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Breast or Bottle…I’m on your side.


{Alternate title: the really long post in which Anne uses the word ‘nipple’ 792 times.}

I fought hard to nurse my first baby, Blaine.  My left nipple is inverted, and, even with a silicone shield, getting him to latch was incredibly difficult.  My right nipple cracked and bled.  My toes curled as the pain ripped through my body with each latch.  With the shield, feedings took 45 minutes at least, and then it seemed like it was time to start again before I could eat a meal and get a shower.  It was a long, long road, but one I was determined to traverse.  My husband and I were born into virtual La Leche Leagues.  We both have mothers and multiple sisters who live and die by nursing.  BREAST IS BEST!  Giving up was not an alternative.  And, by and by, the pain ceased, the baby became proficient (even without the shield! Eureka!), and breastfeeding became the joy everyone testified it had been.  Admittedly, I often felt overwhelmed (and sometimes resentful) that I was the only food source, but I was so grateful to be breastfeeding.  I loved the skin on skin.  I loved the way a little drip of milk ran down his chin when he pulled off.  I loved the way he looked at me while I sat him up to burp him.  I loved knowing we had beaten the odds and were reaping the rewards.

During this year of nursing Blaine I climbed up into the saddle of my breastfeeding high horse and became more and more indignant when I saw mothers put formula into their shopping carts at the grocery store or pull a bottle out at church.  What were they thinking?  Didn’t they know breast milk was superior?  How could they poison their babies with that stuff? I learned to make mental exceptions as one of my best friends had a baby who was allergic to her mother’s breast milk, but I still felt incredulous as to why any one would choose not to breastfeed if it was a possibility.

My second baby, Roger, came two years later, and nursing was a breeze.  He had an amazing latch, we hardly needed the shield at all, he had an incredible appetite.  He fattened right up (my fattest baby to this day), and I took great joy and pride in knowing that I was providing that life giving milk to my boy.  Oh how I loved nursing him.  And I nursed him in some crazy difficult spots.  It was an incredibly exciting and busy time of life when Roger was born.  I nursed Baby Roger in a cramped stadium seat at my husband’s college graduation.  I nursed him the next week while we signed papers with the escrow officer as we signed on our first home.  It didn’t matter where–I was now proficient enough of a breastfeeder, I could sit anywhere, in front of anyone, and nurse.

Baby Carter came three years later and I breastfeed him easily as well.  I don’t recall needing the shield at all, even on the inverted side.  I was so grateful for this baby.  We had waited what felt like forever for me to overcome some health challenges before getting pregnant again.  I was so grateful to have a new baby in my arms and I reveled in our quiet, cozy nursing moments.  I loved looking into each other’s eyes and kissing his neck and cheeks incessantly after feedings.

Clara came right on the heels of Carter.  Just eighteen months younger.  In fact, I’d had to wean Carter slightly earlier than the year I prefer, because I was pregnant, and my body just couldn’t handle the extra sickness and fatigue of supporting two babies.  Clara latched well on the right, but she was not a fan of the inverted side.  The milk came so easily on the good nipple that she just couldn’t be bothered to work so hard to get the left one out.  I spent a week or two working hard to get her to latch.  She screamed and pulled her head back.  I cried whenever we got her on for even a second, because an inverted nipple is particularly sensitive.  The stress was doing me in.  I had a six year old, four year old, and eighteen month old.  I couldn’t keep doing this.  I called the lactation consultant to ask if it would be crazy to nurse Clara on just one side.  She confirmed what my hunch was– as long as she was getting enough, it was just fine, and actually somewhat common.  And so on we went with life, nursing her to great fatness with one breast, while the other one shrank up.  I felt especially unattractive in my lopsidedness, but I was grateful to be breastfeeding and began calling myself a one boob wonder.

Through the years I lightened up about a lot of things.  When you have this many kids in this short a time period, you learn to let go of a lot.  I forsook my wooden toys only rule.  I let my big kids eat hot lunch at school.  I abandoned my only handmade gifts for Christmas goal.  Hell, I even started letting my kids wear sweatpants to school sometimes (are you gasping in utter horror?!)

Turns out I still had a lot to learn.


