What Women Wish They Had Been Told

Every woman who has difficulties breastfeeding a baby will have a different experience. And every woman who has difficulties breastfeeding a baby will need different things from those who surround them. But all women who have difficulties breastfeeding do require support, compassion, and empathy. Accurate information is also crucial in order to make it work-- especially if you are having difficulties.

Below is a compilation of ideas shared by women who have had difficulty establishing breastfeeding with their babies and many of whom decided to exclusively pump when they found themselves unable to breastfeed.

These are the things they wish they had been told, the things they wish they knew going into the experience, and the things they needed to hear. This is what they want other women to know.

  • Exclusively pumping is a viable option if breastfeeding does not work out. The term “exclusively pumping” is rarely mentioned in breastfeeding books and not often suggested by lactation and medical professionals when a woman is having difficulty breastfeeding. It is also difficult to search for information on the subject without knowing the term that is most often used.

  • You are not alone! Breastfeeding is challenging for many mothers and babies. Reach out and find support. Locate internet discussion boards for breastfeeding women, exclusively pumping women, or women who have been unable to breastfeed. Go into your community and find breastfeeding support groups: La Leche League, local health units, hospitals, etc.

  • There are two sides to every breastfeeding relationship: mother and baby. You can not control the behaviour of both sides.

  • It is not your fault! Sometimes you can do everything right and for unknown reasons, it just does not work out.

"You don't need to know how much she's getting. I ended up EPing because I was worried about knowing if she was getting enough and thought seeing it in a bottle was safer."

~ Karen

Trust your body and your baby. Some helpful things to remember:

  • Do not schedule feedings. Allow your baby to nurse as soon as possible after delivery. Allow your baby to nurse on demand as frequently as s/he wants. A baby may want to nurse for short periods every hour or nurse for longer stretches every two to three hours. Whatever your baby wants is normal; don’t limit feedings.

  • You do not need to supplement a newborn. Colostrum is more than sufficient and is, in fact, the perfect food for a newborn baby. Just a small amount of colostrum delivers a large dose of antibodies and is very high in fat and energy. As long a baby is nursing on demand and has no health concerns, supplementation with formula should not be necessary. Supplementation with formula instead of nursing can negatively impact your milk supply and can make breastfeeding difficult. If you must supplement for medical reasons, you should also be double pumping with a high quality breast pump to maintain frequent stimulation and protect your milk supply.

  • It may take several days for your milk supply to increase, but this does not indicate a problem. The idea of your milk “coming in” is very misleading. You will have milk--colostrum-- when your baby is born. You will not have a large volume of it, but trust your body! You have what is perfect for your baby at the right time.

  • The amount of milk you pump--or not being able to express milk--is not an indication of how your supply is doing when breastfeeding. There is no need for a breast pump if you are breastfeeding! Unless you need to use a pump to augment breastfeeding with a baby who is having difficulties, do not even use a pump until you have breastfeeding well established and are comfortable with it. Trust your body and your baby.

  • Not all women feel their let-down. If your baby is getting milk--any amount of milk--you are having a let-down.

  • Not all women experience the same degree of engorgement during the first few weeks of breastfeeding. Do not think that because you do not have severe engorgement that this means you do not have milk. While it can, sometimes, indicate a problem, if your baby is feeding and having the required wet and dirty diapers during the day, there is no problem with your supply.

  • It may take a few weeks for a newborn to feed comfortably from both breasts. Be patient and keep offering both sides, but if your baby will not feed from one side, pump to ensure you are stimulating that side sufficiently and to maintain the supply in that breast.

  • The first few days and weeks are critical to establishing a strong milk supply. Frequent nursing or pumping is absolutely necessary. A baby’s feeding pattern--frequent, but often short, nursing sessions--are perfect.

  • Things do change. Breastfeeding changes as the baby gets older. Sometimes it gets easier or things just “click”.

  • Be patient. Anything worth achieving is worth working towards and waiting for. Sometimes it takes time. Keep your time in perspective. While you’re in the midst of it, it can feel like an eternity, but you will get through this!

  • Your relationship with your child is not defined by how you feed your baby or by whether things work out as expected.

  • Breastfeeding is something that both mom and baby must learn. It is natural and instinctual to feed a child at your breast and for a baby to seek out his mother’s breast to nurse, but the actual mechanics of breastfeeding must be learned.

"Breastfeeding is a learned behaviour for both mom and baby. I didn't realize I was going to have to fight so hard to breastfeed."

~ Jayme

  • Not being able to breastfeed, when you expected to, is a loss and you may need to grieve that loss.

  • Formula is not an enemy and in certain situations is absolutely necessary. There are times when formula is needed. When exclusively pumping, it is sometimes necessary to supplement with formula.

  • Your baby is not rejecting you if s/he is refusing to latch. It is easy, especially with the hormonal changes affecting your body post-partum, to feel very emotional and allow things to affect you personally. But try not to internalize the problems you are having but instead simply look at them as challenges that need to be solved. It is not a problem with you or your baby--just a problem

  • Don’t give up on breastfeeding until you have exhausted all of your resources--information, mental, and physical. There is no guilt if you have done everything you can, although you may still feel a sense of loss, sadness, and regret.

  • While in a perfect world breastfeeding would always work out, you are limited by the knowledge you have, the support that surrounds you, and the stresses and situations of your daily life. You don’t have to look far to find someone who was not able to breastfeed and to hear the stories of poor support and information that women have received.

  • It is okay to ask for help! Indeed, you owe it to your baby to do so.

  • The risk of post-partum depression increases with additional stress. Be watchful. Breastfeeding difficulties, a baby in the NICU, an ill baby- all these things can increase the risk.

  • Husbands, family, and friends need to know how difficult and emotional it can be to work at establishing breastfeeding. They need to know how best to support mom and baby.

"I wish someone had warned my husband. He can't believe how much is involved in breastfeeding, from the drama of latching and sore nipples to the worry of getting enough to the visits with the LC and support groups to the supply issues. It's been hard for him to watch the emotional roller coaster."

~ Jayme

  • Specific situations can make breastfeeding more difficult (eg. prematurity, cleft palate). Knowing that it is possible can encourage you to continue your efforts, but knowing the statistics--the fact that it is more difficult, sometimes very rare, and sometimes impossible-- can help you through the grieving process.

  • Stress can make a difficult situation even worse. Sometimes taking a step back and regrouping is necessary in order to move on.

  • Recognize that breastfeeding is not always an all or nothing proposition and that exclusively pumping is not the end of breastfeeding. Pumping can be used to maintain your milk supply while you work at resolving the difficulties you are facing breastfeeding and many women who exclusively pump continue to comfort nurse their babies.

  • You are making the right choice for your baby and your family.

  • You have the strength to get through this.

  • It’s okay if things don’t work out as you expected or planned.

  • Find a qualified, board certified lactation consultant, preferably prior to your due date. Meet with her before your baby is born and keep her number handy after your baby is born. Use the number! Even if you think things are going well, it can often be beneficial to have someone with experience watch a nursing session and offer support and encouragement or to help fix minor problems before they become big problems.

  • Feed your baby! This is paramount. When all is said and done, your baby must eat. Do not lose sight of what is most important--a growing, healthy baby.

  • Every breastfeeding experience is different. Having difficulties with one baby does not mean that you will have difficulties with another baby. Don’t let a challenging experience affect your efforts to breastfeed another child. Many women who have exclusively pumped with one baby have had very fulfilling breastfeeding relationships with subsequent children.

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