News Bites: Lack of support for breastfeeding moms; Organic formula hyperbole

My blood pressure is rising, and I’m mid-tirade directed at my poor, innocent husband when it hits me: It must be time for a good, old fashioned, FFF news roundup.

Those of you who’ve been with me for awhile probably remember that I used to do these frequently, especially when something in the news cycle gives me a bout of psychologically-induced hives. So it may come as no surprise that I felt the urge this morning, when not one, but two frustrating pieces popped up in my news feed.

First up, we have coverage of a new study in the aptly titled “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report”, claiming that women are still not getting sufficient support in American hospitals for breastfeeding.

According to NPR:

Most hospitals around the country aren’t doing a good job of helping new moms who want to breast-feed, researchers report Tuesday..Several common practices at the institutions may actually prevent moms from sticking with breast-feeding for six months — the duration thought to be most healthful for babies.


Epidemiologists at the CDC surveyed more than 80 percent of the birthing centers across the country about the support they give new moms trying to breast-feed. About half of those surveyed said they implement five of the 10 practices recommended by the World Health Organization. By comparison, only a third of hospitals were hitting that mark in 2007.

Looking at the study itself, the news is far from dire. In fact, according to the CDC report of the evidence, “nationally, hospitals implementing more than half of the Ten Steps increased from 28.7% in 2007 to 53.9% in 2013.” That’s a pretty significant jump, but the media decided to go with the story that “hospitals aren’t doing enough to support women in meeting breastfeeding goals.”

This is me, reading these articles. Not really. But it SO could have been.

This is me, reading these articles. Not really. But it SO could have been.

But what is the real story, here, and how come no one is talking about it? What this study tells us is whether hospitals are following what they are ‘supposed’ to do to help improve breastfeeding rates. These are things like providing mandatory breastfeeding classes, holding breastfeeding support groups (or referring out to La Leche League, etc.), making sure no pacifiers are given to neonates, and outlawing the use of “unnecessary” formula supplementation – something which the NPR piece gives ample air time:

And, too often, that’s not happening. For example, about 75 percent of hospitals still give healthy babies some formula in the first days of life, even when moms say they want to breast-feed.


“Even a little bit of formula may undermine a strong start to breastfeeding,” Frieden says.

Again, let’s go back to the actual study. All it tells us is that “less progress occurred in limiting non–breast milk feeding of breastfed infants (20.6% to 26.4%)”. “Breastfed infants” means infants who start out breastfeeding, presumably. But many, many parents end up supplementing by choice or by necessity – and the study does not differentiate between these situations and the type of scenario the media is imagining, where innocent breastfed babies are stolen from their parents in the night and force-fed Enfamil.

This study is not news. This study is not, in fact, telling us anything about whether women are getting “support”, at all. It is telling us whether the number of hospitals following government guidelines for raising breastfeeding rates is going up (it is). It does not correlate that number with any increase in actual breastfeeding rates. It does not survey women and ask if they felt supported in achieving their breastfeeding goals. And it certainly does not factor in the needs or experiences of women who do not want to breastfeed, or physically can’t.

But it’s not the study I’m worried about – it’s the media’s insistence on sticking to one stale, tunnel-visioned narrative, insisting that what women need is support, but defining “support” as more control over their decisions and bodies; deciding that “supporting breastfeeding” means what one group decided it means, rather than listening to women, and asking them what would really help them achieve their goals. We end up exactly in the same place we were before: with hospitals implementing pro-breastfeeding policies and then wondering why their patients and nurses are making them so difficult to carry out. (Maybe because they aren’t the right policies, or they aren’t being implemented in the right way.)

Moving on… to a piece that could have been a nice little gift to formula consumers, something that actually made a case for better transparency in the formula industry, in the popular New York Times ”Motherlode” column. If you’re not familiar with Motherlode, it usually features well-written personal essays on parenting, with the occasional news, book review, or opinion piece. Today’s column, “What Does ‘Organic’ Mean For Baby Formula”, was none of these, but rather a bizarre bit of “investigative reporting” that would have fit better over on Food Babe’s blog. The author of the piece writes:

…I began to question what, exactly, were the unexpected and confusing things I was reading on the ingredients lists.

The biggest surprise was that in many of the formulas, the main ingredient was not milk, but highly processed, refined sweeteners (often listed as organic glucose syrup solids). I generally avoid feeding refined sweeteners — even organic ones — to my children. I was even more taken aback to see how many also included ingredients one wouldn’t typically expect to find in organic food — like synthetic preservatives.

