Breastfeeding Failure: How This Therapist Coped

Rachel1Breastfeeding: it is everywhere. Even for people who choose to formula feed for whatever reason, they are reminded of the benefits of breastfeeding on the can of formula that reads “breast is best.” For some, we allow breastfeeding (or lack of breastfeeding) to define the type of mother that we are. I was one of those “some”. The sad part is, it took me two years to realize it was in MY head and MY issue.

First off, allow me to provide some background information about myself and my journey. It is relevant, I promise. After a year and a half of not being able to get pregnant, my husband and I decided to seek treatment from a fertility specialist. For anyone who is fortunate enough not go through this process, count your blessings. It is an emotionally draining process to say the least. Fortunately, after about a year from the time we sought treatment, I gave birth to a healthy, beautiful seven-pound baby boy. He was (and still is) absolutely amazing.   I knew infertility could negatively impact a mom’s ability to breastfeed, but I was determined to breastfeed. Determined.

I remember the first time I attempted to breastfeed my infant son: it was awkward. Sure, I took the baby classes and knew how to breastfeed a teddy bear, but he was a live baby. A live baby that I just met and now I would have to place my breast in his mouth and hope for the best. I did the best I could. Unfortunately, my best could not sustain my son. He was not peeing. Every diaper change I prayed that there would be urine in his diaper. None. I worked with many lactation consultants while in the hospital; some were helpful, and some were not. I was told he had a mild tongue tie. I tried a nipple shield to help his latch. I was brought a breast pump and was told to pump after every feed to help increase my supply. I did that, and honestly it sucked as I had little time with my baby. Nothing helped. He lost too much weight and I was told I needed to supplement with formula. My world came to a stop: breastfeeding is the best option and I could not do it. I felt like my body failed me.  First it failed me with not being able to get pregnant “the old fashioned way,” and now this.

With every bottle I made, I felt a pang of failure. Every time we were out in public, I felt like I had to explain why I was bottle feeding my infant. I continued trying to breastfeed. I even stayed in the hospital for the maximum time I was allowed after delivery, so that I could work with the lactation consultants as much as possible, and then I met with the lactation consultants on an outpatient basis for about two weeks after I was discharged from the hospital. They watched me as I uncomfortably placed my breast in my newborn’s mouth. I tried mother’s milk tea. Once. It was awful and I switched to fenugreek . Fenugreek  dropped my blood sugar so low that it almost killed me when I nearly passed out in my car, but I had stopped to get a sugary drink. Even still, I kept pushing on trying to breastfeed. I went back to work as a hospice social worker. I pumped in my car as I drove from one patient’s house to the next. I even pumped in my car with my intern in the passenger’s seat. I tried, but I felt like I might as well not have, because it didn’t change the end result. My breastfeeding journey lasted 6 months and ended when the emotional toll was greater than the benefit.

I had such a difficult time accepting my fate. I’m a therapist! My entire career is focused on helping people overcome difficult situations and empowering them to live well. In the meantime, I was angry at the world because I felt as though my body has failed. Day in and day out I was teaching people that positive thoughts produce positive behaviors. I wondered, how I can challenge and support people to make a change, when I was not capable of doing so myself? It was a difficult transition learning how to help myself instead of others.

I’m not sure when, but at some point I came to the realization that I needed to change my perspective about “breast is best.” I was focusing on all the wrong things. I was focusing on what I could not do, completely neglecting what I was doing well. I was feeding my son and taking great care of him. I was giving him the best that I could give him. Most importantly, I started focusing on the fact that he was thriving and he was happy. When I was stressed, he felt it. When I was able to accept lactation failure and relax, he and I developed a deeper connection and bond. I was able to enjoy my baby.

When things got to the point where I felt overwhelmed, I would stop and breathe. Just breathe. Big deep breaths through my diaphragm. When I was feeling relaxed, I would take a step back and look at the big picture. How he was fed as an infant will not limit him in any way in his future. I would ask myself why I was getting upset. He was getting his basic needs met. Sure, it was not the way I imagined it to be, but it worked for us. Our tentative birth “plan” (which was just basically vaginal birth) did not go to plan either. I had an emergency C-section. Surprisingly, I could not be happier, considering the possible outcome had I delivered vaginally with him having his cord wrapped around his neck three times. It worked out. Somehow, it always works out and I reminded myself of that often.

All of these experiences gave me insight and a whole new level of

Rachel Bradley, MSW, LCSW and her amazing son, Aidan.

compassion for others. I feel it has given me a unique sense of empathy. It has helped me reach out to other moms, has  challenged my perceptions of other mothers and their choices, and has made me grow in ways I did not expect. It reminded me that our behavior is shaped by our situations, and we are all doing the best we can in the situations we are given. Every new mother is fighting her own uphill battle; be kind. This is what I have taken away from my struggles.

The Momivist here: Rachel and I are working on a Breastfeeding Failure Toolbox for all mothers, to help them cope if necessary. Too many mothers are suffering in silence; we want mothers to know they are not alone, and help is available.

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