Baby Dust Diaries

A Life Less Ordinary

Coping with Breastfeeding Loss

My twins are weaned.  There. I said it.

My blissful, road-block and pain free nursing experience with Aellyn was NOT repeated with my boys. Breastfeeding – even just feeding breastmilk – was an uphill battle the whole way. I used donor milk.  I pumped and pumped and pumped.  I smelled like maple syrup from all the fenugreek I was taking.  I saw lactation consultants on multiple occasions and fixed latch issues.  I tandem nursed.  I even exclusively nursed for a whole month!  I thought I had arrived.  Sadly, Boston did not grow that month at all.  He was’t getting enough.  I started supplementing with formula.

And then I went back to work.  My supply just never recovered.  Boston nursed less and less because he wanted the nourishment he got from the bottle better (a mix of pumped milk and formula).  It was just like a snowball.  Eventually I was only recreationally nursing – e.g. 99% of their nourishment was from formula. And then nothing.

Just writing this and seeing that picture makes me cry. It is heartbreaking. I would give almost anything to nurse my boys again.  Trust me I’ve tried.  Even Asher, my good nurser, just cries and cries.  He doesn’t understand anymore.  I’m honestly not coping very well but I want to write out my process so I can come to grips with this devastating loss.  Maybe it will help someone else as well.

What is Breastfeeding Loss?

Breastfeeding loss is the mourning process that happens when a nursing relationship is lost or never achieves the expectations of the mother. Maybe you never nursed and have lingering feelings about it.  Maybe your didn’t nurse as long as you wanted.  Maybe you did nurse as long as the child wanted but you weren’t ready to quit and you have unresolved emotions about it.

The problem with breastfeeding loss is that you often will not feel supported by anyone in your circle.  Formula advocates will brush it off as “no big deal” because “tons of kids get formula” making you feel that remorse over not nursing were just silly.  Some (not all) lactivists will tell you all the things you could have done which just prolongs the pain.

So what’s a mother to do?

Identify the Real Source of Your Feelings

First, you need to examine your feelings regarding the breastfeeding loss.  I think there are several layers that might be present:

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  • Guilt – you feel like you didn’t do everything you could to make breastfeeding successful. You agonize over what more you could have done.  Note that other people do not make you feel guilty.  Guilt come from within.  If you think someone else is “making you feel guilty” please see “embarrassment” below.
  • Embarrassment – you feel self conscious to tell others that you’ve weaned.  You think they will think less of you.  You don’t want to be “that mom” that “gave up” on nursing.  Maybe you run a breastfeeding website and think you’ll lose your lactivist card (cough, cough).
  • Fear – you worry that your child will be one of the statistics that get diabetes, chronic ear infections, and other side effects of artificial feeding.  You worry that your kid will be the one that gets contaminated formula.  You won’t bond as much with the kid and he’ll grow up incapable of love.  Gloom.  Doom.  You’ve cursed your child for life.  ZOMG.  PANIC!
  • Nostalgia – you miss the act of nursing.  You miss the milky smiles and contented sighs.  Your heart aches to nurse just one more time.  Just one.  Nostalgia is interesting because it is not necessarily sad or happy but can be both.  Memories can make you feel warm and happy or sad depending on your perspective.
  • Anger – you feel that someone else is to blame for your lost breastfeeding relationship.  Your husband that wasn’t supportive, you job for not giving you adequate time to pump, your doctor for insisting you wean before some treatment.  Anger is externalized.  If you think you are angry at yourself you are probably feeling one of the feelings above, look closer at your anger.

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Accept Your Feelings

The key to coping with breastfeeding loss is to take those feelings and allow them to be.  Don’t add a further layer of “you’re so stupid” for feeling the things you feel.  It is ok.  Feel it.

I don’t feel guilt because I  know I did everything I could.

I feel embarrassment, which is why it took me 2 months to write this post.  I definitely have a reputation as a breastfeeding evangelist and I feel like a poser now because I’m not breastfeeding three kids in tandem.

