“I Have Done Everything and Breastfeeding Isn’t Working Out”

My last post was about the benefits of breastfeeding (http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/11/16/why-should-i-breastfeed-my-baby/).  In general, breastfeeding and supplying infants human milk is always something that should be considered for immune health.  However, I find that bringing up the benefits of breastfeeding often can be met with anger and guilt on the part of some mothers.  That is never my intention, to hurt and polarize.  Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time would know that about me  and this space.

What may surprise you is  to know is that in my professional life I was often the last in a whole  line of people to assist mothers and babies in their  very last attempt to pull things together to breastfeed.  I am a neonatal physical therapist who is certified in Debra Beckmann’s Oral Motor Assessment and Treatment Protocol, Marjorie Palmer’s Neonatal Oral Motor Assessment Scale and trained in pediatric Neurodevelepmental Treatment.  I was the one that mothers came to see after appointments with board-certified lactation consultants had failed (oh, and I am one of those as well) to produce an exclusive  breastfeeding relationship.  You can see more about me on my “About” page if you need to know more about me.

I was often on the end of telling mothers that it may be time to move on from pursuing the dream of breastfeeding, that they really had done it all, that they had done everything under the sun possible to try to make it work.  Sometimes the mother’s fifty percent was fine, but the infant had structural challenges with the palate, the tongue, the length of the muscles around the nose and mouth, the strength of the muscles of the jaw or tongue that affected the infant’s fifty percent and things were not progressing how we had hoped after treatment.   How difficult, how challenging but also sometimes freeing for some mothers who had been in the  “triple duty” of nursing, bottle feeding and  pumping for months.  Triple duty, as any mother who has been there and done that, is a full-time job.  Mothers often felt like such  failures when they were  doing everything possible to help their infants, sometimes for very extended periods of time when so many other women would have just thrown in the towel!

I have worked with so many mothers who were so wonderful, and giving up on the dream of breastfeeding after careful assessment of their situation, their infant’s respiratory and oral motor status and developmental status, was actually the best thing to do.  They had to go on and become a mother who could enjoy her baby, enjoy life, be with their husbands and their other children, take care of their homes and become whole again.  All of them carried the wounds and the scars that this relationship had failed and went through the grieving process for having an unexpected outcome to the breastfeeding relationship they had envisioned.  Many of these mothers contacted me years later to tell me about their children – some of the children were fine and thriving, some had ended up being diagnosed with challenges to their neurologic system coming out in sensory issues or other challenges.  These mothers and I forged a close bond.  I have also worked with some mothers who had toddlers and wanted an assessment just to provide themselves some closure, to know why this had failed, so they could go on.

I  have never forgotten any of these mothers; I have rejoiced with the mothers whose infants attained all breastfeeding at the breast  through the oral motor exercises and techniques that I knew how to provide; I have supported the mothers who chose to pump for years to do what they thought was right for their child, I have come to walk alongside the women who decided that nursing with a supplemental nursing system or a nipple shield was still a good nursing relationship (and it was!) and yes, I have cried with the mothers who made the bittersweet decision to be done with the pumping and  attempts at nursing in order  to just enjoy their children.

Breastfeeding is wonderful, it provides an excellent start to infants and to families.  However, the way we connect to our children goes through all developmental stages, not just infancy, and not just through breastfeeding.  Some parents excel at connection during the early years of infancy and toddlerhood and do not have a clue as to how to connect at all during the preschool, grade or teenaged years.  The way we structure our family culture, the way we respond to our children through setting boundaries with love is really important, and lasts throughout all the years of the development of the child.

If you are in the situation where you have done it all and have sought out professional help and breastfeeding just is not going to happen, please know you are not any less of a mother. You have sacrificed your time, your energy, been sad and angry and disappointed, and your infant deserves and wants a happy mother.  Forgive yourself, forgive those who had a breastfeeding relationship come so easily to them that they didn’t seem to appreciate it, tell yourself your relationship with your infant is as it should be, and move ahead in joy and love.

We are all striving and we are all  doing the best we can do.

