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‘You’re a mother, not a failure’: On the day I gave up breastfeeding

Breastfeeding didn’t work. Was I a failure?

‘You’re a mother, not a failure’: On the day I gave up breastfeeding

Our sweet baby girl made her way into our arms a full 3 weeks before her due date and just 3 days after she would have been considered premature.


She was 37 weeks, 4 days.

I still remember hearing “5 pounds, 4 ounces” called out in the delivery room and thinking, “gosh, that’s tiny!” but I was instantly reassured when the nurses were beaming and congratulating and handing me my daughter to hold for the very first time. After all, they wouldn’t be doing that if something was wrong.

We cooed with awe and celebrated with joy for the next two days in the hospital. I knew breastfeeding would probably be tricky (the Internet at large prepares you pretty well), but I wasn’t ready for what was about to ensue. Ella could barely stay awake, barely latched and just didn’t seem to care about the idea of feeding. Each nurse did their best to help but nothing worked. A lactation consultant met with us on the morning we left and gave us a routine to use at home to teach Ella how to breastfeed while also helping my milk come in.

It went something like this: We would practice breastfeeding (10-15 minutes), then I would finger-fed Ella some formula with a tiny tube taped to my finger (20-30 minutes), then I would pump (20 minutes). This hour-long routine repeated itself every 2-3 hours - so I would have 1-2 hour breaks in between each session. 1-2 hour breaks to do all the stuff that those pictures on Instagram (with perfectly adjusted filters) tell you to do: skin-to-skin, soak in the moment, take sweet newborn photos, maybe get some sleep?

In reality, all I did during those breaks was dread the next hour-long battle of breastfeeding.

Because here’s how it felt:

We would practice breastfeeding, but Ella continued to struggle and I sensed that she began to recognize what was about to happen and would start to cry. For 10-15 minutes, I would C-hold my boob while holding my crying newborn while feeling like a failure (and usually crying myself).

Then, we would break out the formula and finger-feed (using the SNS method, for those pro-moms out there). A small tube filled with (what felt like) liquid failure was sustaining my daughter better than my body could. At first, I performed all the feedings because if I couldn’t breastfeed, the least I could do was be the one to feed my daughter. But after a few days of very little sleep, my mom and husband stepped in to help with this step so I could get some extra rest.

Finally, I would hand off my baby to someone else and attach that boob-sucking machine to my chest. For 20 minutes, I listened to that “woosh woosh” sound of the pump, hoping that next time, it would go differently.

What was supposed to be a natural, beautiful process of a mother’s body providing nourishment for her baby had been hijacked by tubes and breast pumps and plastic. Desperate, I read all the articles, tried all the tricks, consulted a few lactation consultants, talked to a ton of mom-friends—all in hopes of making it work.

Yet there I was, standing in the pediatrician’s exam room during our 3rd follow up visit because Ella wasn’t gaining weight fast enough. My 2 week-old daughter was so tiny that the carseat buckle covered her entire torso. My world stopped when my mom had to pry her from the car seat while I was driving because her precious little body had turned blue. She wasn’t getting enough oxygen because the weight of the car seat buckle was too heavy on her chest.

The doctor was kind but concerned as she explained possibilities of this episode ranging from “she could just be taking her time gaining her weight back” to “we may need to bring her back to the hospital if she turns blue again.” She told me that we would need to continue the routine of around the clock feedings for another week and left me with this: “You can still try breastfeeding—but if we are still not seeing improvement by next week, we’ll have to switch to bottles to measure how much she’s consuming.”

Tears stung my eyes and my heart burst with ache and anxiety and what the hell am I doing so wrong.

My nerves were raw and my body was weak—but that moment at the doctor’s office, I experienced something for the very first time: I made a decision that was best for my baby and for myself, a decision that went against the norm but was oh so necessary for us.

And it wasn’t so much a conscious decision as it was a rising up of this new side of me I didn’t know.

The mother inside of me knew that we needed to give it a break.

For the sake of my daughter’s health and for the sake of my sanity, I put aside the goal of breastfeeding and focused entirely on the wellbeing of my baby.

I realized on that day that the point of breastfeeding is connection—snuggles, intimacy, getting to know each other. It’s bonding with the little person who called you ‘home’ for nine months before beginning life on their own.

And sadly, I realized that I was so very focused on making breastfeeding work that I had come to dread holding my own daughter. Not because of anything she was doing, but because I felt like a colossal failure every time she was in my arms.

So, I gave myself permission to stop breastfeeding.

All of our actions towards our children are rooted in love. Giving up breastfeeding was a decision I made in love for my daughter. It was hard and I mourned for a long time after that day. I felt like I had to apologize to anyone who innocently asked, “How’s feeding going?” Yes, breast milk has a ton of amazing attributes for baby. And yes, I pumped exclusively for four months because I wanted to give her as much of it as I could. But I cannot put to words the relief I felt I let myself off the hook. I could hold my baby and experience all the love and joy you hear about from new parents.

