When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Work
Before the birth of her first child, Stephanie Meredith of Canton, Georgia, thought she was prepared for anything. An avid researcher, Meredith knew she would nurse her baby. Beyond studies from the National Women’s Health Information Center showing breastfed babies are healthier and smarter, and a host of other benefits, Meredith felt it would be the best way to bond with her baby.
After a difficult delivery, Meredith learned that her baby had Down syndrome. Although babies with Down syndrome have greater difficulties nursing due to weak facial muscles, Meredith was determined to nurse. Yet after five weeks of carefully recording every aspect of her baby’s nursing habits, from one and one-half hour feedings to different positioning, Meredith could barely function. Her baby’s occupational therapist gently prodded her to bottlefeed, pointing out that her son was expending more calories trying to nurse than he received from breast milk.
Meredith started bottlefeeding her infant but was racked with anxiety. “I felt tremendously guilty because all the research says that nursing is better for your baby—even improves the IQ,” explains Meredith. “I knew I already had a baby with special needs, who was going to have challenges. I felt like I was making it worse by not breastfeeding him, by not giving him every advantage I could.”
Meredith sought out a therapist to help her deal with her feelings. On the first visit she explained everything she had tried and offered her detailed five-week notebook as proof. “I’m not a quitter,” she recalls saying. The therapist told her to throw away the notebook. “After I did, it was such a release,” she says. “I finally started to relax and feel like a mom.”
With pressure from many sources, such as the National Breastfeeding Awareness campaign, pushing for women to breastfeed, moms like Meredith are in a bind—they desperately want to nurse their babies and yet it just doesn’t work out for them. Healthcare professionals who, with the best of intentions, might either push women to nurse at all costs or advise them to stop nursing even if the mother wants to continue, complicate feelings of failure. Add to that pressure from friends or families to stop or continue and some women are left emotionally drained.
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