The real problem with overzealous breastfeeding advocacy

Mommy wars aside, I think you’d have to be living under a rock if you haven’t heard the enormous and real benefits of breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is awesome on so many levels. Health of baby and mom alike. Both physical and emotional.

But, what if it doesn’t work? What if you’re a mom (like me) who couldn’t produce enough milk? Hardly any in my case.

What if you’re an adoptive parent or your baby has latch issues, or a medical condition precludes you from exclusively breastfeeding?

What if you simply (gasp) choose not to breastfeed?

What then?

Well ask any mother or parent who found themselves in one of the above scenarios…

What you get is a pile of guilt, shame, and unnecessary judgement from the well meaning masses of breastfeeding advocacy.

It’s not necessarily the advocacy, the education, or the support that ends up hurting these moms. It’s the trickle down effect of our overzealous push to get all moms to breastfeed.

Moms are continuously just told to keep at it, it will come. Don’t worry, you two will get a hang of it. Don’t give up, your baby doesn’t need anything else. Don’t give your baby a bottle or pacifier. If you keep trying really hard, you will succeed. Here’s your baby, start breastfeeding. If you can’t, here’s a pump, now get to it.

Now, perhaps for first time breastfeeding mothers without any of the above obstacles, this advice would suffice enough.

But…this doesn’t work for everyone and those women who truly need guidance, support, and well informed medical experts will never get anything beyond the above remarks and this is a real problem.

An underestimated and real problem.

Moms and babies will suffer. Feeding becomes a time of angst and guilt instead of a time of peace and love.

I went through 3 lactation consultants before finding one that could help me. I still thank God for her. She diagnosed my IGT and helped me more than she’ll ever know. But, many others will go unrecognized. They’ll be left feeling like they’ve failed their child because breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world and every mother should be able to do it.

The unfortunate reality is that by declaring breastfeeding a public health issue and pressuring hospitals and medical personnel to encourage breastfeeding, it’s like putting the cart before the horse. Women need more than words. They need more than study after study declaring breastmilk and breastfeeding as the superior way to feed your baby.

They need real action. Real support by having access to certified lactation consultants who know how to diagnose and treat milk supply issues and latch problems. It’s why I’m thankful for breastfeeding advocacy groups such as Best for Babes and The American Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine that are making strides to do just that.

I support trying to make some headway with maternity leave and making the workplace more conducive for breastfeeding and pumping mothers.

But…if you have never heard of Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT), low milk supply, baby latch issues due to tongue tie, or have never even considered these issues in a mother struggling with breastfeeding…please never casually say...just keep at it, it will happen.

Because for many, it won’t.

It didn’t for me. And while my story is merely an anecdote in the great sea of successful breastfeeding mothers, there are others out there like me. Thousands actually. But no one has studied us. No one has taken our collective anecdotal stories and compiled them into evidence for the world to see.

We often suffer in silence. Riddled with shame and guilt. And all we want is to feed our babes in peace, the best way we are able to.

Yeah, we may use formula and bottles. But for heavens sake, we are not poisoning our children. We did not give up.

Our babies will still thrive and grow up healthy and smart in our loving arms.

And we don’t need a study to prove that.

 

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54 Responses to The real problem with overzealous breastfeeding advocacy
  1. Craig Canapari
    July 24, 2012 | 12:43 pm

    Melissa- thanks so much for sharing this. This is a really important message for moms to hear. This is such a fraught topic for new moms. There is so much misinformation about topics like “nipple confusion” (not actually real) out there.

    • goddessroots
      July 24, 2012 | 4:23 pm

      I experienced nipple confusion first hand and it is very very real.

      • Rebecca
        July 25, 2012 | 12:46 am

        It depends on the baby. Some don’t get confused, others do. My son didn’t get confused, he just preferred the bottle. There’s a difference.

        • Craig Canapari
          July 25, 2012 | 10:39 am

          There is recent evidence to suggest withdrawal of pacifiers from newborn units lowered the rate of successful nursing.

          “Our observations suggest routinely removing pacifiers may negatively impact exclusive breastfeeding rates during the birth hospitalization,” said Dr. Carrie Phillipi, who is also a pediatrician with Oregon Health & Science University.”

          See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/30/pacifiers-breastfeeding_n_1459811.html

          • Kim
            July 31, 2012 | 7:35 am

            There is also evidence that shows a Late Preterm Infant will benefit from a pacifier. They don’t have good suck swallow breath function yet, and you really have to stick it out. It depends on the baby.

  2. Dana
    July 24, 2012 | 12:54 pm

    As a breastfeeding mother who is reading this while pumpung in a hotel bathroom while attending a two week training for work…I just want to say amen!

