Kaitlin Olson: Beginning to Breastfeed Was ‘Extremely Challenging’

06/01/2011 at 02:00 PM ET

Kaitlin Olson always knew she wanted to breastfeed, but the first few weeks after welcoming son Axel Lee were almost too much of a battle for the first time mom to bear.

“They were extremely challenging! I hate the pump and so do my boobs because it’s not nearly as efficient as the baby,” the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia star, 35, tells Best for Babes. “I have dealt with way more than my fair share of engorgement and ended up with mastitis five times in eight months.”

Unfortunately in her journey to nurse, each time the actress encountered a problem with breastfeeding, the end result was often a low milk supply. “Every time I got mastitis my milk went away. Or way down,” she explains. “But what kept me going was the ability to relax and hang in there, knowing my milk would always eventually come back, the baby would always eventually try again, and we’d be back on track in a few days.”

Courtesy Patrick McElhenney

And when her breastfeeding future looked bleak, Olson turned to her own mother, Earth Mama Angel Baby founder Melinda Olson, for support — and much needed advice.

“I called her crying one day when Axel was frustrated and refusing to nurse and she told me that breastfeeding was the most natural thing in the world, and I didn’t need to force it any more than I needed to force the sun to come up in the morning.”

Basking in motherhood bliss, Olson admits the addition of now 9-month-old Axel to her family with husband Rob McElhenney has forever changed both her life and her heart.

“It’s made my heart feel like it’s always going to explode. It’s made me do that thing I said I’d never do and show baby pictures to strangers,” she reveals. “It has also expanded me, in a way. I want to do everything now and do it well. I have somebody to be the best for.”

— Anya Leon

FILED UNDER: Babies , News , Parenting

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Lila on

It is harder than most people make it out to be. I figured she would just pop on and that would be it. But it took weeks of pumping and trying before we started to get the hang of it. There were a lot of tears but we made it. I did breastfeed my daughter for almost a year and I am glad I stuck with it. I just wish they would inform new moms that it can be difficult instead of always saying how natural and easy it is- that might help women stick it out.

Jacqui on

I have a sincere question that I hope does not sound like criticism. How do you become engorged when you are feeding your baby regularly? Or is it that you become engorged because of the mastitis?

Shannon on

Totally agree Lila! I had nurses in the hospital telling me that nursing should not hurt and when it did I felt I must be doing it wrong and that I’d never be able to do it. I gave up with my first son, much to my regret. Luckily I have my own circle of mommy friends who reassured me with my second baby that it does hurt like heck the first week, but if you stick with it, it gets easier and the pain goes away all together.

I successfully breastfed my second son for about 7 months and enjoyed every second of it! Now I’m expecting my third baby and I plan on nursing again and probably longer. The benefits to me and my child far outweigh bottle feeding IMO.

Kristen on

Clogged ducts and mastitis can cause engorgement. Also, if your baby isn’t doing a great job latching on and you’re having difficulty with that you could become engorged because your supply starts building when they latch but if they don’t latch long…

Totally agree that people need to be more realistic with breastfeeding. I also tell new nursing moms who are upset that it hurts because it’s “natural” that childbirth is natural too and most mothers don’t think that’s the most comfortable experience in the world…to put it mildly.

And the biggest lie EVER Kaitlin addressed in this. “Pumping will keep your supply up to what it would be if you had the baby at the breast.” I had FIVE lactation consultants tell me that and two LLL leaders. Most women’s bodies will not produce for a machine the way they will for a child. So “pumping and dumping” because you are on a medication short term, could be very detrimental. Not to mention mothers who work outside of them home attempting to pump for a baby. It’s a solution, but a mother who needs to work to provide for her family, shouldn’t feel guilty if they can’t keep their supply up and need to supplement.

Flipper on

that is NOT true, i exclusively pumped and fed my baby round the clock for over a year, you can pump and get just as much milk as if the baby were latched on-

Appreciate on

Cute baby!

It is difficult, and it is worth persisting through mastitis, pain, and any other difficulties! Kristen, sorry to hear it didn’t work for you, but I think calling that info the biggest lie ever is untrue. Breast pumps are a great invention and have helped me out many tines, including getting my cololstrum supply going in hospital and going back to work.

Anonymous on

I too was able to pump and keep my supply up for a long time. I really think it just depends on the mother, the baby, and sometimes the quality of the lactation training – for some people it’s easy and for others it’s harder. No one should be judged based on this. My Mom had an easy time breastfeeding three of us, but the last two, she had more difficulties – again, it all depends.

courtney on

OMG! I recently got into It’s Always Sunny and her baby looks just like her husband, Rob McElhenney/Mac, but with her eyes. Cute!

kate on

her baby is gorgeous! what a sweet little face!!