I won’t bore you with all the specifics of why formulas contain sweeteners, synthetic preservatives, and “confusing” ingredients, except to say this: companies have done their R&D to make the healthiest product possible for the lowest possible price. There may indeed be less processed or more premium ingredients available, but we don’t have any research proving that more expensive or organic formulas are any better for a child’s health, so there doesn’t seem to be justification for using materials that would raise the cost. (Note: If you do want more info on formula ingredients, visit Dr. Chad Hayes’ fantastic website).

Now, to be fair, I understand the author’s confusion; if you’re used to buying high-end organic food, the back of a formula can – organic or not – is going to be super intimidating. But it’s important to remember that the definition of organic food is simply about the sources of the ingredients:

“What is organic food? Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.  Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.  Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.  Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.  Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.”

-Consumer Brochure, USDA National Organic Program,

To clarify, in organic foods, the ingredients used can’t be derived from sources using GMO, pesticides, antibiotics, and so forth. It doesn’t mean that the food is healthy or whole. You could make an organic version of a Twinkie, but it would still be a Twinkie.

Now, in the case of formula, we are talking about something healthy – but also highly processed. This is chemical food, and it should be chemical food. It is a substitute for human milk; hence, the only way it can come close to human milk is by being recreated in a lab. Every mammal creates milk specific to its species; having the primary ingredient of human infant formula be cow’s milk has to do with cow’s milk being cheap and readily available, and easy enough to alter to be suitable for human consumption; it’s not because cow’s milk is particularly good for humans, whether it comes from the udders of grass-fed cows or not. 

I honestly do not want to criticize the author of the NYT piece. She sounds like a very well-intentioned mother. But I do think that an article which seems on the surface to be investigative journalism instead of an opinion piece, could be misleading to other well-intentioned parents, who will now feel that they have to pay exorbitant amounts of money to feed their children “healthy” formula: 

On a friend’s advice, I began to research two formulas made in the European Union, HiPP and Holle. It seemed pretty clear: these formulas came closer to what I would expect in organic baby food. No refined, high-concentrated sweeteners. No synthetic DHA or ARA. No synthetic preservatives. HiPP says it analyzes all its agricultural projects for traces of over 1,000 different substances. The main ingredient in Holle’s formula is milk that comes from pasture-fed cows raised on biodynamic farms.


Holle and HiPP are great products. And the author’s assertion at the end of her article, that parents need better options, is spot-on. I want there to be more communication between formula manufactures and parents, so that we all understand why certain ingredients are in our babies’ food. I want there to be ample options for kids with all sorts of food sensitivities; formulas for vegans; formula for parents who care about grass-fed cows. Because that’s the beauty of using a manufactured product – it can be altered. It can evolve.

What I don’t want is fear-mongering or confusion running around, when parents are already stressed and scared about formula use. I want parents to know that while DHA/ARA is indeed hexane-extracted, that does NOT mean that any hexane remains in the DHA/ARA. I want them to know that the reason many companies don’t use lactose is not because it’s expensive, but rather because cow lactose is different than human lactose, and many babies have a hard time tolerating it. I want them to know that yes, ingredients matter, and it’s absolutely okay to care about what goes into your body and your baby’s body (not that you need my permission or anyone else’s to feel how you’re going to feel, but you know what I mean), but the formulas on the market now have been tested, highly regulated, and proven to work beautifully for the majority of babies.

Insisting that we have more choices and better consumer knowledge does not have to mean throwing the generic brand-fed baby out with the bathwater. Let’s stop and talk to the people who are creating these formulas, and not just stop at the Cornucopia Institute (because both sides are affected by very strong bias, and you need to balance one extreme with the other), as well as some totally independent, science-minded folks. Let’s aim for truth and nuance rather than absolutes and middle-class food politics.

And now, I’m going to go celebrate the Cubs securing their place in the post-season, because that’s the only news really worth talking about, anyway.


***For a great breakdown of the organic formula options currently available in the US, visit the Incredible Infant’s Guide to Organic Formula.***



The FFF Community Guide for Responding to Formula Critics, Pushy Hospital Staff, and Other Nosy and/or Rude Characters

“How do I stand up for myself in the hospital if I don’t want to breastfeed?”


“I want to feel confident about my choice… but what can I say to people who question it?”

I get asked both of these questions at least twice a month. Aside from the fact that it frustrates me to no end that parents are still feeling judged and belittled for their feeding methods, I also am not the best at short, pithy responses. (Long-winded is an understatement for how I typically communicate.) So I often post these quandaries on the FFF Facebook page, to get the input of the brilliant parents who populate it. Their answers range from practical to profound; cheeky to cheerful. As usual, my audience is way smarter than I am.

I’ve compiled these responses into a living, ever-present “database” of pocket responses for these common bottle-feeding conversations. I’m also happy to add to it, so feel free to contribute your own suggestions in the comments. I hope this helps you all stay confident, proud, and fearless in your decisions. Because you have no reason not to be.

- The FFF



In the hospital….

