My Breasts Aren’t for Babies

Image via Rachel Engel

We make plans like we actually have any control over our lives. Even when we are confronted with the reality of change, we, as a society, still continue to make plans.

This is going to happen, then this, this, and this.

It truly doesn’t work like that.

Some readers may remember that I had trouble breastfeeding my first born, and I had prepared myself better to give a stronger push for breastfeeding with my second—my now 4-month-old son. 

{ MORE: My Baby Won't Stop Biting While Breastfeeding: Tips to Navigate this Frustrating Experience }

I had the names of lactation consultants, a cabinet full of Fenugreek, and a recipe for lactation cookies, complete with a massive tub of brewer’s yeast.

I was going to breastfeed; there were no ifs, ands or buts about it. But, yet again, I was confronted with the reality of life, and the struggles that come with newborns … struggles we don’t always anticipate.

My son, among his many other anomalies, aspirates everything when he takes liquid by mouth. And, when I say everything, I mean, positively everything. The speech pathologist thickened the barium during his swallow study to the consistency of honey, and I could still see, on the screen, the food going up his nose, into his lungs, as well as down his throat. It was a free-for-all; the flaps protecting his airways were absolutely lying down on the job.

He was fitted with a gastronomy tube—a feeding tube that is implanted directly into his stomach, and has a small port on his stomach, called a g-button. We attach a tube, and his food is pumped directly into his belly.

The revelation that he was going to need this device was a major blow to me, emotionally, on top of all the other things he had to deal with. And, since he couldn't breastfeed due to aspirating, I was pumping like a mad woman, every other hour, yet only getting droplets. I still tried, in vain.

But, we were going on three months of living in the NICU, and three months of worrying about his heart function, as he was in congestive heart failure from his massive heart murmurs. My husband's and my relationship was strained, our daughter was feeling the effects of our absence, and I began and ended each day with tears. 

{ MORE: There Has Been a MAJOR Breakthrough in Infant Formula! }

Finally, the week he was scheduled to have open heart surgery, I saw a doctor and said I couldn't take it anymore; I needed help. The medication that helped me the most wasn't compatible with breastfeeding, and so, I sadly gave up. It wasn’t an easy decision; actually, it added to my fragile emotional state. The one thing I should be able to do for my sweet little boy while he was going through so much, I couldn’t. It was devastating.

I planned to breastfeed. When that wasn't an option, I planned to pump. Eventually, even that wasn't feasible.

My breasts aren't for babies, apparently. They just aren't. They are big lumps of tissue that hang off my chest, but they have failed me, twice, and sometimes I hate them for it. I get angry that twice I have been denied that bond that I have read so much about.


But, then, I think of those nights I spent in the hospital, around 2 a.m., when I would pick Jackson up out of his crib, and rock my sweet boy in a squeaky rocking chair. Where we would stare into each other’s eyes as the pump provided the nourishment to his body that I couldn't.

We bonded.

Let me say that again, WE BONDED. It was just as intimate, loving and soul-filling as a breastfeeding bond, and to tell me otherwise, would be to belittle me as a mother.

Our son was never left alone, not once, in over three months in the NICU. There is love there, and it’s incredibly strong. He didn't need to suck on my nipple to achieve it, either.

What do you think?

My Breasts Aren’t for Babies

Rachel is a stay-at-home-mom to her 4-year-old daughter, Sydney, and her 18-month-old son, Jackson. Her writing can be found all over the web, mostly detailing her own parenting struggles and triumphs, as well as her life as the military spouse of an active-duty airman. She also writes about her life as as a special needs parent on her blog, Tales From the Plastic Crib, and spends an unnecessary amount of time on Twitter. ... More

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  1. Reva says:

    Without a doubt there was that bond. I have six children and breastfed all of my children. I had one child that stopped breastfeeding on his own. I was pregnant again and didn’t know it and it changed the milk and he wouldn’t take the breast anymore. That was hard on me. Then with my last child, now eight weeks old. When she was two weeks old she vomited and stopped breathing on me. We called a squad and rushed her to the ER they transported her to Children’s Hospital. They diagnosed her with acid reflux. I felt like it was my fault this had happened. We as mothers hate it when we can’t do what’s best for our children. You are right we can’t control every situation in our lives, but that is ok. We just have to pick ourselves up and do what we have to. You did have a special bond with your baby, no doubt about that. That bond comes with love. You love your baby and you are there for him through all of the tough times. You are going to have a very special kind of bond. I cried when I read your story because I have always wanted to breastfeed my children. With my last child with reflux I have thought about giving up so many times. After reading your story it reminds me how blessed I am to be able to. I will keep your family in my prayers. God Bless 🙂

