When Breastfeeding Backfires: Why Fed is Best
Breastfeeding. For most new moms, breastfeeding is one of the biggest challenges, at least at first. If it works out as planned, it is usually one of the most rewarding experiences that you will have with your baby. If it doesn’t work out as expected, it can be frustrating, sad, and disappointing. But your baby will be okay whether she ends up drinking breastmilk, formula or a combination of the two. This is why I believe that fed is best.
I think we have all heard that “breast is best.” Babies who are breastfed have lower risks of developing asthma, ear infections, gut problems, and certain childhood cancers. It also reduces the risk of childhood obesity and sudden infant death syndrome. And this is just a few of the benefits for babies. Breastfeeding also has benefits for moms, including reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, some breast cancers, and ovarian cancer. It even helps many women lose weight due to the number of calories that burn up during breastfeeding.
Yet, sometimes we have to weigh other factors into the breastfeeding equation. It isn’t always so cut and dry. There are many reasons why breastfeeding can be a challenge such as postpartum depression, your health, your baby’s health, whether your baby is premature, or if you have milk supply issues. I am not saying that you can’t or shouldn’t breastfeed if you have any of those concerns. Sometimes it is just harder, so be prepared for that.
If breastfeeding has gone well for you, that is AWESOME! It goes well for many moms! I am really very happy for you. 🙂
Breastfeeding is unforgettable
You will remember your breastfeeding experiences forever. Much of the time it is one of the first ways that you describe how the early weeks and months of your baby’s infancy went. The other day I heard my mother-in-law tell someone that she couldn’t breastfeed her twins because she didn’t have enough milk and that was 43 years ago.
My Breastfeeding Backfire
When I became pregnant with my first son, I knew right away that I was going to breastfeed my baby until he was a year old.
I was a new public health nurse that worked with breastfeeding moms every day. I also worked side by side with several nurses who were highly trained breastfeeding experts. Even if I hadn’t planned on it, I certainly felt obligated to breastfeed. And, as a side note, I am a perfectionist who is also a people pleaser and rule follower… so I was going to breastfeed because “breast is best.” Right???
I am guessing you can see where this is going.
My son was born after a long, long, challenging labor. He came out screaming. He didn’t latch on well at the hospital, no matter what I tried. I hurt so badly that I cried just thinking about him trying to nurse.
I had a lactation consultant who tried to help. She made a plan for me that included me trying to have my son latch on to my breast and suck until I couldn’t stand it anymore. Then I would pump my breasts and cup feed him the pumped breastmilk. This sequence happened at EVERY feeding. To add to the fun, my son was a kiddo who gave me very few hunger cues and would go from being perfectly happy to screaming in about 60 seconds flat.
My husband and I went home from the hospital with this feeding plan. But my son cried a lot and I felt like a cow, trying to latch him on to my incredibly sore and broken-down nipples, pumping after every feeding and then cup feeding him breastmilk.
My baby had colic. I had postpartum depression. We struggled. I cried. He cried. We both cried. A lot.
And yet I still insisted on latching him on and then pumping and cup feeding my baby pumped breast milk. I felt like all I did was feed, pump, feed, cry, sleep, repeat.
As hard as it is to say, I think that in my struggle to make breastfeeding work, the bonding that was supposed to be taking place with my baby didn’t happen. It always felt like we were battling each other.
I made a few appointments to see the lactation consultant at my hospital’s aftercare clinic. The lactation consultant tried to help, but we struggled. She even made a referral for my son to see an occupational therapist for a suck evaluation because his suck was so shallow and we didn’t know why.
It didn’t help
I couldn’t understand why even when I knew who to go to for help and I had experts at my disposal I still couldn’t make breastfeeding work. I felt like something was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I do something that is so natural and normal?
So, I latched him on, then pumped and bottle fed him. For months. Eventually, I quit trying to latch him and just pumped and bottled for every feeding.
I tried asking for help for my postpartum depression. It took me a week to work up the courage to call my doctor’s office after my baby’s pediatrician suggested that I call them. The nurse who answered the phone at my OB-GYN’s office said, “so, what do you want from me.” I stammered, “I guess, nothing.” and hung up.
That is a story for another day. But it did play into my difficulties with breastfeeding because I needed to take care of myself in order to take care of my baby. I don’t always think that healthcare providers put two and two together when it comes to both breastfeeding issues and postpartum depression. And although we are making strides in postpartum depression awareness and treatment, we, as a society, have a long way to go.
