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When it is not breast

Breast is best.

In an ideal world, all infants would be breastfed.

This is not an ideal world. But that doesn't mean that we can pretend that there are not significant risks in formula feeding as compared with breastfeeding. There are. Risks for the baby, risks for the mother. If all other things are equal, breast is unequivocally best.

Women who want to breastfeed, but aren't successful

Unfortunately, all other things are not always equal. There are many reasons why women are not successful at breastfeeding:

  • There is a very small percentage of moms who are physically unable to breastfeed and they are lucky to have formula as an alternative. But I wish they had other options. I wish that human milk banks were more common. There are major institutions set up to collect, screen and distribute donated blood to those that need it, why not breast milk too?

  • There are some women who are so overwhelmed by difficulties with breastfeeding that they can't be good mothers and breastfeed at the same time. I wish there was more good quality support for those moms to help them through the difficulties that they are facing.

  • There are moms who get horrible advice from health professionals or loved ones or buy into propaganda circulated by formula companies or baby trainers and end up inadvertently sabotaging their breastfeeding relationship. We need to continue to educate people that work with new moms to ensure that they provide the best quality advice, we need to regulate what formula companies are allowed to do and claim (like we do with drug companies to keep them from being overzealous pill pushers), and we need to get the message out that strict schedules are dangerous.

  • There are women who do not get the necessary support in the workplace to allow them to continue breastfeeding when they return to work. We need to fight for more generous maternity leave policies (especially in the United States) and we need to fight for greater rights and respect for breastfeeding mothers in the workplace.

  • There are women who were sexually abused and for whom the thought of having someone touching and suckling at their breasts is unimaginable. I wish this wasn't the case. No girl or woman deserves to be abused. Unfortunately, a lot of women have been sexually abused at some point in their lives and that may make it impossible for them to breastfeed.

These moms are not at fault if they cannot breastfeed their babies. They deserve our support and they deserve a shoulder to cry on if they really did want to breastfeed and were not successful.

Women who just don't want to breastfeed

Then there are mothers that choose not to breastfeed just because they don't want to. That is their choice. I think it is too bad, for them and for their children. Here in Canada where we have public health care and I also think it is too bad for our health system (increases costs, increases wait times).

But the reality is that we cannot start regulating people's individual health choices.

  • No one can force you to not eat at McDonald's.

  • No one can force you to get the recommended amount of cardiovascular exercise each week.

  • No one can force the fruits and veggies into you.

  • No one can force you to cut back on your salt intake.

  • AND no one can force you to breastfeed.

If you just don't want to breastfeed, fine. I'll accept your choice, even though I don't understand it.

What I won't take sitting down

I will support moms that wanted to breastfeed and couldn't. I will accept the choice of moms that didn't want to breastfeed.

What I absolutely will not accept (consider this fair warning) is:

Ninety percent of women want to breastfeed. Actions and words like the ones I just listed are major contributors to women not being successful.

As a lactivist, I am not out to bash or shame formula feeding moms. But I will fight against practices that hinder the success of those that want to breastfeed.

Where it becomes tricky

I read a great post this week called Breastfeeding, Bottle Feeding and…. Somewhere In-between…. Why the Guilt? There were a lot of great points in that post and it provides great perspective on the issue from someone that works in the field and sees new moms wrestling with these issues day in and day out. The two bullets that spoke the most to me though were these:

  • Never overestimate a mother’s desire to breastfeed her infant.

  • Never underestimate a mother’s desire to breastfeed her infant.

This is where the problem comes in. If a mom sort of wants to breastfeed, but not really, and you have advice that could help her overcome a problem she is facing, you might get snapped at. If a mom is facing unsurmountable difficulties with breastfeeding and you suggest that she try formula, you might get your head bitten off. This is a very emotional, very involved issue for women.

I'll quote again from the post:
Support the mother, support the mother, and support the mother.

This is truly the most important thing and to do that, you have to listen a lot more than you speak and when you do speak you have to be very very careful.

What I often find trickiest is correcting misinformation that is being spoken by a woman who was not successful at breastfeeding. If she continues to share that information with others, she may be responsible for them not being able to breastfeed. If she continues to believe that is true, then it may impact her ability to breastfeed future children that she might have. But if you say anything, then you are not only questioning her knowledge but also questioning whether the reasons she ended up quitting breastfeeding were really valid or not. No matter how you say it, it will come across that way.

That is where it is hard. I want to support formula feeding moms. I want to tell them that I understand how hard it was and that it was okay to give up. But I also want to break the cycle and I don't know how.

How do you break the cycle?
« Feminism, fathers and valuing parenthood | Main | The Scientific Benefits of Breastfeeding »

Reader Comments (76)

[...] it is right or even possible for everyone all of the time. So breast is not only. Stay tuned for my next post on the issue of choice and options in infant feeding. var addthis_pub = 'phdinparenting'; var addthis_language = 'en';var addthis_options = 'email, [...]

