Breastfeeding: When Success Feels Like Failure

Most of all, I raged against the breastfeeding mothers who failed to tell me how hard this all was.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
Days into my daughter’s life, I learned that breastfeeding did not, at all, feel good. Every latch felt like a thousand tiny needles stabbing my nipple in unison. After a few moments, the sharpness would fade, replaced by my blunt determination. Nursing was the only thing that made my daughter happy.
I had thought breastfeeding would be easy to figure out, that I could leapfrog the issues that plagued others. Perhaps, because I had no experience with newborns, my brain filled the void with the most optimistic scenario.
My optimism evaporated within a week. Life became a series of marathon nursing sessions interrupted by short periods of sleep. Ten, 12, 20 times a day (and night) the pain pierced and took my breath away. I called her my milk vampire. My nipples cracked and blistered and bled.
My mother flew in from Chicago to help out. She kept me company on the couch for hours a day, the two of us watching “Bones” while I nursed her granddaughter. Sitting in my nest of pillows, I practiced each nursing position I’d been taught. I latched and re-latched my daughter, hoping each time it would make the pain go away.
My sleep deprivation worsened. My mother broke her arm, and my husband lacked the emotional endurance to soothe our always-fussy baby. In those first couple of weeks, my newborn daughter and I spent 20 hours a day in physical contact.
I expected my husband to bear these burdens with me. He expected me to soldier on, no matter the pain or misery. After three weeks, he went back to work, leaving me alone with only one effective parenting tool: my breasts.
Late one night, my husband snored while my daughter nursed voraciously. Just two weeks into her life, I wanted to scream at the pain. Instead I wept. “This can’t be right,” I thought. “This is why people use formula.”
At my loneliest, weariest time, I felt desperate for relief. I figured the signs of breastfeeding failure would be clear: If my daughter lost more than 10 percent of her weight after birth, or if the doctor mandated it. Never once did I consider that I could be in pain and exhausted, yet not quite failing completely.
I hadn’t chosen to breastfeed, not exactly. I had expected to breastfeed, the way a middle class teenager expects to go to college and expects to get a good job afterward. Feeding your child is a biological imperative. Humans have been doing it by breast for millions of years. My body would automatically make milk in the first week after birth whether I wanted it to or not. I felt entitled to an easy breastfeeding experience. Pain infringed upon my birthright.
In the dark, I hunched over my daughter like a frenzied, cornered cat, searching for escape. I saw formula dangling in front of me as the “easy solution,” the ever-present back-up plan. If I failed at breastfeeding, I knew I was supposed to transition to formula and convince myself to be happy about it. Liberated women must never feel guilty about their choices.
But nursing was my daughter’s sole source of comfort. I refused to give it up.
I needed fuel for my resolve, and I chose rage. I let myself hate formula and the people who sell it, their oily ads and counterfeit generosity. I turned on the parenting industry at large. So many useless gadgets, wasted time, and squandered hope. I seethed over the injustices of motherhood and its overflow of impossible decisions. But most of all, I raged against the breastfeeding mothers who failed to tell me how hard this all was.
I raged until I had no anger left. When I was done, I wept for my own naiveté in thinking the world was fair and all problems had solutions.
I woke the next morning, and many mornings after, feeling battered. Would my situation ever improve? I didn’t know. I couldn’t imagine tomorrow, let alone next month. Every moment lasted forever. My pain felt eternal.
At six weeks, the pain disappeared. It was nothing I did, no grand revelation. Maybe my daughter learned how to suckle properly, or her mouth grew a little. I’ll never know.
Now I can think of 50 things I could have done differently. But when I look back, I can never see the moment where I should have known better. Every time I replay these events, I make the same decisions. It was all I knew. My breastfeeding experience was not a gold medal performance or an A+ on a final exam. In an alternate reality, I might have surrendered to formula.
In this reality, I’m still surrendering to the realization that sometimes success can feel an awful lot like failure.

Winning the Battle, and the War

I never pictured that love would entail holding her body immobile so we could help her by hurting her. It was an act of faith and determination to endure.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!

When Marigold was two months old, Pat Benatar became my own personal manifestation of determination.

It had nothing to do with Pat Benatar herself. I still don’t even know what she looks like, frankly. But in the dead of night, sobbing over my child who could not, would not latch onto my breast properly, body aching, feeling like a catastrophic failure, her words came to me like they were divinely decreed: Love is a battlefield.

A Pat Benatar single from 1983 doesn’t seem like a likely parenthood mantra, I know.

My father, shaped by raising two daughters, told me, “Once you have a child, you’ll wear your heart on the outside for the rest of your life.”

Pat said it in a catchier way, “I’m trapped by your love/And I’m chained to your side.”

If my unarmored heart resided on my exterior, then I was bashing it into everything in hopes that eventually it would hit something soft. I loved that hungry, angry baby. I loved her so much that I felt smothered and trapped, trying to come to the correct decision about how to feed her through the pain and frustration. Giving up on breastfeeding wouldn’t be loving her less, I knew, but I felt chained to her in our battle and I did not want to be the one to lay down arms.

