Monday, January 24, 2011

Can You Succeed or Fail at Breastfeeding?

I recently read a blog post in which the author wrote about her plans to bring formula with her to the hospital when she went to have her baby. She talked about her plans to breastfeed partially and supplement with formula. It was her second baby and she planned to bring a good quality breast pump along with the formula.

I was surprised, and I couldn't understand why someone would make such a decision. I've always thought of breastfeeding as an all or nothing kind of thing.

It's not that I think that a woman struggling with breastfeeding has to quit and rely completely on artificial milk to feed her baby. I've done research about breastfeeding, and I understand that when an alternative feeding method is introduced it can jeopardize the breastfeeding relationship. Introducing another food, particularly shortly after birth, can cause the woman's body to not produce as much milk as her baby needs. Even if she breastfeeds partially her milk supply may come in later than it would if she were to nurse her baby full time, and it may not be sufficient to meet the demands of her baby. 

I've also had experiences with my own babies reacting badly to formula when a well-meaning person tried to feed them. One of my babies had diarrhea and stomach pains for weeks after one small formula feeding. For me the best option was to breastfeed my babies exclusively. It was the easiest and least expensive choice, and it worked well.

I felt that by planning from the get-go to bring formula to the hospital this woman was seting herself up for failure with breastfeeding. I'll make an analogy, if you will.

When I was pregnant with my first baby I wanted a natural birth but I wasn't prepared for it. I told myself that I would try to have a natural labor without medication, but that if it got too hard I might get the epidural. Guess what happened? The circumstances of my labor included Pitocin, and it was the first time I'd ever experienced labor contractions. I didn't have the support I needed or the preparation, and it got too hard for me. I got the epidural. It wasn't what I wanted, but I felt I had no other option at the time.

When I was expecting my second child I was resigned to the idea that I needed medication in order to give birth. I decided to take control of the situation and I went ahead and scheduled an induction and simply planned on getting the epidural. Why try for a natural birth if I was incapable of it?

During my third pregnancy I met my wonderful doula and confided in her about my wishes for a natural birth experience. I realized that with the information, preparation, and support from my doula I felt capable of attaining my goal. I also realized that in order for me to be able to do it, I had to take the option of an epidural completely off the table. That also meant avoiding Pitocin at all costs. I couldn't even give myself a back-up plan that included medication. My birth plan specified that the hospital staff were NOT to offer me any form of medication. It was through these changes that I finally reached my goal, and it was an incredibly empowering and rewarding experience.

I approach breastfeeding in much the same way. I never gave myself the option of giving my baby formula or anything else for that matter. I knew that my body was capable of producing what my baby needed. I'd seen my own mother breastfeed my siblings, and it was the only way I intended to feed my child. Anything short of that would have felt like failure.

This is where that blog post really made me think. I posted a comment to the author expressing my opinion that she was setting herself up for failure, and offering advice on what she could do to better ensure a successful breastfeeding experience with her baby. Her response surprised me. She expressed her opinion that breastfeeding is not something a woman succeeds or fails at, and that a mother should do her best to take care of herself and her baby. In her eyes, formula was an option that gave her some lenience in allowing others to help care for her infant and take some of the pressure off of her. She made it clear that she intended to both breastfeed and supplement with formula on a regular basis, and that she had no intention of trying to breastfeed exclusively. She didn't want her body to have to supply every feeding for her baby, and didn't mind that the formula feedings would keep it from being able to. This is what she wanted and what she felt was best.

How could I argue with that? Honestly, it's her decision and she has the full right to make choices for her child's care and upbringing. I couldn't fault her for doing what she honestly felt was best for her and her baby.

Then I got thinking. Is breastfeeding something that a woman either succeeds or fails at, or can there be a middle road? I've known countless women who have used a combination of nursing and supplementing, and although it's not the choice I would make personally, it's within their right to feed their baby as they see fit.

I can make argument after argument about why formula is not good for babies, and why exclusive breastfeeding is truly what every baby needs, but I can't expect everyone to agree with my point of view. We each have our own journey to travel, and we must make the choices we feel are best.

