Regret in the Broken Heart of a “Breastfeeding Failure”

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

Created: Wednesday, 15 April 2020 18:31

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Amanda didn’t plan for any of the traumatic stuff that happened to her.

There was no way to prepare for it. She planned on a natural birth without drugs. She planned to have her baby placed on her chest, and together they would begin breastfeeding, sharing their “golden hour.”

Her water broke and she felt rushed and pressured during labor. She couldn’t walk with a fetal monitor around her belly. As she tried to get comfortable on the bed, the monitor kept slipping and giving false alarms. And after 12 hours, the alarm was real. 45 minutes later, baby Jade was born via c-section. Amanda and Jade were separated, which was hard, and then reunited a few hours later, which was wonderful, and they started breastfeeding.  

Breastfeeding was magical! 

Jade knew what to do, and they did it together. They nursed and dozed, blissfully connected. Amanda had no pain. Jade nursed colostrum, peed and pooped through lots of diapers and was perfectly healthy. On the third day, they went home and later that night, Amanda’s milk came in. Jade powered through the engorgement and the flat nipples, relishing the abundant streams of milk. Sometimes coughing and sputtering, then taking a breath, and going right back to nursing.

The third day at home, Amanda’s incision turned bright red and started oozing.

She called her doctor, who put her back in the hospital. She pumped as best she could, drifting in and out of drugs, and fever. Her husband, Rick, held the pump flanges, handled the bottles and comforted her. Her mother fed her milk to Jade at home. A week passed before she was cleared to go home. She felt better, but she still felt sick and weak.

Back home again, Amanda snuggled Jade and waited for her to latch.

Jade refused. Jade cried. Amanda cried. Her incision hurt, her boobs hurt, and her heart hurt from the rejection. She held Jade skin-to-skin and tried to pump. Her supply had dropped from being sick and she was not making much milk anymore. 

She had a lactation consultant come to their house.

Together, they got Jade to attach a few times, but after she left, Amanda was unable to do it on her own. Jade cried when she tried. Amanda felt weak. Her strength was sapped. Her will to breastfeed was depleted. Even Rick’s hands-on help and encouragement just drifted over her head. She just wanted to sleep.

The first two months postpartum were a painful and messy blur.

Every other day, a nurse came to her home to check on her, and to change her dressing. She encouraged Amanda to try breastfeeding, and helped her improve her pumping technique. But, Amanda felt sad and hopeless, and over the next few weeks, Jade was receiving more, and more formula. 

Her mom was taking care of Jade. Amanda spent nearly 3 hours a day plugged into her pump. She was exhausted, discouraged and angry. She didn’t want to pump, she just wanted to cuddle Jade. One day, she decided to stop pumping and got even angrier. There was no swelling or pain. Her milk just stopped.

She felt like her body had failed at everything it was supposed to do naturally. It couldn’t birth, it couldn’t recover, it couldn’t make milk, and her baby hated her boobs.

Amanda was a new mother recovering from a life-threatening illness and complications from birth. She had slammed into an uncommon situation that turned out to be insurmountable, once it started.

Could she have prevented this? Was there a way of reducing her risk?

There are always two paths, but there are no guarantees, because life is unpredictable. This idea is about reducing risk and making peace with whatever happens. 

  1. You can choose the path of education and advocating. You are more likely to have a good outcome because you are empowered to make educated choices in birth places, providers, practices, and procedures.
  2. You can choose the path of ignorance and hoping. But, because you are not educated, your health care providers will make all the decisions for you. For better or worse, your outcome is dependent on their philosophy and training.

Many childbirth interventions can delay or complicate breastfeeding. 

If breastfeeding is important to you, you are healthy, and have no pregnancy complications, plan for a natural birth, free of interventions. This generally flows into the breastfeeding crawl–a good start to breastfeeding. The healthcare provider who is best suited for this, is a midwife trained in normal, unmedicated birth.

If that is not an option, working with a pro-breastfeeding OB/GYN, who trusts women’s natural birth process, is vital to your and your baby’s health. A doctor like this will have a low rate (under 15-20%) of c-sections.