I don't know how to break the cycle. I have a SIL who claims that she only had milk every 2-3 days, so she had to quit. I don't know how that is even possible, but I don't know what to say without her getting upset. She also lacked a lot of family support (neither her mom nor her sister were able to breastfeed). It's hard.

May 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTopHat

For me it depends on the person and the moment. If I know the person well enough to know how plain I can be with her, I may try to sneak in a, "Well, I just read an article the other day..." If it is someone I do not know very well, or someone who is quite obviously emotionally invested in believing she could not breastfeed, I will just go on my way.

I am very outspoken on my blog, partly because I know someone may stumble across it someday and it may influence her decision to choose to avoid formula someday. Also, I know several people who read my blog who use infant formula and continue to spread those myths (along with other myths related to birthing, vaccination, etc.) and I hope that through my strong words and good research, they will at least learn something new, and may share that information with someone else.

As much crap as my in-laws have given me for my "judgmental" views and outspoken style, they continue to read my blog, so I would like to think some of it may someday sink in.

May 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEmily Jones

As usual - it all comes down to mutual respect on both sides. But we also have to address ingrained social norms in our society. How many times have you heard stories from people who are still breastfeeding at 4-5 months and their own parents tell them to stop?

We also have to keep in mind the difference between the US and Canada on this issue. Here in Canada we get up to a year of mat leave, making breastfeeding far easier to facilitate from a logistical standpoint. When you have 6-12 weeks at home with your child under US policies, it makes it incredibly difficult to keep breastfeeding whatsoever, and big business (like formula companies) are aware of that and capitalize it. Truly, I can't blame a woman who thinks that trying to pump at the office sucks donkeys, and she's exactly the kind of target formula companies are looking for.

May 15, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterzchamu

Respect and support are definitely key in helping a new mom. I think also, if you're comfortable, asking the mom what her initial goals are for breastfeeding. Our LLL leader always encourages moms to make a goal of giving breastfeeding a go for 6 weeks before throwing in the towel. Then at 6 weeks, re-evalutate and make a new goal if things are looking up.

I'm actually leaving Sunday for a road trip to see my sister and her 2 week old daughter. She has been really struggling with breastfeeding and I know that I want to be as supportive as possible, yet give her good information. As her little sister, I know it will be tough for her to accept instruction from me. So I know that support and respect will go a long way.

Breastfeeding is hard! I know it is supposed to be instinctual, but both mom and baby have to learn as they go. I know that catches a lot of new moms off guard. They expect it to be easy. I know we don't share a lot of nursing horror stories with expecting moms, but are we doing them a disservice to paint it all rosy when it's not?

Great post, thanks for sharing!

I was the first of my friends to have a child and the childbirth method I chose put a lot of emphasis on 'natural' mothering. There was no question about whether I would breastfeed... I knew I would. Then, during labor there was an emergency and I needed surgery. It was tough not to throw the 'natural' stuff out the window. The fact was that my milk didn't come in for 3 days. Still, I tried my best and was eventually successful. But with my first child, there was always some amount of stress involved -- like I had to live up to something. With my second and third, breastfeeding was more organic-seeming; it just worked better for us. Maybe it was because those births were VBAC, so my hormone levels were more regular or because my milk came in sooner. But, I guess I understand that there are some moms who feel stress surrounding the issue of breastfeeding. I did myself, even though I eventually "got it."

What made a difference to me was the consistent, persistent voices that told me, "You can do it," and real women sharing their own experiences. I was told my my mother and sisters that there is a process involved, that you "learn" to breastfeed over the first weeks of your baby's life. There is nothing about motherhood that makes that knowledge instantaneous. Once I controlled my expectations, it was easier to just enjoy my time feeding my child.

Now that my friends have had children of their own, I share my experience/my story with them. And I think it has helped.

Women understand a voice that is authentic and not judgmental. If you are that voice, you won't offend.

May 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMidwest Mom

No solutions here. I struggle with the same issue. One friend let her firstborn decide that it was time to stop breastfeeding at five months, and started supplementing her newborn while still in the hospital. I worry that her decisions are coming from a lack of research on her own part and from poor medical advice that is actually motivated by legal CYA positioning.

I feel the only thing I can do without jeopardizing the friendship is raise questions to her that will require my friend to ask questions of her doctors.

I struggle the same way with friends who switch their children to forward facing in their car safety restraint as soon as they hit the absolute minimum weight and age, without regard for the absolute safety benefit of extended rear-facing. My friends probably all think I'm nuts because my 33mo/27lb child is still rear-facing.

May 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRenee

I'm lucky in that all my closest friends have been adamant breastfeeders - literally nothing kept them from it. However, my two neighbors each had babies in the last 6 months and I was so surprised at their approaches to breastfeeding.

One just couldn't get her son to latch correctly and she ended up giving up after just a few weeks. I could tell her heart was never really in it. I was pretty much speechless. We're not close, so what was I going to say? Plus, she was having to return to work soon anyway and I think she just figured Why not get him on formula now?

