The Making of The Badass Breastfeeder: My Breastfeeding Story

I always knew I wanted to breastfeed. I don’t remember ever seeing anyone do it. I just thought it sounded right. I read a lot on the subject and knew it could be hard work. I knew to watch out for hospital staff giving my baby a pacifier and a bottle as this might cause nipple confusion. I knew I needed to start immediately after delivery. It was on my birth plan and the nurses were on board. What I didn’t know was that breastfeeding would turn out to be the hardest thing I had ever done. And I say that having delivered a child with a head circumference in the 98th percentile through my vagina. I didn’t know that breastfeeding would test every insecurity and every last nerve. I didn’t know that breastfeeding would turn out to be the thing I am most proud of. I didn’t know that working through the horrors of breastfeeding would open up a whole new world of parenting and conspiracy. I didn’t know that when the nurses said I had to give my baby formula that they were motivated by a machine so big and powerful that these medical professionals themselves believed that this was the best thing for my baby.

Jack was one day old. One day. “He needs to pee or you can’t be discharged,” the nurse told me. Each nurse on shift would come in and say “I’m worried he hasn’t peed.” So naturally, I worried. A doctor told me that I wasn’t making enough milk. She suggested that I give him formula to help him pee. I had done the reading. I told her no. She said it was important for him to pee and he is fussy because he is hungry. I don’t know if there are mothers out there that are OK with their babies being hungry, but I doubt it. So I promptly gave him a small amount of formula. No baby of mine will ever go hungry. He took it well. He didn’t seem any less fussy to me, but I was relieved that he was no longer hungry. I know some things now that I didn’t know then. He probably ate about 3 times as much as his stomach could really hold at that age. I wasn’t making much milk because he didn’t need much milk. In order to make more milk I needed him to nurse, not suck on a bottle. Formula companies send free formula samples (and money) to hospitals, and introducing formula to infants has become customary—a sort of “understanding.” What better way to make money than to get an infant hooked on it right from the start?

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In order to step up the drama a doctor ordered tests to be done on my baby’s liver and kidneys to make sure they were working properly. You know, because he hadn’t peed yet. My husband took him down to the tests. I sat in the room tired and scared. My husband returned. The tests looked good. “Oh, and he peed,” my husband said. My doctor arrived the next day and was angry that these tests were done. She said that she would have tried putting a wet wash cloth on him or dripping cold water on his johnson. However, she didn’t seem worried that my baby had now been drinking formula for every feeding. “Nurse for 15-20 minutes on each side then give him a bottle of formula” everyone said. They promised me he would come back to my breast “when I am finally making enough milk” and we would have no issue exclusively breastfeeding in the near future. I trusted them.

We took Jack home and found our routine of feeding every 2 hours. 30-40 minutes of nursing and then a bottle. The routine took about an hour. We got an hour break. Then we’d start again. It wasn’t long before Jack was getting upset while nursing. He would scream, wiggle around, unlatch, push away and cry, cry and cry. I cried too. My baby was rejecting me. My plan to breastfeed was failing. I was failing. It made me sick to think that my body had failed my baby. It made me sick to think that I was going to have to quit and I wasn’t even sure what I had done wrong. I was only half woman.

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I tried different rooms of the house, different positions, relaxation techniques for me, massages for Jack, white noise machines; anything I could think of. My baby hated my breast. He didn’t want to breastfeed. He wanted that fast flowing bottle filled with filling formula. I felt so sad. I wanted this so bad. I had anxiety attacks. I had spells of depression. I wanted to bond this way with my baby. I wanted to have this experience and nurture him in this way. I wanted it so bad. I never wanted anything more in my life. I was terrified one day he would just stop all together. I started pumping. Pumping after every feeding. 45 minutes of nursing, bottle, then pump. My husband went back to work. My days were filled with anxiety. I would sit Jack in front of me and pray he didn’t cry so that I could finish pumping. Very little milk was being pumped. It made me more sad and anxious.

