Thursday, August 1, 2013

My Breastfeeding Saga

I am thrilled with the response that I got to my first post on breastfeeding, so I wanted to write this follow up while it is still fresh in everyone's mind.  I think it is so great for women to get a dialogue started about this sensitive topic, and, more importantly, for women to know that they are accepted and supported by their peers for whatever feeding choices they make for their children.

I am going to attempt to make a long story short(er), so here goes.  My breastfeeding saga:

As mentioned in the previous post, I started supplementing with formula when Moosey was 3 days old.  My intention was to give her formula (along with whatever little milk I was producing) until my milk supply came in and then she would be exclusively nursed.  From the day of her birth at the beginning of December until New Year's Eve, I was consumed with trying to get my supply up.  In addition to meeting with the lactation specialists two to three times per week, I started a feeding routine of nursing for 1 hour every three hours.  After that hour was up, someone would feed her a bottle and I would proceed to go upstairs to her room and pump for 40-60 minutes.  I would then enjoy a measly 1 hour and 20 minutes with my Moose before starting over again.  She was sleeping 4-5 hours at a time at this point, but I was still waking up to pump.

This was probably the most emotionally taxing thing that I experienced as a new mom.  I felt so isolated and discouraged as I would sit alone in Moose's room desperately failing at making milk to nourish her.  My husband and mom wanted to help, or at least be with me, but I felt like it was something I had to do alone.

Right after Christmas, I started to feel like I was making some progress.  In a 1 hour pumping session, I could sometimes get as much as 7oz of milk, but sometimes it was as little as 1/2oz.  I was okay with that though because by that time, I had already accepted that she would be supplemented with formula, which was okay with me as long as I could give her some breast milk.  I was freezing some of the milk so that we would have a little supply.

A few days before New Year's Eve, I started to experience excruciating pain while nursing.  It was an almost intolerable shooting pain.  I called the lactation specialist who told me that it sounded like a yeast infection and said I should go to the doctor.  So, there I was, New Year's Eve 2011, sitting in the after hours waiting room at my doctor's office for about 3 hours (the upside being that I did get to read a book) for them to confirm that I did, in fact, have a yeast infection.  On my breasts.  WTF?  I didn't even know that was possible.

Because I was still trying to nurse, they gave me a prescription for oral Nyastain, but told me to rub it on my breasts.  Yes, I am serious.  They did this because the oral one is safe for babies to drink.  The problem with it?  It is cherry flavored, so it is ridiculously sticky and it doesn't dry, so I would have to lay, naked on the bed for hours until it was time to nurse.  Needless to say, that didn't last long.

They then gave me a prescription for Nyastatin cream, but it came with strict instructions that it had to be thoroughly scrubbed off before I could nurse because it was dangerous for the baby to swallow.  I don't care how important breastfeeding was to me, I wasn't going to risk her ingesting something potentially poisonous, so when it was time to nurse, I would hop in the shower.  Apparently though, the doctors failed to see the obvious, which was that you can't just go wiping the medication off 2 out of every three hours and expect it to be effective.

With those two brilliant solutions behind me, they decided to put me on an oral prescription for 10 days.  Both my doctor and the lactation specialist assured me that it was safe to nurse while on this medication.  After about 24 hours on the medication, my sweet Moosey, who had always been a happy and content baby, screamed in pain for 7 hours straight.  We took her to the doctor and they said nothing was wrong.  We thought about it and then realized that the only factor that had changed was me starting the medication.  To test this theory, we switched her to exclusively frozen breast milk for a day.  Voila..she was better!  Because we are nothing if not thorough (my husband is a scientist), we then gave her some of the milk pumped while I was on on the Diflucan and, what do you know...she got sick.  Again.

That was a serious breaking point for me.  Here I was, killing myself to try and do the "best" thing for her by nursing, and in the process, I had made my baby sick.  She could have been eating perfectly safe and healthy formula, but instead, she was being made sick by the medication in my breast milk.  I was heartbroken.  The worst part was that the doctors and lactation people didn't believe me.

I should have stopped them, but I didn't.  For the next 7 painstaking days, I pumped religiously and then dumped the milk down the drain.  For anyone who has tried to breastfeed, successful or not, you know how painful that is.  I definitely shed a few tears before finding the silver lining, which was the ability to consume caffeine and alcohol!

After the 10 days on Diflucan, I was excited to go back to breastfeeding her, but when I tried, it hurt like hell.  Back to the doctor I went, only for them to tell me that not only had my yeast infection gotten worse, but that I had developed mastitis.  They put me back on Diflucan (for 2 weeks this time) and a round of strong antibiotics.  As if that wasn't enough of a kick in the gut, my mom was getting ready to leave (she stayed for 6 weeks after Moose was born) and my husband was at work, so I wasn't going to be able to pump as much because there was no one to watch the baby.