The other neighbor has had a beautiful experience breastfeeding: her son has latched on from day one, no pain on her part, etc. She's got the fairytale, but when he won't sleep soundly she seriously considers formula because she believes it will help him sleep longer. And all I can think is, "WTF??"

And both times, I'm rendered speechless. I told them each that breastfeeding can be very hard, but she could get through it, she's a mother, she was built for it, etc., but of course, I'm just the neighbor who breastfed her son forever (only 14 mos, but in their eyes, it must seem like an eternity).

I'll keep checking back on these comments to see if anyone comes up with a solution on how to break the cycle.... cuz I sure don't have a clue.

Great post and yes this is a common problem here in the UK too.

I run a breastfeeding social enterprise and have learnt not to criticise people's decisions regarding giving up or not trying but also not to qualify their decision with reassuring words.

It is a difficult one, but I do firmly believe that we are doing women a dis-service by underplaying the risks involved with formula feeding. Think back to smoking and the "health claims" of the tobacco manufacturers.

I can respect (but not understand) the wishes of a formula feeding mother if I know she has made that decision based on full information. However, all too often, that decision has been made based on the advertising of milk companies and a lack of information about how to breastfeed or get support.

May 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterArwen

I try to point moms-to-be in the direction of support and correct info, esp. if I am asked for tips -- I'll send them to www.kellymom.com, www.drjacknewman.com, refer them to Newman's book, alert them to the fact that most doctors and nurses in hospital are NOT experts (so many women I know were told by docs or nurses that formula is "just as good" or that they "didn't have milk" (when they weren't putting baby to breast)). I refer them to LLL or an LC for proper education and support. I suggest they do their research before the baby is born. I tell them to be prepared for some hard work. I take part in discussion forums on bf to share what I've learned and point other women in the direction of real experts.

I DON'T correct my friends who believe they were unable to bf even when I have real doubts about that, because it will change nothing. However I do struggle with the misinformation being passed on to other new moms.

I also don't support ff as a parenting choice, as most are making it without proper information (see above). Yes, we should "support the mother", but I tend to think "what about the baby?" when this comes up. What does the baby need and deserve? The risks associated with ff are too high IMHO to do it when it is not necessary, and the waste involved is also a societal consideration IMHO. And honestly, I do think there should be more regulation around it so that it is seen as a subsitute for when bm is not available, not an equal option. I'm not sure I go so far as making it prescrition-only -- though if it was, I also think it should be free to those that really must use it.

May 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

Thanks so much for referencing my post! I love how you put this together and integrated my perspective as part of the piece. There is always so much more to say on this topic. Although I have learned alot, I keep in mind, there is always more to learn not only about research, but about womens views on infant feeding as influenced by society, their immediate peers and/or the medical profession!
We've been taught at many conferences that the US especially has a long way to go towards making breastfeeing the norm. Our government and big business play a role that needs to be recognized and fixed. We can lobby and lobby until those changes are in place. I have optimism.
The patient population at my facility has become one which most commonly combines breastfeeding and formula feeding, often from the start. I don't know how that happened. The education for the importance of breastfeeding, the value, the superiority needs to be early-- pre-pregnancy ideally but at the very least pre-hospital! This is why the top 3 responses to the feeding question are what they are. I approach each mom ...as I can...at the time I am THERE to approach her, listen, re-educate etc.
Like you say, it's a 'very emotional, involved issue for women'. So as Emily put it...often "it depends on the person and the moment".
To break the cycle-- Everybody has a different platform, a different audience. I set out to change the whole world (my world) when I became an IBCLC. I was rejected because I tried to do too much too fast. I've adopted the approaches and attitudes over time and develop teaching moments. My biggest obstacles are the staff! There are many who still want think a little formula isn't a problem. It is so very challenging for me. I finally have a new manager who an IBCLC.!! YEAH!!She has started to address some of those staff who decide that a mom need to sleep and baby should have formula. She is requiring them to be accountable for their actions by full documentation of their conversations with the mother, obtaining her permission prior to giving the formula. I had tried to get that accountability but lacked authority. This is a step in the right direction.
Your platform and that of these many fabulous lactivist bloggers out here is broader & able to reach all kinds of people... pregnant and nursing moms, healthcare workers & more. You do an extremely important job.
I would recommend that anyone who has the opportunity and enough credentials to be accepted, to volunteer to teach a class at a nursing school. I do this at 2 area nursing schools and offer a PPP to those I didn't see. I think we need to get to the medical professionals who are looked up to by the moms. That's my little role. Thanks

May 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBirth_Lactation

Nice post PIP.
I can only use my own experience if I am going to give an answer because I think it's about sharing our experiences that help us to understand each other and hopefully others .

