The Emotional Struggle with Low Milk Supply


Low Milk Supply | Central Mass Mom

As a pregnant woman today, you get asked about a thousand times how you plan to feed your baby. “Are you planning to breastfeed?” is a question that gets tossed around without much thought. Whenever people asked me, I made a conscious choice to respond with, “I plan to try,” as if saying it with any certainty would jinx me.

After I gave birth, I attended a lactation class where I learned all about baby’s latch, good positioning for feeding, hunger cues and so much more. I had nurses coming to my room constantly, checking to see how things were going, asking if I wanted help figuring it all out. When my milk hadn’t come in by the time I was discharged, nobody was worried. The nurses all told me it wouldn’t come in until about day 5, so I was totally normal.

I tried breastfeeding, and it just didn’t feel right. Nothing about it felt natural. My daughter didn’t seem to get it either. She took a bottle like a champ, but this, she just didn’t seem built for. I know what you’re thinking – and I promise, I know everything there is to know about nipple confusion, but my daughter was early and small, so they recommended supplementing with formula. We took her to her pediatrician and learned she had both a tongue tie and a lip tie, which meant she probably couldn’t latch properly without a nipple shield or having her tongue tie cut. The other option was to pump and feed her by bottle.

I started pumping to feed her using bottles and also to see how much I was producing. The results were meager at best. I remember telling a friend I was having trouble with my supply. She wanted to clarify what I meant and suggested “only 1 or 2 ounces per session?” As calmly as I could, I told her that I was currently measuring my production in single mLs. Another time, my mom mistook a bottle I had just pumped for a spent bottle. On both occasions, I held it together long enough for them to leave and then went to my room and quietly sobbed to myself.

How could this be so hard? For thousands of years, this is how the world has fed their babies. I’m not stupid, why can’t I figure this out?

There were, of course, the societal pressures weighing on me too. Breastfeeding gets painted as this magical thing that babies can’t thrive without. It was extremely stressful to feel like I was failing at something that would negatively impact my baby. Let’s not even talk about how stress can affect supply.

I got asked A LOT how breastfeeding was going in the weeks following my daughter’s birth. Every time someone asked, I could feel the pressure building behind my eyes. “I’m just trying to figure it all out’”, I would say, trying not to sound like I was about to burst into tears. When people ask that question, they think they’re just making conversation, but as someone who was struggling with it, it felt like a personal attack.

I quickly decided not to tell people I was struggling because it almost always elicited the same response. “Have you tried…?” Yes. However that sentence ends, the answer is yes. Lactation consultants, pills, teas, pumping while looking at my baby, calming music, witchcraft. I realize that anyone asking that question was trying to help, but in the moment, it felt like they were really saying, “You haven’t tried hard enough to fix this problem.”

There were a lot of terrible parts for me, but one that I found particularly stressful was the time that pumping took away from my day. In addition to everything else I was trying to figure out in that first couple of weeks, I also had to find time to sneak away to pump.

The memory of my final pump session is hard to forget. I was feeling good about pumping. I thought my supply was actually starting to come in. I had pumped close to 5 mLs. That was more than I had ever pumped before. I finished the session and put the equipment down to change my clothes. I turned around to find the bottles I had just pumped fell over and spilled all over my bed. Not only had I lost all the milk I just pumped, but now I also just assigned myself extra laundry. I started screaming and my husband ran into our room. I stood there sobbing, feeling like a total failure.

My husband hugged me and said, “I think you should stop. Our daughter is healthy and eating well and growing great, and that’s all that matters”. I’m sure he wasn’t the first person to tell me it was okay to give up on breastfeeding, but that day was the first time I heard it.

I didn’t expect breastfeeding to be as emotional for me as it was. In part because before I gave birth, I didn’t think I cared how I fed my baby. I look back now and try to appreciate the benefits a formula-fed baby provides, and that helps. Anyone can feed my baby. I’ve never felt the pain of a clogged duct or the bite of a child’s first tooth. I don’t have to lug a whole bunch of pumping equipment to work every day.

Even months after I made the decision to put the pump away, there are times when it’s still hard to swallow. Like the time a woman I met literally moments earlier asked if I was breastfeeding and when I told her no, she said, “oh, it didn’t work out?” I instantly became completely irrational and had to walk away to save myself from saying something I would regret. I can think of less than a handful of experiences that have evoked such strong emotions in me. Even sitting down to write this piece took several months before I was ready to actually write it.

When it’s all said and done, I have a happy, healthy, growing, and thriving little girl, who has only ever known the taste of formula, and most days I’m okay with that – now. Looking back, I wish I had given myself permission to quit trying a lot sooner than I did, because it would have saved me a whole lot of heartache.

So if there are any new mamas reading this who need permission to quit trying something that isn’t working – here is your permission.


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