There is so much pressure to breastfeed and to get it right. And there’s a lot of information on the internet that suggests that you may be a bad mom if you don’t at least try to breastfeed. (Spoiler alert: You’re not.) To know whether or not breastfeeding is right for you is a tough question and unfortunately Google and Pinterest are incredibly unhelpful.
My journey to stop breastfeeding and formula feed exclusively was ultimately the beginning of my journey to become the DGAF mom. You’ll see what I mean.
But before you make a decision to stop or to continue, let’s take a closer look at why you may be having such a hard time with this and maybe, hopefully, find a way to figure out what is best for you and your family.
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Sorting Through the Pressure of Breast is Best
More than likely, without even realizing it, you’ve been pressured to breastfeed. Even if you really wanted to breastfeed all along it’s not something you decided to do in a vacuum.
Before I had given birth I was firmly in the breast is best category of all things baby related but I honestly can’t track back how much of that was my own decision or how much was being presented that message over and over and over again. And I’m not talking from doctors or even from advertisements.
I was three months pregnant with Jack when I had lunch with a friend who casually mentioned how “easy” breastfeeding was, and how the people who struggle are just doing it wrong. “Make sure you have the whole nipple inside the baby’s mouth. Then you’ll be fine.”
I was six months pregnant when I started regurgitating advice I’d seen on Facebook mommy groups about using breastmilk for an eye infection. (Please don’t do this. Please see a pediatrician.)
I had plans to breastfeed for “at least a year.”
I attended meetings with lactation consultants and expert pediatricians who kept telling me how much of a good mom I was for making the choice to feed my baby breastmilk exclusively.
Have you had conversations like this?
I had big goals for my breast feeding journey and this unrelenting peer pressure contributed to it.
My body had other plans.
The Myth That Anyone Can Breastfeed
If you Google terms related to women not being able to breastfeed you’ll find that a lot of lactation consultants and nurses often quote that less than 5% of women cannot breastfeed.
This is a lie.
I want to say that again. You are being lied to about how many women can and cannot breastfeed.
The truth is, there is no accurate number or percentage of women who can breastfeed because a thorough peer reviewed study conducted with a large enough sample size to account for a control group and offering variance of women from socioeconomic backgrounds ages, and locations has never been conducted.
This article in Grounded Parents sites two of the most well known studies that attempted to reveal if there are women who have difficulty breastfeeding and why.
The first study conducted in 1990 sourced 319 women who were mostly college educated and motivated to breastfeed. Of the women studied, 4% appeared to have low supply.
The second study consisted of only 34 mothers who exhibited symptoms of lactation insufficiency either just prior to delivery or immediately following known as mammary hypoplasia or insufficient glandular tissue.
Of the women in this study, 85% of them were unable to produce enough milk to sustain their baby’s needs for adequate growth suggesting that women with hypoplasia may be at a higher risk for being unable to breastfeed.
The limitations of this study are vast, however, as there was no control group and there were only 34 women studied who had already been diagnosed with hypoplasia.
Fun fact: I didn’t know what hypoplasia was until I started researching this article…wait for it…5 1/2 years after I gave birth to my first child. And based on my very unscientific review of this study I am seriously questioning if I perhaps have it (and will be sure to ask at my next OBGYN appointment).
In fact, I didn’t know what I didn’t know in all things breastfeeding when I was in the throws of trying to keep my baby alive on as little sleep as possible.
And yet the assumption that I would be good at breastfeeding superseded any lack of knowledge that I had.
And because I didn’t know any of this when I was trying to breastfeed, instead, I believed the statistic. Something wasn’t wrong with me. Instead, I had do whatever it takes to fix it.
The Benefits of Breastfeeding May Be Overly Inflated
According to this study in the Journal Pediatrics, doctors examined the benefits of breastfeeding beyond what can be scientifically proven by studying the compounds under a microscope or through testing. I.e. the long term cognitive effects of having fed your child formula, or breastmilk.
What the scientists sought to discover in this monumental study is whether or not breast feeding improved a child’s chances of success in language, problem solving, and cognition.
They studied over 8,000 toddlers between 3- 5 years old who were either breastfed as babies or fed formula.
They found mothers who were both statistically and clinically different and acknowledged that often younger, less educated mothers tend to not be able to breast feed at all due to socioeconomic limitations.
The report concluded that formula fed babies did not score lower than their breastfed counterparts on cognitive testing. This ultimately suggests that if there is a link between breastfeeding and increased intelligence it may have more to do with a person’s privilege to available educational resources and financial stability rather than some sort of secret magic ingredient in the mother’s breast milk.
How Breastfeeding Can Hurt Your Baby
I don’t want to be a fear monger but having been as close to this as we were I think it’s important that someone tell you that there’s a very small chance that you can starve your baby.
Failure to thrive is a serious condition and we were ridiculously close to having Jack be diagnosed as such.
