When the BOOBS don’t work

October 23, 2015

Breastfeeding. I always wanted to do it. And no, it wasn’t just down to the lure of being able to eat cake whilst shedding the pounds, merely from permitting my beautiful babe to suckle in peace.

Although I do want chocolate cake, daily. Okay hourly.

I had visions of being super stylish (bah!) whilst also nurturing my little infant in the most natural of ways. I was totes going to look like Gisele Bundchen, just with a much smaller team of Super Stylists surrounding me (probably just my three year old smacking me in the head with her Tangle Teaser) Regardless, it was going to be beautiful.

Herein lies the problem. In the pursuit of promoting breastfeeding over bottle feeding, society, celebrities and health care professionals failed to fully inform me of just how difficult the damn thing is. I assumed it would be instantly glorious, a perfect bonding experience and naturally easy. I was truly excited about it.

I anticipated that there may be days when I would feel like a cow. Days when all the baby wanted was to feed every fifteen minutes. But I didn’t expect a baby that wouldn’t or couldn’t latch. Instead of feeling like an earth-mother-type cow I ended up feeling like some clumsy half naked primate, sat in public with a baby screaming and flailing around, not quite getting a good latch, as I sort of body wiggled like a 70’s Disco Diva in some vain attempt to help her find the thing that she was so desperate for.

I was nowhere near looking like Gisele in THAT, now, infamous photograph.

I found the feeding journey with my first born pretty traumatic. Not overly traumatic. But enough to certainly effect my self esteem, my confidence at my ability to mother and I’m pretty sure my bond with littlie; although I fought hard for it not to.

Big Red genuinely couldn’t latch. There was no helping her.

Even the NHS Lactation Consultant, determined to help us, gave up after an hour, declaring various reasons for our failure… scratch that, my failure.

My visions of how I would feed my baby were shattered.  Even a trained professional bailed on me. Not only was my self esteem wrecked but I was left with a wildly hungry baby.  It took a few days of pathetically attempting to cup feed her before we realised that ‘nipple confusion’ was the least of our problems. We had a baby who hadn’t fed for 4 days, the crying was unreal and so we bought a bottle.

I was determined not to fail her further so I pumped. Adamant not to mix feed, blithely committed to giving her ‘breast is best’ milk; even if I couldn’t give her the actual vessel as intended.

I pumped day in and day out.

Every time my baby needed a feed, every time she didn’t. I pumped when I should have been holding her, soothing her, feeding her, adoring her or looking after myself.

I was an idiot.

The pressure I placed on myself was absolutely insane. The resulting mastitis was even more so. The whole experience led to complete exhaustion and a mothering experience that was neither glowy or wholy enjoyable. It led to a level of self doubt that I have never before or since experienced. From that moment on I became unable to confidently make decisions; I had to double check everything with Netmums.

I had lost faith in myself.

I regret being so critical of myself. I wish I had realised then what I realise now. The most important thing about being a mother is showing your baby love.

Although I still desperately wish I had been able to breastfeed, and I still to this day will gladly (although it seems rather distracting) high five a woman breastfeeding her baby in public, I wish I hadn’t made it the be all and end all.  I, of course, wish I had searched for more help and I sure wish I had known about nipple shields and how they can help a latch. But mostly when the dream started to unravel I wish I hadn’t viewed formula as the enemy; instead the help it could have been. Perhaps if I had mixed fed, without the guilt and pressure, I could have enjoyed a few more precious cuddles. Cuddles that I’ll never have again.

So if any of these words ring true with you, can I please just say this to you – Don’t be so hard on yourself. Give yourself and your little bubs a cuddle instead. And one from me too. xx

Mami 2 Five
The Twinkle Diaries

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  • Reply Lynsey October 23, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    A really touching piece. My daughter had a tongue tie and lost 11% of her birth weight in hospital so I ended up expressing and I too felt like I missed out on lots of Time with my little one. After 5/6 weeks I tried breastfeeding again and fortunately we managed to latch on. My baby found her own way to latch on and although painful to begin with we’re now okay. Just as we’ve got there I’m returning to work so starting formula and being made to feel guilty by health workers. You can’t win in other people’s eyes so I’ve now learnt so just do what’s right for baby and me x

