“And we’re going to feed her nothing but mung beans!” (Nanny D's)

After a harrowing and near death-related pregnancy (just go with it), who knew breastfeeding would be the real dilemma.  It took me about six and a half months (when I began showing) to admit that I was pregnant, and then it was "Of course I'm going to breastfeed." 

But as it happened, Isaac proved impossible to breastfeed.

1.  Finger Feeding: 

After Isaac was born, our attending nurse counseled me to “finger-feed him formula until the milk came in.”  To begin with, the idea of finger-feeding struck me as hilarious.  I had just performed a twelve hour labor, albeit on an epidural, and she wanted me to sit there and finger-feed through this minuscule tube?  If Isaac’s stomach hadn’t been the size of a walnut, I would have died an old woman, waiting for him to eat a single ounce. 

2.  The Pump:  

Next, the nurse gave me a Modela pump and told me to begin using it every three hours for twenty minutes at least.   Having never seen an assembled pump before, other than on the cover of a Wal-Mart box, the pump scared me.  I wonder whether the inventor of the breast pump spent hours laughing hysterically over his creation or cowering in the corner wondering how he would ever profit from something that had the appearance of a medieval torture device.  Granted, some pumps are more frightening than others.  Take mine, for instance.  It was an unassuming, egg-shaped, white pump about the size of a melon, entirely unthreatening until you add the yoke and suction cups and turn the machine on.  The noises this pump could make were unbelievable: loud monotonous grinding noises that resemble the sounds of a kitchen blender with a rock inside.

The hospital pump, being a three-thousand dollar investment as opposed to my sixty-dollar one, only made a monotone whirring noise, like a baby helicopter relentlessly hovering beside your ear.  Regardless, the suction cups were enough to give me pause.  They resembled something one might see in an eighties movie, strapped onto either side of a hospital patient’s head and vigorously pulsing.  Fortunately they didn’t have to go on my head. 

3.  La Leche:  

After returning home from the hospital, my mother scheduled an appointment for me with one of the ladies from the La Leche League in our area.  I had never heard of the La Leche League before and wondered why the title was half-Spanish until I said it in English: The Milk League.  The Milk League?  If I had heard of this outside of my pregnancy I would have thought it was some weird cult: a group of individuals who are either obsessed with their calcium intake or somehow manage to play baseball with milk.  Maybe their team is sponsored by milk, and they take those group pictures where everyone has a milk mustache. 

The La Leche woman, who I am going to call Nan, came to our home that very afternoon, free-of-charge, even though she didn’t know me and didn’t live in our city.  To be perfectly honest, Tim seemed much more eager to discuss breastfeeding than I, amiably taking on the formidable discussion as though it were he who had the breasts and not me.  “Have you tried holding the baby’s head like so?” Nan would ask.  And Tim would respond, “Oh yes, we’ve tried that.  We’ve tried everything.”  Granted, he was patiently sitting beside me attempting to assist through each endeavor, but I still felt like saying, “I TRIED.  ME.  ME and MY breasts.  It’s your son who has the problem.”  Instead I gritted my teeth and vowed to make Tim try the breast pump on his own pectorals, just to give him a reference point as to how uncomfortable it could be.  If he was going to advocate breastfeeding so whole-heartedly, he should be well-informed in all aspects of the trade.  An hour or so later Nan left, and although Isaac was still not breastfeeding, I at least had a pediatrician reference.

4.  Dr. Lactate:  

Which brings me to yet another pleasant reminiscence.  For the sake of argument, I will refer to the pediatrician as Dr. Lactate.  He did, after all, hint at that being his coveted title.  Dr. Lactate was a middle-aged, bald man with round glasses and an honest yet dry sense of humor.  Before coming to see him, I had long since decided that I did not want to discuss breastfeeding with him or any other person for at least the remainder of my lifetime.  I had exhausted the subject and thinking about it made me sick.  Yet this was the topic he immediately proposed, reassuring me that he had more than ample experience in convincing babies to latch on.  “It’s not going to hurt my feelings if you don’t want to try,” he said, challengingly, “but you should know I have had a lot of success with it.”  I nodded, dismally.  Isaac was already three weeks old and we were still finger-feeding him.  That could hardly be normal.  Come to think of it, how in the world could Dr. Lactate, a man, possibly have had a lot of success with breastfeeding?  Has he ever done it?  I should make him try the breast pump, too.

