When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Work

As I was preparing to have my first child, there was never a doubt in my mind that I wanted to breastfeed- I knew I wanted to have that closeness and connection with my son, and as a registered nurse, I knew that breastfeeding has a lot of benefits for both mom and baby.

While I knew that some people struggle with breastfeeding and others choose not to breastfeed at all, it never even crossed my mind that it was something that I would have trouble with, and I had my heart set on a successful and stress-free breastfeeding journey with my son.

Plan A: Exclusively Breastfeed

When I went to the hospital to be induced on the night of January 3, 2017, I thought I would be exclusively breastfeeding when we got back home, so all the bottles we had gotten were still in their packages and my breast pump was still in the box- nothing was ready for any alternate scenario.

I was definitely not prepared for the physically and emotionally difficult journey I would take for the next 6 weeks while I tried desperately to breastfeed my son.

            Wyatt was born via emergency C-section on January 4 after we learned that I had developed severe preeclampsia and HELLP Syndrome. We were in the hospital for 5 days while the doctors tried to get my blood pressure under control, and my body on the road to healing after HELLP nearly shut down my liver and kidneys.

During my hospital stay, I worked with the nurses and the lactation consultant to breastfeed Wyatt, but nothing we tried to stimulate my milk production would work.

My doctor tried to assure me that my milk was just a little slow coming in due to the traumatic delivery before my body was ready.

Wyatt ended up having jaundice and needed to start formula feeding because he was only getting a few drops of colostrum at a time from me.

I remember having a complete anxiety attack in the hospital because I felt like such a failure.

A mixture or the postpartum hormones, trying to cope with a scary health situation, and a delivery that went completely against all my hopes, running off of almost no sleep, and the physical and emotional pain of trying to breastfeed my son turned me into a complete basketcase.

I remember feeling like such a bad mom and so defeated.

By the time we were discharged home, I was more determined than ever to get my milk to come in and to make the desire to breastfeed my son a reality.

Plan A: Exclusively Breastfeed
Plan A: Do WHATEVER it takes to Breastfeed

The next six weeks were a complete whirlwind of exhaustion, stress and tears. The morning after we got home from the hospital, I woke up feeling like I had boulders on my chest. I was so relieved thinking that my milk had finally come in- but that relief quickly turned to panic when I realized that I didn’t actually really learn about breastfeeding in the hospital.

Since I had no milk, and I didn’t make it to my breastfeeding class because Wyatt was born 3 weeks early and before my scheduled class. Severe anxiety set in and I called one of the lactation consultants recommended to me by the hospital.

She came to the house to help me learn how to latch him on and how to use my pump, and she brought a scale with her to the house to weigh Wyatt before and after I nursed him to see how much he was getting.

I remember her putting him on that scale after he was on the breast and there was literally no change- it was SO discouraging.

I was at such a loss- even though I could clearly feel that some milk had come in, he still wasn’t getting much from me and we couldn’t figure out why.

As I would try to pump, I never got more than half an ounce combined from both breasts per session. It was so disappointing to look down after 10-20 minutes on the pump most times to see not even a tablespoon of milk.

I continued to work with the LC and followed all the recommendations she gave me religiously- pumping on a schedule day and night, latching Wyatt on before and after every bottle feed so he would get what little bit I could give him, trying all different supplements and lactation-boosting cookies and teas, drinking tons of water, I even went to an endocrinologist and got lab work done to make sure nothing was out of whack medically that could be inhibiting milk production.

Nothing was working, and I was starting to spiral down into depression and complete physical and emotional exhaustion trying to keep up with latching this schedule every couple of hours all through the day and night.

Plan A: Exclusively Breastfeed
Plan A: Do WHATEVER it takes to Breastfeed
Plan A: Do what is best for Mama and Baby

After 6 weeks of desperately trying everything possible, I was so stressed and so tired and I cried all the time. I loved my son so much and wanted to do the best I could for him and I felt like I was failing him.

Not only could I not feed him how I wanted to, I was so determined to get my milk flowing that I was spending every spare moment baking lactation cookies or sitting there attached to my pump instead of focusing on letting my body heal, resting, or bonding with my son.

As I talked with my LC about all this, and based on the fact that nothing was working despite not finding anything medically wrong with me, she told me that I most likely just have Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT) and that breastfeeding just wasn’t in the cards for me, with Wyatt or with any future babies I would have.

Once I learned that my body physically can’t sustain feeding a baby, I had to start the emotional process of accepting that and work toward moving on.

Despite the fact that I had such a hard time trying to breastfeed, I still found it extremely difficult emotionally to give it up because I had it built up in my mind that breastfeeding was success, and anything else was a failure.

I gave away all my supplies to another new mom and eventually when I felt ready, I gifted my pump to a friend who was expecting her second child and needed a new one but her insurance wouldn’t cover it.

At first it was really hard to give up, but as the days went by, I felt better and better about it- I was finally getting a little bit of sleep in between bottle feeds instead of staying up pumping.

I was spending more time bonding with my son, and I realized that I was in such a better place mentally as well.

I was no longer spending so much time obsessing and stressing over my nonexistent milk, and I was able to be more present with my family.

I was finally starting to feel happy and fulfilled in my role as a new mom instead of a failure.

Looking back, I wish I hadn’t put so much pressure on myself- being unsuccessful at breastfeeding does not define me as a mother, as a woman, or as a person, and at the end of the day, as long as my son was happy, fed, and thriving, that’s all that mattered.

Author Bio:

Shannon Morton
Photography in College Station, TX

Amanda lives in Newport, RI with her husband Bryan, their two children, Wyatt and Vivien, and their 3 dogs. She enjoys hiking, reading, and going on adventures with her family. The best way to contact her is Facebook (amanda.kent.54) or Instagram (arkent11).