I had quite a few emotional problems (abuse/control) when I started nursing. Now looking back I can see how my emotional state played a huge role in the problems I had. What it came down to was having a baby who needed me to be a human pacifier and that not being an option for me. There didn't and often still don't seem to be answers for people like me.
I found an answer that worked for me - unpopular but an answer...for me. I believe in breastfeeding and I would have worked as long as possible to find an answer to make it work - but I had to do it on my own. It didn't seem and often still doesn't seem like there is any other advice given other than the ideal.
When my baby was crying at the top of his lungs and my midwife said "have you tried to feed him?" - I lifted up my top and tried to feed him - the crying continued, the response "oh, I wonder why that would happen, just keep trying".
That answer didn't solve my problem and I could have easily been a mother who while walking her baby trying to calm him, snapped at someone when they said "maybe you just need to feed him more often".
The ideal was not an answer for me and that was the only answer that was ever given.

We live in a time where there is a lot of information available but not necessarily the same amount of support. Many of us don't have mothers or sisters who breastfed and can sit with us for the first few days, weeks, months when things are just not working out and we need that reassurance that finding an answer that works for us will ultimately be best for our babies too (and I am NOT talking about giving formula). We have consultants and groups that can be a support, but most times are not there when you are crying as much as your baby and you feel helpless and overwhelmed.

I'm sure I don't need to talk about how the formula companies play into this type of scenario.

Great post, couldn't have read it more clearly stated. :)

I think the key is respect, humility, and erm, more respect. I hear alot of bfing mother say, yes, I respect everyone's choice and then follow that with statements like, 'x didn't BF, wtf?', and similar. Basically, no respect, jumping to conclusion, believing they know the woman and HER individual story, and so on.

Open, compassionate dialogue is the only way, imho. A compassionate listener knows when the other person doesn't want to hear something. It isn't anyone's job to educate an individual. That is such a superior attitude.

I have open dialogue with mothers and anyone about eco-living, simplicity, mindful parenting, bfing, spirituality, non-punitive discipline, unschooling, and many other topics. Never do I come across as if I am educating them - that would be enormusly presumptuous and fundamentalist of me.

Like the UK commercial says - it's good to talk - and that's all it ought to be. The person that is ready and willing to change will take from the dialogue what THEY need, rather than what WE want them to have.

May 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMon

This is something I struggle with myself. A lot. I've come to the conclusion that if someone comes to me and asks for information and support I will give it. I will also point out that they can use that info any way they choose - I am not the Breastfeeding Police and I won't take it personally if it doesn't work for them. And that works.

When I overhear misinformation, I make an assessment based on (1) whether my info could help the mom in the future, (2) whether it would be unduly hurtful, and (3) whether it would help anyone else. If I can do it in a gentle and non-intrusive way and I think there will be a benefit, then I do. Otherwise I let it lie.

But it's hard, biting my tongue, I will admit it.

May 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

Here is a big tip I think is huge when it comes to supporting moms who want to give up. Consider pumping and bottle feeding. I know most BFing moms cringe at that. But a lot of times the act of breast feeding is overwhelming - plenty of women worry about pain of teething, etc.

If women were not made to feel like bottle feeding breast milk was such a bad thing I think more women would do that. Anyway, just my thought. Encourage breast milk more so than breast feeding. What do you think?

May 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterUpstatemomof3

What about adoptive mothers? What would be your advice for bonding, etc when breastfeeding isn't an option in that case?

May 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCaitlin

Here's what I do to break the cycle. I would never say "it's okay to formula feed" because the whole world would say that. Instead I just keep presenting the facts to the Mom/friend and empathize, empathize, empathize. I absolutely acknowledge their despair and frustration -- since I *have* been there! If you ask my friends who I have tried to help breastfeed in the first week, yet they quit and went to formula, I don't think they would say I didn't support them. I think they'd say the opposite.

May 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlina

I think part of this has to be changing the way we speak about breastfeeding. "Breast is best" is a misnomer. Breast is just average. We aren't all supermoms and have awesome organic clean diets. Most breastmilk is just average. Formula feeding carries real risks to mother and child. Like the need for prescription medications, choosing to use it means being aware of the side effects - short and long term. It has a place, but not as an alternative to the "best".

From there we have to give women who can't breastfeed for whatever reason a place to talk about their grief without judgement. On a somewhat related women's health issue - studies have been done about incorporating grief counselling into abortion services. Not expecting women to steel themselves and deny their grief, recognizing ambivilence and addressing it in a compassionate way reduces the chance that they will have another abortion (and abortion carries the similar longterm health risks as not breastfeeding.)

May 15, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermudmama


For adoptive mothers, I would recommend at least "bottle nursing", meaning that you feed the baby via a bottle while holding the baby close to your breast, doing some skin to skin, etc (as opposed to "bottle propping").

Beyond that, some adoptive mothers do try to induce lactation and many of them are successful. If an adoptive mother wants to do that, I think it can be extremely beneficial for her and her child. However, it is a big commitment.

