I Am Back From My Breastfeeding Battle And Here’s What I Have Learned

Hopefully, my experiences will help another family avoid the psychological trauma that I endured while breastfeeding my daughter. This is what I learned:

  • Sacrificing your mental health or your baby’s health (or both!) to exclusively breastfeed is not worth it. 
  • Some breastfeeding advocates don’t see (or don’t want to see) the risks of exclusive breastfeeding which include a baby who isn’t gaining weight sufficiently, an emotionally suffering mum, or a strained mother–baby relationship.  
  • Seek help from lactation professionals who are open-minded enough to suggest combo-feeding as an option and are willing to support your choice because sometimes exclusive breastfeeding is not an option.

While pregnant, when imagining myself with my new baby, I was always breastfeeding her. That image defined my new role as a mum. I was glowing with love, she was happily eating, and I felt so proud of being able to provide her with “the best.”  There was no alternative in my mind. I was planning on staying at home for a whole year anyway, so it would be easy to breastfeed her for as long as I wanted. I had heard that some women didn’t exclusively breastfeed for long, but I simply wasn’t going to be one of them. I didn’t even care about what their reasons were. I always thought that if you tried enough, it would work. It was natural, so nature was going to work for me and my baby. Right? Wrong.

Breastfeeding has been one of the least natural things I have ever experienced. 

I was lucky enough to be blessed with a wonderful pregnancy and a beautiful, natural birth. I was waiting for my daughter to crawl to my breast and start suckling right after, but she soon fell asleep instead. She spent the first 24 hours mostly sleeping and didn’t eat at all. We then started giving her formula and my expressed colostrum and went on to give her a bottle of formula the next day, as she was dehydrated and had lost 10 percent of her birth weight. I was still hopeful that once my milk came in, things would fall into place and she would be exclusively breastfed.

Babies cry when they are hungry, I was told. Mine didn’t. I had to wake her up and literally force her to latch. For the next few weeks, I triple fed her: I woke her up every three hours, which took several minutes; tried to breastfeed her using a nipple shield (I say try because those 15 minutes on each side were spent trying to keep her awake after an initial latch and a couple of weak sucks—she almost never activated my letdown reflex); then my husband would give her a bottle of formula or pumped milk, which she would gulp right down; then I would pump for 30 minutes. Every three hours. Needless to say, I hardly slept. Because she wouldn’t really stimulate my breasts, I got mastitis and, I realized later, a low supply. I was a wreck and could hardly utter a sentence without crying. Why was it so hard for us? Why did she prefer the bottle instead of my breast? My only duty during those first months was to feed her. I felt like I was failing as a mum already. 

Unfortunately, triple feeding has become the default method that is recommended by medical and lactation professionals for a large number of breastfeeding challenges, with no regard to the psychological maternal complications that will eventually occur, or the likelihood of it solving the problem of low milk supply.

Despite people telling me that it was ok to “give up and feed her formula,” I was determined to make it work. Because again, in my mind, there was no alternative. So I made an appointment with a lactation consultant who gave us an SNS system, forbade us from using the bottle to avoid nipple confusion, and put me on a medication that promotes milk production. I would again try to nurse, then use the SNS system with my pumped milk or formula, then pump—so basically still triple feeding. My girl was still very sleepy, had a weak suck, and was not putting on a lot of weight. I could only nurse her at home because it was too complicated to use the SNS system outside. She was already two months old at this time. I was yearning to go out and meet other people. My soul was lonely. I was lonely. I wanted to be one of those smiling, calm mums who breastfeed their babies anywhere. I wanted to experience feeding her without it being a struggle every single time. 

At some point and when my baby was around three months old, I was given the green light to exclusively breastfeed her by this lactation consultant.

I was pumping enough milk to supplement her feedings—a set amount which didn’t really take into account whether or not she was satisfied—so “no more pumping, no more SNS,” she said. I hardly felt ready for it, but I followed her advice nonetheless because she was the expert.  

My daughter was and still is a very “easy” baby. In those early days, she hardly ever cried from hunger. I realised much later that I wasn’t interpreting her hunger cues correctly, but nobody had told me how to. After we stopped bottle-feeding her with formula, she only put on 100 g maximum per week, for weeks on end.

