Dear Lactivist: I Am Not A Milk-Delivery System

***Update!! My new book, Work. Pump. Repeat: How to Survive Breastfeeding and Going Back to Work, is in pre-publication. No judgment, no pressure, no Mommy Wars. Just the advice you need, from hundreds of working moms who’ve been there. You can place an advance order by going to www.workpumprepeat.com. Thanks! -JS.***

Dear Lactivist,

I’m getting closer and closer to the publication of my book for working, breastfeeding women, and as I accidentally become one of those people who moves in breastfeeding circles a lot, I’m starting to notice something disturbing about how mothers of new babies are sometimes viewed and treated. I don’t know if what I’m about to write applies to YOU, lactivist hopefully reading this right now, but I’d like to ask you to read this with an open mind and ask yourself whether you recognize anything here.

Here is the major disclaimer: I am talking about a minority of breastfeeding advocates here. Most of you lovely people do not do what I am about to talk about. And “lactivists” are super important. And all of you – including the ones I’m talking about here – are amazing people who are working hard for women and babies. I’m not going to keep disclaiming this throughout this post, so please write this on your heart. I mean it: you are awesome.

OK, here goes: If your job or public persona is related to breastfeeding, do any of these sound familiar?

  1. You push exclusive breastfeeding as the only viable or laudable option for baby-feeding
  2. You believe that virtually any mother can and should exclusively breastfeed for two years if she just tries hard enough
  3. You don’t like to share information with new mothers about how to supplement with formula, or how to wean off the breast altogether
  4. You tell exhausted working mothers with supply issues to set an alarm in the middle of the night to pump, or to “reverse-cycle” – have the baby sleep all day and then co-sleep and nurse with the mother all night

If this is you, I want to gently tell you that you are making me feel like you don’t care about ME. At all.

You don’t care if I’m stressed, or anxious, or if producing breast milk is causing me conflict with my spouse or employer, or if I lie awake at night feeling like a horrible mother for not making enough milk, or if the demands of breastfeeding are really, really hard to juggle with two or more little kids. You don’t care if it will take me years to get over the feelings of shame and inadequacy that all this “every ounce counts” stuff has brought on. You don’t care if I might be a better mother, or happier person, if I could somehow take some of the breastfeeding pressure off.

I feel like you look at me and see one thing only: a milk-delivery system. A machine, with dark circles under her eyes and a permanent baby bump, whose purpose is to make milk for a baby. And if anything that I want, or even claim to need, gets in the way of that milk-delivery system, it is simply to be overcome. I must be made to see that the Most Important Thing is making milk. Everything else can wait until after the kid turns two.

Probably you’re not doing any of this intentionally, but remember that we are super hormonal and crazy right now, and this is how it FEELS.

I notice this phenomenon especially with working, breastfeeding mothers (did I mention I’m publishing a book??). It’s not that this is a harder job than staying at home and breastfeeding, but it’s a different job. Many women who breastfeed and work end up with supply issues. Fully half of the hundreds of women I surveyed said that working caused them to breastfeed for a shorter length of time than they had planned. 80% had anxiety about their supply.

You are a teacher and a counselor, and you’re called in to teach and to counsel at one of the most vulnerable times of a woman’s life. So you know what I wish you would teach me about, if I’m not making enough milk? Formula, for sure, but also…

I want you to teach me how to see – and be proud of – all the other ways I am delivering vital substances that my baby cannot live without. These include:

  • love
  • protection
  • comfort
  • laughter
  • clean diapers
  • music
  • dance parties
  • kisses
  • walks in the sunshine
  • walks in the rain
  • looking at airplanes
  • high-fives
  • bubbles
  • semi-regular baths 
  • a clean-ish house

So here’s what I know:

In the spirit of feminism that I think we share: My body is not anyone’s to objectify or simplify down to its physical functions. My mental health matters. My relationships with my spouse and children and friends matter. My enjoyment of my career matters, and not because “I want to be a good example to my daughter.” It matters because I LIKE IT, and I am allowed to like things without justifying them by saying I’m doing them to be a better mother.

I know you are trying to be supportive by exhorting new mothers to exclusively breastfeed. But in doing so, you seem to be intentionally hiding how hard it is, and leaving viable options (like supplementing) off the table, in the hopes that this will keep women exclusively breastfeeding. Well, this approach just BREAKS some of us. We try SO hard to meet those standards, we internalize SO much guilt about breastfeeding being difficult and painful (because you’ve told us it’s glorious and painless and ecstasy-inducing), and we push ourselves beyond our limits. And then – backfire! – we quit breastfeeding altogether.