I no longer felt like a failure. I felt like a mommy—and that’s all I really wanted to be, anyways.

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After 4 kids, this is still the best baby gear item I’ve ever purchased

I wouldn't be swooning over the BABYBJÖRN bouncer after eight years and four kids if it didn't work.

I have four kids 8 and under, so you might expect that my house is teeming with baby gear and kid toys.

But it turns out that for me, the more kids I have, the more I simplify our stuff. At this point, I'm down to the absolute essentials, the gear that I can't live without and the toys my kids actually play with. And so when a mama-to-be asks me what things are worth registering for, there are only a few must-haves on my list.

The BABYBJÖRN bouncer seat is on the top of my list—totally worth it and an absolute must-have for any new mama.

In fact, since I first splurged on my first BABYBJÖRN bouncer eight years ago (it definitely felt like a splurge at the time, but the five star reviews were really compelling), the bouncer seat has become the most-used product in our house for baby's first year.

We've actually invested in a second one so that we didn't have to keep moving ours from the bedroom to the living room when we change locations.

BABYBJÖRN bouncer bliss

baby bjorn bouncer

The utility of the seat might seem counterintuitive—it has no mechanical parts, so your baby is instead gently bounced by her own movements. In a world where many baby products are touted for their ability to mechanically rock baby to sleep, I get that many moms might not find the "no-motion" bouncer that compelling. But it turns out that the seat is quite reactive to baby's little kicks, and it has helped my kids to learn how to self-soothe.

$200

Lightweight + compact:

The BABYBJÖRN bouncer is super lightweight, and it also folds flat in a second. Because of those features, we've frequently stored it under the couch, in a suitcase or in the back of the car. It folds completely flat, which I love.

Entertainment zone:

Is the toy bar worth it? The toy bar is totally worth it. Not only is the toy bar adorable, but it's one of the first toys that my babies actually play with once they discover the world beyond my boobs. The toys spin and are close to eye level so they have frequently kept my baby entertained while I cook or take a quick shower.

Great style:

This is not a small detail to me–the BABYBJÖRN bouncer is seriously stylish. I am done with baby gear and toys that make my house look like a theme park. The elegant European design honestly just looks good in my living room and I appreciate that parents can enjoy it as much as baby.

It's adjustable:

With three height settings that let you prop baby up to be entertained, or lay back to rest, we get years of use. And the bouncer can actually be adjusted for bigger kids and used from newborn to toddler age. It's that good.

It just works:

I wouldn't be swooning over the BABYBJÖRN bouncer after eight years and four kids if it didn't work. But I have used the seat as a safe space to put baby while I've worked (I once rocked my baby in it with my foot while I reported on a breaking news story for the Washington Post), and as a cozy spot for my second child to lay while his big brother played nearby. It's held up for almost a decade with almost-constant use.

So for me, looking back on what I thought was a splurge eight years ago, was actually one of the best investments in baby gear I ever made.

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Every week, we stock the Motherly Shop with innovative and fresh products from brands we feel good about. We want to be certain you don't miss anything, so to keep you in the loop, we're providing a cheat sheet.

So, what's new this week?

Earth Mama: Effective, natural herbal care for mamas and babies

Founded and grown in her own garage in 2002, Earth Mama started as an operation of one, creating salves, tinctures, teas and soaps with homegrown herbs. With a deep desire to bring the healing powers of nature that have been relied on for thousands of years to as many mamas as possible, Melinda Olson's formulas quickly grew into Earth Mama Organics. Since then, the brand has remained committed to manufacturing clean, safe and effective herbal solutions for the entire journey of motherhood, including pregnancy, breastfeeding and baby care, and even the loss of a baby.

Bravado Designs: Soothing sounds for a good night's sleep

With 28 years of serving pregnant and postpartum mamas under their belt, Bravado Designs is a true authority on the needs of changing bodies. It's true that we have them to thank for rescuing us from the uncomfortable and frumpy designs our own moms had to live with. Launched in Canada by two young mamas, they designed the first prototypes with extra leopard print fabric certain that a better bra was possible. Throughout the years they've maintained their commitment to ethical manufacturing while creating long-lasting products that truly work.

The Sill: Instagram-ready potted plants

We've long admired this female-founded brand and the brilliant mind behind it, Eliza Blank. (She even joined Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety on and episode of The Motherly Podcast!) The mission behind the business was simple: To make the process of bringing plants into your home as easy as possible, and as wonderful as the plant themselves. With their in-house, exclusively designed minimalist planters, the end result makes plant parenthood just a few clicks away.

Not sure where to start? Here's what we're adding to our cart:

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It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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