Breastfeeding Leaves Mom Tired—And Tired of It

He’s 4 months old, and I want to quit. But I’m going to give it just one more week.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the most painful hour of my medication-free labor while giving birth to my son, Gabriel.

There were no quiet moments for me to recover from the excruciating contractions, only the lonely truth that the waves of pain would keep coming and coming.

That was when I thought of the easy, synthetic solution: the epidural, a.k.a. the pain meds.

It was my goal not to have an epidural, but I was so tired that I gave up on myself and begged for one anyway. (They didn't give me one, though.)

It’s been that way this past week with breastfeeding.

Gabe is 4 months old, and he eats a lot.

And I’ve been begging myself to give in and give the boy the synthetic solution that will ease my pain: formula.

Sometime between last Monday (when my hunger and exhaustion caused me to call people by the wrong names) and this past Saturday (when unloading the dishwasher after nursing Gabe seemed more difficult than studying all night for a math final), I lost my resolve.

Gabe’s day care provider was among the first to suggest we consider this option—adding a little bit of formula in with the breastmilk.

Every day, she sees my face fall when she informs me how much of my pumped milk Gabe ate, and she suggested that this step would actually stop me from burning out and enable me to breastfeed him longer.

I posed a question on Patch about my wavering commitment, and, as I read the comments, I thought about it long and hard.

I initially decided to breastfeed Gabe for a full year, because all the research says that’s the best option for babies. 

As one commenter wrote, the World Health Organization is among those that recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life.

In January, U.S. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin said breastfeeding protects babies from infections and illnesses such as diarrhea, ear infections and pneumonia.

Breastfed babies are also less likely to develop asthma, and those who are breastfed for six months are less likely to become obese.

My baby has thrived on breastmilk.

The same can’t be said for me. I’m just so, so tired.

It seems like a lame excuse. And yet on some days, when I hold Gabe, I feel so lightheaded that I need to put him down—or I ask my husband to hold him—because I’m too weak to do it.

As I posed this question on the web, many of my Facebook friends confided that, as mothers who held full-time jobs, pumping and breastfeeding was especially difficult.

One commenter, a fellow reporter, said that while on assignment when her child was a baby, she would leave an hour early to cover the news just so she could have time to pump in restrooms, hotels, courthouses and convenience stores all across the state where she worked.

And yes, she supplemented breastfeeding—which she did for 13 months—with formula.

I work full-time (for Patch), but I work from home, so I have less room to complain—much less.

Even so, I find the situation very, very difficult.

I—like all journalists who celebrate the fact they have messy cars, messy desks and messy lives because we favor the task of chasing the story— have been having a hard time tearing myself away from the business of writing and editing news in order to pump milk.

It sounds so selfish. But it’s true.

On Saturday, I wandered over to the  grocery store in my neighborhood and lingered in the formula aisle, thinking, really thinking, whether this was the right option for me.

The little containers were so colorful—and so expensive.

I took a minute to read the directions, which said that formula is a powder you mix with water.

Earlier that day, I had breastfed Gabe in the car in  parking lot, and as my little family drove to our next errand, he cooed and crowed in his car seat.

I pulled out my phone, eager to see if any of the comments would give me more clarity.

A woman named Dara shared that she, too, thought about buying formula at the brink of her exhaustion, but that her husband encouraged her to wait just a bit, because this was only a phase.

“He has been right every time,” she wrote. “It is as if the stages of baby development are so in tune with what a parent can handle that they adjust and grow as our adult bodies are ready to max out.”

I hope she’s right.

Because I didn’t buy the formula, and I decided to exclusively breastfeed him for one more week before I make any decisions.

And I will be eating a lot more hamburgers and peanut butter sandwiches to boost my strength in the meantime.

