Giving Up on Breastfeeding

Archived Q&A and Reviews

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  • Low Milk Supply
  • Weaning

    I can emphathize with the comments of the woman who wrote in about complicated feelings about breastfeeding a short time.

    I breastfed my baby until he was 5 months old, although we were using a lot of formula from about 2 months on. I stopped breastfeeding at 5 months because using so much formula had basically led to my milk drying up. We introduced formula early because I needed to get back to work several days a week when my baby was just a couple of weeks old and then full-time at about 3 months. (I did pump, but found it extremely difficult to combine with working, even though privacy at my workplace was not an issue.) My theory now is that to establish breastfeeding, it probably takes at least 3 months of exclusive breastfeeding, without introduction of formula. I had no information at all about the possible consequence for milk supply that might be caused by the introduction of formula -- and the hospital of course sent us home with a sample of Similac. And even if I had the information, I don't know if it would have changed anything, because I just didn't have the luxury of taking a full 3 months to do nothing but just be with the baby. And, actually, even if I could have taken the time off of work, I really wasn't psychologically prepared for the restriction of movement that exclusively breastfeeding a baby entails. I found the restriction confining and unpleasant. I enjoyed parenting much more when he got more mobile. Now I love going out on adventures with my preschooler...

    I certainly would have been more devoted to making it work if I felt like it really mattered for my son's health. What I know about the research suggests that most of the benefits (immunities, etc.) come in the first month of so. And my son was just so obviously thriving --- he was never fussy, never sick -- I think in 3 years we've called the pediatrician 3 times about trivial concerns...

    I'm highly skeptical about the recent conviction that extended breastfeeding is the one right way to parent. It seems part of a cultural ideology which also promotes the idea that men aren't as good with newborns, that mother is also the most needed parent, etc... It exludes dads and non-bio moms and keeps women out of the labor market.

    I've noticed over the last few years on this list that most responses to breastfeeding questions are generally answered in terms of how to support continued breastfeeding -- in practically all circumstances. I seem to recall someone writing in about a baby's really negative/allergic reactions to mom's milk and there was response after response about ways mom could change her diet --- but no one suggested - why not just try formula to see if the little one would respond better? Clearly breastfeeding is great if it works for mom and baby, but it worries me that women might get so committed to it that they press forward with it even when the baby isn't thriving and/or it is making mom miserable.