I feel fear that I’ve short-changed my boys and not given them the best start.  My overwhelming emotion is nostalgia. Painful nostalgia.  This is what makes me cry the most.  I’m just SO SAD that it is over.

I have anger that my country has no respect for parenthood as indicated by the complete lack of maternity leave.  I had 3 months off and one of them my boys were in the hospital.  I was afforded time to pump but it was inadequate with preemie twins at only 3 months old.  I’m angry that our society says “breast is best” but doesn’t put its money where its mouth is.

Make a Plan

Next step is to take what you’ve learned about your feelings and create an implementable plan for what to do the next time you feel overwhelmed by that feeling.  Here are some ideas and I’ll use my plan as an example.

    1. My plan for feeling guilt

      • Take a moment and make a physical list of everything you did do to make breastfeeding successful.  My introduction is kind of my list.

      • If you didn’t try to breastfeed at all but feel guilt figure out what you can do to change.  Guilt is a useful emotion because it makes us uncomfortable which prompts change.  Maybe you didn’t have all the information you needed or you didn’t see an LC.  These things might not be reversible but you can decide that, in the future, you will seek more information or use more professionals with parenting help.
      • Forgive yourself.  Maybe hindsight tells you that you could of done more but you weren’t the same person then and you made the best decision you could at that moment.  Or, you didn’t.  Either way you are worthy of forgiveness.  Tomorrow is another day.[box]I don’t feel much guilt because I really feel I did everything I could.  I forgive myself for not doing more.  I did the best I could.[/box]
    2.  My plan for feeling embarrassment

      •  Remind yourself that this is about your child NOT about a contest with other mothers.  Your only responsibility as a parent is your child not being Mother of the Year according to other people.
      • If you only feel embarrassed around certain people, maybe this is telling you something about your relationship with this person.  (not always, you might just be neurotic!)  Sometimes we have friends that revel in our failures because it makes them feel better about themselves.  This is not the kind of people we need to be around.  Surround yourself with people that will love you and celebrate your successes.
      • Get it out.  Don’t make it a secret.  Embarrassment and shame hate the light.  Shine some light on it and it evaporates.[box]I’m writing this post.  Dear World, I, Paige, an avowed lactivist, have weaned my kids before 1 year.  Thank you for your support.[/box]
    3. My plan for feeling fear

      • Identify the real fears.  Don’t stay in the dark.  Read about how formula is lacking. Read about the dangers of formula.  Worry prompted by lack of knowledge is worse than just confronting the reality head on.
      • Learn how to maximize health when formula feeding.  This articlehas many suggestions although I would add a few:[box]I think it is important to really find the least dangerous way for my boys to formula feed.  [/box]
          • Don’t use soy. I really feel soy formula should only be given by prescription.  It is horrible and only needed in less than 1% of babies and yet in the US up to 50% of babies are getting soy formula.
          • Don’t use fluoridated water to make formula!  Ever.  Reconstituted formula “contains 100 to 200 times more fluoride (1,000 ppb) than is found naturally in breast milk (5-10 ppb). In fact, while breast-fed infants receive the LOWEST body burden (mg/kg/day) in the population, they receive the HIGHEST body burden if they receive fluoridated formula(source).”
          • Use organic formula if possible.  This avoids pesticides as well as genetically engineered foods.
          • Give a probiotic supplement.  For healthy gut flora.
          • Give an omega-3 supplement.  For brain development.
          • Consider hydrolyzed formula.  I don’t because it isn’t organic but if you child is having trouble with regular formula this provides milk proteins that are pre-broken down and easier to digest.
          • Practice gentle, responsive parenting.  This is good for the immune system and brain development two things that breastfed babies have a leg up on.  Practicing gentle and responsive parenting will bathe your baby in oxytocin the love hormone that breastfeeding releases.
    4. My plan for feeling nostalgia

