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Lactation Failure: It Happened to Me

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Five days after the birth of my first daughter, I held her in my arms as my husband held me. My head was bent against his shoulder, and I was sobbing so heavily that I shook. I could barely breathe, but I pushed out the words: “I. Just. Want. To. Feed. My. Baby.” 

That I wouldn’t be able to, and that no lactation consultant or midwife would admit this, turned what would have been a disappointing situation into a near health crisis for my daughter.

I had been told that it might take as long as three days for my milk to come in, so by day four I was perplexed. By the end of that day confusion gave way to disappointment. I was never particularly fond of my breasts, and I’d been looking forward to a new sense of appreciation for them; hey, they might not be Playboy material but they could sustain a life! By day five, panic had set in. The baby was getting crankier, and I was agitated and devastated, the oxytocin from childbirth flooding from my body with no pleasure hormones from breastfeeding to replace them.

On the phone, my midwives sounded as perplexed as I was. I’d had a natural childbirth, and was totally committed to nursing. My mother was able to breastfeed. It must just be that we weren’t trying hard enough, or that the baby wasn’t latching properly. They prescribed a militant regimen of water-drinking and pumping—15 minutes on, 10 minutes off, for two hours straight, then a two-hour break until I started again. I fed the baby the pathetic quarter-ounce yield and prayed for that mythical sensation I’d heard about called let-down. 

A day later, when I told the midwives that nothing had changed, they just said, “Huh. We’ve never heard of this before.” Let down, indeed. Whatever happened, they said, don’t introduce the bottle, or give formula. I was presented with a list of what horrors might unfold if I did: obesity, compromised immune system, lowered IQ.

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