"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." -Winston Churchill

Monday, April 18, 2011

Breastfeeding Grief and Redefining Success.

Living With Low Milk Supply

Going Through Breastfeeding Grief and Redefining Breastfeeding Success

Mothers experiencing supply issues are frequently grieving the loss of exclusive breastfeeding. Mothers who are unable to feed at the breast sometimes say that they feel as they are grieving a death. These mothers are often frustrated that their family and friends are not sensitive to their mourning process. Some mothers even stay at home because they feel ashamed to bottle feed in public. They feel upset or humiliated by the perceived stares and comments of strangers. (This is something I struggle with, personally! I avoid going out alone with the baby, because I hate to be seen bottle-feeding, even though I breastfeed first. If I am out with my husband, I will breastfeed, then hand her over to him and let HIM bottle feed her, and I'll walk away. No one is going to judge a man for not breastfeeding, right? -L.F.)
Many mothers find that redefining their breastfeeding success and their mothering goals can help with the resolution of breastfeeding grief. They find closure by understanding that they did or are doing the best possible in the circumstances. Some mothers come to see the challenge of going out into the world as an opportunity to inform others about the issues that can undermine breastfeeding.
Redefining breastfeeding success restores a mother’s self-confidence, and enables her to feel that while things are not perfect, they are as right as they can be. For example, for some mothers, nursing can mean breastfeeding at the breast with a supplemental nursing device for some or for all feedings. This allows even mothers who produce no milk at all to keep their babies at their breasts. When the baby is old enough to get her calories through solids, this same mother may continue to “comfort nurse” for as long as she and her baby likes. This is a nursing relationship.
Other mothers and babies may need supplementing (topping off with supplement) after nursing at the breast. This is a nursing relationship.
Some mothers exclusively pump milk for a baby who can’t nurse. The mother can take pride in providing her baby with a special gift. She is a lactating mother and her body benefits form the hormonal benefits of lactation. Her baby benefits by receiving her milk.
Still other mothers wean and do not pump or supplement at the breast. They may also grieve and feel concerned about what their babies may have missed. Redefining mothering goals can help mothers find resolution: life with a newborn and young child affords many opportunities to develop a bond and to work on health-enhancing behavior. 

I have always had trouble "redefining breastfeeding success," because, in my mind, true success would be an exclusive breastfeeding relationship. But, as the third time is not a charm, I'm working on accepting hand I've been dealt.
I need to remember:
  • Some breast milk is better than none.
  • A happy, well-fed baby is better than a miserable, under-fed baby.
  • Every day we continue to nurse at all is a mini-victory.
  • Bottle-feeding can be done with just as much love.
  • The most important thing is to FEED THE BABY.


  1. This is so great to read! It helps put my observations of other moms in another perspective. We NEVER KNOW WHY another mom does what she does and who are WE to judge or be opinionated about their actions?

    I applaud any women who is persistent enough to pursue the breast no matter what. That is a true super mom! <3

  2. It's true. And yet, I'm guilty of judging other moms myself, especially formula feeders. THAT'S JUST CRAZY. I think it's more I'm jealous that they probably could have been able to breastfeed, and didn't. Silly. But, I also feel like everyone's wondering why I'm feeding my baby a bottle after nursing, when more people are probably put-off by my nursing (unfortunately.) But I'd much rather be seen breastfeeding in public than bottlefeeding, because I want to be part of the solution in making breastfeeding "normal" again.

  3. I don't think it would be weird to see you bottle feed after the breast! I think its weird when breastfeeding moms feed formula when they are in public because they "feel more comfortable" and its "easier" for them.... I have met so many moms like that. Even my aunt refused to BF because it was "weird" 11 years ago.

  4. Thank you so much for your blog. I am the mother of a 9 year old, a 6 year old, and a soon-to-be one month old. I struggled with breastfeeding grief with all of my children. I felt gobsmacked by the process with my first child. I can remember crying and crying and feeling like a failure. I visited a lactation consultant, drank special herbs, rented a hospital grade breast pump, and used an SNS. I never did make enough milk to exclusively breastfeed. However, I eventually came to see my situation as beneficial rather than detrimental. I got to breastfeed my daughter, snuggle with her, love on her. Then, if someone else wanted to give her a bottle, I could go do something else for a minute or two. Because our nursing relationship was not her primary food source, I never really experienced the drop in supply that forces moms to wean their babies. My daughter nursed until she was two and half. Then, with my two subsequent pregnancies, the reality of my low supply became easier to manage on an emotional level. I have also been surprised by the fact that I have produced more milk with each successive pregnancy. In fact my newborn son and I had a visit with the lactation consultant this past week, at which time we determined that he had taken in two ounces of my milk at a feeding. I was not using an SNS at the time. While two ounces is nothing to a regular lactating mom, it's like a flood of milk to me. I have never made so much milk in my life. Will I ever make enough to ditch the formula? I doubt it. But I stand comforted in the fact that I can make something for my son and in the fact that my two older children and I have an extremely close relationship. I am sure that this came from the years I nursed them.

  5. Loved your comment! 2 ounces feels amazing! I can remember going to the lactation consultant and my babies weighing the same amount before and after a feeding. Such heartbreak. We gain more glandular tissue with each pregnancy and nursing period. Maybe if I had 3 more kids, I'd be able to exclusively breastfeed the last one, but hubby won't go for that.