I’m Tired of Lactivists

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This one’s going to be a now-rare, good-old-fashioned rant.  Because I mean it: I’m tired of lactivists.

Don’t get me wrong.  I believe in breastfeeding as much as the next girl.  Maybe, in some cases, more.  After all, I’m currently tri-andem nursing my 4-year-old, 2.5-year-old, and 7-month-old.  Yes.  My 4-year-old is still breastfeeding.  So obviously I believe in breastfeeding, extended breastfeeding, child-led weaning, and all that stuff.

And I absolutely intend to support women who want to breastfeed, and I wish far more women had support.  I strongly dislike the way society treats breastfeeding mothers, as if it’s sexual and deviant.  I think it’s important to stand up for mother’s rights and stop all this nonsense that is the breastfeeding debate (should you/shouldn’t you, is public okay, at what age “should” you stop, and so on).  So you could say in general I fall on the side of the lactivists.

But.

A lot of lactivists are so stuck in their way of thinking that they just don’t see reality anymore.  They don’t see the “other side” at all.  That means the women struggling…who really can’t breastfeed.  The women who emotionally don’t want to do it.  The women who are approaching all this confusing territory of motherhood and breastfeeding for the first time and are desperately seeking help…only to basically be told that they just don’t get it and have a tirade of “facts” thrown at them.  How is this helpful?

Unsupportive Support

The Leaky Boob has done a whole series on this.  I won’t reiterate everything she’s said.  I will share my own anecdote.

As I said, I’ve been a breastfeeding mom for more than four consecutive years.  I’ve read many books, published journal articles, I have nursed three babies, and have those 4 years of practical, real-world experience — which includes tandem and triandem nursing, three newborns and infants, two toddlers, and breastfeeding through two pregnancies.  Suffice to say that I’ve heard it all and seen most of it first-hand too.

One night we were struggling, though.  I’d been sick for a few days and had hardly eaten anything.  My milk supply was way down.  My baby was frustrated, and when he’s frustrated, he refuses to even try, despite that he is starving.  I was faced with a conundrum: screaming, refusing-to-sleep baby who was hungry…and I couldn’t magically make my milk supply go back up within the next 10 minutes to satisfy him.  What to do?

So, perhaps stupidly, I put the question to my Facebook page.  “What would you do?”

What followed was…amazing.

“Don’t you understand supply and demand?  You can’t supplement him or you’ll lose your supply.  It’s a slippery slope, once you start you can’t stop.  Just keep putting him back to the breast, it’s never really empty.  Supplements are inferior.  If you have to, get donor milk, nothing else will do.  It just doesn’t work that way, he just needs to nurse more often in order to tell your body to make more milk.”  It went on like this for awhile, with some tirades in the middle on how awful commercial formula was.

Meanwhile, in real life, I still had a hungry, overtired, fussy baby who needed to be fed and would not nurse.  I knew it was because I’d been sick.  I knew once I got to feeling better and eating more that my supply would go back up.  I knew that supplementing him once wouldn’t lead to the end of our breastfeeding relationship.  I had no access to donor milk at 9 PM at night when I needed something right now.  But the “advice” I got was anything but practical: it was the same sort of lactivist nonsense that is thrown at any woman who asks a question like mine.

If you’re wondering, I offered him a bottle of diluted raw milk.  He took about an ounce.  That was the only time I gave him anything and we resumed exclusive nursing with no problems the next day.

Sure, there are women who ask questions that need to be answered that way.  For example, women whose babies are going through growth spurts may behave that way, and supplementing isn’t the answer there (usually).  What works for us is to get into a bath together and nurse; the water relaxes both of us so that baby is willing to try harder and the milk lets down faster.  Now, that’s a practical piece of advice!  May not work for every woman, but it at least takes into consideration that a mother is frustrated and so is her baby.

Suppressing Information

More recently, someone asked about the fat content of breastmilk, and did it vary based on what you food you ate.  Several pumping moms offered their observations that, yes, their milk did have more fat when they ate more fat.  This was a helpful conversation for a mom who was curious.

But then one mom said — and several moms “liked” — that we ought not to talk about this, because the idea that breastmilk can change based on what you eat could discourage moms with a poor diet from breastfeeding at all!  And we wouldn’t want to discourage them…would we?

Deliberately leaving out information about breastfeeding is no solution to the problem of low breastfeeding rates.  If we don’t tell women there’s an adjustment period and that you can feel decidedly sore, and maybe even in pain sometimes, they’ll be shocked and upset when and if they experience it.

Yes, there’s some pain involved when you first start.  And no, that doesn’t mean “you’re not doing it right.”  Some babies need to be taught to latch properly and may be *almost* right, but not quite.  Your breasts may not be accustomed to use and may become chapped and feel tender at latch-on and between feedings.  This pain will not last, and if it does, then yes, something’s wrong.  (If you still feel any pain after a month, get some help.)  I was very sore and aching for a month after my first baby was born, mostly between feedings.  I remember that as soon as the pain finally faded, it was time to feed her again.  I hated wearing a bra or clothing at all because it compressed my breasts and made the ache worse.  But after a month it was gone and never came back.

This is called honesty.  And we need to use it, and then help moms deal with it.  How will they know what is normal pain and what isn’t?  And can you imagine a mother being told “No, of course it doesn’t hurt!” then starting to breastfeed and finding out it does?  What will she say?  Will she quit because she wasn’t prepared for that?  Will she seek help, only to be told, “Then you’re doing it wrong?”  How does that help her?

Instead, it would be a better idea to say, “Yes, expect some pain at first.  Try using lanolin or coconut oil on your nipples.  Don’t wear a bra if you can avoid it.  Try cool washcloths or breast gel pads to soothe it.  This won’t last.”  She’s prepared for the reality…and has tools in her arsenal to deal with it.

With the quality of milk comment, here’s what I have to say about that:

Regardless of the fat or vitamin content of your milk, it contains stem cells, human growth factors, immunities, and other important components that can’t be replicated.  The immunoglobin A coats your baby’s intestines in order to help them develop properly.  Breastmilk functions as an immune system for a baby who doesn’t have one yet.  None of these things can be replaced, so breastmilk is always superior for baby’s health.

But yes.  It’s absolutely true that the nutritional quality of your milk is affected by what you eat.  If you eat a low fat diet, your milk will be low in fat.  If you’re very deficient in vitamin D or magnesium (both common), your milk will be too.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t breastfeed, because breastmilk is about a lot more than just nutrition, as stated above.  But how can women know how to fix a problem if they are simply told “Your breastmilk is amazing no matter what?”  It’s really a “yes – but” situation.

Thankfully changes are simple.  Breastfeeding mothers should eat whole eggs, cooked in butter or bacon grease.  They should drink whole milk.  These are not difficult changes, and no, they won’t make you fat.

Help Honestly and Openly

The bottom line is that we need to have a practical understanding of where women are.  We need to honestly and openly encourage them and support them.  We shouldn’t state facts from a textbook; we should look at a woman’s individual situation and help her to achieve her best possible outcome, whatever that is.

On the opposite side, we shouldn’t lie to women or neglect to mention certain facts because we don’t want to discourage them.  We need to be honest and open there too.

Breastfeeding support requires patience, kindness, and an individualistic spirit.  Not all women or all situations are the same.  Some women really can’t breastfeed (more on this in my book, Breast to Bib, which is coming March 19th).  Some women need temporary solutions to make it through — I pumped and used formula to supplement my first baby for six weeks!  (Surprised?) — and we went on to stop supplementing and move to exclusive breastfeeding for a few months, and continue to breastfeed for four years (and counting)!  What might I have done if someone had told me that pumping in the early weeks instead of nursing directly (she didn’t at all until the 6 week mark) wouldn’t build my supply properly and I had to get her to latch immediately?  What if someone had told me that any supplementing would destroy my supply and lead to an early end to our breastfeeding relationship?  What if someone had told me she’d get nipple confusion from the bottles and refuse to even try anymore?

Women are told these things all the time.

It’s true that my situation was unusual and a lot of women struggle and end up quitting if they face obstacles like that.  But maybe they wouldn’t if they were told, “Do what you need to do to feed your baby and save your sanity; there’s always tomorrow.  Keep at it.  Nothing is going to ruin you forever.”  There will be women who still can’t overcome the obstacles, but probably not as many.

So, let’s talk about it.  Let’s support.  Let’s be honest and open and stop spouting textbook drivel (unless really needed) and stop hiding issues and refusing to talk.  These approaches do nothing.  We can make breastfeeding normal and successful by being real!

What do you think?  Can we do a better job supporting breastfeeding women?  Are lactivists sometimes hurting more than helping?