Mia on

She looks just like her mom + the baby looks just like his dad–but with her eyes–so cute!

Vicky on

Nursing did hurt for the first two weeks, I got a blister on one breast, and ended up relying heavily on Lamsil to ease my discomfort. They say it isn’t suppose to hurt, but new moms will often not correctly latch on their newborns so then it does cause problems and pain. Anyway I got through with the support of my momma and my hippie sister who would never let me give up! Be brave, take a deep breath and keep trying eventually you and your baby will find a way. Women have been doing it for thousands of years…we were made to do it. But like giving birth naturally,you can but it ain’t easy! 🙂

Anonymous Breastfeeding Woes on

Wow, Flipper, Anoynmous and Appreciate…way to jump all over what someone said without reading it. Kristen said “most” not all. You three were obviously exceptions. The problems come in with people like a very expensive lactation consultant I hired (who refused to take insurance but is endorsed by every single pro-breastfeeding group in the world) who put out in their literature a “guarantee” that pumping will give you the same output. Well, it didn’t for me or the fifteen clients who sued her under false advertising (I didn’t have the energy to sue, I was too depressed at being a failure for not breastfeeding anymore when my supply decreased to nothing).

I work for a large corporation with a beautiful pumping room/facility where everytime after three pregnancies (I purchased the consultant after the third one to try my best to not lose my supply)I went in to pump the room was full of at minimum 15-20 moms in tears while they pumped at not being able to express enough and that their supplies were down when the baby latched too. One mom was pumping and dumping during a five day post-op period and her supply was gone completely by day five. That was with a brand new hospital grade pump too. And she was only ten weeks post-partum.

Maybe the language “biggest lie” was extreme, but MOST women should not set themselves up to keep up their supply and consider themselves extremely blessed if they do. And if a woman’s supply goes away, why do we have to point a finger at the mother or the baby? I mean, I was told by my OB, lactation consultant, La Leche League leader and pediatrician that breastfeeding would mean my kids would NEVER have allergies or ear infections. So, imagine my shock when my eight week old daughter (my oldest) had an ear infection and all three kids ended up with bizarro food allergies with no family history of them very early in life. And they didn’t go to daycare, my husband works out of our home and stayed with them if that is the explanation as to the ear infection so young.

Sometimes things just happen and it’s best not to find blame and just grieve them, accept them and move on. But, honestly, as great as breastfeeding is, I don’t think we should overplay our hand and promise things there are no guarantees on.

Emily on

I really like this article. It’s honest and true! I breastfed both mine for 11 and 13 months. And the first three weeks hurt like crazy!

I was engorged with my first one bc he was three weeks early and a very tired and lazy eater. Even though he was nursing what felt like 30 hours a day, it wasn’t enough to empty my supply until he got closer to his actual due date. My second was born at 39.5 weeks and those extra weeks in the womb did wonders! She was born ready to eat and I didn’t have the same engorgement issues I did the first time.

victoria on

YEAH finally a celeb mum who admits bf is hard but difficulties does not mean the END of nursing!! so refreshing and WTG girlfriend for hanging in there! awesome !!!

Anonymous on

I was one of those moms that never caught on to breastfeeding. I tried for 2 weeks with my son and finally gave up and exclusively pumped for a year. With my second, I tried kind of halfheartedly and pumped again for a year. I had enough milk for 3 kids with my second son and am very small chested. It just depends from person to person. I work part time and didn’t have the option of being there to feed them all the time, so it actually worked out for the best.

My sister recently had a baby and was told how easy it was to nurse. When it wasn’t easy, she almost gave up too, but kept with it. Now she nurses and pumps when she is away at school all day and everything has worked out well with her supply. It can work sometimes.

Jill on

OMG that baby is adorable and those eyes!!!

Missy :) on

Kudos to Kaitlin and her refreshing honesty, and to most of the commenting mamas out there! It’s so easy to read about how easy breastfeeding is, but this is the real world, and it’s not that easy. The breast is absolutely best, but if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.

I, too, had so much trouble breastfeeding my first baby. When my nipples became bloody (like so many others’, I’m sure), I trudged on until my tiny 6 pound newborn started to throw up my bloody breastmilk. I thought I had failed as a mother and gave it up.

Now pregnant with my second, I know what to expect and will hopefully be more prepared (mostly mentally) to continue breastfeeding through the baby’s first year. But if it doesn’t work, I will know I did everything I could and smother that baby with love and hugs and kisses.

p.s. I totally agree with anonymous breastfeeding woes – my sister’s kids, who were both exclusively breastfed throughout their first year, were both plagued with constant ear and respiratory infections. My daughter, who was breastfed for the first week only, is NEVER sick! It’s so wrong to put out blanket statements!