At that point, my husband, who had been nothing but supportive, sat me down and said, "I know it is your choice, but you need to stop.  You are sick and you need to take care of yourself.  You have to get better for her."  While that made me feel better, I still felt the guilt pulling me to nurse (aka pump and dump for 2 more weeks).

The thing that finally freed me was actually something that was said by one of the lactation specialists.  I was crying to her on the phone, telling her what happened, and she said, "Becky, nursing should be a beautiful experience and I am so sorry that you haven't gotten to feel that.  At this point, I have to tell you that I just don't think it is going to work for you.  Your daughter needs you and you need to get better.  You have done everything that you could possibly do and I am so sorry that it didn't work for you.  I hope you can have a wonderful breastfeeding experience with your next child."

That is the moment when I finally felt free.  Although I had an immense amount of support from friends and family, I felt like they had to support me because they loved me.  This woman, whose job it is to convince people to breastfeed, told me I needed to stop.  I will be forever grateful to her for making me feel okay about stopping.

For the first few weeks, I felt a lot of guilt and shame, but eventually I became okay with my decision.  Looking back, I realize how crazy I was during that time.  If a friend of mine was going through what I went though, I would have begged her to quit.  I spent so much time pumping and trying to make nursing work, that I missed out on just enjoying my sweet, new baby.  I am not sorry that it happened though.  I don't think I would have had peace of mind if I had not tried everything within my power to nurse.

I guess I am dredging up these memories and telling this story because I want people to know that sometimes breastfeeding doesn't work out.  I didn't work out for me and it wasn't because I was lazy or selfish, or because I didn't want it enough or wasn't willing to work through the issues.  I just physically could not do it.  The irony is that the saddest part of this story isn't that my sweet girl wasn't breastfed.  She drank formula and is now a happy, healthy, sweet, and intelligent toddler.  No, the sad part is that I felt like I had to go through that.  I felt that I was a failure as a mother if I could not breastfeed.  I felt ashamed that I had to give my daughter formula, to the point where I told my husband that I wanted to quit my job because "how will it look if the director of the daycare is the Mother giving her kid formula?"

That is not okay.  Women should NOT feel that way.  It is okay that I couldn't breastfeed, just like it is okay that some people breastfeed their kids until they are toddlers.  We, as women, need to realize that we are all doing the best that we can and that all decisions, feeding and otherwise, are made out of the highest level of love and care for our children.

Sometimes it makes me sad that it didn't work out, but I realize that is selfish and silly because breastfeeding is only one small joy amongst the millions of joys of motherhood.  Whether you breastfeed or bottle feed, or do both, is not important.  What is important is looking into those beautiful little eyes and knowing that you are doing the very best you can for that sweet little love of your life.

Enjoying a glass of wine while I was
"pumping and dumping."


  1. This is such great information for all women. Being a new mommy is hard, and feeling guilt or pressure from others sucks. But nothing is more difficult that the guilt we place on ourselves. You are a great mama and Sweet Moose is one lucky lady!

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this = such an important post, Alice

  3. OH man, I can totally relate. I have been slave to the pump as well and it sucks

  4. Amen, Jen B. I was recently putting my pump on a shelf in my closet (in case I have to use it should we have a second child) and my husband was like, "seriously?! Can't we just burn the thing?!"

  5. Courtney, thank you so much for the sweet comment! You are 110% right that the pressure that we put on ourselves is the worst. Alice, thank you. I felt that it was important to write about this so that other women don't feel so alone and judged, which is how I felt when I was going through it.

  6. I am so sorry that you had to deal with the horrible effects of breastfeeding. I am thankful that I never got a yeast infection on my breasts. If you ever get pregnant and try to breastfeed again, they make this purple stuff called gentian violet and from what I have heard it is safe for mom and baby. Typically, when they treat you for a yeast infection most doctors will also treat your baby. If this didn't happen, it is possible that you and your baby were spreading it back and forth to each other.

    1. Hi Christy,

      Thank you so much for your response. I was actually getting ready to try gentian violet, but that is when I got the mastitis and threw in the towel. I think you are right that Moose and I passed it back and forth. In an effort to get that not to happen, I had to sterilize the pump after every pumping and wash all of my clothes and towels separately on hot water. What. A. Nightmare.

      I feel like I am a better person for having gone through it though. It made me see that not everything comes easily, but that all of us moms are just trying our best. Not sure if I will try again when we have baby #2 (no plans for that yet). I go back and forth on it.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting! :)


Thanks so much for stopping by! I would love to hear from you, so please take a minute to leave me any comments, suggestions, funny stories, or advice about this journey called Mommyhood.

Becky :)