I know you are kind and smart and caring. That’s why you do this job. But you are sometimes kind of mean about formula. I think your intentions are good, but you are demonizing the only other option most women have for feeding their infants. So when that supplementing or weaning day comes, whether from work stress or illness or exhaustion or personal choice or whatever, the mom feels like absolute shit, because everything you’ve said makes her feel like she’s now feeding her baby basically a can of Coke. She uses words about herself like “failure” and “ashamed”. That can’t possibly be a good outcome.

So I’m asking you to consider this, please:

If I call you for help because I’ve made the educated, carefully thought-out, and possibly painful decision to give my kid some formula, or to wean altogether and move on to the next, lovely, interesting, exhausting phase of being a parent, I need you to support me through that. I don’t need you to change where I am, I need you to meet me there. Because I’m more than the milk my body can make.

And I’m telling you all of this, hoping you’re still reading and not putting me on some kind of Lactation Blacklist, because you’ve dedicated your career and/or personal energies to trying to support new mothers (super important!), to normalizing breastfeeding (super important!), to advocating for paid maternity leave and lactation rooms and strong laws to protect nursing in public (super important!). You are kind and caring and I think you’d want to know this, even if it stings a little.

If this piece resonates with you – if you recognize yourself in it – I’m trying to find a way to kindly tell you that some of what you’re doing is not working for me, and for other women too. We need you – you’re our best hope of surviving this insanity.

Please meet us where we are.

Love,

Jessica.

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68 thoughts on “Dear Lactivist: I Am Not A Milk-Delivery System

  1. Really well written. thank you! I have had to exclusively pump breast milk for both my babies and I often feel sub par to those that exclusively breastfeed.
    I loved your part about our relationships with our other children and spouse matter. Our mental health matters.
    Thank you for writing this!

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    1. I get the feeling. Just wanted to share my little personal life raft: Your worth as a mother is not measured in ounces.

      You are the best thing going for those kids. Doesn’t really matter where that food is coming from – you loving them is the best gift!

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  2. Thank you! I am a working mother, and I am EBF. I’m blessed with a good employer that supports pumping, and I’m blessed with a good supply, and I’ve been OVERproducing to the point where I’ve donated from my stash more than once so it doesn’t overwhelm my tiny freezer – and I still worry about my supply. Constantly. Every single time I pump. Even though I *do* co-sleep and nurse overnight, and my baby has had to thaw more milk than I’ve made the previous day exactly twice in three months. And if I, who could be the poster mom for breastfeeding working mothers, am obsessively worried about my supply, something is seriously wrong with the messages we’re being given, as women and mothers. It’s yet another way in which you can’t possibly measure up, another casualty of the “mommy wars.”

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  3. Love, love, love this article. I am a CLC and absolutely love helping women breastfed, but I am a mom of 2 and know what it feels like to have another woman support and console me during trying parenting times. I hope the women I come in contact with always feel support and encouragement, never judgment. We all have to do what is best for our families.

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  4. This is so great! I’ve come back and read it three times. I know that you were worried that it might be too harsh, but I don’t think so at all. You aren’t damning them, but suggesting a more helpful philosophy. Supporting moms, meeting them where they’re at, is a win-win situation.

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  5. I wasn’t able to EBF. I diligently pumped at work until my son was 1 year and 2 months old and my supply at work dwindled to 6oz total pumped over 3 sessions). I felt like a failure. I thought I would have to stop nursing because of the supply issues. Luckily I was still able to nurse my son when I was home from work and in the weekends. We are still nursing once or twice a day and he is +2.5 years old. It has been so important in our relationship especially because he is with a caregiver during the day. I wish more working mom’s knew this as an option: You may still have a supply when you are home even if you aren’t pumping at work! It helps lessen the guilt of working when your baby wants you for something that no one else can give him/her.

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  6. I love having come of age in the lactation world during this time of social media. Not only do I get to read great things like this and hear the perspectives of the parents I strive to help, but I’m connected with so many great minds in the lactation world, where we discuss things like this, too. Lactation support is evolving, and it’s a beautiful thing.

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  7. Thank you! Breastfeeding did not work out with my first (early/tramatic birth for him, stress/worry/supply for me) and I felt like a failure. Then we did good with my second, but supply decreased pumping at work, and again I felt like I was failing 😦 We did not make it 2 years, we did not make it 1 year on breastmilk, but I did my best and both my kids are healthy and happy, and we’re all sane, so I think we’re fine 🙂

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  8. That’s right on, and in my experience the worry and guilt were holding back my supply. On kiddo number three I supplemented from the start and what do you know, my supply was better!