Sarah on

I tried to nurse my first child without any success and only half heartedly pumped for 7 weeks and switched to formula. But, I regretted it the entire rest of her infancy that I didn’t stick with it. So, when I had my second baby, I wanted to breastfeed even if it killed me so I exclusively pumped the first 6 weeks to get her over jaundice and the weight fluctuations and then transitioned her to the breast and exclusively breastfed for 13 months. When I had my 3rd baby, I again pumped for 6 weeks again and then switched her again to the breast and she nursed for 8 months until she weaned herself. I pumped on occassion with the 2nd and 3rd and for me, for some reason, always responded better with pumping. I could pump 14 ounces in the morning and I know my babies would never nurse that amount (I always double pumped which is to pump each side for 10 minutes and then go back and repump each side an additional 5 minutes).

Everyone is made differently and you should do whatever works for you, your body, and your family. OH..and my first child was never really sick until she was 2 but my exclusive BF babies both had multiple ear infections and the 3rd had RSV at 8 weeks old, so I don’t believe the hype that breastfed babies never get sick!

Sat on

:dies of cuteness :0

Tee on

Kristen, I am really sorry that your comment got jumped on by so many people! They didn’t read your words carefully before snapping at you because if they had, they would have seen that you clearly were not being all inclusive.

Missy, it must have been so scary to have watched your brand new baby throwing up bloody breastmilk! I am so sorry!

Reading these comments made me sad. 99% of nursing troubles can be overcome if the mother is determined and has the right support. And so often, mothers lose their determination because they don’t have proper support! I firmly believe that breastmilk is the best milk for a baby, the natural milk! While we have many substitutions, they just don’t have the same quality because they are not God’s design for babies!

Please do not misunderstand me. Every mother has the right to choose what to feed their child and how to feed their child. I know that some mother’s can not nurse for various reasons. I don’t agree with choosing formula over nursing but that’s okay! It’s certainly an individual’s right to decide for themselves! It just makes me sad to hear of women who “gave up” all because they didn’t have the support needed to stick with it.

Anonymous on

Mastitis causes the engorgement. Mastitis happens when a milk duct doesn’t get emptied efficiently, so it causes a lot of backup in the breast. I had mastitis 3 times in the first 4 weeks of my daughter’s life. I realized that she was tongue tied and got her to her pediatrician. They clipped a tiny bit of her frenulum and she nursed sooo much better after. My husband was tongue tied as well, and had to have his clipped when he was around 8 because it caused so many speech problems.

Marky on

I am very much in favor of breastfeeding and my 3rd was completely breastfed, even though I had her the day before her brother’s 4th b’day, so I had 3 in 4 yrs. I always kept frozen breast milk in the freezer, but she never took a bottle even once. Though I really support BF, my daughter had a great deal of difficulty and after her baby was treated for severe jaundice for 30 days, and the length of illness was starting to interfere with bonding even though she had lots of support, she gave up and switched to a bottle. The baby did fine and my daughter finally was able to be the mother she wanted to be to her child.

Breast feeding is best and I support it completely, even coached and taught BF, but there have always been some women who just can’t get past the severe difficulties they have and no one should make them feel less a good mother because of it. Just as some women end up with C-sections for physical reasons, some women are not successful in BF and should not be treated as failures or constantly informed about “how much they missed out on.” BF isn’t the only thing that makes you a good mother.

kate on

I am very pleased that she has managed to successfully established breast feeding and admire her perseverance through the difficulties she had.

My opinion is that breast is best, but only if it is best for both mother and child. I fed my first son for about four weeks exclusively, but he was very colicky and refluxy and struggled with feeding. The bottle was introduced with both formula and expressed milk and he improved a lot, but my supply diminished and I had to give up at about four months. My daughter was born 10 weeks premature and was tube fed in the NICU for 10 weeks, during which I pumped as much as I could but again it was a struggle. She had no clue how to nurse when released from hospital and even bottle feeding was an struggle.

I am basically saying that every baby and mother has their own needs, strengths and weaknesses and breast feeding may simply not work for them. I am expecting a boy in September and hope to feed him, but if it doesn’t work out so be it. Formulas are also pretty darn sophisticated these days, so I don’t see them as being a bad alternative.

Jgirl on

My mom never breastfed and I didn’t take any classes on how to breastfeed. However, I was determined to breastfeed both of my children. My son nursed for 11 months, and my daughter for 9.5.

I was lucky and able to produce enough milk. I worked full time, and had to pump while at work. My supply was greater with my son than my daughter, but neither needed to be supplemented with formula. I think every woman is different, and we all do not produce the same amount.

My best friend tried for a month to nurse and had nothing but trouble. She was scared to tell me that she was going to quit, and like I told her, I was formula fed, and I am awesome, so do not feel like a failure:).

Nanny_Emma on

He’s gorgeous! Looks so much like Rob!

