5 Notes of Encouragement to Moms Who Can’t Breastfeed

November 8, 2017

I fully intended to breastfeed both my girls. With Karis, I didn’t really think much about it. I used my nine months of pregnancy to absorb the fact that I was having a baby and didn’t focus much on what we were actually going to do once we had it. I threw myself to the sharks in that way. I was told at our birthing prep class that “breast was best” and that all new mothers should try to breastfeed. That made complete sense to me, so I went with that although I will admit I wasn’t completely set on strictly breastfeeding. I was open to the fact that I might have to or will want to formula feed at some point. As a just-in-case, I registered for a few different bottles from separate brands. In the end, breastfeeding went exceedingly well with Karis. She was born ready to suck and latched easily doing so until she was a year and one month old before I finally weaned her off.

My breastfeeding journey with Abigail was not quite as easy. Like other things in her young life, breastfeeding and her nutrition, in general, was complicated. It all started out well. She latched at the hospital and was eating. I could hear her swallows, her nurses could hear her eating and she was gaining weight. She did well once we got home too. She wouldn’t eat nearly as long as Karis would but overall, we had a pretty good routine down. At her first check-up, she had gained a good amount of weight and was doing well.

Then her two-month checkup came and left us driving home with perplexed expressions. She had lost weight between months one and two and a lot of it. We didn’t see that coming at all because overall, Abigail was a happy baby. She slept well in the night waking up the usual once or twice but going back down easily. She napped well, played well and was very interactive with us when she was awake. We went home that day with tips from our pediatrician for getting her to eat more and had another visit scheduled a week later to make sure she gained some weight back. Those 7 days were exhausting. We went into feeding overdrive and tried our best to get her to eat more than what she was before. We started doing feeds at least once an hour and forcing her to eat twice as long as she was before. Even if she didn’t want to eat, I would take a short break to play with her and then put her back on the boob. We did breastfeeding sessions skin-to-skin and baby massage at least once a day both of which are supposed to hormonally encourage breastfeeding in both of us.

We smugly went back to the pediatrician’s office sure the news would be good.

It wasn’t.

She had lost a few more ounces even though she was eating twice as much.

I did a breastfeeding session in front of my pediatrician where they weighed her at the beginning and end of it. She did indeed gain weight from the session and my pediatrician confirmed she was getting milk because one of the times she de-latched, milk went everywhere. But that left us all even more confused. If she was willingly latching and getting milk and I was producing a lot of it, why was she losing weight? The answer to that question is, to this day, unanswered. My pediatrician thought maybe something was up with me – like maybe my body was preferencing something else going on and not creating enough fat content in my milk as a result. But we did test after test, ultrasounds and physical exams without finding anything wrong. For whatever reason, my milk was not nutritious enough for baby Abigail.

So we had to start supplementing with formula, and I was devastated. As much as I was willing to formula feed if I needed to with my first, I was feeling the exact opposite with my second. I think because everything went so well with breastfeeding Karis, I assumed it would be a breeze with Abigail. And because I knew more about the benefits of breastfeeding and the bond that came with from Karis, I wanted the same for my Abi. I had a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that we were going to have to formula feed and even became irritable when Matt would ask me questions like, “How much do you think we should give her?” and “Should we breastfeed first or formula feed?”

It was a slow, depressing adjustment for me and became even worse when it was obvious Abigail started to prefer formula over the breast. It started getting more and more difficult to get her to latch and sometimes she wouldn’t latch at all. Sometimes, she would eat for about 3 minutes and then fuss which turned into outright cries of anger when I kept trying to encourage her to keep breastfeeding. Over time, breastfeeds became less often and more difficult which left me feeling completely defeated and hopeless. It took me a good month or so before I felt cheerful about Abigail’s feeding journey.

Because I’ve been in both positions – a breastfeeding mom and a formula feeding mom, I wanted to share 5 notes of encouragement for moms who may be going through the same thing I went through. My hope is that this post will be the article I needed but for someone else.

So here goes:

1. Grieve as long as you need to

It might be surprising to some that a mom would need to grieve, but I know I did, and I needed to. Let yourself feel the emotions you feel. I personally have always hated crying especially in front of others. If you’re like me, let yourself do it anyway. If you have other kids and don’t want to cry in front of them, find a time to take a long shower or a drive and cry as long as you need. Don’t be hard on yourself. It’s OK to be emotional about it. If crying isn’t the way you grieve, do what ya need to do whether that’s working out, cleaning the entire house from top to bottom, or journaling about it. Honestly, this blog post is a part of my grieving process too.

2. You are not a failure!

I can’t say this enough. Your ability or inability to breastfeed your baby does NOT define you. Actually, being a mom doesn’t define you either, and how you end up feeding your child has nothing to do with how you are as a mother. Just the fact that you’re upset about it shows you’re a good mom. Remember that. I think it’s time we change the saying from “breast is best” to “fed is best” because it’s true. There are many babies out there who don’t have parents who care for them nearly as much as you care for yours. Pray for those children, and then remind yourself that you’re a great mom and you (and baby) will get through this.

3. Other people’s opinions don’t matter

This basically applies to all aspects of parenting. People will be eager to offer up their unsolicited opinions, feedback, advice, and experiences often not realizing that what they’re saying could potentially be hurtful or even annoying. Most people have good intentions but regardless, it can be hard to let what others say go. People might assume your feelings and that can be hard but usually, they’re doing it because it’s their way to relate to you and be there for you. They mean well. If they don’t, stick to socializing with the people who have your best interests at heart.

