Insufficiency: Breastfeeding in Real-Life

Insufficiency: Breastfeeding in Real-Life

(Photo credit Cheryl Spaulding Photography)

One Mother’s Story of Breastfeeding With Insufficient Breast Tissue

 I love natural birth and (of course) I teach birth classes.  This has truly been one of the best things in my life and has opened so many doors.  One of the greatest things however is that I have been able to meet and learn from so many families and women.

 In one of my recent birth classes I had a couple come through that was eagerly planning and preparing for a wonderful home birth.

Alas, it did not turn out as planned.

Life can be cruel.

Of course, I always hope that even if a woman has a difficult birth, that the breastfeeding relationship will give her some joy and healing.  But again, life can be cruel.

For this mom, breastfeeding too turned out to be difficult due to a physiological condition (which you will read about in her own words) that literally made it so her body would not produce enough milk for her baby.

She sent me this essay about her struggle with this and I had to share it here on Mothering.

There are a lot of reasons why this story needs to be told, but one of the most important is that many of us who have been able to nurse can be a little hard on women who can’t.  Sometimes we suggest they try some skin to skin or drink more water or co-sleep or various supplements.

Those things often work and/or help.  But sometimes … they don’t.

I won’t ruin this with any more lame advice from me.  Read what she has to say and share it with somebody you love.  This is good stuff.

(And you probably noticed she is a better writer than me.  That is because she is a real writer.  Check out the bottom for her full bio and links where you can read more by her.)


I gaze at Amanda’s breasts. They are full of femininity, oozing life into Angelo’s mouth.

The persistent gulps of her child seem to mock me like the repetition of a broken record.

I cannot look away from her large breasts and the hissing laughter inside my mind is

inescapable. Silence pours from me. I am lucky if I’ll hear three solid gulps from Isaac

before re-positioning my straps, covering my breasts and preparing the powdery substance

that is able to provide for my child what I cannot.


Your body will provide what it needs for your baby, my midwife had encouraged me, not

yet aware that my body could not provide for my baby – just as my homebirth ended in

an emergency trip to the hospital; my abdomen cut open after the five hours of pushing

that only continued to push my unborn child’s heart rate down – his placement still

unmoved, wedged tightly inside my pelvis.


It’s my first play date since Isaac’s birth despite the fact he is only six weeks old

and cannot yet even sit up. It is mostly a time for me to share my shortcomings in

motherhood, hopes, joys and frustrations. I met Amanda in our natural childbirth class 

and she’s now become a solid foundation for my shattered self. She was open-minded

and fearful of her hospital birth. Hers was beautiful, fast and close to perfect.


I was stubbornly set on my homebirth, had repeated affirmations for months, envisioned the 

scene and created artwork over how I hoped it would go. It was nothing as I’d hoped. She

was easy going; I was strong-willed and judgmental. She hadn’t thought of cloth diapers

or breastfeeding, and I had created a well thought out plan ignorantly expecting it to

follow suit. Today our children both sit in their disposables – hers still seamlessly gulping

and mine punching my dry breast in frustration.


“It’s ok,” she tells me. “Do what you have to do.”


And so I shamefully set Isaac down to prepare his bottle, the scent of maple following me

and my covered breasts that will need hours to provide what hers can in minutes.


“You smell like IHOP,” she laughs, trying to ease the mood.


“I was told I am taking sufficient amounts of fenugreek when I start to smell like maple

syrup. Guess it’s working.”


I’d successfully smelled like the scent of determination. There was no smell associated

with Goat’s rue, chlorella, and brewer’s yeast – other tricks that were guaranteed to

increase my milk supply. My midwife made it seem that simple. But it wasn’t that

simple. After feeling inadequate about my son’s birth – his cord wrapped twice around

his neck, meconium filling his lungs – I was diagnosed with low prolactin and polycystic

ovarian syndrome, a finding linked to inadequate duct development in the breasts, which

physiologically causes low milk supply.


Is this why his screams throughout the night, no matter the eight straight hours I fed

him – left, right, left and right breast – did nothing for my starving newborn? Just let him 

cry, my stepfather once told me. It’s good for him. But my still-recovering gut told me

something else. I was unwilling to follow his advice. This is a cry of pain, a need I cannot

fulfill, but I will not just let him cry.


I visited doctor after doctor, lactation clinic and specialist after another. He has a great 

latch, they’d all say. Your breasts look great. You’re not having any soreness? He should 

be getting enough milk. 


But he’s not, I persisted. It was finally when he was weighed before and after a feeding,

I only trickled out a mere ounce total from both breasts when he needed at least three to

four per feeding. There I was again calculating his life and mine, measuring his life in

ounces, weighing it on a scale, watching the clock to expect the next feeding.

Maybe I was a new mother. Maybe there was a lot I did not know. Although the scar

left on my skin shows the wounds of his hard birth, I would not leave him with a scar of

hunger and deprivation. Although he was pulled from within me and now pulled from

atop my breast, I would fight to give him all I can, even, if all my brokenness tries to stop



“Angelo and I would love for you and Isaac to come to the library reading next week.”

Amanda changes the subject. I sense her kindness as a way to draw attention away from

the bottle I grip in my hand.