Many blessings,

Carrie

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20 thoughts on ““I Have Done Everything and Breastfeeding Isn’t Working Out”

  1. Pingback: Why Should I Breastfeed My Baby? « The Parenting Passageway

  2. My girlfriend tried everything for 4 months. She lost half of a nipple, in her trying. She did it. she successfully fed her son only breast milk for four months and supplemented until six months. It was so heart wrenching to watch. Everyone had their strong opinion about what to do. she had lots of support from people like you.
    I felt so lucky to have had a smooth journey with my three children, but like labor, sometimes it is not only our will that can determine the outcome.
    In the end I encouraged her to stop. To follow her instincts. To do what was best for her, as a woman, mother and partner.

  3. I appreciate both the posts regarding breastfeeding. I am an avid reader of your site mostly as support for homeschooling our 5 year old…but it was refreshing to come across posts which speak to the other phase I am in with our 1 year old so I thought I would share a bit.

    I have chronic low milk supply which seems to be caused by a condition called Insufficient Glandular Tissue. I ama birth doula and “lactivist” as well as former believer that formula should be “prescription only” so without going into detail about everything we tried you can take my word I truly had low supply!!! Anyway, with my son we had to supplement with formula which at the time was heartbreaking. But with insane amounts of persistance…I was still able to keep him at the breast until he was 3 despite the fact that I chose to use bottles for the formula supplementing. Sometimes this meant pumping during the day to keep my tiny supply going as strong as possible… and only nursing at night when he was too sleey to be a bottle snob. It was crazy but I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. When we broke through and he was back into nursing as a toddler it was all so so worth it.

    This time around I took a pretty different approach. I used the amazing “Lact-Aid” at-breast supplementer and chose to go the donor breastmilk route which has been an amazing journey. My little girl just turned one and this is literally the 3rd day we have not used the supplementer since she was a week old. Seems between my meager supply and the solid food she is eating…her needs are being met without extra milk. It is so liberating to be without the supplementer now, though I wouldn’t trade all those cleanings/fillings/etc if the supplmenters and all the messy donor milk thawing on the counter/etc for anything in the world. I can honestly say she has been exclusively breastfed and it warms my heart and eases my mind every time I think about it.

    The reason I am sharing all of this is because I do not think women realize there are extensive other options when it comes to alternative forms of breastfeeding. I understand it is important to calm the worries and guilt for mothers who tried to breastfeed without success…especially when it is an issue with the babies latch as you speak to so well in the above post. I just feel so strongly that as a culture we accept far far too often that it “just didn’t work out.” I am here to say that there are ways to provide breastmilk (even at the breast!!) in the strangest of circumstances and it is totally worth the effort!!! I could go on and on….

    Ok…off my soapbox and on to plan tomorrow’s story and craft for my son! Thanks again for being such an amazing resource. I will be referencing both these breastfeedng posts extensively in my work as a doula.
    Blessings,
    Sarah

    • Sarah, I worked with a mother who came to me for closure regarding her then toddler and it was amazing to me that no one she had seen told her she most likely had Insufficient Glandular Tissue. It was hard, but such closure for her and such relief for her to know she did such a good job where she was!
      Thank you for sharing your story! Nursing with a Lact-aid or a SNS IS nursing!
      Many blessings,
      Carrie

  4. Thank you so much for this truly beautiful response to an emotionally-charged issue. The wounding that is carried by many women who have been unable to breastfeed is very painful to witness in my work as a doula and birth educator. While reading or hearing a list of all the benefits of breastfeeding may send a woman carrying this wound into despair and guilt, we must continue to joyously celebrate all those benefits and to educate those who do not yet know and appreciate this miracle. I find the same difficulty comes up when I try to spread the word about the benefits of vaginal birth. Women who have given birth by cesarean sometimes have a hard time hearing the message, even if they did everything they could to avoid cesarean in the first place. But with the cesarean rate climbing to 1/3 of births in America, silence is not an option.
    Your post handles this issue with the compassion and sensitivity I have come to love in your work. Thank you.

  5. Thank you for the article. After a breast reduction surgery, I struggles to nurse both my girls (now 4 & 2). Both were slow to put on weight, because of the low fat content of my milk. The 1st child went to formula with no proble. The 2nd had more issues. She was failure to thrive due to severe reflux. She hated being held to nurse, bottles made it easier to sit upright. But then she reacted to all typed of typical formulas, we ended up on prescription formula. I hated to stop nursing, but both girls got the best that I could give them and that is all I could do! Thanks for saying that! It is a hard thing to accept!

  6. THANK YOU. I have tears in my eyes. I was able to nurse my third child until four months, and eventually due to a variety of reasons had to begin feeding her formula. This inability to breastfeed her has affected me much more than I had realized.

