Breastfeeding needs more than a month. So. Much. More.

It happened again last week: Another mom stopped breastfeeding. She had no implants, hadn’t had a breast reduction, and wasn’t taking any dangerous medications. She had no hormonal disorders or improperly treated thyroid ailments. She wasn’t addicted to drugs. Her son wasn’t weakened by a heart abnormality or other medical condition. He wasn’t premature or in the NICU, and he had no metabolic disorders or physical deformities. He was 10 days old.

She was a healthy, first-time mom with a healthy baby, six weeks of maternity leave, a good breast pump, and a heart set on breastfeeding.

What happened? Let’s go back.

Employed full-time outside the home, she didn’t attend childbirth, infant care, or breastfeeding classes. She assumed her doctor would take care of everything. Excited about pregnancy and birth, she scrolled online before falling asleep with What to Expect When You’re Expecting*, never reading past page 35. Her husband thought it would all be easy. How hard could it be? They didn’t know there was more to it—so. much. more.

Breastfeeding needs more than a month.

Co-workers encouraged prenatal classes, La Leche League meetings, and more to expand her knowledge and support. She half-believed she’d go “tomorrow.” She fully believed she’d get help in the hospital. Tomorrow never came, and she did receive help in the hospital—just not the help she expected.

Her son’s birth was one of six in the hospital on a Thursday night. There were two C-sections, one pitocin induction, one vaginal birth, and hers.

The dimpled baby, birthed after an epidural, was sleepy and wouldn’t latch. Confused and exhausted, she recovered. He went to the nursery.

Throughout the short hospital stay, extended family held the sleepy baby as he passed from shoulder to shoulder, lap to lap, and briefly, back to mom. No one saw the well-meaning relative (or was it a nurse?) give him the pacifier.

The lactation consultant (LC) visited. Too shy to breastfeed among visitors, Mom wouldn’t ask for privacy, and the LC’s hours were brief. Like nursing staff, she was limited by corporate hospital cuts. The LC accomplished little with a sleepy, pacified baby and a vulnerable mom in a crowded room. And, there were other mothers to visit.

Late the third day, Saturday, the baby cried while pushing away from the breast. Mom felt refused and exhausted. The discharge nurse, with four other babies to care for and very little time, said, “You don’t have enough milk. Your baby could get jaundice. Let’s give him a bottle of formula.” Grandma fed him, and Mom readied for discharge.

The LC stopped in again after she’d clocked out, to see the napping baby. She learned about the formula and recommended pumping when not breastfeeding. She strongly encouraged a follow-up Monday morning.

The story goes: this mom went home with a grandma who rocked and fed her new grandchild and an aunt who “didn’t have enough milk” either. “It’s hard to breastfeed,” the aunt said. “Moms in our family don’t make enough milk. Here, I’ll give him the next bottle.”

Her husband noticed she expressed a few drops of colostrum the first and last time she pumped. She wasn’t sure the pump even worked. He wanted formula, along with a happy baby and rested wife.

On Monday morning, the fifth day, her baby cried and pushed away more. Tears streamed down her face. Everywhere she turned pointed to formula. Aunts and Grandma left, and her husband returned to work. How could she pump, bottle-feed, AND do everything? When her coworker called with well-meaning advice, Mama’s brain was full, confused, overwhelmed, and so. much. more.

Her friend called again Friday. Mom said, “We’re giving him formula. He doesn’t want me. I don’t make enough milk—my family can’t breastfeed.” Of course, there was more to the story, more to her week. A mom of few words too embarrassed to reach out, she felt she’d failed. She was a mom in a hurry to get on to the next chapter, because this one was painful. Just like that, it was over. But she and her baby lost so. much. more.

Her friend offered solutions and possibilities, but it didn’t matter. She quit, scared for her baby’s health and sabotaged by others from the beginning.

Will she be a good mom? I don’t know how breastfeeding or formula-feeding makes you a “good” or “bad” mom in the first place. She will be the best mom—the perfect mom—for her son.

Will this child be healthy? smart? attached? Probably so, as attachment is based on so. much. more. We won’t know how different things would’ve been with successful breastfeeding. We do know almost 1,000 babies in the U.S. annually die of causes preventable by breastfeeding.

I won’t mention formula costs—financially, environmentally, etc. This mom? She learned, down to the penny, the cost of a seven-day formula supply.

Do I care if this mama and baby breastfeed? Yes. Caring isn’t judging. We’re still friends. I’ll hold her sweet son, breathe in his nothing-like-it newborn scent from the nape of his baby neck, BUT—you knew there’d be a big “but,” didn’t you?—I wish she’d been able to make informed decision about breastfeeding. I want that for her and all moms.