Things started well. She swiftly latched on in the operating room after being pulled from my body and handed over the blue surgical drape. I will always remember the anesthesiologist, posted dutifully at my head, delighting in seeing a baby breastfeeding in the OR for the first time.

Within weeks it had turned into a cascade of problems – her weight chart was a rocky drop-off instead of a climbing mountain, and our medicine cabinet held a veritable apothecary of lotions, salves, and prescriptions aimed at soothing my pain. I missed being able to comfort her. I missed her happiness, snuggled next to me, safe and warm and nourished. I hated that I felt dread when she woke up, bleating her hungry cry. It seemed ever-present.

It often took so long to try to feed her, between nipple shields and latching and re-latching and positioning, that by the time I thought we were done she was hungry again. I’d fumble with plastic and pillows while she cried, pulling her on and off, on and off, seeking a good fit that never seemed to come.The two of us were covered in tears and sweat and ointments and milk. At what point do you break? When does it become too much?

The diagnoses varied: high palate, disorganized suck, shallow latch. Then, finally, on the mandate of my own desperate research and dogged insistence: tongue tie. Not the obvious kind, but tongue tie nonetheless.

I pinned down her arms while the doctor wielded his scissors. Later I hid in the bathroom, hands over my ears like a petulant child, while my husband forced his fingers under her tongue and stretched it three times a day, intentionally interfering with the wound so it would not heal too quickly to make a difference, on doctor’s orders. Marigold is almost four, and Matt is still convinced she’s holding a grudge against him because of it.

Is that love? When I imagined her, as she kicked and rolled in my belly, I never pictured that love would entail holding her body immobile so we could help her by hurting her. It was an act of faith and determination to endure. Love is a battlefield.

Now she eats crackers of undetermined age that she finds in my bag. She loves ham, fruit snacks, string cheese, and popcorn. Our second child combats sleep, not the breast, and so I laid down that particular sword when Marigold finally picked up a good latch, and I’ve never lifted it again.

Still, the words of Pat, Patron Saint of Exhausted Mothers, come to me when I am struggling with motherhood and its pains. Love is a battlefield and that means I will put my heart on the line. I will armor myself with purpose and courage, every day.

After Breastfeeding Wraps, How Do You Reclaim Your Body?

Kids “of a certain age” are expected to stop nursing and sever all ties from what provided sustenance and comfort in the first years of their lives.

It’s been about a year-and-a-half since I’ve nursed my daughter. She is now three-and-a-half, well-adjusted yet prone to emotional outbursts, as many young children are. She also does and says things that are hilarious and worthy of being written in the book I am curating for her – a baby book of memories. I didn’t know it was going to become a thing.
“Hey nipple, nipple, nipple,” she says, flicking my nipple with her fingers as I am about to get into the shower. She pets my breast and baby-talks to it like it’s the cutest puppy she’s ever seen.
It is at once amusing and embarrassing. I’m not sure what to do here. This is my first parenting rodeo. What are the social norms? And are the social norms the ones we should be perpetuating? Years ago, a child would be told to stop, hand slapped away. Breasts are a person’s private parts. I open my mouth to begin that lesson.
But I stop myself. Breasts are such a natural thing. We are born with them and they have a use – a miraculous use. I don’t want my daughter to have weird associations, and I don’t want her to be ashamed. After all, men can walk around bare-chested without a second thought. In fact, this is something she recently asked about.
“Why are men’s breasts so small? Can I take my shirt off? I’m hot. You’re hot, mommy, take your shirt off. You’ll feel better.”
When she is emotional, she cuddles into me in the all-encompassing hug of the young – full body-on-body contact. When she is particularly fraught, she sticks her arm down the collar of my shirt. She places her tiny hand on my breast and her breathing slows and settles. Her heaving sobs stop. It relaxes her. She feels safe.
I was not breastfed myself. In New York in the late 70s and 80s, women worked and formula became popular, owing to its effectiveness and convenience. I never thought I would breastfeed. I actually never thought much about it. I was not exposed to breastfeeding at all.
Fast-forward 30-plus years: I lived in Seattle. The natural earth-mother community is strong there, and I hopped on board. Once I was pregnant, I thought, yes, I will breastfeed. I heard gruesome stories about breastfeeding difficulties and hoped I wouldn’t struggle.
Despite a terribly colicky infant, breastfeeding went on without a hitch. Nursing was, in fact, the only way to quiet my incessantly crying baby. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.
When I was at the end of my mental tether and the echoes of her cries filled my every minute, I could quiet us both by breastfeeding. Airplanes, restaurants, day-time and middle-of-the-night – it was our quick-fix. I loved that I could provide this for her. In a way, my breasts were the reason I survived the postpartum blues and colic-hell I experienced after my daughter was born.
I nursed her for about two years. We weaned in the typical graduated manner: first putting a stop to nighttime feeds, then the pre- or post-nap nursing sessions, and eventually whittling feedings down to twice a day, then once. After I left for a weekend away, we were done. I put my shirt back on, and instantly, my breasts became off-limits.
Try this with anything else and you will understand how difficult that kind of bisection can be.
We expect that a child’s relationship to their mother’s breasts should cease. We would never take away a plush lovey in the same way. But children “of a certain age” are expected to stop nursing and thereby sever all ties from the thing that provided sustenance and comfort in the first years of their lives.
As my preschooler daughter still gravitates toward my breasts, what should I do? What is appropriate? And who defines “appropriate?” I am not making a case for when to stop breastfeeding. Some don’t breastfeed at all, some do for a few months, a year, or several years, and I believe all of those approaches are acceptable. But are we really expected to end the relationship between our child and our breasts in such a stark manner?
For now, I allow her to rest her hands on my breast if she feels she needs comfort. After several “here nipple, nipple, nipple” moments, I’ve explained that breasts are generally considered part of a person’s private parts. I’ve taught her that she is the captain of her own body, and we’ve had the discussion about private parts and genitals, and who can and cannot touch them. I explain that, in public, I’d rather her not touch my breasts.
My daughter is still really young. Eventually, she will reach an age where my body does not bring her the comfort she seeks. I don’t wish for that to come any sooner than it has to.

