When Breastfeeding is Challenging

Feeding babies can be a sensitive subject. It is also something that I am passionate about. I love seeing mamas equipped to feed their babies in the way they desire, and to see little babies thriving! I have formula-fed one baby, and nursed two more. But it hasn’t been an easy road for any of them, and all filled with pros & cons.

With our little girl, I was handed a tiny, three-day-old baby and a bottle in one fell swoop. Adoption was a whirlwind, and I focused on loving her, being her mama, and feeding her the best I knew how. Trial and error took us to a costly, organic formula that caused the least tummy issues, and we bonded. Meanwhile, I addressed my own major health issues, and eventually sustained a full-term pregnancy.

For our first son, I worked with a lactation consultant for his first several months, until we were able to get him to latch on (fairly) well. In those early days, I was pumping milk, and feeding him with a medicine dropper. I quickly became familiar with the subtle techniques of inducing a milk supply and addressing engorgement with a breast pump, treasuring each little drop of colostrum. My nights were filled with the song of liquid gold (“whoosh whoosh drip drip”), until he was capable of nursing.

We subsequently had him adjusted by a craniosacral therapist, moved on to months of a nipple shield, dealt with Raynaud’s, thrush, repeated near-mastitis episodes, and continued working with him on his latch. We addressed food sensitivities, reflux (soothed by more nursing), and sleep issues. I ended up nursing him for almost two years, and it was a both a blessing and exhausting.

Our second son seemed eager to nurse at first, with minimal latch issues, but rapidly declined, as his congenital heart condition worsened. The breast pump became my nightly companion again, striving to keep up a milk supply for a scared little baby with a surgery-induced oral aversion. We tried creative ways to gradually reintroduce breastfeeding, sneaking it in while walking the halls, or in the final dreamy moments of an afternoon nap.

Gradually, we were able to put away the bottles most of the time, but the pump has stayed with us. He tires easily (especially with any little stuffy-nose cold bug that comes our way), and combined with the age-appropriate easily distractedness, he will often refuse feedings. He will rarely nurse away from home, or if anyone else is in the room; the extra distractions and change of environment are apparently more stress than he can handle, keeping him from focusing on nursing.

Emily of Joyful Abode was inspiring to me in her journey to nourish her little ones, with her dedication to tandem nursing and pumping, and her babies have thrived. Meg of Sew Liberated wrestled with trying to feed a baby with a heart condition and oral aversion, walking that challenging season of priorities to graciously nourish her little ones. Kamille of Redeeming the Table, beautifully shares how God’s grace is made evident amid a low milk supply.

I travel (even on short outings) with a breast pump tucked into my purse. I’ve missed social gatherings and church worship times, in order to pump milk or work with a baby on feeding issues. In 2010, I took my family (along with a nursing baby) across the country with me to a blogging/ministry conference– amid a few raised eyebrows- and had to miss the occasional “networking” chat or party with the “fun crowd.”

I often show up late to get-togethers, as I simultaneously watch the milk bottles slowly fill, the clock ticking, and my baby wriggling away from me again. Then I may abruptly leave early, hoping to catch my baby in a sleepy state, to run home and attempt nursing him again.

I have to skip “night out” events, in order to stay home and take advantage of the hourly, late evening quick “cluster feeds” my sleepy baby can manage in those twilight hours.

Throughout the busyness of each day, I try to be conscious of my need for rest, hydration, and snacks (or my milk supply quickly decreases). My husband has sacrificially taken on extra baby-care duties such as babywearing during his workday, homeschooling our older children while I pump or nap, or handling a naptime routine to give baby and I some space when the challenges are getting too intense.

I haven’t been able to invest in a recommended “hospital grade” pump (only using one while we’re in the hospital for surgeries), and have been amazed that my basic manual pump has been sufficient for our needs so far.

It’s not convenient, but it is worth it… for more reasons than one.

Not only is my baby being nourished with mama milk during those times when he is able to nurse, I have been donating pumped milk to other babies who need it. (I have been giving to families through Human Milk for Human Babies.) Generous mommies have donated me their unneeded milk storage bags to help with my expense, and assisted in transporting milk out of town in ice-packed coolers.

I loved Kate’s perspective here on the importance of breastfeeding (but please know that if you are not breastfeeding for whatever reason, I don’t judge you!), and by making donations, I am assisting some mamas in their desire to give breast milk to their babies.

I am passionate about connecting mamas with lactation consultants, educational books and resources, and hands-on help and choices. A book such as The Nursing Mother’s Companion can be a tremendous help in learning about phases of breastfeeding, increasing milk supply, determining how much to supplement (and how much milk you are producing), and choosing a breast pump. KellyMom is a great site for quick questions and information.

This is a season I never imagined. It has been a time of gratitude, growth, dedication, and learning.

I urge you, if you have to ability to support mamas in their breastfeeding journey, to donate milk, or desire resources to find help for yourself, please pursue it.

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6 comments to When Breastfeeding is Challenging

  • Laura

    Although we are done with little ones, I couldn’t help but read your article. I had latch on issues with all three children and ended up marrying my Medela pump for 8 months with the first baby, 10 months with the second baby, and 12 months with the third baby.

    With the first baby I cried and became very frustrated that latching on was so difficult. Even the lactation specialist in the hospital was not very successful. The nurses told me that pumping exclusively would not be sufficient for my milk supply, which let to more stress and frustration. I came to realize that for me it not only kept my milk supply up, I could have probably fed triplets!

    With each baby I because less and less concerned with latch on issues and was very thankful for my pump because my babies could still have the best for them.

    I think that unless one has experienced any breastfeeding problems, it is difficult to understand the frustration and helplessness that those with problems go through.


  • This is such a great post. Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m still nursing my 12.5 month old son and it has been a beautiful journey with lots of ups and downs and tears of exhaustion, frustration and joy. It’s so important for mommas to share their journeys!


  • Sarah

    This is a great post. breastmilk is such a miracle. it’s amazing the way a mother’s body makes the perfect food. and it’s so hard when complications interrupt the process.
    breastfeeding was extremely difficult for me. my daughter had no trouble… the problem was mine.
    I have tuberous breasts. this means that in addition to being abnormally developed, my breasts have almost no milk ducts. so no matter how much I nursed and pumped (we even bought a hospital grade electric pump) I couldn’t produce more than four ounces in a 24 hr period, even when my production was at its peak.
    this was so hard on me as a mother, wanting so much to give my new baby everything she needed. it was especially difficult to see other mamas practically overflowing with breastmilk with nothing more than average effort to build their supply. with no need to pump endlessly on top of breastfeeding, just to eke out as many precious drops as possible.
    I comfort myself by remembering that my daughter and I still bonded no matter what… our nursing sessions were priceless as well as our bottle feeding sessions. I was there for her, being her mama, and that’s the most important thing.
    it also helps to remind myself that the Lord knew that I would have this breastfeeding issue, and He still chose me to be Grace’s mother. His grace is enough to cover my insufficiency, even low milk supply! :-)


    Cora Reply:

    Just wanted to say Thank you for you comment on this post. I too have low mammary tissue and went through similar struggles as you with both of my children. I know the disappointment and frustration that you described, but just reading what you wrote helped me in knowing that I am not alone. I so much appreciated your comment on the Lord knowing your breastfeeding issue and also knowing that you would be the perfect mama for your child. Thank you again and you are in my prayers in your journey through motherhood.


  • […] then I needed to increase my intake during the following weeks just to maintain. (I’m still nursing/pumping, […]

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