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  9. A beautify letter. Well written.

    I have to say though, it’s a fine line and a difficult one to walk.

    I do have several friends, however, who wanted to breastfeed (and the country I live in offers LOTS of support for new moms), but upon discovering health issues or weight gain issues, or generally stress issues, were strongly encouraged to formula feed. And they all wish their midwives had been more pro-breastfeeding. At the time, I’m sure, these loving moms were just really, really genuinely worried that their babies might not be getting what they needed.

    I only know of one single mom that wishes she’d stopped breastfeeding earlier than she did. Most of the moms I know wish they’d been able to breastfeed or continue breastfeeding longer.

    So what’s a support person to do? How do you mind read or tell the future feelings of a desperate sleepless mom? I admire them for trying, but I don’t know how anyone could be right every time with a mom at these crossroads!

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    1. Totally agree with you. Not only is it a fine line, it’s different for every woman. Just to make things more confusing! I truly think the only important thing is to approach the mother as a whole person, and to stay committed to that approach. There is nothing wrong with encouraging a woman who wants to BF to keep at it! We wouldn’t be reaching out to breastfeeding experts if we didn’t want to at least try to continue BFing. Thanks for your comment!

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  10. Well said. I almost died in childbirth and wanted to exclusively breastfeed. But my milk took a long time to come in, since I’d lost half my blood. It took several nurses and a couple pediatricians to convince me to use formula because my newborn was literally starving. From everything I’d been taught, I thought formula meant I’d fail at breastfeeding. Even though my poor baby was screaming endlessly for food, I balked. In retrospect, a day or two worth of formula was a salvation — for my baby’s health, for my sanity. (And again two weeks later when I fainted and went to the ER (where it was hard to get a pump, but that’s another story).) I went on to nurse for over two years (while working). The absolutism of some who advocate exclusive breastfeeding ends up being harmful. Your piece is a sensitive and kind reminder that circumstances matter.

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  11. Are you really talking about a very small group of lactivists or are you really talking to most? Because if this is a tiny group of people who are an exception, why are you letting them dictate and have such control over your feelings and actions? If it is truly the exception, then why are you so worried about them?
    And is it really fair to expect lactation counselors not to believe in breast milk’s importance? What if you were speaking of a dietician or a doctor? Would you disregard their expertise and training as well? And then complain that they made you feel guilty?
    I understand the need to vent about disappointment but at least be honest about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think it’s a tiny exception. Maybe more of a vocal minority. Enough that this was a very common theme among the hundreds of women I interviewed. I do believe lactation experts should believe in and promote the importance of breast milk. I am just asking that they see the whole, complex person that is the mother – rather than just a delivery system for milk. I do appreciate your perspective. I apologize if the piece came across as venting. My intention was to introduce a new voice and perspective into the conversation.

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    2. As an IBCLC…breastfeeding is my expertise and I never thought the article suggested that I should not believe in the importance of breast milk. Sometimes, as a health care professional our greatest skill is to listen to our patient and to understand that her well being is the most important factor. It is important to understand the risk of artificial feeding but it is equally important to understand the risk of an overwhelmed, sleep deprived mom who is engulfed in mommy guilt and questioning every aspect of what she is doing. So many professionals have the all or nothing mentality…do I want moms to exclusively breastfeed, absolutely…but we have to support a moms decision foremost! We are fortunate to live in a country that has clean water and alternative methods of feeding and if that’s the path a mom decides to go I will hug her and give her all the resources I have to make her successful in her endeavor. if she fully formula feeds I KNOW that when her sister, aunt, best friend is having troubles breastfeeding she will send them my way because she had a helpful experience. As advocates of breastfeeding we should be worried about the exception…it only takes one bad experience to flood the mommy community with all kinds of advice, we should be seen as a helpful resource…not a breastfeeding bully

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      1. “So many professionals have the all or nothing mentality” Really? I thought everyone here just got finished confirming that we are talking about a small group of people, an exception to the rule if you will.

        So much of what I am seeing here, over and over, is that people want it both ways. You want support but don’t want to be given factual information. You want permission to supplement or wean or whatever and you expect 100% of lactation professionals to read your mind about it and say the exact right thing at the exact right time. And you want to be able to blame them for any bad feelings or uncertainty that comes up because you don’t want to ever feel guilty about anything.

