breastfeeding is scary.

by Liz on 11.28

Since writing the first Babies are Scary post, I’ve gotten a bunch of emails requesting more such posts. Some of them were requesting topics I can’t yet knowledgeably discuss (discipline), some were requesting topics I felt were too personal for the internet (body image- about which you’ll recall I later changed my mind), but almost all of the emails asked about one thing: breastfeeding.

I originally felt uncomfortable writing a post about it.

Not because it’s about boobies. You should know better.

Because I don’t feel like I can offer any advice, necessarily. I can’t really offer encouragement that ‘it’s not as scary as it seems,’ or that you can try this nifty bullet-pointed list of ideas to avoid the worst. Because, as it turns out, breastfeeding has little to do with any of that, and a lot to do with how your boobs work, how your baby works, and tons of other personal details that no one can necessarily predict or change.

But what I can do is tell you what happened for us and leave it at that. Deal? Deal.


The most interesting thing about breastfeeding is that I didn’t know it was supposed to be scary. That’s what surprised me about all of your emails. How did you know? I was bottle-fed, so I guess I wasn’t told the horror stories you guys all seem to know.

Our plan was breastfeeding from the get-go. Um, it’s free. It’s supposed to be magical and healthy. It’s going to make me ‘love my baby more’ and lose weight fast. DONE.

The first night in the hospital, Little Josh wouldn’t wake up long enough to eat. He was such a sleepy little guy. And holy poop, if you could’ve seen him all curled up with his eyes squished closed, YOU wouldn’t have wanted to wake him up, either. However, there are Nurses who are concerned about Weight Gain and things. So, they came in every two hours and brusquely woke me up, handed me a screaming (also freshly awoken) baby and stood with arms crossed, watching over my shoulder as I struggled to undo my hospital gown with bleary eyes and trembling hands. This baby would not eat. He would firmly plant his little gums on me, suck a bit, and then pass out.  The nurse would jar him awake.


In Retrospect- I wish I would have asked the nurse to leave. I wonder if that’s allowed? I think both Little Josh and I were a little stage-frightened, and having an intimidating nurse hovering around wasn’t helping. We were getting used to each other, getting used to the whole feeding process (and for him, other weird things like “breathing air” and “laying down”) and having to do so in front of an impatient stranger made it even more uncomfortable.


The nurse insisted that he wasn’t latching and my ‘football hold’ wasn’t correct. She shoved my arm and jostled us into a different position. She moved Little Josh’s head and jaws. We have no luck whenever she’s present, but as soon as she leaves, Little Josh and I are able to snuggle in and get down to business. He doesn’t eat much before falling asleep, but he does eat.


In Retrospect- This may sound hippy-dippy, or it may sound like common sense- but I wish I would’ve listened to my instinct instead of trying to force ourselves into some rigid expectation. I knew when he was latching- there was a distinctly different feel. I knew where he was most comfortable- I could see it on his face. Similar instances of Real Life not fitting into the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” mold have happened since- mostly with feeding, actually. I wish in all of these instances- in trying to breastfeed, in setting a “feeding schedule,” in determining quantities of food, etc that I would have trusted my gut instead of worrying that I wasn’t doing what the book/my mom/my friends/the pediatrician said should happen.


The next time I see the nurse- a new one, this time- she tells me that they bottle-fed him during the night. She suggests that if I can’t make any progress, I should bottle-feed him, too. It was like being told that I had failed before I had even begun. Through frustrated tears, I only tried once or twice to feed him before giving up and taking out the formula.


In Retrospect- I wish I had been clear that he wasn’t to have any formula. After that night, Little Josh never latched again. I don’t know if ‘nipple confusion’ is a real thing, but it makes sense to me. After having tried a bottle nipple- which is much easier to use- babies refuse to latch to the breast. My experience confirms this for me.


We came home and I was determined. Numerous more failed attempts- many of them in the middle of the night, many of them with me crying as loudly as he- before I bought a breast pump. My thinking was that if nipple confusion is a THING, and he was confused about nipples, then I’d let him use whatever nipples he wanted as long as he was drinking my milk. So I pumped.

