True Story: I Didn’t Breastfeed My Son

What would happen if you didn't breastfeed? Or simply didn't want to? Click through for one woman's story on why she chose not to breastfeed.
What would happen if you didn’t breastfeed? Or simply didn’t want to? Tara tried her absolute hardest to breastfeed her son but it didn’t work. This is her story.

Tell us a bit about yourself!
I’m a 37-year-old living in Minneapolis, transplanted from good old Fargo, North Dakota. I’ve been married for almost 5 years and have the best 14-month-old boy a girl could ever hope for. I’m a social worker that essentially does medical social work, which is a much needed change from the previous eight years of my life when I worked with teenagers.
I spend a lot of time with the little guy, but I also spend a lot of time reading, thrifting, playing with dinosaurs,eating chicken wings, and watching Teen Mom (yes, I’m 37). I have a pretty awesome life with great friends, close family, a pretty cool job, and lots of things to look forward to!
Before you had your son, what were your thoughts about breastfeeding?
When I was younger, I always that I would feel awkward about breastfeeding. I was born at a time when formula feeding was the recommended way to go, so it was surprising to me that I was really into the idea.
I was pretty dead set against using formula, just because “breast is best” and I wanted my son to have the best start possible. I thought that it was important that he receives all the antibodies from the breast milk and, well, it’s cheaper than formula.
What did you imagine breastfeeding would be like?

All my friends did it so it must be easy….? Also, I think that I had some idea of what it would be like, but I guess I figured that since it was the “natural” thing to do it would be a happy, wonderful time full of bonding, right?

One of my best friends who had a baby a few months before me would always stress the fact that it wasn’t going to be easy. She was constantly telling me to read books and prepare for any difficulty. I eventually bought a book and it was so dry that I could barely get past page four.
We also took a breastfeeding class, but from what I can remember, the instructor didn’t say a whole lot about problems that can occur and how painful it would be. I’m sort of a go with the flow person (aka not a good planner) and I just thought that “it’s not going to be that difficult for ME. Oh, no, for ME it will be perfect.”
Tell us about the first time you tried to breast feed.

Actually, the first time I tried to breastfeed, it worked. He was only ½ hour old or something and he latched right on. I remember that the nurses were pretty excited and I was excited, too.

I also remember wondering “What in the heck everyone was talking about. Difficult? This isn’t difficult, this is great!” Boy, was I wrong. The subsequent times that I tried to feed him in the hospital, he wouldn’t latch on properly and it was excruciating, like nothing I had ever felt before.
The nurses turned into vultures circling my bed, barking orders at me, telling me that I was “doing it wrong”. I remember at one point there were three nurses, inches from my face, telling me what to do and jostling the baby around. When it still wasn’t working, they brought in a pump and had me try that.
I also met with a lactation consultant twice. She was pretty helpful, but in a general this-is-what-I-say-to-everybody sense and no one was interested in looking deeper to see what the problem might be besides the problem being ME.
How did you try to cope with your breastfeeding struggles?

The whole thing was really anxiety-inducing. I felt like I would be a bad person if I didn’t keep doing it, but it was so painful that even the idea of having to do it again made me want to shrink up and die.

Instead, I decided to pump and feed him with a bottle, but while one breast was giving up some milk the other one was not doing it’s job. I remember sitting in the living room with two breast shields strapped to my chest, bawling because I was so overwhelmed. I didn’t cope very well, needless to say.
When did you decide to switch to formula?

My husband persuaded me to go to the lactation consultant one more time. I was sitting in her office with my husband, holding my son with no shirt on and she was attempting to show me how to breastfeed.

At one point, I was grimacing in pain and the lactation consultant unlatches him from my breast and, literally, a chunk of my nipple went flying through the air. I feel like we all watched it in slow motion and my husband finally agreed that this wasn’t anything I “had” to do. The lactation consultant finally relented and said that maybe this just wasn’t meant for me at this time with this baby, but that it may work with future children.
She was very kind and stressed that I should not feel guilty and that everything will turn out okay. I had also come to realize that breastfeeding is an all-consuming thing. With the anxiety that I was having already with having a newborn, combined with lack of sleep and patience, it was turning into something that I dreaded instead of something that made me happy.
How did the people in your life respond when you stopped breastfeeding?

My friends attempted, kindly, to persuade me to keep going, that it was hard, but that the more that I practiced the easier it would get. I had a friend who brought me nipple shields and fenugreek to stimulate milk production, but I just couldn’t do it.

I know that they were trying to be helpful, but ultimately it just increased the guilt I had about going with formula. My lovely doctor was extremely supportive and reassuring and said that she was proud that I was even able to pump for two weeks.
There were also concerns about PPD occurring due to my past history, so she stated that if I needed to go back on medication it wouldn’t be an issue if I was formula feeding. She really stressed the fact that if I wasn’t going to be happy, my son would pick up on that and that wouldn’t be good for him, either. After I spoke with her, I felt 99% less guilty about the whole situation and I’m grateful for that.
How did you feel when you stopped breastfeeding?

I felt a relief like no other. I felt like much of my anxiety was gone and I was able to try and focus on being a loving parent instead of panicking about having to pump again in two hours.