        I am sorry but this is NOT reality. Life is full of ups and downs, highs and lows, joy and regret. If you live and participate in this world you cannot avoid these things and you can’t blame others for them. Other people are not responsible for your satisfaction in life.

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  12. Why depersonalize this as a general shout out, instead of just addressing it to the actual person that you feel has treated you this way? (Oh right, you’re writing a book. You mentioned that twice.) How many “Lactivists” have you personally experienced “making you feel guilty”? Funny, because I don’t actually feel guilty when I know I’m right about something, even if someone’s opinion differs from mine. The guilt happens when I know I’ve crossed a line in my own value system. Our culture suffers from so many lies that it’s really hard to address them all. That’s a huge part of the profession, breaking down the myths, that cause so many problems for nursing moms. Here’s one that’s a quote from your article. “you are demonizing the only other option most women have for feeding their infants” Formula might have been demonized by the person you spoke with, but if anyone told you it was the only other option for feeding your infant, they were lying. There’s donated milk, wet nurses, having someone bring the baby to work for nursing on breaks, changing the work situation, lots of options for increasing supply, better grade pumps, the list goes on. That’s her JOB to break through the blinders that tiredness and cultural myths have trapped people in. If your mind is made up, then just go buy some formula. Why call the “Lactivist”? Or were you not actually sure, and wanted someone to direct your guilt/rage at? Did this “Lactivist” actually tell you that breastfeeding was “glorious and painless and ecstasy-inducing”? Or was that just a list of adjectives from moms who happened to have had an easier time of it than you? I’m sorry you had a bad experience, but if you didn’t like her, you could just call another one. I know you put disclaimers. You don’t have to remind me. I’m not in the profession either, I just feel for them reading this, and for the mothers who will rally round the idea of victimization, and reinforce myths that are pretty strong already.

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    1. I really appreciate your perspective. This wasn’t just personal for me…I’ve interviewed hundreds of working moms for my book (did I mention that? 🙂 ) and I see and hear so much of this from them. And yes, your list of options do exist, but many of them are not viable options for working women. And my point is that breastfeeding is often pushed for at all costs, with little recognition that it may not be working for the mother’s well being.

      I struggled with writing this piece because I truly did not want to bash the profession as a whole or create ill will. From your comment I see that I was not entirely successful. I see your point of view and I’m hopeful that you might see mine! All the best

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      1. I just think it perpetuates the problem. What is the problem? Non existent maternity leave and an economy that sucks, and a culture that is so far removed from breastfeeding that we needed legislation to keep it from being wiped out entirely. Two years investment is not too much to ask if it could prevent your child from developing diabetes. You make it sound like it’s some kind of cult religion. It’s basic healthcare that doctors are not even trained properly for in medical school, because the profit incentives just aren’t there. It’s the health of the child and the mother! They haven’t invented a pill or vaccine that can cut your chances of breast cancer but breastfeeding your baby can cut your chances, if you can manage to keep at it for those two years! Sure, you can find all kinds of moms who formula fed who say their kids are “fine”. Studies prove that breastfed babies, the longer the better, show superior IQ scores later on. These aren’t special super babies. This is what humans are supposed to have! It’s the baseline for humanity. But we use language to make it sound like it’s a bonus, and not that it’s in any way harming our children’s brains to give them formula instead. If a Mom really can’t make milk or her barriers to do so truly are too great, then why say formula is the “only” alternative. Before formula wet nurses were common. Now we have milk banks, but it is really, really rare for either of these options to even get a mention. It’s just polarized Mommy Wars all over the internet. If I work, and my kid has to go to day care, you can be sure I want to make sure my child has breastmilk onboard to help fight all the illnesses she will be exposed to there. If I can’t pump, then I”m going to make arrangements to get breastmilk for when I’m away from her and nurse when I get home. Or if I can’t nurse at all, how about SNS system with donated milk, or skip daycare and find a nursing Mom willing to take my child into her home while I’m working. So many possibilities! But your article doesn’t cover this at all. I sure hope the book will be better and go more into all of the alternatives and reasons why it might be worth some heroic effort for a couple of years, that could mean a world of difference to your child’s quality of life, throughout their lifetime. My family has diabetes, so I would have done anything I could to help them beat that.

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      2. You mention that the other options are not viable options to mothers. However, breastfeeding support people (rather volunteers, paid LCs, other mothers etc) do not know which is a viable option for a mother. They can only provide the information. Yes, circumstances matter and some circumstances are adjustable while others are not but again, others do not know that information and only the mother can make that decision. This piece seems to put the responsibility to know this individual circumstance on the other person. If a mother wishes to share her circumstances, that is great and some will be in the position to ask (like a professional working one on one with the mother while others are not) but many mothers do not share their personal circumstances nor wish to and then turn around and say the breastfeeding helper was judgmental or unreasonable.