“The way I recently shut down one of the midwives at the hospital a day after a delivered who asked why there was formula next to me, who also reminded me I needed to keep baby to the breast in order to produce: ‘Thank you, I’m well aware and I’ve made my decision.’”

“Say, ‘I’m fully aware of the benefits of breast feeding but it’s not for me. Thank you for respecting my decision on what is best for my baby and I.’”

“I would make it known to the hospital staff as soon as you check in (they asked me shortly after). If they inquire why or say you should meet with a lactation consultant, don’t feel like you need to give an explanation. Just stay firm and ask for formula. They have plenty available so they should just accept your decision!”

“Make sure everyone in your birthing room is on board, and only allow people in that support your decision. Make sure that you have it in writing that you do not wish to have lactation consultants come to your room, and that you do not wish to breastfeed. If you are challenged, immediately request to speak to the charge or head floor nurse. The support system you surround yourself with is going to be key. Additionally, I’d look into the hospital where you are planning to deliver. If they are ‘baby friendly’ they tend to promote BF over FF, so just a heads up. Hopefully no one will challenge you, but just be prepared and know that this is a safe space for you. Finally, FFF/ISY support groups are forming around the country. There may be a resource for you right there!”



“I was VERY assertive about it with my second child, and explained that we had made a sound, reasoned decision that was best for us. We also requested a bottle of formula while I was in labor so I could give the first bottle, which was very special to me. We also had a sign in my room in the maternity ward. Now, it’s harder to be so assertive with your first, because everyone thinks you’ll get religion about it at the last minute. I would absolutely avoid over-explaining. People will try to cut down all your reasons no matter how good they are. Just find a mantra and repeat it as nauseam. Example: ‘We’ve decided already, but thanks for your concern.’”

“I would be the type of person that would need to rehearse my ‘explanation’, if you will. So, my suggestion would be once you come up with a short idea of what you want to say, preach it girl! To yourself, to your spouse, your loved ones, and friends. Ask them to do the same. Utilize your loved ones and friends in the hospital as well. Give them the same idea of what you plan on saying, so if the time comes and you’re exhausted and don’t have the ability to fight in one moment or more, they can back you up. I had a hard time with pushy nurses when I was trying to breastfeed at first. Eventually I got the courage to simply say ‘thank you for your help, but you need to leave….NOW’ If I am blessed with another baby I may be going directly to formula. If I do that I will be saying ‘I have done my research, and I have searched my heart. I thank you for the support, but I do not need your help. I am the mother of this child. I know what’s best. Please leave now.’”

“I think it might pay to remember that in a lot of hospitals they have a breastfeeding policy that they have to abide by. The hospitals probably don’t consider how confronting that is for Mums who don’t want to go there…”

“I had my OB write on my antenatal card: ‘Not to breastfeed’. It didn’t stop some midwives still trying to persuade me but it also raised awareness among others to already respect my decision. This was for my 2nd child who went straight onto formula from birth. I also just told family and friends (and nosy strangers!) that it didn’t work out for my 1st child and hence it was the best decision for our family.”

“Tell them when they are birthing your baby and paying for said baby, they will get a say. Tell them that minding their own business is best for them if they would like to stay in your life.”

“I would just let them know upfront that you’ve considered your options, you are well informed and have decided that formula feeding is the best option for you & baby. If they say maybe just try it or offer a lactation consultant or start banging on about ‘breast is best’, just remind them it’s not necessary – as you are already well informed on the topic and it’s not open for discussion. Your body, your baby, your choice.”

“I’d say you have researched your options and formula feeding is a better fit for your family.”

“I wrote in my birth plan ‘We will not be breastfeeding. Thank you for respecting this very personal and informed decision’. No one ever pressured me at all. One nursed came in after a shift change and asked innocently. I kindly said ‘It is written in our birth plan that we will not be nursing’ She was completely ok with it and didn’t say anything else.”

“Make your intention known in your birth plan and tell all doctors and nurses ahead of time (or as you arrive while you still have your wits about you). Let them know if you are interested after birth YOU will bring it up, and to make sure a small bottle of formula (1oz or so) is available for immediately after the birth.”

“I was really stressed about this but I had my doctor put it in my chart and made it clear when I showed up at the hospital not to ask me about it. “


For strangers, in-laws, bosses, neighbors, that snotty mom in your playgroup, and everyone else who has no business asking…

“Don’t even bother with an explanation. Shut them down. I breast fed, expressed and formula fed and whenever a busy body asked me about how she was fed I’d just say ‘she’s feeding great, thanks! How are you keeping?’”

“I just used to say, ‘With all due respect i have made the choice that best suits our family’s needs and I don’t wish to discuss it further.’”