We brought Jack for his 1 month check-up. His pediatrician said to stop giving him formula. She said just do it cold turkey and he will be fine in a week. I couldn’t believe this woman was asking me to let my baby be hungry. She didn’t have children. She didn’t know the sound. I couldn’t imagine doing this. She said “of course he wants the bottle, it’s easier.” She said it with this tone like “what a lazy fuck of a baby you have.” I called a La Leche League leader in my area. She said to first try tapering down the formula and try supplementing with only pumped breast milk. She said to wait after nursing sessions before supplementing and only supplement if he seemed unsatisfied. She suggested I was probably pumping very little because was eating most of it. She did some math based on the average amount of milk consumed at Jack’s age. I was shocked to hear how much he was likely getting from me. Jack was growing fast, so we knew he was eating. She said soon he won’t ask for supplements and I will be building a freezer stash with the pumped milk. I didn’t believe her. There was no way I was going to end up ahead of the game if I did end up on top at all.

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I sat up when I should have slept, reading everything from medical journals to posts in chat rooms and everything in between. I read more than I read in grad school. I learned so many things that I didn’t know. I learned why it was so hard for me to breastfeed and it was a surprise to me to find out that it was, in fact, not my fault. I was guided by people who didn’t have the correct information themselves. I live in a culture stuck in the 1950s when it came to breastfeeding. You see, at that time formula companies were trying to make a profit. They told women all sorts of lies about breastfeeding to force them into buying formula: that babies need to eat loads right after birth and if you don’t make all that milk yourself then something is wrong with the mother; that mothers can’t have a drink on occasion; that breastfeeding comes with many health risks for both babies and mothers; that breastfeeding is dirty and indecent; that breastfeeding is for third-world countries; that formula is equal to breast milk.

I was appalled at what I was reading. I began to lecture my husband on all this new information. I joined other breastfeeding mothers in resistance. I began to breastfeed in public as much as possible. I posted pictures of myself on the internet with pride. I attended nurse-ins. I began to identify as a breastfeeding mother through and through. I also stopped giving Jack formula. He would still take a bottle of breast milk after some feedings. Until about 2 or 3 months old. It’s sort of a blur now. But he is now 7 months old. And as far back as I can clearly remember he has been exclusively breastfed. Recently he was sick and we were trying to supplement some water after nursing sessions due to dehydration. He actually slapped the bottle out of my hands. The beginning months are just a faded memory now, but I remember the feelings: the fear, the disappointment, the anxiety, the sadness, the guilt and shame. This was all surrounding my difficulty getting started with breastfeeding. I am lucky. I started this journey with a positive self-image, pride and most importantly a fierce desire to breastfeed that some women do not have. I was going to win. I had to. I fought hard and persevered in the end.

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But I have also learned that this pride comes with a cost. There is so much guilt and shame surrounding this topic of breastfeeding. Some women suffer negative body images and a lack of desire to work through the difficulties. Some women find it difficult to be available all the time for their babies and want to be able to have another person help with feeding. Some women tried and did not persevere. Some women believe that formula is just as healthy as breast milk. Some women have medical issues. Some women have unhealthy lifestyles. But most women who choose not to breastfeed just don’t want to. It is a very explosive subject. I have suffered the consequences of being so proud of my success with breastfeeding. I have come to empathize with all sides of the issue. But in the end I know I am doing what is best for me and my baby. I won’t get into the benefits of breastfeeding here. You can google it. It’s scientific fact. I know that my baby and I are benefiting in more ways than I can count from my tenacity and success. I am The Badass Breastfeeder.

Abby Theuring, MSW

Comments

  1. <3 I LOVED this.

  2. Great article!

  3. This is so similar to my story – the first 6 weeks were such a nightmare but I was hell bent on providing milk to my precious son – now here we are at a year, still going strong, with no plans to stop anytime soon!

  4. Thanks for sharing this. I’ve been struggling for two months now and just ran across your story. Because of you, this morning I worked out a game plan with my pediatrician and she fully supports this method of phasing out formula. Please wish me luck.

  5. Great read! My sister in law went through something similar when her baby was born. You are such a strong woman! I am nursing number three and you are my hero!