    At the age your little girl is at now, a lot of babies are weaned, so you may be imagining the disapproving glances. As to any disapproval in the past, that would largely be from those who haven't been there, so I hope you can shrug it off. While I myself had a very positive breastfeeding experience, I have several friends who had enormous difficulties - two woman had babies who absolutely refused to latch on, ever. They both pumped full-time for a while, indeed, more than a while, and I have enormous respect for their stick-to-iveness, but they were not working during this time, and did not have the sleep problems you detail. The importance of sleep, when you go back to work, cannot be overestimated, and it's also something that those who have not had to cope with a new baby and a working life simply cannot understand. I pumped at work for a long time, but agree with you that it is time-consuming and highly inconvenient. (If you ever try it again, may I recommend the Medela Hands-Free apparatus? You may have to retrofit your bra, but it makes pumping much less inconvenient because you have the use of your hands.) In any event, you did a lot for your kid and should try to stop beating yourself up. Most of the babies of my generation were bottle-fed exclusively, and I don't see that we are so badly off. Frankly, we don't need new opportunities for guilt.
    I hope you are just imagining those nasty looks! My experience was a little similar to yours except that my baby was a great nurser, but needed to be fed (REALLY needed it!) every 1 1/2 - 2 hours even by his third month. I felt guilty too because he was such a good nurser and I had no problems with sore nipples or anything - it was just too hard. It got to be too draining towards the end of my maternity leave, and I couldn't handle the pumping once I went back to work, particularly not since every minute I spent pumping at work meant going home a minute later. I've decided a lot of things that are supposedly possible aren't do-able for everyone -- unless, of course, I'm just completely deficient. I couldn't nurse in bed, for example, although everyone told me I could. (If you have tiny breasts, you practically have to lay on top of the baby, as far as I could tell. Of construct such an elaborate pillow structure that all thought of sleep becomes impossible anyway.) Breastfeeding has wonderful benefits, but it isn't the be-all and end-all of motherhood. One benefit of doing more bottlefeeding is the paternal involvement. My husband puts the baby to sleep about half of the time, which is great for both of them (and helps me a lot, as I can zoom around putting the house in order while that's going on, which would never happen otherwise). Anyway, maybe you should stock a bottle of gin in your diaper bag and pull out and take a swig while you're feeding your baby, if people need something to stare at. Good luck!
    You are certainly not alone in your feelings. I am the mother of twins who struggled with breastfeeding. I had incredibly sore nipples, so nursing was agony. Having twins doubled the pain. I was also recovering from a C-section and a broken ankle. I was a mess. I consulted my OB, our pediatrician, lactation consultants - the latter focused on convincing me I could feed two babies at once and ignored the pain I was experiencing. I thought I would go crazy if I heard the word position one more time. I settled for a combination of painful nursing, frequent pumping and formula. Eventually, the pain went away and I was able to nurse more. But when I returned to work, my milk decreased and I had to continue supplementing (pumping doesn't always get it). Also, one baby began to prefer the bottle. Now one gets mostly breastmilk and the other mostly formula or pumped milk. I still sometimes imagine that I didn't try hard enough to work through the pain. I feel bad when I talk to other twin moms who managed to exclusively breastfeed their babies. But bottom line, my babies are healthy and happy despite my imagined failings. They don't care where their milk comes from and my husband is delighted to be able to give them bottles. And to be honest, the baby who's had more formula than breastmilk has been healthier. Whenever you perceive a nasty look from a nursing mom, remember that you did what was right for you and your baby. And remember that there are probably more women looking at you with envy.
    I'm sorry to hear of your experiences. I know from my own personal experience that breastfeeding, while it may be best, is not always feasible. When my daughter was 2 weeks old she was put on a supplemental bottle of formula. I immediately received flack about that and how my baby's pediatrician was 'old fashioned' and 'out of touch'. The truth of the matter is that she is an excellent doctor who has my child's best interest in mind. That's the most important criteria in my book! I too received the disapproving looks when the bottle came out of the diaper bag. I've even had total strangers coo over my baby and say something like, 'how sad your momma doesn't want to nurse you'. Well, I tried. I dutifully pumped at work from 3 months to 10 months. Regardless of how much I pumped (usually as long as 1 hour each session!), how much water I drank, how much Mother's Milk tea I imbibed, I simply did not produce enough milk for my baby. So, the bottle was an absolute mecessity. The result? My sweet baby received both bottle and breast milk and she is doing well.

    I used to feel guilty about this and I used to let the disapproving and even nasty looks upset me. But I don't any more (now I'm receiving comments because I'm weening so EARLY! My baby is almost a year old!). Realize that you are giving your baby the best care possible. Stop feeling guilty because nursing didn't work out. Contrary to what all the literature states, not every woman's body produces enough milk to sufficiently feed her child. And personally, my breast NEVER adjusted to breastfeeding. Every single time my child latched on I experienced that toe-curling pain that often lasted throughout the entire feeding. And YES! I consulted a lactation specialist and Yes! I was doing everything correctly!

    I think you made the right decision to bottle feed. Better to receive disapproving looks than to have a healthy baby damaged due to poor food intake as a result of difficult breastfeeding. I've no doubt in my mind that your child feels loved, nurtured, and secure from the care you've given even if you were not able to breastfeed. You did nothing wrong. It is not a matter of not persevering enough, it is a matter of making a choice that ensured your child received sufficient nutrition. Try to focus on the good aspects of your relationship with your baby. This period is so very short. Please, don't let those unkind souls ruin your time with your baby.

    I can relate to your frustrating experience trying to breast-feed your baby. I had a similar experience, and the only thing that kept me from blaming myself for the fiasco was that it was my SECOND child, and I had breast fed the first child very successfully! My second daughter just didn't like to nurse. My pediatrician was puzzled, as were various nurses and breast feeding experts. I tried everything (and I mean everything!). I finally gave her a bottle (she was just getting too skinny), but always continued to try and breast feed her at least a few times each day. Finally, when she was about 5 or 6 months old, she decided that she LIKED to nurse (still only about once or twice a day, and she continued to get most of her calories from the bottles, or from food), and she continued that limited nursing schedule till she was about 18 months old. Most people don't recommend both bottle and breast feeding, but it worked for us.