I kept asking the lactation consultant if this was ok, and she said that I simply had a thin baby, that the average is 150 g per week, so “a little bit less than that is fine.” But a voice inside me was telling me that it wasn’t fine. Something just didn’t feel right. 

This picture clearly shows how extreme lactivism will sacrifice a baby to sustain exclusive breastfeeding even though babies are malnourished. How can anyone believe the baby on the right is not malnourished?

I started getting so worried about her eating enough that every single nursing session would almost be preceded by a panic attack and the same torturing thoughts: “Will she have enough? Is she having enough? Has she had enough?” These panic attacks got so bad that at times my letdown would literally disappear, leaving her hungry. But I still wasn’t “allowed” to give her a bottle of formula. It was obvious that despite all our efforts, things weren’t quite working out for us. Breastfeeding had become a never-ending battle.

Only my husband saw what this whole effort was doing to me. The tears before and after a nursing session, the agony of countless clogged ducts, the frustration of having to take antibiotics because of another breast infection. I was slowly reaching a point of postpartum depression when I decided to hear the voice that was telling me that my baby wasn’t getting enough. I gave her a bottle with formula and started my own version of unguided combo-feeding. I didn’t let the lactation consultant know; I felt like I would be disappointing her somehow.

I realise now how wrong that was. Nobody should have a say as to how I feed my baby except for me.  

According to Fed is Best’s feeding plan, my baby and I had many of the risk factors for feeding complications. Giving her formula at the very beginning was not only not a mistake, it was necessary. She is now exclusively formula fed, and even though I am entirely sure of my choice to end our breastfeeding journey, it still hurts.

I live in a country where breastfeeding is the norm. Wherever I go, whatever I do, I see women breastfeeding their babies. Breastfeeding grief and trauma are real, and they are not about the baby.  How do you get over a trauma when you’re confronted with it over and over again anyway? I am still working that one out, with the help of a therapist. 

These results suggest that public responses causing a mother to feel guilty for using infant formula result in negative feelings of self-worth and dysfunctional maternal behaviors.

 

I wish I had discovered the  Fed is Best  Foundation before, or had a professional to turn to when I decided that combo-feeding was the way to go.  Who knows?  If the weight of “all or nothing” had been lifted earlier, if I didn’t feel like giving formula meant that I had failed, if I had been given—and given myself—permission, perhaps I would still be breastfeeding on my own terms right now.

-Jannie R.

Mothers Describe Their Triple Feeding Experiences And The Impact It Had On Their Mental And Physical Health

Liquid Courage Sometimes Comes In The Form Of Baby Formula

 

Feeding Your Baby—When Supplementing Saves Breastfeeding and Saves Lives

I Attempted Suicide From The Pressure Of Breast Is Best

Clinicians’ Guide to Supporting Parents with Guilt About Breastfeeding Challenges

Infant Feeding Educational Resources

 

Contact Us/Volunteer

 

 

 

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Liquid Courage Sometimes Comes In The Form Of Baby Formula

Written by: Sarah L. R.

“I think it would be very courageous for you to do this.” 

My psychiatrist leaned forward in his chair, clasped his hands together, and smiled at me. 

Grabbing a tissue from the box on the table, I sniffed, “Then why do I feel like the biggest coward for making this decision?!” 

“Sarah, what’s braver than making sure you’re the best mother you can be?”

It took several more conversations and even more tissues, but eventually, I made the decision to forgo breastfeeding entirely, and feed my daughter formula milk from birth. In doing so, I hoped to avoid postpartum depression and anxiety that haunted my earlier experiences as a new mother. 

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Fed Is Best- And I’m Fed Up!

“Are you breastfeeding or formula feeding?”  I cringed as I overheard a complete stranger asking my husband this question while we were shopping for baby clothes. “Formula,” my husband replied. “I can’t believe she asked you that!” I exclaimed as she walked away. “How is that any of her business?” He shrugged and replied, “maybe she’s pregnant and is trying to figure out if she should breastfeed.” “It’s still none of her business,” I said. “If she had asked me, I would have said we’re breastfeeding.” 

Yes, that’s right, I would have lied to a random woman because I was afraid she would judge me. Despite my anger at this stranger, however, I wasn’t necessarily worried about what she thought of me; it was about what I thought of me. I felt guilty about formula feeding. 