  6. Awesome

  7. Thank goodness for real lactation consultants and organizations like Le Leche League. Thank you for sharing your own personal story and for standing up for all nursing moms.

  8. Breastfeeding came so easy for me. The nurses told me to let him nurse after they finished cleaning him up and wer surprised by how fast he latched on! Just before we left the hospital my mother in law talked my husband nd I into giving him a bottle bc she said I wasn’t making enough to sustain him as a first time mom who free up in foster care my first thought was I was starving my baby and the hospital wouldnt let me take him home. I felt so guilty giving him formula but I didn’t know what to do. My nurse said no my mother inlaw made me feel like a bad mom if I didn’t. But then he didn’t want me and cried bc I thought he hated me. My Dr sat me down though told me what to and I was able to get him to latch again. The first 4 days were hard since day 5 the only problem has been pumping! Ever since I promote bf. Every chance I get. My sons godmother is pregnant and I tell her about the benifits all the time! I’m proud to whip out my booboo at my husbands soccer games and say I am a badass breastfeeder!

  9. Karina says:

    Same thing happened to me….one of my nurses told me that my baby’s bilirubin was high because he wasn’t nursing enough. I went in my room’s bathroom and cried….then agreed to try formula. I’m a nurse myself and trusted the hospital staff…..when I got home and was a little more clear minded I looked through my baby’s chart (weeks later). His bilirubin had gone up slightly from his initial labs….but it was actually normal…..I was so angry. now we’re going strong he’ll be a yr in a few weeks.

  10. Rhianna says:

    Thank you for sharing, it is heartbreaking to read that this is still happening today and in a developed country, from the people who should know the facts about breastfeeding!
    Fortunately my experience In Australia’s birthing wards has been very positive and encouraging towards breastfeeding. Baby straight onto tummy and baby led attachment after birth, with twice daily visits from lactation consultants to answer any questions and make sure everything Ok.
    I overheard one of nurses telling a new mum (who was being pressured by her mother to give a bottle) that she should NOT give the baby a bottle, and explaining that she just needed to keep going and letting the baby suckle and her milk would come in.
    Also at my health nurse visits and home visits, the nurses are available to answer any breastfeeding questions and provide reassurance and positive reinforcement of continued breast feeding, the official gov message given is breast feeding is best and should be continued until bub is 2 years old, this message has been supported and encouraged by every health professional I encountered.

  11. Katherine says:

    HI Abby,

    When my son was born the nurses were also saying that he had not peed. After a few hours, a nurse said “if he doesn’t pee with in the next hour, we are going to give him formula.” I immediately said no. Then, magically, the nurse came back in and said that the doctor that examined him said he had peed. So my question is, what if he hadn’t of peed. Would I have been forced to give him formula? What would I have been able to do? They made me feed like I didn’t have the right to tell them “no.”

    Thanks,
    Katherine

    • Well, as you see that was my exact experience. I do believe they would have forced you by saying that you were not feeding your baby and then of course there it trouble. It’s sad, sick and twisted. I am so sorry you went through that. I am so glad he peed.

  12. Tracey Seier says:

    I had a combination of low milk supply and c-section. I’m a PhD in biology and I was committed to breastfeeding. First child– c- sect and preemie with low milk supply and baby inability to nurse at all-4 hospital “lactation consultants” completely missed the fact that my baby couldn’t effectively suckle ( it’s easy to check– weigh the baby on a hospital scale before and after a feeding– then you know how many ounces they’ve taken in)- pumped for 9 months. Second child– 2 months of pumping/nursing to bring up my supply. But we did it.

    I’m generally shocked at the misinformation, and lack of medical support for solving breast feeding problems. If I wasn’t able to do my own medical research and paying for my own pumping equipment and lactation consultants, I’d have failed. But you shouldn’t need a PHD and a stack of cash in order to get help with breast feeding. Grrrrrr!