    I sympathize with your plight, it is hard to pull out a bottle without going into a lengthy explanation to your friends, but the main thing is that your baby is getting the food she/he needs. I think that sometimes people forget that occasionally breast feeding just doesn't work despite your best efforts! I think my main advice is just to stay flexible, try and see if an unconventional arrangement will work for you and your baby. My daughter is 10 years old now, and the breast feeding fiasco is far in the past. But it did give me a little preview of how strong minded she is, and how she has her little quirks!

    I, too, intended to breast feed, and, like many, many other women, it just didn't work out. I tried for a long time, with all the patience and determination I could muster. Alas, it was not to be. My daughter, 100 percent formula fed since 3 months, is healthy as an ox, has never had an ear infection, and at 2.5 years old towers over most girls her age. Bonding? Please. This shouldn't surprise anyone, since people in my generation (b. 1964) were all mostly bottle fed. And I, for one, am normal in every way. Love my mother. Rarely sick. Normal height, intelligence, etc. etc. ad naseum. My two 6-foot+ surfer brothers (bottle fed all the way) would pound you for suggesting that bottle feeding breeds sickly children. I know many women, however, who persisted with breast feeding to the detriment of their baby, and made themselves sick and miserable at the same time. It's true that we live at Ground Zero for the cult of breast feeding, but the bottom line is that every mother wants to do what's best for her baby, and doesn't need to suffer dirty looks or endless prosthletizing from La Leche Leaguers. I think it's another symptom of how sick this particular area is (and I'm a native) when Moms are more competitive with each other than the men are. Why can't we focus on more important issues, like real family leave policies or affordable housing for middle class families?
    I had a really hard time breastfeeding my first daughter - I had inverted nipples and in 1980 very little support from anyone except a few people around me. I breast fed her until she was three months old. My son was breast fed until four months exclusively, until six months he had a combination of breast and bottle pumped breast milk. At six months I gave up with the pump and combined breast with formula. At one year I got tired of the cracked, bleeding nipples and went to the bottle and food.

    I got sideways glances too - for breastfeeding in public! There's no pleasing anyone. I guess we don't really know what the sideways glance people are really thinking and maybe we only imagine they are thinking what we are feeling guilty about.

    I think the desicion to breast feed is a good parent desicion. The inability to implement it either because it is impossible or simply too stressful for parent and/or baby does not cancel the good parent. You do the best you can with your babies best interest at heart, that's what makes you a good parent.

    You are not alone!!! My daughter is 8 months old and is thriving, but I had a difficult time with nursing. Before she was born I never really gave much thought to the whole breastfeeding issue. I just assumed that I would breastfeed and couldnt really understand why anyone would consider doing otherwise, at least at first. The first six weeks seemed to go pretty smoothly. My daughter seemed to be a very good nurser and I didnt experience any real discomfort or pain in nursing. But I started to notice that she wasnt really getting much bigger and she slept a lot during the day, but not at night. At our 6 week appointment it turned out she hadnt gained any weight since our 2 week appointment. I was completely shocked and it seemed like my little world was shattered. Overnight I went from feeling good to feeling like I had failed my daughter and that I wasnt a good mother. All the books and prenatal classes seemed to gloss over the incredible emotional pain I experienced when nursing didnt go well. Fortunately my husband was incredibly supportive and we worked together (along with a lactation consultant) to try to figure out the problem and to see if I could get back on track. I used a supplemental feeding system (little bottle of formula with a tube taped to my breast to encourage sucking) plus seemingly hours of pumping. I was able to get back to about 2 ounces total every three hours or so, but we continued to supplement with bottles of formula from that point on. At about 12 weeks or so I finally got into a rhythm of nursing and then having my husband give her a bottle. Now you would never know that she had ever had any weight problems!!

