When Breastfeeding Difficulties Are Overwhelming–Getting Past Them

In early 2004, when I found myself pregnant with my first child, there was never any doubt in my mind that I would breastfeed. The cost of formula, the ease and convenience of nursing and the health benefits for mom and baby all combined to make the decision a no-brainer. I never considered, not once, bottle feeding my child.

As I got closer to delivery, all the books, my doctor and other experienced mothers all assured me that while the first few weeks can be tough, it eventually works out and becomes easy.

Unfortunately for me, although I successfully nursed both kids for as long as I could, it was never what I would call easy. I struggled with mastitis and recurrent thrush, and low supply problems resulting from my thyroid disease. I never did get the blanket thing right. When I asked our pediatrician for help with positioning, she blew me off and said, “Oh, you’ll figure it out.” When I asked a friend the same question, she said, “You just need to practice.” What I needed was for someone to say, “Hold him like THIS, put your shirt like THIS, put your arm like THIS.”

When my cycle returned and my milk dried up, I was sad, but a tiny part of me was relieved, because I wouldn’t have to struggle anymore. Should I have another baby, I’m prepared to breastfeed again, keeping the following things in mind.

**Find a patient and non-judgemental lactation consultant. If possible, speak with her before your baby is born, to make sure your personalities mesh. Your lactation consultant should never make you feel guily or bad; instead, she should work with you to find the best possible outcome for you.
**Consider herbal remedies to boost your supply. If, like me, you struggle with producing enough milk, look into the many herbal and prescription medicationsthat help boost breastmilk production.
**Set goals. When your baby is a newborn, the idea of nursing for a year or longer can be overwhelming, especially if you are struggling. Set a goal to nurse for six weeks, then re-evaluate. If everything is going well, set a new goal for three months, etc.

Here’s what some other mother’s had to say about their nursing experiences.

Anne, a mother to two in Ohio, had a smooth start to breastfeeding. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned.

Says Anne,

“One morning as I nursed my son in the side position while laying in bed, a feeling of mild rage and annoyance washed over me. I popped my breast out of the baby’s mouth and just looked at him like he’d bit me or something (he was about a week old). I tried again. Same thing. I couldn’t nurse him. I had some formula as I had been supplementing and made a bottle for him. My son, thankfully, took to the bottle and formula as well as the breast. I was ashamed and baffled by what I had felt.

Initially, I thought it was fluke. But it kept happening, and sometimes the rage I felt was so severe that I had to put down my son and walk away. Don’t get me wrong, the rage wasn’t against my son — or anything for that matter — it was just a sudden intense emotion that I only experienced while breast feeding. As if that weren’t bad enough, the emotional guilt trip that I put on myself for having such horrid feelings was pretty intense.”

Anne continued to breastfeed, but switched to exclusively pumping at 6 months, and stopped pumping at ten months. Afterwards, she decided to see a psychiatrist specializing in women’s issues, and discovered she had been suffering from Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex.

“When I visited the web site I cried. You can’t imagine how isolated having such an odd experience was. It took an emotional toll on me and to know that I wasn’t “crazy” or didn’t harbor some kind of buried resentment for my own child was a relief. It was great to email with the founder, who also experienced D-MER and is a lactation consultant. When I hear or read that a women has no excuse not to breast feed since she can most likely produce milk, or is selfish if she stops after X amount of time, I just feel sad. You never know what other people are going through. You just never know.”

You can read more about DMER and get some help at D-mer.org.

Ginny Schlater, a mother in Columbus, Ohio, delivered twins a month early via c-section after developing pre-eclampsia. She hemmoraghed after the c-section and lost a lot of blood, then had a reaction to a blood transfusion. Due to the weakness from the blood loss, she had to stay in bed for three weeks.

Ginny says,

“Breastfeeding premature twins is very difficult. They do not have a strong suck and sleep a lot. I had to wake them up every two hours to nurse them and then keep a log of exactly when they nursed and went to the bathroom. I did this because I would forget who nursed when and for how long. I was persistent thanks to great support from my husband and family, but it was the toughest thing I have ever done. I was exhausted.”