      • Don’t avoid thinking about it.  Hold your baby and remember breastfeeding.  How it felt.  What it looked like and smelled like.  Make yourself remember the happiness you felt.  This memory is a happy memory.
      • Make a breastfeeding memory book. If you don’t have pictures, blog it.  If you don’t have a blog (gasp! lol) write it in a baby book.  What did you love about breastfeeding?  What did it feel like?  If you didn’t breastfeed write about other wonderful bonding moments with your baby.[box]I’m making a first year book on snapfish and including tons of happy nursing photos and memories.[/box]
    5. My plan for feeling anger

      • Anger can be powerful when focused!  Talk to the person who undermined you.  Let them know how you feel.  Tell them how they could have supported you.
      • If you can’t talk to the person, find another way to educate others about breastfeeding support.  Donate to a worthy breastfeeding advocacy group (like NursingFreedom.org or Best for Babes or KellyMom ).  Help organize a nurse in or write a letter to your government officials about breastfeeding.  You can see examples at NursingFreedom.org.[box] I’m not going to hide because of my embarrassment about breastfeeding loss.  I think Dionna at CodeName: Mama and I have started a wonderful thing over at NursingFreedom.org and I’m not going to give up when the going gets tough!  I’m even more energized about supporting legislation that supports nursing mothers.[/box]

Conclusion

Well I must say the few days it took me to compile this post have been cathartic for me.  I feel strongly that my continued sadness is just sullying my beautiful memories.  I overcame many obstacles to breastfeed premature twins!  I nursed for 8 months!  Yay me!!  I will celebrate my success and celebrate my beautiful children.

I hope that this post can help someone else that struggles with the outcome of their breastfeeding relationship.

What would you add?  What do you feel about breastfeeding loss?

 

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23 Comments

  1. I thought you believed in baby led weaning? Sounds like what happened is the very definition of baby led weaning. The boys know what they need and for them it's not nursing right now. You are very brave for putting this out there and I'm sure it will help others.

    • Paige @ Baby Dust Diaries

      January 11, 2012 at 9:36 pm

      Thanks Jennifer! It was hard to write because I teared up each time I read the first part but by the time I finished today it felt a little better. I remember when we were talking about Aellyn's birth you said she'll have exactly the birth she was meant to have and needs. I tell myself that about this situation as well. I have given all my kids exactly what they needed (within my limits) and as it was meant to be!

  2. Oh, Paige, I'm so sorry breastfeeding didn't last as long as you wanted. I would be heartbroken, too! But wow, eight months is seriously amazing for breastfeeding premature twins. YOU ARE AWESOME. And good for you for supplementing with formula when you knew your babies needed it. This post just illustrates what a conscientious mother you are.

    You are right about the lack of support. I see it everywhere…formula feeders that shrug it off, and lactivists that just can't accept that you are done or that you've done everything reasonably (and perhaps even unreasonably) possible. Sometimes it just reaches a point where it is no longer about saving breastfeeding, but rather about switching your mentality to one that is most healthful to you and your children. And sometimes the milk really does just run out.

    You mentioned some formula options that from my limited experience sound like good ones, and I love that you added probiotics and omega-3 supplements (cod liver oil is the best! especially fermented cod liver oil!). When you switch to formula, I believe the solids play a much greater role in a baby's development. I've started recommending a traditional foods approach (such as outlined by the Weston A Price Foundation) or a GAPS approach (for those with digestive issues) for introducing solids to babies. Both diets are nutrient-dense and easily digestible.

    Hugs to you Paige. Glad you are feeling a bit better.
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    • Paige @ Baby Dust Diaries

      January 11, 2012 at 9:34 pm

      Thanks so much for your supportive words Lisa. You always leave the most thoughtful comments! I don't reciprocate like I should! I am aligning our eating more to WAP. We are all organic but this year we are moving towards traditional food (hence the kefir).

  3. PLS, a quote from Amari…."you are the best mommy ever" so don't be so hard on yourself. I thought you were superwoman for even wanting to nurse all three at the same time.. you did great and what I or anyone else thinks is unimportant and they can kick rocks!!!! with sandals on….lol…

  4. I do still feel nostalgia when I see someone breastfeeding, it was such an awesome experience, I could never explain to my husband how special it was and in what way those were such precious times.
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  5. So sorry breastfeeding didn't end in quite the way you hoped. What you're feeling is absolutely understandable, because you're letting go of the one thing that only you, and no one else, could do for your children. But 8 months is indeed wonderful, and the lengths you went to go that far are laudable!