Eleanor Thomson March 21, 2011 at 01:25 PM
It sounds like an exhausting life altogether! Have you had your iron levels checked, if you're so tired? Might be worth thinking about. At 4 months lots of babies hit a big 'growth spurt' but it passes pretty soon (though it can feel like forever) once they've boosted your supply. There's some great support out there, and others will have been through the same. Maybe take a look at the LLL or Kellymom websites for some info too? Hope things pick up soon.
Vicky Fishwick March 21, 2011 at 01:47 PM
Hi, have you thought about maybe trying to eat more fruit and veg? I started doing this when breastfeeding and it has made a huge difference to my energy levels. My son is 3 months now (i also have a 2 year old) and make big pans of meals I can split into portions and freeze and just reheat when im hungry.
rachel Cline March 21, 2011 at 01:47 PM
Congratulations for doing so well for four months, feeding can be physically and emotionally draining for a mum. Glad you are waiting and thinking about things, sometimes we try and make black and white decisions when we are not in the right place emotionally to do so. You are doing a fantastic job and sound like you just need some others to reassure you of how great you are doing, your local LLL is a great supportive place, hope you have a local group.
Cat March 21, 2011 at 01:48 PM
Hi Lisa Wow, it sounds like you're a really busy new mum. At 4 months old you're really still adjusting to being a mum, and with working as well you must be exhausted in any case; the breastfeeding is probably only adding a small amount to that level of tired. You sound like you've done a lot of research Into bf/ff, but I found this site so helpful for a number of areas including boosting milk supplies and expressing; http://www.drjacknewman.com/breastfeeding-help.asp This hungry phase will pass as your body adjusts to meeting the increased demand. The best piece of advice I was given about being a parent is "everything is just a phase". It really is. I really hope you feel like you have more energy soon, Cat
izzy March 21, 2011 at 02:08 PM
why not cut down on the work instead of the feeding? it seems that is a much more likely culprit. New mums always feel tired. You need fresh air and exercise & to spend more time with your child, rather than assuming it is because you are breast feeding.
Lara K March 21, 2011 at 02:18 PM
I was still pretty tired at 4 months too, but cosleeping really helped us! We nursed all night on demand and it was so blissfully easy - just put her back into her little cosleeper (attached to our bed) when we were finished nursing. Also, mastering the art of nursing while lying down did WONDERS for me, as did learning to nap whenever and wherever she did! I am glad you are giving yourself one more week. I've heard nursing boys is tougher than nursing girls. Hang in there mama and don't beat yourself up! You are doing a GREAT job and giving that little guy the very best of everything!! Sending you lots of good energy to keep breastfeeding him and taking care of yourself, as well.
FoxyKate March 21, 2011 at 02:22 PM
Baby steps, baby. I think that waiting one more week before making any decisions is a fantastic idea. 4 months is kind of a suck time: google "4 months + sleep" and you'll see that it's kind of this crazy time where developmental leaps kind of seem to converge and there's growth spurts and sleep interruptions and all sorts of NONSENSE that is hard enough when you're home with your baby full time, and then trying to add working FT on top of it has to be exhausting. Can you set an alarm for yourself to pump? Do you keep a water bottle nearby? Would something like a protein shake in the morning that you kinda drink slowly help you with a steady flow of nutrition? when you said you're too lightheaded after unloading the dishwasher & that you asked your husband to hold him because you're too weak, are these opportunities that maybe you could ask your husband to take over some stuff that you might ordinarily do? Like, can he take care of the dishwasher for the next month or so? Can you lay down & take a disco nap when he gets home? Are you picking up from daycare? Or is that something he can do & you can grab a 20 minute lay-down before they come home? Is there anyone who lives close who could come by and help out at home once a week for a bit - keep in mind, it's hard for ANYONE to ask for help! Good luck to you - I hope that you are happy & healthy no matter what you decide to do!
Amber McCann March 21, 2011 at 02:23 PM
Hey Lisa! I've seen links to this article across Facebook. Lots of other breastfeeding moms are reaching out and offering support. So many of us have been where you are. I think asking these questions and exploring the answers is really important instead of just sweeping them under the rug. Looks like many of the comments are offering great help and advice. You are one mom in an army of moms who like lifting each other up! Here is your article on Lakehore Medical Breastfeeding Clinics Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lakeshore-Medical-Breastfeeding-Medicine-Clinic/134844053221572