Comments

  1. Lisa says

    Thank you for writing this. I could have used these words five years ago when I had terrible trouble breast feeding and felt crazy guilt every time I made a bottle of formula and deep disappointment that I could only pump two or thee ounces at a time. I saw six lactation consultants and in addition had some other lactivists in my life at the time and was constantly freaked out by them about what I and my baby were doing wrong. It was a difficult time for our family and I regret it.

  2. Jessica B. says

    Love this! Thank you.

    I had my first baby almost two weeks early. My milk took five long days to come in and she was getting oh-so-jaundiced. The hospital staff were very supportive of my desire to nurse, but with the baby’s bilirubin levels rising, the doc told me that I needed to alternate formula with breast to make sure that she was getting enough. I did it, but I was so stressed out about it – I’d read about nipple confusion and thought that all my dreams of breastfeeding my baby were being flushed down the toilet due to circumstances beyond my control. No doubt that the stress did *not* help my supply come in any earlier and made my first attempt at navigating motherhood that much more crazy.

    Again, thank you for this article!

  3. Vicky says

    I’m not a mom, but I’d like to say THANK YOU! I recently read a post on another blog that shared a reader’s question regarding organic formula, as she was preparing to return to work and would not be able to pump. The blog-author wrote the post to share about recent concerns with organic formula and to strongly suggest making homemade formula. Some of the comments were shockingly cruel toward the mama (and other commenters in similar predicaments). I was horrified by what I read! This poor mama who is trying her best to find a way to feed her baby healthy, nutritious food and was met with condemnation and hatred. It broke my heart…

    So thank you for writing this! Thank you for reminding everyone to treat others (especially new mamas) with kindness and love!

  4. says

    I appreciate this. I am all for supporting people with what they are dealing with, not making them feel bad or guilty for what they don’t. I happily and luckily easily breastfeed both my boys. I am happy to help people understand the benefits, not shove information down their throat. We Mamas need to support one another and help one another. I am tired of arrogant crunchy Mamas that think only they know what is best and spreading fear. Amen.

  5. says

    Great post, Kate! As you know from my last post, I had tons of people spouting useless “textbook drivel” and it almost got my first baby admitted to the hospital. Giving her formula from a bottle (gasp!) was what prevented that AND helped her figure out how to latch on to the breast. It’s true that with my second baby, pumping and using the bottle for a couple of days did cause a little “nipple confusion”, but even with having had tongue tie, lip tie and torticollis, she still figured it out!
    I completely agree that we need to prepare women for the reality (although some ladies need to be reminded that scaring women with worst-case-senario stories isn’t helpful) so that they aren’t taken by surprise. Most women are sore for 2 to 4 weeks, some of us have very difficult experiences, a few women have no problems at all and a few women aren’t physically able to breastfeed. A friend of mine has milk ducts that produce milk, but they aren’t connected to the nipple, so the milk doesn’t come out. This is extremely rare, but it can happen. She makes her own real food formula following the Weston A. Price website and her little ones are all very healthy. :-) We all need to encourage and educate each other, where ever we are at in our journeys.

  6. Regina W says

    Thank you for sharing this! I’ve been learning this lesson over the 3 years I’ve been breastfeeding (with a 4 month break during my second pregnancy) and I hope I’m doing a good job of being honest but encouraging to mom.

    Also, I wanted to add, this is the first time I’ve heard any good advice for how to handle a baby who just won’t nurse when there isn’t much milk readily available. My second (6 month old) is like this and it’s been incredibly frustrating. I’ll have to try relaxing with him in the tub next time my supply dips for whatever reason. Thank you!

  7. Beth says

    My pregnancy with my son had been horrible. I was sick from six weeks in until the day he was born everyday no matter what we tried. He arrived extremely jaundice but otherwise healthy and I had every intention of breastfeeding. I had attended classes, read all I could and felt confident and ready.

    So, we tried. And tried. And tried. Two weeks after he was born he was still jaundice because he wasn’t getting the nutrition he needed from my milk. Well, really he wasn’t getting hardly any milk. I was distraught. It was so much to take on being a new mom for the first time and then to have a baby that was honestly not getting any food was heartbreaking. We went to lactation consultants and tried all the means we could. He just refused to take.

    So at his check up I told his doctor that I was going to move him to a bottle. She had a heart attack and made me feel like I was doing something horrible. And that trend followed with everyone we turned to.

    Finally, we met with the lactation consultant the led classes at the hospital where he was born. And she told us that it came down to what was important. Was it more important to breastfeed or to continue to stress both he and I out. I can to the conclusion my relationship with him was most important to me. My son is seven months old and striving after having been on a bottle since then. We are just as close as we can be – hes a mama’s boy. Best choice I made. Sometimes you just have to decide what is best for you and your child – and that isn’t always the breast. Its become to common to put women down who cannot or even chose not to breast feed – and its the wrong that someone who has the stress of childbirth fresh on them to have to deal with that.

    Enjoyed your post!

  8. says

    This is a great post. I have always believed in the value of nursing, but it was very difficult in the beginning with my firstborn. In fact those first few weeks were pretty tough with most of my kids. Sometimes women need less “how to’s” and “you’ve got to’s” and more encouraging words. We all need some grace because none of is perfect. Many of the women you speak of are sincerely reacting to a world that is unwelcoming to nursing, but there is a better way. Extending grace, compassion and patience is much more effective.

  9. Elisabeth in TX says

    This is very true! I’m one of those moms who knows and teaches the importance of breastfeeding but have difficulty feeding my own kids With my first 2 I worked closely w/ an LC but dried up (what little milk I had) by 6 weeks postpartum. W/ my 3rd I decided to put my guilt and doubts to work and I *was* going to succeed… I worked w/ 2 IBCLC’s and did everything they suggested w/ gusto. They confirmed repeatedly that despite my efforts I was only supplying baby w/ 50% the milk he needed. He didn’t regain birth weight until 10 weeks even w/ having to supplement.

    From that perspective I was happy to be getting him atleast 50% what he needed and I desperately wanted support on how to maintain it but everyone seemed to give up on me since they couldn’t “fix” me! I needed help knowing how/when to nurse/pump/supplement in a manner that would maintain what supply I did have and couldn’t find it. Anywhere I turned I was met w/ responses suggesting that I hadn’t tried everything and they were still only giving advice on how to build my supply which was far from helpful at that point. I ended up completely drying up at 14 weeks w/ baby #3 which was a huge success to me after only making it 6 weeks w/ my first 2. And I only have1one who celebrated that w/ me – the others, I can only assume, don’t believe I tried hard enough.

    That is definitely one area that needs improvement in the lactivist’s arena! Thanks for shining alight on this topic!

  10. says

    Amen to all of this. I am currently nursing a 2 week old. He is my fourth child but my first pregnancy and nursing experience. My husband and I adopted our other three children at birth. I, like you, am very pro breastfeeding. I even tried pumping before my first child was born in hopes to nurse him. I found out that even if I nursed him around the clock I would never get a full milk supply. So, from there, I bottle-fed three babies with various formulas. I second guessed every choice and looking back (and if I were to do it again) I think it would have been better to make my own formula with raw milk. But I did the best I knew at the time. I remember a very distinct moment when I was at the mall bottle feeding my first son and had the realization that I had previously judged other mothers that I saw bottle feeding their infants and not nursing them. For shame!! It had never once occurred to me that their children could have been adopted. Or any other myriad of situations of which I knew nothing about. I share this story because at that moment I realized how important it is to step down from our often prideful opinions about things and realize that everyone has a different experience. We can never fully know what another person is going through. And with something so beautiful as mothering and all that goes along with it – it is so much more helpful to love, encourage and support rather than judge and criticize.

  11. Shelly says

    Thank you for posting these kind words. Though it’s been two years since my struggle to produce enough breast milk for my son, the emotions all come back when I read about this subject. I cringe when I hear critical lactation specialists or mothers (who had plenty of milk) berate women who had to supplement in order to feed their babies. No one tried harder than I did. I remember going into the lactation specialist at 3 weeks. We worked for 2.5 hours with me (very engorged, I might add) and I only produced 3 ounces of milk. I pumped in between feedings. I drank gallons of water. There just wasn’t enough.

    A friend told me that her mother, who had her children in the 30’s, didn’t have enough milk and had to supplement with all 7 of her children. She was not rich and spoiled and unwilling to “ruin” her figure; she lived in humble circumstances. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been for her. I use that story to answer to answer to all those who give glib answers to struggling mothers like “Drink enough water; it’s as simple as that.”

    Anyway, thanks so much for giving those who are struggling (those of us who have struggled in the past) kindness and understanding for doing the best we can.

