Breastfeeding Struggles

Before Bode was born I had planned on exclusively breastfeeding. I bought a Medela pump through our insurance company, registered for all of the breastfeeding essentials, purchased a nursing tea and tincture to help with milk production, and stocked up on nipple butter to soothe sore nipples that I had been warned about–I was ready to go.

I will be honest, when I was younger I thought breastfeeding was a little weird but the older I got and the more I learned about all of the benefits of breastfeeding it became a simple choice for me to breastfeed, if we were given the opportunity. I pass no judgement on any woman’s decision to breastfeed or not to breastfeed. There is no right or wrong–only what a woman or a husband and wife feel is right for their little one, family, or situation.

Within the first hour of Bode being born the nurse helped him latch on and held him during his first feeding. I was exhausted from childbirth and was happy to have the nurse in the room helping. I was nervous to breastfeed on my own because it was something I had never done before. I felt like I would have no clue if I was doing it right or wrong, or if he was getting the colostrum/breast milk out. We had a lactation consultant come in two times during our stay to help me. From her observations, she felt like he was latching on good and things were going as they should be.

When we got home and as I started to get into a breastfeeding routine, I was enjoying it more than I thought I would. I have heard some women say they love it and some who say they don’t, so I wasn’t sure how I would feel. It was good bonding time and the noises and faces Bode would make when he was feeding were so cute. It really is a natural process that was hard for me to imagine until I experienced it. Here are a few breastfeeding images Cody captured in the first few days we were home. Don’t mind the shirt over the lamp–that was our ingenious way of dimming the lamp light. 🙂

Although I was enjoying breastfeeding, I still wasn’t convinced things were going as they should be. It seemed like Bode would feed for a long time on each side and wasn’t completely satisfied after a feeding. He was very squirmy and would root around like he was still looking for food. I was waiting for the “milk comas” to hit him but they rarely did. We actually called the lactation consultant we met in the hospital and had her come to our home to evaluate everything again. After this evaluation, she still felt that things were going ok.

When Bode was born he was slightly jaundice. His bilirubin level was considered high-intermediate, which meant that it had to be watched but wasn’t high enough for intervention. Two days after we got home, Cody noticed that his eyes and skin looked more yellow than before. We did call the pediatrician but she felt we could wait until our appointment the following day to do a blood draw and test his bilirubin levels again.

At his appointment everything looked good physically. We did notice that some of the nurses commented that he looked jaundice but no one seemed overly concerned. We learned that a lot of babies have jaundice so we just assumed this was a normal thing that would work itself out. They drew his blood right before we left to test his bilirubin level. That afternoon, about 3 hours after his appointment, we got a phone call from the pediatrician telling us that we needed to head back to the hospital immediately. His bilirubin level was at 21 (25 becomes dangerous) and he would need UV light and phototherapy treatment right away to bring the number back down. We closed up the house and booked it to the hospital as fast as we could. Cody and I were both a wreck. After our journey in and of itself to conceive Bode, we were scared for his little life. Of course, we did exactly what you are NOT supposed to do and began looking on Google. After learning much more about jaundice from the pediatrician, we now realize that everything we were reading on Google was “worst-case scenarios” and that Bode’s bilirubin level was caught in time for proper treatment. We are thankful for his pediatrician. Here is a picture of him laying on the photo light.

We also had noticed that he was not having the correct amount of pees and poops per the chart we were given at the hospital. After much discussion with the pediatrician and nurses about this, we now know that he was not getting enough breast milk from me. He was underfed and dehydrated–this is part of the reason the bilirubin levels were rising. Bilirubin is excreted through waste and if he was not going to the bathroom as he should, he wasn’t able to properly remove the bilirubin from his system.

Upon starting his treatments in the hospital, we were told that we would need to remove Bode from the therapy lights to breastfeed him every two hours. After having been told that we needed to bring Bode in immediately for treatment, anxiety and stress levels were at an all-time high and we did not feel comfortable removing him from the therapy lights to breastfeed him when it was obvious he was not getting proper nutrients from me. I asked the nurses if we could give him formula. My main goal was to get food in my little baby’s belly in whatever way possible. She discouraged me from it and repeatedly told me “breast is best.” With encouragement from my mom and Cody, I demanded (in the nicest way possible) that he be given formula in combination with pumped breast milk. Pumping alone wasn’t producing nearly enough. With the combination, we would know exactly how much he would be eating and could get him on the path to pooping and peeing proper amounts.

