Be.You.Tiful. Mom Series: Nursing is Not Natural

A seed of insecurity was planted the day I held my first born in my arms for the first time.

Don’t get me wrong, there was unexplainable joy and deep seeded love the moment our eyes met, but with it came dark feelings that I didn’t invite into my heart or home.

I watered and nurtured my seed of insecurity every time I compared myself to other moms. Their nursing successes, their rapid weight loss, their baby gadgets and the list goes on and on… With every unsolicited advice from family, friends and complete strangers, the seed grew.

Then one day this seed of insecurity took flight and bloomed. It started as a routine check up for my one month old. The cold room was filled with tired moms with fake smiles who held their babies.  I walked in feeling confident not knowing what was awaiting behind those double doors.  Our pediatrician began examining our son.  His facial expressions showed concern as he questioned me about my baby’s bowel movements, eating habits, etc….  He left the room.

Though this was my first visit with this doctor, I immediately knew something was wrong. He came back with a nurse and they both examined him quietly and they left the room again.

He walked back in with a serious look on his face and he said, “You can’t go home with your son.” Time froze. His words and condescending voice just became one long sentence, spoken in slow motion.

Finally, I tuned back in and I heard him ask, “When was the last time you fed him?” He was now speaking to me as if I was a reckless, careless 15-year-old mom. It didn’t help that I looked young, even though I was 28 years old.

He said in his most professional, cold and emotionless voice, “Mrs. Tuten, he is alarmingly under weight.  He was born at 6.5 lbs and he has now lost more than a pound. I am afraid that he won’t make it through the weekend if I let you go home.” He walked out.

The words, “He won’t make it through the weekend”, kept ringing in my ear. What does that mean? My precious baby is going to die. Then the lies filled my mind and heart, “You were careless. You don’t know how to be a mom. You can’t even nurse your baby. He’s dying under your care.”

He walked out and I sat there in the cold, sterile room holding my precious little baby and weeping.  Truly feeling like a helpless 15-year-old who is in need of her own mother.

My crying quickly turned into sobbing. The nurse walked back in to clean up the doctors lack of tact and she began to reassure me that this was not my fault and this could’ve happened to anyone . . . but the damage was done.

I didn’t need anyone else to help me feel guilty, I had my own thought to torture but now I had a professional confirm that I really didn’t know what I was doing and, for that matter, that everything I had done up to this point: the sleepless nights, the bleeding nipples, the constant feeding was NOT good enough.

I felt shame, embarrassment, confusion and frustration but all I could do was sob as I held my sweet boy.

Surely, this was just a dream.  I must have slept through my appointment and I am just having an awful nightmare.  I will wake up and this will all be over.

Unfortunately, it was really happening.

My husband left work and rushed over to be with us, we spent 2 nights in the hospital, what seemed like an eternity.  I watched my sweet baby boy scream in anguish as the nurses poked and bruised his little arms in an attempt to put an IV in his thin arms.  I will forever have etched in my mind his tiny little 5 lb. body laying there with tubes running through him attached to a monitor.

His diagnosis:  “failure to thrive” or, as I interpreted it, careless mom who was unable to provide and feed her child.

What the doctor didn’t know was:

I nursed him every three hours.

I spent an hour each feeding trying to wake him, stimulate him, play with him in order to get him to nurse.

I had bleeding nipples because I cared about my baby.

I didn’t get much sleep because every little coo and sound he made woke me up in panic.

I may not have been the perfect new mom but by golly this baby boy is loved. He is cared for and he is a happy and content baby. That’s why there were no signs of “failure to thrive.” in our home. That’s is why I didn’t see this coming.

He didn’t know me. He didn’t know that I wasn’t a careless 15-year-old mom. Those days in the hospital changed me. My spirit for mothering was crushed and I left the hospital with an insurmountable amount of baggage:

Guilt– I should have known he was near death?

Shame — I’m a woman, I should be able to feed my baby but I can’t even nurse him properly. What kind of mother am I?