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    2. Might I just add that there are women who fall into a very dark hole while under the pressure of breastfeeding, as I did, and I agree with the writer that LCs should be trained and open to seeing this when it is happening to a new mom. I went into a downward spiral and would call the LC in tears because I was staying up all night, every night, for the first couple of weeks of my son’s life. He would scream and scream, but I wasn’t producing so he was starving and losing weight. I developed horrible PPA and insomnia after this that tools months to recover from. Nine of the LCs I spoke to during this time gave any credence to my emotional state. Their attitude was that I absolutely MUST continue to EBF no matter what the circumstances. It took my pediatrician and my OB during a floor up exam to support me enough to try formula when I was at my wits end and couldn’t go on any longer.

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  13. This is so incredibly timely for me. I am about to enter the LC profession and as a former social worker, believe strongly in “starting where the client IS, not where they SHOULD be”. On the other hand, I do believe the breast is best. I’m so scared of alienating a mom with my passion, or under advocating for BF and undermining her BF goals. SUCH a fine line.

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  14. This is so incredibly timely for me. I am about to enter the LC profession and as a former social worker, believe strongly in “starting where the client IS, not where they SHOULD be”. On the other hand, I do believe the breast is best. I’m so scared of alienating a mom with my passion, or under advocating for BF and undermining her BF goals. SUCH a fine line.

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    1. You are wonderful! It is so great to hear that you care about these things, as I’m sure the vast majority of LCs do. There is no “right” answer. But compassion and practicality are always welcomed by new moms. Good on ya!

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      1. Great piece, I enjoyed it! I wanted to add here that I always start a visit (I’m an IBCLC) by asking mom about her pregnancy, labor, delivery, work plans, ability to pump at work, support network, other responsibilities (older kids, etc). Then I ask her what her breastfeeding goals are. I try to help her find a way to achieve her goals. They are HER goals, not mine.

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    2. Definitely a fine line. I actually fault my LC for the fact that I stopped breastfeeding since she’s the one who told me to exclusively pump and gave my baby formula for the first time because he wasn’t gaining weight. I wish I would have been more vocal about my breastfeeding goals, but I didn’t know any better and I just did what she told me. I’ve now been exclusively pumping and supplementing for 6 months. I didn’t realize I’d been given bad advice until I started talking to other moms months later. I wish I had gotten a second opinion! Good luck on your profession.

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  15. I have been on both sides of this one – my son was tongue tied, we had mastitis and thrush the first month- but we worked really hard- so thankful for lactation consultants! And breastfed until 14 months. I went back to work as High school teacher at6 weeks (too soon!) but we made it! My daughter was born 6 years later and I vowed to get it “right” took 3 months off- and loved breastfeeding! I made the decision to stay home so i could raise her right- Then I got pregnant with #3 a little sooner than expected – and by the time my daughter was 9 months old my supply was almost gone (despite almost continual feeding) and I was exhausted -and barely functional. She self weaned and has been on formula for a few weeks now- and I feel very guilty for not giving her at least a year. My eyes are certainly opened to the fact that not everyone who wants to can- if you make it at all- great job mom! And if you just can’t- you are a great mom- keep up the great work raising your kids! I worry about her little immune system and development – but she is doing great! It’s ok- it really is!

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    1. If you want to make God laugh, make plans, right? But I will say that there are many ways of raising a baby “right” – which I am sure you agree with! You daughter is lucky to be surrounded by love and lots of siblings!

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  16. I’m think I about switching to formula
    I mean my daughter is literally eating every hour
    And I don’t think I’ll be able to pump enough a day to be sure she has enough for me to work 10 hours a day…and part of me feels really guilty about that

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    1. The early weeks are the hardest. Remember that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing – formula OR breast milk. If you feel strongly about giving your baby breastmilk, you might be able to do that with a mix of BFing, pumping, and formula feeding! How old is your baby?

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    2. Hang in there. My son nursed every 45 minutes to an hour for the first two months. Those early weeks help build your supply so you will have enough later. And if you can’t pump enough (or any) later, you can breastfeed him when you are together and then give donated breastmilk, expressed breastmilk, formula or whatever when you are apart. Your body will adjust.

