Breastfeeding — How hard can it be?

That is what I thought after an expectant friend said she was worried about breastfeeding. “It’s how we were designed, what’s to worry about,” I thought. With that (vastly incorrect) outlook, I entered motherhood without considering breastfeeding except that it was “best,” “natural,” and I would do it. Oh, what I have learned!

  • Babies do not always “latch on” and eat – in fact, some, like my son, refuse to latch on but instead scream or, when they finally do latch on, fall asleep.
  • Babies don’t always wake to eat. After my son did not wake to eat his first night at home and into the morning, I called the nurse, who advised bringing him in. Not only had he developed jaundice in the 17 hours since we left the hospital, he had not eaten. Thus, based on the advice of the lactation consultant, I pumped milk, supplemented with formula, and worked on nursing will also finger-feeding him (use a thin tube attached to a feeding syringe filled with formula or breast milk and tape that tube to the finger, which the baby then sucks on to remove milk from the syringe).
  • Finger-feeding to avoid nipple confusion is not a guaranteed success. For the first few weeks, we woke our son every two hours to eat, requiring that we finger-feed him because he would not nurse or wake to eat and we were told giving him a bottle would cause nipple confusion. We now joke that instead of nipple confusion, he got “finger confusion.” For the first couple months, he wanted to suck on someone’s finger instead of a pacifier or bottle – fingers were more comforting/familiar to him.
  • Pumping milk for a baby who won’t nurse is not always possible because the pump does not always stimulate enough milk production.
  • Working with a lactation consultant is helpful and can work, but doesn’t always. The lactation consult gave us great advice, but it just did not work for our son.
  • Sometimes breastfeeding does not work, not for lack of trying or desire – some babies just will not breastfeed and some moms are just unable to do so and that is OKAY.
  • Not nursing when you so badly want to is a tough decision and can cause guilt. I was disappointed, felt guilty for giving up and being unprepared, and often wished I had tried longer. But, after a few weeks of waking my son every two hours, spending twenty minutes unsuccessfully trying to get him to nurse, then finger feeding him, then pumping what (very little) milk I could get so that I could feed him that, with formula, at the next feeding, then starting all over again thirty-forty minutes later plus fitting in trips to the lactation consultant and doctor, I reached my breaking point and, sobbingly, told my husband I could not do this anymore and wanted to just formula feed. He was supportive and we still had to wake our son regularly to eat for a short time, but he had a bottle and life was easier for all of us.
  • Just because one baby won’t nurse, does not mean others won’t. I talked to other moms who had a child who would not nurse and then had other children who nursed just fine. So, when I was pregnant with Baby #2, I decided I wanted to try nursing again after. I prepared myself better this time, but didn’t need to – she latched on twenty minutes after birth, nursed great, and is still nursing twice a day at twenty months. I was also able to return to work and pump three times a day while away from her until she was one, providing her with plenty of milk despite having been unable to pump more than a ½ ounce at a time with my son. Friends, colleagues and even family eye me suspiciously when I say she is still nursing or ask, “When are you going to wean her?” But, I am in no hurry to wean her yet. She seems to nurse less and less each day though and will, I think, wean herself before long.
  • Overall, breastfeeding is a wonderful experience and I would encourage anyone who wants to do so and can to breastfeed – but, it is not always easy and it does not always work and that is okay.

On a side note: our son, who would not wake to eat and when awake, often refused to eat, is now five and still does not like to eat – never has. Meals are always a battle and he would choose to go all day without eating if we let him. He is healthy and in the 75th percentile on the charts, he just does not like food (except fruit snacks and suckers). I maintain that this was the problem from day one – it wasn’t that he couldn’t nurse – he just didn’t like to eat.


Shawna’s beautiful daughter and son!