When Moms Can’t Obtain Milk Through a Milk Bank, Peer-To-Peer Networks Provide What They Need

With over 90 percent of milk being shared in the U.S. being shared through informal channels, it seems worthy of exploration.

Last month Virgie Townsend wrote an editorial for the Washington Post on her experience as a breast milk donor. In her piece Ms. Townsend shares how her milk came in faster and fuller than she expected. After running out of room in her freezer she decided to look into donating. In her piece, Ms. Townsend described donating 107 ounces of breast milk to a human milk bank in Massachusetts and shared details of the month-long screening process she went through to become a certified donor. She also discussed the rigorous screening and pasteurization process that her milk will go through before making its way to neonatal intensive care units across the Northeast United States.
Ms. Townsend’s hard work is commendable. The labor that goes into pumping breast milk can be hard to articulate to those who haven’t done so themselves, but it should be noted that it requires grit, patience, time, and energy. As a fellow breast milk donor, I appreciated Ms. Townsend shining light on the process of donating milk – I was also very disappointed to see her dismiss peer-to-peer milk sharing as dangerous without exploring the peer-to-peer process or digging into why exactly most mothers who receive donated breast milk do so through peer-to-peer networks. With over 90 percent of milk being shared in the U.S. being shared through informal channels, it seems worthy of exploration.
Like Ms. Townsend, I view donating breast milk as an act of community service and take great pride in the fact that I’m able to help women in my community feed their babies. Unlike Ms. Townsend, however, when I began to accumulate more milk than my son could ever drink and looked into my options for donating I decided that peer-to-peer milk sharing was the most ethical and effective way I could use my milk.
To date, I’ve donated 5,060 ounces of milk, all pumped within the last seven months, to babies in my community. Those ounces were hard won and I’m proud to have supplied nearly 40 gallons of milk, over 1000 meals, to eight babies (besides my own) who live within a few miles of my home. When I began to donate milk, I spent my pumping time digging into research on how, when, and why women share their milk.
While milk sharing may seem to be a novel practice in our modern, city dwelling lives, it’s been around since the beginning of time. Prior to the advent of formula, wet nursing or milk sharing was simply how babies survived if a mother passed away during childbirth or if she did not independently produce enough milk for her baby. Wet nursing in America certainly has a racist, dirty history, but along with the forced wet nursing of slaves, there have always been women who chose to nurse other women’s babies when their mothers could not.
While milk sharing was prevalent in the U.S. in the late 1800s, wet nursing and milk sharing decreased in frequency with the rise of commercial formula and other convenience feeding practices of the early 1900s. The first public health push for breastfeeding began in the 1920s when physicians began to note that babies who were fed cow’s milk and homemade formulas often suffered from dangerous bought of diarrhea that babies who received breast milk did not. As industry progressed and commercial formula companies began to enter the market, breastfeeding rates continued to fall. By 1971 only 24 percent of babies ever received any breast milk at all. In the late 70s women’s-centered health and a better understanding of how breast milk improves infant health led to a renewed push for breastfeeding that has moved breastfeeding’s rates upward (with periodic rises and falls) to where we are today. In 2011 79.2 percent of all babies were breastfeed and nearly half were still breastfeeding at six months.
As breastfeeding rates have continued to rise, and the serious, positive, long-term impacts of breastfeeding have begun to solidify in the collective conscious of moms in the U.S., their desire to ensure their babies have access to breast milk, even if it’s not their own, has increased.
In 1919 the first human milk bank in the United States opened in Boston. Over the next several decades, as societal trends of breastfeeding waned and waxed, various small scale milk banks popped up and then disappeared. In 1985 the Human Milk Banking Association of America was founded with the goal of establishing health and safety standards for all American Milk Banks. There are currently 24 human milk banks in operation in the United States.
These milk banks solicit donations from across the country and, after screening, pasteurizing, and combining milk into protein packed meals, provide it to premature babies for whom formula can pose a dangerous risk.
While the milk banks in operation across the U.S. provide an important services, America on the whole is way behind the curve when it comes to institutionalized milk sharing. While other nations (most notably, Brazil) have developed responsive, complex milk sharing systems that can be easily accessed by both donors and recipients, moms in America who wish to donate their milk have only two choices: to go through an arduous process of becoming a milk donor for a certified milk bans – and then freezing, packing and shipping her milk on a regular schedule – or finding another mom online who needs milk and meeting her in a parking lot somewhere to pass along their liquid gold.
While the lack of options to donating moms is frustrating, it’s far more stressful and difficult to be a mom in need of breast milk. Certified milk banks in the United States only provide milk to babies who are currently hospitalized – and charge a hefty fee (typically around $4 per ounce) for their services. To fill this major gap, several prominent milk sharing communities such as Eats on Feets and Human Milk 4 Human Babies and have come to play an important role in peer-to-peer milk sharing. Today, most mothers who receive donated breast milk (over 90 percent) receive it not through a milk bank, but though a peer-to-peer network.
When I talked with the mothers of the babies I’ve donated to, their reasons for soliciting breast milk donations varied: One mother was parenting a child she adopted at birth who was born prematurely and with drugs in his system. Formula was dangerous for his immature gut and, as he grew, he seemed to thrive on donated milk. Another mother had exclusively breastfed her two older children, but when her twins arrived she found that she simply could not produce the amount of milk they required. My milk provided the two bottles per day that each needed to meet their growth milestones.
Another mother had experienced a traumatic cesarean section and was disappointed that her milk barely came in at all – when she tried to supplement with formula her baby’s tummy tightened and she wailed with gas pains all day and night. She tried every brand of formula in the store and even special ordered a gentle formula from across the ocean, but after trial and error she found that the only thing that soothed her and allowed her to eat pain free was donated breast milk. There was also a mom who was having surgery and needed just 60 ounces to get her baby through the period of time she needed to dispose of her milk due to her medication, and another who was headed to her sisters bachelorette party and would be unable to ship back the 30 ounces her little would need while she was gone.
Each of these women and the countless others who must turn to peer-to-peer milk donors due to a lack of milk sharing infrastructure in the U.S. place an enormous amount of trust in on another. Unlike milk that goes through a certified milk bank, their donors are not screened for disease, drugs, or alcohol use, and the milk that they feed their babies is not pasteurized or tested in any way. While Ms. Townsend worried greatly about the potential risk of a baby getting sick from donor milk, and mentioned the AAP recommendation to only use milk shared through a milk bank, the simple fact is that until women have ready access to breast milk though a milk bank, they will continue place their trust in their fellow mothers to procure milk for their babies.
Instead of condemning peer-to-peer sharing as unsafe, we should work towards reforming the culture of breast milk and milk sharing in the United Stated to ensure that, first and foremost, all women who want to breastfeed are supported to do so and, second, that all women who desire donor breast milk are able to access it in a safe, reliable manner.