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  17. I think you’ve been far too kind, I find it’s a majority not a minority of professionals that are like this. Worst of all though are breast feeding mothers themselves. Contrary to what they believe, flopping a boob out doesn’t automatically make you a better parent than that lazy formula user. In the 50’s and 60’s women competed with each other on how clean their houses were and how happy they kept their husbands. Now it’s becoming breast feeding by women who are insecure in their lives and feel the need to one up others by making out they are better because the breast feed. The whole thing is ridiculous.

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    1. I know it can feel like “everybody” on the breastfeeding mothers side, but I do think that’s a minority. Just a vocal one. But I agree: There is SO much mom competition out there, on everything from snack choices to preschool choices to working vs. staying at home to formula vs. breastmilk to attachment vs. non-attachment parenting. So much wasted energy that we could put into supporting each other.

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      1. “There is SO much mom competition out there, on everything from snack choices to preschool choices to working vs. staying at home to formula vs. breastmilk to attachment vs. non-attachment parenting.”

        I don’t feel this way at all. Maybe it’s just those who are easily influenced by what other people do and say.

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  18. I really enjoyed reading the comments under the Best For Babes Foundation shared this piece.

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    Post by Best for Babes Foundation.

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  19. It seems to me you are minimizing breastfeeding to just “milk production.” Breastfeeding is about so much more than that! Trying to help a mom breastfeed isn’t just viewing her as a milk-production-device…because breastfeeding isn’t just about the milk–it’s a relationship with so many layers and purposes from comfort, security, health, bonding, stress reduction, and better sleep to emotional and mental health (for mom AND baby). Breastfeeding isn’t just some self-sacrificing martyrdom all for the baby–helping a mom breastfeed helps HER, too, not just the baby. And I’m not a lactation consultant or anything, just a single, working mom who breastfed her bio son for 4 years and is currently breastfeeding her adopted son. Moms who breastfeed get more and better sleep than moms who formula-feed or do a combination of the two, so if moms contact someone who tries to help breastfeeding moms breastfeed, the helpers aren’t just there trying to help the baby or trying to get moms to produce milk. Suggesting moms co-sleep or “reverse-cycle” can help the MOMS get more sleep and continue a breastfeeding relationship they apparently want to continue (or else why would they be asking a breastfeeding advocate/LC for advice?). It’s not mean or insensitive to do that. ??? I think the problem is rampant ignorance about breastfeeding in our culture. These cruel ‘lactivists’ who try to help moms continue breastfeeding are trying to repair a broken culture where women don’t know how breastfeeding works or ways seemingly impassable obstacles can be overcome. If a mom feels guilty, she needs to consider her own decisions–if she is happy with them and believes they are right, there is no need for guilt. If she doesn’t want to breastfeed or wants to switch to formula, why is she calling on a LC or breastfeeding support person for advice? Their job is to help people continue breastfeeding. If that’s not what a mom wants, why doesn’t she call someone else whose job is not to help her breastfeed?

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    1. Oh, and I should add, I had some serious problems and might have quit without the support of a La Leche League leader I never met–and her point that perseverance is the main factor that separates breastfeeding success from failure helped me keep going in the first four days after birth (24 hours of labor) when my son would not nurse and I got 4 hours of sleep in every 24 hours in 15 minute snatches between trying to nurse, caring for him, trying to pump, cleaning the pump, trying to dribble some milk into his mouth and then starting all over again–every 2 hours around the clock. Easy? Ecstacy-inducing? Ha ha. Worth it? Absolutely. I am SO glad I did not give up and give him any of the free formula waiting on top of the fridge. Is there nearly always a way to keep breastfeeding and overcome any challenge that comes along IF A MOM WANTS TO DO SO? Yes. Once a mom knows how her challenge can be overcome, she has what she needs to make an informed choice about whether the priority of breastfeeding is worth whatever it takes to overcome the challenge she faces. Volunteers and professionals who provide that information are doing it to help and empower the mom in her choices, not to make her feel guilty or force her to breastfeed. I only wish one of these pushy lactavists had given me information on donated breastmilk when I adopted my second son. Do I regret breastfeeding either of my kids, despite the challenges? No. Do I regret supplementing with formula with my adopted son? Yes. If I had had the knowledge then that I have now, I would have been empowered to make a different choice. Do I feel guilty? No. I did the best I knew at the time. Maybe the advocates encouraging breastfeeding are trying to help moms avoid regret later.

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      1. I just want to clarify that I do not think lactivists are “pushy”. What I’m asking for is a whole-person approach. I had my own breastfeeding goals, but encountered very little empathy (or interest) in what I was going through emotionally. I needed to feel like the individuals I was seeking out for help, and the societal messages I was getting, cared about me as much as they cared about my ability to make milk. I felt boiled down to one thing and everything else had to take a backseat.

