Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Breastfeeding, Formula Feeding, Pumping, And Other Candidness

"Invented in the mid-1800s as a last-ditch option for orphans and underweight babies, packaged infant formula has since been perfected to be a complete and reliable source of stress and shame for mothers. Once I let go of my guilt, which took a while, the only remaining obstacle was the Teat Nazis. You can recognize the TNs by their hand-carved daggers: 'Are you breast-feeding? Isn't it amazing? I really think it's how I lost the weight so easily. You're not nursing? She's only fifteen months; You should try again!' Now, let me be clear; millions of women around the world nurse their children beautifully for years without giving anybody else a hard time about it. Teat Nazis are a solely western upper-middle-class phenomenon occurring when highly ambitious women experience deprivation from outside modes of achievement. I was defensive and grouchy whenever the topic came up. At a party with a friend who was successfully nursing her little boy, I watched her husband produce a bottle of pumped breast milk that was the size of a Big Gulp. It was more milk than I had produced in my whole seven weeks of pumping. As my friend's husband fed the baby, he said offhandedly, 'This stuff is liquid gold. You know it actually makes them smarter?' 'Let's set a date!' I screamed. 'IQ test. Five ears from today. My formula baby will crush your baby!' Thankfully my mouth was so full of cake that they couldn't understand me."
-Excerpt from Tina Fey's Bossypants

Feeding this lovely baby of mine has been quite an adventure so far, and when I say that, I unfortunately don't mean a pleasant one. As wonderful as every other aspect of motherhood has been, breastfeeding has, up until now, proven to be very challenging, and all in all, a source of grief.

The few times that I have nursed Rafael without pain and with breasts that were full of enough milk to satisfy his hunger were beautiful. The look of contentment on his face, his little hand touching my hand or chest, the sound of him gulping down warm milk happily, holding him to my breast and studying every line of his face...those are amazing moments. It makes me pretty sad that I haven't had many of those moments, and I hope women out there who breastfeed their lucky babies without pain or problems are aware of what a blessing that is!

It's been a frustrating and pain-filled journey from the beginning. The first week of Rafael's life, my nipples were cracked and bleeding, which is normal for a first time mom, so I just took it as part of the package and didn't complain.

As many of you know, I was then diagnosed with endometritis, an infection which can end in being steril or even death. I had to take heavy antibiotics to treat it, and was of course relieved when it was taken care of.

What I didn't know then was that either the infection or the antibiotics caused me to have a very low milk supply. Rafael ended up being underweight at five weeks because he wasn't getting enough nourishment, and I had to begin supplementing with formula.

Supplementing gave me mixed feelings. I was really glad that Rafael was getting the nourishment he needed, and was grateful that I at least had some milk, however little to give him. But I also felt like a failure. It was so frustrating to not be able to do that which should come so naturally to a mother. Every time I was at the cash register with a container of formula, I felt like the cashier and the people behind me in line were thinking, "Why doesn't she breastfeed her baby? Doesn't she know breast milk is best?" I always felt like yelling, "I know breast milk is best! I don't have a choice! This isn't how I want it to be!" Every time I pulled out a bottle to feed Raffi in front of other people, I felt the urge to explain the situation. I didn't want people thinking I'm a bad mother.

Friends and family would keep asking, "Are you still supplementing?" The ones who were for the bottle would urge me to continue, the ones who were against it would assure me I must have enough milk by now. All were full of best intentions, but I was getting so tired of talking, thinking, living, and breathing the breast milk/formula battle. (This post is, I guess, me letting out all of that built up frustration.)

Now, what the antibiotics I took for the endometritis also did was compromise my immune system, and Rafael's. He ended up getting thrush, a type of yeast infection, in his mouth, which is very common for babies. It was taken care of within a few days of medication, but in that time, my left breast got infected with thrush without me knowing it.

I began having this severe shooting pain deep in my breast and burning on the nipple both when he latched on and for a couple hours afterwards (and since there are only a couple hours between feedings, the pain was basically constant). Since he had started on the bottle, I assumed he had what they call 'nipple confusion,' and was having trouble switching between the bottle and me. I thought his latch was the problem, so I would fumble around with his lips, making sure they were sufficiently flanged, all the while in horrible pain and in fear he would pull or bight down and make the pain even worse, which he did sometimes.

The really bitter thing about this situation was that, my left breast was the one that actually had a fair amount of milk. When I would pump, about 50 mm would come out of the left breast, and about 10 would come out of the right (a baby his age needs about 160 mm of milk to be full, just so you can get an idea of how much my milk supply falls short). So, if I wanted to continue breast feeding, which I of course did, I had to give Rafael the breast where I was experiencing horrible pain.