It wasn’t that I didn’t try to breastfeed. It just happened that my nursing journey didn’t exactly work out the way I’d planned, and not a day goes by that I don’t feel bad or like I somehow failed my son for my inability to breastfeed. 

New moms are faced with a barrage of breastfeeding materials and recommendations. The baby books tout the benefits of breastfeeding, and the hospitals march lactation specialists into your room to show you proper breastfeeding techniques and how to pump. I took the prenatal breastfeeding class the hospital offered and followed all of the directions from the lactation consultants. We were never told during our breastfeeding classes,  nor was it mentioned in any of breastfeeding books, that it may not work out… and more importantly, that you’re not a complete failure if you can’t breastfeed. 

 The lactation consultants in the hospital informed us that he might not be able to transfer any milk from me because he had a ‘slight’ tongue-tie and early on my supply was very low. To attempt to stimulate my milk supply, the lactation consultants encouraged me to start pumping the day after he was born. Since he wasn’t latching properly and couldn’t transfer the tiny amount of colostrum I  had his blood sugar plummeted, and the medical staff in the hospital advised us to supplement with formula. “It’s only temporary,” I thought. “We’ll get this all worked out exactly as I planned.”

When we left the hospital, however, things did not look up in the breastfeeding department. The pediatrician advised me to “triple-feed” and have my son latch on both sides to stimulate the hormones for milk production, and then have my husband bottle feed him while I pumped. We did this every three hours, and honestly, the three of us were miserable; my baby cried and screamed when I would try to get him to latch. I was experiencing postpartum anxiety and feared that I could not take care of my son or be the mother I needed to be. 

And of course, all this stress and anxiety didn’t help my milk supply. I couldn’t sleep because my brain was clouded with thoughts that I would somehow hurt my baby because I couldn’t breastfeed, that something would go wrong because I couldn’t give him the nourishment he needed. I would dread feeding time because it was just a constant reminder of my inability to produce for my son and my self-inflicted feelings of inadequacy.

 

Sleep deprivation has very serious consequences. As health professionals, we need to protect maternal mental health when developing complicated breastfeeding plans. Very serious sleep deprivation conditions while triple feeding has resulted in postpartum depression, anxiety, psychosis, deteriorating physical health, and serious accidents.

In those first few weeks, I was unable to comfort my baby when he cried because I couldn’t hold him without trembling from nerves and anxiety. I immediately thought this meant I was a bad mom and didn’t have the “mom instinct” I heard so much about while I was pregnant. When I was beside myself with anxiety and fear, I remember feeling like I was just a burden to my family. If my husband could just give our son a bottle, it would be easier for him if I wasn’t around, and then he wouldn’t have a baby plus an erratic, emotional wife to take care of. I told Drew this one night between my shaking and uncontrollable sobs

He hugged me and told me, “Your son needs you, and I do, too. I can’t do this without you and I wouldn’t want to. We will get through this.”

I  read countless books and articles about breastfeeding and was convinced I was doing my baby a disservice if I chose not to breastfeed. We had a consultation to potentially reverse the tongue tie, but even the ENT told us it was minor and may not be necessary.

My husband was right there in the trenches with me, trying to make breastfeeding work because he knew it was important to me. But he also stressed the importance of taking care of myself, and knew I couldn’t be the best mom and partner when I was riddled with depression, anxiety, fear, and constant thoughts of inadequacy. He sat and listened patiently and empathetically through countless tear-filled conversations.

“This is our decision, it’s not up to anyone else,” he told me. Even with his support, however, I told him if we ended up going full formula, I didn’t want anyone to know. “We’ll just say I’m pumping and bottle feeding,” I told him with tears welling up in my eyes.

Despite my reservations, we decided to exclusively formula feed. We put the breast pump and all its pieces in storage. Looking at it was a constant reminder of what I’d perceived to be my personal failure—but we made our decision and we were sticking to it. 

Although part of me felt like I simply gave up on my son, my anxiety instantly lessened when I stopped pumping and being constantly angry at myself for my low milk supply. The trouble I had comforting my baby vanished. I was more calm and confident. It seemed like I instinctively knew what to do to take care of my son, when just a few days before I had felt lost and hopeless. My sense of humor came back, and I enjoyed my time with my baby versus feeling like I couldn’t provide for him. I could actually smile, make jokes, and admire my beautiful little boy. I still felt uneasy about the decision, but I also felt more emotionally and mentally available for my family.