  2. Lindsey says:

    I went through the same thing with all my children. My first was two weeks overdue and screamed for two days straight after we came home, no matter how much or how long I breastfed. We finally went to the doctor and found out he had lost too much weight, so we started supplementing. I pumped and couldn’t get anything. Same thing happened with my second, but we were more prepared and went to the doctor sooner. No milk when pumping again. With both, I stopped nursing completely by the time they were 4 months. Now have my third and we were going great and then found out she was jaundiced, so again, supplemented. I am still nursing and supplementing and she is six months old. I still never get much pumping, but I have (finally, after three kids) come to terms with it. I wasn’t meant to exclusively BF, for one reason or another. I’ve been told time and again, by lay people, there is no reason why I shouldn’t be producing and “ALL mothers can breastfeed, if they just keep trying”. The only thing that does to all of us mothers who truly want to BF and just can’t is make us (at least me) feel like I am not doing a good enough job. But like you, I have bonded with all my children, breastfeeding or not AND my DH has had a chance to do the same by being able to give each of our children a bottle. And neither of my older children (now 14 and 9 years old) have had any detrimental effects from getting formula. It is so nice to know that there are others out there, that have gone through the same thing.

  3. daviskatrina says:

    My plan with my first baby was to exclusively breastfeed. That plan did not work. I could not produce enough milk to sustain a 6lb baby, so at each feeding (every 2 hours round the clock for several months) I breastfed her for 30 to 45 minutes then gave her a bottle of formula. I was always exhausted! She was getting less than an ounce from me at each feeding. I switched to pumping at about 3 months and continued until 5 1/2 months when I had to stop. My breasts were just not working. Three years later, I was diagnosed with very early breast cancer and had a bilateral mastectomy. I was 40 at the time. When I had my second daughter 3 years after that, I was so relieved that I couldn’t even try to breastfeed her! It had been so hard and heartbreaking the first time. That was the silver lining to my mastectomy! That self-imposed stress was not there. Same story with my son who was born 19 months after his sister. No stress, just bonding! I’m thrilled that it works for some. It just didn’t work for me.

  4. Wendy says:

    Wow – the title of this is exactly what I’ve been thinking lately. I, too, had huge struggles in breastfeeding my first and breastfed/ pumped/ supplemented him with formula until 6 months when the stress became too much and I switched completely to formula. I too went into my 2nd pregnancy determined to get it right this time, also stocking up on lactation boosters and even bought breast milk freezer bags, convinced my supply would be so much better I’d actually be able to freeze extra milk. Well, my 2nd babe is now 5 weeks old and I’ve had all the same issues as with my first – including a crappy supply. And despite “doing everything right” (even the lactation consultants I’ve seen have told me this), I’m in SO much pain both when pumping and breastfeeding. So I too am starting to come to the conclusion that maybe my breasts just weren’t meant to do this! I know some BF advocates will say ALL women were made to do this, but there are a lot of us that do give it our all and end up exhausted, stressed out, and in tears day after day when things just aren’t working. That doesn’t exactly allow us to create that “magical breastfeeding bond”. I’m probably going to be switching over completely to formula soon – yes I know breast milk is best, but my health (emotional and physical) and the ability to care for, spend time with, and bond with my two sons trumps that now. All the best to you Rachel!

  5. Dalya says:

    Thank you for sharing! My mom formula fed me, and I am now a breastfeeding mom (my daughter is 12 months old now). It took me 8 weeks after my daughter was born to finally say I was doing it right. I work full time, pump at work and I am proud of the bond I have with my daughter. However, I know that every mother is not able or willing to breastfeed, for various reasons outside or within their control. I consider myself more of a moderate, neither putting breastfeeding on a pedistal nor demonizing formula. However, based on this post and some of the responses by others, it is obvious that moms who can’t breastfeed or choose not to feel the need to minimize breastfeeding, almost as much as breastfeeding moms feel the need to villlanize formula feeding. At the end of the day, as long as your child is eating and is healthy, there’s no need to feel shame over how you feed your child or minimize the other. And if it makes you feel better, know that less than 20% of mothers are breastfeeding their babies at 6 months, so if you formula feed, you have lots of company.

    • Jessica says:

      We don’t “minimize” breastfeeding. We point out the studies, when adjusted for its flaws in regarding socieconomics, demonstrate that there’s no difference in health, IQ, and general well-being between breastmilk and formula to those who do indeed vociferously villainize us.

      The extent of my lactation consulting in the hospital was the lady squeezing my breast, saying it was an inferior size and shape, “but don’t worry, it will come naturally.” …excuse me, what? Yeah, it didn’t come and I damn near killed myself for 10 weeks trying to make it happen. But I’m the bad guy because I either didn’t try hard enough or I’m defective goods.