I want a society that really supports breastfeeding, that makes it easy, that prioritizes breastfeeding like it supports vaccines and car seats, campaigns against drunk driving, and secondhand smoke. I want her to experience the mountaintop before deciding she doesn’t like, want, or need it. I want her to comprehend her body and her baby’s body working together. I want her to see how inexpensive, convenient, and easy breastfeeding can be. I want all this before she quits. I don’t want society sabotaging the trail to the mountaintop. I want her to know it can be so. much. more.

What happened as this mama “decided” to formula-feed? Responsibility falls on all of society, beginning with the institutions that let her down and ending with family and Mom herself. All inadvertently colluded to limit, and finally remove, her choice to breastfeed.

In the beginning, Mom didn’t value childbirth classes enough to attend more than two of a longer class series. Her family and spouse offered little encouragement. It wasn’t a malicious absence of encouragement; it was an ignorant one. Little to no commercials or billboards proclaimed the benefits. No employer allowed her to leave early one day a week to attend classes. Only her coworkers’ voices encouraged her. Sadly, they were drowned out by a middle-aged man (who could’ve easily been a woman) in a white coat with a framed medical degree. “Really, I’ll take care of everything.”

Here’s what she could’ve gained from those classes:

  1. The knowledge that many things help with labor pain, and some medicines affect newborns’ alertness and breastfeeding ability.
  2. Relationships with other moms who have breastfed or are dedicated to breastfeeding.
  3. Good, postpartum resources—from books to hot lines, to professionals in the her area. (See the end of this post for some in our local area.)
  4. The assurance that asking for and accepting help is not a weakness. It’s a lifeline.
  5. Encouragement that the early steps to breastfeeding may be difficult but can be overcome.
  6. Words like “engorgement,” “supply and demand,” and more.
  7. Fundamental understanding of newborns, breasts, jaundice, and so. much. more.
  8. Breastfeeding positions, signs of a good latch, and ways to boost milk production.
  9. The importance of mother-infant bonding and breastfeeding.
  10. Helpful questions to ask after the baby is born, and cues to understanding intimidating medical jargon.

Childbirth and breastfeeding classes and support groups are not a magic wand. But, they ARE a supportive beginning.

Who else affected this formula outcome? The overworked nursery nurse, who saw a baby spend more time with relatives than his mama. By soothing him with a pacifier, she increased his risk for latch difficulties, denied Mama’s body much-needed stimulation, and put him to sleep without calories.

Is the nurse evil? No. She’s a lot of things: overworked, understaffed, and compassionate. She spends her shift putting out fires with little time left to spend with moms. She’s an unintentional contributor to sabotage by telling Mom she wasn’t making enough milk. On day two, Mom wasn’t supposed to make milk. She made colostrum—you know, the good stuff full of antibodies and more that makes a newborn poop (thus getting rid of the bilirubin affecting newborn jaundice)?

A well-meaning nurse in scrubs with a stethoscope-d neck, planted seeds of danger and fear instead of knowledge and empowerment. She didn’t have enough time to educate a mom (who didn’t make the time early in her pregnancy to be educated). Fear is a big unfair motivator.

It’s easy to see how everything fell into place and sabotaged breastfeeding. Lack of breastfeeding knowledge leads to more vulnerability in an already vulnerable woman. Knowledge really is power.

Taking classes or finding a community group could’ve helped this mom understand her choices and the impact of everything working together. The understanding and comprehension are key.

In my utopia, outside of true medical/physical complications (roughly 1–5% of women), breastfeeding would be a true choice. Moms would know and understand the biology of breastfeeding and how seemingly unrelated choices affect each other. They’d be surrounded by supportive people and systems established for successful breastfeeding, such as well-staffed and well-trained hospitals. The “almost” jaundiced baby wouldn’t go home until he was nursing and his mom understood some physiology of breastfeeding and newborns. Maybe we’d send a visiting nurse, too—free of charge.

Imagine if society supported breastfeeding like it supports the use of car seats…

Note: The mom in this post, inspired by a friend’s experience, is a compilation of women I’ve intimately known through my professional and volunteer LC work. This post is not a judgement of moms who choose formula. It’s a presentation of the ways successful breastfeeding is inadvertently and powerfully sabotaged. Choice is good. Forced choice with inadequate and incomplete information and resources is an oxymoron, not a choice.

*While I’m sure the What to Expect When You’re Expecting books are wonderful, there are other books I prefer.


San Antonio Birth Education and Lactation Support:

Mother’s Milk First Lactation Center

Breastfeeding and Lactation Program

Center for Maternity and Motherhood

The Baby Cafe

La Leche League

San Antonio Breastfeeding Coalition

The Texas Department of Health Services and WIC Program

San Antonio Birth Doulas

The Nurtured Center

Breastfeeding House Calls

The Milc Group—Support in SA and South Texas

The Bradley Method

Birthing From Within

Journey to Motherhood

The National Breastfeeding Helpline, at (800) 994-9662, connects women to peer counselors who can answer questions in English or Spanish.


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9 Responses to Breastfeeding needs more than a month. So. Much. More.