Returning to work
When my son turned six months old, I went back to work full time as a maternal-child health nurse. And about a month later I quit pumping and started my baby on formula. I just couldn’t pump anymore. Something had to give. I was completely relieved to stop pumping. Yet, I felt like a complete failure, which looking back on now is crazy. My baby was being fed. I was an engaged and loving mama. My husband was an engaged and loving father. My boy would be just fine.
Fast forward five years when my second son was born. He latched on well after birth and even though I experienced a little discomfort at first, I breastfed him for 15 months and never looked back.
He never even once received a bottle during this time, not because I was opposed to it, just because we didn’t have to.
I was proud that I breastfed him and I was sad when we were done. I still feel guilty to this day that it worked so well for one baby and not the other because it was an experience like none other.
I get it
So, I get it. I get what it is like to be on both sides of this. I have heard what is said when you quit breastfeeding and start feeding formula because it has been said to me. The pressure to breastfeed. The comments about how bad formula is. The fact that a lot of people think they know how you should be feeding your baby better than you do.
I know “breast is best.”
Yet, I bottle fed formula to my baby.
And I also exclusively breastfed a baby.
When I say I want to help, I mean it. I was lucky. I had so many people to help and support me. And still, breastfeeding didn’t work out the way I wanted it to with my first son. But I want it to work for you!
Baby Friendly Hospitals
The expectation to breastfeed is much higher now than it was even ten years ago. The hospital that I gave birth in sent me home with a can of formula and a bag of bottles. Now that would never happen. That same hospital is now a designated Baby-Friendly Hospital. It is assumed and encouraged that breastfeeding is how you will feed your baby once your baby is born. Many hospitals across the country are designated Baby-Friendly Hospitals or are working towards becoming Baby Friendly. Most of the time this is great, but sometimes it can be challenging if you are struggling to make breastfeeding work for you. You can learn more about the Baby-Friendly Hospital initiative here.
Formula is a good second best
I do encourage all mamas to try breastfeeding and rarely is breastfeeding contraindicated because the mom is on medications or has an illness that can be passed on to the baby. Be openminded about breastfeeding. Even if your mom or sister (or friend) had trouble breastfeeding, that doesn’t mean you will. Get help if you need it. Give breastfeeding your best shot. But when necessary, formula feeding is a pretty good second best. And it might just be the best option for some mamas and babies.
Are you struggling with breastfeeding?
If you want to breastfeed and you are struggling or have questions, don’t be afraid to ask for help!!!
There are SO many people who want to help you succeed at breastfeeding, including me!
Who can help
These are a few helpful breastfeeding resources:
- If you receive WIC benefits, they almost always have breastfeeding help available. You can find out more about WIC here.
- Ask a nurse or lactation consultant at the hospital or your pediatrician, nurse midwife or family practice doctor.
- Call your local county health department to see if you can get a public health nurse.
- Find an IBCLC at ilca.org.
- Call a la Leche League leader or attend a la Leche League meeting. See llli.org.
- Check out the website KellyMom. This is my favorite breastfeeding website!
- Talk to a friend who has been through it.
Check out my post Need a Breastfeeding Professional? The Complete List of Who’s Who for even more great info!
You will be ok!
Give breastfeeding your all! But if for whatever reason, breastfeeding doesn’t work out for you and your baby, it is okay. Your baby will be okay. You will be okay! It can be hard, especially if formula feeding wasn’t in the plan. Sometimes people might judge you. Just ignore them. Don’t let them get to you. They might think they know what way of feeding is best for you, your baby, or your family, but they don’t.
Because of my struggles I made it my mission to help other moms with breastfeeding. Between the time my first son and second son were born, I became a Certified Lactation Specialist (CLS). I continued my breastfeeding education and became an Internationally Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), the highest level of breastfeeding training possible. I have helped hundreds of moms with breastfeeding questions and concerns. I recently let my IBCLC expire, but I am still a Certified Lactation Specialist (CLS). I feel like my personal experience along with my professional training has given me a unique perspective for understanding both the challenging and the awesome experience that breastfeeding is. I believe that both breastfeeding and formula feeding is best.
When breastfeeding backfires, I believe fed is best.
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