After publishing an article about breastfeeding, I received a lot of feedback from mothers who were heartbroken. They had tried. They had cried and pumped and devoted hours to a crying newborn who just wouldn’t properly latch. I felt it was crucial to write to these precious mamas and the heartache they endured. Here is an honest look into the vulnerability of mothers who did their best, but felt they felt short.

Breast is best. This was my mantra during my entire pregnancy. I read all the books, bought the breast pump, bought the pillows, lotions, bottles, bags and special nursing bras. I couldn’t wait for that special bond I would share with my baby. I looked forward to those late night feedings in the rocking chair. I was prepared for the sore nipples, the over-sized breasts, and even the looks I would get in public if I needed to feed her. I was ready!

My baby was born in the wee hours of the morning, one week before my due date. My water never broke, the doctor had to do it for me, but the labor moved along quickly. I pushed for over an hour until it was determined I had to have an emergency c-section to save my baby’s life. The procedure went well, but it also caused me to not see my child for hours after she was born. When they finally brought her to me, I looked at the nurse and pleaded, “I need a lactation consultant as soon as possible.” I knew I didn’t know what to do, but wanted to make sure I knew how because I. Was. Ready.

The nurses were wonderful. They helped me as much as they could. Every hour I tried to get my baby to latch, one breast first, then the other. They assured me she was getting enough to eat, even though something was telling me she wasn’t. I’m fairly certain the few people who came to visit all got a look at me trying to nurse my daughter; I didn’t care. She was the most important thing in that room.

I was at the hospital for three days to recover and spent most of that time trying to nurse my ever-crying baby. I was always asking for a consultant to help me because she wasn’t latching right and she wasn’t getting enough. “Don’t worry, your milk will come in. Sometimes it takes a couple of days.” I heard that every day, and assured myself that they were the professionals so they must be right. 

My daughter was 5lbs, 6oz. when she was born. She had lost a bit of weight when we left the hospital, but again I was told that was normal and not to worry. When we got home, it only got more frustrating. I was nursing her around the clock, but she would always cry, that painful, hungry cry that only a mother can truly understand. I tried both breasts. I tried nipple shields. I tried different positions and different pillows. I ate only foods that increased milk production. I pumped with my breast pump even though nothing came out. I tried anyway. I tried until I was in tears every hour. Everyone kept asking me if I had a letdown yet, and to this day, I still have no idea what that even feels like. My milk never came in.

The day that I changed my baby’s diaper, and there was a tinge of red in it, I knew something had to change. She was down to 4lbs, 8oz, and becoming dehydrated. I sat on the bed and cried. I held my daughter and cried with her. My husband came in with a bottle of formula the hospital sent us home with and told me to try it. Try it for her. She finally stopped crying as she hungrily drank the formula. I sat and fed her with tears in my eyes. I felt I had let her down. I felt like a failure as a mother and a woman. Even though my husband assured me that “fed is best” I couldn’t believe it myself.

Everything I read told me breastmilk was best. It would keep her healthy, bond us together, and only lazy mothers didn’t breastfeed.

The internet is a wonderful and terrible place. Almost everything I read was, “Milk always comes in. You’re a liar if you say it didn’t. You’re a horrible mother. You are just lazy. You didn’t try hard enough.” I felt punched in the gut every day trying to look for answers. This was not what a new mother should have to deal with if everything doesn’t go as planned. Real life wasn’t much better. Sitting in the doctor’s office, everyone’s first question is, “Are you breastfeeding?” (WHY is this an appropriate question to ask a stranger?) And, oh my, the looks I got when I answered, “No.”

As it turned out, my milk never did come in. I never engorged or had a letdown. My body just didn’t do it, and I know now that is OK. After dealing with a milk formula allergy and finally figuring out a soy diet was best for my child, she started gaining weight. She stopped crying. Now at almost two, she’s never been sick, laughs all day long and is a strong, happy little girl. So even though breast may be best, formula is pretty great too, especially when you don’t have any other options.

Brynn Burger

I am a wife, a mother, a teacher, a friend, a writer, a lover of all things outdoors, and sometimes a shell of my former self. Parenting a child with behavior disabilities has become both my prison and my passion. I write so I can breathe. This is my therapy. I hope that my violent vulnerability and use of humor will help you to power through this with me. It is the only way I know.