Ruth Miller held her flange, a small funnel of plastic meant to help pump milk, to the screen. “OK,” she told the Fort Worth Report over Zoom. “So it goes around your breast, and it lets you pull your nipple in. Here it is.”
Breastfeeding has its own language, a tongue Miller learned only months ago for the birth of her first child. Words like latch and let-down, mastitis and milk duct serve as descriptors for experiences as varied as life itself. Still, a common thread runs through: Navigating breastfeeding is, at times, confusing, challenging, joyful, relational.
For National Breastfeeding Month, the Fort Worth Report interviewed 10 women in Tarrant County about breastfeeding — why they chose it, why they stopped it, how it’s going, how it went.
Scroll down to read each person’s story, or click through the table of contents to pick and choose.
- Her son and daughter breastfeed together.
- Gratitude helps her through the hard days in baby’s first month.
- She focused on “positive” research after hearing only horror stories.
- They criticized her for formula-feeding. Then, they criticized her for breastfeeding.
- She found a milk donor — and a friend — in another mom.
- She grew more confident her second time around.
- Her milk dried up after she returned to work.
- She dealt with colic, then the formula shortage hit.
- Breastfeeding led to her unlikely diagnosis.
- An injury interrupted her pumping routine.
Me’Linda Dove breastfeeds both her children, a son and a daughter close to three years apart, at the same time.
A doula and childbirth educator by trade, Dove birthed her children at home — her on the bed, him in the bath. She was well-versed in lactation classes before her daughter came and approached breastfeeding with openness. “I don’t know how long the journey is going to last,” she remembers thinking. “I don’t really know what to expect. I’m just going in, willing to let my baby guide the direction.”
Pain interrupted her early weeks; Dove, brimming with milk, used warm compresses and hot showers to soothe her breasts. She leaked. Milk “squirted everywhere,” she said. Her daughter would finish nursing soaked. Dove pressed on, and the two developed a rhythm, so much so that she kept nursing her daughter through her son’s pregnancy. “She wasn’t done,” Dove said. “I just listened to her.”
In late June, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended moms breastfeed their babies “as long as mutually desired by mother and child for 2 years or beyond.” The World Health Organization has long encouraged that timeline.
Sometimes, Dove said, it felt as if her daughter were listening to her, too. When negative thoughts crept in while she breastfeed, her daughter pushed back. “(She) would literally hit me and spit me out of her mouth,” Dove remembers. The gesture helped Dove reframe her thinking.
These days, she creates space for both children to breastfeed in the morning and at night. The closeness of those moments only deepens her bond with her children, and theirs with each other. “They are best friends,” she said. “They love each other.”
She’s planning to return to her doula practice soon. Her children have already started daycare. She reserves solo feeding time for her son, who’s 1, and is slowly weaning her daughter.
Her children give bear hugs. They knock into her, gleeful; their love its own force. She credits dual breastfeeding. “They share this bond, and they’re connected with me,” she said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Two days before Chera Coonrod interviewed with the Fort Worth Report, her 4-week-old daughter had a bad day.
Then, she had a bad night. According to her baby monitor, she woke up 42 times.
“I could not make her happy,” Coonrod said. Her own mom encouraged self-grace: “You’re not doing anything wrong,” she told Coonrod. “She’s 4 weeks old. She’s just trying to figure it out, too.”
Coonrod went into this pregnancy, her first, with a knowledge of extremes. Her oldest sister has three kids and no issues with breastfeeding, none. Her middle sister never produced any milk at all. Her own journey so far has swung back and forth, back and forth between the two.
“It’s just all these highs and lows,” she said. “You feel like you’re on top of the world, you’re giving her life and sustenance, and then the next minute, you’re like, “‘Am I starving my child?’”
That emotionality — that’s been a surprise, she said. Perpetual exhaustion, a sometimes-loneliness and the occasional pain from a poor latch complicate the experience further.