SpeCtra Baby USA | 9 Plus Breast Pump

The 9 Plus is a steady, mobile nursing solution. Why not invest in a breast pump that’s going to make life better for you, your baby, and your partner?


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SpeCtra Baby USA – 9 Plus Breast Pump

Learn more at
Each breastfeeding journey is unique and requires its own personal approach to pumping and nursing. But reaching your breastfeeding goals can be challenging and sometimes out of your control given the physical and emotional changes new moms experience. Why not invest in a breast pump that’s going to make life better for you, your baby, and your partner?

Overall Rating: 5

Rating scale 1-5

Innovation Rating: 5

The SpeCtra 9 Plus is literally the size of 2 iPhones in cases, back to back. It’s as quiet as it is small with a rechargeable battery that will run for three hours (6 – 9 pumping sessions). With a massage feature to stimulate let-down, this pump mimics baby suckling until you switch to the expression feature, creating a strong baby-like draw. Finally, as a closed system, this pump prevents any unwanted breast milk backflow in the collection kit.

Usability Rating: 5

With the 9 Plus, you’re not hooked up to a wall. Think of it as free-range mothering. The 4-button interface (on/off, massage, vacuum up, and vacuum down) is uncomplicated and user friendly, allowing for easy adjustments as you go. Gentle without compromising effectiveness, the 9 Plus is a steady, mobile nursing solution. Plus, with backflow protection, there’s no need to struggle with tube cleaning in the collection kit.

Price Rating: 5

$199 (regularly $250)
Numbers aside, the 9 Plus from SpeCtraBaby is the ideal pump for multifaceted moms interested in finding the perfect nursing-and-pumping balance.