    But ever since that 6 week appointment my attitude about everything has changed. Ive decided that every mothering (and really its parenting, since the father is so important in this whole process) experience is different and each is just as valid and important as the ideal that we read about. Ill bet that the dirty looks you think youre getting are probably in your imagination (but still just as stressful) since it always seems like everyone else can see your anxiety about things. But let me also offer the advice that its none of their damned business and as long as youve been able to find a way to provide good nutrition to your child and to maintain your own sanity and wellbeing, then you are an excellent mother and your system is just as nurturing as any you can read about or that other mothers may describe. Plus, you really are not the only one whos had trouble with nursing. Since I found out I wasnt producing enough I joined a mothers club and have since met at least 6 other moms who had similar problems, and I know three moms personally who gave up nursing and went entirely to formula. I also know many moms who are still nursing exclusively. The great thing is each of these many women has beautiful, healthy children!

    Please feel free to contact me if youd like to talk in person, plus Id really recommend finding any mothers clubs or support groups in your area. Having others to talk and laugh with has made all the difference for me. Good luck!!

    To the mother of the bottle-fed 9-month old: Believe me, there are many, many women out there who do not nurse their babies very long either. We all do the best we can. The pumping thing was agony for me, too, and I wasn't going to torture myself over it. I nursed my daughter for four months and she weaned herself. She took formula in a bottle. This was at the time I went back to full-time work. I felt a little sad, but also relieved. I didn't particularly enjoy the nursing experience. Guilt feelings? Some, but life's just too short. Like I said, we do the best we can. It's wonderful that your baby got to nurse those 12 weeks!
    When I saw the entry from the mom who tried breastfeeding and working and it didn't work, I just had to write. Each family does what works for them, and I believe that no one should feel guilty about the decisions they make. You may be getting dirty looks from nursing moms, but probably not as much as you think! You are doing what works well for you and your child, and that is the only thing that is important. Hang in there and have faith in the good decisions you have made.
    You are certainly not alone in your problems with breastfeeding. That's why they used to have wet nurses, or people who could breastfeed when the mother couldn't. I personally know of at least three other mothers who were unable to breastfeed due to insurmountable difficulties and many more who had trouble of one sort or another. I never expected to have problems and was therefore all the more upset when I did. I now feel very lucky that I was able to overcome them, because I know sometimes it just doesn't work out. Even if it does work out, for many people it can be difficult and frustrating, in spite of the benefits. I would say you have no reason to feel guilty for stopping.
    I used to feel guilty, too, that I would give my daughter one bottle of formula a day when she was young. I remember being in a mom's group and one woman actually apologized to the other moms for bottle feeding. This breastfeeding pressure is particularly intense in the Bay Area/Berkeley. I just moved out to D.C. and my daughter was the only baby in her peer group who was still nursing at 6+ months! Unfortunately, you have to try and ignore the overly zealous/not understanding people who judge you.
    I would like to respond to this comment, as I was the breast-feeding mom who posted to this list now 10 months ago about my son's severe difficulty with breast feeding. I was very disappointed with the moralistic tone of the responses I received (which bordered on proselytizing). Happily, I ignored the advice of most of the members of this list, tried formula, and with in a day noticed a tremendous change in my baby. He regained the 3 pounds (yes 3) he had lost since since birth (no, I was not having a problem with my milk supply), and changed from a cranky, gassy, vomitous, unhappy, crying baby who could not sleep, to the sweet, peaceful, happy baby he wanted to be. He is the healthiest child I know -- having had just one cold and no other illnesses as he approaches his first birthday -- and is thriving in every way.

    I too sense, and have been told as much by others, that breast-feeding is THE ONLY WAY. This of course, is absurd. As with most things in life, there isn't one true way...and if mother or child are not doing well, for whatever reason, it is antithetical to good parenting to continue on that course. I too have received side-ways glances as I whip out a bottle and a packet of soy-formula -- but my son is living testimony that failure to nurse does not result in irreparable harm. For those who are concerned that I am not as bonded with my baby as I would have been if I had continued breast-feeding...a ridiculous proposition. If anything, I learned a number of ways to comfort, soothe and relax him by connecting with emotionally, rather than sticking something in his mouth.