  3. Practical Parenting
    July 24, 2012 | 1:02 pm

    I was hysterical and depressed when I had to stop nursing Liam much earlier than Riley. He was starving. I just couldn’t produce enough. Thank you for this, my friend. It’s always important to show the other side of the story.
    xo

  4. Nancy
    July 24, 2012 | 1:27 pm

    Thank you for posting this. I too had IGT and struggled for about a month trying to EB my first child and then wracked with guilt for about 6 more months. I was not able to find a LC to work with, but thank God for the internet.

  5. Mothering From Scratch
    July 24, 2012 | 1:28 pm

    {Melinda} Thank you for writing this! I had the problem of too MUCH milk, which led to painful, excruciating mastitis. I had no support except for a lactation consultant who insisted I could breastfeed if I really wanted to. My breasts were PURPLE. I ended up at the ER on Christmas Eve and finally waved the white flag. As a first-time mommy, I felt like such a failure.

    I am all for breastfeeding. I would have LOVED to breastfeed and wondered why other mommy friends seemed to find it a breeze. I truly believe that with the right support I would have been able to perhaps push past the obstacles, but I didn’t have it and wasn’t even sure where to look for it (I ran into the same problems with my son and gave it up after 6 weeks.) It was NOT a lack of desire.

  6. Fearless Formula Feeder
    July 24, 2012 | 2:07 pm

    As always, you provide a voice of reason amidst the rabble-rousing. LOVE this. Going to share it now. And I wish you’d publish some version of this on the ABM’s latest blog post about the recent rash of breastfeeding backlash…I think your POV is sorely needed.

    Thank you for expressing what so many of us feel. You are seriously wonderful.

    • Melissa
      July 25, 2012 | 11:46 pm

      Thank you for this and for sharing this with your readers. It was actually that post on ABM’s site that I read the night before writing this. I was tossing and turning all night, formulating a blog post in my head. So, I suppose it was a kind of reaction to that post combined with sentiments brewing for a while now. I’ll have to go back over there and share some of this. Thanks again and thank you for giving moms strength and courage as well :-)

  7. Wendy Cohoon
    July 24, 2012 | 2:34 pm

    Things every doctor should tell women when their baby is born.
    -the choice is yours alone
    -sometimes it takes a while for you and the baby to get the hang of it, my son was so exhausted after he was born, he kept falling asleep before he latched on.
    -not even a baby can starve in a day or so.
    -it is okay to express milk if you feel uncomfortable and dump it down the sink if you don’t need to bottle it so someone else can have the pleasure of feeding your baby.
    -if you get a pie shaped red mark on your breast, it is okay to still feed the baby, express and apply compresses. You will possibly need antibiotics so go see your doctor.
    -breast feeding may be required more frequently than bottle feeding.
    -expressing milk when your breast is full, can easily be achieved without a pump and not much pressure.
    -nobody knows what you are feeding a baby in a bottle.
    I sure there are a bunch more.

  8. Sherri
    July 24, 2012 | 2:35 pm

    Amen, sweet friend…sometimes it’s easy to think that there’s only one side of a story. Until you hear the other.

  9. Very Bloggy Beth
    July 24, 2012 | 2:39 pm

    Great piece! I recently wrote a post about pushing breastfeeding moms into the “lactivist” role. I breastfed my first son with very few issues, but I acknowledge how fortunate I was, and that there may be issues with my second (due in September). I’m happy to share my positive experiences, but I feel like by doing so I get shoved into the same category as those overzealous activists. I’d like to let you know there are a lot of breastfeeding moms out there who are advocates but also have great respect for the ability of other mothers to make their own decisions regarding what they feed their child, we exist, we really do! :)

    • Jessica
      July 24, 2012 | 7:58 pm

      Beth – your comment sums it up nicely . I am still breastfeeding my 10 month old and feel like I still don’t have enough support , surely I would have it down by now . I have overcome challenges , nipple pain , breast mass requiring breast biopsy which led to mastitis and a milk fistula ( I was leaking milk out my side of my breast). Many times I thought to myself I should quit . I obviously haven’t . But it also made me understand when people do. I was heartbroken when at 6 months my doctors told me I would likely not be able to continue breastfeeding … I started to feel the guilt and sadness of losing that relationship. It made me remember that there ARE reasons that women do not breastfeed , and that often times it is far from easy and sometimes not a choice . I also have had my patients come in on medication that is not a choice and not compatible with breastfeeding , in some cases formula Is the better option. I try to remember that each woman has a story and we do not always know their story . For example; my mother is a huge breastfeeding advocate but My sister was not breastfed because she caught meningitis in the hospital, she was physically unable to breastfeed because of diabililities , my mom breastfed me for 3 years , obviously my mothers willingness to bf was not an issue and if she was ever judged for not being able to breastfeed my sister it would be heart breaking.