The Postpartum Body Struggle: Comparison Only Makes it Worse

You see it all the time: celebrities back to their “pre-pregnancy size” after what seems like days after they’ve given birth. The pressure is immense on us non-celebs to get back in shape as quickly as possible.
It’s tough: Between constant feeding and catching up on sleep how are you meant to fit the time in to exercise? Plus, your focus should be on your new baby, right?
I remember being pretty comfortable with how I looked when I was pregnant. I put on two stone (as you usually do) but mainly just the bump. I have to admit there were times when I was close to my due date where I wondered how on earth my stomach would shrink back to it’s existing size. I mean how the hell does it stretch that much?
I remember briefly looking down at my stomach a day or so after I gave birth and seeing hanging flab a bit like a deflated balloon, but feeling amazed at how much it had reduced already. I remember reading that breastfeeding helped burn calories, so I had it in my head that every time I fed I’d lose a bit more weight. However, even though I was breastfeeding and my stomach did shrink back down (never quite to my pre-pregnancy shape), I noticed I did feel a bit larger than I was before, especially a few months after giving birth when I stopped breastfeeding. I don’t just mean my stomach. I noticed my thighs and hips had expanded a bit more for example. I remember mentioning this to my husband and he suggested I actually looked better for it, but I just couldn’t get passed it. You find yourself looking in the mirror and pulling an “urgh” face.
Part of me was thinking, “Get over yourself, you’ve done an amazing thing and gone through a massive physical experience so why should you still look the same?” But another part of me felt just a bit negative about myself. I wanted to be able to fit into my old clothes again, even though I knew this wouldn’t happen straight away.
I was annoyed at myself for feeling this way, but where did these thoughts come from? The fact that I’d always been a certain size and rarely put on weight? Or was it from the so-called “celeb culture?” I for one actually struggle with the term “yummy mummy.” It implies you need to make yourself look good all the time as well as look after your new baby – many of us even struggle to get a shower as a starting point!
I used to read loads of celebrity magazines when I was breastfeeding or Millie was asleep. Nearly every main article focused on weight – who looked good, who’d put on weight – and this was positioned as “loving their curves.” To me it still brought negative connotations. I’ve stopped reading them now as I found it initially fueled my worries and insecurities and after a while I got bored of reading about this again and again. You can’t escape it though. Film, television programs, magazines – imagine the pressures on young girls nowadays. Being thin seems to be the norm.
The reality is, all of those celebs will have personal trainers with fitness programs, hair stylists, and beauticians on tap. I’m sure they also feel insecure about how they look and to be honest, they have much more pressure to look good in case they get papped for those magazines!!
I love this recent quote from Kate Winslet, whom I consider to be a great celebrity role model:

“But at a certain point, when you achieve a lot of your goals and you can be proud of your work, you start to relax more about who you are. And that includes your appearance and self-image – I don’t think I look too bad for a mother of two. But women shouldn’t have to feel the pressure to compare themselves to actresses or models.”

Ultimately how you feel about your body is your own personal challenge. I’ve accepted that although I won’t necessarily be the same size again, I still want to exercise, but not because I felt pressure to be thinner. Doing exercise doesn’t just keep you fit and healthy physically – it also improves your mental health and that is just as important, if not more so!
At the end of the day, I’m not just a mum, I’m an individual who wants to be happy and enjoy life. I’ll tone up and get fit but it’s on my terms – when I’m ready and have the time to do it!
This article was originally published here.