    • Reply Gemma Metcalfe-Beckers October 23, 2015 at 11:15 pm

      Goodness, what a journey you’ve had. Sending you a massive high five for getting a latch after 5/6 weeks, that’s wonderful to hear! The pressure from outside can feel quite overwhelming, but it’s wonderful that you’ve already clocked that the priority is doing what’s best for you both. That in itself can be quite an achievement of confidence! Good luck with your return to work. The other thing I keep thinking, apart from the important love bit, is that when you’re little girl starts school, goes to college, gets her first big world job, gets married… no one is going to ask when she went onto formula! 😉 xxx

  • Reply Jen @ 4,128 miles October 25, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    I think we put so much pressure on ourselves. Whatever works should be all that matters to us. But it’s funny how this issue is one we get so caught up on… It’s just not something that matters in the grand scheme of things. #sundaystars

    • Reply Gemma Metcalfe-Beckers October 25, 2015 at 9:19 pm

      You’re totally right. I personally never get asked if I was bottle or breastfed when I was a nipper! Thanks for your comment!

  • Reply mummyofboygirltwins October 25, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    I felt the same. Although I knew breast feeding twins wasn’t going to be easy I still tried – but and they lost too much weight and had to go onto bottles and so I gave up. I know a few family members and friends who share your experiences. Great piece. You did a fab job and Mummy being happy is the most important thing. Thanks for linking up. Jess xx


  • Reply Julia @ Rainbeaubelle October 25, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    I can relate to this so much. This was exactly me with my son. I was adamant that I would breastfeed but he just wouldn’t latch on and it was so upsetting. I always think how lucky I was that my midwife actually said to be it was more important for me to be ok, to give my attention to my baby, rather than upset myself and him by trying to breastfeed all the time when it clearly wasn’t working. My daughter I think would have fed more easily, but my circumstances meant I had to leave her with family quite early on so I chose to bottle fed again. I have no regrets at all but I was devastated after the first episode and left feeling really angry that I felt that way! x #sundaystars

    • Reply Gemma Metcalfe-Beckers October 25, 2015 at 9:21 pm

      It can be so upsetting at the time, can’t it. What a great midwife to offer you that advice at such an emotionally sensitive time. Thanks for taking the time to comment x

  • Reply Silly Mummy October 25, 2015 at 9:21 pm

    I recently wrote a post about how breast milk shouldn’t be seen as the be all and end all (in relation to people feeling bullied/pressured about it), actually. I did breastfeed my two, but had problems with latching with both, especially the first, Lactation consultant who saw me didn’t have any suggestions to help either! I actually did go on to nipple shields (though everyone tells you it will destroy everything!) & that did improve the issue, though was far from perfect. She just seemed to get it at around 6 weeks. Second got it after a couple of weeks, though she has always caused a lot of pain, despite the latch being fine.

    I did regular pumping with first too so that daddy could feed her as well with some bottles, and it is hard, time consuming and unpleasant – completely see why people find it soul destroying to use as only source of milk for baby.

    Although I breastfed, I was formula fed myself. & my mum has actually always said some of what you mention here – that, although people claim breastfeeding is so important for bonding, she thinks that you bond perfectly well bottle feeding but what does mess with your bonding and enjoying motherhood is struggling with breastfeeding and feeling stress and pressure over it. & I think that is completely right – there is no point in being robbed of enjoying some of those first months with your baby struggling and feeling stressed about trying to get them breast milk if it just doesn’t work for you. There are more important things. Who can tell what milk a baby was given by the time they start school? No one!