  12. Cynthia says

    Two comments from this peanut gallery:
    My sister and her husband went to exactly one of their birth classes. The instructor asked each couple to introduce themselves and say whether they were planning to breast or bottle feed. My sister was the only one who said she was going to bottle feed her son. The instructor (along with other expectant mothers) began throwing ever statistic at her. Without knowing diddly-squat about her, they judged her choice. She has stage 2 cancer and began treatments mere weeks after giving birth. With all the meds in her system, breastfeeding wasn’t an option (she still did it for a week or so before the meds).

    Secondly, adopted children don’t typically breastfeed either, even if they are infants at the time of placement. It’s possible, but very tricky.

    Lactivists would do well to consider these things.

  13. says

    great post.

    i just wanted to clarify about the fat content of milk. you said, “It’s absolutely true that the nutritional quality of your milk is affected by what you eat. If you eat a low fat diet, your milk will be low in fat.”

    in fact, the AMOUNT of fat in your milk is not affected by what you eat. it can affect the kinds of fats (balance of “good” vs. “bad” fats) in your milk to some extent.

    http://kellymom.com/nutrition/milk/change-milkfat.html

  14. Jennifer Bruner says

    This is a great post and a great discussion. My first baby nursed for six months, and then I got a breast infection. The doctor told me I had to wean the baby, and that I would never be able to nurse another baby again. I had a total of six children, and nursed a total of 10 years. I nursed through 10 breast infections with baby #2. The last baby had to be weaned at six months, because I was very ill and hospitalized, and then was on meds that precluded nursing. I nursed through seven months of one pregnancy, but my milk dried up – it felt like I had a vacumn hose attached to my nipple when the baby tried to nurse! So, I’ve been a mom for over 30 years, and I have one tidbit to add. In my life experience, having a supportive significant other is extremely important for successful breastfeeding. I have watched lots of moms who were doing all the right things “fail” because they got no emotional or physical support and encouragement from their husband. Breastfeeding moms need some rest. They need some time off their feet. They need a sandwich and a drink of water. They need hugs. They need someone to hold the screaming baby while they go to the bathroom or take a bath or shower.. Women who don’t get these things, and end up having to supplement or turn to formula entirely often feel like they “failed”. Successful breastfeeding takes three people – mom, baby, and another loving, supportive adult. I hope we all do our part to be that third person to the mom who doesn’t have one, for whatever the reason.

  15. says

    Thank you! It is SO important to think before you speak on such touchy subjects as breastfeeding. My daughter was in the NICU for 11 days after birth, and we couldn’t even hold her for the first week of it. I pumped and stored my milk until she was allowed to take a bottle of it. When we could finally hold her, I tried nursing, but she was slow to catch on. She wasn’t allowed to come home until she was eating well though and I just needed her HOME so we used my milk in bottles while we worked on getting her to nurse better. In all, she was nursing without me needing to pump after a month or so. She still weaned herself at 9 months old. But the time I nursed her was precious, along with all the good healthiness of it.

    If I had another child, I’d have to think long and hard about whether I would nurse again. With both of my children, I had postpartum depression (at varying degrees) that only cleared up after weaning completely. I know I would be doing a lot of research to find out what is best answer/options for our family.

    While the facts are there, there are also a lot of situations and emotions involved. I just hope more and more people will think before they speak. Give info, but with empathy and without judgement for what the family chooses to do. Thanks again for writing this post.

  16. Leesy Bosezcu-Phillips says

    I breastfed my daughter until I gave birth to my son, I nursed her only hours before his birth as a matter of fact. Giving birth to him I was unknowingly injured during the c-section, leaking fecal matter into my blood stream, my son was also at risk of infection I had coursing through my body as it went undetected until I nearly died from complications due this undiscovered injury.

    My step mom was all set to help me keep my supply up while I was sedated on life support in ICU by pumping. Because of the seriousness of the injury and complications as a result of the injury the doctors did not allow it. I was soo heartbroken when I learned my supply dried up and horrified to think I unknowingly poisoned son.

    It was so different to be on the other side of nursing/bottle feeding debate, I hated every minute of feeding my son a bottle, yet the injury was so severe I required in house nursing care as I recovered and my supply dried up, or so I thought…After a month stay in the hospital I had no supply within 3 days of being home it came back.

    I was soo thrilled, but even with all the tips ans tricks I received from a nursing guru in my area, I only produced half of my son’s needs & I was so happy to even do that for him even if barely. I remember being lectured about nursing benefits one day feeding my son in public with a bottle. I was so aghast I had no reply, this woman had NO idea what I endured and how gut-wrentching it was to feed my son formula…So I appreciate this article..

    I still get a little heartbroken and teary when I see nursing moms feeding their babies as a matter of fact though my son is 20 months has hasn’t nursed in 5 months, I was at the grocery store recently and there were about 4 crying babies and I felt that familiar tightening effect and wetness, I knew I was lactating again. It is so tempting to me to try and nurse again however my son has developmental delays that cause us to thicken his liquids. If not for that I would be nursing again…I so miss it and feel robbed from that awesome experience, yet it has given me perspective from the other side I wouldn’t have had before and given me mercy for ladies who are struggling with supply and decisions to bottle feed.

    • Jessica M. says

      I am in absolute awe that despite everything you went thru, you still nursed him some. It’s amazing that you are alive! I’m truly inspired by you and your devotion to your children. How blessed your children are!!!

  17. says

    I am flashing back to the things I was told not to do when I had my first child: “don’t use a nipple shield, it’ll make your baby not latch properly!” Except that I ignored that advice, because I was sure that it would help my son learn to latch and it did! I learned then that I knew best, and I could take all that other advice with a grain of salt.

    Then I had my second son, born with a cleft lip and palate. I pumped for a year with him, because he never did learn to latch in spite of many attempts. With him, I was able to avoid any judgments from any lactivists I knew. They were mostly loving and supportive, even though my baby did get formula part of the time for the first few days of life.

  18. Dani says

    I am so glad to hear that you were able to come up with a short-term solution to your shortage issue. And, glad you’re feeling better! Thanks for writing this article–we all need to remember that sometimes, “life” happens.

  19. says

    We can do a MUCH better job supporting breast feeding moms. I struggled, hard, to feed breast feed my son and a very supportive sister in law and friend I found all other advice to be worthless.

    It made me feel like a complete failure and that my child would be inferior human being with lifelong debilitating issues if I could not breastfeed him until he was old enough to drive a car (ok, a bit of sarcasm but I’m trying to make a point).

    When a woman who wants nothing more than to breastfeed, has not entertained any other options and then finds herself in a place where she simply cannot do so exclusively she is heartbroken (not to mention hormonal) an words cut deeper than usual at this time.

    Life does happen; it is in the Lord’s hands. He has reasons for us to walk through what we do. Sometimes for us and sometimes for others but I do not believe that my son is somehow “worse off” because God chose to walk me down a road of short milk supply and insufficient breast tissue. I learned some pivotal things during those first few months when we struggled with breastfeeding.

    Praise God for raw goat milk formula!

  20. Rachel says

    I still consider myself a lactivist because I do what I can as a doula and community member to encourage and support breastfeeding, whether talking about my experiences, giving suggestions and advice to new moms who are struggling, or going to a nurse-in with my still lactating friends. But I’m with you, this is just ridiculous and is only hurting the cause. If we can’t offer honest, research-based (where available) information and caring, nonjudgmental support to women right where they are then we’re being lactivists for the sake of having something to to yell about, not for the women and babies who will benefit from a nursing relationship (when possible).

  21. Jessica M. says

    AMEN, AMEN,AMEN!!!!!!!!! I successfully nursed my two, despite well intentioned, but awful advice. It was a hard and paiful journey. I almost wish I was having another baby, just so I could do this journey with some faith in myself and the ability (now that I am not so young) to not listen to advice that is ringing untrue or harmful to my ears. We need to be truthful and loving in our support of other women. We also need to really listen to what they are saying when they are struggling. Every woman and every baby is different; so might be their path to finding joy in nursing.

  22. says

    My milk supply was super low when I was nursing and I was only able to nurse my baby for 9 months, and I had to supplement starting at 4 months (I supplemented with raw milk formula but I nursed as much as I was able).

    I got SO MUCH FLACK for this. People online were obnoxious and horrible to me. Saying I just wasn’t doing it right, that I needed to drink more water, rest more, etc. etc. etc.

    It was only when she was about 1.5 years that I found out that the reason I had low milk supply was because my well-meaning doctor put me on a birth control pill after she was born. I did not know any better so i took it. Turns out the pill can devastate your milk supply.

    I wish instead of people being self-righteous and arrogant, they had just said to me, maybe, “Call a lactation specialist.” If I had seen a lactation specialist maybe she would have diagnosed my problem. I don’t know — maybe not.

    Anyway, I did the best I could and I wish people would give mothers credit for doing the best we can.

    Thanks for this post!