My Baby, My Breast: a Parent Knows When Nursing Is No Longer Best

As a new mom who did not successfully breastfeed, I have so often felt like a lesser mother over the past year whenever someone asked me, “Are you still breastfeeding?” Which is usually followed by, “Oh no, what happened!?” I have heard so many references to breastfeeding that at times I have felt as though mothering is breastfeeding, and because I am not doing so I must be less of a mom.
The “breast is best” mantra-turned-guilt-trip started for me before my daughter was even born. In my last group prenatal meeting, one woman said she planned to feed her baby formula, but felt like the healthcare community would only give her information on breastfeeding. After a deafening silence, the lactation consultant said, “That’s because we now know that breast milk is better.”
As if that icy tidbit wasn’t enough, she went on to caution, “I will just warn you that this is a very pro-breastfeeding area.” I swallowed hard, internalizing this information as a non-negotiable item, like so many women must do.
When our daughter Summer came, she came with a force. For the first week of her life, we called her “the tomato.” In nearly all of her waking moments her little newborn face was scrunched up and beet red, her lungs working over-time with what we called “the bird call cry.” One of the nurses on the labor and delivery unit asked us, “what is wrong with her?” Very reassuring to brand new parents.
When we got home from the hospital, disaster struck. Summer just couldn’t seem to get the milk she needed. She would worked up and arch her body into the most extreme contortions. I would arch along with her and try to aim my nipple into her mouth. Even when I got to her when she was still sleeping, the beginning of breastfeeding sent her into a tizzy. I was naked more than I was clothed, soaked in my own milk as my daughter cried, bit my nipple, bent her body, and flailed about.
For the first 72 hours of her life, my husband Nick and I slept for a total of three hours. I was so tired that at one point Nick had to remind me of Summer’s name. I began to get scared by how I felt – that I had no control over anything. The baby blues were also setting in and I couldn’t stop the tears. I would sit and cry as my milk leaked and stained my shirts, the couch, the floor. I studied the breastfeeding diagrams that made it look so easy. All the while Summer would wail uncontrollably in my arms.
We called the hospital lactation consultant who gave us advice over the phone. We called to make an appointment with that joyless lactation consultant from the prenatal group, but she was on vacation. We spoke to the midwife who told us not to worry, that Summer would get it soon. The pediatrician told me to supplement with pumped milk if I felt Summer was not getting enough to eat.
Not once in all these discussions did anyone mention formula.
On Summer’s one week birthday, I was tearfully sitting at the kitchen island, trying to nurse while Nick was at the grocery store. My sister-in-law sent me a text wishing Summer a happy one-week birthday. I read the text as if looking at it from a million miles away.
Happy? That word was not a part of a lexicon to which I could remotely relate. When Nick came home from the store and found me sobbing in the same place he left me, he said we needed to make a change.
We brought out the breastpump – something I had been nervous about, as the lactation consultant had ominously warned about introducing a bottle “too soon.”
Summer drank much better from a bottle. For the first time she showed us that her needs were met. For the first time, we regarded her with something other than pure terror. Pumping and bottle-feeding offered more of a solace, but the schedule was relentless. Pump, feed a bottle, tiny break, pump, feed a bottle – I never felt that I was bonding with my baby because it was too hard to hold her while I was pumping, which was most of the day.
Moreover, that humorless machine with all its wires was a bear on my nipples. Wearing clothes over my chafed breasts was excruciating, no matter how much nipple cream I applied. The pump kept us tethered to home, because, really, who is going to pump in public? I hoped to break the need for it, and so kept trying to teach Summer how to breastfeed. Alas, it always provoked a nearly violent reaction in her, which was hard for her (and me and Nick) to recover from.
When Summer was five weeks old, Nick broke his arm and couldn’t hold Summer. As he sat in the emergency room, I sat in bed with my mind racing. He came home, and we jointly agreed: it was time to switch to formula. Nick and I have strived to create an egalitarian household since the day we met. He advocated for formula from the minute breastfeeding proved a complicated endeavor. I surprised myself by declining that route at first because of the pressure I felt from society, although I knew that it was at the cost of our household’s peace.
After we began to formula feed, we got our groove as parents. We shared equally in caring for Summer, and Summer was well-cared for! By ditching the pump we could hold her as much as she needed. Feeling confident that we could meet her needs, our parental love flowed.
I look back at that time and feel rage, rage at society for pushing that breast is best – that if you don’t breastfeed, your child will die of SIDS, or be sick all the time, or have diabetes later in life, or be obese, or have a lower IQ. These cure-all claims by the breastfeeding-or-bust community are at best flawed and at worst pose a threat to new parents’ mental health. Unsurprisingly, recent studies point to correlation, not causation, with breastfed children, and look at what else is going on in a child’s life to help them advance. One such study found that when socioeconomic considerations are accounted for when measuring childhood IQ’s, “the standalone effect of breastfeeding seemed to disappear.”
Common sense suggests that all this pressure poses a risk for postpartum depression. Unsuccessful breastfeeding is a physical strife that feels emotionally harrowing as you’re unable to fulfill your baby’s needs. You then also have to battle society’s unceasing chorus that you’re creating risks for your child if you don’t breastfeed, challenging your very vulnerable identity as a new mother. One UK study found that women who unsuccessfully attempted to breastfeed were “two-and-a-half times more likely to develop postnatal depression, compared to women who had no intention of breastfeeding.” Not once did this risk for postpartum depression come up with any healthcare provider as Summer and I (and Nick) struggled through this chapter.
Being a mother is more than producing milk. Being a parent is not a job – it’s a state of being. We don’t need to give ourselves peer reviews and grades. The ultimate goal is to be the love of one another’s lives, and do what needs to be done to feel that way. Hanna Rosin says it best in her 2009 article on breastfeeding: “It seems reasonable to put breast-feedings’ health benefits on the plus side of the ledger and other things…on the minus side, and then tally them up and make a decision.”
That is exactly what our family did – only I wish we did it on day two instead of day 37. It would have saved a lifetime of tears and allowed us to bond with our baby a month earlier than we did.

My Topless Lunch Break Shouldn't Feel This Awkward

When I feed my baby at the breast I do it with pride. But, sitting topless in the too-cold “family room” in my building at my pump, I cringe.