“’Are you wearing a tampon? What color is your poop? What is your pooping routine? Oh? You don’t like questions/comments about your personal body? Neither do I.’”

“Don’t answer them. If they ask tell them that question and topic is off limits.”

“I told people my son was well fed and healthy. If they felt that was unimportant, then it was their priorities that were skewed, not mine.”

“If someone wants to be rude enough to try and force you to bf, then you can be rude enough to tell them to stop in a manner that will actually make them stop.”

“Remember – ‘No.’ is a complete sentence.”

“Just like baby’s name- keep it private until the baby comes. Not worth having to explain your decision nor hearing anyone’s ‘opinion’”

“I would say that you don’t talk about their breasts, so please don’t talk about yours.”

“I’d go for an eye roll, a withering stare and an exasperating sigh.”


“Tell them, ‘No. I am an adult and I make decisions for my body and my baby, period. That’s the last you’ll say about it.’”

“‘I don’t/didn’t tell you how to parent your child, you don’t get to tell me how to parent mine.’ That may be a last straw comment. It shuts my MIL down pretty quickly.”

“I choose how to use my breasts, not you.”

“Probably just easiest to nod and say thanks for the input, but I don’t want to discuss it! It’s just about impossible to change people’s minds and beliefs. Your midwife should support your decision either way, especially once you have told her that that is your decision and you wish to hear no more about. It’s a bit like people telling you that you have to give birth a particular way – whether or not you want to. “

“When people ask what you plan to do, say ‘I plan to feed my baby.’ Done.”

“I will try breastfeeding, when you try minding your own business, and seeing as that won’t happen for you, breastfeeding won’t happen for me.”

“Thank you for your concern, but I’ve made up my mind. Hey! How about that Sports team/weather/new movie [insert subject change of choice]”

“I held firm to my decision and made it clear to people that the benefits of bottle feeding are essential for me and far outweigh any breastfeeding benefits. Be firm, stand your ground and educate yourself on both sides.”

“I understand where you’re coming from, and I appreciate you giving me advice, but for now, I am going to try and do what’s best for both of us, and right now, that doesn’t include breastfeeding.”

“‘I’ve never had so many people inquire about my breasts before,’ usually shuts them right up.”

“One word answers. Have you considered breast feeding? No. But have you read the research? Yes. Hard to argue with one word answers.”

“I just smiled and gave them a blank stare…it really is none of their business. They would get all awkward and I would just keep smiling…!”

“When people asked me this I would smile and say, “Because.” And then change the subject.”

Guest Post and Giveaway – Work. Pump. Repeat.

A few years ago, I inter-met (get it? Meaning “met on the internet” – just made that up) this amazing blogger named Jessica Shortall. She was talking about combining breastfeeding and work in a funny, open, realistic and smart way – something I found refreshing in this typically depressing little corner of the Web. I’ve followed her work since, and am so excited to announce that today, her book Work.Pump. Repeat has been released into the world. This is the first and only breastfeeding book I’ve ever recommended on this page, and while it may seem odd for me to be promoting something exclusively for lactating women, I feel that strongly about her contribution to the infant feeding canon. I have a lot of readers who combo-feed or decide to breastfeed subsequent children, and I am thrilled to have a solid book to suggest to them; something that will celebrate their individuality and right to choose, while simultaneously giving them practical tips on combining breast and bottle and going back to work while breastfeeding.

Jessica and I have joined forces to offer the FFF audience a kickass giveaway, for those of you who are still pumping, planning on pumping, or might want to support a pumping friend (a great way to spread the #ISupportYou message). I wanted to do this for three reasons:

1. To show that infant feeding websites can, do and should support every woman’s individual journey. Just because you frequent FFF doesn’t mean you don’t support your breastfeeding best friend, or that you aren’t also pumping or combo feeding, or that you don’t plan on giving breastfeeding a go the second or third time around.


2. Because I think it means something that these brands were willing to work with me and this site, since some other brands (cough) were afraid to align themselves with someone who primarily supports parents using formula.


3. Because it’s a fun way to promote Jessica’s book, and I would do anything to help her out. Just read her post below, and you’ll see why I feel this way.

Check out the info about the giveaway at the end of this post.

So, without further blabbing, here’s some words written specifically for the FFF audience by a woman I am incredibly proud to call a friend, a woman who truly supports ALL mothers in their feeding journeys, and manages to support breastfeeding without ever disparaging alternative feeding methods.