  10. R's Mom
    July 24, 2012 | 2:56 pm

    Thank you! Thank you! I had serious supply issues, as well as latch issues. After about six weeks, I switched to pumping to supplement formula, because I thought I had too. At the end, I was pumping many hours a day to barely make one bottle. I was driving myself nuts, loosing precious time with my baby, and becoming obsessed. My pediatrician SIL finally told me it was okay to quit. I truly believe I was on the verge of depression because so many people made me feel like I was a failure for not being able to do something so natural (not on purpose, but just the constant messaging about breast is best). Even now, even though I made the best decision for us, I still feel pangs of guilt when I read things by advocates. Thank you so much for your message today!

  11. Diane
    July 24, 2012 | 3:41 pm

    I think your point that working moms and breastfeeding moms need more support and better resources is right on. Physicians and nurses also need better training in this area so that they can confidently recognize women with conditions that preclude breastfeeding and know when referral to a LC is appropriate. But I can’t fathom how breastfeeding advocacy and awareness hurts non-breastfeeding mothers. That is like saying let’s not advocate for exercise and healthful eating because it may offend those that are obese. Advocacy for breastfeeding and nursing mothers’ rights is for the societal good. I feel sorry that people have made ignorant comments to you, but I do not think that’s a reason to disparage advocacy for breastfeeding.

    • Anonymous Med Student
      July 24, 2012 | 7:12 pm

      I don’t think she’s saying that advocacy for breastfeeding is bad. She’s saying that it needs to happen in a way that doesn’t marginalize mothers who for whatever reason cannot breastfeed or choose not to breastfeed (and there are certainly reasons why someone might choose not to breastfeed other than being medically unable to – some survivors of sexual assault have chosen not to breastfeed because having their breasts touched is triggering for them). Similarly, in your comparison with advocating for exercise and healthy eating, of course no one says not to do that, but it is important to advocate in a way that does not marginalize people who are obese (ie talk about the benefits of healthy eating rather than the hurtful ad campaign that recently came out in Georgia with pictures of overweight kids saying things like, “Fat kids become fat adults”). Advocacy for anything certainly has the potential to hurt some people – and that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t advocate for things that are beneficial to society, but it is extremely important to make sure we advocate in ways that do not marginalize and hurt others. It’s not about not advocating, it’s about advocating in ways that are effective rather than hurtful.

    • Melissa
      July 24, 2012 | 8:06 pm

      Advocacy is absolutely good and vital…BUT without educated medical personnel to recognize barriers to breastfeeding, it can absolutely be detrimental to women. And? Demonizing formula that has helped mothers like me doesn’t help either. The pendulum has seemed to have swung too far in the other direction and without full understanding of all the intricacies involved with lactating and infant health.

      The reality is that well informed medical personnel is not readily and widely available. Simply saying breast is best no longer cuts it. We need more.

      • Diane
        July 25, 2012 | 4:59 am

        I appreciate your replies. And as a physician and a mom, I love reading your blog. However, I believe this article gives breastfeeding advocacy a bad name due to the irresponsible actions of a few. I have never heard anyone in my area, for example, demonize formula. As a pediatrician, are your colleagues really demonizing formula? At my hospital in Chicago, no one bats an eye at a mother choosing not to breastfeed. Why? Because this is still the norm. At 6 months (according to the CDC), 43% of moms are breastfeeding (not the majority). This is why I would still get comments from people and dirty looks when I nursed my child in public (with a cover!). But I do not blame everyone for the rude looks and comments of a few. I’m just thankful that people before me have come far enough to legally support my right to do so. Overall, your message seems to be that breastfeeding advocacy is good but more education is needed to reduce misinformation. I agree wholeheartedly, but then why not title your article differently?

        • Melissa
          July 25, 2012 | 11:57 pm

          Admittedly, my title is a bit provocative but it was the one that kept jumping out at me. I knew I could potentially offend, so Diane I do apologize for that because I am not meaning to disparage breastfeeding advocacy. I’m mostly trying to bring awareness to the glaring gap between what we recommend and what women can reasonably accomplish with the current state of affairs.

          And as you know, the judgement can go both ways…I’ve written about that before too. How we can be such a “breast is best” society but still glare and gawk at nursing moms in public. Bottle feeding moms seem to suffer the same kind of gawking but I think a lot of that is also our inner self inflicted guilt.

          I just honestly want to see more moms succeed at breastfeeding, more moms able to let go of the guilt when they can’t and/or are limited in their ability to do so, and more moms not judged by their personal choice on how they intend to feed their child.