About the Blogger:

Hi! I’m Shawna. I am a married, working mom of two — one boy, one girl, who I love more than I could have every imagined. Parenting has not always been easy for me and my children throw plenty of unexpected surprises, but I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

13 Thoughts on “Breastfeeding — How hard can it be?

  1. Carrie on October 12, 2011 at 7:35 pm said:

    Thank you for writing this. As a mother who tried to breastfeed for 6 weeks before finally deciding that it just wasn’t working (sounds a lot like your story), I know how much guilt one goes through when you want to breastfeed, but for various reasons can’t. I struggled with a tremendous amount of guilt for months, and still sometimes struggle with it (my daughter is 15 months old). There aren’t many articles about how it is ok if you can’t breastfeed…most people try to make you feel guilty instead. Thank you for sharing your story to let women know that their child will be alright if they choose to not breastfeed (for whatever reason). I was able to bond so much better with my daughter once I stopped trying to force her to nurse, and am so thankful for the many different formula options there are now that allow that to have been possible.

  2. Saundra on October 12, 2011 at 7:37 pm said:

    Wow, this could have been me. Although, I was able to finally successfully feed my son, but I suffered Baby Blues for sure because of the lack of sleep and trying.We didn’t have to finger feed, but we had other issues. My son (almost 5) sounds exactly like your son in the eating department too (he also had to be awoken to eat as an infant, etc). Baby girl was much easier although there was a little adjustment for her too. (She’s 18 mo). I do think part of my son’s lack of eating when he was little is that he had silent reflux (he did end up with a weight issue). Thanks for posting!

  3. K. Sochovka on October 12, 2011 at 8:00 pm said:

    Thank you for writing this. I got all choked up reading it. It brought back sooo many emotions from a year ago when we brought my son home. I wanted to nurse, I never thought it would be an issue. He had trouble latching from the begining, and we ended up using the feeding tube/ syringe for the first three weeks. I used every ounce of energy I had to feed & pump. It was so hard, and I think I spent 12 hours a day on feedings those first three weeks. He finally got the hang of it, but it had already taken a toll on my milk production. He breast fed & formula fed till he was about 5 months and then he decided he only wanted a bottle. It was really sad to not be able to do what I had hoped to do. But thank you for this, because it eases my mind that there is hope with the next one!!

  4. destiny on October 12, 2011 at 8:03 pm said:

    i know the feeling i have 2 girls under 2 my 17 month old wouldnt nurse so it was bottles for her but my 3 week old dont have a problem she not only nurses well she will wake to make me think shes hungry then when i go to feed she just lays her head on my breast and knocks back out. lol. but the best of luck to anyone trying or wanting to breast feed. i love do it. its a bonding moment for me . sometimes stressful with a 17 month old running around while trying to feed her sister. but in the end wonderful!

  5. Thanks for this post! I wanted to breastfeed so badly and had issues similar to yours and ended up getting mastitis and losing my milk! It sucked! And when we decided to supplement with goat’s milk we felt good about it. But I cannot tell you how many people commented on the fact that I was not breastfeeding and how I should be, but they had no idea the hell we had been through and that we were doing the best we could! My DS is now 6 mo and in the 50 percentile raised on goat’s milk!

  6. Candace on October 12, 2011 at 1:34 pm said:

    I wish someone had told me that it was completely normal for breast feeding to NOT come naturally. As a mother of 3, I tried 3 different times and “failed” all 3 times. I still felt guilty even though I told myself I wouldn’t. All 3 took forever to nurse, I never felt letdown and never got engorged. I don’t produce much milk and it takes at least a week to come in. I battled jaundice all 3 times, yet, I still will try again should we have another baby.

  7. Lindsay on October 12, 2011 at 2:13 pm said:

    I thought I would mention an alternative to finger feeding in case anyone reads this seeking advice or for future reference. We also used a syringe to feed my daughter in the first week or so but rather than a finger, we latched her to my breast and then my husband would slide the tube down my breast and into my daughters mouth and slowly administering the formula. That way she was accomplishing three things at once, getting fluids to flush out her jaundice, learning how to latch (no nipple confusion), and also stimulating the breast far better than the pump to encourage my milk to come in faster. It was a struggle the first 5 days or so but after that I have been exclusively breastfeeding and we are still going strong at 14 months!

