My Heart, Your Home: When Breast Isn't Best   

Thursday, 27 September 2012

When Breast Isn't Best

When I was pregnant with Evelyn I made many decisions about how my life, my household and my parenting choices were going to play out once she arrived. Many of them unrealistic, some of them ill informed, others based on judging the choices of other parents. There is a lot of information we are fed before we have babies and mostly, we don't go digging for any further information. We take the booklets, we listen to the advice, we see other's mistakes and theirs triumphs and we start to make our own choices and decisions based on this. But the reality is, that this information isn't the only, or even the best, information.

While I was pregnant with Evelyn, there was so much about pregnancy, about birth, about parenting that I just didn't know. I wish they told you about the bad and the gory as well as the pleasant and the simple. I wish I was more read. I wish I had have been better prepared. Because once she was here, I had to struggle with the shock and then the disappointment and mostly the guilt of all the things that went so horribly wrong.

We each have our own stories about those first few months with a baby, finding our feet, getting to know each other. Figuring out what works best for us and trying to find a way to make our new lives work. We each have our own stories about how we prepare for the day we are to bring our new baby home and the months that are to follow. My story is quite simple really, but it is an emotional one that still, 17 months later, can make me cry. I thought I was prepared. I thought I had it all under control. The nursery was done, the car seat was installed, the bassinets was made and my mind and heart was ready.

The night I went into labour I was so very excited that the time was finally now and in not too long at all, I would be holding my precious Daughter. We went to the hospital and I endured my 33 hours of labour and then... there she was. Here she is. With me and ready to bond as Mother and Daughter. Our very first moments to be her naked body, next to mine. We were wrapped up in a new kind of love that I will never find the words to explain. Then came the time to feed my new born, crying baby. Not once did my mind ever consider that this may be hard. I put baby to breast and she latched on and suckled away perfectly. The midwives checked to see that all was as it should be, and as it was, they left me to be, new Mother and new Baby. Little did they, or I, know that this would not work so perfectly on the other side.

Before owning a blog I had never admitted this to another person but I have one inverted nipple. Before I was a Mother, I never knew the complications that an inverted nipple can carry. Not once in my preparation to become a breast feeding Mother did I come across any information about how this could affect me and my baby. I did once sit down with a midwife and express my concern about how this may affect my breast feeding journey and she laughed at me. I had to beg her to look at my nipple and beg her to tell me if and how this could change my path. She laughed. She sighed and rolled her eyes. Took a quick look. Rolled her eyes again and then said it'd be fine. She did not discuss with me that it can in fact be a problem. She did not discuss with me that many women cannot breast feed with an inverted nipple. She did not discuss that some women have an operation to have their inverted nipples fixed. She did not talk with me and about nipple pullers, nipple shields, nipple anything. She simply rolled her eyes and ushered me out of her office.

I didn't pursue this any further as it was too humiliating to show your breasts to someone to have them laugh at you and I tried to forget that a problem may be sitting in my bra that will affect the course of my bonding with my baby.

Once Evelyn was here and I saw that this inverted nipple is actually cause for concern, I was to shy and embarrassed to call on the midwives and because they thought I didn't have any troubles, they never asked. I was sent home, unable to feed this new child of mine. Unable to care and nurture her in the best way I could. I went home with an attitude full of fight and hope and I truly believed that I was going to be able to figure this out on my own. This just wasn't so.

After a week of trying every angle I could possibly try to have Evelyn latch onto my left breast my spirits begun to break and my fight begun to falter. I started to feel like a failure. After all, isn't breast feeding meant to be natural? Isn't breast feeding what we are meant to do? Isn't it my responsibility as a Mother to ensure that my baby is given the best and isn't breast, best? 

I can still remember sitting on the side of my bed when Evelyn was 4 weeks old and I was crying to Anthony. Inconsolably. Sobbing. 

I am a failure!

This is the one thing I meant to do naturally, and I cant do it... what kind of a Mother is that setting me up to be?