“That’d be fun,” I reply politely, Isaac’s gulps now harmonizing with Angelo. The two of

them now peacefully create a song together.


“I hear they sing songs and have a puppet show.”


Amanda ignores the SNS contraption, a small wire that allows the formula to flow into

his mouth as he suckles my breast. I feel as though I am a mad scientist, the mixture

of lactation tinctures and pills alongside his formula, bottles, wires, tubes and various

equipment makes it all seem so technical. How beautiful for a woman’s breasts to

provide food for her child, and how beautiful for her body to birth him. For me, modern

equipment makes motherhood possible. For me, anesthesia and a blade brought my child

into this world. For me, my laboratory of a kitchen creates endless meals for Isaac. For

me, I’m finding humility in my insufficiency.


You’ve had an easy life, I hear my mother’s words echo days after our phone call. You 

were popular in high school, got good grades, made the cheer-leading squad. I want to

tell her, what about having an alcoholic father, divorced parents, a husband with testicular

cancer? With my “easy” conception of Isaac and my “easy” pregnancy, had I assumed

his birth and breastfeeding would follow suit? Would I have traded more nausea for more

milk, more weight for a successful push instead of a pull from my body? There is always

a fullness and an emptiness in life.


Isaac is now full; his lips pull back from my breast. From his cheek I see a faint white

trickle running down his face and for that moment, I gaze at my own breast, imagining it

all flowing from within me.


Insufficiency: Breastfeeding in Real-Life

(Photo credit Cheryl Spalding Photography)


Jessica Latham is a writer, translator and poet who writes about health, motherhood, happiness and more. Her writing has been featured on NPR radio and published in various journals. She is also the creator of Rowdy Prisoners, a site that features stories, poems and interviews about people daring to live with passion and love. Her personal website is found at

You can find her on Facebook here:


and on twitter

About Sarah Clark

Sarah Clark is a mother of four and a natural childbirth educator in the Santa Rosa CA area.  Jessica actually interviewed Sarah on her blog!  You can find that here-

13 thoughts on “Insufficiency: Breastfeeding in Real-Life”

  1. I remember those days. My first has an attached frenulum, and I have pcos, and the
    combination landed us in much the same situation you are in. I remember those horrible feelings of failure even though I knew I was doing the best I could. She ended up completely on formula and is now a very healthy, intelligent, and active five year old. I wish you all the best.

  2. I also have IGT while both my births were great breastfeeding really got me down. It’s something that I think needs more attention and more focus. IGT is real and is an issue that needs resolution, prevention a reason.

  3. Thank you both for your comments. As mothers, we want everything for our children, and with that comes a deep desire to bond with them and nurture them at the breast. But it can’t always happen and we need to support women and their children in this.

  4. Jessica, your story echoes my story so closely that I was nearly in tears this morning upon reading it. I gave birth in April 2012, by emergency c-section after a difficult pregnancy. After two weeks in the NICU (in a developing country where breastfeeding was seen as something only lower-class people would do), our daughter came home and my struggle began.

  5. I have a similar story too. I had breast cancer at age 27 before I had both my babies. I was fortunate to have them both at home. I only had one breast to feed off of. I had one breast removed. I would cried for the first year of breastfeeding my kids. they always seemed hungry. I would have them both latched on(at different times) all day! It was very difficult but I never gave up and ended breastfeeding both my kids till they were both 3. So many nights we would all just be crying in tears. my kids are both healthy and although they did not gain a lot of weight when they were babies. They still gain gradual weight and were both healthy.

  6. I had three beautiful births, and three incredibly difficult, time-supplement-contraption filled breastfeeding experiences. It wasn’t until my third pregnancy that I was diagnosed with insufficient glandular tissue- that seeing pictures of breasts that looked like mine made me seriously wonder what was wrong with the lactation consultants and midwives I’d seen to not have seen how clearly different things were for me. I never felt such camaraderie with women until I wore my SNS bottle around my neck when dropping my preschooler off and three women shared their stories with me. We all have our own struggles and journeys- you got an ounce in a feeding at 6 weeks? That rocks. My supplement filled body produced a teaspoon in half an hour of feeding. My kids are growing, healthy, and curious- they are a wonder to me. I hope to get to the point of not crying about our missed breastfeeding relationship. However, nearly 6 years of motherhood have taught me that we are always growing and learning, and we shouldn’t judge ourselves

  7. Wow. Your stories are so, so beautiful. I wish we could have a group hug. I remember being so afraid to go out in public

  8. I just want to say THANK YOU for writing such a beautiful piece and calling attention to a struggle that so many mothers suffer from silently.

  9. Reading these stories it just makes me so sad that we have swung from a society that discouraged breast feeding to one that judges and makes other women feel so bad if they cannot breast feed.

  10. moyie – The same thing happened with me, as far as some of my medical professionals not knowing about IGT. It wasn’t until I met with a lactation specialist/midwife from a different program other than my healthcare insurance, that she mentioned this.

  11. So well said, manysplinters. I’ve even talked with mothers that tell me the judgement varies in each state. For example, many Californians are very pro-breastfeeding, while a friend I know in Texas is looked down upon when she breastfed.

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