    It strikes me that several of the least nurturing parents (translated: WORST) I know have nursed their children for extended periods of time, mistakenly believing that nursing is tantamount to good parenting. I regret that we live in the epicenter of the cult of breast feeding, and feel that the high degree of intolerance on this issue is amusing, particularly when expressed so vehemently by those who profess liberalism as their world view.

    The first lesson of good parenting is to trust one's own instincts -- a special thanks to those few voices who encouraged me to do what seemed best for my baby.

    In response to the mother of a now bottle fed nine month old, I have raised 5 children who are now between 13 and 27 and attempted to breastfeed each one, with probably more determination each time. I don't know what REALLY contributes to success, but I suspect it's not any one thing. I imagine that involvement of varying personalitites has something to do with it.

    With my first baby it was suggested I return to birth control pills to prevent pregnancy soon after I gave birth and in the days of much higher dosage pills it did not take long before my milk supply diminished dramatically and my baby was continually crying and not gaining weight. I was advised to start supplementing with formula and soon my milk supply was gone altogether. In those days (1972) breastfeeding moms were in the minority so there was not much guilt tripping associated with bottle feeding, but I considered myself a failure because I wanted to success so badly. After all, breastfeeding is the most natural way to feed one's young--that is why we are called mammals, so why shouldn't it work?

    With my second baby (1974) I knew better. I didn't take birth control pills and was determined not to supplement with formula. But my second little girl had other ideas. After a couple of months or so it came to a battle of wills and she would REFUSE to latch on, turning her head away angrily each time I tried. Both of us got so tense and her weight didn't go up so again formula from a bottle. I was not happy about this, but resigned.

    In 1981 my son was born and after the first six weeks or so it just seemed like the let-down reflex wasn't happening and he would get annoyed when the milk didn't flow. We tried pitocyn nasal spray to help with the let-down. It worked sort of but not for long. I still couldn't understand why I was unable to breastfeed.

    I breastfed my daughter born in 1984 for about 4 months without any problems (we were both incredibly relaxed) but when I went back to work supplemented with bottles (they didn't have all those great pumps readily available then) and gradually my milk decreased.

    My 5th child, a boy born in 1985 was breastfed for a while, tried the pitocyn again and finally just decided it wasn't worth it. I am glad that I tried each time--would do so again--and keep thinking that if we lived a less complicated life in which we could just relax and devote all our time and energy to feeding our babies, it would be easier. My first grandchild was born in December, was breastfed for about three months with increasing difficulty and after many consultants, trials and errors, happily took formula from a bottle. Although my daughter was disappointed I think mom, dad, and baby were relieved of a lot of tension. But whatever happens, guilt should not be associated with feeding one's baby because I really believe that most of us have the best interest of our children at heart.

    Breastfeeding didn't work out for me either, plus I had to return to work soon without any privacy for pumping. Although I was set on definitely breastfeeding my baby, I ended up changing my mind and stuck to the decision. The most important thing was that my husband felt the same way about our particular situation. We agreed that the rest of the world does not matter and we didn't get criticism or weird vibes from friends. What we did have to watch out for were those well -meaning and concerned colleagues at work you deal with on a daily basis. My husband simply decided to lie after the first strugglesome conversation. How is the breastfeeding going? Going great. Thanks for asking! No problems!??? No problems. Thank you. When I got back to work I just left the inquiring to colleagues under the impression that I had just stopped breastfeeding, because of the inadequate facilities (which are obvious). I never got down on myself for not following the breastfeeding dogma. What's good and what's bad bad changes all the time. 40 years ago we would not have felt like outcasts. So, I looked at my own good health and my husband's good health (we were both not breastfed) and trust in that. So far my small child has had the flu nor an ear infection and I'm quite happy about that. A peaceful home environment can also strengthen immunity, I guess. We never doubted ourselves for the decision we made.
    We switched our son over to the Playtex Avance bottles, which have vented bottoms that also unscrew for easy cleaning, and special cross-cut nipples to keep bubbles away from the baby. He has found it much easier to get good flow with these and doesn't have to interrupt his sucking pattern to let air in. They come in small and larger (9 oz) sizes, and cost $4-$5 at Longs, more at the supermarkets and Rite Aid you can find them.