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Breast is Best, Except When it's Not

We live in a time when everyone is very rah-rah about breastfeeding. That’s great for a lot of moms and babies. It’s not so wonderful for the moms who struggle to breastfeed, don’t want to breastfeed, or simply can’t.

I have a client who’s been doing her best to nurse her son for six months. Unfortunately, her supply has dropped and she’s having trouble keeping up with his ravenous hunger. She’s tried everything to make more milk, including pumping after each feeding, all night long, and the only result is exhaustion and sadness. She’s afraid that introducing formula will mean she has failed as a mother, but how can that be?

Being a good mom means taking care of your baby and giving him what he needs. That includes food, sleep, love and a stable mom who feels well enough to care for him, not exhausted, sad and stressed. The baby will thrive on breastmilk or formula. He will only suffer if is not getting enough.

There are so many women out there just like my client. They think there’s a right way to feed their babies, and if they can’t achieve it, then they’re failing. I have a message for these women: Don’t be so hard on yourself. Don’t feel ashamed. It’s okay if you can’t breastfeed. Your baby will be fine. Please, don’t create a problem where there is none.

Here are some common misconceptions about breastfeeding and formula feeding that I’d like to debunk:

Breastfeeding is easy - Actually, breastfeeding takes a lot of work, especially with newborns. The first couple of weeks can be very hard. In fact, the majority of my clients have some kind of difficulty breastfeeding at the outset. And it’s not anyone’s fault. Things you have no control over like hormones, breast tissue, nipple shape and breast shape can play a role. Plus, every baby is different. I’ve had moms who breastfed one baby and struggled with the second baby.

Not wanting to breastfeed makes you a bad mom – Nope. It doesn’t mean you care any less about your baby. It just means you don’t want to breastfeed.

Formula makes babies gassy – Breastfed babies can be just as gassy. Everybody burps!

Formula makes babies overweight – Some people think it’s easier to overfeed a baby with formula than with breastmilk. Not in my experience. If you overfeed a baby, he’s going to throw up.

Formula contains bad chemicals – The truth is, not all formulas are created equal, and some formulas are better than others. Do your research. Find something organic. I recommend looking into some of the European formulas that are very regulated and well made.

As a postpartum doula, I am here to support my clients. So if a mom wants to breastfeed, I will do everything I can to help her be successful. If she’s having trouble, we can try lactation consultants, changes to her diet, homeopathic remedies, even acupuncture. But when you have exhausted every option and the baby is still not eating, the plan needs to change.

Ask yourself, is my baby happy? Are his needs being met? Is he sleeping the appropriate amount for his age? Is he making enough pee and poops? Is he gaining enough weight? If the answer is no, it’s time to move on to formula.

Forget all the nay-sayers. At the end of the day, it’s whatever is best for baby and mom. And it’s going to be just fine.

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