    This entry is bookmarked for me to come back to when I need that reassurance. Thank you again.

  7. In my training to become a CLC, the instructor gave the best words of wisdom right after she asked everyone in the room to forgive themselves. She said that every mother does the best they can with the information and support that they have. I have repeated those words many times.

  8. Carrie,
    Thanks for leaving the post about breastfeeding. I am one of those mothers who couldn’t NO MATTER WHAT breast feed. It was heartbreaking. Still to this day I am sensitive to conversations that imply that ANYONE can breastfeed. I feel I am as attached to my children as any mother who loves their children. They are my world & everything. :) I appreciated the nice words you had to say.

    Martha

  9. What a wonderful post. I weaned my 3rd child at the age of 6 weeks after doing “triple duty” and a hospital stay due to failure to thrive. I had plenty of milk, but as our dr. said, he just seemed “content to starve.” We even had issues with him taking a bottle. Letting go was marvelous – we had all been so incredibly miserable! When he was 3 months old I was able to relactate and with the help of a Lact-Aid was able to nurse him till he was 2. I still appreciate the wisdom of the nursing consultant who told me that the only thing that mattered was to feed my baby – it wasn’t important how I did it.

  10. Thank you so much for this beautifully written post. A great reminder that it’s not about facts and figures, but about real mothers who love their children and want to do everything in their power that they can for them.

  11. Thank you Carrie for this post from the bottom of my heart!
    As you remember we have been in contact due to my problematic breastfeeding and the outcome was unfortunately not good at all.

    I breastfeed my first born for about a year and a half so it was natural for me to plan to breastfeed my second child as well, after the birth my milk came in fine so I was not at all concerned, but after three months my menstrual cycle started up again and my milk supply plummeted. As you have mentioned I tried everything, taken every herb that is out there, other secret techniques like oatmeal shakes to increase my milk supply again, but nothing. I pumped almost every hour to make sure my breasts were producing but at the same time my daughter started to refuse my breast as well, either due to the low milk supply or because she was sensing my agony. She rather cried from hunger and used her thumb to console herself than to attempt to feed.
    After two months I was so exhausted with bottle feeding, finding the right formula, pumping every hour, crying and attempting to breastfeed…. I was soooo exhausted and was just a shadow of myself walking around trying to get the simplest things done around the house. I could barely get out of bed and spent most time feeling guilty of depriving my baby. I still do.
    After my husband said I could not do this to myself and the family any longer I decided that I had to stop and exclusively bottle feed.
    My mind still wanders almost every day back to breastfeeding and am thinking if I just could…. just two days ago I checked again if I had any milk left and there are still some drops. Again I am thinking should I try it again? But my stomach gets in a knot just thinking about it all again and at the same time there is still this feeling of hope….
    I am still in tears as I am writing this…..
    I just do not seem to be able to find peace within myself with the decision to let it all go.

    Maggie

  12. Maybe I should try the medical route to try to increase my milk supply in addition to pumping? I heard ‘domperidone’ mentioned on a couple of Internet sites, but I am worried that this will be passed on to my baby through the breast milk.
    As you can see Carrie I am really not ready to let it all go….

  13. Carrie,

    I first read this post when you initially posted it. I had typed a nice long response but deleted it, as I wasn’t sure it said exactly what I wanted to say.

    Thank you, first of all, for acknowledging that, even with the best of intentions and the strongest support system, some women simply can’t breastfeed. Or cannot breastfeed exclusively.

    I am another mother who was diagnosed with insufficient glandular tissue (IGT). Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I was struggling with my second child that I found out. With my first child, I struggled as well but was able to find some peace combining breastfeeding and formula-feeding. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked for us and my daughter and I maintained a beautiful nursing relationship until she was 28 mos. and I was pregnant with my second daughter.

    I had done everything I knew about at the time to breastfeed exclusively…..oatmeal, fenugreek, hospital-grade pump. Even with all of that, I was only able to produce about 4 to 5 oz. of milk in a 24-hour period. It was heartbreaking and I suspected that many friends and family members believed that I was not doing my best to make it work. I felt like a failure and could not come to terms with it even though I did continue to nurse on-demand. I felt like a fraud going to LLL meetings.

