I Romanticized Breastfeeding, But I Hated It: A Story About My Struggle to Make It Work

Within the first hour of my first son’s birth, he latched on to my breast and literally wounded me. I thought all the pain had ended after he came out of my body, but apparently not! 

While I knew I wanted to breastfeed, this was not what I had in mind. Like many new mamas, I had pictured us peacefully snuggled, him nursing, and me calm and relaxed soaking in all of his newborn glory. Instead, no one was relaxed or calm. In fact, we were both crying. “It gets better,” everyone said. When?! When does it get better?! 

I continued breastfeeding him without any support for a week. That week felt like an eternity. I suffered through each feeding, 10-12 times per day, with eyes closed tight and toes curled in. 

My nipples were cracked and sore. No amount of APNO, coconut oil, or lanolin helped. I dreaded every feeding. 

I was supposed to suffer like this for a whole year?! I didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t know if I wanted to do it.

Based on my own research, I decided to get a nipple shield for week two. I read online that it can help ease the pain. While this helped, my son wasn’t gaining weight. In fact, he started losing weight. Which is any new mom’s worst nightmare. 

At the time, I didn’t know that when you use a nipple shield you should pump after a feed and THEN bottle feed that milk back. What is otherwise known as triple feeding. (Read more about that here.) Since I wasn’t doing that, my supply dropped and my son wasn’t getting enough to eat.

Needless to say, I walked into my first breastfeeding support group meeting a complete mess. I cried the entire meeting.

All I wanted to do was feed my child. And I wasn’t able to. And I didn’t enjoy nursing him. I was in pain and I was starving my baby. I dreamed of breastfeeding my child and forming that unique bond with him. It was a really hard realization that my body couldn’t give my baby what he needed. 

I felt like a failure.

After a lot of consideration, desperation, and tears, I decided I would start pumping and supplement with formula to help him gain weight. It was one of the hardest decisions I had to make. However, supplementing ended up being the best decision for us. He started gaining weight immediately. And I got so much satisfaction knowing exactly what was going into his belly. 

I showed up at the next support group meeting a new woman. I was a happy and relaxed mom. I realized that’s exactly what my son needed. I exclusively pumped for the next two months. And I gave my nipples and my ego some much-needed time to heal. 

At the same time, I wasn’t ready to fully commit to pumping. I wanted to give breastfeeding another try. Here we go… My son latched easily, but then pulled off once my letdown started. So I made another appointment with a lactation consultant.

A woman named Linda came highly recommended by some fellow moms. “What’s her last name?” I asked. “Just ask for Linda,” they said. “They’ll know who you’re talking about.”

I walked into Linda’s office and she said, “Wow, you’re full!” She squeezed my breast and milk went flying across the room. It turned out all that pumping I had been doing caused me to have an oversupply and a forceful letdown. No wonder my son was pulling off! My milk was like a  fire hose shooting down his throat. 

It felt good to have an answer. But now I also had a new obstacle. Linda told me to lean back during feedings to ease the forceful letdown. It wasn’t painless, but my toes didn’t curl either. I cried. Linda cried. “Look,” she said. “You’re feeding your child. Just remember you’re the milk boss. Trust your body.”

I left that meeting feeling amazing. I was going to do this. I was going back to breastfeeding my son. And then, the next morning…

He latched on, excruciating pain shot from my nipples down to my toes and back again. I screamed out loud, “I CAN’T DO THIS!!!” The high from my meeting with Linda was long gone. 

Bye-bye breastfeeding, hello pumping. And you know what? I still felt that mama baby bond. His tiny hand would grab mine as I was giving him his bottle. He still loved me. 

Was breastfeeding really that important to me? Or was I more hung up on other people’s perceptions of me if I didn’t breastfeed?

Linda had mentioned I might have thrush as we were six weeks in and my nipples still weren’t fully healed.  I went to the doctor and sure enough, I had it (which is like a yeast infection on your nipple). I started medication and within days the pain was done. I felt normal again. Whatever that means…

A few weeks later, I took my son to a music class and saw another mom breastfeeding her baby. I felt the familiar pangs of “I want that” and I began to wonder. 

Maybe I could try one more time.

The next day I tried again and it worked. And this time, it was pain-free, but I wasn’t getting my hopes up. He popped and on and off as he got used to the new milk delivery system. He still got bottles and each day we would try nursing. Together, we adjusted to this new arrangement. 

Soon, we were nursing full-time. I was proud of myself after giving birth, but I had never been more proud of myself than at that moment. I was so close to calling Linda and telling her, “You were right! I AM the milk boss!”

If breastfeeding has been a struggle for you, remember that you are not a failure if you choose to bottle feed or exclusively pump or go all-in on formula. 

If you’re like me and don’t want to give up just yet, the right guidance from a lactation consultant combined with your instincts will very likely lead to an answer.

Hang in there, mama.

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