There are of course, actual horror stories of babies who have died because they were encouraged to be exclusively breastfed. Please don’t read the article I just linked if you’re a brand new mom. Just know a baby died because against her instincts everyone around her told her to just keep the baby on her breast and eventually he would get enough. This story ended very badly.
If there is any doubt about whether or not your baby is able to thrive, please consult with a qualified medical professional who can help you accurately determine if your baby is getting enough.
Enfamil has a helpful guide about the signs to look for to tell if your baby is starving. And I suggest that you use it as a guide to consult along with your pediatrician.
Alternatively consider meeting with a qualified lactation professional or ask your pediatrician to test your baby’s weight before and after a feeding to assess whether or not he is getting enough food.
I did the latter.
When my baby was a little over two weeks old, I learned that he was likely receiving .5 ounces of milk in one hour from both of my breasts. According to this newborn feeding chart, a formula fed baby will typically eat between 2 -3 ounces per feeding by three weeks old
When the lactation consultant saw these staggeringly low numbers, she instantly reached into her stash of formula and insisted I feed the baby right then and there.
So I did. He drank almost the entire two ounce bottle of formula.
But I stubbornly figured I just needed to work harder to make my milk come in.
How Alike Are Breastmilk and Formula?
Recently a viral YouTube video surfaced of a mom placing a drop of her breastmilk under a microscope with the intention of examining how it looked up close compared to formula.
She exclaimed, “It’s alive!”
And it was. The cells are essentially moving around. And also there was clearly the presence of some white blood cells and some varying degrees of sizes in fatty acid cells.
They then placed a drop of mixed formula under the slide and found it to be… well less alive.
It’s not coming out of a live human.
But other than this sort of “showy” example the two were more alike than they were different. They both possessed important amino acids, proteins, and carbohydrates. And all of the essential nutrients for a baby to grow and thrive.
When I read the article that references this here, I’ll admit I was a bit triggered. Even though the author starts out by acknowledging how difficult breastfeeding can be, they still somehow pull it back to be about how fascinating breast milk is, which makes me feel those old familiar guilty feelings.
However, when I put my researcher hat on, I can see why they’re so excited. Like, look at this super cool thing humans can do! And then I think, good for you humans that can do it! Humans are awesome! Look how we’ve survived!
But for the rest of us who didn’t get picked for team breastfeeding it can still feel a little like salt in the wound.
My take away from the article was that it’s comforting to learn that the similarities between formula and breastmilk at a basic ingredient level are so so very close. Which is an impressive feat for science too. And pretty dang miraculous.
Yay! Good for your formula scientists! (And Thank you!)
The Reality of How Hard Breastfeeding Can Be For Some Women
Almost as soon as my son was born, everything came crashing down in a burning ring of nipple fire.
Within a week, Jack lost a pound and was turning dangerously jaundice. We were ordered a bilirubin light, and he was forced to be swaddled in it 24 hours a day for three weeks.
Because he wasn’t peeing or pooping enough, I was encouraged to feed him formula until my “milk came in” to help him gain weight and process jaundice out of his system. But I was extremely resistant.
When I think back to this sleeplessly traumatic hormonal time, this is the first time I was ever shown how to use formula.
We Can Confuse First Time Moms With Messages of Breast is Best
I had no intention of feeding my baby formula ever and I’m pretty certain I was never taught how to use formula or that it was a viable choice at any stage of my pregnancy.
It was assumed by my doctor, doula, and anyone who would be in my first time mom presence that I would breastfeed and even if I had trouble at first, that I would continue to breastfeed until the baby was a year old. That I would be able to push through the pain, and the exhaustion and make it work for me.
That I would be so glad in the end.
When I took a tour at the local hospital I was told that it was a certified Baby friendly hospital because it supports the natural bonding that occurs right after a baby is born and is especially supportive of breast feeding. When I was pregnant the first time, this was exciting.
None of them spoke with me about what to look for if my baby becomes dehydrated. Or how to tell if my milk had come in yet.
After Jack was born I was thrilled to be visited by a steady stream of lactation consultants who confirmed that I was born to breastfeed based on the size and positioning of my nipples, and on the perfect latch that my little babe had established.
They would sit with me for what felt like eternity while the baby sucked probably nothing out of my body and commend me on my brilliant choice to feed my baby liquid gold.
I walked out of that hospital feeling like I was a really good mom because I chose to breastfeed and after all it was best!
Formula Feeding vs. Breastfeeding
I was producing milk but not a lot of it.
My baby was also sleeping a lot which was weirdly deceiving. I later learned this excess sleep might have been a symptom of his jaundice, where the baby conserves energy by sleeping more, making you think that you’re actually feeding him plenty (when you may not be).
Jack was seriously underweight. In the 4th percentile at his lowest. I stubbornly believed formula would be temporary.
I drank the teas, sipped the herbs, ate the “breast milk cookies,” drank tons of water, ate oatmeal, but still, I was recommended to feed him for ten minutes on each side, and then ten minutes on the pump, every two hours, night and day around the clock.