Coonrod and her husband have created a personal oasis for her at home. She’s surrounded by blankets, pillows and a large Stanley cup for hydration.
She’s listening to Audible (her most recent read? “The Silent Patient”). Her border collie, Bucket, offers solace during early-morning feedings.
Most recently, her daughter received a frenotomy to cut her lip tie, a condition in which the small tissue that connects the upper lip to the gum is tight or short. She’s been latching better ever since, Coonrod said.
She plans to breastfeed for at least three months. If all goes well once she returns to her work as a physician assistant, she’ll try for three more months. Increments, until she makes a year.
In the meantime, when the lows come, Coonrod considers the resources at her fingertips: her lactation consultant, her sisters, her mom. Mostly, though, she contemplates her daughter.
“I just look at her and think, ‘This is my baby,’” she said. “There’s nothing cuter, and we’re bonding and we’re doing skin-to-skin, and seeing her happy just makes it all worth it.”
Ruth Miller heard her share of breastfeeding “horror stories” before she gave birth to her first baby, a son, earlier this year.
Days after he entered the world, however, she declined an invitation from her midwife to meet with a lactation consultant. The two were faring, honestly, quite well.
“At a week, week and a half out, I was like, I think we’ve got it,” she said. She credits her doula, who offered a free breastfeeding webinar and a slew of what Miller calls “positive” breastfeeding resources.
The focus sharpened Miller’s own research. In her second trimester, she became more discerning in her keywords, searching for “positive” or “informative” breastfeeding information online. She also found wisdom through an unexpected place: Instagram. She pored over the pages of lactation consultants — this, she thinks, enabled her to skip the in-person session.
The virtual community also helped her when unexpected blips arose, like mastitis, or inflammation of breast tissue from a clogged milk duct or bacteria. One night, she went to bed with soreness in her breast. When she woke up, she was sick: chills, high fever, “horrible” breast pain.
Antibiotics kicked the inflammation, but they don’t necessarily fix a clogged duct.
Miller’s favorite breastfeeding resources on Instagram:
She reached out to a friend’s wife, who’d posted on Facebook a while back about mastitis. The woman recommended “dangle feeding,” or hanging above the baby while nursing to harness gravity and help remove the clog. Miller never saw the clog come out, but she felt better and assumes it did.
She passed her short term breastfeeding goal, six months, two months ago. She’s started “baby-led” weaning with real food, but her long term goal is at least one year. Her mom, she learned early in her pregnancy, breastfed Miller until she was two years, 9 months old. “I think we will keep breastfeeding as long as it’s good for both of us,” she said.
When Nani De Luna went out to dinner last month, she breastfed her 7-month-old daughter at the table, under a cover.
An older mom she’d just met told De Luna her baby was too old for breastfeeding. (The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for 2 years or beyond.)
The unsolicited feedback comes regardless of circumstance. De Luna formula-fed her first child, another girl. She remembers a breastfeeding mom asking her why she didn’t “try harder.”
“I feel like sometimes moms, you know, they’re shamed for formula feeding, and they’re shamed for breastfeeding. I don’t get it: What do you want?” she said.
When De Luna gave birth to her oldest daughter, she was young, 19, and not married. She remembers feeling as if her providers pushed formula on her. She tried to breastfeed for two weeks, but didn’t produce much. Maybe she didn’t try hard enough, she said. She left the hospital with more questions than answers.
Six years later, De Luna had her second daughter. They just reached eight months of breastfeeding; she understands, now, that breast milk operates through supply and demand. Her providers, too, were more supportive this time. She thinks her age and married status improved how they perceived her.
As De Luna navigates other people, she’s also managing herself. Her husband is in the military, and he’s away right now. Breastfeeding can feel isolating. At the same time, for 18 months now, she’s felt as if her body belongs to someone else. She hopes other moms ask for help when they feel depressed; as for her, she hasn’t done so yet. She’s in a nursing program and “just dealing with it,” she said.