  23. Renee says

    I’m really just shaking, crying reading this. Thank you so much for having the guts to post this. I spent so many hours, days, years beating myself up over not being able to adequately supply my girls the way some of my friends could BF. They would sit there and EAT JUNK while I was eating strict WAPF guideline GOOD food and I still couldn’t keep up. My girls had great latches, fed on demand, but they were freaking HUNGRY. I know that feeling of an empty breast but baby is just fussing and fussing for more…when they suck down that 2 or 3 oz in a bottle and smile it just melts your heart…but in the back of my mind I would beat myself and beat myself for not being a good mom because I couldn’t nurse enough. I dried up in 6 weeks with my first because lactation people told me not to supplement or I wouldn’t be able to BF anymore – she was SO hungry and my stress and lack of sleep is what put me over the edge to not produce more. I was more educated with my second, started pumping right away and took some supplements. I supplemented her with raw milk formula for the first 2 MONTHS until I could make enough for her to have just BM. I WORKED MY BUTT OFF for that. I recently learned of insufficient glandular tissue and it really sounds like me but regardless I will be honest – when I see bloggers do a post on EBF I usually don’t even read it because it would make me so mad and feel bad about myself. I know I know I know I did what I could for my girls. Undereducated with the first? YES. But still tried the best I could and couldn’t do it – she had commercial formula until I started making my own raw milk and you know what – she is 3 now and has only been sick 2 times in her whole life. She’s just fine. Sorry for all the details – you just don’t see posts like this and I was really thankful to read someone on the same wavelength 😉 I have often felt led to start a real food blog since I feel I have a lot to share but most of the feelings that set me back are because I didn’t EBF my girls……

    • Bek says

      thank you for sharing. while I didn’t have these kinds of problems, I am still encouraged by your post and glad you have healthy happy babies.

  24. Laura says

    i just want to make a late add to this that as a pediatric nurse, not only can some mom’s physically not breastfeed, some babies can’t breastfeed due to a wide gammut of reasons and although some mom’s try to pump and supplement a little, sometimes it’s just way too difficult. i hope to be a mom in the next year and i plan to breastfeed but i’m glad i’ve seen the other side too, when physical impairments or prematurity make it impossible. thanks for the great post and blog.

  25. says

    ummm… your supply-dip issue… what did you want them to say to you? that was all good advice. you know formula is an option… EVERYONE and their mother knows formula is an option so what else did you want to be told? to be given permission to give something other than breastmilk from the tap?

  26. Bek says

    I am with you! I am so glad I found an amazing Lac consultant the 2nd time around because even if you have done it before you can run into problems! I am so thankful to have the abillity to nurse but ache for friends who can’t and watch me with sad envy. I can’t imagine coping with the emotional trauma of not producing for my children and then being affronted by a lactivist! How devistating women can be to each other when we have the power to truly uplift instead if we support the way you describe. I think this approach applies to most aspects in life and Christian women espeically need to step up and love instead of “inform” each other.

  27. says

    Great article with many great points. Even for those of us who think we are compassionate for those who can’t breastfeed for whatever reason and honest about the difficulties with exclusive breastfeeding. I agree that trying to sugar-coat how rough those first few weeks are is not helpful to anyone.
    I try to gently encourage breastfeeding, covertly acknowledging the challenges, by arming new mommy friends with a kit the day their babies are born; it includes Lanisoh pads, Tylonel, Medela hydro-gel pads and thin gel ice packs you can tuck into your bra – all things that got me through breastfeeding my first baby. (Second baby was SO much easier!) Depending on the friend and how well I know her I also might include a note of all the things I learned my first time around that made the experience tolerable.
    I gave up EBF my daughter (now 3) at 6 months because of PPD (I didn’t know better) but am still EBF my one year-old son, who has casein/egg allergies. I am not one of those women who enjoy breastfeeding. I find the whole experience uncomfortable and I just want my body back. I do it because I think it is best for my kids, but I totally understand why women wouldn’t want to. Some days it just sucks the life out of me. And my baby *still* isn’t sleeping through the night … because he wants mommy milk … NOW! If my son could have had regular formula (and the allergin one didn’t smell like dog food) I would have quit a long time ago for that reason alone.

  28. Gena says

    You know, I totally agree. I have three boys and breastfed them all and believe it to be the best option available. I recently commented on a post showing a crocheted breast as a hat for a baby nursing. I said that I found the hat distasteful and “in your face” and I was treated as though I was anti-breastfeeding. It was so strange the attitude of some who responded to me. I believe in being discreet around others when you are breastfeeding, and for some reason I get labeled as anti-nursing. Geesh! =)

  29. says

    So thankful for your well articulated points in this debate. It’s with honesty that we will support other women, not fantasy situations that don’t reflect the reality of life.

  30. Jennifer Smith says

    So many things I agree with in this article. I, b/c of a reduction surgery, have not been able to succesffully bf my 3 boys. The first was 2 years after the surgery and I was so determined to do it that I listened to those who said “if you keep nursing more milk will come” even though they knew my situation that my son almost had to be hospitalized. I realize now how stupid I was. Even 10 years after the surgery I was unsuccessful with my third (now 9 months) and despite his extremely low urine output was told by lactation consultants” to not worry about that and just keep nursing (again they knew my situation). I did that for a day but could not see my son starving and had to supplement. When I finally got a scale I saw he was only getting 1/2 oz at each feeding after 45-60 min of nursing. This was fine in the first week or 2, but not enough at 10 weeks.
    Anyway, I agree too that we need to be honest. I was a at a babyshower yesterday, for a first time mom, and we were being honest about our birth stories and one mom looked at us and said “don’t scare her”. I said you need to know what to expect (with labor and nursing) or else you think something is wrong and get scared and give up (read easily take epidural or c-section for labor).
    Lastly, about the nutrition re: bfing. I know that our situation is different, but in my family only one child was bf, my brother. He is the only one who struggles with skin conditions and allergies. He is the one who has always had a weight issue and struggled when young with being sick a lot. At the time my mom was homeless and her diet was more than likely horrible. I hate formula. I hate that I have to give it to my son (I did get some donor for awhile and tried making our own formula, but it did not work for him), but I do wonder if my brother would have been better off, b/c of my mom’s situation at the time, having formula instead of being breast fed. Don’t throw stones at me please :)

  31. gwen says

    Thank you for posting this truly. I was clueless with my very first baby and mortified when I didn’t immediately produce enough for him. I rented an industrial hospital grade pump and brought in a orchestra league consultant. I failed my baby and by day three of life he was dehydrated in the NICU with high biliruben and very dangerous issues. Still the orchestra consultant told me that if I loved my baby I wouldn’t allow even emergency formula. If I hadn’t, he was facing brain damage or death. Still the things said to me were so hurtful. I never got over feeling like the nursing consultant behaved like a terrorist right then and I needed compassion right then and help keeping my baby alive.

  32. Brook Elmer says

    Well said. I have only had one child nursing at a time but I always had too much milk. So I shared with friends that were struggling until they worked on getting more milk to come in. I kept track one pregnancy/nursing time and I GAVE away over 250 oz. of milk to bless some other children. I am glad that some people are not so hard on those that are unable to bf. Bfing is best IF you can do it. If you need to supplement or feed your child formula don’t beat yourself up. Just do what you know is best for your situation and remind those who might be hard on you to just leave you alone. Your doing you best absolute best and God will honor that.
    Brook

  33. Caroline says

    I love this! And I don’t feel like I’m such a bad mom after reading this. I had my first son when I was only 18 and after not latching during several first time attempts at breast feeding the nurse handed me a bottle of formula and said “he needs to eat something” and from then on he was formula fed. I am due with my second son in a few weeks and am going to breast feed. But like you stated in the blog, I am a mother who is not comfortable with it, I have sensitive breasts/nipples but still want him to have what is best for him, so I plan on mostly pumping and then giving him the boob at night and a few times during the day for bonding. Is that so bad though? He will still be receiving the milk that he needs. I’m sure lactivists will see this as a bad thing and consider me a bad mother for not giving him the boob all of the time, but like you said, some moms are not comfortable with it. Thanks for writing this!