Erin March 21, 2011 at 02:44 PM
Lisa, you are doing great!! Don't feel bad if you decide to supplement because everyone has to figure out what is best for their family and situation...but, I really applaud your commitment to stay with breastfeeding. It's not always easy. We hit a rough spot around the same age with T, & I found that increasing my calories like you're doing (lots of extra protein snacks) helped tremendously with fatigue. And don't be afraid of a daily ice cream snack, either! :) You and Gabe look great...miss you!! YOU CAN DO IT, MAMA!!
Cam March 21, 2011 at 02:57 PM
There's a lot of great comments above, ideas that helped me get through especially tiring days/weeks as well... like cosleeping, cutting back on work if possible, cutting back on everything else in life if possible (have hubby/friend/relatives do the laundry/food shopping/dinner- or let it pile up! order out!), resting while you nurse him so you can recharge, eat eat eattttt! But my best pumping tip is to get a hands-free pumping bra if you don't have one already! They make life sooooo much easier- you can suddenly pump AND work at your computer! Store your pumping parts in a plastic ziploc bag in the fridge in between pumping, you so don't have to wash/dry them after each time. The milk doesn't go bad in the fridge and that cuts down on what I found to be a terribly annoying task. Good luck, hang in there, and give that little one lots of kisses!!!
Emily March 21, 2011 at 03:48 PM
I've seen so many friends over the years beat themselves up and make themselves sick over breastfeeding, and I think about what my mom told me: If it's not right for the mom, it's not right for the baby. You do what you have to do and don't feel bad about that. He will not grow any extra head if you decide to supplement or go to formula altogether. It sounds like you're doing a great job as a mom. If only all babies had what yours does: a mom who will go to any length to give him the best. I was lucky enough to have that mom, and for her to be happy and healthy enough to give me the best, she gave me formula, and I thank her for that. Good luck, and know you're doing great as a mom!
Jessica March 21, 2011 at 05:35 PM
I commend you for not giving in. I had twins just six weeks ago and am contemplating throwing in the towel. Between my daughter's lack of ability to latch correctly and therefore loss of weight, and her brother's insatiable appetite, it has not gone well and I've had to provide them with mostly formula and pump when there was time, which there isn't. Lack of pumping regularly has led to pain and a diminished supply. Can't help but feel like a failure, but am still trying to resist giving up altogether.
Lynn March 21, 2011 at 06:14 PM
Hang in there! I does get easier, I promise (been through this 3 times!) There is a great resource online for pumping moms called 'Pump Moms'. http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/PumpMoms/ I ended up having to pump for my first (preemie) son exclusively because he was unable to nurse effectively. I know I wouldn't have survived without all the great tips & support from this group as well as the support from my local lactation consultant and mom friends. I think it's great that you're being honest about your struggles (we all struggle at times through this mom thing) and hopefully you'll get some good support and ideas from your readers and friends.
Summer March 21, 2011 at 08:43 PM
Hang in there, Lisa! I went through the same thing with both of my kids. I don't know why I was so concerned about using formula - I think I was mostly concerned that it would start me in a downward spiral in terms of milk supply. There is nothing inherently bad about using formula to supplement but I would be a little cautious to make sure that it doesn't get in the way of your body adjusting to the baby's demand. Other than that, I swear by Blessed Thistle and the using the nursing bra for hands free double-pumping! I found it took around a week or so for my body to adjust to the increased demand each time they had a growth spurt.
Nona D. Andaya-Castillo March 21, 2011 at 11:18 PM
