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Breast Isn’t Always Best: A Breastfeeding Failure

Since the dawn of time, women have produced life-sustaining nourishment for their babies. This nourishment helps a baby grow, creates a bond between mother and baby, alleviates financial stressors, and is said to have many life-long benefits. But, what if breastfeeding was such a bad experience that you would rather accept “failure” then continue, regardless of the potential benefits?

Breastfeeding: Nature’s way of making you feel like a maternal failure.

In the past decade or so, breastfeeding has been re-established as the perfect nourishment for growing babies. During the 60’s and 70’s, formula was pushed as more beneficial than breast milk and became slightly more popular; as little as 63% of mothers breastfed. However, new research conducted in 2003 found that close to 82.9% of mothers breastfed,[1] and has only increased in popularity since then. The breastfeeding movement’s campaign for this natural goodness is quite aggressive and (in my opinion) insensitive . Look at this article’s intro, written by Dr. Todd Wolynn, Pediatrics:

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Breastfeeding—So Easy Even a Doctor Can Support It

Imagine, if you will, a Super Medicine. It’s stable and palatable. It reduces and prevents multiple diseases. It reduces and prevents deaths. One dose treats two patients simultaneously. It can even be manufactured safely and legally at home. It requires no insurance coverage. It’s free to anyone who needs it…You don’t have to imagine that Super Medicine, because it already exists. Breast milk is all that, and a whole lot more. Which begs the question: Why are so few people using it? [2]

The article goes on to explain the importance of breast milk, as well as the lack of support and education delivered in hospital after birth. And although I do agree with his main point for the article, his intro is a very good example of how the mentality of the breastfeeding movement: generating a sense of shame and judgement to push non-breastfeeders into breastfeeding. 

As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, I couldn’t breastfeed. Let me elaborate: I wanted to breast, I couldn’t breastfeed. And I am writing this article for all those moms who wanted to breastfeed, but couldn’t, and felt like they were sacrificing their child’s health and future in the process.

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My Story

I have a disorder called PCOS (Poly-Cystic Ovary Syndrome –more info here ) which largely affects the hormones, including the much needed breastfeeding hormone progesterone and another lesser known, androgen (read about the link between low androgen and breast milk here). After 3 years, a miscarriage, multiple tests and a fertility medication called Provera, we finally conceived. From the beginning, we had planned on breastfeeding, and there were two reasons for this: a. because I appreciated all the benefits, and b. because it’s hella cheaper. We went through all the normal doctor’s appointments; however, one thing I don’t recall having was a breast exam, which I realize now was probably something that should have been done – for multiple reasons.

On July 16, 2011, our beautiful 9.1 lbs baby was born. He was huge and immediately hungry. The minute I held him he was rooting. I mentioned this to the nurse and although she said babies are generally not hungry for 3-4 days due to their fluid retention, and that my milk most definitely had not yet come in, she showed me how to get him to latch. It was when I was trying to get him to open his mouth that I noticed he was tongue tied; his tongue barely reached his gum line!  I showed the nurse and she scheduled a frenotomy for the following day. At this time, I was feeling pretty good in my maternal instincts, but that didn’t last long.

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Becoming a Failure

Around 11 pm, my husband woke me up, saying the baby was crying (from where he was in the room, he couldn’t get to him), and I said, “No he isn’t. It’s the neighbour’s baby; I’m his mother, I would know.” But sure enough, when I looked up, he was red-faced. I sat up, pulled out my breast and attempted to replicate the motions the nurse had shown me earlier, but I couldn’t do it! The overnight nurse, Stacey, was amazing: she came in about every 20 minutes to help me latch. Eventually, I was so frustrated that when Stacey came back, I just asked her to do it for me. She took one breast in her hand, squished it flat like a pancake and shoved my son’s face into my breast. He latched for about .2 seconds.

The following day, he got his tongue clipped, and I thought that would be it. It wasn’t. He still couldn’t latch and he still wouldn’t stop crying. I was so frustrated; it was getting increasingly painful, and regardless of what they were telling me, I knew he was hungry. I had a lactation “consult” (the woman stood by the curtain the whole time) and was told that I should not be giving him a soother or a bottle, that he could not be hungry, but she did mention we could rent a hospital-grade breast pump and something about a nipple shield. But still, nothing changed, and he continued to cry and I continued to try. 

