Why did I fail at breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding is quite an emotive subject for me. I DID breastfeed with both my daughers, but I struggled a great deal and eventually gave up at five weeks. I do think I made the right decision to stop breastfeeding, but I still wonder why it didn’t work for me. Why did I fail at breastfeeding?

Why didn't it work?
Why didn’t it work?

Recently I was reading an article by doula Rebecca Schiller on the breastfeeding ‘catfight’ and how she feels it’s setting mothers up to fail. Rebecca feels that “new mums want to do it. They’ve heard it’s best for the baby, but they have also heard that it is torturous. Many of their friends tried and couldn’t. They believe they will be judged whatever they do. It’s a toxic cocktail of expectations and disappointment, which is entirely avoidable by providing accurate information, accessible support and adequate midwife provision.”

She quotes Emma Pickett of the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers as saying “The vast majority of new mothers want to breastfeed. They sometimes struggle to find support and are sad and angry when it doesn’t work out”.

This article resonated with me and my experience. My babies both latched on fine – my first daughter after a few hours, my second right away. “Fantastic, I thought, I’ve done it”. I had visions of blissful breastfeeding for evermore. I didn’t mind about breastfeeding in public, I had bought a special sling for newborns which facilitated easy feeding – I believed everything would be fine.

As an aside, my experiences of the initial period after birth and the help I received were very different. I gave birth in different hospitals due to their proximity to where we lived at the time. When I had my first daughter, the midwives could not have been more attentive and helped me with breastfeeding at every opportunity. With my second, they left me to it. I was just lucky that daughter number 2 latched on perfectly.


So, after my initial bliss, weeks of torture ensued. Of course this was a marginal interruption to the all-encomapssing joy of a new baby, but significant. My breastfeeding experience with both children took the same pattern. They fed fine. They fed a lot. I got very sore, used buckets of Lansinoh cream, which made no difference. There were many tears and calls to breastfeeding ‘counsellors’ and midwives, who all told me the same thing – to “carry on, and it will get better.”

Well it never did, actually. The last straw with my first daughter came when she vomited blood, and I realised after some initial panic that she had injested blood from my poor nipples (disclaimer: sorry for the TMI – but this is about breastfeeding, after all!). With my second, I decided not to let it get to that stage.

Bottle feeding was a relief. The sterilising was fine and I got into a routine very quickly. Both babies were quickly very content and slept better.

I was shocked, however, at the lack of information on bottle feeding. It just didn’t seem to exist! We think google can find anything, but I had difficulty finding anything meaningful and resorted to the instructions on the packet on how much and when to feed my baby (this also wasn’t accurate for my babies – I made up my own rules in the end). This lack of information only served to add to a creeping feeling of guilt and failure.

So why? Why was it not successful for me? Was I not strong enough? Should I have persevered for longer? Was my breastmilk not good enough to fill up the babies, making them feed more frequently and thus making me sore? Was it because I’m a vegetarian?!

I don’t know the answer and I know I never will. What I do know is that I feel proud that I managed the five weeks with both girls. I also know I support breastfeeding, and also bottlefeeding for those mums who have tried unsuccessfully to breastfeed.

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Working Mum of two, living in Didsbury, Manchester, in a house which breeds washing, mushed up raisins and various toys in the brightest primary colours. Oh, and the odd empty wine glass.

45 thoughts to “Why did I fail at breastfeeding?”