Years ago, when i started counselling mothers, I always asked them what do cows and horses eat? The first animal is known for its ability to produce voluminous amounts of milk while both of them are known for their grace and energy as work animals. They don't drink milk, they don't eat hamburgers and french fries. They eat grass. In 2002, the World Health Organization issued the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health that encourages among other nutritional guidelines to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes and avoid saturated fat not only to stay healthy but also to avert the rising incidence of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. I can only smile with pride as I was ahead of this recommendation for more than a decade! I have conquered major illnesses and have done away with all the prescriptions drugs associated with them when I changed my diet and lifestyle in 1991. In recent years, more and more studies are coming up correlating non-communicable diseases and the consumption of dairy products and meat. Cheers to a better health! Nona D. Andaya-Castillo, IBCLC www.breastfeedingphilippines.com
Lynn March 21, 2011 at 11:57 PM
I forgot to add... if you don't have one already, get one today. This one product completely changed my life (Easy Expression Bustier): http://www.medelabreastfeedingus.com/products/pump-accessories/529/easy-expression-bustier You can pump while on the computer, eating lunch, whatever. Once I had one, I hated to ever pump without it!
Megan March 22, 2011 at 02:16 AM
Please hang in there, if you initially wanted to breastfeed your baby for a year, you can do it! This, like all things, will pass. Take it one day (or week!) at a time. Make sure you are getting enough nutrition for yourself. Making milk is hard work, and work that only you can do for your baby. Wishing all the best for you, your little one and your boobies :)
Justine Julian March 22, 2011 at 04:52 AM
I have been right where you are! I was beyond exhausted and decided that it would be better for me to be a happy, rested momma than a breastfeeding one. However, what I didn't anticipate was the possibility that I would wean and STILL FEEL AS EXHAUSTED AS BEFORE! So, now I had given up on my breastfeeding goals PLUS I was still wiped out PLUS my baby no longer had her nursies :( Breastfeeding does require a lot of mothers, but it might NOT be the reason for your exhaustion. Please look into possible health concerns and lifestyle changes that your support network might be able to help you with before you decide to throw in the towel on your breastfeeding goals. 4 months is a really hectic time...your hormones are going through some changes, your baby is going through a pretty significant developmental stage, it really is the end of the "fourth trimester" and things are going to be moving forward pretty rapidly after this...try hanging in there one day at a time! Of course formula is not the end of the world...but it is not necessarily going to simplify your life, it may just create new challenges that you did not already have...you might just be trading in one set of "problems" for another set. Surround yourself and your family with POSITIVE, NURTURING people who want you to succeed at reaching your breastfeeding goals. Best of luck to you!
Kristin March 23, 2011 at 07:10 PM
I want to second the recommendation to get some bloodwork done to make sure there is not some other underlying issue that is leading to your exhaustion. But yes, nursing a baby under six months old really can be a full time job. I just want to echo the other posters that it's a phase and I promise it get's better!! If you want to reach your one year goal you can do it! Take it one day at a time and use your support system (your husband, family, friends, LLL, etc). If you let them know how important your goal is they will all help you achieve it. Hang in there, you are doing a great job!!
Melissa Mary March 26, 2011 at 02:41 AM
Hey mama! Try taking a teaspoon of black strap molasses to up your iron and a teaspoon of extra virgin coconut oil to up your fat intake. And have a beer after baby goes to sleep (or just go to sleep too!). Good luck! We're rooting for you!
Sherri Barth March 26, 2011 at 02:56 AM
Lisa, THANK YOU for giving a voice to those for whom breastfeeding doesn't come "naturally easy!" I am going through something very similar to you right now, even though I am not currently working. As a stay@home, homeschooling mother, I wasn't able to make it to a year with any of my first three babies. #1 started biting me at 7 mos. & I quit nursing immediately... mostly out of my own ignorance of ways to rectify the situation. #2 I nursed for 4 mos. which was as long as I could make it with him while also pursuing my Master's degree. #3 I nursed 'til 6 mos. at which point I discovered that my struggles with supply were due to the fact that I was (SURPRISE!) pregnant with #4. Before she was even born, I *vowed* that I would make it to a year with this precious one. At 3 mos. old she was diagnosed with acid reflux & eczema... At 4 mos. she was diagnosed with severe GERD & on the verge of "failure-to-thrive," when she decided to also stage a nursing strike. I've been pumping for right at a month now... taking domperidone... and YES, supplementing with a high-quality, fortified, organic formula. The result? Now, we are at peace. That 2 mo. period where she was miserable with reflux & not gaining weight weighed heavy on my heart & mind & exhausted me physically. My advice is... do all you can... be all you can... for as long as you can, but know that formula is NOT the end of the world & it also doesn't have to mean the end of your nursing relationship! :-)