She adds,

“The only way I overcame the difficulty was be completely convinced breast feeding was the very best for my twins and I would give them that no matter what. I had to be rude to a nurse in the middle of the night that was no help, I had to tell the girl’s pediatrician that I was only going to nurse the twins. I think prayer has everything to do with it as well. I prayed a lot for strength to over come the nights!!!! I seemed to be the only one up in the middle of the night and I really struggled with the nights. And the only other thing was having an advocate. My mother-in-law use to be a part of La Leche League and is really helpful. She was so supportive and loving. I called her and she would come right over to help me if I was getting discouraged or the twins weren’t latching on. I think if someone didn’t have an advocate then I would recommend getting in touch with La Leche League leader before the babies were born to develop their relationship. Have a conviction this is the best thing for any baby and that will help.”

Judy Masucci, a mother in Pittsburgh, and owner of A Mother’s Boutique, also had a rough start to breastfeeding.

“My son was born via emergency c-section after 26 hours of labor. I had a midwife and a doula at his birth, but still ended up with failure to progress. He was head-down, but face-up and wouldn’t turn. And he was trying to enter the birth canal with the back of his head instead of the top. I never progressed passed 5 cm dilation. After 26 hours, he started to show signs of distress and that is when we had to have the c-section. There ended up being meconium in the fluid, so he had to be suctioned at birth. I also ended up with pre-eclampsia. All of these “traumas” at birth made it very difficult for my son to latch on. My nipples were also very short and didn’t stick far enough into his mouth to stimulate his suck reflex. I pumped in the hospital and didn’t get even a drop of colostrum. I asked every nurse who came into my room to help us with latch. And I saw a lactation consultant too – but nothing seemed to help. I was afraid to tell them I was having difficulties for fear that they would give him formula. Finally, one very nice nurse introduced us to a nipple shield and voila! He latched on and started to nurse.”

Judy’s biggest piece of advice was to ask as many people as possible for help. Ask every lactation consultant, every nurse, every mother.

“Everyone has different experiences and different advice. And something that someone says will work – not everything, but something – so just keep asking. It was the nurse at my midwives office who finally gave me a trick to wean my son from the nipple shield – nothing else worked – but her tip got us headed in the right direction.”

Victoria Haller, a mother in California, never planned on having a premature baby.

“Since my son was 8 weeks premature, his sucking reflex had not yet developed. We had a very difficult time getting started with breastfeeding. I pumped exclusively the first two weeks he was in the hospital. My areolae became red and torn up from all of the pumping. I had to use some ‘wet burn therapy’ patches to heal them.

We tried to ‘latch’ when he was 34-35 weeks gestation (two to three weeks old). Since he was so small and I already had large breasts before he was born, trying to get him to latch was darn near impossible. My breast was quite literally larger than his head. There was no way his tiny mouth was going to be able to latch onto such a large target.”

Like Judy, Victoria also found the nipple shield helpful.

“The Lactation Consultant at the hospital gave me a nipple shield to try, and that’s what did the trick for us. My son took to it right away. We introduced a bottle after he had gotten the hang of the nipple shield and nursing (all while still in the hospital). At 36 weeks and 2 days, or 4 weeks old, my son came home from the hospital. We nursed exclusively on the nipple shield until he was three months old. Between three and four months I weaned him off of the nipple shield. It took about two weeks for my smaller breast and all four weeks to get him off of the larger breast. After he stopped using the nipple shield, he stopped taking a bottle and a pacifier. (Nothing’s better than mommy!)”

Victoria’s experience with breastfeeding had a happy ending.

“We continued nursing until almost 19 months, at which time we were down to one morning feed a day, and he was waking up at 4 or 5 to get that one feed. So, we amicably ended our nursing relationship. I still miss it and he is still very attached to my ‘na-na’s.’ Despite a very rough start, we were able to thrive and continue our nursing relationship thanks to a wonderful Lactation Consultant, educational reading done by me, and my abundant milk supply.”

Be sure to check out the archives at Victoria’s blog, VDogBlog.com for information on elimination diets and more.

Cheryl Harrow, a Family Nurse Practitioner and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant at the Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, works with both mother and baby to assess a woman’s ability and desire to overcome breastfeeding problems and find solutions for low supply problems, positioning problems, and more.

She says,

“As a lactation consultant, I invest my time and energy to match the mother’s plus a bit more. Assessing both mother and baby during a feeding is critical in order to correct both obvious deficits in positioning and latching as well as the mismatches in the mother’s nipple and baby’s mouth. Throw in the medical concerns, low supply issues, and existing nipple trauma and I have my work cut out for me. Identifying simple things which are easily correctable is always the best place to start. Providing reassurance and education regarding the normal milk supply production is key to convincing a new mother to trust that her own body knows what to do for her baby’s nutritional needs. As problems are conquered and breast feeding skills of mother and baby improve, the lactation consult remains the one person a new mother can turn to for answers to her questions.”