    Lovely that you have shared how you now view this with hindsight – I’m sure it will be reassuring for anyone else struggling through to realise that actually they can just let it go. #sundaystars

    • Reply Gemma Metcalfe-Beckers October 25, 2015 at 10:14 pm

      Thank you so much for such a considered comment, I thoroughly appreciate it. I was just so heartbroken that breastfeeding didn’t work for us. Seeing friends subsequently go through the same upset really made me want to write something about it. I genuinely wish I had known about nipple shields at the time. Such wonderful news to hear that they helped you with yours. xx

  • Reply Nicola October 26, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    Your post bought a tear to my eye. Whilst Baby Lighty could latch, I hadn’t accounted for the mental hardship of a low birth weight baby who wanted to cluster feed round the clock. I dreaded picking him up. And when he still didn’t gain weight I was advised to give up when I would’ve really liked to have mixed feed. So I know exactly how you feel. Hope you’re not too hard on yourself now xxx

    • Reply Gemma Metcalfe-Beckers October 26, 2015 at 9:46 pm

      I do remember that feeling of dread. It’s such a sensitive and often heartbreaking issue. The experience was actually quite invaluable. When I recently had my second, and had an awful C-section, I had the strength of mind to know that the best decision for my baby and our bond, was for me to concentrate on healing and for her to be sated on formula. It was quite an experience formula feeding without guilt, without feeling the need to hide in the toilet to do it. I didn’t spend months grieving for the feeding that I’d hoped to do, there was none of that clouding my bonding time. Thanks so much for your comment. Off to have a snoop around your blog next xxx

  • Reply Mandy Ryan October 26, 2015 at 10:05 pm

    This really chimes with my own experience, which I blogged about here: Breastfeeding didn’t happen for me for a lot of reasons, but I kept on trying even though it was making me miserable and denying my daughter time with a happy mummy. I persevered in vain for six weeks but haven’t looked back x

    • Reply Gemma Metcalfe-Beckers October 28, 2015 at 10:21 am

      ooh I love your post! A very good read. It’s so easy to turn this matter into a bottle vs breast debate. But it’s not about that. It’s about safeguarding the bond between Mother and Baby, you’re totally right. Dreading a feed is just so sad, especially when you’ve been so excited about your little one’s arrival. Thanks so much for your comment x

  • Reply Sue @ Home Heart Harmony October 26, 2015 at 10:15 pm

    Reading this breaks my heart a little bit. My kids are now 12 and 9 but I can still get emotional when I think about my breast feeding experience! I had (what sounds like) a very similar experience to you. I was DESPERATE to make a success of breast feeding but the milk just never came! I had a baby attached virtually 24hrs a day for weeks and all I achieved was upsetting and exhausting my baby, myself and my husband. Our first baby screamed solidly whilst I tried desperately to produce something for her for 6 hours on a Sunday night (in the days when nothing opened on a Sunday night) before my husband eventually drove back to the hospital in a desperate search for formula because I was so confident I would succeed, I hadn’t even thought to buy any. When I think about it now, I am furious with myself for feeling so devastated when we finally conceded that bottle feeding might be the way forward. If I had to go back and give myself some advice it would be that breast feeding just doesn’t work for some people, no matter how much they want it to. And if you are one of those people, just let it go and move on! Far too much pressure is put on new Mums to breast feed. Of course, breast is best but actually, sometimes, it’s just not!! Thanks for sharing xx

    • Reply Gemma Metcalfe-Beckers October 28, 2015 at 10:18 am

      I completely agree. I was naively assumptive too and had no formula in the house. I just thought ‘well this is what they’re made for’ so assumed that the feeding would be easy! It’s so difficult when you’re in it though, isn’t it! My Mum sat me down and said ‘all these clever scientists have worked for decades on making this stuff, it’s not poison, it’s extremely clever food.’ Her words just didn’t seem to provide comfort at the time. 3 years on I’m finally beyond the sadness for my own situation. But when I see friends going through it now my heart breaks for them! It’s like it’s your own personal nightmare when it starts to go wrong! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment xx

  • Reply M October 26, 2015 at 11:00 pm

    This resonates so much with me. I tried desperately to breastfeed my first. I really wanted to, but I didn’t produce enough milk, he became dehydrated and actually got very sick and had to go into the NICU for 5 days (due to a combination of factors, dehydration being a large contributor) for 18 weeks I breastfed, formula fed and pumped Every three hours day and night! It was exhausting and soul destroying. When I moved to formula it took such a weight off my shoulders but I felt guilty for a long time. With my second I expected not to produce enough and although I combination fed for a few months I didn’t express for nearly as long and I didn’t feel the pressure or guilt like I did with my first. I fully support breastfeeding but do feel like some support and advice on bottle feeding would be helpful too! I really felt like I had failed when I couldn’t exclusively breastfeed. It’s comforting to hear stories of others who struggled too x