At 7 in the morning on discharge day, I went to the day nurse (who was kind of terrifying) and told her I couldn’t do it. I said, “He’s clearly hungry, and I really want to breast-feed, but he needs something. Would I be able to just get a little bit of formula to supplement until my milk comes in?” She showed no emotion, but all I felt was judgement. It’s horrible to think, in hindsight, that I would feel so ashamed in simply wanting to feed my child. I put the bottle in my son’s mouth, and he drank so hard and so fast, looking at me with wide eyes, as if thanking me. I felt both relieved and ashamed all at once. After his bottle, he finally fell asleep! Although I should have been relieved, I was still frustrated:  I knew my son had been hungry, yet I hadn’t trusted myself enough.

Before we left the hospital, I met with a different nurse.  I told her how defeated I was feeling and explained why. For the first time in two days, she offered to examine my breasts. Apparently, I have flat nipples. I didn’t even know that that was possible! For the second time, we were told about the nipple shield.

Meeting Society’s expectations vs Using Maternal Instincts

We left the hospital with an 8.8 lbs baby (normal due to fluid loss), a hospital-grade breast pump, a nipple shield, and hope that being home would help the stress. But the problems continued. He would fall asleep within seconds of hitting the breast, the nipple shield seemed too big for me (I was not informed that there were different sizes), and he never seemed to get anything. What was I doing wrong?

I vividly remember one afternoon, after telling my husband that he would never see my pumping, I sat with my shirt down to my waist, a pump on each breast, the machine at my feet going whur-whur-whur, and my nipples dripping into plastic bottles; I felt totally and utterly dejected. He walked into the living room and looked at me sadly. I said, “Don’t look at me, I look like a cow.” He said, “You look like a mother desperate to feed her son.”

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Although we had supplemented in hospital, I was still hell-bent on breastfeeding, so I wouldn’t supplement, I was just pumping and feeding as often as I could. A week after we got home, the City nurse came, and we were hopeful that our son had gone back to his birth weight (as was expected), but my fears were quickly confirmed: he was still only 8.8 lbs. He hadn’t gained 1 oz, which meant I had been starving him the entire week! This was a wake-up call for me: I needed to stop being so stubborn and start supplementing. I researched, I called around, I asked friends and I spoke to my doctor, but I couldn’t find the support I needed. Nevertheless, I kept going. Every 2 hours, I would breastfeed for 20 minutes each side, then hubby would feed him a 2 oz bottle while I moved to the chair and pumped for 40 minutes; this became our routine.

Eight weeks later, I was getting increasingly frustrated. He was up to 4 oz of supplement, while the most I had ever pumped in one shot was 3 oz. Why couldn’t I provide my son with what he needed? I went to my doctor (who kept telling me we would figure it out), and demanded he do something; I had no milk and I was in so much pain. After confirming that we both had thrush (I mean, really?!), my doctor prescribed me a medication called domperidone which was supposed to increase my milk supply. This had to be the answer!  

 One morning, I sat on my couch and decided I was going to fill his belly if it took me all morning.  For 2.5 hours, we sat there, switching from side to side when he finally fell asleep. Yay! We did it! But within seconds, he was awake again, looking for food. Frustrated and defeated I fed him a 4 oz bottle and he drank it like he hadn’t eaten in hours! That was it, I was done.

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Coming To Terms

The part that got me the most was that I felt like I had missed out on time; I’d spent so much time being frustrated and angry, that I didn’t feel like I had that “bond” all other mothers talk about.  In fact, around that time, a man asked me, “Can you imagine your life without him?!” And I don’t think he was expecting me to say, “yes, yes I can”. I was just so incredibly overwhelmed, I questioned why I’d wanted this in first place. So, the day he turned three months, I stopped breastfeeding; it just wasn’t worth the heartache. I kept telling myself that he’d gotten the colostrum, so that was better than nothing.

A few days after I stopped, it was passed 11 pm, and I couldn’t get him to settle. Desperate for anything, I attached him to my breast. I knew I didn’t have milk, but it was the only thing I could think of. Even though there was nothing to eat, within minutes of attaching, he was asleep. That’s when I realized that he had gained something from this nightmare: a place of comfort and security.

I spent three months fighting against nature, judgement, and expectations, and all that did was waste time I could have spent enjoying and loving my newborn baby. Rather, I spent his first three months obsessed with figuring out how to do something I was never meant to do. I regret those days and nights I spent in tears, frustrated with him and frustrated with me. I wish I’d had more of a support system, more information, and fewer expectations. I wish I had been comfortable enough with my maternal instincts to admit “failure” and move on with our lives. I had allowed everyone else’s opinions and judgments terrorize my relationship with my child. Society may claim that “Breast is Best,” but not when it affects your confidence, your self-worth, and your relationship with your newborn blessing. My only advice to you is this: You do you, that’s all your child really needs.  

