How to Fail at Breastfeeding / by Caroline Hagerty

I REALLY wanted to successfully breastfeed- I mean, breastmilk is super great for babies, free, AND burns a ton of calories?!  Mmmhmm, you know I wanted to sign my ass up for all that shit!! But I didn’t succeed.  I failed at breastfeeding.

Before I had my daughter, I thought breastfeeding was easy.  LOL to that thought now.  Sure- many women are amazing at it, but even those women wouldn’t call it easy.  

Below is a list of my suggestions, lessons learned, and missed opportunities which caused me to fail at breastfeeding but ultimately allowed me to do so with no regrets.  

  1. I didn’t take any breastfeeding classes.  I did sign up for one, but my daughter arrived early- ironically on the day the class was to be held.  

  2. The great comedian Ali Wong once said “breast is free”.  Not quite, Ali Wong.  Nursing is free...but you cannot exclusively nurse if you ever intend to be away from your baby for more than a few hours.  Do you want to go back to work? Have a date night? Sleep for more than an hour?  Then you’ll need ointments, bras, pumps, pads, pillows, coolers, freezer bags...need I go on?  My advice: buy all of that ONLY once you’ve successfully established breastfeeding.  I cried every single time I saw a tube of nipple cream or my expensive AF breast pump around our apartment.  All that wasted money was the gross maraschino cherry sitting atop my failure. 

  3. Think twice before getting your nipples pierced.  My scar tissue resulted in hospitalization for clogging and random leakage.  Very infuriating and counterintuitive tbh.  

  4. Don’t look at glamorous breastfeeding shots.  In the age of #freethenipple, these are plentiful.  I unfollowed many awesome, feminist social media accounts because their breastfeeding posts were (maybe still are) triggering to me.  Especially photos of beautiful, happy breastfeeding women.  I definitely think there should be more visibility of such imagery in our society, but for now I personally need to avoid it.  

  5. TREAT YOSELF!  Some context:  I tried to breastfeed for 3 weeks, mostly via pumping.  Due to jaundice, my daughter was bottlefed in the NICU for her first week of life.  Once bottle feeding is introduced to babies, it is very difficult to get them to nurse.  I pumped around the clock so she could have breastmilk from a bottle if not from my breasts.  Unfortunately, I never pumped more than 8-10 ounces in a day which wasn’t nearly enough milk for my growing baby.  My partner and I eventually decided exclusively formula feeding was best for all of us.  So I drank my favorite white wine, slathered retinol all over my face, and booked some rounds of laser hair removal.  Enjoying the things I couldn’t while breastfeeding didn’t cure my heartbreak, but they did make me feel better for a moment or two.  

  6. Take advantage of all available resources.  I met with lactation consultants, attended lactation support groups, reached out to moms in my life for advice, and spoke with members of the La Leche league.  I am thankful for all the women who helped me.  I am thankful for the peace I have knowing I tried everything I could think of before ultimately failing.  

  7. Let people around know you failed and that’s that.  Frankly, be blunt about it.  You really don’t owe anyone an explanation unless you’d like to offer one.  I found this approach made people uncomfortable so they’d stop offering me their well intended but deeply hurtful suggestions.  

  8. Cut yourself some slack.  Again, even women who love breastfeeding or who love childbirth or who love pregnancy wouldn’t call any of it easy.  Be proud of yourself as mother. 

“It’s fucking hard. I thought it would be easy. ‘Everyone fucking does it, how hard can it be?’ I had no idea. It is hard but it’s phenomenal. It’s the greatest thing I ever did.” Adele on motherhood.