  1. I was never able to Breast feed, for various reasons. I fell ill after my first and the medication I had to take meant that I wasn’t able to breast feed! I had sudden onset eclampsia during my labour which caused me to have Grand mal seizures. After my baby was born they put me on medication to make sure I didn’t have any repeat attacks. I was flown to a different hospital and didn’t get to see my baby until she was four days old. The nurses fed my baby from a medicine cup until I returned so that she didn’t get used to sucking a teat and I would still be able to breastfeed but after the information I received about my medication I wasn’t able to anyway! I appreciated what the maternity nurses did, so that I would have the chance to breastfeed if I was able. What I didn’t appreciate was how they made me feel about not being able to. They made me feel like it was my fault and like I had done something wrong. One nurse even pushed that they change my medication to one suitable for breastfeeding mothers, but this wasn’t an option!
    All the fuss about me not breastfeeding made me feel guilty and like a crap mum at the time! And I don’t think it is fair that some maternal heath nurses push breastfeeding like it is the be all and end all of a childs life, like they won’t survive without it. I have 3 children who have all been bottle fed and thrived on the formula and after how I was made to feel the first time I refuse to let anyone make me feel that way again! My children are all happy and healthy and we still had our quiet bonding time when I fed! I think the pressure to breastfeed can be too much!

    1. Wow, that’s a great comment. Thanks so much for taking the time to write that. I feel angry on your behalf that you’d gone through so much and then made to feel guilty through no fault of your own! It’s the last thing anyone needs after all that, and with a new baby. Honestly- the breastapo!!

  2. U certainly didnt fail hun. i hate that ppl think they can fail at something that is optional and not for everybody. enjoyed reading this x

  3. Of course you didn’t “fail” at breastfeeding. I was really lucky with A but Z was a struggle and I had got to the point where if the pain hadn’t eased I would have stopped too. I think that there is a lot of support out there for new mothers but it isn’t consistent and there need to be more breastfeeding peer supporters who are thoroughly trained. I really enjoyed reading your post but am sad that you have unanswered questions. You did NOTHING wrong & I think you know that. I think there needs to be much more information available that stresses how difficult breastfeeding can be and how not everybody is able to do for numerous reasons. I think the wishy, washy rose tinted crap that lots of the baby books are filled with needs to replaced with more realistic experiences from mums that have been able to and mums that haven’t. I also think that the lack of information of the correct way to formula feed is a disgrace. It will never have any impact on breastfeeding rates but will always mean that somebody gets it wrong 🙁
    Thanks for sharing your experiences xxx

  4. I breastfed my first baby for about 5 months (20 weeks) but only managed 5 days with my second. I have read a lot of horrendous stories by women who tried desperately to breastfeed and were unable to for any number of physical reasons and how badly the medical profession treated them and this is not my experience. For me I truly believe, looking back on it, that breastfeeding caused postpartum depression with my first child. With my second child I had a harrowing personal experience on day five which, combined with sleep deprivation and breast pain, led me to make a very decisive move to give up there and then. I knew I hadn’t really enjoyed it the way some people seem to the first time round and I had also seen friends who were bottle feeding having lovely bonding experiences with their babies so I didn’t feel like I was giving up on a close relationship with my baby. In reality the experience has been nothing but positive and the midwives were very supportive because they could see that I had absolutely no qualms about the decision I was making.
    Negative experiences I had breastfeeding included not being comfortable breastfeeding in public and therefore being trapped at home and not being made to feel comfortable doing so in the presence of my in-laws and being shunned for hours on end in their house. I also was convinced that my milk was weak and not nourishing enough to my baby who had to come back to the breast so frequently. I guess I am someone who likes routine and there is none of that with breastfeeding. I consider myself to be an intelligent person (also a more mature mum) so I’m well aware of all the wonderful benefits of breastfeeding, but at the end of the day I believe that a happy, stable, well-balanced household is more important than quibbling over any perceived negatives of formula. If anything my second child is more robust and healthy than my eldest who often gets a persistent cough at nights. I have no regrets and neither should you or anyone else who made this decision.

    1. Thanks so much for taking the trouble to write about your experiences. I’m sorry you suffered from pnd and I also wondered about how nourishing my breast milk is.
      What’s more important is the love and care we give to our children. It sounds like you have two gorgeous ones! xx

  5. Thanks for sharing this, breastfeeding has become such an emotive subject for mothers and I feel it is sad that so much pressure is put on us regardless of what we do. I have been thinking about writing about breastfeeding recently so I will try and do a post and link it on. For what its worth you most certainly didn’t fail and I think those mums that choose to bottle feed without even trying breast haven’t failed either. Too much judgement is passed, we all do what we have to do and for some mums breast quite simply isn’t best.