    One thing that helped me was to set aside time just for giving my child quiet cuddles. One of the wonderful things about nursing was that it was physical closeness and calmness, while when I fed her solids, I would get distracted by cleaning up the inevitable messes and making the funny faces and everything else. So I was conscientious about spending some dedicated time to quality hugs and kisses, and that made me feel better.

  6. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
    This blog could seriously not have come at a better time. Seriously I have to thank Jesus for the timing of the post and you for being brave enough to put this out here. I literally decided it was time to stop breastfeeding last night. My baby is only 4 months old (exactly 4 months old today). I have struggled with this decision for weeks.
    I'm not sure why it happened but Christmas morning I went to feed my baby girl like usual and it turned into the a very stressful day. She has been awesome at nursing from day one. This day however she cried so hard and kept trying and trying to nurse but wasn't getting nothing. I luckily had some formula on hand, the free samples you get in the mail, so I had to give her that. The rest of the day and the weeks to follow she would nurse fine about every other feeding. The feedings in between I had to supplement with a couple ounces of formula because she wasn't satisfied. It's progressively gotten worse. I have had to supplement more and more formula after each time I've nursed.
    I have talked to a lactation consultant several times and have tried everything she suggested and nothing has worked. So after weeks of breastfeeding and giving formula at every single feeding I decided it was a lot of work with no success and a lot of stress.
    I cried a lot about this last night and felt ALL of the feelings you expressed in this post. You in fact were able to put my feelings into words better than I would have been able to. While I am still working through these feelings and still feel incredible guilt and sadness, this post has made it more bearable. I cannot thank you enough!

  7. I felt this way with Maris. Big time. I actually weaned Maris twice. The first time I think I just did it because I thought I was supposed to. My hormones and feelings went haywire, and I cried for two whole days. DH was finally like, just start up again! I was lucky to be so engorged that I could do that. We went on for about 3 more months (16 months total) until Maris was really just done. I hope to go longer with Paige, but I don't feel as attached to it as I did with Maris. So we'll see. But either way, thanks for posting this. It was one of those things that I didn't know to expect! Hopefully someone will be educated that this is how they may feel!
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  8. I think you are very brave.
    I am still going through the grieving steps. I have a 6 yr old and 14 mnth old twins. I have IGT. I have been yelled at for giving my children formula. I have listened to very insensitive comments from friends and strangers about giving my children formula to survive. I tried everything to make it work. I wanted my body to work. I wanted to give my children the best. I failed.
    I have learned there is a time for compassion. And, I know, I am the best mother for my children. Thank you for posting this. It makes me feel less alone in the grieving.

  9. ditto "8 months is indeed wonderful, and the lengths you went to go that far are laudable! " from ladygoat above. I have twins that were also born preemie, the extra hurdles make what you DID accomplish even more ADMIRABLE!

  10. Thank you for sharing. I ran across your blog on pinterest. I just recently weaned my 10 month old. The process was easier on my daughter than myself. We started daycare because I had to find work. I continued to nurse and formula feed in the beginning. The first formula bottle was the hardest. I felt so guilty. I nursed first thing in the AM, formula at day care, nurse after, and nurse right before bed. I injured my knee and was in so much pain. I had to take pain medication. I tried to put off the medication because of nursing, but I couldnt cope. I didn’t nurse for an entire day. The following day I tried to pick up the same schedule. Either the milk wasnt there or she just wasn’t into it. Broke my heart. I have still tried to offer but it doesn’t last more than a minute or two. This blog will help me move on with my feelings. I too am embarrassed because I have always expressed my love for nursing and defended it if anyone questioned my decision. I am still trying to cope. I haven’t announced it. Only my close family know. Thanks again!