I pump breast milk for my baby in my lunch hour at work. Despite all the sparkly good-Mama feels and my barely-contained urge to point out the impressiveness of my pre-pump bust line to passers-by, this labor of love becomes a daily festival of awkwardness for me. Because despite knowing how good breast milk is for my baby and being so happily cocooned in our very natural and beautiful breastfeeding relationship, I turn into squeaky-voiced Puberty Boy from “The Simpsons” when I have to pump. Every. Single. Time.
I don’t know why this is. When I feed my baby at the breast I do it with pride. Two babies and three years of breastfeeding in, I’ve become quite the lactivist. My wardrobe is full of zippers, buttons, deep scoop necks, and fabrics than can be hoiked in any given direction at a moment’s notice with a single free finger. I’m on breastfeeding pages, I cheer new breastfeeding mamas on, and I’ve taken on strangers giving breastfeeding mothers the stink eye. I would not hesitate in any setting to whip out a mammary to feed my baby.
But, sitting topless in the too-cold “family room” in my building, I cringe. The room is stacked with spare office furniture and equipped with movement-activated lighting that dims after three minutes of anything less than the physical activity of a full gymnastics carnival. I’m meters from where I otherwise sit in meetings with senior executives, in the dark, and listening to the mergh mergh mergh of my obnoxiously loud pump whining like an overtired mechanical toddler. So discreet.
Why does it need to be discreet? Is it just me or is it society that has this hang up?
Despite proudly posting pictures to social media of nine liters of frozen expressed milk with the hashtag #normalisebreastfeeeding, I haven’t told my supervisor or a single co-worker about spending my lunch times pumping. I have a friend with babies the same age as mine who pumps in her lunch hour, too, but she can say it out loud to people.
At lunch time, already feeling tense from doing the co-worker lunch date avoidance dance, I go and get my roast pork sandwich from the cafe at the bottom of my building. With gravy. (Yes, to eat with my feelings.) I ride the lift to the family room floor and get countless odd looks from colleagues when I don’t get out with them at our workplace floor.
I text my pumping friend: “How’s your Wednesday? Just another day in the office here – topless and elbow-deep in gravy! [Winky-face emoji.]” Being a perennial farmer of awkwardness, I would love to see how my gravy joke might fly at a whole-of-branch meeting – ideally with external stakeholders present – but I just can’t.
This inner conflict has gotten to me lately. What sort of Breastfeeding Normalizer am I if I can’t even acknowledge to the people around me that I pump milk for my baby. I recently called myself out on it. Time to stop being such a bloody weirdo and just talk about pumping milk for my baby in the normal, matter-of-fact way it deserves.
The next day back at work, the guy who holds the key to the family room – to whom I have agonizingly and with much blushing disclosed the purpose of my family room visits – asks me how it went as I return the key. I look at my feet. I push my jaw forward and meet his eyes.
“Good day! 250 milliliters!” I force out in a semi-normal tone, and then realize he is actually just making small talk, and not actually querying the volume of milk I’d extracted from my breasts.
“Well done” he says, in a not weird at all way. I will myself not to make crazy eyes about the whole interaction. “Thanks,” I smile, exhale, and wait calmly for the lift. I wonder if tomorrow would be too soon to try my gravy joke on him.

Why Are Parents Eschewing Grandparental Advice?

When it comes to turning to our own parents for help – especially with parenting – many of us are reluctant.

“I can do it myself!” my three-year-old constantly screams at me. No matter the task – from buckling his car seat chest clip to climbing on the jungle gym – he wants his mother to do nothing more than observe from a distance. He hardly ever needs me.
That is, until he does.
When he can’t get the clips lined up just right, or a slide ends up being scarier than he expects, he calls for me to come help him complete the task. I’m happy to step back when he needs space to explore his own strengths and weaknesses, and I’m just as happy to jump in when I can be of assistance.
But when it comes to turning to our own parents for help – especially with parenting – many of us are far more reluctant.
Just like I do with my bulk diaper orders, I frequently find myself turning to the internet for parenting-related needs. Advice, companionship, and the latest recommendations from professional health organizations are only a few clicks away. While my parents are a stable source of support for me, they aren’t typically awake at 3 a.m. to answer questions like, “Are BPA-free sippy cups safe for toddlers?”
I’m far from alone in this trend. More and more parents are turning to the internet and social media for parenting advice, leaving behind the centuries-old tradition of seeking help from their own mothers. One study found that Millennial parents were twice as likely to seek out information on the internet than to ask advice from other people. Another Pew Research Center study found that 75 percent of parents reported using social media for parenting-related information and social support.
I’ve definitely done the latter. My mother lives 2,000 miles and two time zones away – she isn’t likely to know if the playground down the street is still closed for repairs, but a quick post on Facebook will get me answers almost immediately. Parents raising young children today belong to a generation more mobile than any before it, meaning many are raising their own children far away from familial support.
But while proximity may be a factor, generational differences may be driving young parents’ skepticism about turning to their own parents for advice. According to research presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academics Societies, grandparents tend to use the same childcare practices they did when they were parenting, even though outdated methods may be dangerous.
Nearly a quarter of grandparents surveyed in the study were not aware that infants should sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Two-thirds of grandparents did not know that wounds heal better with a bandage, and 44 percent still believed that ice baths were a suitable remedy for very high fevers.
Today’s parents have the benefit of more research into children’s health and safety than ever before, but the recommendations and advice are often difficult to keep up with. Grandparents, most of whom have not raised an infant for several years, are less likely to be familiar with current recommendations, meaning any parent today who has left their baby with his or her grandparents has also likely left an instruction list that looked like this:
“If they take a nap, make sure she goes to sleep on her backs – NOT her stomach or side. And absolutely nothing in the crib with her either. No, not blankets. Definitely not stuffed animals. And if you absolutely have to go somewhere – make sure the car seat is rear-facing. Nevermind, I’ll put the car seat in for you. Actually, just please don’t go anywhere. And definitely no juice in her bottle, and please no sneaking her bites of food. And try to keep her away from the TV while you are at it.”
To which every grandparent has responded (out loud or in their head): “I raised you just fine, didn’t I?”
Before we start arguing that we were lucky to survive the parenting practices of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, we must admit there is a downside to our increased reliance on peers and the internet. A survey in Time Magazine found 58 percent of Millennials found the amount of parenting information available to be somewhat, very, or extremely overwhelming, compared to 43 percent of Baby Boomers. A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that – unsurprisingly – many websites offered inaccurate information. For example, only 43 percent of 1,300 websites examined for their information on infant sleep contained recommendations in line with the American Academy of Pediatric’s guidelines. And while blogs or social media might be a fine place to find information about diapers that don’t leak, when it comes to advice on topics such as vaccination the information available can range from misleading to downright dangerous.
While grandparents might not be the best source for up-to-date scientific recommendations, they can offer the benefit of experience. Brooke Scelza, an anthropologist researching breastfeeding practices in Namibia, found that women from the Himba ethnic group isolated from modern cities called were more likely to breastfeed than women in the United States. But that’s not because they find it easier – instead, most benefit from the help of their mothers and other women in the early days.
Any trip through parenting message boards in the U.S. will reveal topic after topic with titles such as, “How to Say No to Visitors After Birth” or “No Grandparents Immediately After Birth; How to Tell Them.” The conventional wisdom that parents need time alone to bond with their newborn, rather than hosting guests, might set new mothers up for isolation, even as it aims to protect them from unhelpful visitors who leave behind more dishes than sage advice.
Of course, not all new mothers have warm relationships with their own parents. And the “I did it this way and you turned out just fine” line can certainly cause a new parent to question her own instincts. But while the internet may be able to offer the most up to date parenting advice, it lacks the warmth of in-person support from someone who cares about you.
Today’s parents face a host of worries that ours did not – from pesticides in food to BPA in drink cups to how to filter out an excess of information. Still, it can’t hurt to pick up the phone and say, “Mom, what did you do when I just wouldn’t stop crying?”
If nothing else, it might help to hear someone say, “I don’t remember. But you turned out just fine.”