Jealously– I couldn’t watch, much less hear, another mom gloat about their amazing nursing experiences.

All of those feelings soon turned into resentment.  From that day forward our nursing sessions looked like this: nursing for an hour, supplementing with a bottle, and then pumping.  This all took about two and a half hours, leaving only 30- 45 minutes of “free” time to get things done around the house before I had to breastfeed again.  I did this for six long and hard months.

Everyone cheered me on in my decision to breastfeed because after all, this was the best thing for my sweet baby boy.  Little did we know that it was the worst thing I could do for my son, myself and our family.  Those six months were filled with exhaustion, bitterness, jealousy, and resentment leaving me drained.  Though this was a dark time in my life only by the grace of God can I look back now and still say that I couldn’t get enough kisses from him, he was loved.

My husband encouraged me to let go of nursing, but I didn’t listen.  I became a determined, crazy nursing mom – reading anything I could get my hands on about how to make this work, trying all sorts of crazy recipes to make my milk supply increase . Alas, none of it worked.

 mommynme

image via demandaj

Now an explanation to what probably got you reading this far, my title for this article. In light of my negative experience I would still choose nursing if I had that choice. My hope is to encourage women to realize that it does take time and effort and to share that we don’t all have a choice in the matter of nursing. Some of us do have to reluctantly go and stand in front of the formula aisle for hours making ourselves buy it for the sake of our baby. I quickly realized what I wished more people would share with new moms, nursing does not come naturally. You do have to learn how to breastfeed your baby and for some the learning process is harder than others.  I equate “natural” to something that does not need my active participation, it just happens. Babies don’t naturally latch on correctly(this is important) and suck to their heart’s content.

“Falling in-love. Making poo. Producing tears. Tummy flutters. Goosebumps. Cold shivers. Muscle cramps. Any of these fall neatly into the category of “natural”. Breastfeeding isn’t like that. At all. At best one could describe the production of colostrum as natural. I didn’t give a moments thought to its production, but there it was…ready and waiting when my babies were born. Breastfeeding, like so much of parenting, is learned. And like most things that are worth learning, it hurts. And takes time. And patience. And it almost always helps to have some kind of teacher (even if that teacher is a book).” via Learner Mom

Looking back now, I would tell myself:

  • You’re not less of a woman if you don’t breastfeed.
  • It’s okay if someone has to teach you and your baby how to breastfeed most need a lesson or two or three or four.
  • Mari, all 3 of your kids are healthy even though you could only nurse one of them.
  • It’s not your fault that nursing didn’t work for you all.
  • Look at all those kids on the playground.  Can you pick out the ones that were breastfed?  NO.
  • For the sake of your family and yourself; let it go. Yes, there are great advantages to breastfeeding, but clearly this is not working for you.
  • Nursing can be hard and painful. Your boobs will fall apart from incorrect latching.
  • After children, your life IS going to look different, it IS going to change, so embrace the change.  Stop fighting it!
  • Not to mention your body is going to change.
  • Even if you’re exhausted and all you can manage to do is sit on the couch and flip channels, make time for yourself, for your hobbies, for your interests.
  • Yes, YOU still exist under all that extra baby weight.
  • Have realistic expectations- most likely your baby will not latch on without any help or go to sleep through the night in the first week and you won’t lose the baby fat in a week (so stop trying on those pre-baby jeans, hide them)…
  • No, your baby is not born with this innate natural ability to breastfeed. Unlike all those videos you watched and claim this.
  • You will enjoy your baby a lot more if you haven’t spent 80% of your day trying to feed him, and then feeling resentful, and then feeling guilty because you feel resentful.
  • Everyone will want to give you unsolicited mothering advice. Take it with a grain of salt and pray for wisdom and be you.
  • Throw modesty out the window the minute you walk into the labor room.  You will show parts of your body that you didn’t know exist to complete strangers and nurses will come in the room, grab your boobs like there is nothing to it in order to help you nurse . . . .
  • Whatever you do, for the first couple of bad nursing days stay away from those moms who gloat about the gallons of milk they have stored in the fridge and how their child feeds in 5 minutes.
  • Don’t ever forget, that in the midst of all those dark feelings you LOVED your baby like crazy.
  • Be vulnerable and talk about the frustrations you are having with nursing.  You will be amazed at how many other moms have struggled.
  • Stop the comparison it only robs your joy. What works for another mom may not work for you.
  • You are not perfect- your baby will fall and get bruised (yes even on your watch), he may sit in a dirty diaper for hours, he will get sick, he may even cry himself to sleep . . . .  Life happens.