Throughout the night, he started to pee and poop regularly. I never thought I could be so excited to see poop in a diaper! With proper nutrition and the therapy lights, his bilirubin levels started to go down overnight. I honestly can’t remember a time in my life when I have been that scared. I am so thankful to have a loving husband who is a great dad and a supportive family (immediate and in-laws).

I continued to pump overnight and into the next day even though I was producing such small amounts. I wanted to give him what I could. I requested a lactation consultant come in and evaluate my pumping to see if I was doing something wrong. I also wanted her to evaluate my right breast because it was so red and irritated I thought I possibly had mastitis. She was very kind and was in and out all day to check on me and help me pump. She had me put ice packs on my breasts, then take a hot shower, and then pump. I repeated this cycle all day long in the hospital and overnight at home once we were released. Unfortunately, it did not help and with each pump I produced less and less. It was so frustrating because I was in a lot of pain and my breast were engorged. They were rock solid and there was almost no release with pumping. They hurt like hell. It was really taking a toll on me physically and mentally. I literally had hickeys on my areolas from the pump and my nipples were raw. Mentally, I felt like it was taking away from my bonding time with Bode. I was starting to feel very negative about feedings. Several times, I broke down and ugly cried. Poor Cody, he would just hug me but there wasn’t much he or anyone could do or say to console me.

Deep down, I wanted to quit pumping and go strictly to formula but I had SO MUCH guilt around this. I felt like I was letting Bode down because I wouldn’t be feeding him the “liquid gold.” To be honest, I also worried about what other moms would say about me going to formula so soon. I know that is crazy talk but it is the truth. I would never mom-shame someone else for formula feeding and I would encourage another woman to do what is right for her situation. There is no right or wrong. I don’t know why I was having such a hard time taking my own advice and being overly concerned about what others would think. Am I the only one who has felt this way? After some sleep, having a serious conversation with Cody, and confirmation from the pediatrician and OB-GYN that Bode would thrive on formula, we made the decision to put away the pump and break out the bottles for good.

Going to formula was the BEST DECISION we ever could have made for Bode, myself, and our family. Once Bode started getting food in he was a completely different baby! His first few days he was pretty fussy and cried a lot–it didn’t seem normal to me but I had nothing to compare to so I just chalked it up to the fact that babies cry. I now know I should have followed my intuition. He was starving! He is so much more content now. It is amazing to see how much more settled he is–I know how cranky I would be with no food! I no longer feel the pressure of “producing” and I can really enjoy feeding him. Instead of having anxiety around feeding him, I now look forward to it. My favorite part of the day is after a feeding when he is sleepy and snuggly–it doesn’t get much better than that.

It didn’t take too long for my milk to dry up. My OB recommended wearing a tight bra and putting cabbage leaves in it. I have heard of that old wives tale before. I don’t know if this is fact but he thought there was an enzyme or something in the cabbage leaves that helped to dry up the milk. Again, I have no idea if that is true or not. Maybe one of you knows? Anyhow, I did it! I kept the cabbage leaves in the refrigerator to keep them cold–it was sort of like using an ice pack. We kept joking that they would go in my bra cold and by the time I switched them out they felt “cooked.” We had to find some sort of humor in it!

I wanted to share this story with you to let you know that you are not alone if you have experienced something similar, or even for those expecting moms who are planning to breastfeed but may find out you are not able to. It can be pretty hard to plan on doing one thing only to find out your body has other plans. In the end, things work out the way they are suppose to and you have to do what you feel is right in your heart. Please don’t feel shame in any decision you make. Chances are, you are giving yourself more grief than anyone else would give you. Only YOU can know what is right for you and your baby. Trust your heart and your intuition. When you follow what you know is right things will fall into place exactly as they should.

Gina Schade

Gina Schade

Gina is a certified health coach and author of The 90/10 Life Cookbook, and director at Beatycounter. She helps her clients create a toxin-free complexion they feel 100% confident in!