          So I suppose my goal of this post was to bring awareness to one aspect of breastfeeding advocacy in the hopes that more education and compassion would come of it.

          And Diane, from one physician mom to another…I sincerely appreciate all you do.

  12. goddessroots
    July 24, 2012 | 4:21 pm

    This article surprised me. As a mom who struggled with BFing, I was under an incredible amount of pressure to supplement with formula. I was told by most that I had given it a try but since it wasn’t work just to switch to formula. My doctor was the only ones who seemed to be on my side. I sought out encouragement to continue and was glad to find it. I agree that finding a good LC was hard, and that finding my way through the mass of information/misinformation was near impossible, but I never felt pressured by those who encouraged me to continue. Quite the opposite I found that the ones telling me to give formula seemed much more agressive.
    I think it really depends on the mother is feeling. I think if you want to keep going, than anyone telling you not to will seem like they are pushing their ideas onto you, and vice versa, if you really want to quit than you will feel anyone who is trying to help you continue is making you feel guilty. This is truly why people feel marginalized by this supposed war. But if we could all just see that ultimately no one is trying to make you feel guilty, they are really just trying help, maybe we’d all just ‘get along.’

    • Crystal_B
      July 25, 2012 | 4:47 am

      This was me, too — when we had problems (and there were problems!) the enormous pressure I felt was to give formula, and I was being selfish/unreasonable/starving the baby because I didn’t want to give her a bottle already.

      Maybe this depends on what area you are in? I’m in mid-Missouri, and according to the WIC data, only about 13 percent of moms in MO are still BFing at 6 months, and in fact I had never even seen another person BFing until I put my own baby on my boob.

      Anyway, hugs to you, mama. I 100% agree that advocacy without infrastructure is not useful to very many.

    • DesertWillow
      August 1, 2012 | 3:52 pm

      I think overall I agree with you, and have suspected it to some degree myself, but equally, just as there are people who sneer at women who publicly breastfeed, they same is happening to women who bottle feed. I think overall, the few HYPER lactavists (the ones who will tell you formula is poison, which has been said to me) make a woman feel all the more sensitive to someone just offering a few words of comfort or encouragement. I also feel like there are (on both sides) a few who don’t think they are taking it too far and are really just trying to be helpful, but equally just don’t know when to back off. If you have said your piece and that’s it, great. But if you keep pushing it and pushing it all the while still trying to be supportive, you might be causing more harm than good. I think there is a broad spectrum of what people think is “helpful” and on either extreme ends you have people telling you that you are a failure because you didn’t breast feed or you didn’t just give your child formula. If the baby is fed, formula or breastmilk, then they shouldn’t be told that they are a terrible mother.

  13. Erin
    July 24, 2012 | 5:24 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. When I had my first baby I had some trouble with breastfeeding and I was ENRAGED that there was so little help to be found after I’d had it drilled into me how important this was. I ended up researching and paying for a private lactation consultant as a last resort, and that saved me – but I could see how easily I might have given up and then been awash in guilt and anger about it!

  14. Katherine
    July 24, 2012 | 6:29 pm

    There is a lot of pressure, and I think it’s wonderful for you to address it. I will have to go back to work when my baby is 6 weeks old, and I plan on trying to pump. But (as you know) a resident’s schedule (especially an OR based resident)is unpredictable and demanding. I plan on doing the best I can, but if I can’t keep it up as long as I want, I’m already working on being okay with that.

  15. Katie
    July 24, 2012 | 7:05 pm

    Thanks for this. So glad I found your blog. Your posts about struggling with IGT say exactly what’s on my mind but I couldn’t find the words. Thanks so much for writing about it; you’re doing a fantastic job.

  16. Suzi Goldt
    July 24, 2012 | 7:31 pm

    I have four children. 40+ years ago, when I tried to breastfeed, I was discouraged to do so by the medical community. But I tried for a couple of days with my first child anyway. He wasn’t much interested (an over 10 lb. baby) and they were feeding him with a bottle in the nursery. So I gave up and didn’t try with my second one.

    Fast forward 17 years later. My 3rd child (over 10 lb. again) didn’t seem interested in breastfeeding, but the Dr. said “Often these big babies are just not hungry yet.” So I kept trying, and she and I had a great experience for her first 5 months. When number 4 came along I knew what to expect, had plenty of support, and was able to have another great experience for 3 months. (I stopped in both cases due to my work schedule.) All four had plenty of formula, and they were just fine. If you want to breastfeed, do so, and if you can’t do it for more than a couple of months, then that’s ok too. Or if you don’t, don’t. All four of mine are grown now and none of them seems any more or less healthy than the others.