Our fifth baby, George, was born in June of 2015.  His initial latch seemed fine.  But, like Clara, he refused my left side.  And, to be honest, I just didn’t care.  I was burned out after a depression laden pregnancy and an unexpectedly painful delivery.  And I knew that the reality of my left nipple was this: even if he could figure it out, it would be incredibly painful and still the yield would be small (even for my babies who could nurse from it, the volume was always low).  And so I immediately, guiltlessly abandoned the left side.  After the first five days (those paradoxical days that are at once the most euphoric, heavenlike, blissful days and also the most arduous, exhausting, and long days), I began to worry.  My milk didn’t seem to be coming in on time.  I had the baby weighed and he wasn’t losing weight, so I patiently waited.  It finally came in.  (Note: It is just a fact that some women have more milk than other women.  That feeling of painful engorgement that women describe when their milk comes in?  I HAVE NEVER FELT THAT.)  With the milk coming in now I relaxed and we continued breastfeeding, but Georgie’s latch was really terrible.  He curled his lips around his teeth before latching, which brought indescribable pain to me and lead to some severe cracking.  Many times, he just wouldn’t latch.  He would just lie there and lick me and I would end up shoving him on haphazardly because I was so frustrated and also so full of fear of the pain that latching brought.  One Saturday night he refused to latch at all.  He cried.  I cried.  Taylor and I spent most of the night awake.  Several times I pumped and, gratefully, George would drink my milk from a bottle.  Deliriously tired, I called the lactation consultant at the hospital early the next morning.  I knew she would be working on a Sunday, unlike consultants who work for private practices.  I left her a voicemail.  She later told me she rearranged some things in her schedule in order to get me in because I sounded so desperate.  The consultant, Meg, saw us that afternoon.  She coached me on a better hold, showed me how to pry George’s chin down to get him to open wider, and taught me how to hold his head more properly.  She outfitted me with a new shield and advised, “SHIELD UNTIL HEALED!”  The pain was incredibly lessened with the shield and new hold.  I felt so grateful.  I knew we had this now.

I was wrong.

After two weeks of wearing the shield religiously and nursing often, George seemed to be getting fussier than normal (i.e. my super chill baby started to get fussy).  There were periods in the evening when no amount of holding, rocking, or bouncing would settle him.  I also started to notice that he didn’t have as many dirty diapers as he should.  Then, on another Saturday night, everything imploded.  It was late.  The four older children were in bed.  I was trying to nurse George but he just screamed.  Taylor tried to bounce him for an hour, but he cried incessantly.  (THIS WAS NOT LIKE OUR BABY!)  I hooked myself up to the breast pump for a half hour and eeked out not a drop of milk.  “Oh my gosh,” I gasped to Taylor.  My milk is drying up.  Our baby is starving!”  As a sleep deprived mom of five kids who was battling post partum depression, I felt my world come crashing down.  I sat in my bed and sobbed.  How could I not see this happening?  I knew nipple shields don’t provide enough stimulation.  I saw the fewer dirty diapers.  Why did it take me so long to put it all together? This wasn’t my first rodeo!  How had I let my baby hunger so long?  How would I live without nursing him?  Would our relationship be different if I couldn’t nurse him?  I couldn’t bear the pain of nursing without the shield but I couldn’t give up on nursing!  What would people say?  What would my families think?  How was this happening?  I was so good at this!  I knew how to breastfeed!

As I continued to stew, I packed the baby in the car and drove to the only store in our little valley that is open all night.  I walked through Winco, curious that there were so many people doing their grocery shopping at 1 a.m., and found my way to the baby formula.  Armed with Similac, plus some Cheetos, Doritos and Oreos so I could eat my feelings, Georgie and I drove home ready to face a new reality.

I didn’t want to give up on breastfeeding, but my current situation was this:  I can’t nurse him without a shield.  If I nurse him with a shield he won’t get any milk.  My breast is almost dry.  And I only have one working breast.  It seemed bleak and impossible.

Somewhere in that sleepless night the reality of the problem hit me.  Sure, I knew how to breastfeed.  I was a pro.  But George didn’t.  I could do everything in my power to teach him, and it might still not be enough.  This was bigger than my control.  After successfully nursing four babies, it was humbling, to say the least.