    • Reply Gemma Metcalfe-Beckers October 28, 2015 at 10:14 am

      It’s such a passionate subject isn’t it? I can see the need to push breastfeeding. The more positive promotion the better. However, for those who can’t or choose not to I really wish there wasn’t a sense of judgement that you’re not doing what’s best for your baby. I remember hiding in a toilet to bottle feed my first. At least with my second that guilt wasn’t there, I knew I had to hug more than stress about my boob failure! Thanks so much for your comment. Big hugs xx

  • Reply Hannah Staveley October 27, 2015 at 7:50 am

    Thanks so much for writing this, I had the exact same experience with my daughter – pumping instead of cuddling and eventually giving myself such bad mastitis the midwife said she’d never seen anything like it. We ended up formula feeding but I beat myself up so badly about failing to breastfeed that I got full blown pnd. Now I’m expecting my second and feel really conflicted about trying again! I don’t want to go through the agony of trying and not being able, and I suspect I have physical aspects which make it really difficult for tiny babies to latch on (namely massive boobs)! I feel that there’s a lot of pressure to say you’ll “try again” when actually formula is what I know and what I’m comfortable with. It also had massive benefits in allowing my husband to help out and allowing me the space to regain my physical and emotional health which was critical to my recovery.
    Thanks again for being so honest – I suspect there’s many out there who share the same story.

    • Reply Gemma Metcalfe-Beckers October 28, 2015 at 10:11 am

      Firstly – BIG HUGS!! It led to me having past natal anxiety, for sure. I mean who else bleaches their floor 6 times a day?!? Wishing you all the best with your second new arrival. I hope that this time round, whatever happens, you have the reassurance of hindsight to know what’s best. I tried BF again with my second. But I knew within a couple of days that it was more important for all of us that I concentrate on physically healing than focusing on bf-ing. I could feel myself falling into the same hole. Now I formula feed without regret, enjoying every precious cuddle with bubs to the max. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment xx

  • Reply Liz October 28, 2015 at 8:22 pm

    Thank you for writing this – the more stories from ‘the other side’ we have in the public domain, the better. I’m sorry breastfeeding didn’t work out for you – the pressure from the ‘breast is best’ lobby and official line from health professionals puts Mums under so much (unnecessary) stress and all that actually matters is that our little ones are fed and thriving.

    In the end I managed to feed by little girl until she was almost one (mix feeding from 5 months) but I have virtually no fond memories of the early months as we struggled to get it established – and that’s a crying shame (no pun intended!)

    I had two bouts of mastitis and another two of thrush and bleeding, cracked nipples and remember walking up the stairs with her in my arms when she needed another feed absolutely sobbing. That can’t be right.

    Of course, a few people mentioned ‘top up bottles’ to me but I’d been so indoctrinated by the breastfeeding-is-the-only-way brigade that I saw them as the enemy trying to put me off course, not the friends they were, trying to help.

    I’m also eternally grateful for our local breastfeeding consultant who visited me ‘off the record’ and admitted ‘it’s not easy, is it?’ (all those articles telling you its easy, natural, doesn’t hurt and incredibly bonding are pretty counterproductive really – if they just told the truth, at least we’d be prepared!). Also to the physio and GP I saw about other issues who gently said, give yourself a break *cough* top up bottle *cough* – how ridiculous that they have to advise you ‘on the sly’!

    Saying all the above, I’m a big believer in breastfeeding but I really do think we over focus on it now to the detriment of other aspects of our relationships with our babies. It was such a relief to start feeding my little girl solids (and boy does she like her food!) and begin reducing the feeding to the point where it actually did become a pleasure and that fabled bonding experience we’re all told about.