14 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Rachel Sotebeer

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! Rick and I went through a similar situation when we had Madison. I just did not produce enough and was devastated at first. But I have learned that “fed is best” and I have 3 happy healthy formula fed babies! I love seeing pictures of your beautiful baby boy and you are absolutely glowing as a mom. Hugs to you all!!

    1. Gina
      Gina

      Thanks for sharing Rachel! I had no idea that you guys went through the same thing with Madison. Yes, you are right about “fed is best” – I am going to have to start using that! Thanks for your support and friendship. I miss seeing you and hope all is well! Xoxo

  2. Avatar
    Elizabeth Bauer

    Great post Gina! I can really relate to this. Hope you are doing well and enjoying your little guy! Maybe we can get together up north this summer!

    Liz Bauer (Bruckman)

    1. Gina
      Gina

      Thanks Liz! I am definitely enjoying our little guy. I feel like time is flying! I love him so much. Yes, I would love to get together this summer. I am sure I will go up two or three times. Love keeping in touch with you and seeing pics of your family. Have a great holiday. Xoxo.

  3. Avatar
    Kathleen H

    Great post and thank you for letting the world know this! I can completely relate. Caleb came 5 weeks early through an emergency c-section and was in the nicu for two weeks. My husband and I wanted to breastfeed but my son wouldn’t latch because he was being fed through a feeding tube. Frustrated and tired of hearing “breast is best” I exclusively pumped. I was exhausted, sore and was trying to heal from the Cesarean. I couldn’t do it anymore. I stopped pumping around four weeks and won’t look back. It was the best decision I made for our family. Our baby boy is 4 1/2 months old and is in 6 months clothes. I’d say he’s one happy healthy boy too! Good for you for listening to your little boy and your own body. Only you can make those choices. I sure am glad I did.

    1. Gina
      Gina

      Thanks for sharing Kathleen. I am so glad you and your husband decided to let go of breastfeeding and go to formula. It definitely sounds like it was the right decision for you guys and I love to hear that Caleb is happy and healthy and in 6 month clothes! That’s awesome! I appreciate your support!

  4. Avatar
    Jen Marr

    Great post! I experienced the same breast feeding struggle with my 12.5 year old daughter Madison. Infertility, emergency c-section, not able to breast feed, post partum depression is what my first baby experience was… instead of all natural like I wanted! But it was all worth it and turned out great! We just have to do what is best for our family and try and not carry the guilt others try and hand out. Easier said than done at times. When I had my son I took the planned c-section, no breast feeding route and just enjoyed my baby. There is a lot of pressure on new moms. Best of luck. And I pray you all just enjoy each other. Take care! ?

    1. Gina
      Gina

      Thanks for sharing your story Jen. What a whirlwind you had with Madison. I am sure after all it took to conceive her it was stressful to go through emergency c-section, breastfeeding issues, and PPD. The things we go through for the miracles in our lives. 🙂 Glad to hear that you were able to feel more relaxed with your son and enjoy from the beginning. Thanks for all of you support – now and in the past with our infertility struggle. You are a great person. So glad we are friends.

  5. Avatar
    Whitnie Bauer

    Thanks for posting this! Our boys are a few weeks apart and I had a similar experience and was very hard on myself! Bode is adorable 🙂

    1. Gina
      Gina

      Congrats on your little guy Whitnie! Sorry to hear you had a similar experience but do find comfort in knowing I am not the only one to go through this sort of thing. I hope you and your little guy are settling in well. Happy holidays to your family! Xo

  6. Avatar
    Rachael Bowen

    The mom guilt is real! We had the same experience and I tried everything and struggled for 2 months and wish we would’ve switched to formula earlier! And we also had nurses continue to ask and try and sway us not to go to formula and I had to be very insistent (one nurse candidly told us hospitals get a certain amount of funding based on how many women they can get to breast feed vs. formula.).

    1. Gina
      Gina

      Thanks for sharing Rachael! I am sorry you had the same struggles but am glad you found peace in going to formula also. I wonder how the hospital tracks how many women breast feed vs. formula feed – so interesting!

  7. Avatar
    Becca

    Aw.. your story had me teared up.. Moms always know best for their babes. <3

    1. Gina
      Gina

      Aww.. thanks Becca! Yes, moms always do know best! Hope all is well! Xo

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