It took me two failures at natural birth to finally reach my goal. Does that make me a failure at birth? Does it mean I made bad choices?

It only means it was the path I was on. I made the choices I felt were best at the time, and all the knowledge I gained later couldn't change anything about any of it. I had to come to accept my past in order to fully look forward to the future.

Perhaps the particular blogger I spoke of will find “success” with breastfeeding, but who is to measure her success and what does that actually mean? Does a woman have to breastfeed her baby exclusively to be considered successful at feeding her infant? I think that would be placing a heavy burden on women all over the world. I think as long as she and her family are happy and healthy that's what really matters.

What do you think? Do you really succeed or fail at breastfeeding?


  1. I am a mother of 3. I breastfed my first until she weaned herself at 9 months. She refused me and because of that, I dried up. I had to supplement. I felt good about it because it was truly her choice. With my 2nd, he was what I like to call a barracuda baby. He bit me until I bled. So, at 10 1/2 months, I figured we had a good run and it was time to end that phase of our lives. Lastly, I decided months before my 3rd was born, that I would be using breastfeeding for birth control. I was so excited to be free of birth control and to use this new method. I had a lot of people telling me how crazy I was. I thought that maybe this time I was going to breastfeed for at least 12 months. I have never been so pumped about nursing. My nursing experience with my son was by far the best! He was a grazer and ate every hour and a half, but I didn't mind. I LOVED breastfeeding. Little did I know what the future held. Actually, I found that breastfeeding works wonders in the "control" department. I didn't even start my period until he was nearly 9 months old. That's when I started to struggle. When my period did start, my milk supply diminished...a lot! It kills me to hear my baby screaming for milk and comfort when I couldn't. I breastfed him, but it felt like dry breastfeeding. Like the whole time nothing was coming out. Then we went on a road trip. Maybe from the stress of the trip, my supply went down even more. The guilt was killing me to even think about taking breastfeeding away from him. We both cherished that bonding together, but suddenly, no matter how much I breastfed just felt like it wasn't working out anymore. (I latched him on I swear 20 times a day and let him nurse until my nipples were raw, so no one can say "I didn't latch him on enough to build up my milk supply") So, after lots of crying (both him and me) I just started to slowly wean him at only 9 1/2 months. The first day was horrible and I wondered if I was making the wrong decision. I felt like a failure for not making more milk. The second day went really well. He was really taking to the bottle and didn't seem to mind the taste of formula. I weaned him a lot faster that I thought it would take. He was happy and I was happy. That heavy burden I felt on my shoulders was lifted and that dark cloud rolled away. Then I knew that was the best decision...until! Just the next week, he came down with pneumonia. Now, I don't know if it is just coincidence...but my last 2 kids got really sick shortly after I weaned them. I know that breast milk has antibodies in it that formula doesn't. Once again...the guilt flooded in my mind. He would have never caught pneumonia if I was still breastfeeding. He wasn't eating very well, and it had been 9 days since the last time I breastfed. His fever was soaring high and after I asked my husband to give him a blessing, I was inspired to breastfeed him. Weird, I thought because I haven't breastfed in 9 days, but my breast were still hard and sore from trying to dry up. It was painful, but what little I had left, I let him drink. Those were literally my last few drops of milk I had, but it comforted him and the very next day his fever was gone and he was so happy. I was so grateful to do that for him. So, am I a failure?? Though I weaned him earlier than I wanted, I really felt it was the best choice for both of our well being. In fact, after that experience, I've never felt more successful :)So, in my opinion, you never know what's going on in the mother's heart and mind, most mothers do what they feel is best for them and their baby and no one should ever question that. Only the mother and father can receive true inspiration for their child. No one else. You should respect that and above all else...don't judge them for it.

  2. I always tell moms not to bring formula or have formula in their home. Stories like this frustrate me because they are putting themselves before their babies health. IMO.