  34. Momma S. says

    Thank you for a very supportive and encouraging post (first time visiting your blog). I am surrounded by a huge community of breastfeeding, baby-led weening, co-sleeping Momma’s and I love them dearly. My ONLY goal when I had my first child was to breastfeed. That was it. At four months I finally gave up completely because I just couldn’t make it work. I was exhausted and he was starving so I gave in and started the formula. He hated sleeping with us and he hated it when I would wear him. So when we had our second child I was even more determined to make the nursing relationship work. I had done so much more research, reading and praying. I was ready to follow this thru till at least one year of age. Once again, nursing was a complete challenge for both of us. I honestly did everything I knew to do: supplements (very expensive ones, might I add), changed my diet, ate protein and Omega 3’s like they were going out of style, skin-to-skin, co-sleeping, nurse on demand, waterwaterwaterwater, pumped in the middle of the night even when he didn’t want anything, nipple stimulation, massages, chiropractic adjustments, and I even had friends praying for me and I had my husband lay hands and pray over my boobs so they would work. I was so determined to make this work that my marriage was suffering, my relationship with my oldest was suffering, I was exhausted beyond belief and I was just about ready to snap. My husband was so supportive but he sat me down and told me that this whole thing was ruining our relationship. I cried and cried, then I cried some more. I prayed and cried out to God, “why don’t my breasts work? All I want to do is feed my children…is that so much to ask?” and I’m crying just typing that because my youngest is almost 2 and it’s still hard to forgive myself for giving up. I didn’t have a choice, I had a hungry baby and I was just done with experimental things. I will never forget the last time I nursed him and I cried. I have felt like a failure ever since. I saw the glances and the looks I got when I pulled out my powder formula. I could feel the judgment from my friends and other moms in the circles I run around in. I wanted to explain my story to each and every single one of them so just maybe they would understand I wasn’t just some ignorant mother who didn’t try. I tried harder to nurse my two children than I have ever tried at anything in my life. All this to say, thank you for your post. It brings healing even 4 years later when I wish I could have done something to make our nursing relationship work. I am jealous of my friends who nurse easily and continue to nurse their toddlers. I ache when I see a momma and baby have a beautiful nursing relationship. I cringe when I ask a question about the health of my kids and five other mom’s tell me to “put breast milk on/in it” …..Yes, I know BM is the ultimate healing milk but I just don’t have any. To the mother’s out there who do nurse and have a great nursing relationship with your babies: Good for you. Way to stick with it and do something so selfless and loving. There are mom’s out there, like me, who would give anything to be in your shoes. If you see us giving a bottle with formula, cut us a little slack because you don’t know the whole story. I would do anything to be nursing my children right now.

    • says

      First, thank you so much MAM for this blog post! And second, Momma S, your story is almost identical to mine. Like you, I had trouble BFing my first son and felt horrible about giving up. I tried again with my second son but it didn’t work that time either, even with seeing a lactation consultant. My second son was born a week after my niece and my sister was able to breastfeed her (and still does a year later) with no problem. It really makes me feel inadequate as a mother and I have spent many a night crying about it and wondering if there was more I could have done.
      BUT, both of my kids are healthy. They’ve never had even one ear ache! So, even though I have been embarrassed to admit that they were formula fed, I have to say that I can’t see any difference in them and breastfed babies.

    • Jesse says

      I know that you wrote this quite awhile ago, but I just read it and I almost cried myself. I could really feel what you must have been feeling. I thankfully have been able to nurse two babies, but only because God allowed me to. The fact that you gave it your all, is really what counts. I know that God will cover your “babies” with His love and protection and fill in any of the gaps that we as human parents cannot provide or areas we “messed” up on. I have had to remind myself continually of this knowledge. Our children are His anyway, on loan from Him and He will watch over them! Blessings..

  35. Kara says

    I absolutely love this!
    I’m actually not a breastfeeding mom – I formula fed all 3 of my children. I’m happy with that decision, and I don’t regret it. If I were to have any more children, however (though I won’t), I would at least try to breastfeed.
    When I was pregnant with my oldest, the reason I didn’t breastfeed was all the lactivists. I thought they were insane. I didn’t have any problems with breastfeeding, but the people I knew who breastfed were so rude about it, and so adamant that for me to do anything else meant I must be stupid and not want what’s best for my baby, that their attitudes really turned me off to it. I had very few people who I knew very well at the time (we had moved recently), and one who did breastfeed had to do it ALL the TIME. I couldn’t imagine a schedule like that… where I’m at the baby’s every whim, eating every 30 minutes. (I know now that isn’t the norm) So I didn’t breastfeed. And my baby was healthy. He’s still healthy. He’s happy. We bonded great, because honestly breastfeeding doesn’t bond mom with baby any better than regular mom time does – whether feeding the baby a bottle, holding him, soothing him, cuddling him, playing with him.
    When I had my second, I stuck with formula because it worked. It was easy, and I liked it. I liked being able to have scheduled feedings, and being able to hand Dad (or Grandma, or Auntie, or Big Brother even) the bottle to feed the baby. :)
    With my third, I considered trying to breastfeed. But she was in the NICU and the staff at the hospital, while very supportive, explained to me what would be required of me – getting up regularly to pump so that I could keep my supply, on top of recovering from a c section and driving 1.5 hrs each way every day to see her in the hospital – and I chose not to.
    Anyway, all that to say that I laud women who breastfeed just as much as I laud those who don’t. Ultimately, a woman who is making the choice that is right for her family is doing a great job. :)

  36. Tracy says

    This is an excellent rant! Kudos, kudos. We absolutely need to be discussing these things. How else can we help other moms? All I had wanted since I found out I was pregnant was to go full term, to hold our baby girl immediately after birth, and to breastfeed the little darling for the first year. Well, that little dumpling decided to come 6 weeks early, after barely avoiding a c-section I did not get to touch her for 4 hours, and my milk supply did not increase enough to continue feeding her after 3 months and she self weaned. It was AGONIZING. All these pre-conceived desires that I had went right out the window! I did everything humanely possible to breast feed her, from pumping every 2 hrs around the clock, to supplements, to dietary changes, lactation consultations, to buying donor breast milk. It was exhausting, expensive and affected my ability to enjoy my time with my new baby, not to mention the toll on my marriage. It was heartbreaking! Bless my last lactation expert who just listened and then said “oh, honey, you have tried everything that I could possibly suggest. At some point, you will have to decide when enough is enough and just enjoy your precious time bonding with your baby!” We decided to supplement with the best formula we researched, I nursed whenever she desired (sadly, she was never that interested) and I did skin-to-skin time frequently which we both loved! As a result, she has done incredibly well, topping the development charts, accomplishing everything in her own way and in her own time frame. She has been an excellent teacher in letting go of the need for control and enjoying the ride instead. =) I only wish I had access to other moms who had supply issues like I did, which is why we absolutely need to be talking about this!

  37. Teri says

    /slow clap

    I can’t even begin to describe how much I loved reading this. I can’t really even pick apart points in which you’re right to expound on, because…there’s just so much that is right. I’d just end up restating the whole article. As someone who ran into round after round after round of the kind of lactivist “support” you described–which was in reality, anti-support–I cannot tell you enough how right you are, but it sure seems like you get it.

    Anti-support is so beyond utterly unhelpful it’s hard to come to any other conclusion that some lactivists don’t really care about helping anyone breastfeed or about anyone’s health, they just care about their own agenda, and possibly making themselves feel better by making others feel inferior. It wasn’t the formula companies that made breastfeeding hell for me, it was lactivists. As it turned out, I had to give it up after 5 1/2 weeks or so anyway because it was exacerbating another medical condition (yet another thing I wasn’t told could happen, and was completely downplayed by every lactivist resource I consulted, speaking of withholding information). But had that not happened, I’m not sure how much more lactivism I would have been able to take before it killed my sanity and my health anyway. Which means of course that it would have negatively affected my baby, too (even moreso than breastfeeding was negatively affecting her).

    Breast is not best for everyone, and it’s not best 100% of the time for everyone. Until the lactivist world wakes up to that fact, we’ll have a lot of booby-trapping going on, and it’s not going to be from any formula company.

  38. Renee says

    I hear ya! I was talking to a couple ladies at my Bible study and somehow we got on the topic of breastfeeding and formula. I have BFed all 3 of my LOs until at least 13 months (usually pregnancy with the next is what dries up my milk and causes toe curling pain). When my oldest was born he cried the first 48 hours after birth. The first night at home (second night after being born) he cried and cried and cried. I attempted to nurse him the entire night and by 7 AM the next morning I was in tears. My mom suggested formula, but I had it so engrained that it would ruin nursing for us that I was being stubborn. I finally said OK and he chugged 2 oz then slept for 4 HOURS! Probably the longest stretch of sleep until he weaned. I told them that story and they came down pretty hard on me, that I should have kept trying to nurse him, he should have never gotten formula b/c it is poison, etc. I was a first time mom, he had been latched on almost constantly for over 12 hours, and was still screaming. I didn’t feel like there was much of a choice then. I didn’t know how to respond at the time, but more than a year later that conversation still burns me up. There’s a happy medium… I wish people could find it a bit easier. We still wonder to this day how different his demeanor would have been had we just given it to him when he first made it known that he was hungry. I have since learned that for whatever reason it takes a few days for my body to start really producing milk. They are good the first 24 hours with colostrum, but after that we almost always have to supplement with at least one or two bottles.