Cheryl was actually my lactation consultant during those first few months when I was really struggling, and her help was crucial to my eventual success.

Concerning whether or not breastfeeding is easy or hard, Cheryl says,

“If breastfeeding was so easy, there would be no need for the growing number of lactation consultants. Women who have a strong desire to breast feed are most likely to succeed because they have strongly invested themselves in making the process work despite whatever obstacles come their way. Desire and a good support system can make the difference. Every new mother innately has a limit to how much frustration and struggling she can handle. Her support system will assist her in achieving her goal if they are also invested in the challenge. Unfortunately bottles and formula are readily available making it very easy to give up and use an alternate feeding method with artificial milk.”

The good news is that with the growing number of lactation consultants and access to breastfeeding support groups and a wealth of information on elimination diets, pumping, herbal remedies and more, overcoming a serious disadvantage is easier than it has ever been.

Was breastfeeding difficult for you? Did you have an unusual difficulty to work through? What factors were most helpful in your success?

6 thoughts on “When Breastfeeding Difficulties Are Overwhelming–Getting Past Them”

  1. I did have difficulty nursing my first baby after a cesarean and we were separated. This was back in the day when it was policy to only bring your baby to you every four hours to feed! It took a lot more work than I had been led to believe it would take, but I am glad that I knew so much about breastfeeding before I had my baby! I knew it was the only choice for me and did everything in my power to overcome our early troubles.

    Support, Support, Support…you really cannot have enough of it! Surround yourself and your baby with people who support your choice 100% and understand that it CAN and usually DOES get better!

  2. I second the “ask ask ask” for help advice.

    I have had two C-sections. The first was scheduled because the baby was a transverse breech. The second was an attempted VBAC but the baby never engaged and I never dilated past 4 cm after 25 hours of active labor.

    Had low supply with No. 1 son. I have hypoplastic breasts and very little storage capacity. Ended up supplementing between 30-50% depending on his age. Dropped formula at a year, nursed him until just before his second birthday.

    No. 2 son was initially supplemented with borrowed breastmilk. Now I am able to exclusively breastfeed him (he is three months old). I take a gagillion supplements myself. I thin the Goat’s Rue is the key, along with copious amounts of oatmeal.

  3. Great article! I’m so happy that I was able to contribute to your interviews. My son and I had a very rough beginning to our nursing relationship – but 3.5 years later, we are still nursing! I always tell new moms to ask for as much advice as possible – everyone has different experiences and everyone will have different tips – and something that someone says is bound to help. And for most moms, if you get through the first few weeks, it gets SO MUCH easier! For us, it was really hard for 3-4 weeks, then it got sooooo super easy!! Thanks for posting such a great article!

  4. This is a fantastic article — it’s so wonderful to read all of those experiences. Those women worked so hard & I feel inspired.
    Thank you for putting this post together!

  5. I always planned on breastfeeding my children, but it doesn’t work out so happily for everyone. My daughter was 5 weeks premature and her sucking reflex wasn’t great. Besides which, my nipples were/are too flat to really stimulate her sucking reflex. I immediately started pumping on the advice of a wonderful lactation consultant, and while she was drinking from bottles by the time she was 5 days old it was all from me. She was able to nurse from me with a nipple shield by a week and a half, but I continued supplementing with pumped milk until she no longer wanted the bottle after nursing, which happened at about 3 weeks. I was hoping to wean her off of the shield once nursing was well established, but that stage only lasted for about 3 weeks until she started striking. From 1.5 months on, she would scream for hours (except for right when she woke up in the morning), refusing to nurse until she fell asleep and nursed while asleep. I saw 4 different lactation consultants and nobody could get her to agree to nurse. Skin-to-skin, SNSs, nothing worked. I was actually willing to put up with it all as long as she was nursing, but at a certain point she stopped nursing enough to gain weight. The sleep-nursing wasn’t efficient enough. At that point I started pumping after each nursing session and giving whatever was left to her in bottles. After a few weeks of that, I switched to pumping alone. For a couple months, I was able to supply her with every feeding, but after a while as she was eating more and my supply slowly declined, I started supplementing with formula. I continued pumping until she was about 11 months old, when I developed a serious crack and decided it was time to stop. What I’m trying to say is that there are situations which can’t be worked through, and that’s OK sometimes.

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