Dr. Lactate told me he wasn’t at all concerned that Isaac hadn’t latched on yet.  He said most babies didn’t latch on until their third week or later (not necessarily true).  Still, it was rather nice to hear that other women were experiencing the same problem.  Just as all misery loves company, so does un-breastfeeding.  Dr. Lactate then began listing all the different ways to hold a baby while breastfeeding, asking how many positions I had tried.  The Cradle Hold.  The Cross-Cradle Hold.  The Football Hold.  The Side-Lying Position.  The Australian Hold.  The Arms-Outstretched-Screaming-Baby Hold.  The Choke and Die Hold.  The Go-To-Daddy Hold.  Yes, I had tried them all.  And by the way, who ever came up with The Football Hold?  What mother holds her baby and thinks, “Wow, this is exactly how I hold my football!”?

We proceeded to discuss where Isaac fell in the spectrum between Rooting and Starvation, how Isaac’s tongue was positioned when sucking, how much time passed before I usually gave up, how long I had been considering shooting myself in the head, and whether or not I had tried to use a bottle instead of finger-feeding.  First Dr. Lactate told us to not worry about Isaac never latching on if we tried to use a bottle.  He said that was a myth.  We should use a bottle.  We were entitled to use a bottle.  We had earned it.  Then he told us that everybody will give us different advice, so we should just ignore it all and find our own way.  This paradox left me very confused: should I follow his advice and give Isaac a bottle, or should I follow his advice by ignoring his advice and finding my own way?  Wait, what?  Because I’m thinking my own way is to quit. 

After this lengthy discussion Dr. Lactate left us with an open invitation to meet with him in yet another office where he would happily help Isaac latch on.  “You’d be amazed,” he told me, beaming, “at how I force that baby’s head right on there and make him breastfeed!” 

We went home then and I haven’t been back since.

5.  Dr. Brown Bottle:  

I continued to daily try to breastfeed before and after bottle-feeding Isaac, but to no avail.  We fed Isaac a diet composed of half breast-milk (pumped), and half-formula.  He didn’t seem to notice a difference between the two, which I personally do not understand but am grateful for.  Breast milk tastes like diluted rice milk, a sweet, room-temperature, pale white substance that is not entirely unpleasant.  Formula, on the other hand, tastes like dirty feet.  It smells bad, too, and for whatever reason it is absurdly sticky.  To this day I do not understand how scientists managed to construct something so advanced that it contained several of the same ingredients as breast milk, yet they could not manage to duplicate the taste.  You would think that would be the easy part. 

Isaac was very fond of his bottles, and so were we.  They were non-hassle, easy-to-use, Dr. Brown bottles with little plastic straws inside that kept him from sucking in air and becoming colicky.  I adored his habit of pausing between sips and smiling up at me from behind the bottle, milk drizzling down the corner of his mouth.  Unfortunately, the bottles did end up spoiling my baby.  Not only did Isaac think that he could bottle-feed while keeping at least two of his fingers in his mouth, he also became accustomed to the bottle following his head around in any direction he turned, a no-no for good mommies who are trying to keep their children unspoiled but a no-brainer for me.  He might grow up thinking that food would automatically find its way into his mouth with no effort on his part, but at least the kid was eating. 

Yes, bottles were easy.  Un-breastfeeding, on the other hand, came with its own list of conflicting instructions, such as 1) Try breastfeeding after the baby begins rooting but before he starts screaming.  2) Don’t keep trying to breastfeed after he has begun screaming; this will only frustrate both of you.  3) If he is screaming, he is starving to death, so feed him.  4) Spend hours with your baby on your breast, letting him get comfortable with you.  5) Only spend five to ten minutes at a time trying to breastfeed, otherwise your baby will get upset.  6) Yes, it is stressful, but always try again!  7) Don’t stress; it keeps you from letting down.  8) If your baby was born in October and you named him Isaac, he will never breastfeed.  Give up.

6.  The Nipple Shield: 

Then someone told me to try the nipple shield (this “adventure” lasted about two seconds for me).  If my description of the breast pump didn’t strike terror into your heart, the one I am about to compose about the nipple shield most likely will.  Picture a mother preparing to nurse her child in public.  She unbuttons her shirt, adjusts the baby’s head, and then pulls from her purse a clear plastic object most people have never seen before.  She then proceeds to lick the edges of the object and unceremoniously tries to stick it to her breast like one would stick a suction hook to a window pane.  Once she has finally accomplished this difficult feat, the baby pokes her and the shield falls off.  She begins again, while the baby starts to whimper.  Thus they proceed for the next hour, sticking the shield on, baby poking it off, cleaning the shield because it has fallen on the floor, baby screaming frantically because he is hungry, everyone staring.