To make matters worse (if you can believe it gets worse), I was also getting what are called 'blebs' on my left nipple: little blisters at the openings of the nipples which then block the milk and cause both stinging pain and clogged ducts. I won't go into further detail, but I don't think I need to.

Needless to say, I have pretty much been a mess these past few weeks. I owe my sanity and ability to laugh most of this off to my sunshine of a son and my loving, supportive husband.

When I was sure his latch was alright, I thought the nipple just needed to heal and the pain would eventually go away. But when it only got worse, I finally started researching discovered that my symptoms matched up with having thrush. The pain was so intense yesterday morning that I finally dragged myself to the doctor. I hate going to the doctor, and I have the bad habit of waiting until something is unbearable before I go.

I refused antibiotics and am trying to treat the thrush with homeopathy and natural medicine. It's been two days and I am beginning to feel some relief.

Aside from using this post to vent a little, I also hope it will let you all know that not every woman in line for the cash register with formula in her hand is buying it because she just doesn't feel like breast feeding, and doesn't care that it's not as good for her baby as breast milk. Not every mother automatically overflows with lovely milk, no matter how much she wishes she would.

For some of us, breast feeding is a stony way.

But I'm not giving up!



  1. I read this and My heart went out to you... We have 5 children and I have nursed them all and each one bringing it's own challenges... Each Baby is different some take to it like a fish to water and others...Well, they just have to be taught..Believe it or not but our 5th baby ( which is now 1.5yrsold) I suffered the same symptoms and issues... Of course you think I would be seasoned by now.. I went through some ENORMOUS amounts of pain but CRINGED and GRITTED my teeth through it... If you would like to email me you are more than welcome but I do understand that you are probably overwhelmed with enough Doo's and Don'ts ... But non the less I would more than happy to share my story with you...
    Praying that all will work itself out for you and Rafael...

  2. Dawn,...Raffi is one beautiful baby, and you look radiant. He's healthy and thriving and that's what matters most. What you went through to make that happen...all the bumps in the road...will ultimately be not much more than a footnote in the story of his years.

    The one thing I've learned in all the choices I've made since having my daughters 11 and 8 years ago is that EVERYBODY has an opinion and that it will always feel like there are people out there judging me (I homeschool, so believe me that I know whereof I speak!) The only thing I can control is how I respond to it, and I've realized that I simply can't care what others think. I don't mean that harshly (most of the time, anyway), but my job is to take loving care of my children the best way I can, and to let others do the same for their own. It's the thick skin of motherhood. I know where to seek advice I trust, and it's not in the grocery line :-) On many occasions I've simply offered a smile and a "well, to each their own! We're all just doing our best, aren't we?"

    My years with these children are too short to let myself get bogged down by other people's thoughts and opinions on our family's decisions, however well-meant or malignant those may actually be.

    It's clear that you give each of your decisions a great deal of consideration. You've been doing a wonderful job. Don't worry about anyone else--simply enjoy watching Raffi thrive and take care of your own health so that you have the energy to be at your very best!

  3. Oh, Dawn,

    I'm so sorry. I totally get it. I shed so many, many, many tears over breastfeeding during my first few months. I, too, ended up supplementing and made myself feel so bad about it. But sometimes, things just don't work out the way we plan, do they? I had infections and clogged ducts- I would take 3 warm showers a day just to try to clear the ducts by hand with warm water, and I will never forget how painful it was! Yet I felt so guilty for crying because I thought that was weak of me to cry for that, when my little guy needed to be fed. Of course, now none of that matters, because I have a big, healthy boy, who is smart and sweet. And I know that I did the best that I could do for him, as you are for Raffi. And that's all we can do. And I think that every little decision that we make from here on out as mothers is going to make us feel as though we're doing something wrong, even when we're not.

    If you ever need to talk, you can always e-mail me or send me a note:). As rewarding and absolutely amazing as motherhood is, it's not always easy:). You are such a super mama and Raffi is a lucky boy. I hope you're healing well. xox to you both:)


  4. I am so sorry that you are going through all this, and I applaud you for continuing! Know that every drop of breastmilk Raffi gets is benefitting are doing an incredible job. As far as the thrush goes, I don't know if it's available there, but Gentian Violet does work for some moms, and also taking a probiotic. Another remedy for cracked, sore nipples is Newman's Nipple Cream, available over the counter here. Best wishes to you! What a dedicated Mama.