We’re all just doing the best we can. Your best may look different from someone else’s, but that doesn’t give us the right to pass judgment or lecture anyone else for their decisions or parenting style. We are women, which means by nature we’re too hard on ourselves. If you’re a mom and you’re anything like me, you’re constantly raking yourself over the coals and your own mom-guilt is worse than anything that could come from another mom. 

While the love for our little ones seems to come so naturally, let us not forget to love each other, and most importantly, to love ourselves. 

Who knows what my son will grow up to be, but what I do know is this: I couldn’t feed him the way I wanted to, but that doesn’t mean I can’t give him an unlimited supply of unconditional love, kisses, cuddles, support, and life lessons. I couldn’t be the food supply he needed, but I will do everything in my power to be the mom he deserves.

 

To my son: I may not have been able to give you my milk, but you always have my whole heart and all of my love. ~MT

The Fed Is Best Foundation will always be my voice. They speak for so many families by listening without any judgment or shame and I am grateful. 

 


Contact Us/Volunteer

Mothers Describe Their Triple Feeding Experiences And The Impact It Had On Their Mental And Physical Health

Maternal Mental Health Feels Like it Comes Second to Breastfeeding When It Should Be First

My Inability to Exclusively Breastfeed Was a Constant Destructive Force in My Life After My Son’s Birth – I Had a Suicide Plan

The Breastfeeding Support I Received Almost Killed Me And My Daughter; I’m Still Suffering From Breastfeeding Trauma

Clinicians’ Guide to Supporting Parents with Guilt About Breastfeeding Challenges

I Attempted Suicide From The Pressure Of Breast Is Best

I Shared My Story a Year Ago And I Was Told To Go Kill Myself – How I Am Healing

 

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Mothers Describe Their Triple Feeding Experiences And The Impact It Had On Their Mental And Physical Health

Written by The Fed Is Best Foundation Lactation Consultant Team

Part 1: What is “triple feeding?” 

Triple feeding originated in the NICU and was used for premature infants. It is now being used for full-term babies, especially in home environments. Triple feeding is a breastfeeding plan in which, for every feeding, a mother feeds her baby at the breast, followed by immediate pumping, and then giving any expressed milk (and/or formula supplement) to the infant by a bottle, cup, syringe, or through a tube at the breast. Triple feeding requires a considerable amount of effort and time, and there is little time between feedings for the mother to take care of her own basic needs, such as sleep, eating, and hygiene.

Many mothers who have followed this regimen say that they were given little guidance on how long to triple feed and when to stop.  As a result, these mothers have endured the equivalent of caring for triplets (feeding a baby at the breast, “feeding” the pump, then feeding a bottle). In addition, there are pump parts to wash up to eight times a day, and sometimes other children to care for.

“I didn’t eat or drink for days because of the time constraints of triple feeding. By the time my baby was admitted to the hospital on day 5 of life, I lost consciousness and then broke down in the corner of his room from profound exhaustion. I’m a doctor and had done surgical and anesthesia residency. I’m used to sleep deprivation. Those five days were hell on earth. Not only did it not work, I unknowingly starved my baby under the care of lactation professionals.  They knew I had a breast reduction, but I was told to triple feed without a back up plan. That week of my life lives over and over in my head all the time.” —Dr. N. King 

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I Want To Tell Mothers That Bottle Feeding Is Also Beautiful

 

Kristen Elise Umunna
Kristen joined the Fed Is Best Foundation’s Mental Health Advocacy Team to be a voice for mothers, especially mothers of color who are struggling to breastfeed and are experiencing shame for feeding their babies formula.
‘ I want to be a voice that tells every mother that bottle feeding is also beautiful and formula is the best nutrition for the babies who are being nourished by it.’

My story:

February 12, 2014. I was just 1 day postpartum after delivering my firstborn and I remember bawling my eyes out. The nurses at the time were assuring me that I was doing everything “wrong” in regards to feeding my daughter. They woke me out of my sleep at least 7 times in one night to feed my baby and they assured me she was getting enough to eat. One nurse told me to stop crying about breastfeeding pain as it is going to hurt! “If you want to build your supply, you have to keep going!” Never has I felt like more of a failure.