Still, she said, she has no urge to stop. She knows the journey is temporary, and the bond is strong. “I’m feeding my baby what she needs,” she said. “The way she looks at me when she’s breastfeeding sometimes. Sometimes she just looks up at me and she’ll smile and that just makes my whole day.”
In June, Melissa Beiler attended the first birthday party of a boy whose mom donated milk to Beiler for the better part of a year.
They found each other through Facebook, a donation group called Human Milk 4 Human Babies. They’re “mom friends” now, Beiler said.
Beiler approached this pregnancy, her first, with the intention to exclusively breastfeed. But partway through, she developed preeclampsia, a blood pressure condition that can complicate the health of both mom and baby.
When she gave birth at 37 weeks, her providers treated her with a magnesium drip to prevent seizures, a side effect of preeclampsia. A common treatment, magnesium therapy can contribute to a low breast milk supply, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Her daughter was born with her own health challenges. She was small and jaundiced, a yellowing of the eyes and skin that usually occurs when a baby’s liver isn’t mature enough to filter pigment in her blood.
After Beiler brought her home from the hospital, she required light therapy and weekly weigh-ins with a pediatrician, which meant Beiler needed to regularly measure how much milk her daughter drank.
The solution, both to increase Beiler’s milk supply and measure consumption, was “triple feeding”: nursing, followed immediately by pumping and bottle feeding. For the latter, Beiler used donor milk, and the routine lasted about six weeks.
“I think I just kind of hit a point where I was sick of just those three things over and over again, in a row,” she said. “I wanted more time with my daughter. And so I just kind of made peace with being done nursing.”
Beiler connected with the woman who would become her long-term donor and, for the next six months, her daughter drank donor milk supplemented with Beiler’s own supply.
The opportunity took the weight from her shoulders, she said.
“I can keep going with this. I have enough,” she remembers feeling. “And in a lot of ways, it was motivation for me to keep pumping what I was making … what I was making was still important and necessary for her.”
Natalie Hewlett was already a pediatric nurse when she gave birth to her first child, a boy.
She worked in the emergency room and occasionally offered pumping equipment and training to moms while they waited.
When her own baby came, her expertise didn’t translate as she thought it would.
“(Breastfeeding) was something I thought I knew more about, that I really didn’t know that much about,” she said. “You can look at a textbook all day long about nursing, or read blogs or do something, but until you’re actually in it and doing it and feeling it, that’s when you make that connection.”
First, the process didn’t feel as instinctive as she expected, she said. Nor was it gentle. Not long into her son’s breastfeeding journey, Hewlett anticipated their encounters with dread. When she returned to work after three months, she switched exclusively to pumping and, later, formula.
The decision troubled her. “I felt like, if I didn’t breastfeed him, I was failing, or I wasn’t following through with what I had envisioned for our breastfeeding journey,” she said.
For her second child, a daughter, she determined the path would be different. When she gave birth nearly three months ago, Hewlett asked for a lactation consultant.
She conferred with her in the hospital again and again and again, until her daughter could latch successfully — and painlessly — each time.
The experience from her first baby, coupled with knowledge from the lactation consultant, gave Hewlett a confidence she didn’t feel the first time around, she said. She’s thankful for the journey, but knows it’s far from over.
“Some people are like, breastfeeding is free,” she said. “It might be free financially, but definitely not mentally … and if you’re pumping as well, you’ve got parts (to buy).”
Soon, she’ll return to work. That means pumping every day — keeping bottles and gear clean, ordering milk storage bags, and breastfeeding when she comes home.
Luckily, Hewlett said, she works in pediatric health care, a field that supports moms who breastfeed. Several of her colleagues are also new moms. They’ve already developed a rhythm for taking turns in the onsite lactation room. Soon, she’ll add to their rotation.
