps part of my first daughter’s problem, too – we’ll never know) is that I made very, very little milk. I never experienced that letdown feeling or flood of milk. Even after weeks of breastfeeding and pumping constantly around the clock, there was no difference between Allie’s pre-feed weight and post-feed weights. Sometimes, she weighed less after she ate. 🙁 I would get an ounce or two of milk after pumping for 30-45 minutes, and those small amounts just weren’t enough to sustain her. I think there might have been other issues going on for Allie (dairy intolerance perhaps, as we had to switch her to soy formula within 2 weeks of starting formula and she really thrived on that), but the bottom line is that I physically can’t breastfeed, and there are many more moms like me who need support and encouragement.

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