  6. Thanks for sharing this, breastfeeding has become such an emotive subject for mothers and I feel it is sad that so much pressure is put on us regardless of what we do. I have been thinking about writing about breastfeeding recently so I will try and do a post and link it on. For what its worth you most certainly didn’t fail and I think those mums that choose to bottle feed without even trying breast haven’t failed either. Too much judgement is passed, we all do what we have to do and for some mums breast quite simply isn’t best.

  7. Thanks for sharing this, breastfeeding has become such an emotive subject for mothers and I feel it is sad that so much pressure is put on us regardless of what we do. I have been thinking about writing about breastfeeding recently so I will try and do a post and link it on. For what its worth you most certainly didn’t fail and I think those mums that choose to bottle feed without even trying breast haven’t failed either. Too much judgement is passed, we all do what we have to do and for some mums breast quite simply isn’t best.

  8. If anyone ever tells me that everyone CAN breastfeed again I will throttle them. I wanted to breastfeed, my son latched on well, he basically lived on me for 6 weeks but I wasn’t producing anywhere near enough for him to be full. I think the HV finally realised this when she bought me her ‘special’ breast pump which was going to be so much better than mine, and still I didn’t express enough to keep a fly alive let alone my son. Maybe is was being over 40, I don’t know, I was DOING everything right, but getting no sleep and having a son who was permanently hungry. I moved to formal feeds, it was one of the most emotionally traumatic experiences ever – guilt, feeling like a failure and so on, BUT it was the best thing I ever did for my son. He thrived, he slept, so I slept and we never looked back. Out of 5 of my NCT group only 2 of us ended up on the bottle, the olther lady had twins. All the others have successfully breastfeed second time around too. I wish it had worked for me and my son, it didn’t, I tried really hard. #PoCoLo

  9. Five weeks is brilliant. I certainly wouldn’t describe that as an epic fail. I think as women we need to move away from the idea of failure anyway. We all do our best with what we get and with the many complex and individual circumstances that we face.

    I fed both of mine. My first I had pain for 12 weeks. I sobbed through feeds and I am sure it triggered the depression I suffered after he was born. I only kept going because he was my first and I had no other child to take care of. If he had been baby number two I couldn’t have done it.

    I am at the other end of it now. My two year old won’t stop – that is a different kind of battle though!

    Great topic. I do home as women we can all stand together under the banner of motherhood and never mind the authorities. Support for those who want and need it for either breastfeeding or bottle feeding is important. Making people feel guilty over how they feed their baby doesn’t help anyone.

  10. I had a terrible time too! F was a month early as I had undiagnosed pre-eclampsia. He stopped breathing 20 mins after birth so the whole experience was traumatic and felt entirely out of my control. He was in NICU for 2 nights and we stayed a week in total and there was absolutely no support in the hospital at all when it came to breastfeeding – all the councillors were off as it was the Jubilee weekend!! I spent one entire night awake with a screaming hungry baby who couldn’t latch on, with midwives who really couldn’t have given less of a sh*t and basically told me to get on with it. In the end the tea lady found me at 6am exhausted, in tears with a nosebleed from crying all night! Later, another midwife visited us at home and helpfully told me my baby was ‘starving’ and sent us to A&E – turns out her scales were incorrect. Yah really. I had no idea breastfeeding would be so painful, stressful and unrewarding, managed to express for 5 weeks then went onto formula. Our happy household returned! OH was very very happy to be included 50/50 in F’s feeding as well. The pressure to breastfeed is ridiculous and if I hadn’t had support from friends and family who’d been through the same I’d feel like a big failure too. And I totally agree there is NO information anywhere about formula feeding! I just had to make it up on the fly! Hope all you ladies are over the horrible experience and don’t feel bad. Breastfeeding is over-rated, if you are unhappy and totally stressed out your baby will feel that and it’s a horrible spiral that’s no good for anyone.