amber stromsness March 26, 2011 at 03:50 AM
It looks like you've received a ton of encouragement, so I will just say this; I am soooo grateful to still be breastfeeding at 13months. When my little one bonks his head or is particularly whiney/tired/frustrated/whatever, nothing soothes him like breastfeeding. Tears stop in their tracks, literally. Many moms I know who breastfeed into the second year say that the terrible twos don't exist in their house. Sure, their wee ones get frustrated but their mamas have the ultimate cure (oxytocin)... calms baby AND mama down. That thought alone gave me the motivation I needed to push through the hard times in the early days. Before you know it, your little one will be eating solids and and breastfeeding will be less frustrating and exhausting and more relaxing and bonding.
Kari Bharucha March 26, 2011 at 04:43 AM
Love the following @ Lara K, @ FoxyKate, @Cam & @Justine Julian I'm a mostly SAHM to a DS who is 19 mo. I was fortunate enough to stay home 4 months then only work every other weekend since then. That gave me lots of time to focus on keeping up with BF during stretches I was home, I think that was my saving grace. I still had to give some formula around 9 mo, couldn't quite keep up, and gave cow's milk a bit before 12mo when I got a taste of formula in cereal. How horrid. COULD NOT imagine pumping without hands free bra, device or something of that sort. Never could have pumped & eaten at the same time while on break at work and had I not done those things we would have run out of milk sooner. I was too "lazy" to pump when at home to help boost my supply, I found it too be too much extra work, wish I'd heard of the PUMP PARTS IN THE FRIDGE trick when I was still at the pump. Would have made me much more likely to pump more. And once I tried it, FEEDING IN BED AT NIGHT, took practice but even if it was just once per night, it kept me from waking up so much, and I felt much more rested in am. I hesitated about trying it despite knowing many moms find it helpful because I was afraid I might fall asleep & have something bad happen to my DS. When I realized I was dozing off sitting up I gave it a try. I no longer had to worry about falling asleep in the chair & dropping him. We still nurse in bed most mornings, I find it's a nice way to multitask & ease into my day. K
Kari Bharucha March 26, 2011 at 05:00 AM
Oh & I started solids after OK from my MD at just under 5 months due to knowing I was struggling keeping up. I knew I'd rather give him cereal and fresh fruits & veggies than formula. Next time, if I have one, I may try to hold out on solids til 6 month minimul recommended by WHO. But we'll see. Great job sticking with it this far & just keep at it day by day. And if the time comes that you feel you need to give formula it will be OK. I felt so disappointed , and a bit guilty even, when I first gave DS formula. I'm a Peds RN with lacatation counselor certificate, felt I knew what more I could do and maybe hadn't done it all. But all was & is OK. I got over it, still have twinges of regret over it but know it was best choice at the time, now I know more and can maybe do more to make it easier for me to avoid that if I'm ever blessed with another LO. I've found on-line support to be much more important than I'd ever realized. I've never gone LLL route something about what I'd heard of them sceared me off at first but I've still used the website for info and I know many find them & local groups to be amazing source of support. I've heard the same about KellyMom & Dr. Jack Newman's site. PERSONALLY I especially like The Leaky B@@b (hate the name personally but great site/group), NNIPL (a bit extreme for me at times), BESTFORBABES.ORG (less hard core LOVE their CREDO). Through those have found numerous articles, links, blogs etc....with great info, support, etc... K
Camille Griffiths March 26, 2011 at 06:44 AM