  3. Sorry- I don't mean to talk so much, but I had another thought. When has there EVER been a right or wrong way to parent a child?? I am convinced that there are a million right ways to parent a child...and a million wrongs ways too. But you are right. Who are we to say what is the right or wrong way for a child we've never even met or seen. Sure health and nutrition are very important things in the upbringing of a child. But in the long run, looking at it with an eternal perspective. The most important thing is how well was that child loved? How much did the mother look after the emotional well being of her and her children. I think that's what's gonna count. Not how much breastmilk they recieved. Our bodies will all be perfected one day anyways. Maybe it's satan's sly ways of making us feel inadequate as a mother if we don't provide EVERYTHING for our children. How can we reach our full potential if we let other mothers bring us down because of their strong opinions?
    you don't have to post this if you don't want to...I was thinking about this all morning after I read your post and I'm just trying to give my feedback the best way I can. I'm LDS (obviously)and know that there are other readers who might not believe the same things I do.

  4. Thank you Cherylyn and "The Larsen Life" for your comments on this subject.
    It frustrates me when people say things that suggest, that because someone choices to bottle feed, they love their baby less or are intentionally not contributing to their best health. It is so judgmental. Who are we to say how someone else should raise their child? If we are to go that route, everyone should be cloth diapering their babies because it is better for their skin and some research will tell you disposables can hurt future reproductive abilities in the child. Oh, and never feeding our kids or families anything but organic food. No drive thru at McDonalds. Where do we draw the line? I've seen this type of judgment placing in so many issues around parenting, birthing, birth control choices, lifestyle, whatever. Why can't we focus on the positive things people are doing for their kids? Maybe by choosing to supplement or feed exclusively by bottle is a choice for the woman's health. Or maybe the best thing for that family at the time is for the mother to work. How do we know their reasoning? We all know the "better choices." But until we are prepared to follow each and every one that we are aware of, we should refrain from judgment. Not even then. Sorry to climb on a soapbox, but I think this type of criticism leads to so many of the problems in our society (especially LDS) with mothers' feelings of inadequacy. We all have our strong points and weaknesses. Just FYI, I have four children, #1 breastfed for 18 months, #2 for 2 yrs, #3 for 2.5 yrs, and #4 is still nursing at 22 months. I rarely gave a bottle and had fairly positive experiences with nursing and milk supply. Only 1 ear infection with all my kids. But it has had a toll on my body and health. Was that the best thing for my family? That is yet to be seen. I have also seen people struggle for various reasons, by no fault of their own, and not been able to nurse. I've also seen people giving others looks of disapproval when they pull out a bottle for their baby.
    Sorry Cherylyn, I know this isn't where you were going with your original post, but this subject has been nagging at me for a while. As far as your question goes. No one can measure your success in breastfeeding but you.

  5. Mothering is a journey and we each have different paths!

    So for this mom breastfeeding and supplementing is a success. For some moms that would feel like a failure. Which is mentally healthier? (for the mom) I guess the first.

    However if this mom understood that breastfeeding exclusively for even 3 days is going to help her milk supply and would be better for her and her baby, maybe she would wait a few days to supplement?

  6. Thank you all for your comments! I enjoy the interaction and hearing various experiences and view points. I didn't intend to discuss LDS breastfeeding culture, but I've seen the judgments myself and even been guilty of passing judgment on others who fed their babies with bottles. Women shouldn't be made to feel guilty for doing their best, but I still do my best to try and inform them with correct information.

    Sheridan, I mentioned that to her in my comment and she wasn't interested in the information I was offering. Either she had already done her own research and knew already (which was the impression I got from her) or she was choosing not to inform herself.

  7. I totally agree with this post. My belief is about a mind set and a drive to not give up. When you start allowing "well maybe's" and "just-in-case's" a can of worms is opened thatu may never be closed. My mom tried to push the "just-in-case" formula on me and I almost lost to this one. To me this is the most counter-intuitive advice anyone can give, because the more you breastfeed the more milk you produce (excluding true medical problems). Sadly, a family member recently brought her new baby girl home from the hospital with a sample of formula and shortly afterward they were supplementing to "get the baby to gain weight". Perhaps they shouldn't have induced her and let the baby come when it was ready and she wouldn't have been so tiny, but I digress. I truly believe that "Eats on Feets" movement will send a message to our health providers and government that we are sick and tired of formula and something serious needs to be done about it.