    I think maybe we just need to quit being so hard on ourselves!

  17. Wolf_mommy
    July 24, 2012 | 8:02 pm

    I am a breastfeeding advocate. I’d just like to say thanks for the article. I personally have no problem with moms who use formula, I don’t think less of them, I don’t think they are inferior parents or that they are harming their children. I do have a problem with people who don’t support breastfeeding. My goal is to make it easier for women to breastfeed, to help break down barriers to breastfeeding, to provide support & information to breastfeeding mothers.

    Also? I would have a problem with someone not supporting a mom who uses formula. We are all doing what we think is best for our kids, we are all making choices and decisions based on individual circumstance. All these Mommy issues infuriate me.

  18. Andrea
    July 24, 2012 | 8:11 pm

    You DON’T have to stop nursing if you don’t produce enough. If you want to keep nursing, you can use a supplementor. Fill it with formula or donated breastmilk. If you want to nurse and have low (or even no) supply, you CAN.

    Adoptive moms can nurse, too, if they want. I am an adoptive mom nursing my adopted son. I used a supplementor for the first four months (gradually reducing the amount I supplemented as my supply increased) and have nursed exclusively since then.

    YES, women need more help, support and info! Women who want to nurse but can’t produce need to know they can still nurse, for one thing! Formula is far inferior to breastmilk, but it is I get so irritated when people say that!

  19. Andrea
    July 24, 2012 | 8:14 pm

    That was supposed to say “Formula is far inferior to breastmilk, but it is NOT poison! I get so irritated when people say that.”

  20. Maria McLarty Hattaway
    July 24, 2012 | 9:10 pm

    Thank you for the article! As an IBCLC, I remind nurses and docs that my job is to promote, educate and support breastfeeding by providing assistance and support for women to achieve their breastfeeding goals whether it is for one day, one week, one month or one year. I have had plenty of moms say it just isn’t for them whether they tried or not and my reply is that those are their breasts and the mom gets to choose what she wants to do with them BUT most of all don’t ever let anyone make them feel like less of a mother because she is not breastfeeding. Or I give mom the option to pump and give whatever amount of breastmilk to baby and make up the difference with formula. It boils down to what is going to work best for that mother/baby couple. Stress and anxiety should NOT be part of the feeding experience.

  21. Emily
    July 24, 2012 | 9:15 pm

    I have been an IBCLC for 16 years and have worked both inpatient and outpatient in addition to teaching family medicine residents. I have seen all sorts of breastfeeding difficulties and think that one of the most pressing issues is lack of knowledge/training of many health care providers. IGT is a condition that “should” be picked up by your OB/midwife during an early prenatal breast exam. But many providers do not do prenatal breast exams and don’t have the knowledge to identify it. Then doing a prenatal visit with an IBCLC can help troubleshoot/make a plan for the early days and discuss what to expect etc. Unfortunately there are areas where there are no IBCLCs to help.
    Breastfeeding hasn’t been the norm for so long that our health care system is not set up to truly provide needed help, especially in the early days, no matter what the issue is. There are large and small changes happening in different parts of the country, but it’s not consistent.
    When I work with a mom with low milk supply for any reason, the first priority is to feed the baby while also protecting/increasing milk supply. There are ways to supplement with an at-breast supplementer. Some mothers don’t like to use devices on the breast, so then we bottle feed or finger feed the baby. My goal is to help mom understand what the situation is, realistically, and then to set her goals taking into consideration her support system and resources. Some choose to wean, or to partially breastfeed. It can be complicated and some problems take several weeks to figure out and resolve.
    What gets lost in the shuffle of any kind of breastfeeding difficulty is the emotional support mothers need to get through something. We are here to provide that support and to support her no matter what her decision.
    So my hope is that “we”(medical and nursing programs) need to provide evidenced based education for any provider who works with mothers and babies so they can help mothers who have difficulties and give them the right kind of help. And yes, sometimes it doesn’t work out, and some mothers choose not to breastfeed which is of course their choice. We as helpers need to be available to support all mothers and babies, not take sides on the issue. We have a long way to go, and hopefully have made some positive strides along the way.

    • Katy
      July 27, 2012 | 2:04 pm

      My IGT was never even mentioned by my OB who did do a prenatal breast exam. My LC said she couldn’t give a diagnosis but that I appeared to lack glandular tissue. She then gave me some search terms to do my own research. So frustrating to have to learn from Google image search what what causing my supply problems!