    My second daughter was born with some minor heart defects and required corrective surgery when she was just a few days old. My milk came in on time and she latched like a champ. However, she tired easily and quickly, never getting very much. Her surgery had to be delayed because she was readmitted to the NICU with jaundice (bili count was up to 22). I used a manual Medela (which was terrific for what it was) while she was there and was only allowed to nurse her every four hours….I would pump or hand-express between feedings.

    The children’s hospital she was admitted to for her cardiac surgery was extremely breastfeeding-friendly. They had top-of-the-line pumps available and free storage containers….separate high-tech refrigerators for storage. Every nurse I came into contact with did everything she or he could to help us maintain breastfeeding. But it was several days that I was not allowed to nurse her. She was given my milk (and formula when I did not have enough) via artificial nipple (even after the NICU had spent so much time finger-feeding and syringe-feeding her). With the level of care that their other patients also required, I didn’t feel I could expect or demand that they do those same things. And I was not allowed to do it myself.

    When we finally took her home, she began to refuse the breast. I tried every trick I could think of (and believe me, the second time I think I knew everything there was! I’d spent every idle second of that second pregnancy determined to learn all I could so I didn’t make the same mistakes twice). Again, we rented a hospital-grade pump. I would use an SNS and she would find the tubing with her tongue and push it out of her mouth. Same with syringes. All I could do was offer her bottles of my milk. Heartbreaking once again. After multiple visits with my IBCLC, I was finally given the diagnosis of IGT. She finagled a prescription for domperidone and found a compounding pharmacy to fill it. But, frankly, I wasn’t comfortable using a medication to increase my milk supply. I thought to myself, “If I don’t want to buy cow’s milk with the BGH, why would I trust taking a medication?” My rationale may not make sense, but it did to me. And after the scary effects of Reglan, who wouldn’t be concerned?

    Finally, I realized that the 3oz. of breast milk I was able to eek out were not worth the strain I was placing on my family, especially my baby and toddler. It was unfair of me to put them under such an incredible amount of stress to try and make things work.

    I have not taken the time to write about this or even think about it for quite some time, so I apologize for writing so much and perhaps rambling. It has been cathartic to get this out. Your post actually brought tears to my eyes because it finally felt as though someone truly understood. Thank you.

  14. This is a beautiful post, and encouraging to hear. It took me a long time to come to grips with the fact that I just didn’t have enough milk for two. There was nothing wrong with their latch, my ds had the suction power of a hoover; they were just big, healthy, and very hungry. But even after I had established a good system of supplementing, where my twins were getting breast fed about sixty percent of the time, I still kept wondering, Did I really try hard enough? Before trying to exclusively breast feed my twins, I had complete confidence that my body would do everything it was “suppose” to do. Now I have come to realize that even the best laid plans, can sometimes not go as planned.

  15. Thank you for this post. I am in the midst of trying to decide whether I need to wean my 6-month-old and it is beyond heart breaking. I had such a hard time with nursing my first child and for me it was all about diet (mine) and stomach pain and fussiness (the baby’s). It turned out that my first had many food allergies, and a sensitivity to FODMAPS foods in my diet. With my first I went on an extremely restrictive diet, did the GAPS diet, lost 40 pounds to the point that I was at an unhealthy low weight and ultimately traumatized myself, my husband and my daughter for all the stress we went through. Ultimately my nutritionist told me I had done everything I could and that I had to wean her, which I did when she was 2 and a quarter. I thought it would be different the second time around but my new baby is just as sensitive to what I am eating and I am again on an extremely restrictive diet and I feel my health being affected. I am so, so committed to breast feeding and even though it may have been commonplace in my grandmother’s time, weaning a six-month-old seems so terribly early to me. It’s so hard to choose my own health over my baby’s. We have already been through so much to make breastfeeding work with this second baby – a tongue and lip tie correction and huge medical expenses to deal with a bout of mastitis that came about on the weekend, necessitating a trip to the ER. I just wanted to share my story that it’s not always a structural problem that causes nursing to not work out – in my case it is related to diet and feeling like in order to eat foods that my baby can tolerate I loosing myself and my enjoyment of life. And like some other mothers have said here when you have more than one child you have to consider the well being of not just your baby but your other child as well.

    • Dear Annie,
      Thank you for writing in and sharing your journey. I am wishing you peace and a feeling of satisfaction for nursing as long as you have been able, and to be able to hold onto those intimate moments in your memories.
      Blessings,
      Carrie

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