      Good for you you’re “moderate”, but you can’t call yourself such when you do not get that the villainy comes from the militant breastfeeders, not the formula feeders/supplementers.

      • Lauren says:

        Thank you. I have spent months telling ‘moderates’ that I have nothing against breast feeding, I tried like hell to do so myself. Please stop telling me I am poisoning my baby, that she is going to be less healthy, a smaller IQ or that we are not as bonded.

  6. Mari says:

    Such a moving story, thank you so much for sharing. I love breastfeeding my littlethe one and also know you can create a special bond when you bottle feed. I did with my first, and we are so connected. May God bless your family

  7. Amy says:

    Bravo! If people WANT to breastfeed, thrn they should. However, all of the supposed benefits of breastmilk over formula I think are completely overrated. Until they adjust the studies for the fact that breastfed babies tend to not be in daycare because their moms have to be with them all the time and thus are exposed to less germs, i think the studies are completely flawed. My baby wouldn’t latch so I wasted the first 2 months of my babies life pumping. I truly regret this and only did it because his daddy thought breastmilk had magical powers. Finally enough was enough for me and i wasn’t going to spend the first months of my baby’s life attached to a pump, i was going to spend it with him! I don’t live in a third world country with a poor water supply, and so I knew there was no real advantage to breastmilk. My mom did not breastfeed me and i always excelled and was in the top of my class in high school and college and was never sick nor had any allergies. My son’s dad on the other hand, who was breastfed, had terrible alergies and sinus probs growing up and also had very severe ADHD. My baby is 8 months today. He is extremely healthy. He has only got sick once after one of his routine doctor’s checkups. It was cold and flu season so germs everywhere in that office. He is also growing like a weed, has 2 teeth, sleeps through the night and is early for all of his development markers (sitting, crawling, fine motor skills). I guess I am just writing this to help those who cant or dont want to breastfeed to say make that decision with confidence. Breast is not best, breast is an option. Make the decision you know in your heart is right for you and your baby, whether it be formula or breastmilk, make sure the baby gets lots of good sleep, and just love that baby with all your heart.

  8. Nikki says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. We are such harsh judgers of each other, when we should be asking mothers how we can help them. Our reasons for not breastfeeding vary but most of the time people just assume we are bad mothers making bad and uninformed decisions. I honestly thank God for formula, it exists because very very many of us use it everyday because we need and want to. I have seen no difference with breastfeeding bonding versus not and I have done both. Actually, I found I bonded better without breastfeeding, because I was not as depressed and in pain as I was when I was trying but failing to do so. I was better to my child when I came to terms with my situation.

  9. Lauren says:

    Amen! I’ve had a difficult time- though compared to you a cake walk- breastfeeding. One of my biggest fears was not having the magical bond all the breastfeeding sites talk about. 2 months into our journey I now thankfully know that as her mama our bond is greater than any other. She grew inside me, she knows my voice & heartbeat better than anyone else & I have cherished the weight of her little body from the moment I heard her heartbeat. Breastfeeding is wonderful if you can do it but my formula supplemented baby & I are doing fine ❤️

  10. jesster131 says:

    While my little ok now at 2 1/2 not so little man did not have the major issues your guy did. I knew even before he was born that my anti-seizure meds were not a good match to breastfeeding. Call me a bed mom but after the hell I had been thru trying to find medication that worked controlling the seizures with out breaking me out in hives or turning me into a non functioning zombie I was too scared to try to change them again. We had made a swap for the pregnancy itself knowing I would not be able to stay on that med for long. I found out that 3am snuggles after a bottle of formula were a great bonding time. Even more so as he was not a good sleeper until about 4 months old. After his hernia was fixed & he could roll & sleep on his tummy where he wanted to be. Where he had wanted to b from day one & still falls asleep that way now. A good mom is a mom who loves her child & does whatever she can to see that they are fed & not going hungry. Your baby only cares that you feed him & love him. Not if the food came from your boob or a bottle.

  11. Angie says:

    The bond between mother and child is amazing. There is something magical about breastfeeding, it’s more than just nutrition… something science can’t duplicate. But children are devoted to their parents regardless of how they are nourished as an infant. Thank you, Rachel, for sharing your bonding experience. Unfortunately, not all mothers who choose not to breastfeed take the time to have close physical contact bonding time with their child.

  12. Leah says:

    if you can breastfeed or pump for even a few days you have successfully breastfed, it may not be what you wanted or what you felt you should do, you still did more than nothing.

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