“What is that woman doing to her child?”  Someone might ask, concernedly.

“It looks like she’s trying to nurse him,” someone else will reply.

“Oh, that poor child.”

Oh, that poor child.  Oh that poor child?  POOR CHILD?  Why is this the inevitable conclusion everyone seems to generate once a baby begins to cry?  Why not, “Oh that little miscreant who refuses to eat off plastic!”?  Why not, “Oh, look at that poor mother and how hard she tries to breastfeed that ungrateful child of hers!”?  But no.  They wait until the mother finally gives up and pulls out a bottle of formula, and then they say, in a very condescending, judgmental voice, “Oh, look at her.  She’s feeding her baby FORMULA!”  Somehow it always escapes their notice that the child is now quiet and content, happily sucking away at his life-sustaining death-juice.

Although reassured by other mothers that once my baby finally started nursing, he got it and I would never have to worry about any of this again, my baby proved everyone wrong.  I personally think he did this on purpose, knowing that my frustration would be the last straw and I would finally give up.  Either that or he wanted to send me to the loony bin and get himself a new mama.

7. Childless-Lactation Counselor:  

I must say that however frustrating this entire experience was, I am at least grateful that I did not have to continue experiencing the pain that comes when a baby really latches on.  It came as a surprise to me, partly because no one ever speaks of such things, and partly because of the young, up-beat, happy lactation counselor at the hospital who taught me how to assemble the pump.  She admonished me to only adjust the pump levels to a comfortable degree, advising that nursing or pumping should never hurt the mother.  This, of course, led me to ask, naively, “So breastfeeding didn’t hurt you?”  To which she responded, in a how-silly-of-you tone, “Oh, I don’t have kids.”

Let me just say now: if you have never lactated yourself, do not become a lactation counselor.  If nothing else, at least hear this: Nursing.  Really.  Hurts.  I might even venture to say that it is worse than contractions.  It’s something akin to getting struck by lightning, being electrocuted, or having your fingers smashed by a door, only over and over and over again.  That having been said, let me make amends by stating that I have been assured that nursing pains eventually cease, although I have never experienced this myself.

8.  Formula Baby:   

To conclude, Isaac became a full-fledged formula baby - healthy, happy, and fat, even.  For awhile other women kept asking me if I had tried breastfeeding and when I told them how long I’d suffered with the pump, they’d say, “Oh, well, good for you!  I can’t believe you lasted that long.”  To be perfectly honest, though, I’m not convinced it was necessary.  Sure, if you can breastfeed, go for it!  As an all-natural product meant specifically for babies, it is probably the healthiest thing available.  But if you can’t, don’t beat yourself up about it.  Isaac has grown “up” to the mature old age of two-and-a-half, and he is just as healthy and intelligent as any other child his age.  And as for me, well, I eventually stopped having nightmares. 

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  1. You are an amazing writer! And as other mothers have apparently said to you, Kudos for lasting so long. I lasted all of about a week and said forget it here is a bottle!

  2. Well that makes me feel better. Because honestly, so many people made me feel horrible for choosing formula! But it was that or my sanity.

  3. Ha ha!!! thats just brilliant! I was one of the lucky ones my huge baby was 8 days overdue and came out with a GED and driving license!! lol but seriously I think big babies are easier for these things. He was emergency csection so I didnt get him right away and I was a little concerned as I had read that they need to latch on the minute their born or youll have trouble. You know I had a lactation nurse but honestly we just gossiped because as soon as I saw Charlie and held him, I lifted him to my boob, he latched on and ate for 30minutes! the lactation nurse was talking but I honestly dont know what she was saying and I think there were people in the room but I have no clue how many!! My whole world just zeroed in on him. I know I am so luck y for it to have happened this way but I cried so many times that week because he was such a good eater he was on for ages and it HURT LIKE HELL!!!! It was like sucking a lemon every time he latched and after that first feed? yeah I got a HUGE bloodblister right on my nipple!!! But Im stubborn and the pain eased as we settled into it. The nurse said they normally look for about 3-5minutes on the first feed so she was ecstatic. Especially because its not a big thing around here... lol I spent most of my time in the hospital butt naked and she loved it when she would come in and Id have a naked baby on my naked breast all au naturel, she was very sweet and I think underused. I really dont think it matters though as long as you love your baby, breast milk is great (Charlie has gained6lbs and 3.5inches in 2 months) but whose to say he wouldnt have done just as well on formula? I think its just as much about how we are as mothers, and if you went through Hell and high water the way you did its obvious what a good Mummy you are!! Thanks for sharing and heres a link to my blog if you dont mind, the writings not as good as yours but theyll enjoy the pictures ;)


  4. Thanks for sharing Nicki! I love your blog. And I think your blog title is great. It's terrific to hear about a good experience with nursing - it's the healthiest choice if you can do it!