I cant make my own baby happy. I cant give her what she needs. I am starving her

No one ever told me that breast feeding might not work. No one ever told me that shape or size of your boobs can make it more difficult. No one talks about flat or inverted nipples. No one talks about a bad sucking reflex, low milk supply, cracked and bleeding nipples. No one tells you that it might not work. All they tell you, they hammer into you, is that breast is best.

But what if its not?

I tried so hard to work out a way to be able to feed my baby. I tried every single brand of nipple shield I could find, none of which Evelyn would go anywhere near. I found a device called a nipple puller, its purpose was to draw my nipple out, but rather, it just made it invert even more. I spent hours upon hours in a hot shower or bath trying to draw the nipple out myself, to the point of turning my boob black and blue. I tried to express with a pump from that side, which split my entire nipple in two and instead of expressing milk out of that nipple, my bottle filled with blood. I tried to manually express every hour from that breast, to the point of causing carpel tunnel in my wrists. I tried feeding from only the right side, to the point that my right breast was two cup sizes larger than my left.

I found myself at a breast feeding clinic crying. Heaving, hysterical big breaths of absolute despair and complete defeat. The nurse looked at me and simply said "breast is only best, when it is best for Mother and child". At that point I knew, that breast feeding just wasn't going to work for me. I knew, that if I wanted to create a happy baby and a happy family, I had to admit defeat and let it go. On the way home, I bought my first tin of formula.

I breastfed Evelyn, exclusively, for the first seven weeks of her life. Back then, that was a failure. But today, this is an accomplishment. I introduced my first bottle of formula at seven weeks old and I continued to feed Evelyn from the one breast in the morning and in the evening until she was three months old. 

To me, breast just wasn't best. To me, to continue down the breast feeding path would have caused major destruction. Mental and emotional destruction. I still feel like I haven't quite lived up to the my role of being a Mother and I still feel such a huge amount of guilt for buying that tin of formula. But what I need to remind myself is that before that tin, Evelyn and I were both two very unhappy girls. Crying all through the days and nights. And after? We were at peace. We finally had the energy and strength to bond with each other. We had finally found a sense of happiness and normalcy. 

In the end I had to make a decision that was best for both my baby and I and in our case, breast just wasn't best. I will try again with baby Jelly. But I will not place so much importance and pressure on what is so trivial in the grand scheme of things. 

Your health is just as important, if not more, than the way your baby eats. So if you find yourself in a similar situation just remember that Mum and Baby need to be nurtured!


  1. Oh lovely, you are not alone. Breast was not best for me and my babies, either. And not for lack of hoping, wanting, or trying. I still carry the guilt now. I still upset myself when I see women who CAN successfully breastfeed. But you and I? We've done right by our children. We did what was best FOR THEM. Xx

  2. Ok, I left a comment, but it did pop up grrr!

    Good on you for writing this post, breast feeding is natural but that doesn't mean it comes naturally. I've been thinking about it alot lately.

    I had to stop due to my panic attacks and the sheer pressure of it all. If I continued, my baby would continue to be unsettled and I would be a bigger mess than I already was. So I put a stop to it and moved on (after a big teary about how bad a mother of was) and embraced the new reality, our reality.

    When we switched to bottles, I decided that hubby and I would be the only one to feed our girl for the first four months. I made bottle feeding a beautiful experience that we all shared together, and to this day I believe it created the bond that Phoebe and her Dad have to this day.

    1. The anxiety and stress attached to breastfeeding is unbelievable isnt it!
      We are not failures... we fed our babies and have raised healthy daughters and that is success!

      I love that going to bottles allows Daddy to have his own special time with Baby!

  3. There is so much pressure on new moms...I know I put a lot of pressure on myself...and it is not good for mother or child.
    You are exactly right that both mother and child need to be healthy and happy.
    And I think every mother has mother guilt about something...even mothers who are able to breastfeed might have guilt about having a c-section instead of a vaginal delivery or they might have guilt about some other obstacle that they encountered along the way.
    I am glad that you and Evelyn found a solution that made you both happy!

    1. You are absolutely right, there is always something to feel guilty about and as our babies go through the toddler years and then become teenagers I am sure that there will be even more issues and themes that we will all battle and feel disappoint/guilt about.

      At the end of that day the most important thing is the happiness of the entire family