Guest post: Why wasn’t my milk coming in?


It’s almost six years since my daughter was born, but even today I feel angry when I look back at those early days.

Being ten days overdue, my obstetrician told me I had to be induced, despite both myself and my baby being very well. My labour started within five hours of the gel being applied, but after an initial couple of hours of progressing well it slowed down and resulted in my daughter being brought into the world with the aid of forceps.

During the first few minutes of cuddling my beautiful new baby, I distinctly remember the doctor asking the midwife to confirm that the placenta was all present and her reassuring him that it was.

I felt like I had been through hell, little realising that the days ahead would be even worse.

My first attempts at breastfeeding didn’t go so well, but I put that down to us both being tired – after all, it had been a big day for baby too! The following day I was still having problems getting my daughter to latch on and, once she did, nothing seemed to happen. I then spent 20 minutes on each boob trying desperately to express even a single drop of colostrum.

Eventually it came, but it was such a minute amount after such a lot of effort and did little to sate my baby’s appetite. She was given some formula to tide her over until the next time.

Over the next 36 hours various midwives came in, shoved their hands on my breasts and forced them into my baby’s mouth. Every one of them had a different method, there was no consistency, and I was starting to feel confused. In between this I seemed to spend hours on the “milking machine”.

Why wasn’t my milk coming in? Why was breast feeding so hard, when everything I’d seen and read made it appear so easy and natural? After each fruitless attempt to feed, another amount of formula was given and I was left to feel completely useless.

When my husband popped in on his lunch break the following day I burst into tears. I’d had enough.

Breast feeding wasn’t working, I just wanted my baby to have a full tummy and for me to get some rest. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. Shocked at my state, he rang for the duty midwife and told her, in no uncertain terms, that from now on it was bottle only (formula, plus what I could express) and that nobody was to mention breast feeding again. It was such a relief, literally like a weight lifting off my shoulders.

The hours that followed were bliss in comparison. My baby slept because she was no longer hungry, and that meant I finally got the rest I needed. Night-time wasn’t so good. At 4am, and after a large feed, my baby wouldn’t settle. She cried and cried, and I was almost at my wit’s end. I rang for the midwife to ask what I should do. Was it trapped wind, or was she still hungry?

I couldn’t believe it when the midwife, far from helping a distressed mum and baby, stood there and lectured me about how it broke her heart that I wasn’t breast feeding! I felt sick.

The next morning I decided I’d had enough and took my baby home. The midwife that checked me out was amazing. She asked what I planned to do about feeding and I told her I was going to formula feed, as well as keep expressing. She looked straight at me and, obviously seeing my heart wasn’t in it, told me to make a decision to do one or the other and not to feel bad if I didn’t want to express. It was a breath of fresh air. Where had she been all those days?

So I took my baby home, and for six weeks I enjoyed being a new mum. Formula feeding worked really well, as it allowed my husband to feel included and meant I could at least get some sleep at night. Then I experienced heavy blood loss. It happened twice, and scared the life out of me. After the second time, I rang the health line and was told to present to the Emergency Department.

A referral for an ultrasound was made, and they discovered a piece of the placenta that had broken off and was still sitting in my womb. I was devastated, not least because the conversation between the doctor and midwife was so clearly etched in my memory. A D&C followed, which thankfully solved the problem.

It’s only in recent months that I’ve learned that that little piece of placenta would have prevented my milk coming in. That one error by the delivering midwife turned out to be the cause of so much distress that I ended up with PND and look back on the first few days of my daughter’s life with dread, rather than happiness.

Second time around, I told the midwife while I was in labour that it would be bottle feeding from the start (I took my own formula as I’d heard that the hospital refused to stock it). Once you’ve been there, done that, you can make your voice head, but it breaks my heart how many other first time mums go through distress during what should be the happiest days of their life.

Bridie Jenner moved from the UK to Western Australia in 2005, where she now lives with her husband and two little Aussies.

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You can buy the book Birth Boobs and Bad Advice here.


2 thoughts on “Guest post: Why wasn’t my milk coming in?

  1. Sounds dreadful and I cannot BELIEVE that the midwife said that it “broke her heart” that you weren’t BFing, especially when it wasn’t even your fault. Makes me wonder why some people go into the profession in the first place.

    My BF experience was a complete disaster and caused me so much distress that I too look back to those first few weeks with a dread feeling. I also thought it was going to be easy and natural but it was the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do and I know I gave it my absolute best shot. Yet despite knowing this, despite all the help I had, despite being told I was doing everything right, and despite knowing that I really couldn’t have tried any harder, for some reason I still feel that I failed and carry a sadness about it – which in itself is a sad reflection on the whole BF situation where it feels as though you’re either in or you’re out.

    So for every person that comments about how BF is the only good and right way, thanks very much. If I could have, I would have, but it didn’t work out so stop going on about it. Alright?!

    • I know, I could hardly believe it either! I’ve also never understood why mothers judge each other so harshly either. Not being able to BF doesn’t make you a failure and it’s incredibly sad that so many women are made to feel that way. I wish I knew what the answer was…

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