On Failure and Goals

by Jessica Shortall

Work. Pump. Repeat. (available now) is the first breastfeeding book to get beyond the noise of the Mommy Wars and into practical advice, emotional support, and some seriously dark humor. Jessica Shortall shares the nitty-gritty basics of surviving the working world as a breastfeeding mom, offering a road map for negotiating the pumping schedule with colleagues, navigating business travel, and problem-solving when forced to pump in less-than-desirable locales. Drawing on the war stories, hacks, and humor of working moms, and on her own stories from her demanding job and travel in developing countries, she gives women moral support for dealing with the stress and guilt that come with juggling working and breastfeeding. As she tells the reader in her witty, inspiring manifesto, “Your worth as a mother is not measured in ounces.”

The other day, I was looking for something specific in the manuscript of my book, so I opened the Word document I had submitted to my publisher, and did a “ctrl+F” keyword search for the word “failure.”

I wasn’t really expecting the search to return 231 results.

It does make sense, though, because trying to be a triple-threat breastfeeder, working person, and new mother in a world that wants you to be perfect at all three, is FULL OF FEELINGS.

But still…I don’t know how we got to this place. My gut tells me that this breastfeeding/failure thing is a relatively new phenomenon. I mean, I can totally picture any woman, at any time in human history, completely breaking down in the first hours or days postpartum, when her nipples are bleeding and the baby is howling. That’s probably pretty universal in terms of an almost unnameably horrific set of feelings. But this thing, this setting of breastfeeding goals as a thing women are asked to do and to publicly affirm, via “I breastfed for ____ months” Facebook badges? I have to believe this is relatively new territory.

The biggest problem with this cultural phenomenon is that tightly defining what “success” looks like is, de facto, also defining “failure” for us, whether we like it or not. So, 231 instances of the word “failure” in my book, from my mouth and the mouths of the hundreds of working mothers I interviewed? When you consider that 83% said that working caused them to breastfeed for shorter than they had hoped? Yeah, I guess that makes sense.

In this journey of writing a book that helps women breastfeed while working, I have discovered one interesting thing: I’m kind of alone in WHY I’m doing it. (Note: I’m totally NOT alone in that I feel like I’m stitching together the stories and laughter and tears and holy-shit-that-was-awkward moments of gazillions of working women. YOU people make me feel not-alone.) I’ve learned that many breastfeeding advocates and educators – including some of the great and lovely ones – define their baseline goal as getting more breastmilk into more babies. So if that’s the goal, then for any individual woman, success is defined pretty tightly – and therefore, anything outside of that success sort of sensibly feels like failure.

I get their goal, and I respect their intentions. I’m just coming at this from a totally different place. I define my ultimate goal in this space as helping women and their babies figure out what ‘thriving’ looks like for them. Two roads diverged. And here’s who I think that matters to:

- the waitress who really doesn’t have a choice when she is faced with losing tables, and therefore un-lose-able income, by taking pumping breaks

- the lawyer who suffers from crippling postpartum anxiety related to how much (or how little) milk she is producing at work

- the heavy-business-traveler who just can’t…just CAN’T, like, down to her SOUL…withstand even the IDEA of bringing that #%$^ pump onto one more airplane

- the stay-at-home-mom with her own damn reasons that I haven’t even thought of

- and even, yep, the woman who produces more than enough breastmilk, day in and day out, at work, enough even to donate some, for a year or more. This woman, too, doesn’t deserve to be defined as a success only by her milk, and I truly believe that she doesn’t want to see her sisters, her friends, and her co-workers put to shame.


Every time we draw bright lines around success, we create a huge swath of experience that is, by default, being defined as failure. Breastfeeding for X length of time is ONE part of ONE version of thriving, for some, but certainly not for all. I refuse to discount families who are using their capable hearts, heads, and bodies to figure out their own version of happiness, healthiness, and success. The goal is thriving families, and I can’t wait to see your version.


Fearless Formula Feeder + Work. Pump. Repeat. are pleased to offer you

The ultimate working + breastfeeding giveaway survival kit

Hey, pumping and combo-feeding moms! Don’t go back to work alone: bring this bad-ass survival kit with you! Work. Pump. Repeat. and the Fearless Formula Feeder are teaming up with some of the best-loved breastfeeding brands to offer an amazing prize pack of the survival gear any working-and-breastfeeding mom will need. Worth more than $500, this giveaway will let you stop worrying about gear and get back to snuggling with your baby and binge-watching TV until it’s time to head back to work.

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FFF Friday: “Why did no one tell me about this?”

The history of infant feeding is fascinating to me, mostly because it’s such a prime example of human innovation. In today’s Western society, we tend to romanticize the days of yore, favoring ancient practices in the approach to nutrition, medicine, and especially birth and parenting. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, if this is what you prefer – but I think the downside is that we start resenting modern conveniences and progress. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a total Luddite about many things (I will never trade in my dogeared, musty-smelling paperbacks for a Kindle; I think Facebook is the downfall of humanity) but I also freaking love my DVR, read Popular Science and geek out, and think medical advancements are the coolest thing since sliced bread. I love that we can cure diseases, prevent others, and take away the pain from childbirth for those who desire this.