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    2. Really because obsessively trying to produce milk, that simply wasn’t coming in, didn’t help anyone. The lactivists she’s referring to didn’t tell me to supplement enough and my daughter lost too much weight, so much for health. Better sleep doesn’t happen when you have to pump twice a night. Being told ways to increase supply that don’t work, because you have IGT and its just not gonna happen, while being on 13 pills a day for it with side effects of involuntarily twitching, isn’t good for mental health. Oh and btw I’m just as bonded to my daughter, I bound with my heart not with my boons, and if a mom really needs to have a baby suck her boob to bond I feel sorry for her.

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    3. But don’t you understand that we, as humans, are all VERY different and complex? Breastfeeding did not help me or make me feel emotionally fulfilled or bonded with my son. Rather, it was the complete opposite! I had horrible PPA due to attempting to EBF those first few weeks, as I wasn’t producing and my son was hungry all the time. In my emotional state I couldn’t have handled nursing every 45 min to an hour round the clock, even if this had helped my production. Once we made the switch to formula I became calmer, happier, and my PPA improved. Only THEN was I able to fully enjoy my son. And we have a great bond! He is now three and he is very healthy and more verbal and intelligent than you can imagine! That’s great that you wanted and were able to bf for such a long time, but just remember that your story and feelings are yours and not every moms experience.

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  20. I’m surprised by a couple of commenters on here that seem to think the author should treat this as a personal issue (e.g. not publicly blog about it). As a breastfeeding mother, cultural judgments about my choice to nurse in public, or to breastfeed past the age of one are simply part of my daily experience and general consciousness. Similarly, I see judgement against formula-feeding everywhere, and I’ve heard COUNTLESS examples of mothers who were exhorted not to supplement even when they were truly at their wits’ end. In terms of supplementation, I hear “don’t do it!” far more often than I hear or read a fully considered and scientific explanation for why it’s a last resort. (This is my peeve about parenting in this era. So often we are given advice instead of information.) So, this is absolutely a nation-wide issue worthy of public discussion. And I thank the author for calling it like she sees it.

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    1. Thank you! I definitely tend to focus more on the negative commentary, and worry I’m making the mom-judgment problem worse, not better, so I really appreciate your kind words.

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  21. A million times yes. Many of us mothers carry enough stress and judgment about our roles without the added baggage from others pressuring us into one way of feeding our littles. Also, “My body is not anyone’s to objectify or simplify down to its physical functions.” = brilliant.

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  22. Thanks for this! It saddens us to have witnessed the lack of empathy on the continuum of breastfeeding experiences. It has to be about realistic choices and a culture that enables real choices regardless of circumstances.

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  23. This is nothing new. I have been helping moms for many years, as a volunteer and professional in a variety of communities. It’s a struggle to balance the science with the feelings. Guilt is one of my favorite subtopics of breastfeeding. When a lactation professional takes the time to truly feel a mom out for where she, hopefully she will meet that mom’s needs as well as her baby’s. But we’ve all seen the doctors and others want to be a mom’s best friend by taking the pressure off by recommending formula. Then a mom feels a little stronger, or finds new information a couple weeks later and is angry and more guilty and calls another professional to try to save the relationship… or she doesn’t. Supplementation is not harmless, but can be necessary, and I will reassure a mom that she is doing the best she can with what she’s got, even if she can’t follow every recommendation under the sun. Where I object to the tone of your article, despite the disclaimer, is in your listing of what you would like a mom to be told in an effort to reassure her mothering. Telling her she’ll be great at all the other parts of mothering (blowing bubbles, high-fives…) even if she stops breastfeeding sounds dismissive of the issue at hand. I also understand the working mom’s dilemma, and there are pressures involved with that as well, I think longer maternity leave will give moms more energy to establish breastfeeding and overcome difficulties. The looming “return to work” date has such a negative impact on everything baby-related as a mom develops her new role.

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    1. I hear you. I guess I just meant that if I’m having that conversation with a lactation professional, I must be at a very vulnerable point, and my soul would benefit so much from some validation. Even if it has nothing to do with breastfeeding.

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      1. Her JOB is to help you breastfeed. If your soul needs validation, you might try consulting a minister or rabbi or whatever professional deals with soul reparation. Don’t get me wrong, compassion goes a long way in any profession, but you are calling out Lacivists and placing blame on LC’s, many of whom are quite compassionate, just not passing out formula when all avenues have not been explored. If you had some serious stomach pain, would you expect your physician to pass out Tums because it’s the most popular Tummy ache remedy, or would you expect her to keep looking until she found out the real cause?