  11. I just wanted to thank you for a well written blog post on a topic that doesn't get discussed much. As a private practice lactation consultant I often support mothers and babies that did not have their breastfeeding relationship turn out as planned. I love how you articulated the grieving process that is involved in breastfeeding loss. I will be sharing your blog link with mothers if that is alright. Also, if you ever feel like granting permission, I'd love to print and share your story with student LCs I teach. Thank you once again.

    • Paige @ Baby Dust Diaries

      January 22, 2012 at 6:50 pm

      Hi Melissa. Thanks for your comments. You are welcome to share my post at will. I write under the CC Attribution so as long as you provide a link back you are welcome to use any of my material! 🙂

  12. Thank you for posting this. My daughter is three and I still mourn the loss of our breastfeeding…not everyday, but enough. We went through years of infertility until we realized that God had our baby already…and had a plan to get her to us, but it wasnt our plan. And then she came…adoption is a miracle. And I induced lactation and gave her half of her dayli needs in breastmilk. But she had birth issues, and wouldnt stay latched, so I nursed, pumped, and bottlefed every feeding. And I developed elevated lipase levels…then I nursed, pumped, fed, and scalded my breastmilk for the next feeding. It got old and I was overwhelmed. We stopped at 4 months. I was heartbroken…my body had failed me again. Life was not fair. But we did lots of skin to skin, and my beautiful girl grew and grew…and now shes three, and amazes me every day. She still loves her “ba ba” and also speaks of nursing for mama milk “is there still milk there, Mama?” And I love her more than any creature placed on the face of this earth. All of those struggles were blessings because I was led to her…

  13. Nice article, but I feel it is incomplete without a look at the play of hormones in the process. Where it says, "Identify the Real Source of Your Feelings," there is no mention of a sudden drop in oxytocin and the other hormones that made breast feeding feel so good. A closer look at the hormonal level flux needs to be included in this article — it can trigger depression and is a real cause of a shift in feelings when the breast feeding relationship ends, especially if it ends suddenly. You don't need to be a doctor to know and understand how hormones affect this life experience.
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    • Paige @ Baby Dust Diaries

      April 18, 2012 at 1:32 am

      I agree that hormones can play a role. However, I can’t think of any thing I can do about that besides awareness. Is there a supplement that can increase oxytocin levels? This article was specifically about proactively dealing with the emotions of breastfeeding loss not the biological basis of them.

  14. Reread the while article and the responses and want to make sure I express how valuable I also think this article and the forum is. I heard from one mom who hadn’t considered the interplay of hormone shifts, but once she did, she actually felt relieved to know it WASN’T all psychological — rather, physiological — really a combo of brain and biology. Like, it may not be just nostalgia bringing on tears. I do think nourishing your own body with vitamins and speaking with a health pro about it would help with all of these things. I dread weaning and when it happens I’ll read this article again with even more appreciation. Thanks for responding. -Michelle

    • Paige @ Baby Dust Diaries

      April 18, 2012 at 1:15 pm

      Thanks for your comments Michelle. I agree understanding the hormonal aspect of post-weaning sadness can make dealing with it better! I think I'll add that point in!

  15. Thank you so much for this wonderful post. My daughter is 15 months old and I struggled with nursing the first 2 months until I had to make the very emotional and difficult decision to stop nursing. I never looked for support online but rather grieved and adjusted on my own in my own way. I came to realize that my daughter was being fed, healthy and happy. And if that was via a bottle and formula so be it. Once I healed from our nursing and she was happier during feeding we really had the opportunity to bond and enjoy the newborn stage without facing a challenge that left me in tears nearly every day. My daughter made it to her first birthday with only a runny nose twice. Although time has passed it can still be difficult as moms and expecting moms discuss pumps, nursing, etc. One friend told another "don't worry- I had difficulties too, you'll get the hang of it and it'll be fine." Although she was trying to support someone else that comment hurt me a little because I wanted to say "no, keep trying but not everyone gets the hang of it- and if you don't that's alright too." I've learned through this experience that no two moms or babies are alike and every mom is doing their best to do what is right for their child- and we are not to judge but rather support each other. Thank you again!

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