  39. says

    I have nursed my four babies. I had to work HARD to get my body to cooperate. I start loosing supply around 6 months and my babies have all weaned themselves by 10 months. It is hard when those around you are full of advice/judgment. I finally accepted the way that God made my body this last pregnancy. It made my last few times nursing her precious and not stressful!

  40. Kate says

    I just stumbled across this post, and I have to say that I agree with a lot of what you say. I actually called my slew of lactation consultants “the boob nazis.” All I wanted when my first son was born was to nurse him. He refused, so I pumped. I tried to put him to the breast at the next feeding. He refused. I pumped. One or both of us ended up in tears every time. I called the boob nazis. You see the pattern. I did this for two months. I felt like the world’s biggest failure. My baby couldn’t nurse! Or it was my fault! Or…something was just terribly wrong with me.
    Then I ran into a lovely woman (who coincidentally, had nursed 5 children), who put into words the smartest thing I’ve ever heard. “Kate, stop this. It’s stupid. You should be able to relax and bond with the baby at feeding time. That is NOT happening for you guys right now. Give him a bottle and cuddle. Because what you are doing is going to cause both of you to lose your minds. Lots of babies are fed formula every day, and they all end up healthy and happy.” Smart woman, my mother.
    I tried again with my second son. It should have worked. He latched on like a champ, he wanted to nurse. But he was starving. Because I never “let down.” Apparently, some women don’t. I never noticed with my first baby that I didn’t because it was so stressful. I ended up going to a couple of doctors to see why I didn’t let down my milk, but none of them could help me.
    I can tell you that it was much easier to formula-feed my second son once I realized that I wasn’t simply “screwing it up.” I tell people now that I didn’t nurse my kids because I was experiencing “mechanical failure.” It sure would have been easier if someone had told me to begin with that that was a possibility, rather than telling me how much I was ruining my child’s life because he didn’t eat exclusively breast milk.

  41. Missy says

    I too breastfed my children for sometime. My first child was in ICU and was fed trough a feeding tube. Every time he tried to nurse is blood sugar would plummet to dangerous levels. The NICU doctors and nurse told me that I could no longer nurse but encouraged me to pump and fed him through a feeding tube. Later he was given a bottle that kept him from having to work so hard to nurse. I was sent home devastated with the fact that I would never nurse him. But I was wrong, a group of elderly women and my mom encouraged me to keep trying. The taught me methods and old wives tales that helped me successfully switch my son to the breast. It took 4 weeks to fully make the transition from bottle to breast. After that time, I nursed him with no other supplements until he was 8 months old when I started introducing solid foods. He decided to wean himself at 18 months (because you have to be still to nurse and he was a very busy boy). My second child was a breeze. She took to the breast immediately. I nursed her until she weaned herself at 2 years old. This goes to prove that the encouragement of women can make or break a new nursing mother.

  42. says

    THANK YOU for writing this. I struggled with infertility for more than a decade and when I finally had a baby, I was thrilled but then felt horrible for not being able to produce enough milk to satisfy my baby girl. The breastfeeding Nazis told me that I was not doing it correctly (depsite all of my coaching), that I was not trying hard enough, I had to want this more (that hurt) and that I needed to take fenugreek/drink a beer/relax/etc. I pumped in between feedings to attempt to build up my supply. I gave up when my baby screamed out of hunger. I work as a counselor and happened to speak with a lactation nurse at a different hospital who told me that often women with hormonal problems like mine (I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) cannot lactate properly due to the hormone issues and to not be so hard on myself. What a refreshing bit of information.

  43. Ally Gillotte says

    I do have a question – I help to lead a breastfeeding support group and all my research says that diet does not affect the macronutrient content of the milk. Less food means less milk, and the type of fat you eat is reflected in your milk, but I remember a study involving upper class Swedish mothers and borderline-malnourished African mothers, some of the best and worst diets in the world, and they found that the protein/fat/carbohydrate content was identical, the malnourished mothers just produced less. Not trying to pick, just curious about where you got your information – we’re learning so many new things about breastfeeding all the time, and I want to know when my info goes out of date 😉

    • Kate Tietje says

      This comes from observation, when mothers are pumping and looking at their milk after it separates, when their diets vary. Perhaps it is just the saturated fat (i.e. the types of fat in the milk shift) that changes, and that’s why the cream is noticeably less. But it definitely has made a difference. To be optimal, babies really need a lot of that saturated fat and cholesterol, so mothers have to consume that.

  44. Kelci says

    I’m in tears as I write my comment. I, too, was attacked by annonymous lactivists on breast feeding forums I turned to for advice while trying to feed my newborn son. Even though I explained that breast feeding was more physically and emotionally excruciating than delivering my 10 pound baby naturally, I was bombarded with ridicule and judgement for pumping on occasion to rest my nipples. Now that my son is 5 weeks old and the pain only increases, I find out he is tongue-tied and has managed to break away more than half of one nipple and a quarter of the other. Maybe if these lactivists had suggested solutions to potential, common problems, I wouldn’t be in so much pain and feeling like the worlds worst mother for not being able to breast feed exclusively. Breast feeding should not be a cult; it should be a celebration. Shame on those that pass judgement and put others down for struggling.

  45. kristen says

    can i just say how THANKFUL i am you shared this. I just had my first baby-7 weeks now and he was aHUGE baby 10lb 7oz, he had a tounge tie, i had a nipple thing where i had to use a nipple shield to get him to nurse and have not had enough milk no matter what tips i tried, what supplements i tried, how much a ipumped he nursed etc so have had to supplement with formula (probably using more formula than i would like….

    i had so many ppl form all sides telling me different things- like formula is poision to the baby and i shouldnt use it (no matter that he kept loosing weight a couple weeks after he was born because he wasnt getting enough milk etc etc)… it SUCKS because it makes me feel like a HUGE failure for not being able to provide for my baby just breastmilk….. it breaks my heart that some people have said how bad it is that i would even think of using formula and how its something withwhat im doing….

    thanks for sharing this. i would like to ask, being 7 weeks old and supplementing with quite a but of formula, what suggestion would you have to increase milk supply to try to get to exclusively nursing him? (i feel like when i pump too i am not getting ANYTHING and often dont feel like i even have any milk) or is it a lost cause at this point?

  46. Christi says

    No one shows a kid learning to ride a bike how to ride not holding onto the handlebars. Breast-feeding is a skill like anything else. When you first learn, you are taught the most conservative version. You have to know the rules before you start breaking them. Let’s not justify women when they seek to be less than what God meant for them to be. Instead let’s give each other all the knowledge we need, with plenty of encouragement.

    With my first, I remember calling La Leche in tears because it was soo incredibly painful. But to me, failure was not an option so I knew that I had to find some way, any way. After all, what would my great great great great grandmother have done without that hospital-supplied can from Mr. Nestle? Obviously she would not have let her baby starve–she would have come up with a solution just like yours. But for most women, not breast-feeding means formula-feeding. Especially since in addition to losing this precious knowledge, we have also lost ready access to whole food.

    I understand some of your frustration with misinformed and self-righteous lactivists. But I hate to see the baby thrown out with the bath water. Learn everything to get the complete picture, but don’t take all of it to heart. Toss aside what you can’t use, but not the people who offered it, knowing that they are trying to help. And if you can’t find the information that you need to keep your baby at the breast, keep looking! I promise, it’s out there. When I was struggling, my answer came from a very unlikely source: a gruff, old farmer. He said when a mother cow has a sore teat, she kicks the calf off of that one until it is healed. I started nursing on the less-ouchy side and pretty soon I was healed (and a bit lop-sided).

    I am a lactivist because I truly believe that breast-feeding is God’s righteous plan, not because I myself am righteous. I can do all things through God who strengthens me!

  47. Grace says

    I breastfed my son for only 3 months. I was in so much pain, and the only thing lactation consultants told me was that I shouldn’t feel any pain- that I was doing it wrong. Turns out, it didn’t matter what I did, it still hurt and the pain wouldn’t go away… my baby was an aggressive sucker plain and simple. I have since has another child- a girl- that I nursed for a year. I didn’t have any problems with her at all. Everyone’s situation is different. My sister breastfed and supplemented because she couldn’t produce the hind milk that makes babies get all chubby… she changed her diet and everything. Her body just wouldn’t produce.

