Mothers Who Can’t Breastfeed – Alicia’s Story

In my younger years, I didn’t think much about getting married and having children. When I finally did get married, I was in my early 30s and still wasn’t thinking much about being a mother. When I finally did get pregnant, I was “of advanced maternal age.” Still, the thought of breastfeeding didn’t cross my mind much, and when it did, I never thought it would be difficult.

Mother's Who Can't BreastfeedMy son was born in October of 2005, and although he didn’t have any problems latching on, it seemed like he wasn’t getting enough, if any at all. While we were in the hospital the nurses were helpful. A lactation expert even visited us to help us get started. Since it didn’t seem like my son was getting much, we decided to supplement with formula. After our three days in the hospital, we came home and I was on my own.

My mother hadn’t breastfed, so I wasn’t able to ask her for advice. I didn’t have a network of friends to ask for advice. We just kept plodding away. I was able to get a pump and would pump what I could for him, but it still wasn’t much, so I was still supplementing him with formula.

The Pain Begins

Then one day in December the pain started. It was in my left breast and showed up on the underside. I went to my doctor and he sent me in for an ultrasound on my breast, telling me he thought I had mastitis. They said, “There’s milk in there, just keep pumping and using warm compresses.” They also prescribed an antibiotic. I went home and followed their instructions. Then the blisters formed (thanks to the warm compresses they prescribed). At that point, breastfeeding had become impossible, my son was completely on formula.

After a few days of pumping, warm compresses, and the antibiotic, I ended up at the emergency room one night. The doctor there examined me, heard what antibiotic I was on and declared it was the wrong one, so he prescribed a new one—two antibiotics in less than 10 days.

I stayed on the second round of antibiotics for the prescribed period and still got no relief. Christmas was approaching, I was in pain constantly, and most importantly, I couldn’t breastfeed my son. I felt like I was letting him down, like my body had let me down; that I wasn’t a good mother if I wasn’t breastfeeding my child; that he wasn’t getting all the good benefits of breastfeeding. My doctor later told me that even for the short amount of time I was breastfeeding him, he was still able to get some of the benefits of it.

The Surgery

By Christmas, I was in constant pain and had large, oozing blisters that I had to keep covered or they would leak fluid all in my bra. It got to the point to where I was using breastfeeding pads to stuff in my bra to catch the fluid that was constantly leaking out. The pain had become so bad that I had to back out of Christmas functions because I couldn’t handle being up and around for long.

Navigating the Booby Trap: Breastfeeding & Beyond - Breastfeeding series @ (25 authors, 40+ posts)Two days after Christmas, my mother watched my son for me, and my husband took me to the doctor again. He gave me a shot to numb the area—believe me, I felt that needle. With my husband by my side, the doctor sliced open my breast in the area of the infection. I couldn’t see what he was seeing, but I saw his face and the face of his nurse and could tell it wasn’t good. He decided it was more than he could handle in the office and was going to send me to another doctor for surgery. The next day, I met with that doctor and he scheduled me for surgery the following morning. Finally, I would get some relief.

The morning of the surgery, we dropped my son off with my mom, and headed to the hospital for the out-patient surgery. After the surgery was done and I was out of recovery, the doctor came in to talk with us, and told me the infection had been the size of a baseball. Now, I’m not a big woman, so imagining something the size of a baseball in my breast was quite daunting. Because of the type of incision, they had to leave it open and packed full of gauze with a bandage over it. Every day, that packing had to be removed and replaced with clean packing. I was put on an antibiotic and pain killers.

The Recovery

My husband was afraid he would cause me pain if he did the unpacking and repacking each day, so a nurse friend of ours volunteered to come do it. Each evening, I would take a pain pill, and get in the shower to soak the packing. As it would get wet, it would loosen and I would be able to pull it out without too much pain. Then she would come and repack it for me.

This happened every day, and as the incision closed from the inside out, it would take less and less packing. Finally came the day when it was done, and I was left with a scar. That scar is still there to this day, and my son turns 8 this year.

I wasn’t able to breastfeed my son like I thought I would be able to, but it didn’t mean I loved him any less. There have been times when we’ve talked about what happened, and he has asked me if he gave me the infection. I hug him and reassure him that he did not give it to me, that it just happened and it wasn’t his fault.

We encourage you to submit any question you have about breastfeeding or topics you would like us to cover in this series. Leave a comment on any post in the series or submit your question/topic privately using this form.

Breastfeeding & Beyond Author: Alicia HelsleyAlicia lives with her husband and two children, in Oklahoma.  When she’s not homeschooling, Alicia enjoys quilting, baking, crafting, reading and scrapbooking.  You can follow their adventures in homeschooling and life in general at Walking In Faith.


  1. A very dear friend of mine also wasn’t able to breastfeed, and it was so heartbreaking for her. She tried and tried, but found her baby losing weight and had to be put on formula. She now thinks it was rooted in a serious thyroid treatment she had in high school.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I really think it is important for other moms who, for some reason couldn’t breastfeed, though they desperately wanted to, to know that others out there understand, and that they are still wonderful, loving, and dedicated moms!

  2. Thank you for sharing your story with others. It takes great courage.

  3. Wow! What a labor of love! I cannot imagine what you walked through!!! :( Thank you for sharing!

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