On the other end, I felt like people were judging me whenever I went into the formula aisle at Target or whipped out the formula in a restaurant. I feel like society puts so much pressure on mothers to be able to do this, a lot of times at the detriment to the mother. No one wants to provide a better life for my son than I do, but when it comes down to it, breastfeeding wasn’t meant to be part of the equation.
What advice would you give to other mothers who are struggling?

My advice is pretty simple – really think about what is best for you and your baby. If you’re able to power through the first few weeks, you’re more likely to breastfeed successfully.

I, unfortunately, was not able to do that and decided that having the extra anxiety of trying to breastfeed and pump wasn’t worth it to my son. I knew that at that point I wasn’t the best mother I could be because my thoughts were consumed with “Oh my god, I have to wash these pump parts, maybe relax with the little guy for 15 minutes, position myself on the couch, strap everything on, eek out tiny bits of milk, wait he’s screaming, but I need to finish this” (you get the point).
It’s difficult to not feel some guilt, but I think that new moms should give themselves a break. Being a mom is a hard job, and there are infinite amounts of information out there that will tell you that you HAVE to breastfeed and that you’re a bad mother if you don’t. You are not a bad mother if you choose to formula feed.
I feel like I am intelligent enough to have made the decision I made and I assume you are, too!

Thanks so much for sharing, Tara.  Have any of you struggled with breastfeeding?

P.S. True Story: My twins were born 3 months premature

Photo by Dakota Corbin on Unsplash

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  1. Jessi

    THANK YOU for sharing this story. I personally am a mom of a 15 month old and nursed her until she was 13 months. I also believe i had an undiagnosed (as it often is) case of PPD.

    While i'm grateful so very much that breastfeeding worked for us… its REALLY a lot of work physically and mentally. It was hard to not feel "used" during that time period. I felt just like a walking food source…

    And many of the pro-breastfeeding group are QUITE intimidating. And often times militant in my opinion. i actually would get offended by the "knowing looks" and "nods of approval" they'd give me when i'd mention i nursed her. There are so many ways to raise a child… and as his mother each woman gets the opportunity to make her own choices.

    and i'm telling you RIGHT NOW. i had supply issues at the 6 month mark and had to pump, take herbs, etc to keep that train on the tracks. IT SUCKED. God love you for pumping for the first two weeks? you're a saint!

    in conclusion… stay the course! know yourself, your family and whats best for it. All those other judgy mc judgersons can just go suck it. and their own boob i mean. (j/k sorry… i had to get that one in there.)

  2. Allysh223

    This is a wonderful article. I'm a Pediatric NP, and I care most that both baby and mom are healthy, happy, coping, and supported. Ideally that can all happen with breastfeeding, but if it can't? A stressed, unhappy Mom is a stressed, unhappy baby. Feeding and bonding with your baby are the most important things- whether it's breastmilk or formula.

  3. Amy

    Your statement about the nurses being vultures is so spot on! When I was in the hospital they were all over me, taking my shirt off and grabbing my breasts whenever they wanted. It was pretty horrible. One day when I just wanted to scream at the nurses, I sort of did – I just told them to leave me alone. I ended up teaching myself and my baby to nurse with a breast shield, and we had been successful for 6 months (never weaning from the shield) and then about a month ago my supply dipped and my daughter decided to stop nursing. Part of me feels relieved that we're not nursing anymore, but part of me feels guilty.

    Breastfeeding is the most difficult thing I have ever done. I'm happy I could do it for my daughter for as long as I was able to. But the guilt? That will somehow always linger, every time I buy formula I feel like I'm being judged. Why do we allow ourselves to feel so guilty? Why do we care what other moms think of us? I hope one day we'll be able to stop judging each other, to stop feeling guilty and just do what works for each of us and our babies. That's what matters. Thank you for sharing your story!

  4. Anonymous

    My son was born 11 years ago via emergency C section. I don't know if my body just wasn't ready because I didn't go through labor or what – I could not get the milk going. The nurses in the hospital started giving him formula because he was starving. Everyone was really nice about it, and I felt guilty that I couldn't make it work but got over it quickly. There were just too many other things to worry about at that point. My son has always been the healthiest kid ever so I guess I didn't screw him up too badly. With that anyway.

    Linda L

  5. Sara Rose

    I actually had the best doctor for both my kids' deliveries who maintained that a happy healthy mom and baby were more important than societal ideals. She encouraged the breast but didn't preach it. Both of my kids weren't breast fed and we tried hard! However. My daughter, born first, came early and didn't have a great sucking reflex. It didn't matter if I tried a nipple shield to help her latch or actually, any number of ideas we came up with. Eva just wasn't having it. Finally my doc smiled and said, "There are great formulas that are nearly identical to breast milk. You are doing this alone (at the time I was a single mama) and both of you need this to be as stress free as possible. It was a huge weight. I pumped for a long time because I SUPER LACTATED, supplemented with formula, and never felt guilty that she had a bottle instead of me in her mouth.