  5. I'm definitely following you because so far I've read three of your posts (couldn't help you on the MFA or not one and decided to opt for silence). I, too, am in the formula camp. I tried for almost five days (including the nasty pump) to get milk out - nothing, nada. Meanwhile, my son was wailing - "Oh, don't worry, they aren't really hungry when they first come out." Yeah, right. My kid was starving. And my nipples were SORE. Finally took him to the doctor who said "I don't care what you think, the kid's dehydrated, get some formula in him NOW." Last, but not least, I finally gave a call to a mom with three wonderful, smart boys and asked what I should do. Her answer? "Do you need permission to stop breastfeeding?" Yes, I think I do. "Fine, I'm giving you permission. And it doesn't make you a bad mom. You'll be a bad mom if you start hating him because you hate feeding him."

    Yeah! My son's 11, has a high IQ, very athletic, charming and is still hungry. And the other who never even had a taste of the breast? Just the same.

    And I never once regretted my decision to make my boobs for entertainment only (adult, that is) and not a source of food. :)

    Check us out at http://www.500placeswithkids.blogspot.com

  6. Wow thank you so much for posting this!! Finally someone else who went through all the same things I did! I love the way you wrote this too, just a great post, I shared on facebook. Thanks for adding my link!
    ~Kathryn @ Singing Through the Rain

  7. Anne Patrone - thank you so much for your kind, understanding comment! You have a terrific blog.

    Wow thanks for sharing on FB, Kathryn! It is a relief to find other people who went through the same thing - as difficult as it was (misery loves company, no?)

  8. You are HILARIOUS! Not to mention an amazing writer! You commented on my blog the other day, so I came over to check out yours. Awesome post, I laughed out loud through most of it. Thank you for that! I'll definately be back! Love your blog.

  9. Thanks for this. I went through a very similar experience that lasted for months--I am still breastfeeding my daughter but having to supplement with formula due to a dwindling supply. I was not prepared for the feeding wars that go on between mothers and how much guilt is placed on your shoulders the minute she comes into the world. I still struggle with feeling like I am giving her second best even though in my mind I know I have done everything imagineable to make it work...

  10. I know exactly what you mean.

    And all I can say is. . . you just have to learn to let go of the guilt.

    There are too many situations in life that may cause us to feel like inadequate parents - situations we cannot control.

    So we do our best.

    And we pray.

    They'll turn out okay.

  11. Oh my WORD!!!
    That breast pump sounds downright nightmarish. *shudder*
    Nipple shield? Holy crap!!

    I've heard some women have troubles, some don't want to breastfeed at all, and others just have n problems.

    Makes me wonder what my future will be like--if/when I prayerfully have kids.
    It'll be fascinating. And I'll blog about it. ;)

    Ohhh, I hate it when I hear about childless lactation counselors! Horrid experiences. :\

  12. p.s. I love your writing, and I don't judge you at all for doing formula. My mom nursed every one of us, no bottles EVER after the first kid.
    Personally, I would like the freedom it would help me acheive to pump so a bottle would be there for the child when me and my husband go out for a while. But pumps sound creepy now. Hmm.

  13. Oh, dude. That sucks. Other people suck. Between that ped and the childless lactation consultant I would have slapped someone and vowed never to try again.

    Good for you for both trying to stick with it and known what's right for you.

  14. Awesome article, thank you so much for sharing. It took 4 days for my son to finally latch on, and 6 weeks for the pain to go away. Now at 4 months, he gets a combination of breastmilk and formula, which was the best I could do (gotta love producing too much foremilk, not enough hind milk). I never thought it would be such a struggle - I'm looking forward to when he reaches 6 months, and I can introduce other foods.

  15. Totally late replying, as I read this quite a while ago through Seeded Buzz. Just wanted to let you know I love your writing style and your blog look. Great commentary. I think if more moms banded together to root each other on and share war stories, we would succeed more often than failing as we gain knowledge from each other. Rather than groveling in our caves of motherhood, trying to "do it all by myself". Which is what I am guilty of. Thanks for the laughs and inspiration!


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