Samantha McKeag – The Pensive Girl



[1]  “Rates of Breastfeeding” (PDF). Canadian Perinatal Health Report 2003. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 16, 2009. Retrieved 2007-01-26.

[2] Wolynn, Todd. “Breastfeeding—So Easy Even a Doctor Can Support It.” Breastfeeding Medicine, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., Oct. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3192361/. Accessed 14 Sept. 2017.

The Pensive Mama
The Pensive Mamahttp://www.thepensivemama.com
Samantha McKeag is a mommy, wife, volunteer coordinator, freelance writer, and author. With a 6-year-old and multiple businesses, as well as a full time job, her daily struggles to be a good mom, a good wife, a good employee, a productive member of her community, and an entrepreneur can make for some pretty tough days, but she wouldn't trade it for the world! Samantha's biggest joy, however, is sharing her hurdles, struggles, and triumphs with other mommies and wives who may be able to benefit from her experiences. She enjoys connecting with her local community and finding different ways to help those around her.

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  1. I completely agree “You do you” is so important. I hate that you felt the feelings of failure and frustration. That you felt the judgement. Mother’s need to support each other in making the decisions that are right for them and their littles. I breast fed for 3 months for each child than bottle fed when troubles arose. I did what we needed to do and it is terrible when you are made to feel negative about caring for your child in the way you need to.

    • I totally agree! Thank you for your comment. Although I’m not one to shy away from sharing my story, I also felt this was important for all women to hear. I hear so many times from other moms how they try so hard and sometimes get so much flack, one woman I spoke to told me her husband was pressuring her so much when she continued to not produce enough milk that she went into a depression. That’s just not right.

  2. I had hoped that it was now a lot better with information and assistance for mothers who would like to breast feed and are having difficulties. There was help at all when I had my first – I only managed 9 weeks. At the time I was told to weigh before and after feeding, if he hadn’t had enough the missing 10 gms had to be from a bottle! And never feed before 4 hrs had passed. What utter rubbish but I knew no better. 🙁

    • That weighing idea sounds like a good idea – but the whole issue of only feeding on a certain time-frame is ridiculous! My son was 9 pounds – he was drinking 8 ounces by the time he was 5 months (he was 18 pounds at 4 months). My son wasn’t even one of those rolly polly babies either, he was just solid. Even still, he’s about 4″ tall, very slim, but he has a 6 pack and triceps and ridiculous thigh muscles – he weighs 62 pounds. When I tell people that, they don’t believe me. With that amount of muscle and that high ability to produce muscle, you can imagine how much he needs to eat! He was eating every few hours – it didn’t help that his esophagus wasn’t fully formed and he would spit up about half his bottle almost every time. So in the beginning, he was ready to eat again almost every hour or so. I never felt like I was doing anything the way I was supposed to because so many of the medical and post natal advice I got fit into this box of what was “normal”. Although, I know now, that every baby is different and there is no “normal”.

      Even now I wonder if I did everything I could – did I ask for assistance enough? Was I going to the right places? If I had dragged my unvaccinated child to wait hours in a breast feeding clinic, would I have been able to do it? I don’t know…it still bothers me that I couldn’t breastfeed….but he’s 6 now and he’s healthy and smart and perfectly normal so I try to remind myself of that 🙂

  3. When giving birth I was once roomed with a midwife who had also just given birth. She knew what she was doing obviously but it just didn’t work. She tried for the week that I was there and then had to give up, she was so disappointed.

    • See, I wish more women like that would share their stories – it would have been so helpful for someone like me. When I had my son, I knew a few women who had babies – all except for one of them could breastfeed, and the one that didn’t chose not to. I didn’t know anyone who had struggled as much as I did – I didn’t even know back then that there was such thing as flat/inverted nipples! But I guess that just proves my point: women who don’t share their stories don’t because they’re afraid of the public backlash and judgement. It’s really very sad.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story. The only BEST thing is a healthy and happy baby and mother; do what works for you and your family.

  5. As a man, I can’t really comment on this. All I can say is that women can and will know what is right for them and people should respect that.

  6. Your baby is so cute! As for the feeding, you decide what is the best for your baby and do not blame yourself, you are the best mom!


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