  8. Kristen M on October 12, 2011 at 2:30 pm said:

    Thank you soooo much for sharing! I’m still suffering with guilt and shame from not being able to produce milk for both my children, a boy born in 2009 and a girl in 2011. Both times, I had children who latched on perfectly and were wonderful nursers…the problem was me. I had colostrum just fine but when it came to milk, not so much. I worked with lactation specialist (and I agree with you, sometimes maybe they are more harmful than helpful although I felt that they did their best), I hooked myself up to a hospital grade pump, I nursed them every hour, I did the supplemental nurser to encourage them to produce milk while getting formula. T

    My son ended up seriously jaundiced and on a bililight bed for two days because of my stubborness about trying. I was exhausted, drained and upset. I am definitely a person who gets more unable to do something when I’m panicked and it was hard to relax. My mother tried to make me feel better about it because apparently her mother had not been able to nurse either, and this was back in the 1940s with her mother there to help her and with formula very difficult to make from scratch.

    My son is great (although ironically, he also does not like food very much and is picky and very thin), and my family and even my earth mother friends were supportive for me, knowing how much I wanted to nurse and how hard I had tried. I didn’t lose anything from bonding with my child, we have a close link, I was just disappointed I couldn’t give him what is the most natural option.

    With my second child, I was more prepared to work with lactation specialist from the start and be relaxed and know that if I failed again, it was ok. I tried herbal supplements like Mother’s milk plus in addition to the pumping and supplemental nursing system with a lactation specialist checking baby every day to ensure latch was good. She was great at it, just like her brother. Unfortunately, once again, my milk failed to come in. She at least did not get jaundiced because I was very careful with supplementing, but I still ended up with a baby on the bottle because of my lack of milk.

    I feel so bad that women who can’t, or maybe even just don’t want to or don’t enjoy nursing, are left feeling guilty over it. What started out as a great idea by western medicine to encourage natural feeding has turned into something of an industry in and of itself that rivals the formula companies. The amount of gadgets, items and accessories for nursing mean big business for something that is supposed to be organic and natural and require very little. So I don’t think women who have to or choose to formula feed need to feel guilty or bad about it, it is an option that is available that keeps children healthy and alive and does not do any serious harm. As my ob/gyn said, “Lots of us were formula fed and we turned out just fine” (she, for instance, is a doctor and went to Harvard). I give my children as much love and nurturing as a breastfeeding mom, they aren’t lacking in anything except the experience of latching on to my breast and getting the “most natural” milk. I cuddle them, hug them, feel close to them, and, what is more, they get the same bonding with their father, who was able to help from very start after giving up nursing both times at around 2 weeks. There is more to parenting than breastfeeding. Some mothers have jobs, health issues, or other factors that make nursing not very feasible. And if a mother isn’t happy doing it, that doesn’t make it a great experience for the child (think of drinking a cup of unhappiness), so why should we berate mothers who know it isn’t for them and opt not to?

    The worst moment was a sign that the State of Texas had on a bus that said “Breastfed baby=Future Scientist” I saw right after my epic failure at breastfeeding son. I burst into tears and felt awful…I had apparently doomed my son to idiocy or underachieving because I couldn’t produce milk. Furious, my husband contacted the agency and once I calmed down, I did as well to explain how their sign was upsetting to mothers. They said they were sorry and didn’t mean to imply my son wouldn’t be smart, but that their target audience needed to know that breastfeeding had educational benefits. Well, their target audience, without directly identifying them, is lower income mothers. These mothers may have jobs that do not allow them to nurse, many of them have to go back to work as soon as they are healed and work service jobs where it may not be possible for them pump every 3-4 hours. They may have other kids that require attention or they may not understand that they can get free assistance in nursing and access to nursing supplies. I’m thinking that telling them their kid could be a rocket scientist may not be best marketing ploy. And regardless of income, if someone nursing is eating a bad diet of processed foods and junk, how likely is it that nursing would be beneficial?

    I don’t want to discourage nursing, I admire all my friends who do and most of them do it for a year or more. I would still try it again if we were planning another child. I just wish people wouldn’t deride formula to such an extent that you sometimes feel like you are the equivalent of an intraveneous drug user for using that option. The important thing a parent can do is to love their child and make sure they have a healthy and happy environment, and that can include a formula or breastmilk diet.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

  9. Carrie T on October 12, 2011 at 6:01 pm said:

    Thank you for writing this. I went through a similar experience with my daughter. After she was born, I was separated from my baby for 3 days while I was in ICU. She was finger fed. By the time I got to her, I was barely producing milk, and she was already taking 3 ounces a feeding. It was an uphill battle for me, one that I never won. She gave me a hard time, refused to nurse for more than a few minutes or even latch on my left side. Once home, finger feeding became exhausting, breastfeeding supplement systems didn’t stay put, and we moved to the bottle. I pumped to supplement, but eventually stopped producing. I felt horrible. Like I failed her.