  22. Whitney Bunn
    July 24, 2012 | 9:19 pm

    My mother wasn’t able to breastfeed and she got the EXACT advice as above… keep at it/you’ll get the hang of it. And her problem was that her milk didn’t have enough nutrition, so her baby was fed and content but unhealthy. All the while her doc was saying keep going, her baby NEVER gained weight. He was over a month old and still had not gained back his birth weight but still growing taller! My mom said he looked like a skeleton as he was so thin. She finally put him on formula, despite what the doc was saying. Thank goodness my brother fattened quickly and didn’t have brain damage due to the malnutrition. I wish this information was more well known. It IS BETTER for some to bottle feed, and the sooner those people understand this, the better for them AND their baby. And they shouldn’t feel bad or ashamed because of it.

  23. Megan
    July 25, 2012 | 1:49 am

    I agree that proper support is crucial. I have been blessed to have been able to breast feed my babies. But, I give much of the credit to my Bradley class instructor. She informed our class of the fact that, without proper support and education, it can be very hard if things don’t go smoothly. She had amazing ladies that she referred me to. So, I took a private class while pregnant, and my husband attended and was a big help. I ended up having a galactocele (milk tumor), which was mistakenly thought to be cancer initially, which eventually developed into an abscess. I needed surgery, which then caused a milk fistula. But, I was able to endure. Thank God for those knowledgable ladies! My point in sharing this is: I was so blessed to have awesome and effective support from the beginning, so when things didn’t go as planned, it was not nearly as traumatic as it could’ve been. I did run into some pretty uneducated LCs though, when I attempted to pick one online (word of mouth was a better way to go). I think finding someone to call on before problems arise, who you’ve built a report with, is invaluable.

  24. Lisa from Bottle Babies
    July 25, 2012 | 2:38 am

    Thankyou for writing this and for sharing it with us. I am a breastfeeders advocate. I would love to see women being able to breastfeed whenever, where-ever and for how ever long they feel is the right fit for their family with the support of their whole community. I would like to see the same for those who also bottle feed. As you know Bottle Babies has been created to support bottle feeding parents (no matter what is in the bottle) but that doesn’t stop us from also being in support of more practical help for breastfeeding mums too. I hope one day no woman (no matter how they feed their baby) has to suffer in silence. All new parents deserve respect and support.
    Again thanks for your words.

    • Melissa
      July 25, 2012 | 11:39 pm

      Well said, Lisa. No mom (or dad for that matter) should feel shame or guilt when she is feeding her child. And you’re right, this issue can go both ways. There’s heartache involved when a mother feels she has failed her child at this very basic level. Support more than anything matters the most. Thank you.

  25. PHN Mom
    July 25, 2012 | 6:16 am

    As a Public Health Nurse that visits new moms in the days and weeks following delivery I come across this problem often – moms riddled with guilt because of their difficulty with breastfeeding. With support, many overcome their problems and are able to breastfeed successfully. Many do a combination of breastfeeding and supplementing with formula. Some choose to formula feed entirely. Each choice is ok with me! My job is to support the mom in whatever feeding method she chooses. I think we get too caught up in the BF vs FF debate and need to take a step back and remember that a moms real job is just to make sure baby gets FED. However that happens is considered a job well done.

  26. teeny
    July 25, 2012 | 7:09 am

    im not sure how i feel about this. as an lc, sure, ive seen plenty of people struggle to breastfeed (and succeed or not for many reasons)and lots of people just plain choose not to. this issue is very touchy. some people require different levels of “encouragment” so making blanket statements is moot. how would it be if we said, its ok to let babies watch tv (a little bit wont kill them)for lets say ANY reason. sure! but this doesnt go along with this REI stuff. or lets let our families eat fast food. is that ok? we all need to recognize bf is best for our babies. sadly, kids who are formula fed are getting second quality milk. doesnt mean its bad or that their parents dont love them but they are missing out on alot. doesnt matter if they cant or wont. adopted or not. people out there trying to HELP have a hard stinking job trying to navigate the course, taking each moms isses into account! i need to say, if yore going to be ok with formula feeding (as i am!)then other topics should be handled/veiwed in the same way too! we cant pick and choose what we are going to blanket. i enjoy all the rei guidelines and philosophy. i dont like that theres a bit of hypocrisy here tho.

  27. Cindy
    July 25, 2012 | 7:26 am

    I became a lactation consultant because I could not breast feed my preemie
    Then had latch issues with my second child. My motto: No Guilt!! I am so happy you found someone to help you. Breast feeding is a learned art not an instinct. Yes we have breast but like our children they don’t come with owner manuals. Thanks for addressing this issue.