May 15, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

@Upstatemomof 3 There are benefits to breast feeding and benefits to feeding breast milk. I think we should promote both, but certainly feeding breastmilk by bottle is the second best choice.

May 15, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I have found it helpful to start by offering help...so far "its too bad new moms don't get more support trying to figure out breastfeeding, if you have another/when you have this baby I'd love to help you anyway I can..." followed by lots of support has helped now 5 friends who gave up with their first baby after a few weeks make it past 6 months to a year with their second.

Beyond that I think continuing the fight against the idea that formula is an equal alternative is a worthy cause. Until it is universally recognized that breastmilk is not just some trivial bonus the decision is easy to simplify in many cases.

and, like you said, SUPPORT for moms is essential...even when moms think they don't need it...

great post.

May 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMaria

In our society with the lives that we live, women working and having careers and very active lifestyles, breastfeeding is a huge commitment.
Perhaps part of the solution is to encourage women thinking of breastfeeding to realize that public health breastfeeding classes are not enough information to be successful. "It's great that you want to breastfeed, that is the best choice for your baby. I know that I would have had a much easier time if I had read book X - it really talks about all the different challenges that any new mother can face"
If we encouraged women to read a good BF book while pregnant, that might even out the expectations that it's easy and there won't be any hang ups.

I really appreciate this post and series on breastfeeding advocacy and support. I think you've addressed things well. For me, it's really appropo as well, because my youngest sister is now in the hospital with an infected c-section incision (she had to have a c-section in the first place because of a damaged uterus from previous surgery to correct a septated uterus).

Needless to say, being separated from her 2 week old, having to go on 10 days of antibiotics is seriously going to alter her nursing relationship (and possibly since AB will probably end up giving her thrush). With this child, she managed to get him on the breast, but now he's separated from her and having to use bottles. She told me she is resigned to the fact it will probably ruin her nursing relationship, but I told her it didn't have to - that it would be a little difficult, but not necessarily impossible to coax him back to the breast. I know a few tricks to help from my own research.

So, with the advice in this post, with my own experiences of breastfeeding problems and eventual success and the research I've done, I'm going to be able to be the support for my sister. I hope that I can help her work out her difficulties and be that source of information that she will need. I would love to help her restore that nursing relationship that is being threatened at this very moment.

I will definitely be posting about it if all goes well. Wish us luck!
Thanks for the series of very helpful posts regarding breastfeeding support.

May 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKC

@ Heather @ Not a DIY Life and @KC

How great that both of you are helping others that are struggling with breastfeeding. I think this is really key in breaking the cycle. Women used to be able to depend on their mother, aunt, sister, neighbour, etc to help them out with breastfeeding, but now with so many women either not breastfeeding or having problems of their own, there isn't a good body of knowledge in the general population that can be passed along. Instead, myths and misinformation get passed along along with an unhealthy dose of formula marketing.

May 16, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

It can be very hard to resist the advice of those close to you who try to discourage breastfeeding. With my first child I had a lot of difficulty and ended up expressing milk for her for months to have from a bottle. My own mother disapproved of this and tried to get me to introduce formula from the start. "Oh it's fine" she said "you were a formula baby and it didn't hurt you"... except it did hurt me - I couldn't tolerate formula well, developed number of food allergies and had a life threatening gastrointestinal illness at 3 months of age. When I asked my mother why she didn't breastfeed, it wasn't because of lack of milk (apparently she had plenty) it was just because she didn't want to. The life saving surgery I had as a child lead to complications for me that prevented vaginal deliveries with my children and caused other problems as a result. Please don't think that formula feeding can't hurt babies - it can. Although I had to end up giving both of my kids formula, it wasn't something I would have chosen had I known then what I know now and better support from work and family and health professionals could have helped persist with the breastfeeding.

May 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAngie

This one is tough. I've tried to adopt the "if you ask, I will answer" approach, but not ever bring it up unless the other mom does. I'm known in my circle of people as being the "go-to" person on these things, so I'm often asked. But with one specific person in my life, I feel like she only asks me so she can argue with me. She's pregnant, and insists that she doesn't want a c-section or an epidural, but she brings them both up with me out of the blue all the time, and it's always her finding "reason" why she'll need to have both. She's convinced her doctor is "the best" and that her hospital is "the best" (because it has flat screen TVs, which of course means she'll have a vaginal birth --*eye roll*). And for some reason she talks like nothing in the world is going to stop the eventual c-section she's convinced she's going to need. She spent 3 years trying to get pregnant, spent $30K on IVF, and didn't once bother to pick up a book on pregnancy or birthing. I recommended some books for her to read (she's now 20 weeks along) but she insists she's "too sick" to read anything about birth. And No, she doesn't have hyperemisis - she sits next to me every day at work and I've never once seen her look sick. But she still asks me for information and advice - and I always tell her the same things - and she always gets annoyed and argumentative. Okay. Whatev. Why do you even ask? Just go sign up for your c-section and leave me out of it. As you can probably tell, she's driving me freaking crazy.