    1. I’m so glad to hear someone else say this – that breastfeeding can be “painful, stressful and unrewarding” – the thoughts I had in my head for a while but was too scared to express (pardon the pun!) for fear of being judged as a selfish, bad mother. I breastfed my first for 20 weeks at which point you would think that I would be into the swing of it and over the pain and into the enjoyable bit? Can’t really remember anything except being so stressed, depressed and sleep deprived that something had to give.

  11. Wow you’ve had some great comments on this blog! Do not beat yourself up, what you did was an achievement and something a lot of women, including myself struggle with. For medical reasons I genuinely failed. You’ve got two amazing girls none the worse for not being breast fed for upwards of six months! Xx

  12. Fair play to you for a really honest and sensible post! I was lucky to be able to breastfeed both babies to 8 months without too much difficulty. Yes it was painful to start with but I was lucky to get past that. At the end of the day we all just need to bear in mind “Happy Mum = Happy Baby” – if fighting to breastfeed isn’t working for you and spoiling those lovely first weeks with your baby then stop! Do what works for you. I’m glad you had the confidence to do that 🙂 My Mum tells me she BF me for 4 months because she felt she “should” and wasn’t confident enough not to even though she didn’t want to! x

  13. There’s no such thing as failing. It’s you and your daughters experience and you gave them 5 weeks of something that no one else could give so be proud of it :). You said you wanted to try it and you did and that’s brilliant :).
    I breastfed and am breastfeeding and with my second daughter I genuinely understood why people stopped early on – it hurt like nothing had ever hurt before! I only got through it because I promised myself I’d treat both girls the same and as I’d managed with the first I knew I could do it again.
    Conversely to some other comments breastfeeding isn’t pushed around here at all. When my second was born I was the only breastfeeding mum on my ward and the only breastfeeding mum on my health visitors books. It’s so not the norm round here that they even filled in my notes wrong so baby didn’t get the proper checks she needed (extra weigh ins etc) as they just assumed, like the rest, I was artificially feeding.
    Anyway – don’t use the F word 😉 xxx

  14. 5 weeks is really great! I never managed with any of my 3 girls – I feel that me bottle feeding was the right thing to do after stressing myself out so much trying to breast feed. It’s hard for us mums because we’re either persecuted for breastfeeding or persecuted for NOT breastfeeding! I think we should, as women, be supportive of the decision that the individual makes x

  15. my daughter drew blood but after 2 weeks we finally got right advice and i was lucky. her arrival had been traumatic and I had no help with first feeds. she was topped up with bottles as weight fell (turns out she is just naturally skinny!). son was ok from birth and refused bottles even of expressed milk! so sorry your experience was that awful

  16. I am a breast feeding peer supporter and it shouldn’t hurt, and the fact that there was blood suggests that the baby wasn’t latched on properly. What really annoys me is that you’ve seen people who should have picked up on this and helped you – because then if you had decided to give up it would have been because you decided to and not because you felt you had failed. You shouldn’t have started mother hood feeling like this and this is where I feel we are let down. Breast or bottle I don’t care which people do, but wish they weren’t made to feel bad about it.

  17. A beautifully written post. Something that is exceptionally close to my heart after my daughter lost 17% of her (9lb 13) birth weight and ended up back in hospital on day 5 with kidneys that were very poorly! Our breast feeding journey ended there and she was bottle fed there after. It hurts but I know I did the best thing for her and us, she is 17 months, healthy and thriving, rarely poorly and keeping us on our toes. Formula didn’t hurt her but I can’t help but feel there isn’t enough support for mums who end up having to bottle feed… And everyone makes the wrong assumption. Just when it isn’t hard enough!!

    Popping over from PoCoLo xxx

  18. I don’t think any woman can say they haven’t struggled at some stage during breast feeding. I got lucky and managed to do it for 18 months (maybe I was just seriously lazy, I have so much respect for all the parents out there who spend so much time making up bottles, washing bottles etc).