  48. Rebecca says

    Sorry that wasn’t my whole comment!
    The reality is now most women do start breastfeeding but stop before when THEY think is ideal and of course I think most people with the lactavist comments/advice want them to achieve that ( or more!). And I totally agree that support with practical solutions at the time, taking into consideration the baby, mother and situation is what is needed. All the textbook quotes and pressure/ guilt does not heal a sore nipple for example!
    Some people do not give breastfeeding a go because they hear it can be sore or “hard work” and i can see how people try to push breastfeeding and list all the benefits, as they are trying to do keep women going or to give breastfeeding a try.
    I really like your post.
    I had my first son before most of my friends had children and I had little support and every breastfeeding problem in the book the midwife gave me! I struggled but probably due to my stubborn nature and asking many people i didn’t know at all, for advice, me and he got through to . . . eventually a wonderful breastfeeding experience. Via pump, formula for a time, admission to hospital etc!
    I still struggle with how to convey this to first time pregnant friends as I want to ” warn them” there may be difficulties and to be prepared to ask for help but not scare them or put them off! I don’t tell anyone fully about what happened (except my mum and husband!) until after they have had a baby who is a few months old? And even then I just say it was hard for 6 weeks with my first son, and that he had a tongue tie which needed cut, then say sore but manageable only for 3 weeks with the next 2!
    However to people who haven’t had a baby I find virtually any comment sounds wrong! Now I try and say breastfeeding could go smoothly but your are likely to need advice at some stage and to be prepared for that. I feel like I am undermining their confidence! I also give them the number for an advice line that I trust! Any suggestions on doing it better would be great!

  49. Bridget says

    I nursed my first seven babies without any difficulty. They were chubby and grew beautifully. My eighth baby is now eight months old, and would not thrive on my breastmilk. She latched beautifully and nursed heartily, but cried pitifully and could not sleep well, and did not gain weight. We had her tied-tongue clipped…I took herbal supplements and drank nursing tea. We’ve been eating a nourishing traditions diet for years. Baby was blissfully relieved when I tearfully gave her the first bottle of formula. She didn’t want my breast after that, but I kept at it, always offering breast first. I tried a few times to wean her off the bottle, but that didn’t work. So, baby and I have made our peace with both breast and bottle. I refuse to starve my babies even if I’m judged harshly for it.

    • Jennifer Smith says

      Bridget- I love your story. I wish more women would know about situations like yours. They quickly assume most moms who “can’t” nurse just simply give up too soon or don’t “get it”. Obviously you do and you still had problems. It is not as easy as “lactivists” make it seem. I also love your statement “baby and I have made our peace with both breast and bottle”.

  50. Anna says

    Great post!
    When I had my now 2.5 year old daughter, I was adamant in my determination to breastfeed. The pain was so bad I cried and practiced deep-breathing techniques. I bought nipple guards and met with 2 lactation consultants. But five days after she was born, we took her for a check up and she’d already lost a pound-and she wasn’t big to begin with . The dr. suggested supplementing with formula while I tried to pump to get my milk supply up. Nevertheless, she was admitted to the hospital later that day with jaundice and dehydration. My milk never did really come in. I would use a hospital grade pump every two hours or so, and get half an ounce, sometimes, other times just drops. What I learned from that horrible experience is that I will not go through that again. Had I supplemented with formula a little earlier, we wouldn’t have ended up in the hospital. But people invoke the name of God, and feed our fears and insecurities about being a good mother. We each have to do what is best for our child, and sometimes that means feeding them whatever we can.
    With baby #2, due next month, I plan to try breastfeeding again-but not at any cost.

    • says

      Wow. I can so relate almost down to a T…nipple gaurds and all LOL.

      My son is 2 1/2 and I went through the same thing. Fenugreek pills, tea, a gazillion ounces of water a day pumping every two hours.

      I cried for days an felt like a failure. After three weeks I settled on a homemade goat milk formula and just breastfed what I had.

      I do pray you’re able to breastfeed with your second child.

      Blessings!

  51. says

    Kate, I love your honesty and I agree with EVERY WORD of this post. After 16 years of infertility, I had a beautiful baby girl. Everything I planned (natural birth, breastfeeding…) went not at all as I had planned. I had to have an unplanned c-section; and by day 4 of nursing, my daughter was getting more blood than milk. I started exclusively pumping, every time she would eat (10-12x daily). I had tons of milk, so I just didn’t understand. Lactation specialists told me to try different positions. Nothing helped. When she was 3 months, we moved, and I consulted another specialist in my new town. She stuck her finger in my daughter’s mouth and told me she had a palate that made latching properly very, very difficult and no wonder I bled. Meanwhile, I’m giving my daughter 100% breastmilk and still crying every day because I felt SO GUILTY that she was drinking it from a bottle and not from my breast. Lactivists made me feel worse, so I just stopped talking about it. I exclusively pumped for her for 9 months. I felt guilty the entire time. I still look back and grieve that nothing went as I had planned… and yet I look at my very healthy 3.5 year old and am glad I pumped as long as I did. And, BTW, I had nowhere close to an ideal diet. :-)

    • Cait says

      Wow, you should have been greatly respected for pumping as long as you did! That would take more commitment and trouble than a smooth ‘typical’ breastfeeding. Well done! I’m so sorry that you felt guilt instead and hope that that heals for you.

      Thank you for this post, Kate. I’ve always admitted to friends that ‘the first weeks are sore, but it shouldn’t last – and get as much help as you can!’ but this post is a good reminder to be gracious and remember that I don’t always know someone’s story, especially when they’re not a personal friend.

  52. Rena says

    Thank you so much for posting this! I tried so hard to breastfeed, but after two weeks of sweating and crying while she was crying and sweating and both of us exhausted, I stopped. It hurts my feelings to this day! I stopped because I thought I had “messed it up” like all of the negative comments you mentioned- dont give them a bottle right away, dont do this, do that or you’ll mess it up! So I gave up. Yet no one has sympathy for moms like me- Im a bad mom for feeding my (first ) baby what I could. If women were more helpful and supportive and understanding of each other instead of turning up their nose, it would be so helpful.

  53. Pauline says

    Well, I liked this. And I want to share my story because I had my share of opinionated people on both sides. I had been breastfeeding my baby for six months. My mother got extremely ill and lives overseas. i was told she would not make it. I had a passport and enough money for my ticket but not enough money for the baby, especially 750 to expedite her passport and I had to leave ASAP. I read literature on how to keep my supply, pumped as much as I could in reserve, put her on Organic formula and flew across the ocean to be with my mother. I drank teas 30 times a day, set an alarm to pump, kept to the same feeding schedule, and pumped in nasty public restrooms, airports, public buses with a little hand pump. people encouraged me to stop breasfeeding, and there were those that said my baby was more important than my mother, and others that asumed I was just done. Well, I breasfed until my daughter was two. I had no issues when I came back. I takes someone emotionally strong to breastfeed their kids but also to know their limits. I think it is awesome that you are breastfeeding three kids, good for you!!!!!!!!!

  54. Stefanie says

    I wholeheartedly agree! I was a determined mom, who enjoyed breastfeeding, as did my daughter. Unfortunately, due to insufficient glandular tissue, I never was able to exclusively breastfeed her. I did everything “right.” Yet, each time I sought the help of doctors and lactation consultants, I was given the “party line” breastfeed on demand (I did), pump after each feeding (i did). Take domperidone (I did, it was helpful, expensive and I gained 15 pounds on it pushing me to the “obese” category). Take fenugreek (yep), drink mother’s milk tea (i gulped that nasty stuff down daily). Eat oatmeal, lactation cookies, brewers yeast, take Goat’s Rue, flax seed, flax seed meal, don’t diet. Done, done, done, done, done , done, done, done. Daily for 9 months. “Don’t feed her while you are at work, try reverse cycling.

    Fortunately, our doctors had the sense to support me emotionally and encourage me to supplement. Lactivists, I am sorry that I did everything right, and proved you wrong. I would have LOVED to EBF, but I couldn’t and had I followed the “rules” and skipped supplementing we would have a little girl with “failure to thrive.”

    So yes, support breastfeeding mothers with honest information. And support mothers to make the best decision for her family. A depressed, stressed mom takes it’s toll on a baby, family and a spouse. We shouldn’t shame women who don’t or can’t breastfeed, and if a lady needs to stop breastfeeding so she can actually enjoy being a mom instead of being a rigid feed, supplement, pump, clean, pee and repeat schedule, good for her.