My days were completely consumed with feeding Josh. As an infant, he was expected to eat every two hours. This meant I would pump every non feeding hour. So, half hour of pumping, half hour break, half hour of feeding, half hour break. Does a half hour sound like a long time? It’s not. (imagine sleeping for 30 min intervals) And I can’t speak for the expensive pumps, but my cheapest-option-at-Target-pump would not stay ON my boobs. So there was no multitasking. I spent that half hour holding the suction cups on and trying to hear the TV over the whir-suck whir-suck of the pump.

Breast pumping doesn’t produce as much milk as regular ol’ feeding. And breastmilk works on supply and demand. So, the breastpump is doing a sorry-behind job of sucking out milk, and as a result, your boobs think your baby doesn’t need that much milk, so they produce less the next time around. It becomes cyclical to the point where you’re crying more tears than your boobs are pumping milk, and you give up and ask your husband to run to the store for a can of formula.


In Retrospect- Maybe meeting with a lactation consultant would have helped. I’m not sure. But, I wish that sick combination of mommy guilt and pride and stubborn Italian bullheadedness didn’t make me so committed to this obviously failing method that I had procured.


So we formula’ed. And I half-heartedly still tried to pump from time to time. But once you stop, your boobs stop, too. So, I think I was mostly trying for show or something- maybe I didn’t want Josh to think I was a lazy mom. Because that’s what I felt like. A lazy, selfish, uncommitted mom who put her own comfort before the health of her child.

No one really helps with this guilt, either.

My mom, the bottle-feeder, was nearly jubilant that my breastfeeding attempts hadn’t worked. She was supportive of “whatever you want to do, dear” but I sensed a certain feeling that by doing differently than she had done, I was rejecting the way she had raised me. Maybe it was just the post-baby hormones, but it was almost palpable.

Then, the lid of the can of formula says in big, block letters “ENFAMIL RECOGNIZES BREASTMILK AS BEST FOR THE NUTRITION OF BABIES.” Thanks, Enfamil, I get it.

Everyone asks if you’re breastfeeding. Everyone. Why do they care? Is that the most interesting part of a brand new baby? The fact that his mouth may or may not be on my boobs at several junctures during the day? Each time it was asked, it sounded more like an accusation. I found myself lying a few times, “Oh, yes, breastmilk only! I’m one of those good moms!”


In Retrospect- I’m really, really happy on formula. I think I’ll probably still try breastfeeding next time around, but I don’t think there’ll be as much emotion stocked into it. I’m able to have entire nights of sleep. Little Josh is a ravenous little pig of a child and I shudder to think of how I would’ve stood up to those ever-hungry jaws. Besides, I’d like another opportunity to answer those questioners. “No, no. No breastmilk here. I like to mix lard with sugar and spoon feed him. Maybe a dash of whiskey for those nights he can’t sleep.”


I don’t think my experience was awful- or that it should be read as a praise for one method over the other. I think perhaps the worst part of everything was my self-imposed pressure- maybe that’s the lesson here. I felt pressured by the nurses to do it exactly right the first time. I felt pressured by my timeline to fit in breastfeeding before I had to go back to work. I felt pressured by everyone and their mom to “do what’s best for baby” …but I don’t know that what’s best for one baby is best for all babies. Except for eating. That’s probably best for all babies- no matter how it needs to happen. I wish I had maintained THAT as my goal- ‘baby needs to eat’ instead of ‘mom needs to be perfect.’

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Your Comments | Add a Comment

Petite Chablis says:
Nov 28, 2011 1:51 pm

This is an awesome and honest post. I’m always baffled by the way people ask new moms whether they’re breastfeeding or feel justified in offering an opinion. It just isn’t anyone else’s business how your healthy, happy baby is getting fed. Like you said, the crucial goal is “baby gets adequate nutrition.”

Have you read Tina Fey’s Bossypants? Her experience with breastfeeding was very similar to yours, right down to the night nurse giving her daughter formula without the parents’ permission. Someone needs to have a talk with hospitals about that.


liz says:
Nov 28, 2011 1:58 pm

YES! Her, and also Ayelet Waldeman recounts a very similar experience in ‘Bad Mother.’ It must be very common.