So I really, really love Emily’s story, because it speaks to all of this, and then some. Because nature isn’t always right. Humans aren’t always right. In fact, both of them are wrong a lot of the time. But when they can work in tandem and correct each other’s mistakes, that’s a beautiful thing. 

 Happy Friday, fearless ones,



Emily’s Story

My husband is a biologist, and he’s interested in evolutionary biology. Through him, I’ve also developed an interest in this, though I’m not at all a science person so my understanding is limited.

When I learned about insufficient glandular tissue (and that I had IGT), I didn’t understand. If our bodies were made for breastfeeding (as nurses, lactation consultants, et al. kept telling me), how is it that IGT is a thing? Why it is that the gene for IGT didn’t die out when our bodies didn’t do what they were meant to do and we couldn’t feed our babies?

I thought about this as I was pregnant with my second child. With my first, we had tried breastfeeding. He had a great latch and a strong suck for all the good it did him. I just couldn’t produce enough milk. I hadn’t even heard of IGT back then. Neither had the myriad nurses, lactation consultants, doctors, or La Leche League leaders, presumably. Or if they did, they never told me about it. LLL leaders were happy with telling me that I wasn’t dedicated to breastfeeding and that I was wrong when I said he wasn’t producing dirty diapers. I just couldn’t tell they were wet, she said, because I used disposable diapers rather than cloth. (To be fair, some of the LLL leaders were much nicer and encouraging.) Lactation consultants must have seen me as a cash cow and tried to sell me products and services that weren’t even calculated to help my supply issue. I’ve come to think of them as predatory.quotescover-JPG-14

And so, thinking that breast is best, my routine with my first was breastfeed, give breast milk that I had pumped earlier, supplement with formula, and pump while he sleeps. When that was all done, he was up again. I think a lot of readers are familiar with this pattern. I was even on some medication from my midwife to try to increase my supply, but all it did was make me sleepy. Eventually, I stopped. I realized that an awake mommy who could play with her baby was more important than breast milk.

During my second pregnancy, I learned about IGT, in particular that I might have IGT. Instead of feeling relieved or justified (so that’s why I couldn’t breastfeed!), I felt lied to and betrayed. Of all the people I spoke to when my first baby was born, all the medical professionals and self-professed breastfeeding experts who tried to make me feel bad, give me medication, or sell me useless and expensive equipment, why did no one tell me about this? They all said that our bodies were meant to do this, that we have been doing this for thousands of years. They never said that maybe my body wasn’t meant to do this. And if, as they said, this is what mommies are designed to do and I can’t do it, are they implying that I shouldn’t be a mommy?

Survival of the fittest doesn’t mean survival of the physically strongest. It means the one who is most able to adapt to her surroundings will pass on her genes. People say that women have been breastfeeding for thousands of years, but they neglect to mention that we have also been using wet nurses, animal milk, and baby bottles for that long. The gene for IGT didn’t die out because humans are creative, intelligent, and caring enough to feed their babies when their bodies don’t work the way other people think they should.

Never do I feel more human than I do when I give my baby formula. Bottle feeding my babies reminds me of humans’ problem solving ability that allowed us to evolve into who we are today, and probably did more for the species than mammary glands ever did. And we’re all part of this intelligent species, whether we bottle or breastfeed.


Feel like sharing your story? Email me at

Special Feature: Excerpt from the new book, “Becoming Mother”

I am so thrilled to bring you a free preview of Sharon Tjaden-Glass’s new book, Becoming Mother: A Journey of Identity, which came out just today. Becoming Mother is “a reflective memoir that spans from pregnancy through the end of the first year postpartum. It follows the author as she resists, denies, copes with, and ultimately embraces her identity as a mother.” I love how Tjaden-Glass blends introspection with reflection on larger social issues, and I especially enjoyed her chapter on feeding her daughter, which you’ll find below. If you’d like to read more, the book is available on Amazon (Print and Kindle), or you can visit her website. 

- The FFF



Why did my inability to breastfeed cause me so much devastation? Was it perhaps because I still felt so connected to Felicity? Certainly, this presented a paradox: How could our needs be in such conflict while we were still so attached? She needed food, and I couldn’t provide it. It seemed impossible.

But there was another, deeper layer to my devastation—the devastation of a wounded identity, one that was still a newborn itself. That fresh identity as a competent mother—hero of my own story, defender of my newborn baby—was now at risk. I was becoming some breed of mother who didn’t neatly fall into one category or another. How could I have had an unmedicated childbirth and now be formula feeding my baby? What kind of mother was that?