The next morning Taylor took the big kids to church and I stayed home with George and searched my soul.  I knew the first thing I had to face was the guilt.  I had to work through my fear and disappointment and get to a new paradigm.  A place where it didn’t matter what anyone thought about what I fed my baby.  I still harbored hope of nursing him, but I prayed and cried and pushed my heart to come to a place of acceptance.  IF I NEVER NURSE HIM AGAIN, IT WILL BE OK.  I called my oldest sister, Kathryn, who’d had an oddly identical experience with her fifth child.  He had never nursed again, but she pumped around the clock for six months and bottle fed him.  She told me to get on the pump every three hours and suggested I take Fenugreek (an herb that aids in lactation) supplements.  In the meantime, until my milk supply was back up, I would have to formula feed.  Kathryn’s plan gave me confidence.  I squared my shoulders and my mind and decided “I will try to get my milk back.  I will bring him to the breast every three hours.  But if he never takes it again, it will be OK.”

By and by, week after week, my milk has hung in there.  It’s a meager, pathetic supply, but it is there.  As time gave way, George learned to suck somewhat, and we nurse free of silicone and free of pain.  But his latch is such that he can’t get hind milk, and he doesn’t stimulate much production.  I pump almost every night before bed for an hour, out of fear that my milk will go dry again.  After each feeding, Georgie gets a bottle of formula.  His diapers smell terrible, but I am so happy that he makes dirty diapers I could cry.  He is fat and incredibly happy.


My perspective has changed in ways I never imagined.  Admittedly, the luxury of being able to leave an infant for longer than an hour is incredible.  But that is merely a convenience.  The real silver lining that I never dreamed of is the joy my husband and children get to experience as they participate in the life sustaining feedings.  I always thought that the bond I felt with my babies was due to the skin on skin of breastfeeding, and couldn’t be replicated.  Granted, I still treasure nursing, and I am unceasingly grateful that George and I can do it at all.  But I was wrong.  Beautiful, meaningful bonding can take place with a bottle.  It’s not just the skin on skin.  It’s the life giving.  The life sustaining.  And I feel it myself every time I snuggle George and kiss his cheeks while he drinks his formula.  I watch it take place every time his father gets to hold him in his arms at bedtime and feed him as his eyes get sleepy.  That was always my job before–to nurse the baby to sleep at night and lay him in his crib.  That sweet, tender moment had been mine with four babies, and now it can be Taylor’s.  I observe this bonding happen as our oldest son, Blaine, a child who desperately needed to feel more valued and more appreciated by his mother, holds George and gives him a bottle.  They are creating a bond that will sustain a lifetime of brotherhood and Blaine’s participation and helpfulness is healing a wound that has existed between him and me for years.  It’s more than a silver lining.  Sometimes it feels like the universe came together and made a solution that is the best of all worlds and I just weep in gratitude.


If I could draw one giant conclusion or offer any bit of wisdom it would be this:  

1. If you are desirous to breastfeed, give it all you’ve got.  Use the tools available, seek help from lactation specialists, stick with it for at least a month or two and you will be amazed.  In many, many cases (like my first), a difficult experience can become a blissful one, and you will be glad you persevered.  

2. If you can’t nurse, or don’t want to nurse, THAT’S OK.  You don’t need to feel guilt.  You don’t need to apologize for your choice.  Own it.  Be grateful for the science of formula and bottles.

3. Breastfeeding is ironically one of the most divisive topics in the mothering arena.  As one who used to ride with the best of them, I feel like I have the absolute right and certainly the conviction to call us all down from our high horses.  Parenting is hard enough.  We all question if we’re doing it right a thousand times a day.  It’s time to stop rolling our eyes at the lady with Similac in her shopping cart.  Of course, likewise, it’s time to stop rolling eyes at the lady who’s nursing her four year old.  Who the hell cares what the other mothers are choosing?!  If they are choosing to love and speak softly and hold tenderly and make their children feel cherished, then they are doing it right.  You are doing it right.  Let go of the guilt.  Let go of the judgement.  Let’s just wrap our arms around each other and say, “Solidarity, Sister!  Mothering is the hardest thing you’ll ever do and you’re doing great.  You’re loving a child.  You’re doing it right! I’m on your side!”

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