4. Formula can be your saving grace

After doing a lot of research, we finally landed on Enfamil as our formula of choice, and I’m so grateful for their brand. We received a sample of a different brand from our pediatrician and Abigail hated it. We had to try out a few but ultimately, Enfamil was the best choice for us. They came recommended by a close friend of ours. I also loved the resources for parents on their site as well as advice articles and forums for parents to chat and ask questions. It helped me to be able to participate in a free online community of mothers going through the same thing I was. My favorite thing about Enfamil is their welcome kit with tons of rewards and coupons. We signed up for a welcome kit as a way to sample the brand, and I’m glad we did because it was a perfect way for us to learn more and try it out without spending tons of money. They are doing an awesome promotion right now where you could potentially win free formula for a year! Click here to enter! It’s only happening until the end of the year, so get on it now! While you’re over there, check out some of the resources they have available to parents from all sorts of topics, and let me know what you think.

5. You won’t lose out on bonding time

I know that’s the first thing you might think of, but it is a lie you will tell yourself to make yourself feel even more guilty. I’ve done both now and I can tell you, I feel just as strong of a bond with Abigail as I did with Karis, if not more so! I know that might be weird to say, but Karis was a very fussy, colic-y and high needs. Plus, I was completely new to parenting so I was tired, lost and often at the end of the rope. Abigail, being the happy baby she is, sleeps through the night, can sit and entertain herself, and plays all the time. I don’t know if it’s her, if I’m just more used to parenting now, or a combination of both, but I feel really close to my baby girl. I even miss her at night when I’m still awake and she’s sleeping. Even though Matt is the one giving her a bottle most of the time because he is our stay-at-home-dad, as soon as Abi sees me, she smiles and can’t wait to spend time with me. I hear Matt all the time saying, “She just wants mommy-love.” And it’s true! She loves me and I love her so much. I’m pretty sure I’m her favorite person right now even though we aren’t breastfeeding anymore. Likely, you are your baby’s favorite person too, mama – no matter what.

I hope this helps! If you’re reading this, did you struggle with breastfeeding? If you formula fed, what brand was your favorite? I would love to hear your story! Drop me a line in the comments or shoot me an email. 🙂

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I was 100% gung-ho breast only for Georgia before she was born. As an adoptive mom there are a few different options, I looked at milk donation, but her birth mom was insistent and willing to pump for us. In the end, she wasn’t able to get enough milk to support her growth, probably part of her grieving process. I waited as long as the nurses would allow us in the hospital before giving in to formula. It took a couple tries and we landed on a sensitive version of Similac. They also had to adjust the nipple size to a preemie flow for her to get her to latch. I grieved not being able to feed her with my body, but I still bonded with her through feeding. I cared way too much what others thought, but she’s a happy, healthy, smart two year-old now. I had to learn that a bottle with formula didn’t make her any less my daughter, or me any less her mom.

Totally true, Sarah. I imagine adoptive mothers all go through something similar with a little one that young and at all sorts of various avenues in the child’s life really.

Yes, we struggled!! We used Enfamil for both girls. Breast feeding did not work for either of them, for different reasons. Hazel could never stay awake long enough to eat enough to sustain her and she had a weak latch (which, of course, caused a considerable amount of pain the the form of engorgement). By three months, my supply was gone from lack of use. We started supplementing with formula when she was three days old because we figured out that she was screaming because she was hungry. Alhough putting her to the breast was quieting her down (and putting her to sleep), it was not fixing the issue of her being hungry. Ivy, on the other hand, was a literal vampire baby. Within 24 hours of her first ridiculously painful latch (which seriously hurt worse than her labor), my breasts were bruised, my nipples and surrounding skin were blood blistered and my milk was mostly blood. The lactation consultant’s input was: “I’ve seen worse, keep trying”. Ivy’s pediatrician told me to feed her the “strawberry milk”, and shared her personal “strawberry milk” experience with me, which really made me feel much better about it. I tried pumping, gently, and letting my breasts heal. Ivy and I never found a good rythm that didn’t cause me excruciating pain, and by twelve weeks, I decided I had had enough and straight-up quit. Twelve weeks of spine-wrenching pain and bloody nursing pads dried into your scabs is more than I think anyone should have to experience, because someone decided to coin the phrase “breast is best” and teach it to the nurses who chant it at you while you’re recovering post-partem. There is no good advice for someone dealing with these problems. It generally consists of: “keep trying, or don’t”. Mom’s do what they gotta do… But, dealing with the mommy-guilt and sense of failure amongst hormone-laden insecurities about motherhood is a whole other challenge. With both girls, my pediatrician was my saving grace, assuring me that making sure the baby is fed is the most appropriate course of action, and being aware enough of baby’s needs to realize that breastfeeding is not working is just part of the new job of being “Mom”.

Oh my gosh, Sarah – your comment is so inspiring and I am so incredibly sorry you went through that! You are one brave and selfless mama to endure that for 12-weeks! I definitely feel ya on the engorgement! With Karis, I had at least a dozen clogged ducts in the first three months that were awful and caused me to get the flu. Ugh, the shit we do for these kids haha!