  10. Thank you so, so much for this post!!!! I had the same problem with my first daughter who is now 2 (and like your son is the same way with meals now) and I’m expecting another girl in December and I just keep remembering how guilty and depressed I felt because I couldn’t nurse my first daughter and I was wondering if I should even bother trying with this little one. I definately will now :) ! And like you said if it doesn’t work out and we just go to bottles, then that’s totally okay, I won’t get all depressed over it! Thank you again :) !

  11. Shawna on October 13, 2011 at 9:24 am said:

    Thanks for the feedback ladies! I’m so glad so many of you (here and the Facebook page) could relate. I wish I could hug each and every one of you for going through this struggle. Breastfeeding is sooo not as easy as something that is “natural” should be (in my opinion), but it is definitely worth it when it works out.

    Carrie, like you, I was able to bond so much better with my son once I quit fighting the breastfeeding and just gave in to bottle feeding. I wasn’t taking time to enjoy him because I was so busy trying to just feed him!

    Saundra, not only do our kids sound alike, they are the same genders and about the same ages — I think we’d have a lot to talk about!

    K. Sochovka, there is definitely hope with the next one! I was more relaxed with my second anyway, but she was nursing perfectly within a few minutes of birth and, while we still met with a lactation consultant some and supplement a little here and there because the doctor thought she wasn’t gaining enough weight, she continued to nurse well and at about eight months didn’t need supplemented anymore at all.

    Destiny, my 21-month old still craves that skin-to-skin contact. She will want to nurse and then just lay her had there and rest. She also hates it if I have long sleeves on, she tries to pull them up or pull the neck of my shirt down to lay against my skin. Not always convenient, but it’s very sweet and that is her security — be prepared for that not to end.

  12. I also want to THANK YOU for writing this. My son is 10 weeks old and I had to make the same guilty decision to go formula after getting thrush and not producing enough milk, and him losing weight. It was a TOUGH decision, but I was a whole lot better. And as one person advised me, you should enjoy your baby now rather than be tired/stressed because you can’t get that time back. And, I do enjoy my son so much more now that I’m getting more rest and he’s getting more rest. Thanks for the story….when I google information about breastfeeding issues, I didn’t get the “it’s okay not to breastfeed…” everything was “breastfeed!!!”. It was so much pressure and then you felt inadequate. But, it’s helpful to know that I wasn’t the only one that tried but just couldn’t make it work. :)

  13. Great post…I am not a lactation consultant, but a Birth & Postpartum Doula and Craniosacral Therapist. I have had several mama’s referred to me by lactation consultants for craniosacral therapy, and it’s always worked to release their latch. Sometimes it’s more difficult than others and more issues present, which then I always refer to a pediatric chiropractor. We’ve always achieved success, though it’s taken up to six weeks for some babies, in moms commitment to breastfeeding.
    I did have a friend who was diagnosed with Raynaud’s disease of the nipple after painfully attempting to nurse her baby for FOUR months before she couldn’t handle it anymore…she couldn’t figure out why her baby knew how to nurse but that for her it was ridiculously painful.
    I commend your commitment to trying and would suggest taking your son to either a craniosacral therapist or a chiropractor based upon an experience I had about five years ago. I had a couple bring their then 5 year old son into me who had a terrible aversion to any solid foods. They believed it was a result of birth trauma (he got “stuck” in the birth canal, went to emergency cesarean, where they had to aggressively PULL on him to release his head from being engaged in the pelvis). The whole experience was uber stressful for them all and the little guy had this food issue. After ONE session with me his whole upper palate released, his neck unwound and he began eating soft foods that his mom didn’t have to puree, such as chunky applesauce and pasta…they were thrilled. His aversions went away over the course of the few months he saw me regularly and he now eats solid food.
    You might check that out. Both are really non invasive practices which do no harm while at the same time work toward boosting the nervous system response.

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