So, what do you do in those situations? I feel like a LOT of women do this with breastfeeding (I'm not saying ALL, just a lot I've seen). They ask the LC what they can do, and then ignore or argue with the LC's advice. They think they are different, that they're the exception, and that they have "special" circumstances that make their breasts disfunctional. They are often the ones who go off about LC's being so "mean." They saw an LC because someone told them they should, but their hearts weren't into it to begin with so anything the LC said was bound to piss them off.

So, I try to offer support one when there is an opportunity to do so. But I don't even bother bringing these things up unless the other mom does, and I've learned not to offer any information unless she specifically asks. But even then, you're not safe from being the bad guy.

May 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTheFeministBreeder

This was my major in college, I know all the stats, and that being said when I couldn't breastfeed it nearly threw me into a depression. My son lost weight, after three months he was below birth weight. It happened to my daughter at seven months. Knowing what I know made it extra hard to face that my children would not be breastfeed. I think people in a similar situation need to know they are not alone and they did not fail. Usually you hear of it as a choice, but sometimes it really isn't, and I think that is the worst part.

May 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Great post! I sometimes feel conflicted because I think I should be supportive of other moms and their choices on one hand, but on the other hand I do think breastfeeding is best. I don't understand not wanting to breastfeed for vanity and convience. Being a mom, being a parent isn't always about what is easiest or best for you. That is why it is the hardest and best job in the world.
For moms that have tried and couldn't breastfeed I feel nothing by sympathy. My mom tried with both my sister and I and she got infection after infection with me. My sister was actually malnourished and very underweight for the first 6 weeks because my mom thought she was getting milk but none was coming out. When my mom first saw me breastfeed my daughter she asked why the baby wasn't sucking on my nipple. I feel such sorrow for my mom because no one taught her how to breatfeed. All that time she and she probably never had either of us properly latched. There needs to be so much more support for new moms!

May 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCapital Mom

@Amanda - I had almost the exact same situation, but for me, it happened right away. My daughter lost a significant amount of weight during that first week, and my doctor and lactation consultant told me that I had to give her formula or she would have to be put in the hospital. That whole first week, I was beside myself. Like you, I KNEW that I was going to breastfeed, but then it turned out to be impossible.

@phdinparenting - I don't think there is ONE right answer. In my case, I think a lot of people failed me. I wish there had been some way for me to make it successful. I wish that my daughter and I would have been able to figure it out, but we weren't. If I ever have another child, I would be terrified to try again. I don't want to go through that failure again, but I would try.

I think you should try to correct misinformation, but in the most gentle way possible. Any mom who failed at breastfeeding probably hurts about it, no matter how long ago it was; there's no use in pouring salt on the wound. No one wants to believe that it was her fault that breastfeeding was unsuccessful. At the same time, I think you should help her with correct information.

phdinparenting, this is a great post and has given me much to think about.

TheFeministBreeder, I don't know the details of your work colleagues situation but I conceived my son after ivf treatment and experienced extreme anxiety for the first 20 weeks of the pregnancy. I finally confided in my doctor and midwife and was told that it's common for women who have ivf and become pregnant to experience this. It's very hard for a woman whose body has 'failed' her and been unable to become pregnant naturally, to then be confident in her body to give birth naturally. I did give birth naturally and am still nursing my 33 month old son (I was determined to do so) but nothing prepared me for the anxiety I felt before he was born. While undergoing ivf I was only able to prepare for the possibility of it not working and the emotional pain that would follow that. Also, it was absolutely too painful to research pregnancy and birth before I conceived. Although of course, everyone's situation is different, I just wanted to share my personal experience of pregnancy after ivf as this may help explain why your colleague is so convinced she won't be able to give birth naturally.

May 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersunnymama

I have IGT and happen to fall into that category of women who cannot produce enough milk to exclusively breastfeed. I did /not/ give up on breastfeeding and it upsets me to hear things put that way. It also frustrates me when people assume that I didn't know enough to be "successful" (a term which cuts deep). This is not true: I cared enough to search endlessly for ways to develop the "magic" full supply and to systematically try everything I could find, from herbs to pharma drugs to pumping to nursing marathons to lactation aids...you name it. Assuming that I just didn't know something makes me feel like my whole experience is belittled.

Bear in mind, too, that breastfeeding feels omnipresent when baby is still little and anytime the question (are you nursing?) is asked /again/, it resurfaces all the feelings of grief. Pile on top of this a lot of noise about formula risks and it can transform one from being supportive of breastfeeding, even if unable to, to being incredibly defensive.