“I’m happy to (breastfeed),” she said. “and I’m happy that it’s going better this time around.”
The relief came, finally, as Cheyenne Moore surveyed her kitchen floor.
The ceramic tiles were strewn with bricks of donor milk, 1,000 ounces in all, from a woman in Weatherford who’d contacted Moore over Facebook.
Moore’s breastfeeding journey had gone from tenuous to victorious to crushing before her first baby, a boy, was 4 months old. Her body was no stranger to struggle: Moore has fibromyalgia, gastroparesis and polycystic ovary syndrome. As a girl, she’d been sexually abused. After her fertility treatments resulted in a son, his latching felt, sometimes, like a trigger.
Still, Moore produced milk — so much so, during those early weeks, she’d store away hundreds of ounces in the freezer. “We’re not going to have any issues at all,” she thought to herself. Nursing became a comfort for them both, a quiet, relational space amid the maelstrom of baby’s first weeks.
Then, Moore returned to work. She and her mom lease stations at the same salon, and two months after her son was born, she found herself overbooked.
The odd hours, coupled with a passing stomach bug, made pumping hard, and gradually her milk began to dry.
Moore explored formula, but her son rejected what she offered. She turned to Nextdoor and asked for milk. “I know this is probably a weird request to some, but we are desperate,” she wrote. People responded; one wrote about Human Milk 4 Human Babies, a global donor milk network that connects people who need milk with those willing to share it.
Moore found the woman from Weatherford there, along with countless others whose milk nourished her son exclusively until his first birthday. The generosity restored her faith in the goodness of people.
“It was very bittersweet, you know. You wish that was your milk in bags lined up on the floor,” she said. “The relief trumped any of those bitter feelings, just knowing that my son was going to be fed, and there’s people out there who were going to make sure that he was fed.”
When Jasmine Dominguez startled awake to find her baby daughter in her hands, she knew something needed to change.
“I could have dropped her,” she remembers thinking. “It could have been so much worse.”
They both were exhausted after weeks and weeks of colic, or prolonged periods of crying and duress in an otherwise healthy infant. “She would cry every night. It felt like she wasn’t getting any rest at all. I wasn’t getting any rest,” Dominguez said. “I finally gave up.”
Before her daughter’s birth, Dominguez planned to be a “full-time breastfeeding mom,” and at first, that vision came true. Her milk came in easily; her daughter latched perfectly.
But as days turned to weeks, her daughter’s crying didn’t ease. Dominguez made appointment after appointment with her pediatrician. Finally, the physician suggested the problem might be breast milk; some research suggests that allergens in a mom’s diet can contribute to colic.
“I blamed myself, because it’s like, OK, the milk was coming from me,” Dominguez said. “It’s 1,000 questions. Like, what’s wrong with me?”
She switched to formula not long before the shortage hit. Instantly, the crying stopped. Her daughter slept through the night. But one challenge had melted into the next: The formula that worked for her daughter had been recalled. Dominguez drove from store to store to store to find alternatives. So far, she’s managed to keep pace with her daughter’s needs.
“She’s literally the light of my life,” Dominguez said. “But there was a point in time where I blamed myself so much that it was really hard for me to sit there and take care of her, because I felt like I wasn’t good enough for her.”
Those feelings have mostly passed. Her daughter is thriving. She smiles incessantly. “She’s happy and she’s growing,” Dominguez said. “I must be doing something right.”
First, Sarina Clearfield blamed her “slacker boob.”
Her left breast simply wouldn’t produce as much milk as her right, but this was her third baby, and she was seasoned.
She’d been through the trials of first-time motherhood a few years back: cracked nipples, bleeding nipples, latch trouble, the nagging desire to be a “formula mom.” Then, her milk came in. “He just latched and it was like, ‘Oh, this is happening,’” she said. “This isn’t that bad.”
