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My Breastfeeding Detour: When Expectations Meet Reality

I’ll be honest: I sometimes judged mothers I saw in public who gave their babies formula before I had my son.

My mom taught me the importance of natural birth and breastfeeding from a very young age. There’s a picture of me breastfeeding one of my baby dolls when I was two and a half.

During my pregnancy, I had the utmost faith in my large breasts. And rather than taking a class, had two breastfeeding books on my nightstand.

I went into labor three weeks earlier than expected.

Only one book had been opened with a bookmark on chapter two.

plus size mom holding baby

My Breastfeeding Detour

Braeden’s birth was beyond anything I could’ve imagined, and I was amazed by my body’s strength.

But we never foresaw what happened next because during labor, everyone kept telling us he was “term” and there shouldn’t be any complications.

It’s inconceivable how quickly the happiest moment in your life can turn into the scariest.

Within twenty-four hours, Braeden was in the NICU.

He did all of the things preemies often do: not being able to regulate blood sugar, jaundice, weight loss, and infection concerns.

Even through this, my expectation of breastfeeding my child did not falter.

I did not expect my ability to breastfeed would be detoured. 

While in the NICU, I’d strip down, not caring who was around, to provide my son with skin-to-skin contact and attempt breastfeeding.

We were only given thirty minutes every three hours to hold him. I had fifteen minutes to bond while trying to breastfeed. And saved the last fifteen minutes for a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS).

We fed our son a syringe full of my pumped breast milk.

My husband and I made a great team. We even taught one of the pediatric nurses working on the NICU floor how to do SNS feedings.

After twenty-four hours in the NICU, followed by two nights and three days in the hospital, a lot of time spent with lactation nurses, and one meeting with a pediatrician, we were sent home.

We were told to wake our son for feedings every two-three hours. But he didn’t need to continue with SNS feedings because he had a “perfect latch.”

baby nursing plus size mom

Once home, I sought breastfeeding advice from my doula and contacted the La Leche League. I had my mother’s “hands-on” support and was renting a hospital pump.

My supply just seemed to be dwindling.

Why oh why didn’t I take a breastfeeding class?

After two days of being parents on our own, we ended up back in the hospital.

This was due to Braeden’s jaundice getting worse and 15% weight loss.

I was a new mom full of guilt because I was unintentionally starving my infant.

I was so dedicated to breastfeeding that I wrote the note below on the whiteboard in our hospital room before any nurse had the opportunity to mention formula.

After three more nights in the hospital, we were released. This time we had a strong plan that included SNS feedings and a follow-up appointment.

no formula note

It wasn’t until the follow-up appointment, 9 days after Braeden’s birth, that a nurse realized that the “perfect latch” didn’t have much behind it. She handed me a nipple shield, and I can’t even describe how amazing it was to finally feel my son pull at my nipple.

We were required to bring our son to bi-weekly weight checks to prove he was thriving. This was emotionally taxing, but his weight was slowly increasing, although not quite fast enough. We were told we had to start supplementing with formula.

As a new parent, still reeling from the guilt of starving my son, I was devastated but willing to do anything to see a strong weight gain.

We initially requested a milk bank prescription but were told we couldn’t have one because it was against their policy. We looked into it independently but realized we couldn’t afford it.

I kept pumping and gave him as much as I could produce along with the formula.

The formula immediately plumed him up, and after four more weight checks, we were cut free from the medical system. We could finally just go to regular pediatric appointments like most parents experience.

Over the next two months, I researched and sought a lot of advice: I popped Fenugreek round the clock, drank Mother’s Milk Tea, pumped after every feeding, tried pumping while nursing, and weaned my son off the nipple shield.

I still never made enough milk to stop supplementing with formula.

I had to return to work with only two months of maternity leave. I brought my pump and pumped twice a day. My son was far more attached to his bottle because of its easy flow.

Breastfeeding became less of a time for us to bond and more of me trying to remain calm while he didn’t want to latch. I would often experience IBS. I watched my other friends breastfeed easily and became resentful while they remained supportive of me.

After five months of trying to get off this breastfeeding detour and be able to exclusively breastfeed, I was emotionally exhausted.

My husband often witnessed my struggles with my son crying and me attempting to get him to latch. During one of these instances, I looked at my husband with tears in my eyes, and we both knew it was time to stop breastfeeding.

I’m now one of those moms I used to judge feeding my son formula in public. I’ve learned a very valuable lesson and do my best to no longer pass judgment upon other mothers.

There are countless parenting philosophies, and many feel their way is best. I believe the best way to parent is with love.

My formula-fed son is thriving, and I no longer feel guilt; only hope that I will get to travel the breastfeeding road and not just the detour with my next child.

Update: I got pregnant two years later but sadly had a miscarriage. After that, I never got pregnant again. But, I’ve dedicated my life to supporting plus size people during pregnancy and postpartum – whatever their journey looks like – without judgment. We learn so much from our experiences, and they shape us into stronger humans.

Jen McLellan, CBE
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Saturday 2nd of August 2014

Thank you for this post. We have amazing similar stories as far as my little one being 3 weeks early and pretty much everything else including syringe feeding. My supply just never came in, and we found out our little one was very badly tongue tied. I have always had a lot of guilt about not being able to breastfeed I truly believe it is the best thing and most natural thing for babies. But it just wasn't in the cards and nobody around me had ever breastfed so I was looked at as weird to begin with. I hope that next time around it will happen. But I know that no matter what I love my son and he is perfectly healthy and happy.


Saturday 2nd of August 2014

Thanks for sharing mama. It's hard but knowing we aren't alone kinda helps. I have to believe that next time will be different for both of us.


Thursday 19th of September 2013

I did all the same things hings and could never produce enough I kept trying and time at the breast was just stressful for both of us and nerve wracking .. people still make me feel bad that I give my daughter formula but you know what my daughter is a healthy happy baby none the less but know I was not the only one to do everything... I tried every trick fenugreek blessed thistle my vitamins mothers milk drinking one beer oatmeal flaxseed I smelled like maple syrup 24/7 I was going crazy and my family amd husband were the ones to finally sit me down and say enough was enough that could not keep stressing both my daughter and myself out any more


Thursday 1st of August 2013

So this is my story twice now, "I’m now one of those moms I used to judge feeding my son formula in public. I’ve learned a very valuable lesson and do my best to no longer pass judgment upon other mothers." Parenting is part love and part survival, depending on how tired you are, you go with one your are most capable of giving. Now pregnant with my third child, I still have hopes and dreams of being a breastfeeding mommy.


Thursday 6th of June 2013

I am so glad you shared this. I have 3 babies 2 year 19 months and 5 weeks and am finally having my first positive breastfeeding experience. I learned with the first 2 not to let the "rules" they throw down your throat control my breastfeeding. I only got 3 months with the first 2. Its a lot harder than people lead on.


Tuesday 12th of March 2013

You did great. I think we all get caught up in silly 'mommy wars.' You did the most important thing you could have done, the best for your child. Feel no guilt because that makes you a good mother!