  55. Gretchen says

    I really enjoyed this post. I come from a long line of breastfeeding women, it was the obvious choice for me when I got pregnant with my first child. I took a breastfeeding class, I did a ton of research, heck, my grandmothers best friend is a lactation consultant! I had great resources. But even so, not one single person said to me, “breastfeeding is hard.” So when my daughter was born, I was totally blindsided. All the nurses at the hospital said my latch was great! I had high hopes. 4 days after my daughter was born, my milk came in. At my daughter’s two week checkup, she hadn’t gained any weight. The doctor told me I needed to supplement a couple feedings with a bottle. I was mortified. What was going wrong? I started paying more attention. My breasts never felt less full after a feeding, but they dripped liked crazy. How was she not getting any milk? I saw a specialist. Also said our latch was great. She told me to pump after every feeding and use a syringe and feeding tube that we taped to my nipple to help teach my daughter to suckle better. She was using me like a pacifier. After I started pumping, I realized my supply was incredibly low because we had gone so long without her eating correctly. I started pumping marathons, pumped every hour, even at night. I drank mothers milk tea, I ate oatmeal everyday for breakfast, I made lactation cookies. I did it all. Did I mention that getting her to latch to my nipple and the feeding tube was incredibly difficult. Her one month app came and she had only gained 3 oz. I was so tired and stressed and emotionally vulnerable. I gave up. My daughter is 6 months old and is in the 95 percentile for her weight! I still cry and have tons of guilt bcuz she is not breastfed. I do, however, feel I have a better chance of being successful with my next child. Breastfeeding is hard, especially as a new mother. And that isn’t said often enough.

  56. Ruth says

    My daughter, who is now eight, was a wonderful at breast feeding. I had her back in my arms within an hour of giving birth and she took right away. The next few days however were not as productive. I was stressed and was later diagnosed with PPD. Our first night home she would not latch and we both cried for hours until my husband took her and gave her a bottle of sugar water and told me to sleep. I will admit I panicked, you can’t give her a bottle she won’t go back to the breast! His response was to ask me to sleep, things would be better in the morning. Guess what, they were. Mommy was rested, baby was rested and while hungry, not screaming anymore. We tried again and were successful! Once I went back to work I pumped and she took both the breast and bottle just fine. I got her to about eight or nine months before I stopped. Happy to report she is very healthy!
    Things were not so smooth with my now four year old son. He was severely tongue tied and even after they snipped it he still could not open his mouth very wide which made nursing extremely painful. I tried and tried and cried and cried. I pumped all the time, or at least that is what it felt like… I was devistated that I did not have that bond with him… Three months later I stopped the madness and reluctantly gave him formula. Through the tears of guilt I watched as he sucked down bottle after bottle, but ya know what, he is happy and heatlhy.
    Both of my children are on the small side, but that has more to do with the fact that teir father and I are both five foot one! I’m sure people will say I gave up too early but I did what I could and like I said before, they are both heatlhy and that is what matters.

  57. Janice Grady says

    Thank you for this. I totally agree that the “problems” need to be discussed. I have 5 children that I have breastfed and all 5 of them have had a strong suck. I have bled with all of them during that adjustment period where my nipples were adjusting to a new baby. All I kept hearing with the first 3 was that I must be doing it wrong, it shouldn’t hurt. Ever. But every time I saw a lactation consultant they said we had a perfect latch and couldn’t figure out what we were doing “wrong”. After a couple of weeks the pain would go away and I would no longer be chapped. With my fourth I had the same issue but THIS time when I saw the lactation consultant she checked to make sure we were doing it correctly (which we were) and then she shrugged her shoulders and said “Sometimes they just suck like a Hoover”. I literally laughed out loud, as did my husband. I was so relieved to have someone finally say that we weren’t doing something wrong. That the pain was normal. I try to warn women of the probability that it will hurt and frequently they look at me like I’m crazy….until they find out that I am nursing my fifth child. Then they get curious and start asking questions.

  58. says

    Hi Kate!

    Great, thorough post, as always. But I think I would’ve added a word or something in the title, saying “I’m tired of *insensitive* lactivists,” or “I’m tired of *unrealistic* lactivists.” I will always call myself a *gentle* lactivist, and as long as there’s milk in my breasts I will try to breastfeed in public (gentle form of activism), smiling at whoever may pass by, nurse my kids until they’re well done (and explain to well meaning friends & family why it’s still got benefits, gently) and support any friend I know who has questions & is interested by being more than welcome to help & give my resources. I have a tab on my page that’s all about breastfeeding support! I think that there are too many women who are honestly against breastfeeding. The social atmosphere, and many CHURCHES atmosphere is NOT welcoming to breastfeeding–it is shaming. So little by little, through relationship and through my own positive image of nursing, I will be a gentle activist making a difference. : ) I was appalled recently that an old high school friend of mine deleted me off social media (she had been in my wedding, we had known each other over ten years) because she said didn’t know if she was “friends with me or my son, and was disgusted by my breastfeeding pictures,” and also said she was “embarrassed for my kid–one day someone might see those when he’s grown up!” HA. That is why I will continue to debunk the nonsense. That is why I will gently show people the truth about breastfeeding & help them realize that it can be great, and even if they haven’t had an experience with it (apparently she hadn’t) that it is important.

  59. says

    Thank you. Thank you thank you thank you. I’m two weeks into this nursing thing and struggling. We have a 37-week er who struggles with nursing, and for his first week we had to supplement with formula. I felt **so guilty.** for feeding him that horrible stuff. because I’m pumping like a maniac, he’s solely on breast milk now, but still not eating at the breast. His latch us weak and if he manages to suck anything he forgets to swallow. He’s eating well from a bottle, but I’ve been chided by more than one lactivist that he’ll never learn to nurse because I’m bottle feeding. There was no compassion or understanding for the uniqueness of our situation. These women didn’t seem to care he was healthy with a full tummy, or that I need TONS of support to continue trying to nurse and also pump so he eats.

    Thank you for sharing about your first struggles. I would love to hear more about that journey and any helpful tips you have for those of us in similar situations.

    I’m done with mommy-shaming and all of the things we say that make moms feel guilty for choosing what they believe to be best for their children. Thanks for speaking up!

  60. Hayley P says

    I, too, grow tired of the lactivists. My son was born tongue-tied, and because of flubs at the hospital, went quite some time before his tongue was finally clipped. He never got the hang of a proper latch. I was red-raw and bleeding from the bad nursing. upping didn’t quite work out, either. Finally, I resigned myself to formula feeding. I really wish I would have stuck with it longer, or that the problems hadn’t been there to begin with, but done is done. I have a very healthy, bouncing 2-year-old now. You couldn’t ask for a healthier, happier baby. Other then a minor ear infection and the occasional reflux episode as an infant, he is a picture of health.

    Despite all that, I got a whole helluva lot of flack from mommies who breastfed. Support would have been nice, but I got none. It sucked.

  61. Hilary says

    I could not agree more with everything in this post!! I am a first-time mom and happily EBF my almost-six-month-old, but he was born with a severe tongue tie and could not effectively breastfeed at birth. We had to have a laser surgery performed (not painful for baby but definitely expensive!) to continue breastfeeding, and in the beginning, while he was relearning, it was really tough. I supplemented with formula and pumped after every feeding, using an at-the-breast supplementer to give him formula and then eventually my pumped milk. It was hard — really hard. And it would have been so easy to give up! Luckily, I found an amazing LC who was able to come into my home and help me, and she saved my sanity. BUT. At the hospital, I was told 1) that it shouldn’t hurt or I was doing it wrong, 2) my child definitely DID NOT have a tongue tie (totally untrue), 3) that I should start pumping and hand expressing (but was given no context as to why or how or how often and was left completely overwhelmed, and a number of other things that left me near tears and unsure as to whether we’d make it to ever EBF. Thankfully, we did. But I have countless friends who have given up for all the reasons you mentioned, and the most recent of these gave birth to a large baby and was told — in the hospital! — that she would NEVER make enough milk for him and that she should consider always supplementing. Ummm, what?? How’s that for encouragement, right? I think the way we approach new moms about breastfeeding really needs to change. I absolutely love our breastfeeding (and co-sleeping, which wouldn’t be possible without the breastfeeding) relationship, and I feel like any woman who wants to and is able to experience this gift really should. With the appropriate support, I know that can be a reality.

Trackbacks

  1. […] So much of what you hear, read, are told, etc. is just hokey. Bogus.  Not true! There are some truths behind “best practices” to establishing/maintaining/or otherwise messing with your milk supply (if you decided to breastfeed that is – if not they hooray! one less thing for you to worry about!) My suggestion is to find a few good resources and consult them. And then use common sense as well.  Try and steer clear of simply ‘Googling’ and the mass amount of forums that are out there, they can be helpful at times… but often they can be filled with “lactivists” who will not only give you incorrect information, but make you feel just plain awful… for no good reason! More on that here. […]

  2. […] So much of what you hear, read, are told, etc. is just hokey. Bogus.  Not true! There are some truths behind “best practices” to establishing/maintaining/or otherwise messing with your milk supply (if you decided to breastfeed) My suggestion is to find a few good resources and consult them. And then use common sense as well.  Try and steer clear of simply ‘Googling’ and the mass amount of forums that are out there. They can be helpful at times… but often they can be filled with “lactivists” who will not only give you incorrect information, but make you feel just plain awful… for no good reason! More on that here. […]



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