Mothers like me didn’t seem to exist in mommy blogs or on-line forums. Mothers who gave birth without medication always breastfed their babies! They endured the pain so their babies would be alert after birth and latch with no problems. If they could stand the pain of childbirth, the pain of nursing cramps and chomped nipples and mastitis would be child’s play.

This is what I thought.

But again, these thoughts emerge from living in a society that emphasizes choice. When our concerns are not simply feeding our children, we can refocus our concerns on how we are feeding them. And when those feeding choices are presented on a continuum of “good, better, and best”, it’s fairly easy to jump to the conclusion of “good, better, and best mother.”

Even after I reassured myself that I was a competent mother, I knew the stereotypes that follow mothers who formula feed today. Our identities are not solely composed of what we think about ourselves. They also include—whether we like it or not—what others think about us. We may not care what some people think about our parenting, but we want those whom we respect to see us at least as good parents, if not great parents. And so this was a major psychological blow at a time when I was already bottoming out because of the fluctuations in my postpartum hormones.

So when I was unable to breastfeed, I had to reconcile many truths. I had to surrender my commitment to breastfeed. I had to accept that my baby wouldn’t be eating what everyone was calling “the best.” I had to reconcile what this decision said about my new identity as a mother. And I had to accept a very definite separation from my baby at a time when I wasn’t ready to let go.

Until I decided to wean Felicity, I had relied on evidence-based research to make decisions about labor, birth, and feeding. And while all of this knowledge helped me to avoid an unnecessary labor induction, it was not the definitive authority that I had imagined it to be during pregnancy. Because I lacked confidence in my own instincts as a woman and a mother, I placed all of my trust in this research, believing that it would provide me the best counsel about how to solve any problem that I could encounter as a new mother.

In fact, Davis-Floyd (2003) explored this tendency of American mothers to grant more authority to scientific knowledge than their own intuitive and bodily knowledge. She asserts that this tendency arises from American cultural beliefs that possessing, “scientific knowledge about medical birth” gives mothers power and control in a culture where, “knowledge… is respected… (and) enables one to be a competent player of our cultural game” (p. 31). Not only does her cultural observation explain my intense desire to read and research during pregnancy, but it helps me understand my own distrust in my body’s signals.

But if I had been able to listen to my body and trust my instincts more, I would have probably stopped breastfeeding around eight days postpartum. It was at this time that I knew my milk supply was not going to increase. My daughter was already eating mostly formula despite my constant pumping and nursing. I had done all of the interventions that I could try and the outcome was the same—one to two ounces of breast milk per day. At this point, I had to start denying what was happening to me in order to keep going. Every time I nursed her, I reminded myself that breastfeeding was best and that I was doing the right thing. I refused to let myself focus on the fact that she could only draw half an ounce of breast milk during a feeding. Instead, I allowed statistics and the results of scientific studies to overshadow my own personal experience.


But it wasn’t just research that fueled my self-denial.

It was also my own pride.


I shared in today’s breastfeeding enthusiasm to the point of sacrificing my own health. I had read about the dangers of infant formula. I didn’t want processed food going into my baby’s body. Unlike women of my mother’s and grandmother’s generations, I live in a time when breastfeeding is now heralded as the best decision that mothers can make for the health of their babies. It supports their immune systems. Breast milk is more easily digested, so babies have fewer cases of constipation and diarrhea. It makes them smarter? It decreases their chances of developing obesity? Okay, those findings seemed like a stretch, but I was willing to believe them—since I was going to breastfeed.


But ultimately, it was my own pride that kept me nursing and pumping until I literally had nothing left to give.


I didn’t want to be criticized. But I also didn’t want to be wrong.


I realize now that in those early months of her life, whenever nursing came up as a topic, I found myself trying to convince people that I didn’t choose to formula feed. Instead, I was forced to formula feed. I thought about all the assumptions that someone might have about me if they thought that I had chosen to formula feed. Assumptions that I had gathered from the hospital’s breastfeeding class, from popular breastfeeding books, and from on-line forums about breastfeeding. Through the postpartum fog, I could almost hear their thoughts.


Maybe you should have pumped more. Nipple shields slow the stream of milk. You should have taken more herbal supplements or tried this medication that I took. If you slept more, your milk would have come in. Are you sure her latch was good?


For the first few months of Felicity’s life, nearly every conversation with another mother started with the presumptive “So how’s the nursing going?” or the kinder “Are you nursing?” I never started these feeding conversations, but they came up in every conversation with a visitor who came to our home in those early months.


“I’m not breastfeeding anymore,” I would say.


The long pause. The nod. The silence, as if waiting for more.


Every time, I tried to figure out how to get out of the conversation without breaking into tears. I found myself answering questions that they hadn’t even asked. I launched into explanations of how hard I tried, how often I nursed her, and the types of interventions we used. The two weeks of devastating insomnia, the miniscule yield from pumping sessions, her weight loss, my descent into hell.