For those who do want to exclusively breastfeed and are unable to, then, there is often a feeling of one foot in 2 separate boats that inevitably drift apart. One side is representative of your ideals, the other representative of your reality. And when there is conflict between the two sides, it is hard to not be conflicted internally, too. You deal with formula-hate from the bf supporters, and you deal with negativity from the other side, asking questions such as "Why bother" if you can only partially breastfeed. Nowhere is there a safe haven, unless you are fortunate enough to connect with someone who really does understand. Feeling isolated then leads to feeling depressed, which (imo) leads to feeling the need to pick a side fully and trying to move on.

There needs to be a place in between where moms feel comfortable existing, where it's not a war.

June 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGayle

How do you break the cycle?

One question I don't think we ask often enough is "How do you feel about that" - where that is whatever aspect of parenting is being discussed, but I think this is particularly relevant to breastfeeding.

This is such an interesting question, I have a sister in law who chose not to breastfeed my nephew, and then undermined my breastfeeding a few months later. I wanted to challenge her, to tell her to shut up, but even though I was going through my own personal hell, I wanted her to know that I supported her decision, so I said nothing. Now, her comments are getting stranger (now she says that she didn't breastfeed because her baby didn't like the taste of her breastmilk!), and I am torn between wanting her to stop with the misinformation campaign, and wanting her to feel supported.

Unfortunately, we aren't close enough to have the "how did you feel about that?" conversation, but I am hoping that one day it will come.

Thanks for all your posts on these issues, it's really interesting, and helps me to "maintain the rage", so to speak ;)

June 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLara

[...] I’m a lactivist. An ardent lactivist. That means that I will fight to help women be successful at breastfeeding and will stare down people that stand in their way. Like in when to give up on breastfeeding or what gives you the right? Or posts like sabotage or a slap in the boobs by Dr. Sears. It means I won’t stand for people calling me or any other breastfeeding supporter a Boob Nazi and I’ll challenge it all the way through the 114 comments. I’ll challenge ridiculous concepts like breastfeeding being a safety hazard. As ardent a breastfeeding supporter as I am, I do understand there are times when it is not breast. [...]

[...] iron at six months with continued breastfeeding for up to two years and beyond. I understand that not every woman is able to breastfeed and that not every woman wants to breastfeed for two years or .... That is fine. But for women that do want to continue breastfeeding their child into the second [...]

[...] campaigns are intended to scare, but do they offer alternatives to women that might be struggling with breastfeeding? Do they send any messages to their friends and family about how to support them? Not [...]

I just want to say... I am a mother who chooses to NOT breastfeed. Want to know why? I live in a world where I have to go back to work immediately after having my child. I work full time, go to school, and somewhere in that, I'm supposed to breastfeed my child? You have no idea what mothers go through. And, you have no idea what the true statistics are on babies who are bottle fed. Maybe that is because you don't research it well enough to know. Instead you just spout off how all important breastfeeding is, when in the long run, there are more variables involved to create a healthy baby than just whether they were breastfed or not. I'm tired of being stigmatized for my choice when I know it is the best choice for my child. And, as a sociologist, I also know that there are so many other things we as parents can do to raise a healthy, well adjusted child. If I don't breast feed, it's my choice, and not something I need to be punished for, but I need as much information as possible to accurately botte feed my baby. It's like health professionals do not even want to help bottlefeeding mothers and by doing so, they are perpetuating more sick babies. I'm sick of it, and sick of the intolerance and the ignorance.

July 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGeelee


You sound very angry. Maybe in your anger you didn't read what I was saying.

I did say (among other things):

There are women who do not get the necessary support in the workplace to allow them to continue breastfeeding when they return to work. We need to fight for more generous maternity leave policies (especially in the United States) and we need to fight for greater rights and respect for breastfeeding mothers in the workplace.

I don't consider it a true choice when you are forced into it. I said:

These moms are not at fault if they cannot breastfeed their babies. They deserve our support and they deserve a shoulder to cry on if they really did want to breastfeed and were not successful.

Or perhaps a better choice of words would have been "were not able to" because some don't even bother trying because they know it will be an impossible task for them.

I do know what the true statistics are. http://www.phdinparenting.com/2009/05/14/the-scientific-benefits-of-breastfeeding/" rel="nofollow">I posted about that too on the same day that I posted the post you read and commented on. I do know what mothers go through. I am a working mother and I am a mother that http://www.phdinparenting.com/2008/12/29/our-breastfeeding-story/" rel="nofollow">struggled for 3 months to have a successful breastfeeding relationship with my son.

I'm reading and re-reading my post and trying to figure out what I said that you think is intolerant and ignorant. Please help me understand.

July 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

@Geelee: Also, in case this helps, here are my http://www.phdinparenting.com/2009/05/06/why-i-blog-about-breastfeeding/" rel="nofollow">reasons for blogging about breastfeeding. They have nothing to do with punishing or stigmatizing you. They have everything to do with supporting those that do want to breastfeed.

July 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Support is important for new moms. I tell you what, I wish I had had more support in the beginning from the "professionals."