Lady B on

It is very refreshing to hear a celeb talk about how difficult breast-feeding can be. I wanted to breastfeed so bad and did my best for the first month, but I had to pump to keep my supply up in between feedings. Some women have a low supply, and I was one of them. My prolactin levels were all wrong and it kept me from getting the milk supply I needed for my baby. It was very hard for me and I cried a lot, but had no choice and had to use formula.

I just want other women to realise that there are real medical reasons that some women can’t breastfeed and prolactin levels were mine. If fact, it was my prolactin levels that kept me from getting pregnant in the first place. I took meds that my doctor perscribed, and within a year, I was pregnant!

daria on

loved the post, and the very supportive, reasonable comments. this is how mothers should be! be supportive and helpful, give good advice without being judgmental….

i nursed my son for over a year and am nursing my 14-month old daughter now. it’s been difficult at times, but it’s worked out.

i’ve found that other mothers tend to justify to me why they’ve formula fed or stopped nursing early and i feel badly that they feel to the need to justify. loving your children is the only universal parenting requirement. all else is choice or circumstance.

fuzibuni on

Gorgeous baby!

The Letterman interview with Kaitlin was really funny. She cracks me up.

She did a good interview with best for babes before she had Axel too:

Erin on

ugh, I can relate….I had mastitis 4 times in 6 months…..I almost quit breastfeeding after the first 2 months but hung in there. Some women just produce a lot of milk and if the baby doesn’t drain the breast at each feeding, they can become engorged.

Betsy on

Sadly, some women make breastfeeding way harder than they need to; society has done that, actually. I am so glad breastfeeding is making a sort of comback as it is so much healthier for Mom (not to mention for baby). I will never forget how much I loved breastfeeding both my kids. For those of you having difficulties, seek out a board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC). We can help you a lot and usually get you over the difficult times.

Betsy on

More than likely, the reason Kaitlin had so many bouts of mastitis was that she was pumping and NOT putting the baby directly to the breast. Although it is sometimes necessary, pumping is often the CAUSE for ongoing engorgement and resulting mastitis.

Betsy on

There are very few medications that cannot be taken while breastfeeding. BEFORE you decide to pump and dump (because some inexperienced doctor or pharmacist told you to do so) make sure you contact a lactation consultant and also use Thomas Hale’s book MEDICATIONS AND MOTHER’S MILK. More often than not, discarding your milk is NOT necessary.

sarawara on

I love the BFB website (Love Jenna Elfman!!!) and I’m SOOO proud of Kaitlin for sticking with it. But just once, I’d love to hear a breastfeeding story that wasn’t difficult. I know these stories are meant to encourage. But because of all the PR, I was literally shocked when each of my 3 kids just latched on and ate great with zero problems from day one.

I’m not bragging, and I realize that I had VERY little to do with that and that I am probably in the minority, but success stories do happen and I was one of them. I’d love for women to hear that it’s worth a shot because it might be a cake walk and not that it’s going to be VERY hard but if you persevere YOU TOO can MAKE it work.

Just my opinion. Kudos to Kaitlin and everyone at BFB.

Katy Linda on

Love seeing celebs talking about breastfeeding! Thanks for a great article! Gooooooo Boobs! 🙂

Courtney on

Such a fan of Sunny in Philadelphia and the actors on the show, and it’s such a pleasure to read this interview and see yet another celebrity mom nursing and being open about it for others to learn from. What her mother said about breast feeding being the most natural thing in the world and to not force it is beautiful (so is Kaitlin’s honest account of how her pumping and nursing has went). I was stunned by how difficult nursing was in the beginning too. And how hard it was to know who to listen to and who to tune out. My son just weaned shy of 4 years old so by this point I’ve perfected listening to my gut and mothering my son the way I feel is right. Outside of having him, nursing is the best thing I’ve ever done.

M on

With my fourth (in five years) I was really ready to give up. All of my kids were on the breast constantly for the first two weeks (my milk comes in late). I could not even take her off the breast for an hour and the demands of my other children were overwhelming.
I stuck with it only because my 3rd child has an immune disorder and while the doctors have said it was not preventable I’ve always blamed myself for not nursing her longer. I didn’t want to live with the guilt again every time this baby gets sick. I wanted to know I did all I could.

Now she is four months and we’re all doing great. She eats regularly and sleeps well and our family is all assimilated. glad I stuck with it!

AmandaC on

I luckily was ale to nurse both of babies for almost 9 months with no problems and pumped on the side to have extra milk in the freezer for them. My best friend had a baby at the same time as my second and could not nurse and I even helped her for almost 2 weeks and she finally just used formula. It’s definitely something that is different for every woman. Since I nursed both of my children I was price shocked at how much formula was (around $80-100 week) and was so greatful that I was able to nurse.