January 17, 2020

Difficulty Breastfeeding: Tubular Breast Deformity

Jen Torborg, pelvic floor physical therapist, opens up about her breastfeeding journey and why tubular breast deformity led her to formula feed.

woman taking a selfie while bottle feeding baby

The first weeks postpartum my baby was inconsolable. And something didn’t feel right. I didn’t know if I was bad at parenting, bad at breastfeeding, or bad at reading my baby’s cues. I felt overwhelmed.  Turns out my baby wasn’t getting enough food.

Luckily, I was able to reach out to my midwives regularly via text, phone calls and home visits. I expressed my concerns and they listened and offered advice. Early intervention led us to realizing that I most likely wasn’t producing much milk yet. It’s normal for milk to take a few days to come in, but this was different – I may not have the potential to produce much milk.

Tubular Breast Deformity

I have something called tubular breast deformity. Even working in healthcare, I had never heard of this diagnosis before. According to Healthline.com: Tubular breasts is the name of a condition caused by breast tissue not proliferating properly during puberty. The condition is also called tuberous breasts or breast hypoplasia. While not extremely common, tubular breasts cannot be considered rare because many women don’t seek treatment. Tubular breasts are diagnosed based on the way that the breasts look. Researchers are still learning about tubular breasts, so it’s a somewhat subjective diagnosis that can take several forms. 

What really helped me was finding this Huffington Post article The condition that stopped me from Breastfeeding. I found this quote comforting that I wasn’t alone: “I surrendered the vision of myself as a breastfeeding mother, and began to formula-feed.” -Lisa Selin Davis

My baby was latching well and it wasn’t that I wasn’t producing anything, but it wasn’t enough to fill her up. She was sucking so much it was burning a lot of calories while not getting enough in her. I was lucky enough to have a friend willing to share a week’s worth of breast milk with me so that I could keep giving Rowan breast milk while I navigated this new obstacle.

Trial pumping

I started trial pumping while still breastfeeding some. Then I tried exclusive pumping around the clock, every 2 hours including overnight to stimulate production. I slept in a different room the first night I tried this and set alarms every 2 hours: wake up, pump, attempt to syringe out any teeny tiny bit of milk to save for Rowan, rinse the pump and charge it, then back to bed, only to wake up roughly an hour later and repeat. Rowan was being bottle fed the donor milk from my husband during the night.

After just 2 nights of this, it didn’t feel right to me. It was hard. I wasn’t sleeping and you need sleep and relaxation to produce well. I wanted to be near my baby and my husband. So I loosened up on the pumping regularity and decided just to pump when Rowan woke up to eat. I would pump and my husband would feed her.

But this strategy was also really hard on us. Both of us waking up at the same time. Losing precious sleep that we could be trading off or be more relaxed during. I was also trying various foods, drinks, teas and other herbal remedies. Which all costs money.

Is it the pump?

Then I started to question my actual pump. I chose to use the Elvie pump which is a hands-free mobile pump, buttttt you’re not able to see if/how much you’re pumping in real time (the pump is concealed inside your bra) and I wouldn’t know until the end of the session if I got anything out at all (it’s supposed to tell you on your phone app how much you’re producing but mine was not always accurate at such small amounts).

My midwives were able to lend me a hospital grade pump and for better or worse my results were about the same. I tried to up my frequency of pumping once more, but mentally I was shot. I was taking care of Rowan all day by myself (my husband went back to work on day 4) and it was hard enough to attempt to pump with a hands free pump while caring for/feeding/holding Rowan. She didn’t sleep much at all during the day at this point and it was near impossible to care for her while pumping hooked up to a wall.

Using donor breast milk

When the first week of donor breast milk was out, an amazing anonymous mama donated a bunch of breast milk to my midwives who in turn shared that with me/Rowan. This was such a relief because during this time I was still really stuck on staying with breastmilk as long as possible (all the breastfeeding books brainwashed me to not try formula yet), but also during this time Rowan started to have gas/upset stomach issues. Her cry was intense and painful to hear and I wasn’t sure if it could possibly be a reaction to something in the diet of the breast milk donor mother. Many friends have shared their kiddos had difficulty with digesting certain foods through breast milk such as dairy, broccoli, spicy foods, etc. So I had some difficult decisions to consider going forward.

Switching to formula

I ultimately hit a point where I was ready to switch to formula as her main source of food. I was ready to let go of the uncertainty of donor milk. I was ready to let go of breastfeeding. And I was ready to let go of pumping. I don’t feel like I gave up. I feel like I gave it a decent try and in the end it’s not what was going to work best for the happiness and health of our family.

After attempting to exclusively pump for more than a week, there was a moment when Rowan was fussy and I attempted to calm her with breastfeeding. It didn’t go as smoothly as it had previously and I knew in that moment it was my last time breastfeeding her. Something I had looked forward to doing to provide for her was over. But at the same time, I felt at peace with my switch to formula and a huge weight was lifted. I mean huge. I calmness came over all of us. Our entire family.

Making peace

I feel so privileged I was able to take the time to research a formula I was content with. I chose HiPP (dutch version). I’m grateful I have the financial resources to provide such a high quality formula to my baby. I’m grateful to the donor milk she was able to eat while we worked on making this decision and exhausting milk production possibilities. I’m grateful we were able to experience some breastfeeding.

In total I probably only breastfed up until week 2-3 and pumped until week 4. I’m not sure on exact dates because I was in quite a fog. But when we made the switch to a consistent formula, wow. Baby was fed. Baby started sleeping better. I felt I could parent better. I could use all the time I was devoting to pumping to being there for my baby, myself and my partner. I was sleeping. I could breathe again.

I’m so in awe of the mamas who commit to breastfeeding and pumping, who work through struggles of latching, overproduction and underproduction. Who find ways to fit this in to provide for their baby. But I also have a whole new respect for mamas who know this road is not for them, whether by choice or not.

I had a friend who shared with me during this time that she hated breastfeeding and instead exclusively pumped. I had another friend who shared with me that she couldn’t stand pumping or breastfeeding and hated every minute of it. This honesty helped me cope. Yes, breastfeeding has many amazing benefits. Our bodies are magical. But, it is important that your baby does get fed and that you feel healthy as well. Whatever decision feels right for you, explore it and own it. I read multiple breastfeeding books prior to birth, but I did not prepare for what formula I might want to use to supplement or switch to if things didn’t work out. As a planner, that is something I wish I would have taken the time to do. I wish I would have felt okay with using formula to supplement earlier while still attempting to breastfeed a small amount as this may have put less pressure on me.

Being able to feed my baby was a rollercoaster of emotions. I put so much pressure on myself. And I had a lot of healing to do about not being able to supply her with my own milk. I had a lot of healing to do in loving my body. There’s so many reasons why someone may choose (or not have a choice) in the way they feed their baby. Let’s support one another in all our journeys.


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Download this free guide for some simple, do-able, totally-not-weird tips to take better care of your down there.

Jen Torborg, PT, DPT, CMTPT, is a pelvic floor physical therapist and author of three Amazon bestselling books: Your Best Pregnancy Ever, Your Best Body after Baby, and Your Pelvic Health. Jen treats clients in Ashland and Bayfield, Wisconsin through Orthopedic & Spine Therapy.

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