I also fed him formula after every single feeding.
Low Supply Wasn’t My Only Problem
Simultaneously, I had developed debilitating carpal tunnel from the hormones involved in breastfeeding.
Anytime I asked about the pain in my wrists, doctors, pediatricians, lactation consultants showed me how to adjust my hold to mitigate the discomfort (which was absolute bullshit because nothing could alleviate the pain at that point).
No one told me anything about a hormonally induced carpal tunnel. Google to the rescue for that one.
Oh and also anytime he drank my breast milk he would promptly projectile vomit it everywhere. He was not projectile vomiting the formula.
The odds were stacked against us in so many ways.
Please don’t mistake my list of issues as being a check list for you as in you must have two or three problems before you can give up breastfeeding. Even if you produce a fuck ton of milk, and you just don’t want to do it anymore, I support you and think that’s a very smart decision to make.
And spoiler alert your baby is probably going to be way more than fine if you stop because…
You’re Also a Good Mom If You Want to Formula Feed Your Baby
It took me weeks to decide that I wanted to exclusively feed my baby formula. Even with all the struggles we were navigating, I couldn’t let go of the idea that I was supposed to be able to do this.
But finally, after navigating weeks of debilitating carpal tunnel that kept me up in the wee hours, acid reflux symptoms in my baby boy from any breast milk I produce, and ultimately the fear that I will never be able to make enough milk anyway, I threw in the breastfeeding towel.
Looking back, this was probably the beginning of my DGAF identity.
I realized at some point that the struggle to fight this uphill battle was dangerous both to me, my sanity, my health and wellbeing, and my baby’s health.
And while I grieved, aching, profound grief at the idea that my body failed me in this specific way. I was also so incredibly relieved.
How Sticky Breast Is Best Mantras Can Be
I attempted to breastfeed my second son when he was born. And even though I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be, I still listened patiently to all the nurses and lactation consultants about how each baby is different.
But then the first night in the hospital, Sam woke up scream/crying in a way that was hauntingly familiar. I could also hear his stomach growl through the cries.
I vowed not to make the same mistake as I had with Jack and whipped out the formula I packed, (just in case the hospital gave me shit about wanting to feed formula), and fed him without any of the shame.
I lasted a full week breastfeeding Sam, and this time I didn’t pump at all at night. I didn’t even really pump all that much during the day because I knew how this story ended and I didn’t want to read it anymore.
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Formula Feeding
Breastfeeding is the recommended or preferred way of feeding your baby according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. And while I am inclined to want to trust my doctors and this established organization, I’ve also learned that there’s limited research on this topic beyond the scope of how great breast milk is for protecting your baby from illnesses.
The DGAF way is to do whatever the fuck you need and or want to do to make sure your baby is fed and that you’re happy and healthy and surviving too.
What I’m trying to say is, there is a disproportionate amount of pressure put on mother’s to do what’s “best” for baby, and unfortunately what is best tends to be considered the breast. It can feel as if there are no other options. And if you’re not into this option, then you’re on your own.
Today I have two charming, hilarious, wickedly smart boys who eat old cheerios they find in between their car seats just like the toddlers who breastfed for a year might do.
And I could give zero fucks about it.
How to Know If You’re Ready to Stop Breastfeeding
I firmly believe breastfeeding is a choice that comes down to two things: What are you willing to sacrifice? How long are you willing to sacrifice it?
For me, I knew I was missing out on cuddle sessions with my baby, who would often fall asleep in my husband’s arms after he fed him formula while I was pumping.
I was so envious of this connection and of this time. I was also so anxious and stressed out about staying on some sort of breastfeeding schedule, taking the supplements, and pumping. I was focused on that, and not on my baby.
It was a gut check to realize where my energy and thoughts were landing and how that needed to shift.
Also, I was suffering intense pain in my hands and wrists that would likely stop soon after I chose to stop breastfeeding.
Soon, after I switched to exclusively feeding my baby formula, there was no shortage of cuddles. Within six weeks, after what little milk I was producing dried up, the carpal tunnel disappeared for good.
Embrace a DGAF Way of Thinking
No one else can tell you what is right for you or your family. If you’re worried about being judged, the odds are good you will be.
There will likely be some people who will comment on this post suggesting all the ways I could have "tried harder." Or point out some discrepancy with what I’ve written above that doesn’t line up with a pseudoscience article they found on the internet somewhere.
If breastfeeding feels like the right choice for you and your baby, then keep on keepin on. If, however, it's stressing you the fuck out, DGAF that shit, and make a change. Your baby will be smart and healthy and strong because of you, not your breast milk.
And besides. You need to be the best version of yourself so you can be the best mom you can be for your little one.
Does this resonate with you? Let me know how you’re feeling about breastfeeding and send me an email at Beth@thedgafmom.com.
Oh and if you don’t mind pinning this to Pinterest, that helps me get the word out for other mommas who may be in the same struggle you’re going through.