  28. Bettina at Best for Babes
    July 25, 2012 | 7:34 am

    Thank you for being a reasoned and compassionate voice for moms. We couldn’t agree more that words are not enough–our battle cry for the past 5 years has been that moms are being urged and pressured to breastfeed but set up to fail. Declaring breastfeeding a public health issue is not the problem; failing to hold hospitals accountable for not becoming Baby-Friendly and implementing proper protocol IS. Pressuring medical personnel to “encourage breastfeeding” doesn’t work; TRAINING medical personnel to recognize breastfeeding problems and refer to experts such as IBCLCs is NEEDED. Teaching everyone who works with moms to use compassion and LISTENING skills to help them set appropriate feeding goals that work for that family, whether that is breastfeeding, donor milk, formula, or a combination of any of those, should be MANDATORY. Please join us to fight lip service and to support those physicians, IBCLCs, nurses, peer counselors and support groups that adhere to our credo and cheer moms on to be the best they can be, regardless of how they feed their babies!! We all need to join together to fight the barriers to breastfeeding, increase access to subsidized donor milk, and ensure that moms who need it know how to properly prepare and feed infant formula. Thank you!

    • Melissa
      July 25, 2012 | 11:34 pm

      Thank YOU Bettina! Every single word you said (wrote) is absolutely true. I was just discussing this with my husband last night about getting breastfeeding education/training into residency curriculum for pediatricians, family practitioners, and ob/gyns. It’s essential and of course having access to those wonderful IBCLCs who I am truly thankful for. I know you are working on this and you have been such an amazing advocate for women in this regard.

      The most important thing my wonderful IBCLC said to me was…”it’s not your fault” and “any amount of breastmilk you can give your baby is good, don’t feel guilty about the rest.”

      Thank you again for all you have done and are doing to ensure that women are NOT simply being set up to fail.

  29. Shanna
    July 25, 2012 | 8:28 am

    Thank you so much for this. I was able to nurse my first born but I was diagnosed with RA (rheumatoid arthritis) three months after my second child was born. I had to stop nursing her so I could start my medications. Several people actually told me I should delay my meds in order to keep breastfeeding, even though I was in so much pain I couldn’t even do things like walk or change my daughter’s diaper.

  30. Dr_Mommy
    July 25, 2012 | 10:24 am

    It is the advocacy for breastfeeding that joins with the push for maternity leave that might actually make some change. We (in the U.S.) have some of the lowest numbers of breastfeeding in the world. We keep pushing and encouraging mothers because many mothers give up due to exhaustion, stress, and lack of support. I will happily keep pushing other moms – not to make those who decide not to feel guilty, but to help those that want to. Mothers are already guilt-ridden over so many things. The real issue is that there are so few avenues in society that support breastfeeding moms. And we should help mothers (those that birthed and those that adopted) to do that however possible.

  31. Jenny
    July 25, 2012 | 11:12 am

    Perfectly stated! I SO wish this message was more clear to new moms. I stopped breastfeeding my son after two weeks…followed by months of not even being able to talk about it without crying. And subject to numerous well-meaning but insensitive comments about my situation.

    I even took a breastfeeding class before my son was born…and yet it was never even mentioned there that supplementing with formula was an option or need for some moms…100% breastfed was all I heard about, so I figured it was all or nothing. With the mess of post-postpartum hormones, I couldn’t emotionally handled the thought that I was not enough for my baby.

    But today (and for all 20 months of his life so far) he is a perfectly healthy child. I regret wasting SO many tears over this topic in those early months!

  32. nadia
    July 25, 2012 | 2:26 pm

    Thank you so much for this post! My baby is 4 months today, and the first month I could barely carry him, let alone breastfeed. It was very difficult for me to explain to people that due to all the stress of birth (I was induced and the process took five days and ended in a c-section) I was not producing enough. I was so stressed out, with trying to pump and nothing coming, and a crying baby! Formula was truly the best thing that happened to me and my son.

  33. Megan
    July 25, 2012 | 5:41 pm

    Thank you for this. My baby was born with a cleft lip and palate. When I found out at our 20 week ultrasound, this was my first thought, “I won’t be able to breastfeed.” He is 12 months now and I am crying even as I type this because the pain is still there and very real. I have pumped for this whole year and am still going strong, but I still feel so sad that I was not able to nurse my baby directly–I feel like I missed out on a huge aspect of motherhood, something that I can never get back. I have also felt judged because we have to bottle feed, even though it is breast milk…It helps to hear others’ stories. Thank you.