    When my son came along, I was home with her and him, as my husband worked. I felt like I'd have the chance and time to try again. Well. It wasn't in the cards. Three weeks in, I got mastitis. I had to pump, which wasn't a huge problem . . . if he hadn't been spitting up and having diarrhea. They did some tests and he was allergic to huge amounts of my diet. My choice was basically to go vegan. Except that apparently he needed to be on a really specific formula that is only available in the pharmacy for kids with fifty bajillion allergies.

    I went with it, instead of beating myself up, both times. I feel like life was so much less stressful for us as parents of newborns because it's already crazy hard! This whole 'breast is best' argument is like the working mom/SAHM/WAHM argument…. if our families are happy, healthy, and our kids are thriving, maybe we're doing something right? Good for you!

  6. Emy Jo

    I couldn't breastfeed. I watched friends sustain their babies on just breastmilk and just felt awful that I couldn't do it. I tried and tried and tried but the most I ever got would be about 2oz at a time — and that much if I was lucky. I went to a lactation consultant sometimes 3 times a week at first. She and her nurses kept telling me that it was "extremely rare" for a woman to actually not produce enough milk to feed a baby. Out of necessity we went to formula, but I stubbornly kept pumping, which just made me feel miserable. Finally, when my son was about 6 months old, I decided we'd both had enough of the charade and stopped trying to breastfeed or pump, which cheered us BOTH up pretty dramatically. I finally spoke to some family members about it and they all said they'd had huge problems and ended up going with formula, which makes me wonder if genetics could possibly play a role in milk production.

    I'm pregnant again and wonder how things will go this time, but I know that if I have problems I'll be so, so much easier on myself.

    I've also taken to emailing bloggers who go on too much about the whole "Breast is Best" thing and ask that they consider including a bit for moms who are struggling with milk production/pain/babies who simply don't like breastfeeding. Only once have I had a blogger email me back, and she agreed she hadn't thought about moms who couldn't because she didn't think it was an actual "thing." She updated her infographic! Progress.

  7. anna

    It pisses me off so much how women are continually pressured into breastfeeding – even when it is painful and not working. One of my friends is a midwife and even though the NHS line is to promote breastfeeding, she refuses to do it.

    There are also so many articles that basically perpetuate this idea that when women have problems breastfeeding it's just all in their head. No wonder women feel guilty when they can't do it.

  8. Anonymous

    Gah, why do people think that someone else giving birth gives them licence to give that person torrents of unsolicited advice (with a healthy side of judgement)? You clearly love your baby and want the best for them, breastfeeding didn't work; I hope they leave you alone and start doing something useful, like the dishes!

    I commend you for making the decision that was best for you; you're the person with your baby's best interests, and none of those other meddling morons.

    • Bethany

      "I hope they leave you alone and start doing something useful, like the dishes."

      AMEN 🙂

  9. Anonymous

    "I didn't cope very well, needless to say."
    This makes me so sad. I don't know what it is about new moms, maybe it's evolutionary, but wow, the guilt we pile on ourselves is completely awful.
    You were having serious problems and you still managed to pump for two weeks! Then you fought all those pressures and made the best choice for you and for your baby. Serious wins! You coped extremely well. You're a great mom. A++

    • Amy

      Oh the guilt.

  10. Sarah

    YES! I seriously struggled with breastfeeding, and also had a nice case of PPD that made me feel HORRIBLE about it. When I went to a lactation consultant at my doctors office she totally made me feel like I just wasn't trying hard enough and got frustrated with me. It's so surprising that the people meant to help us with struggles like that just end up making us feel bad about it! I mean, like a new mom doesn't have enough to worry about!

    After a month of trying to breastfeed/pump I ended up going the formula route. My now two year old daughter is happy and healthy and incredibly close to me, so when people say that only breastfeeding can result in that relationship I just laugh!


    Good Job!

    That is what you should be proud of–doing what is best for your little family!! Making that choice to go with formula was probably heart wrenching–and you were able to do it.

    I struggled with breastfeeding–and it was the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my whole entire life, including labour!

  12. Lauren

    I was one of those rare women who can’t produce breast milk due to a medical condition. Turns out my mum and my nanna and my sister all had similar issues, so I think it could be genetics. The pressure that is put on you to breastfeed is insane, and the GUILT you feel when you choose to switch to formula…oh god, the guilt. In my case I literally had no other choice as my son was losing weight and instead of the 90-140ml he was supposed to be getting at each feed, I was producing 5ml at MOST.

    I really felt like I wasn’t listened to, either, as the midwives/nurses would push using a pump when I complained about not producing anything, but also never bothered to check how much was actually coming out. Eventually a visit to the lactation consultant informed me of WHY I wasn’t producing any milk, and she basically told me that formula was my best option.

    It’s a bit ridiculous that the lactation consultant was the FIRST person to diagnose my issue, literally just by looking at my breasts (the shape was enough for her to know what was wrong) even though my many midwives had seen them during labour/after my son was born. When I mentioned the issue to my midwife friend, she even said she had never heard of it! I feel like this is something every nurse/midwife should be aware of, because if they had have known about it and could see my breasts had the physical appearance as well as the lack of milk supply, it could have been picked up sooner and I wouldn’t have been so damn miserable for those first few weeks.

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