Above all, pray like crazy. Pray for wisdom, discernment, sanity, love, patience and strength to make it through the day.  Your desire should be to honor Him, not to please your friend who has all the baby bling or be the first mom to fit into your pre-baby pants or out-do that mom who is making gourmet baby food.

You are BEAUTIFUL! Don’t be afraid to be YOU as you mother.  You are wonderfully made by God with different passions, skills and personality, so enjoy basking in His presence as He delights in giving you opportunities to shine, even if the spotlight is over a changing table.

“Let the King be enthralled by your beauty, honor Him, for He is your Lord.” Psalms 45:15

On a side note, we did discover later in life that I produce skim milk. In other words, my milk doesn’t have the fat that is needed for my babies to gain weight and grow.  In spite of all our issues, I am glad to report that I have 3 healthy, handsome and growing boys. I learned after the first child well maybe it took the second one to accept that nursing wasn’t going to work for us. Thanks to God, even though the process has been long, insecurity, jealousy and bitterness are not a daily struggle in my life as a mother anymore!

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  1. NURSING IS NOT NATURAL: I totally agree………believing that nursing is a natural instinctive process, and my heart goes out to you experiencing such an unfortunate set of circumstances, including the fact that your milk was ‘skim’ as it were.

    I tried to nurse my first son and ended up with excoriated painful nipples, and a dread everytime I took him to my breast…after a week of discomfort, anxiety and pain, I switched to the bottle. All my births were by vertical c-section, so it seemed easier to forgo the added pain and stress of nursing. With my next 2 babies, I easily gave up nursing for formula. By my fourth pregnancy, however, I was in the mindset that I would try harder, because I really do believe breast is best. Success….it was still painful initially, but I endured and my son nursed well until he weaned himself at one year. With my final baby, I suppose because I now knew that the pain and discomfort of breastfeeding can be temporary, and I was now ‘experienced’, he nursed and comfort nursed until he was 3 and a half years old. I so enjoyed breast feeding, however, it took 3 babies to finally succeed.

    I remember thinking way back then, hell no, nursing is not so natural that baby just latches on and drinks and voila, baby thrives… Yes, I did feel bad that I switched to the bottle and envied all the nursing mothers I saw…. In a way, I think that I made up for my earlier ‘failures’ by allowing my 5th son to nurse as long as he wanted; of course I didn’t tell anyone that I was still nursing a toddler+, as raised eyebrows were the norm, when I was nursing a one year old. I hear that now there is much more support for the art of breastfeeding…. But it is still, for many women, not so easy and natural, and this fact should be addressed for new mothers that it is not a personal failure.

  2. Beautiful post! I so should have read this when I couldn’t nurse my son seven years ago. There was just no milk. I was devastated, and the nurses and doctors made me feel awful. I finally decided that what he needed more than breastmilk was a happy mother. So, I quit trying and moved him to formula only. When my daughter was born last year, I just knew I wouldn’t nurse her, but life is funny… her nursing experience turned out the exact opposite. She was a champion nurser and ten months later I’m still doing it. Even then, it took SIX weeks for it not to be painful for me. The first two or three weeks, I cried every time I fed her because I hated it, but kept going because she loved it. Ten months later, I enjoy it. She’s been on formula during the day while I’m at work since she was 12 weeks old, but I never felt guilty for that because my son is the smartest kid I know and he never had a drop of breastmilk.