  13. Similar to me. I didn’t get my milk in until day 7. It sure felt like a lot longer than a week but I didn’t have to struggle as long as you did. I put that down to having my mother, who is a midwife, there to encourage and help me and identify the problems early. The hospital wasn’t pro breast feeding and pushed for formula. I was shocked at their attitude because I came from a town where there was a pro breast feeding hospital and people complained the midwifes would make you feel guilty for not breast feeding. However, this hospital I was in was opposite! No thanks the hospital staff, ad all credit given to my mother and her fellow midwife, I was on a 3hr schedule of breast, bottle, pump and it took so long I had hardly any time before I had to start the cycle over again. It was driving me mad. I was also on medication to increase my supply which worked wonderfully. I didn’t need to use formula for very long and I was able to start supplementing with the breast milk I was expressing. I had one or two days where my daughters suck was a bit lazy due to the bottle so I decided when she was 2 weeks old that from now on it was breast only. We had made it!!! That was 10 weeks ago now and we are only looking forward. I’m hoping for 2 years but happy for every day as it comes.

  14. I went through the same thing in those first couple I weeks. Now we’re still breastfeeding at almost 14 months and going strong!

  15. Thank you for this. You are an inspiration to many!

  16. Loved this! You’re an amazing momma! My son Jackson was born in July 2011 as well, and I am still currently breastfeeding.

  17. Loved this!! You’re an amazing momma! My son Jackson was born in July 2011 as well, and I am still breastfeeding.

  18. I’m saddened to hear that it was the nurses that were discouraging toward breastfeeding. I cannot fault the nurses who helped me wherever possible in relation to breastfeeding.
    Sadly I found the one person who negatively tried to affect it was my boyfriend of 8 yrs, who knew I wanted to breastfeed. First week, he was fine with it. Come the second, and as I was anxious about my baby’s intake, not knowing how much he was getting per feed etc, I just wanted to offload by talking to my partner, and help get the worries off my mind. I didn’t get words of support or encouragement. Later that day, he informed me that after doing ‘research ‘ online, he’d found studies to say breast is in no way any more beneficial than formula! That off the bat got me wound up!
    After about a month or so, feeling ever more uncomfortable with nursing infront of him (he also said he felt nursing was becoming disruptive with trying to do or go anywhere), and this day the baby was fussing like hell, his nasty comment was really when I lost all faith in him, he asked why I’d even bother to try as the baby clearly feeds better with a bottle. I’d given into formula on occasions, as he kept taking the baby to spend lots of time with his family, and I couldn’t keep up a supply of expressed for him to take.
    It’s sickens me that all of the most developed countries are the most likely to have unhealthy associations with breastfeeding.
    There should not be any healthcare authorities that discourage it, unless there was a serious medical need to help the baby feed and if there was no milk bank donation to give first, and only if the mother is 100% happy with it. That’s why a lot of new mums have not been successful when nursing, lack of support, information and encouragement, yet I have NEVER met a mum who hasn’t said she’d wished she found it easier to stick at it.
    My boyfriend is now an ex, and as soon as he wasn’t around me my relationship with my baby and breastfeeding him came along in leaps and bounds and still is several months later. People can carry on with their unhealthy views and opinions, if they’d only see the bigger picture of what a natural process that they are interferring with.

  19. I have had 2 children and currently pregnant with number 3.

    With my first I was determined I wanted to breastfeed but I had undiagnosed thrush for 4 weeks and Raynauds which I can’t take treatment for because I have low blood pressure. Anyway less then 24 hours after my first daughter was born the hospital insisted I give formula just because of the pain I was never going to be able to feed her properly. After her first month I tried for 2 months to exclusively breastfeed but she dropped from 50% to 19% in weight and I was told that she had lost her suck reflex there was nothing I could do. So I exclusively pumped until she was 13 months.

    Daughter number 2 arrives and I am 100% determined I will succeed this time no matter what. But this time my daughter will latch but refuse to suck at all. No Lactation Consultant could get her to suck they tried a 100 tricks. But she did suck with a nipple shield so I went home hoping to succeed at least that way. 19 days old and she either loses weight or just stays constant. She’s no where near her birth weight and I have had so much unbelievable flack from doctors and even a supposed breastfeeding specialist to give her formula that I am actually getting worried someone is going to take my daughter away from me. So back out comes the pump. I exclusively pump for 10.5 months and freeze 65 Litres. She is now 14 months and I am down to my last months supply of breast milk.