That is not a normal way to feel, health-wise. Breastfeeding is not known to cause fatigue and dizziness. Weaning probably won't even help this. It sounds like you may be anemic or maybe something even more serious is going on. Have you been getting enough sleep? (Do you co-sleep?) Listen, I think your solution lies with seeing a doctor, maybe holistic doctor, and a chiropractor. I can tell you that giving up on breastfeeding may not better your situation at all. I have personal experience with this; I supplemented with formula and I learned that it was just a case of the grass is always greener. Being a mother is hard. There are no easy ways out. Formula feeding is no easier than breastfeeding, in fact it is much harder. Washing and sanitizing bottles, mixing formula, paying for formula, finding a nipple your baby will take, dealing with the upset tummy, having to get up out of bed and mix a bottle, waiting for it to cool while the baby cries, not being able to soothe all of those fussy moments with breastfeeding... It was so difficult that I made it my number one priority to get back to breastfeeding. I felt liberated the day I threw out the extra formula, and put the bottles in a cabinet. I've come to think of breastfeeding as a blessing, my best parenting tool. It keeps our house quiet and peaceful, and has kept my daughter from ever getting sick (3 minor colds in over 2 years). Anyway, I hope you find out what's wrong soon, and feel better! Good luck.
Christina Cook March 26, 2011 at 11:22 PM
First off- I think it is freaking FANTASTIC that you decided to nurse, at all. Even a few months of breastmilk will benefit a baby the rest of his life! Secondly- I have been there. I was a breastfeeding mom that decided to become a formula feeding mom, because I was exhausted, uneducated, and had gotten loads of terrible advice. But I am going to let you in on a little secret- formula feeding moms are JUST as exhausted, actually odds are, MORE SO. Instead of getting up and putting your baby to the boob, you will go into the kitchen, spend a couple minutes cleaning out a bottle, then warming up the water to put into the bottle, then shake it for another minute, let it sit for a few more (if you don't they will get gassy which guess what? unfortunately equals less sleep for the both of you). Not to mention your child will get sick while on formula (formula fed babies are 14X more likely to end up in the hospital) and this will add way more stress to your life. A couple months into ff'ing my son he had already gotten sick three times, and those times are NOT fun. I evenutally relactated around six months and my son (who is now 14 months) hasn't been sick again since. Con't
Christina Cook March 26, 2011 at 11:26 PM
We moved him into our room (into our bed more specifically- which I would HIGHLY recommend, though I know it doesn't work for everyone I do believe it is worth a shot) and now when my son is hungry in the middle of the night, the work I do consists of rolling over and lifting my shirt. I have saved countless hours of sleep, money spent on doctor's visits, and not to mention stress! I know what you are going through is excruciating, believe me I do. People all too often discount the work that us moms do. But formula is not an easy way out. It is more work, a lot of money, and all research says- not good for babies unless as a last resort. Talk to some moms with the LLL or a breastfeeding peer counselor- there is a great deal of support out there. Good luck, and I wish you and your LO the very best, no matter what decision you make in the end. <3
C J Burke March 27, 2011 at 01:10 AM
Take it one day at a time. The days will likely turn to weeks and weeks will turn into month. I added it up one day and with 4 kids I spent a total of 7 years breast feeding. Finally, one day, I looked at my last son and told him not to come near me again---I could almost "help himself". I was done. He was almost 3. He's now 6 feet tall and healthy as a horse. When my daughters had their own kids, I watched them struggle with what you described. My oldest used an herbal supplement that boosted her milk supply. She ,as I had, would pump everyday at work. A great pump makes a great difference. She lasted a bit over a year. Her sister lasted 4 - 6 months with each of her two kids. I looked at her and finally said you are not obligated to do this. Do it because it is what you want for yourself and your baby. There is no less love in the bottle than there is in the breast. Yes of course I believe breast is best---but not if your heart and body isn't in it. It sounds like you may need a little nutritional boost to get you through your son's growth spurts. Don't be hard on yourself and accept that you can't do quite as much as before because really....you are doing much more. And..if the most you have forgotten is a name here or there....YOU ARE DOING WELL!
Anne Gonnella March 28, 2011 at 02:18 PM
Hang in there, mama. These exhausting periods are hard, but you can do it. We supplemented with formula for a short while when I was having supply issues, and then stopped again when things rectified themselves. I'm glad I didn't try to switch completely though. And I can say that supplementing with formula didn't do much for my energy levels. Being a mom of a 4 month old is exhausting, period! But you'll get through it, don't worry!


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