  3. I’m so sorry you had such a rough time. Thank you so much for sharing though. It’s definitely something that everyone needs to keep in perspective.

  4. I am so sorry that you had to experience this! My first child was in the NICU for 8 days when he was born. He was bottle-fed during that time while I pumped religiously. It took weeks, and weeks, and weeks, to get him to nurse well and I always felt such trepidation each time I got set up with my boppy and would try to feed him. I was scared of the rejection. My second son nursed like a champ for the first 9 months. One day he bit me and I screamed. Not at him, just in pain. He never would nurse again. It was devastating. I tried several times a day for the first few months and then continued to pump for another 10 months. I did the best I could and so did you. Thank you so much for sharing your story at Mom On Timeout.

    –Trish

  5. I disagree a bit- nursing is natural for some.
    But for others, like you and me, it isn’t. In my case, I don’t have enough milk glands (IGT). I had signs of this starting in puberty and when I had questioned my pediatricians or various ob/gyns over the years I received an overwhelming, “Oh, it’s just normal.”
    It wasn’t until I failed at breastfeeding my second child that I realized my problem. It was so disappointing and disheartening… quite a big blow!
    Well fast forward to now… my babies are all beautiful. (Baby2 has made a full recovery from her mommy starving her.) I am expecting Baby4 soon. I will nurse her a little bit, like I did with Baby3. But for her to actually get nutrition, I’ll bottlefeed.

    Thank you for sharing this post! You are honest and brave! I have been thinking about doing a similar post on my own blog or otherwise starting a whole different blog of my breastfeeding struggles. I just haven’t had the courage to do this yet.

    God bless all of your babies!

  6. Pingback: shaming shame « power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci

  7. What a great article! Thank you for sharing your heart. My friend shared this with me to read. I am pregnant, and he will be our first-born. The moment I announced we were pregnant, “Congratulations!” followed by what to do and what not to do came out of the mouths of well-meaning people. Most people are insecure, so if they can “get you on their side” it gives them a false sense of confidence. I definitely agree that you have to pray about it and do what’s best for you and your baby. My mom only nursed me for 3 months, and I’ve been healthier than most of my friends, whether they were breast-fed or not. My grandma had eight healthy children and couldn’t breastfeed. She said her doctor told her she was a dry cow, and she can even laugh about it. 😉 Your sons are so handsome!

  8. i have 2 beautifully children; 1 was bottle fed and 1 was breast fed!! Can you image they both are loved the EXACT same amount?? The first time around I wasn’t learned in the art of nursing. Thanks be to God for maturity and wonderful patient, kind friends!! Who never gave up…even when the questions seemed hard to ask!!

  9. I think we are in the same playgroup but I haven’t met you yet. Thank you for writing about your experiences with breast-feeding. I had a beautiful healthy little girl 6 weeks ago so I’m in the midst of learning to be a mom… and breastfeeding is one of the things I’m learning is hard to do for some people like me. I’ve heard so many people say they had so much milk they didn’t know what to do with it and it made me wonder if there was something wrong with me. I would nurse my baby one each side for 10-15 min and she would still be hungry. Afriend suggested that I put her back on the first breast and I’ve also been putting back on the second after but she’s still hungry after. I have been supplementing with formula since the second day she was born because I nursed her for an hour one night and she wouldn’t stop crying after from hunger! I’m glad that she has always expressed when she was hungry because otherwise I would have had the same problems you had with your first. I’ve also gotten really frustrated with all the advice about things I should drink to make more milk. I tried to follow all of it at first but it started to make me crazy and I didn’t see a big change in the amount of milk I had. I try to pump when i have time to stimulate milk production but if i don’t have time, i try not to stress about not pumping. .
    Anyway, i understand what you went through and it encouraged me to read your blog. Look forward to meeting you! heather