    I cannot tell you how much I DO NOT want to pump this time round but I still can’t figure out how to be successful. I will do all I can to be successful this time but it just seems to me the cards are always stacked against you. But I am extremely proud that both my girls got over a full year of breast milk unfortunately my oldest did get 3 days of formula but that is a tiny amount in the grand scheme of things.

  20. So glad to know that I am not the only that felt this way. I have bf all three of my children, the first one was the easiest, my second and third hurt my nipples so bad in the first week that that I had to pump to let it heal. I felt like such a failure. But after the first month I still pumped and they were able to latch on fine after my nipple healed. So blessed that I have been able to nurse all of my kids, my littlest is 3 months and I will BF for as long as I can.

  21. I LOVE this! I was one of those women who NEVER thought I would breastfeed. Something changed when I was pregnant with my first and now I am EBF my 3rd. My first two were BF for a year (I used to feel like that was “enough”) but I plan on going longer with my little guy. Lots of food allergies in the older two have me doing anything I can to prevent the same in the 3rd. I am constantly amazed at the looks, questions, and rude remarks regarding breastfeeding. The more I hear them, the more adamant I become. Thank you for being an inspiration and a support!

  22. This is the third time I have read your story and I am inspired every time! Thanks for dedicating your time to helping so many women who need support. I was lucky enough to breastfeed three children in the 70′s with La Leche League support. My own daughter is 29 weeks pregnant with triplet boys and I am confident she will succeed with her breastfeeding goals.

  23. I actually hate when anyone says breastfeeding is hard. Yes, there can be real physical difficulties once in awhile, but it’s not breastfeeding that is hard– it’s breastfeeding in our (american) society that is hard. Breastfeeding itself can be the easiest most natural thing with the proper information and support. It’s definitely a thousand times easier than bottle feeding once you get in the swing of it.

  24. I am very happy there is so much support for momma’s. With my first 2 kids I had much success but not with my 3rd, I had some extreme barriers in the hospital as he was born in the NICU and they were not as helpful as they should of been, they backed us into a corner with threats. Anyway, I appreciate what you do for yourself and others.

  25. I am heartbroken to think about all the mothers who have formula forced on them in the hospital. My nurses knew I planned to breastfeed, and never mentioned formula once even when we were having some latch issues the first night. And my hospital did not send me home with any formula company freebies. Looking back, I am so glad that I had multiple lactation consultants and the support of my husband and our families!

  26. Courtney says:

    Your story is similar to mine. Dylan would not pee so they gave him formula. The laws had changed and they sent us home wo a wet diaper. 36 hours later no pee still, up all night, ped told us to give more formula and wake every 2 hours to nurse. He eventually peed but not after many tears , anxiety, fear/stress, and the thought that I wasn’t making even milk. Dylan then refused to latch and eat. He wanted the easy bottle. I was depressed and a crying emotional mess. I made an appointment with a lc and she changed our life. We stopped giving formula, I made sure to relax before feedings and Dylan needed to eat frequently for a very, very long time. Even when he was 11 months he was still eating every 3 hours. Now he is 13 months old and we are still happily Breastfeeding. I have felt negativity about my choice to breastfeed (how long are you going to do it? Does your dr know you are still bf? Maybe he doesn’t have teeth yet bc u still bf! Maybe he doesn’t eat table food yet bc you still bf. so on and so on.) so blogs like this have helped me feel less alone. Thank you for sharing your story and letting me share mine :0)

  27. So similar to our story. We are going on 5 months strong!! It was late night feedings and pumping that led me to your blog! Thank-you for being there!!