  5. Dawn, one of the best things that can happen in life is to get to the point where you don't care what other people think. It's truly liberating. You should be able to buy formula or whatever you need without feeling like you're being judged. In the end, it's insignificant what strangers (even friends and family, I dare say) think. All that matters is that you know why you're doing what you're doing. Have confidence in that knowledge. You're taking good care of your baby. Now take good care of yourself and don't ignore things like extreme pain. That's your body's way of telling you something is wrong.

    All the best to you and your sweet baby.

  6. Oh, yes, it is quite an adventure. When researching natural ways to boost my milk supply, I learned about fenugreek, a natural herb that you can take in capsule form or drink as tea. I did notice an increase, but it has a very unusual side effect: it makes your body smell like maple syrup! No joke! And when you sweat it is even stronger. Hold on to that sense of humor... You are an awesome mom!


  7. I would take the antibiotics and let my chest heal. And I come from a breastfeeding family and understand all the benefits, but sometimes things happen that no one is expecting. And there is not just one thing that makes a healthy baby, but a combination of things.

    You are a great Mom and I am certain that everyone around you feels the same way.


  8. You may never know how much your words help other Mommas. Thank you for being honest. I suffered from extreme pain and open sores, cracked nipples, and bleeding with breastfeeding. I never had enough supply (and I tried all the herbs and supplements to increase supply) and was forced to supplement with formula starting within a few days of my son's birth because he had lost so much weight and would not gain. I still deal with guilt from things "not going as planned" and he is a healthy, happy, vibrant 8.5 month old. I can relate on the feelings you have buying formula and have even had many cashiers comment on the "unneccesary" expense of formula. I so wish I could have been one of those women who could just easily nourish my child from my own body but I couldn't this time. I didn't have a choice in this but I wish others would understand how much I wanted it to be different. You are an amazing Momma and your son is lucky to have a Momma who cares so much. Again, thank you for your honesty. It means so very much to this Momma. God Bless!

  9. I agree with Momma (above), telling your story is no doubt helping so many moms out there. I am so very sorry for your pain. Your son is beautiful and looks so content and happy - the photo of the 2 of you is precious. I think you are a very strong woman and appreciate your honest words. Oh, and the Tina Fey story is hilarious!

  10. Things do not always go perfectly. The important thing is that you are doing the best you can and handling things with as much patience as possible under the circumstances. My sister had inverted nipples and try as she could, her son could not get much milk so she had to revert to formula. Another friend discovered she had breast cancer so had to give up breastfeeding early on and had to revert to formula as well.
    This, too, shall pass and brightness will lighten your days. God bless

  11. Hi Dawn, I wish I could adequately explain how similar our lives are right now. I really do feel your pain. I'm writing this at 4:10 AM as I pump. The one thing I know for sure is that a Happy Mom equals a Happy Baby. It is so true. In raising Sophie, it meant stopping breastfeeding. With Clara, it means continuing to pump (even though my breastmilk could be causing her reflux ~ or is it helping? ~ who knows!!!). You won't receive any unsolicited advice here as I know how awful that is. But follow what's in your heart and you'll both be fine. You have a friend here who understands, is rooting for you, and supports whatever decision you make.

  12. Can I just say how much I love and appreciate you all?

  13.'s all going to work out! Could I suggest a book? "mitten strings for god" by Katrina Kennison. It is such a beautiful little book about motherhood. It's not a religious book, altho it has god in the is about waldorf education, loving nature and it's rhythms, choosing what is right for your little family and most especially about love and a peaceful heart and home. It has been on my bedside table for years and years and I have read it time and Gladys Taber! Sending hugs, Laura

  14. Oh, Dawn, I am so sorry for your anguish. Life's do's and don't's swing from a pendulum, don't they? MANY years ago when I was born, formula was considered the best nutrition for babies, and at the advice of her doctor, my mother bottle-fed my brother, sister, and me....and we turned out OK!! When my son was born, breast-feeding was "in", and with the support of La Leche League, I managed to muddle my way through. However, my mother hovered over me, convinced that my son wasn't getting proper nutrition!! PLEASE do what YOU need to do...for yourself and your beautiful baby, Raffi.

  15. Dawn & Laura, so glad I checked back again to look at further comments. I obviously need some reassurance of my own and will seek them out from any place. :-) After reading about the book on Amazon, I just ordered it for myself! I'm a big Waldorf fan. I also ordered one for a friend who is due in January. Thanks for sharing....