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I Attempted Suicide From The Pressure Of Breast Is Best

When I first wrote this blog post, I was blown away by how many mothers related to my breastfeeding story. So many women reached out to let me know I wasn’t alone, and shared nearly identical stories. Which made me both relieved, and also very sad that this mental health side of breastfeeding isn’t talked about enough. I don’t understand why so many people act like it doesn’t happen and don’t talk about it. We can SAVE lives if we DO talk about it!

I was just as equally shocked to see how many mothers thought that I should have kept breastfeeding anyway, even if it meant resenting my son, and being nothing more than a food source and a shell of a person. My story has been picked apart by many lactivists, from accusing me of being selfish, to thinking I just didn’t have enough support or encouragement. I had more than enough support for breastfeeding, but very little support for switching to formula when I knew it was best for my own mental health, and for my son. I can’t fathom telling a mom she’d better breastfeed or might as well be dead. I’m not against breastfeeding. I successfully breastfed my second baby for almost a year! But I don’t believe in breastfeeding at all costs, especially at the expense of the mother’s health, and that includes her mental health. A mother’s mental and emotional health are just as important as her baby’s health. Not every mom gets that oxytocin-induced happy breastfeeding experience. Sometimes it’s the opposite, and those moms need support and recognition too.

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How Do I tell the Hospital I Don’t Want A Lactation Consultant Visit When I Deliver My Next Baby?

Dear Fed Is Best Foundation,

Thank you for everything that you do! Your organization has made me feel so much better about my situation and personal needs. I did have a question for you though, although I should probably explain my situation first. My daughter is now 14 months old. When I was pregnant with her, I had preeclampsia from about 28 weeks onward. I had to take maternity leave eleven weeks sooner than planned because my job as a full-time middle school substitute teacher was too stressful on my blood pressure. I went to the hospital at 37 weeks with a blood pressure of 177/100, and they decided to induce me. After 45+ hrs of labor, followed by an emergency c-section, Clara was born three weeks early.

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Maternal Mental Health Feels Like it Comes Second to Breastfeeding When It Should Be First

This story is for you mommas whose mental health feels like it comes second to breastfeeding, when it should be first.

I have a long history of mental illnesses in my family. I inherited most of them. While they do not define me, they are a part of me. I have Bipolar 1 Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder and a Panic Disorder.

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The Breastfeeding Support I Received Almost Killed Me And My Daughter; I’m Still Suffering From Breastfeeding Trauma

This is hard for me to write. My breastfeeding experience is a trauma that I don’t like to relive but is undoubtedly the biggest cause of my postnatal depression and anxiety (PNDA). But perhaps I can save someone else unnecessary pain and heartache. I know some will disagree, but hopefully, my story can be a tiny cog in the wheel of feeding guideline reform.

Going into pregnancy, I knew Fed is Best. I decided I would attempt breastfeeding but if it didn’t work out, there’s always formula. Simple. Now, I’m a scientifically minded person. I respect those in the field and the scientific consensus. As I progressed through my antenatal appointments, it became clear. The general consensus is, the breast is best, at all costs, with an inference that ‘formula is dangerous’. By the time my daughter was born, I had made up my mind. If other people formula fed, I wouldn’t judge, but I was going to breastfeed no matter what. I’d get all the help I needed.

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Thank You, Thank You, Thank You From The Bottom Of My Heart

 

I just want to say thank you so much for your foundation’s web page and support group. I can’t say thank you enough! This is exactly the support system I have needed in my life since my daughter was admitted into the hospital at 3 weeks old due to failure to thrive.

This was worst experience of my life as a new mama and when the doctor told me my daughter could have died I was broken.

Because of the intense pressure, I felt the need to exclusively breastfeed my daughter. Yet for the 3 weeks that I tried I had no idea that I was starving my daughter ? My midwife was absolutely useless and she is a the biggest reason why this happened to us as she told me to keep breastfeeding and everything was fine. Long story short, I just didn’t have enough milk, and I didn’t find out until after my daughter was admitted to the hospital. This was the worst feeling in the world.  Formula is the only reason my daughter is alive today.  Formula saved my daughter’s life!

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