How to Work Pumping at Work

Take comfort in knowing that many moms before you have pumped on the job, and you can, too.

So, you’ve had the baby, committed to breastfeeding, and watched in disbelief as your weeks of maternity leave flew by. Now you’re digging through the closet for something, anything, work appropriate that fits and trying to figure out just how you’ll make this pumping-at-work thing work.
Well, mama, pumping at work has its challenges. But take comfort in knowing that many moms before you have done it, and you can, too. Check out the tips below to help you ease back into work and succeed at giving your baby the best.

1 | Practice pumping at home

Don’t let your first day back at work be the day that you try to figure out what size breast shields feel most comfortable or how long you need to pump before a second let down occurs.
A few weeks before you head back to work, break out your pump and get comfortable with how to assemble the parts, how to store your milk, and how it feels to pump. Knowing what pumping entails can help you feel more comfortable heading back to work.

2 | Block your calendar

Pumping takes time and, if you don’t block your calendar, your pumping time can easily be encroached upon by co-workers who don’t realize that a few minutes here and a few minutes there can seriously hurt your supply. Many moms need 20 to 30 minutes to pump.
Figure out what amount of time works best for you, and build in a five-minute buffer on either side to ensure you have the time to get set up and wash your parts after each session. It’s always okay to finish a little early, but you don’t want to feel rushed by giving yourself too little time.

3 | Identify your spot

If you’ve got an office, this is an easy one. If you’re in one of the many professions that don’t lend themselves to having a private space, you’ll have to be more intentional about selecting your spot.
Perhaps there’s a conference room or meeting room you can book regularly or an unused private space that you can take over for the next few months. If you’re having trouble finding a spot, reach out to your HR person for suggestions.

4 | Find your allies

Like anything difficult, pumping is easier when you’ve got a friend. If there are other new moms in the office, they’re probably down to chat about lactation cookies, Fenugreek, and the joys and challenges of trying to find a decent nursing bra.
If there aren’t any new moms in the office, you might find some unlikely champions in the form of older mothers or recent dads. Your champions are important because they’re the ones you know you can count on to cover for you in a pinch, whether it’s lending you their private office, pushing a meeting, or taking an unexpected client call when you’re not available.

5 | Know your rights

Since 2010, the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law has enabled moms to go back to work and pump with success. This law requires employers to provide nursing mothers with a private, clean space (that is not a bathroom) to pump milk as needed.
Knowing your rights will give you the confidence to advocate for yourself if you feel like your rights are being infringed upon.

6 | Know who can help when challenges arise

Sometimes it seems that just when you get things figured out with breastfeeding, everything changes and new challenges pop up. When the going gets tough, you’ll want to know who you can reach out to for help.
Keep the names of a good lactation consultant, your local La Leche League leader, and your OB on hand.