Erin says:
Nov 28, 2011 1:56 pm

Thanks for writing this so honestly. Intimidating nurses seem to always show up in stories about how baby-related events don’t go according to plan (e.g. birthing, learning how to nurse, diapering, etc.). My plan at this point is to evaluate all the nurses present whenever I show up at a hospital in labor, and fire any I’m scared of. Not that that will make everything work out the way I expect in the first place, but I might feel a little better about it :)


Sarah says:
Nov 28, 2011 1:57 pm

My best had a similar situation. She’d been worried, while pregnant, that she wouldn’t be able to breastfeed … she’d had her nipples pierced a few years before. A quick test close to her due date showed that wouldn’t be a problem, and she was overjoyed.

But then, her son wouldn’t latch. And I really mean wouldn’t latch. He’d lay there doing his best impersonation of a fish, but never anything more. He had to be switched to formula immediately, and it just broke her heart.

She’s said, since (he’s three now), that her anguish was because everyone told her she was doing it wrong. Her doctors, her family, perfect strangers. She said it felt as though she wasn’t good enough, and that her son would suffer.

Now, she’s THRILLED they were on formula. It made life much easier for everyone involved, and he’s a happy healthy child … no adverse effects. Oh, and he didn’t end up with her peanut allergy … and their pediatrician is pretty sure he would have, had she breastfed. So, there’s that bonus.

I really wish there wasn’t such a stigma around not breastfeeding, be it by choice or not. Like you said, the important part is that the child is healthy, not that we all do it the same way.


d-day says:
Nov 28, 2011 2:02 pm

this was really enlightening. I’m in theoretical baby thinking mode and hope to breastfeed (if I can have babies, of course), but who knows how it’ll end up working out for us – so good to have your perspective. I really appreciate your honesty about everything!


Adrienne says:
Nov 28, 2011 2:12 pm

Breastfeeding IS scary and HARD. I think it is really sad to read about bad nurse experiences around breastfeeding. They’re so rigid with what is a very fluid experience and process! I ignored most of the them during my hospital stay, and slept with my baby in my bed with me. We did have a pretty good lactation consult who helped with E’s latching at first, but only in that she gave me some good tips and then left us alone to do our thing since having her there was way too much stress for both of us.


Caitlin says:
Nov 28, 2011 2:20 pm

aw, liz. this is awesome. you are awesome.

and i get so angry at those nurses– during my OB rotation, i was incredibly SHOCKED by the way some of them treated new moms. i think that it’s a rather ridiculous culture in general, OB. at least in this country.


Kerry says:
Nov 28, 2011 2:21 pm

Brava to you, for writing a judgement-free breast-feeding post!

Babies are not on our radar, but you can bet your ass I’m writing down this bit of information right now: “…eating=good!” Underline, underline, period, fin. Right now I feel like I want to bottle feed, but I also desperately keep my options open and judge-free, because me, I am one hell of a mind-changer.

Here in Cleveland we have billboards about breast feeding. BILLBOARDS ON THE HIGHWAY, PEOPLE. One of them shows a picture of (I kid you not) the Virgin Mary and say something about how “she did it, you should too,” or some such stuff, and they make me want to drive off of a bridge each time I see them.


meghan says:
Nov 28, 2011 3:14 pm

I had heard a few horror stories about breastfeeding and heard a few stories about it not working out. So I knew it could be an issue.

I am also really pissed at your nurses. Women and babies should be given the time, space and support needed to figure it out, if possible.

There should not ever be formula or pacifiers given to an infant without the mother’s permission.

And no judgement should be passed to women who are unable or choose not to breastfeed. PERIOD.

It is normal for babies to lose weight after birth. It can be monitored carefully. My milk did not come in until day 5. We left the hospital on day 4. The night before we left I used what is called SNS (supplemental nutition system, I think) where a tiny tube is taped to the nipple and formula is ran through that tube. Baby gets to breastfeed and gets something in the belly (in addition to colostrum).

I also had a bit of a battleaxe nurse. I did pretty much ask her to leave. I told her that we were new to this and just figuring it out. And she left. It seemed that Zoe had a little trouble latching about every other time we nursed in the first few days. The lactation consultant was reassuring, so I would recommend that even if there are no issues.

I am sure I am missing a few things. I’ll check back and leave too many comments later.


Sophia says:
Nov 28, 2011 5:09 pm

Thanks for writing this! Healthy family should be the goal and eating is essential.
As my due date rapidly approaches, this has been on my mind a lot. Word recently got out at work that I’m pregnant and 80% of my colleagues who have commented on the pregnancy have asked about breastfeeding. Interestingly, the moms haven’t.