  16. Hi Dawn, just wanted to let you know that you are not alone in all of your breast feeding battles. I also had tried to breast feed my daughter, but had nothing to come out. The nurses would tell me to just keep pumping, and the milk would eventually come. It never did, and had I listened to them, my newborn would had starved, as they did not want me to give her formula. You are a great mother, don't doubt that, you have done the best you could, and your child is thriving and happy, and may I just say, he is just as adorable and good looking as his mommy.

  17. oh my goodness Dawn, you haven't just been through a few challenges, you've been through every possible problem there could be! I'm so sorry that this has been your experience.
    i really am impressed that you've stayed at it, especially with all the pain you've been through. What a strong woman you are.
    I remember with Noah I had some of the same experiences as you and to be honest, I hated breastfeeding him. Every time he cried for food,I secretly resented it because of the pain I knew it was going to cause me.
    I stayed at it and he (in retrospect) probably never received full feedings because I would need to end our nursing sessions so early.
    I think the worst thing though is the guilt you have for feeding your baby formula, I know many other women who have said this too. I'm so sorry that you've had to deal with judgement on top of everything else. Thank you for sharing your story, hopefully it may help another mama who is going through similar experiences. xox

  18. Hi Audrey, Dawn and oldest daughter's name is Sophie beautiful is that?:) So excited to share my very favorite Mama has meant so much to me in my journey. I hope it fills your heart as well! Love to all xoxoxoxo

    p.s...Dawn...I think you are very brave to share this hard part of mothering....not that we thought it would be easy, but some days......whew! My husband tries to help me take the long view and I am getting better as I go along, but still I'm glad we are all here to share this twisty, turny, but still beautiful path. hugs, hugs and more hugs

  19. btw, those last two pictures say it all. Raffi looks like such a happy, healthy and loved little baby. He is blessed to have such caring parents as you and Ramon and you in turn are blessed to have such beautiful little boy. Take good care of yourselves (yourself included my friend), heal your body and heart so that you can be the best mama you can be.

  20. Johanna...thank you so much as always for your loving words. I hope with all of my heart that breast feeding your little Katia will be a positive experience!

    Laura...I just ordered the book. Thanks so much for the recommendation. It's something to read while I'm nursing or pumping. :) You are right, I have to be very brave with some of the posts I publish. This blog really forces me to be honest, and I love that!

  21. Yes, honest, courageous and so beautiful in caring so much. You are doing an amazing job at this new motherhood thing and Rafael will always know how much you love him and care.

  22. It is horrible how people judge mothers. I think we are our harshest critics though. I struggled for 6 months feeding our first child, but persisted because I am so stubborn, and we did get through it however I now look back and wonder why I put myself through so much - it created great stress for myself and probably my daughter. You are an AMAZING mummy and your little boy looks like he is thriving. Believe in yourself and the decisions you make and try to rise about the judgy judgers. You are indeed blessed to be rafael's mummy but my goodness he is so blessed to have such a devoted mummy in yourself. xxx

  23. Rafael has your love and that is the most important thing. Hugs to you!

  24. Oh dear! Sounds awful -I hope you get through it! I don't often hear joyous stories of breastfeeding so it does make me wonder what we're doing wrong if it is meant to be so natural! xxx

  25. Dawn, you are a wonderful mother and it is so inspiring to read how you are pushing through the tough breastfeeding times with such determination. I hope that things get easier deserve it! Thank you for sharing your story. It really does help those of us that have been in your place know that we are not alone. Rafael looks so sweet and happy in the pictures. It is clear you are doing such a wonderful job as his Mama.

  26. First off, your baby is adorable!! And I must say this post hit close to home. I too had multiple trials and tribulations with breastfeeding. In my heart I wanted to do it as long as possible and thought it would just work out as we are led to believe its a "natural" thing.

    Needless to say after trying for 3 months I finally gave in to formula and haven't looked back. My sanity was worth it and knowing she will turn out just the same gives me peace of mind :)

    I feel your pain with people assuming you "don't want to." Do what you think is best (because momma really does know best!) and be happy with that decision.

  27. Heather...judgy judgers...LOL!!!!

  28. Hey, I just found your blog not long ago and I love your nature photos, etc. Don't be so hard on yourself, you tried and that's all that matters, you sound like a very loving mother! Breast-feeding is a very emotional thing!! It was very hard for me too and I can relate so much to this post. Thanks for sharing! Keep your head up!

  29. i went through so many of these problems with my son. i tired for 4 months, then i and all the people around me, agreed i should stop. i did and honestly, life began to move forward, with me and my son. it's like i was happy again and so was he. this is just me and my experience. i know you will do what's best for you and that sweet pea of yours.

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