    I’m a big believer in parents choosing what’s best for them and their child regarding feeding. Yes, we should be given all the information but there shouldn’t be any pressure to do either or. I certainly don’t believe people should be judged for choosing the best option for their family.

    I’d love to see less people saying ‘I failed at breast feeding’ and more people saying ‘I succeeded to feed my child’. How should simply be a matter of personal choice.

  19. The first 3 months of breastfeeding ARE extremely challenging and the first 6-8 weeks are really painful. While I got through those tough days and reached the other side (long-term breastfeeding), it is pointless to be overly critical of any mom who doesn’t. That’s on par with criticising moms for having pain-relief during labour! We are fortunate to have alternative options to pain-endurance and our objective, as moms, is simply to have a healthy baby. Let us remember that. You didn’t “fail”. x

  20. it makes me sad to read a post like this. My children are 16, 12 and 9, and I think it was so different then. We were encouraged to breastfeed, but there wasn’t the same pressure, and mothers definitely had less of a sense of failure.

    Interesting to read that you feel that mums today are set up to see it like some kind of challenge, and a torturous one. It wasn’t like that for us 16 years ago. It wasn’t seen as a competition (that was saved for the Caesarean/Non-Caesarean arena!) It was talked about as natural, easy, convenient, and yes, some women had trouble, but that was rather glossed over. I was taken by surprise when I found it very painful. Maybe there’s a better middle course between then and now.

    I would just say, you did your best. Five weeks isn’t “failure” in my book. In fact, I had a friend who said she’d breastfed her two children. It came up in conversation – after I’d known her for years – that she’d breastfed each of them for 3 weeks. So there you are! You can say you breastfed your babies!

    Thank you for writing this post. Would you allow me one more reflection from the vantage point of a mum with older children? It really won’t matter in the long run. You have years and years ahead of you of opportunities to give them healthy food and get them into good eating habits, and I reckon that’s a much bigger mountain to climb and a more important one by far.

    (Found your blog from the BritMums Linky.)

  21. Thanks for sharing this! I was determined to breastfeed because I had had such an awful pregnancy I wanted to enjoy some kind of “natural” parenting. But sadly we had awful issues. My baby fed constantly and he would fight and kick and scream when he did. He had colic and I had oversupply issues which was further complicated by almost constant blocked ducts (and I’m talking massive swellings on each breast for weeks). I carried on too long in fact, as our relationship was being affected. We switched to formula gradually and he was finally fully weaned from the breast at around 3 months and he was a completely different baby – so much more content and calm. After my initial relief I then had weeks of feeling like a failure and so upset that I would never get another chance to try again. We did try relactation at around 5 months but it just didn’t work out. And for me it was never about breast being better, it was a very personal thing for me as it felt like my body had failed to do things properly yet again. I wonder whether I would have been quite so upset about it had I not struggled so much with other things and been questioning my mothering skills? There is so much pressure out there and so little support (I swear I knew more about breastfeeding issues from my own research than the health visitors who were the only ones available for support where I live!) I think we need to move beyond judging and try to support mothers in whatever option they choose and whichever route works out for them. So thank you for sharing your own story!

  22. I totally get where you are coming from, my breastfeeding was a complete fail and I hated being put under such pressure to do it and then considered a failure because it didn’t work out. I wish new mums were allowed to make up their own minds without the pressure #PoCoLo

  23. I used to feel bad about this. I lasted 10 days of breast feeding with both children. I was so uncomfortable, they were feeding for over an hour each time. I’m sure I wasn’t producing enough milk and I was stressed. I figured that my babies didn’t need a stressed out mum so I gave up. In my case I felt breast was not best, chilled out relaxed, and confident mummy with bottle was better!

  24. I really don’t think you should consider yourself a failure at all. You did what you could when you could and that is all anyone should expect or ask. Thank you so much for linking to PoCoLo x

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