I’d like to make it work and all but I’m not sure it’s possible/doable for us for a variety of reasons. I feel SO MUCH JUDGEMENT every time I say “ya, we’ll try to make it work if possible” because people expect (I think) for me to be much more enthusiastically pro. I get that breast-feeding is a little better but a $2000 crib and $1000 stroller might also be a little better than the ones we’re getting and I don’t beat myself up over those decisions either. Furthermore, my breasts weren’t a topic of discussion at work prior to pregnancy and I really wish people would realize that it’s still inappropriate to ask about them now…


Pip says:
Nov 28, 2011 5:27 pm

All this breast feeding propaganda by midwifes makes me feel so cross. I do hope to breastfeed if I/we can HOWEVER I’m not going to allow anyone to make me feel guilty if it doesn’t work out like that. (that’s the plan, anyway :) )

At my first midwife appt at 8 weeks pregnant, she asked me about whether I planned to breastfeed. She seemed awfully surprised when I responded that we didn’t even know if it was a viable pregnancy, and I’d probably decide much much nearer the birth. She then asked me if I had a birth plan in mind. Good to know I have choices, but again, far far too early to ask.

I’m sad your nurses made you feel like they did.


Colleen says:
Nov 29, 2011 12:50 am

I had some similar experiences, and SO appreciate your writing about this! For what it’s worth, the expensive hospital-grade pumps also don’t allow for multitasking. Like you, I had the not-helpful combination of (Irish) stubbornness and loads of guilt over not being able to do what everyone “knows” is best (including the checkout woman at my local grocery store, who asked if I was nursing. As I was purchasing formula. Which reminds me–I’m stealing your whiskey line next time around). It makes me downright cranky when I hear “breast is best” now, because it’s simply not always the case and just fuels guilt when it’s not possible. I sobbed for *weeks* while my kid kept losing weight, feeling like I was failing at the most basic part of parenting. Once we finally switched to formula it was *such* a relief! The other thing I’ll do next time around is go to a La Leche League meeting or otherwise meet with a helpful lactation consultant well before the baby gets here so I’m better prepared to nurse if it’s possible.


Lady says:
Nov 29, 2011 3:07 pm

I’ve been through the breastfeeding scariness twice. If you’re stressed out and frustrated about it, baby will be too. It takes time to learn…together.

For me, the biggest roadblock to breastfeeding is how much you have to eat/drink to make milk. I mean, only 300 calories extra a day for pregnancy, but 600 for breastfeeding? That’s like eating for a TWIN pregnancy…and it certainly doesn’t save you money because you’re at the grocery store every other day buying enough food for yourself.

Your nurse sounds like a nasty woman, and it’s wrong that they tried to formula feed without your approval. HOWEVER, many hospitals offer the option to keep the baby in your room 24/7…so you might want to do that next time. It makes the whole “baby wakes and feeds” process much more natural AND up to you.

And yes, it takes time to latch on and learn how to suck. But the colostrum you make in the first few days is supposed to be so nutrient-rich that it makes up for the fact that you don’t have milk yet. So babies ALL lose a little weight in the first few days after birth (much of it is actually water!). Your doctor will tell you at baby’s 1-week appointment how he’s doing with weight gain and eating. That’s why you go at 1 week…2 weeks…to make sure everything in the beginning is on track!


ariella says:
Nov 29, 2011 9:17 pm

My daughter is now about 8 months, and I tried desperately to breastfeed her for her first 3 months. But she was early, and early means tiny, and tiny means tired, and tired means bad sucking. Which means less food and low blood sugar and little sips of formula from tiny plastic shot glasses. It was a horrible 3 months of crying and clogged ducts and weight loss. I was finally diagnosed as having vasospasms and gave up.

For me, switching to formula was an easy choice. My baby was full and not crying and happy. But now that she’s older and knows who I am, I’m having a harder time. I see her holding the bottle and cuddling against the warmth and I feel bad that she isn’t cuddling against me.

There are no easy answers. You do your best, I guess, and then you tell yourself to shut up and move on because that’s the best anyone can do. I can’t imagine she’ll hate me for this later, but it will always be something I think through and do differently in my head.


nicole says:
Nov 30, 2011 9:01 pm

Thanks for sharing your story- there are so many ways we can feel like failures as moms. As long as we want what’s best for our babies, we’re already good moms before having to feel inadequate based on what they eat/where they sleep/how they sleep/whether we work outside of the home/etc etc etc.