  1. Bethany September 21, 2015 at 10:52 pm #

    Someone may have all the support and do the right things and still decide to formula feed. Or all those items mentioned above may happen and they still breastfeed. Since this story doesn’t seem to be about you, you can’t possibly know ALL the details. I’m all for more education on the topic but also for support instead of blame for those that choose differently, either because they want to or feel they have to. Maybe this mother really didn’t make enough milk, maybe the baby really did have jaundice and/or a serious latching issue. It’s sad for me to hear how sad others are when hearing someone tries to breastfeed and decides not to. Why can’t we just support the fact that a child is getting fed and has parents that care for them?

    • Denise
      Denise September 22, 2015 at 4:55 pm #

      Bethany, thank you for reading and commenting. your thoughts are appreciated. unfortunately, i do know this mom very well, and many others with very similar experiences. I’ve worked as an LC [Lactation Consultant] for many years. I’ve been the LC mentioned in the piece. If it matters, the specific mother that inspired this piece could physically make enough milk. While I don’t judge how a mom feeds her baby, this post is about how society affects those choices and often unfairly (and sometimes unconsciously) weighs against breastfeeding. Science, however, definitely takes a side in what’s best for a human newborn – when a mom is physically and emotionally available and able to nurse her baby. Alamo City Moms Blog is all about supporting mothers and the myriad of choices they face. As a writer, feminist and LC, I will continue to strive for a society that is supportive of breastfeeding and make it a real choice and not a forced decision.

  2. catherine September 20, 2015 at 9:21 pm #

    This pretty much sums it up right here.

  3. catherine September 20, 2015 at 9:14 pm #

    Sorry I guess I don’t share the enthusiasm as much as others do. Not that I don’t care but how a mom chooses to feed, clothe, diaper or carry her baby is her choice not mine. With my firstborn I had to pump my breast milk around the clock because he wouldn’t breastfeed and he had jaundice pretty bad then my second one comes along and my body has nothing to give so he gets formula and has no trace of jaundice. Is my firstborn healthier than my second? Absolutely not. They eat healthy, play and take vitamins yet get sick like any other kid. I would not ever push my own opinions on any mom unless they asked my advice. Doesn’t matter the circumstances it’s their choice. All I’m saying is I’m glad my friends weren’t any kind of breastfeeding, cloth diaper, only homemade baby food or organic shampoo/lotion nazis. Motherhood is hard enough and life is just too short for that.

    • Denise
      Denise September 21, 2015 at 7:26 am #

      catherine, thank you for taking the time to read and comment. i’m sorry you had a difficult time with your firstborn. pumping can be hard and exhausting in those early days. Jaundice can be scary with such a tiny helpless newborn. You’re spot on – motherhood is challenging and we moms can be the hardest on ourselves. I’d like to see a world where breastfeeding is easier because it’s supported and normalized and the odds aren’t stacked against a new mom. it’s all about making the choice a real one. i’m glad you stopped by ACMB!

  4. Katie September 18, 2015 at 10:02 am #

    Just read this article and it made me cry. I have two wonderful little girls (5) and (2.5) and breastfeed them both until they were two. It was one of the greatest joys of my life. When my younger sister announced her pregnancy she just assumed she would have the same wonderful experience. But every single factor mentioned above happened, in addition to a medical complication for my sister that made the first four days very difficult. I advocated for her, I encouraged, I probably even pushed too much at times. But I could see that each little seemingly innocent step they took was a step away from breastfeeding. I thought my experiences and extensive research about breastfeeding would be enough, but it wasn’t. Tearfully, after only 14 days, she felt she had no choice but to switch to formula entirely. The deck was stacked against her. This is because one person is never enough. She needed all the doctors, all the nurses, and all friends and family to advocate for breastfeeding. Until this happens, breastfeeding will never be a “real” choice.

    • Denise
      Denise September 18, 2015 at 9:37 pm #

      Katie, Thank you for reading the post. I’m happy you’ve had such great experiences. Unfortunately, it’s not always the same for everyone, When real obstacles present themselves, there’s little left to pick up the slack. If we all worked together, it’d be easier to step in when complications happen. It’s wonderful you’re there for your sister, I’m sorry her experience is so contrasting to yours. If there’s a next time, I hope it goes better. Here’s to fighting the good fight. xoxo – dl

  5. Sarah September 17, 2015 at 9:10 pm #

    I think that the biggest things I got it of the baby classes were
    1. Breastfeeding is tough in the beginning, but it gets easier.
    2. It is ok to ask visitors to leave.
    Sometimes you need to hear that it is ok to ask your well meaning guests to leave.

    • Denise
      Denise September 18, 2015 at 9:41 pm #

      Sarah, Thanks for stopping by! It does get easier, doesn’t it? I always recommend new families “circle the wagons” because you never get that time with your little one back – not only is it precious, it’s the opportunity to establish breastfeeding that may disappear all too soon. So happy you, too, got that from the classes. xoxo-dl