    • Reply Gemma Metcalfe-Beckers October 29, 2015 at 4:02 pm

      Thanks so much for your comment. It really does give me hope that I wasn’t alone. I feel so sad about the lost bonding time I had with my first, as like you I dreaded feeding time. I was lucky with my second that we had an amazing midwife on the ward, who when I told her what happened before, she said on my second day ‘I officially shouldn’t tell you this, but if at any point you start feeling the way you did with your first I have a bottle of formula waiting for you – no judgement.’ You’re so right though, it shouldn’t have to be a hush hush offer of support. It only compounds the feeling for new mums that by not breastfeeding you’re failing. My biggest wish for my second wasn’t to breastfeed, as it had been with my first, it was to ensure we both enjoyed every single minute of her babyhood. xxx

  • Reply El October 29, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    Absolutely right! As a parent, what’s important is showing your baby love! I was so stressed by other issues, like reflux and colic that I was a wreck. I spent so much time trying to figure out what I was doing wrong and not WITH my baby! #SundayStars

    • Reply Gemma Metcalfe-Beckers October 29, 2015 at 3:54 pm

      No wonder, colic and reflux are absolutely soul destroying. It feels like it all spirals out of control when you’re hit with those things too, doesn’t it? All you want to do is fix it for them, which just leads to constant stress! Thanks so much for stopping by x

  • Reply New Mummy Blog November 10, 2015 at 10:46 am

    Such a heartfelt post. You tried your best to do what you thought best at the time, you did so so well and your perseverance and determination shines through. It’s sometimes I think harder looking back, as we see things differently, but at the time breastfeeding was what you felt right.
    After tongue tie problems I did manage to breastfeed, but those first 3 weeks were terrible ( I remember being black and crusty and so so painful. Wincing and bracing ready for a feed. H lost 10% body weight and so we should have been sent to hospital, but had a nice sensible midwife who did suggest supplementing with formula. I didn’t feel too guilty at that, as I didn’t want us to be separated from hubby. I did feel so guilty that I couldn’t force the hospital to fix the tongue tie sooner, that they had no resources, that I couldn’t provide her with what she needed, that my little girl was being labelled and we were being threatened with separation.
    You did your best, you did what you thought right at the time and you did give her breastmilk which is what we’re told is best. You can make up the cuddles now and know that you did give those nutrients. I did try nipple shields and they vaguely helped but H just let go, she wouldn’t feed from them, so they might not have helped you either.
    I’m so glad you wrote this, it shows breast is not best for everyone, breastfeeding is not easy, it’s terribly painful,and has so many issues associated with it, and so much guilt. Guilt we shouldn’t feel. Sorry for the ramblings, I really identify with your post, and no one should feel guilty. Sending big hugs #twinklytuesday

    • Reply Gemma Metcalfe-Beckers November 10, 2015 at 10:51 am

      Oh love, it sounds like you had a hell of a journey too! Sending you lots of guilt-removing cuddles too!! Thanks so much for commenting. It is such an emotional experience when it doesn’t quite go to plan. xx

  • Reply Kate November 10, 2015 at 11:56 am

    Thank you for writing this, I think it’s so, so important for all new mums to read! I’m sorry you had to go through it and feel as though you had failed – of course you haven’t in any way. There is so much social pressure to be a very specific, narrowly-defined type of mother and it’s just not fair that women who don’t fall into this category are made to feel like they aren’t good enough. You’re so right that breastfeeding is not the be all and end all and we should be empowering women to make the choice that’s right for them.

  • Reply Robyn November 10, 2015 at 10:40 pm

    I’m so glad to see this post on #twinklytuesday – I read it a couple of weeks ago and meant to comment then but got distracted as you do! Seems like you’ve hit a nerve with many people besides me, and it’s kind of nice to know I’m not alone in the tough time I had initially. By babe was exclusively fed pumped breast milk for 8 weeks while we tried everything to get him to feed. It was a long 8 weeks and you hit the nail on the head when you said ‘I pumped when I should have been holding her, soothing her, feeding her, adoring her or looking after myself.’ I really regret that I spent the first 2 months of my babies life being too stressed and busy to enjoy him.

    • Reply Gemma Metcalfe-Beckers November 12, 2015 at 2:52 pm

      oh my love! I can’t believe that you managed 8 weeks. On one hand I think you are an almighty force for the commitment and on the other I want to give you the biggest hug possible because that must have been a phenomenal amount of pressure that you experienced. Thank you for your comment. And definitely know that you are not alone. Lots of love xx

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