My daughter is 8 months old. Three things made a huge difference to our breastfeeding success:
1. A breastfeeding-friendly hospital. They aren’t all. Ours encouraged rooming-in, and made it very clear which babies were breastfed so that they weren’t given a pacifier or a bottle. All of the nurses were very supportive and helpful.
2. Most helpful at all during our hospital stay were the lactation consultants on staff. We had latching difficulties and they were dedicated to getting her to successfully latch before we left the hospital – and did so gently in a way that made me feel like we were all on the same team. They were available after we left the hospital as well- I met with one when my baby was 6 weeks old about issues I was having.
3. Hooking up with a local La Leche group. These ladies have been sooo helpful with the breastfeeding questions that I couldn’t ask anyone else.

You are a great mom, and sharing these stories helps lots of other women just trying to be good moms!


celia says:
Dec 8, 2011 2:27 am

oh, man. there’s so much i have to say here, but i’ll *try* to keep it short.

1. i was informed during my pregnancy that i would be giving birth at one of the top labor and delivery hospitals in the country. after hearing your story, i realize that’s very true. we had THE BEST nurses who were incredibly helpful, AND i met with two different lactation consultants, BUT breastfeeding still did not work out for me.

2. i’ve learned that some babies just DON’T latch. they may latch in the beginning and give up, or they may never latch at all. obviously, it’s not common, but it does happen and, well, it’s just life. i have a friend who struggled tremendously with this with her first baby. after months of trying to get her latch and endless pumping, she called it quits and, of course, dealt with the inevitable guilt. i had the opposite problem. cheech was an expert latcher, and it kind of felt like i didn’t have to put it any work in at all, but my colostrum levels were SO low and when my milk finally did come in (a whole week later), it barely trickled out.

3. i’m not sure how i feel about nipple confusion. i think it really is more about supply and demand. like you mentioned, little josh is a voracious eater, so latching might have just been frustrating for him. therefore, he preferred bottles because the flow is much faster. again, i had the opposite problem here. cheech was, and still is the SLOWEST eater ever. i think that’s why she would still latch even though she had also been given bottles. AND, i gave her a pacifier in the beginning too. i’m not saying nipple confusion doesn’t exist, i’m just not positive it’s always the culprit.

4. contrary to what another commenter said, babies get weighed and tested at the hospital prior to their 1 week visit for more reasons than just normal weight loss/gain. they need to make sure your baby isn’t loosing an excessive amount of weight, because that’s a sign of a problem. cheech lost too much weight in the beginning. if i had waited until her 1 week to do something about it, she would have been jaundiced and starving. on that note, no one should ever give your baby ANYTHING without your consent. i suggest writing a birth plan for your next baby.

5. after months of pretty much hating myself for not being able to breastfeed, i’ve realized that my baby is not only totally awesome, but VERY healthy. and the frosting on the cake? she is completely enamored with me. obviously, i’m doing something right.

so yeah, breastfeeding IS scary, and there are hundreds of reasons why it works out for some and not others. but knowing what i know now, there are so many aspects of parenting that require way more concern than breastfeeding.


Anonymous says:
Jan 9, 2012 9:33 pm

Just as a purely informational thing… In 1981 the World Health Organization and World Health Assembly adopted recommended restrictions in the marketing of formula to help ensure that mothers were not being discouraged from breastfeeding and that when formula use was needed or wanted that it was done safely. This code of restrictions has been adopted into many nation’s laws and thus is the likely the reason reason that Similac had that big bolded print of “Enfamil recognizes breastmilk as best for the nutrition of babies”

Nestle is a good example of where their marketing has presented less than truthful claims about their formula (back in the 70s). Nestle was especially promoted in less economically developed countries (places where the local water was filled with parasites, and infection diseases) There is a a whole slew of other facts and allegations stating that Nestle acted unethically.

So my point is the prevalence of brestfeeding is best “propaganda” is likely being done to combat the previous propaganda that brestfeeding is bad propaganda. And perhaps we have better research on the whole formula/breastmilk dilemma.

I am not trying to make a point at which one mothers should choose but just as information at where and why the information might likely be coming from.


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