  28. When I gave birth (7 weeks ago) I had chosen a hospital that claimed to promote breast feeding. All the info on the mother baby floor seemed like it was just what I wanted. I gave them my birth plan stating that I wanted to exclusively breast feed and have immediate skin to skin. So I got maybe 10 minutes of skin to skin. Hours later when we were in our room, my baby still was not latching on nor was he trying at all (I found out later that it was a side effect of the epidural). The nurse casually said “I’ll being you a bottle”. I told her we did not want formula. She looked appalled and said he needed to feed. Seeing as how I personally had not eaten or drank in over 24 hours at that point I had a bit of an attitude. I snapped back that I would have my husband retrieve the breast pump from our car and I would feed him via oral syringe (you only get about 5ml that first day and that’s all he needed). With a huff the nurse said they would provide me with the items I needed. My son was syringe fed colostrum for the first 36 hours of his life. Even the nurses and lactation specialist couldn’t get him to nurse or even suckle. After a suggestion from my sister in law we got him to suck on my finger. Later a very “experienced” nurse came in, jiggle my breast and grabbed the baby’s head and kinda smashed the two together. She got him on and he latched well for a couple minutes. It all got better from there. I think if you want to breast feed you have to educate yourself, have confidence, find support, stand up for what you want and don’t give up or give in. It’s a bumpy road some times but so worth it.

  29. This was a lovely article and I really admire your tenacity. I tried so hard to breast feed my first born. He was a preemie and they wouldn’t discharge him from the NICU until he was eating. He was in there for 2 weeks. I was pumping but not producing enough and I didn’t get the proper time with him that I needed. That my body needed. I tried relentlessly for 5 months. I saw lactation consultants, I took supplements, I pumped as much as I possibly could and it just didn’t happen. I would even drive and pump! Then one day my friend saw how much I was struggling and she said it was a big weight off her shoulders when she stopped nursing. I stopped pumping the next day. I decided to forgive myself because the best thing for me and my son was not for me to have constant anxiety and stress. Or for me to be so disappointed when I saw how little milk I was producing every time I pumped. It was for me to feed him and be available for him emotionally and physically. I really think it’s important to support all the mommas out there (in whatever decision they decide) because in the end, we’re really just doing the best we can.

  30. Thank you for your inspiring and empowering story.

  31. I love your story! Almost a year ago, i gave birth to a baby who is sga (small for gestational age). He was hypothermic and hypoglycemic and instead of doing intense kangaroo care-i wasn’t producing any milk. He was brought to the nicu for iv infusion and was given formula. I was so disappointed with myself for not producing the milk he needs. Oh, my first disappointment of being a mother!!! I cried a lot and still get teary eyed whenever i remember. When we went home, i just stopped giving him formula cold turkey. I was desperate for my supply to go up and for him to feed on me. I am proud to say we have been exclusively breastfeeding since then. I salute all fellow breastfeeders and i agree, most women do not breastfeed not because they cannot but they choose not to. We women are designed for this. If there is a next time, i now know better.

  32. Thank you so much for sharing your touching story. I have been there too. SO many have. I too persevered and eventually was able to exclusively breastfeed. So proud of you for your dedication and also for your courage to speak out on this important subject to help other struggling new mommas. :) xo!

  33. Inspiring story! I had a pretty rough go to start with. Our son was tongue tied and caused a lot of pain in the beginning. I stuck it out and around the 12 week mark things started to get better. As part of world breastfeeding week I’m working on a blog post which will share my story as well. Thanks for inspiring new moms!

  34. hadizmum says:

    I gave birth and thrz no concept of skin to skin in my country. So my son got formula for his first feeding. I wasnt sure how much of colostrum he ws getting n he disnt pee even though the day after giving birth i leaked milk all over the bed. On 4th day he was diagnosed with jaundice and had to spend two days in the hospital. I would pump n take him the milk, rest of the time the nurses gave him formula. After bringing him home i stuck with exclusive nursing cz his appetite had also improved, apparently cz of the uv light treatment. I fed through sore nipples, thrush, depression and aversion. My son is 2 years and 7 months old and i still breastfeed him. And have inspired one of my closest friends to also exclusively breastfeed despite any and all hurdles amd to hang in there bcz it does get easier .

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