I only got through it with support from my friends, family, and a damn good male doctor (OB/GYN) who told me, "Your lactation consultant is an idiot. Your pediatrician is an idiot. My son lost 14 ounces when my wife first had him. 8 ounces is nothing. You can do this. Get your head in the game girl."
From that point forward, I made up my mind. I'm the one that got myself through all my troubles. Boy did I have them too!

Awesome post as usual Annie!! I don't know how to break the cycle accept to provide support for moms where possible.

July 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJudy @ Mommy News Blog

i realize in retrospect that i was unsupported and misinformed when i failed at breastfeeding DD. If I'd been more aware of the magnitude of the benefits, then I likely wouldn't have stopped, or would have held on longer. But, it hurt horribly (ridiculous engorgement) we had latching issues further complicated by the engorgement, and i was soooooo tired that it was easy to, without anyone making suggestions on how to fix her latch or how to better heal and deal with my cracked and bleeding nipples, let go when one morning i didn't wake to the sound of her crying and my mother gave her a bottle of the formula the "nice people at enfamil" had sent us. Sure, the engorgement got worse and more painful, but no one was compressing it all the time so that felt a little less dire, and it was all too easy to let go and switch. It didn't help that all the breastfed babies I knew at the time were tiny and belonged to these bizarre hippie types whose other life choices i didn't necessarily agree with. Sorry folks, I'm not a drug culture kind of girl.
In retrospect, I wish I'd had people had been more supportive.
Breaking the cycle, I believe, starts with people who are willing to indirectly upset women by making sure that the information is constantly in front of them so that idiot pediatricians and "well meaning" family members can not convince a nursing mother of some lie that will ultimately rob both her and her baby of the natural feeding relationship.

July 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSlee

I realize that there are lots of reasons that babies aren't breastfed, and sad as it is, most of them have little to do with a mother not wanting to do it.

But those that truly just don't want to? Man oh man, I can't handle that.

July 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkgirl

This is a great post. I am one of the Moms who had a really hard time breastfeeding my first child and I often shared that story with other women and moms. I always thought that I was helping them by sharing my story, but reading your post made me think about how that might be making other moms to be nervous about breastfeeding. I will make more of an effort to offer my support to expectant mothers in the future.
The good news is, I was much more successful at feeding my second baby and even though I didn't do it exclusively for the whole 6 months (I supplemented with formula after 6 weeks) I felt more "able" to do it the second time around.

July 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRaj Thandhi

[...] people think of breastfeeding difficulties, the things that probably come to mind are supply issues, bad latch, cracked nipples, constant [...]

[...] people think of breastfeeding difficulties, the things that probably come to mind are supply issues, bad latch, cracked nipples, constant [...]

When the subject comes up, I talk about what worked for me when I was breastfeeding. I acknowledged the difficulties I faced, but pointed out that there are good days and bad days with formula feeding too. I talk about how the bonding time was that much more special, and how I miss it so much now.

I STILL firmly believe breast is best, even a little breast milk if the mother isn't able to produce a lot. Every little bit helps.

Great post by the way!

October 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSarcastica

[...] understand that there is sometimes a point where going to formula is best for a particular mom and baby or where sup.... I do not, however, think that the doctors and nurses that most mothers see these days, in the [...]

look no one denys breastfeeding is better however i dont know ANYONE that just breastfeeds exclusivley for 6 mths. WHY??? cause it is tiring and stressfull. i hear all those breastfeeding mothers going "i have had enough,im giving formula at night so they sleep longer than 2 hrs". i know breast is best, but not for a overtired, stressed out mother that cant get no sleep! what is good in that? and im sure the baby picks up on mothers feelings too! at the end of the day if formula will avoid a mother from having post natal depression then so what!!! isnt a baby better off being formula fed by a loving, happy mother, than being breastfed by a mother that is depressed and rejecting it?

December 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNicci 2 shoes

@Nicci 2 shoes:

Breastfeeding can be exhausting. But with the right support a lot of mothers do manage exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months. Not as many as would want to, but still many do.

I did manage exclusive breastfeeding to 6 months with my daughter. She was a decent sleeper and we co-slept so that I could get enough rest at night. I would say it was fairly easy to make it to 6 months with her.

My son had a http://www.phdinparenting.com/2008/12/29/our-breastfeeding-story/" rel="nofollow">horrible start with breastfeeding and ended up being supplemented with formula for two brief periods (once as a newborn, once when my supply tanked while I had mastitis). He was also an awful sleeper, so for a while before we figured out the nursing/co-sleeping thing, I would leave a bottle of pumped milk out for my husband to do one nighttime feed every second night or so.

A mother's feelings are important. But I think the first answer to a mother who is feeling overwhelmed with breastfeeding should be to ask "how can I help her continue breastfeeding?", not "how can I convince her to give up?" It shouldn't be about pressuring her into breastfeeding longer, but truly offering support and help to address any concerns she is having.

December 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

[...] When it is not breast [...]

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