She produced so amply that she breastfed her first baby, a son, for 16 months and managed to donate more than 1,000 ounces to a mom with lupus. Her second baby, a daughter, had similar success. “I knew what to expect,” she said. “It was like, OK, I know the first week or two are going to be really hard, but then we’ll get the hang of it.” She breastfed her daughter for another 16 months and donated thousands more ounces of milk.
Clearfield’s long-term challenges began after she delivered her third baby, another girl. She breastfed and pumped, but her production waned, especially in her left breast. She’d received breast implants between her second and third baby and wondered if they were hampering milk flow. “I knew it shouldn’t be this hard,” she said. After 10 months of struggle, her pediatrician told her to get a mammogram.
When she went in for her appointment, the mammogram technicians pushed back, she remembers. They couldn’t perform a mammogram while she was breastfeeding, they told her.
Over the phone, her pediatrician balked: “Just tell them you’re not leaving,” she told Clearfield. They agreed to do an ultrasound, then a biopsy. Cancer.
Clearfield was 37. Most people are diagnosed with breast cancer after they turn 50.
That same day, her providers told her to stop breastfeeding: “You have until the end of the day.” The full stop seared; she knew this baby would be her last.
“This is going to be my last time breastfeeding,” she thought. “It’s just a very special thing between a mom and a baby … and then to know that, that’s going to be over and you’re not going to get to do it again, it was really emotional for me.”
Clearfield would eventually undergo “red devil” chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and 28 rounds of radiation. She finished treatments in May and tells people that breastfeeding saved her life.
“What’s crazy is, if I wasn’t breastfeeding — because you touch your breasts so much, breastfeeding, and you just get to know yourself very well — I never in a million years would have found it,” she said.
Before Kaitlin Tarver’s lung collapsed, she’d created a disciplined pumping schedule.
In the early mornings, she prepared her pumping gear, most of which is custom-fit for her breasts. She washed, charged and packed the parts in plastic bags. Next, she pumped while driving to work, about 30 minutes each way. She pumped again around 10 a.m., breakfast, and again around 2:30 p.m., lunch. She pumped on her way home, and she pumped before bedtime.
“I never fully understood why women were so, ‘Oh, pumping is so hard, it’s so hard,’” she said. “But now I get it. It takes every ounce, literally, of energy and hydration that you put into yourself.”
Tarver pursued the pumping path after formula-feeding her daughter in the hospital. She’d given birth via C-section, which can delay mature milk production. Meanwhile, her daughter, born jaundiced, needed ample nourishment to flush the pigment from her body. Tarver hadn’t produced enough for her to breastfeed, and she spit up the donor milk they offered. Formula filled the gap, and although Tarver began breastfeeding after five days, her daughter preferred the bottle.
Her regimented days brought an anxiety about time.
“It’s hard to fully be in the moment and fully enjoy what I’m doing,” she said.
“I’m always thinking of the next time, like, ‘Oh my gosh, when was the last time (I pumped),’ ‘Oh my gosh, if I don’t hurry up and get home, my supply is going to dip.’”
Then, nearly a month after returning to work (and days after her interview with the Fort Worth Report), Tarver’s lung collapsed. She was born with Marfan syndrome, a genetic condition that affects her connective tissue. Marfan syndrome increases a person’s risk for collapsed lungs.
Her ensuing surgery and hospital stay complicated her pumping routine. Some of the medications she’s taking taint her milk, requiring her to “pump and dump,” she said. She’s mentally preparing for a drop in supply. Her colleagues, though, have been generous. One provided enough donor milk for Tarver to not run out during her inpatient stay. “So so so grateful,” she texted the Report from the hospital.
Tarver is intentional about her gratitude. She’s nourished her daughter through four months already, and she reminds herself so.
“That’s all you can do: One day at a time,” she said. “There’s so many things out of your control that if you try to control everything, you’re just going to drive yourself crazy.”
Alexis Allison is the health reporter at the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from Texas Health Resources. Contact her by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.