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.

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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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