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  24. I am an IBCLC. I always say to my Mothers, that if you have lost sight of the miracle you’ve created because breastfeeding issues are getting in the way…give a bottle of formula! It’s never worth losing the special, magical, heartwarming moments that you and your child are meant to share.

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  25. This is an endearing topic for me and I honestly believe two things: only I should care and Move on! I was a working mom that managed to breastfeed my daughter which had only breastmilk until she turned one, yes I’m proud of it because it was overwhelmingly difficult at times and I’m glad to share and advocate when asked, never came accros or heard word of a lactivist but I’m sure I could get a few pointers from one, pick what works for me and move on

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  26. Thank you a millions times thank you. I have changed the way that I introduced myself from breastfeeding counselor to Infant feeding specialist for exactly the reasons you mention. I’m tired of breastfeeding professionals being advocates to the detriment of their clients. Moms need love support and options that work for their life. They do not need, in their most vulnerable time to be a poster mom for anything. I often work with moms who have to supplement for the health of their babies. Their focus should be on their baby and their life, instead of guilt and shame for not being good enough. Well meaning activists do a lot of harm to their psyche by speaking so negatively about formula. Formula is a tool. It is a tool that is marketed in a predatory way, but it is still a tool. Meeting families or any human being where they are is one of my most essential counseling techniques. Again thank you

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  27. Jeanne, you are absolutely incorrect about studies showing that breastfeeding prevents diabetes or creates higher IQs in children…there is no study that actually proves that. IQ has a lot to do with genetics and the way a child is raised, not breast milk. Same with diabetes. If you want to support breastfeeding, fine, but don’t throw out false information that makes doctors cringe.

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  28. To the few who are making remarks like, “You should have gone to another lactation consultant!” let me tell you that I went to THREE and was treated the same by all of them. Even though my doctor was repeatedly telling me that my milk was not going to come in correctly because of some medical issues related to my birth, all of these consultants were extremely rude to me and told me that I simply wasn’t trying hard enough. I was angry about it for a while before I realized something about them: breastfeeding is their job. It’s what brings them money. Why would they suggest an alternate and safe method of feeding that you wouldn’t need them for?

    Don’t feel guilty if you can’t make it work. Don’t let these people (who are not doctors) make you doubt yourself and your team of doctors.

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  29. Regarding the comment above about LCs finding real cause for breastfeeding issues as opposed to just taking the ‘easy’ formula option. Had that been the case, maybe I’d have gotten the help I actually needed as opposed to the same mantra about perseverance making or breaking breastfeeding. I had the same lecture from three different LCs and the same handouts. On all three occasions, my questions about my supply that still wasn’t increasing in spite of nursing and pumping every 1-2 hours (each feed cycle took almost an hour too). At multiple points I asked if maybe my thyroid problems were affecting my supply, and just got a blank look followed by yet another lecture about infant stomach size. The most I ever pumped in one day (during all of these pump sessions) was 1.5oz. I was so proud of that, I took a photo. If I pumped the 1.5 at one feed, nothing came out at any of the other feeds. It got to the point where my baby refused to latch, I have no idea what let down feels like, my boobs never hurt or got engorged, and my milk tasted like oil on water. I’d had a 72 hour labor, then c section and I wasn’t healing properly. My scar opened up a couple of times and I was run down. I told all of this to the LCs I saw. My supply dwindled to a half ounce a day and I gave up because both my baby and myself were miserable and the pain from the damage she was doing through her frustration was becoming a kind of penance for my body falling. It was unhealthy.

    When I went to my 8 week check up, the midwife asked me how I was doing with breastfeeding. When I told her what had happened, she was angry that not one of the LCs had advised me to come see them (my obgyn was also am endocrinologist), and that what I’d experienced was a problem for a lot of ladies with hypothyroidism.

    Had they taken a step away from the milk obsession, and dealt with me as a whole person instead of as a petulant child that just needed berating more, had they been willing to entertain the idea that yes, some women deal with very real biological issues that prevent breastfeeding or need fixing before breastfeeding could commence, maybe I’d have known to get medical help and maybe I’d have been able to salvage my supply.

    There’s a saying I’ve seen from a lot of sanctimommies, ‘When you know better, you can do better.’ Some LCs need to do better when it comes to medical issues that prevent or negatively affect breastfeeding because mothers going through these issues aren’t getting the support our help we need.

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