You can protect breastfeeding even further by taking a natural childbirth class, a breastfeeding class, hiring a birth doula, and hiring a lactation consultant to support you, and answer all your questions as you learn breastfeeding.

Reduce risk and make peace with what happens. 

Some women hit one setback, others hit many in rapid fire succession. In the beginning, even one setback can feel overwhelming, and without support, cause you to quit. In Amanda’s case, her water breaking started a chain reaction that ended her breastfeeding.

When her water broke, her movement was restricted and she was not able to labor freely. The fetal monitor increased her risk of a c-section, which can have complications in recovery. And in her case, her incision became infected, leading to her being hospitalized and separated from her baby.

Amanda really did everything she could have done to meet her goals. She learned about and planned on an unmedicated birth. She pumped when she couldn’t breastfeed. She had good support from her family. She worked with a lactation consultant.

Did it have to end the way it did? No.

If we had a culture protecting breastfeeding, Jade could still be breastfeeding.

From hospital policies to her surgeon, pediatrician, visiting nurse and lactation consultant. Nobody considered breastfeeding to be vital to Jade. And yet it is! Breastfeeding offers immediate and lifelong health benefits for baby, mother, and in fact, everybody in the world.

Why didn’t the hospital have a room for Amanda and Jade together? Why didn’t the lactation consultant keep coming back? Why didn’t the visiting nurse find more resources for Amanda? Because American culture places little importance on breastfeeding.

Getting a baby back to breastfeeding is not difficult.

Young babies want to breastfeed! But many new mothers need a lot of encouragement and support to overcome their doubts. You have to believe that breastfeeding is vital. You have to be patient. The process can take time, but it’s not hard.

It’s easy to forget why you wanted to breastfeed.

Setbacks grind away at your resolve when you are tired, isolated, or never breastfed before. Amanda stuck with it, until she couldn’t. She did not have enough energy to figure it out on her own, and she did not have the knowledge and support of her medical team, to keep her going.

There is not a single right way to move through your problems. There is only your way. 

It’s normal to feel frustrated, sad, and even angry, when you’re finding it hard learning something. Some people will quit as soon as their feelings become unbearable, and some will keep searching for a way. 

Once you’ve gotten through your crisis and gotten your strength back, it’s easy to look back and regret your decisions. You may feel depressed, angry at yourself, or even want to hurt yourself. It’s common to think you are a bad mom for failing at breastfeeding.

It’s OK to be angry and sad, but it’s not ok to beat yourself up.

Research supports breastfeeding as the optimal way to feed your baby, but it’s not the only way for your baby to thrive! You still have options. You may still be able to breastfeed again, at least a little bit, if you get help from someone knowledgable, like a lactation consultant. 

A short term plan, taking it a day at a time, and checking in with your original goal, is always helpful. Lactation consultants can create baby-feeding plans tailored for any family’s circumstances.

If you can’t, or don’t want to breastfeed, then make a plan for grieving. 

Grieving is a marathon, not a sprint. Do a little grieving every day. Try setting a timer, grieving for a few minutes and then putting it on hold, until the next session. Therapy with an understanding therapist can help. Journaling or drawing can help process your hard feelings.

A lactation consultant can help you as well. Nobody breastfeeds forever, and women often have strong and conflicting feelings around weaning. It’s well within the scope of a lactation consultant to support and counsel you, as you end breastfeeding.

Social support can be tricky at this time.

The right kind of social support can be very helpful when you stop breastfeeding. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find the acceptance and the grace you need, when you are feeling so crappy about your choices.  

You don’t need affirmation because you are still feeling conflicted about whether you are doing the right thing! You need empathy and compassion for the hard choice you are making. You need a bigger picture of breastfeeding, mothering and feeding your baby.

In our lives, we have flowers and thorns. 

Only some women have easy births. Only some have easy breastfeeding experiences. The rest of us have bad things happening. It’s human to grieve when something bad happens. Ultimately, we can accept and make the best of things, or we can live in perpetual disappointment.

A mother’s role is to make difficult decisions for every choice in our child’s lives. These decisions are so painful, not because you are a bad mother, but because you are a very good, and a very caring mother and you want to give your baby, the very best.

Mother of three, including twins; Lactation Consultant; Partner of Michael;

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