  34. Dr. Gwenn
    July 26, 2012 | 5:39 am

    Fantastic post! As a mom and a pediatrician I wanted to weigh in on this not because of the “breast is best” thing but because as a mom I went through this very same issue. It was just about 18 years ago when I was expecting our first daughter. I was a pediatric resident – supposedly in one of the most supportive places of all, right? At least that’s what I figured when we opted to have our first child at that time. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

    Not only was I slammed with the worst call schedule possible – as many of my colleagues were for having the “audacity” to have our kids during our residency and “burden” our colleagues, I was slammed with comments about breast feeding seconds after people found out I was expecting. It was clear to me quickly I wouldn’t be able to breast feed – not out of desire but logistics. My call schedule was too rigorous and I couldn’t figure out how I would balance it all.

    Before I could even begin to feel guilty, my husband, always supportive, and parents, sat me down and reassured me that the most important issue was loving my child and reminded me that I wasn’t the only parent in the picture. Once I embraced that concept fully, formula feeding didn’t seem so “unnatural”. Plus, my husband and I were both formula fed.

    Formula feeding also helped us in another way – my husband was 100% of the picture from day 1 allowing me to get more rest and deal with the grueling schedule of my residency. We was able to bond with the baby in ways a lot of his new dad friends struggled with.

    So, as a new mom, and a pediatrician, I started to rethink the “breast is best” thing out of the gate. Sure, there are health benefits but clearly feeding isn’t a one size fits all issue.

    The lesson I learned is that what is most important is helping a couple do what works for them and that is what I carried forward. It has never failed me. Breast, bottle, both – it’s all good as long as baby and parents thrive and get through those early days bonding and guilt free.

  35. Amy
    July 26, 2012 | 6:36 am

    A mixture of health issues led to my decision to stop trying to breast feed, and I felt guilty and anxious and like people will always judge me for just not trying hard enough or giving up a little bit of my personal wellbeing for the baby. I’m alright with it now, and I also totally understand the fight to get mothers to breastfeed and the judgment some mothers face when they try to feed their babies and people act as though their disgusting.
    My biggest worry about all the advocacy is that I couldn’t find information anywhere when it was time to pick a formula for my daughter. There was nothing that would let me compare and what I decided would be best.

  36. Megan
    July 26, 2012 | 11:55 am

    Great piece, I just wanted to throw in my 2 cents here.

    Many in the comments have said that only a “few boob nazis” ruin it for others who mean well. I have to say that after 3 kids and a business where I constantly interact with new parents, it’s more than a few. I hear all the time that bottle or formula feeding is “rat oison”, the constant “breat is best” (with undertones of if you bittle feed you suck as a parent). Why is it anyone else’s business how I choose to feed my kids? I had huge issues with each kid and never felt that even the LC’s in my area were all that helfful. I ended up puming for at least 4 months and then slowly weaning from that. At the end of the day, my kids were fed and will be just fine as adults

  37. Sheryl
    July 28, 2012 | 3:45 am

    Thank you for this important post. We have to find balance between promoting breastmilk as the healthiest food option for babies, and making women feel guilty about being unable to breastfeed. Two things that would help are making sure every woman gets the support she needs to breastfeed, and finding a way to make the ingredients of baby formula healthier.

  38. Maejones
    September 5, 2012 | 12:55 pm

    I breastfed successfully but it wasn’t easy to start so I sympathize with people who struggle. I think it’s best to give it a good try but please ladies, don’t get so addicted to a “belief” or “philosophy” about breastfeeding that you become blind to everything else.

    I have a sister-in-law who has become so invested in the concept that all her child needs to thrive is breast milk that she had delayed introducing any other foods (her kid is 18 months and she is just now giving him a little yogurt). Consequently, he is undernourished and way undersized for his age. He is also a very sad and unhappy little lad. She has the best of intentions but is too hung up on her beliefs and can’t see what is obvious to everyone else. She doesn’t trust doctors or anyone else who has pointed out that her kid needs more nutrition than her breast milk is providing.

  39. Karin
    September 12, 2012 | 5:04 pm

    My son had latching issues. I had four different lactation consultants, lovely women all, who tried to help me, but nothing worked. Then, after we got home from the hospital, I gave up trying and pumped as much as possible for the next five weeks, supplementing with formula. I now know I gave up so easily for two reasons: post partum depression and the fact that I had zero support once I got home for something I truly wanted to do for my son. Maybe, if I’d had the ability to hire LCs for home, (which was too expensive for us, since my maternity leave was unpaid) maybe one of them would have figured out the way to do it.

    Or maybe not. My son has Sensory Processing Disorder, a neurological disorder. His biggest issue with this is with oral defensiveness.

    All in all, my experience with attempting to breastfeed my son was so dishearteningly negative, if we had chosen to have a second child, I would not have even tried it. (It’s a shame, too, because supply was never a problem for me, ever. Even the nurses in the hospital were impressed by how much I was able to pump, even when it was just colostrum!)

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