And then I would end with, “But really, medically there’s a problem with me. My milk never really came in. Really, I didn’t have any engorgement. I have thyroid issues, so that’s probably what caused it.”


But no matter how convincing I thought I was, I was embarrassed to even talk about the issue because of an oft-repeated statistic about how nearly every healthy woman can produce enough milk for her baby. Only one to five percent of women are not able to produce enough milk for their babies, I had read over and over again in breastfeeding literature.


And that was how I was asking others to view me—as a person as uncommon as someone who grows scales instead of skin.


Me. The person who believed in the power of her own body. Who had just given birth without medication. Who believed that if she just listened to her body, that it would do what it needed to do.


Me. The person who was convinced that all problems with breastfeeding could be solved with knowledgeable interventions and perseverance.


Me. The person who was disciplined and persistent enough to kickbox and portion-control her way to a size six.


Me. That person.


Suddenly, it seemed that all of those qualities that I had spent a lifetime practicing were not true anymore. That freshly crafted identity as a strong, capable mother was now unraveling fast.


So underneath my explanations for why I wasn’t breastfeeding, my tone was desperate. It screamed: Please, please, everyone! Please just believe that I’m a medical anomaly, defective on the inside. I’m not stupid, or uninformed, or lazy, or selfish. I’m just broken, everyone. That’s why I’m formula feeding, not because I chose it!


When we made the switch, I prepared myself for the worst. A sick baby. A colicky baby. Diarrhea. Constipation. Blood in the stool. But none of that happened.


What did happen was much more positive. Formula feeding helped me expand my understanding of what it means to be a mother. Before I stopped nursing Felicity, almost all of my interactions with her revolved around marathon feedings and pumping sessions. My sole role was nourishment. There was no room in my mind to be anything else to her. When I wasn’t nursing, I just wanted to be alone. I just wanted to sleep. I just wanted to feel better. But I couldn’t sleep and I didn’t feel better. Near the end of my time breastfeeding her, I would tear up at the sound of her hungry cry and think, Not again. I can’t. But then, I would get up and do it.


But once the pumping sessions and the marathon feedings were gone, once the sleep returned in increments of two hours, I started to look at her. Just look and look at her. Listen to her. Talk to her. Play with her. Here was this person whom I felt that I already knew, and yet I still had everything to learn about—what her voice would sound like some day, what activities she would like to do, and how it would feel for her to hug me. For the first time, I started to look into the future a bit and get excited about helping her pack her bag for her first day of kindergarten or helping her learn to tie her shoes. I was finally able to imagine what kind of mother I wanted to be.


And then I started to wonder, Why does it matter how I feed her? And why is this topic open for public discussion?


And finally: So what if I did choose to feed her formula? Does that make me a bad mother? Don’t we value choice in our culture anymore?


All those breastfeeding books had presented formula as a choice for mothers who weren’t dedicated to the sacrifices and challenges of breastfeeding. Was I dedicated? Did I care about the health of my child?


Why, yes, I did. So that meant that I would breastfeed.


The decision to breastfeed wasn’t framed around the starting point of what was healthiest for me. Instead, the decision was framed around what was healthiest for my baby. And breastfeeding can be incredibly healthy for many mothers. But breastfeeding literature never mentions that it can be unhealthy—either physically or emotionally—for others. So the message is clear. I should be more concerned about what is healthiest for my baby because I’m a mother now. And mothers sacrifice. Everything, if need be.


And I did.


But when the herculean attempts to eat enough, pump enough, and nurse enough had worn me down into a sliver of a human being—no longer able to make rational decisions, no longer able to feed myself, no longer able to walk to the bathroom without assistance, no longer able to recognize my own face in the mirror—I started to wonder, How much more do I really have to give before I’m dead?

Still, it was tiring and it hurt to feel the need to defend how I fed Felicity. Feeding is part of the public sphere, a topic suitable for conversation with others. Everyone could figure out how I fed her and, with that knowledge, a host of assumptions were already in place about why I fed her this way. Maybe I thought breastfeeding was repulsive. Maybe I lacked confidence that I could do it. Maybe I had fallen victim to the hospital procedures that often interfere with the breastfeeding relationship. Maybe I didn’t know all the medical studies about the benefits of breastfeeding. Or maybe I was misinformed and thought that breastfeeding would ruin my boobs. Or maybe I was just selfish and wanted someone else to feed her while I got some decent sleep.

How did I know about these assumptions? They belonged to me. They were my thoughts before I gave birth.

In fact, I can attest to the fact that as a first-time mother, I greatly appreciated the cultural divide over breastfeeding because it made my choice much easier. I read books about breastfeeding. Then, I looked within my own educated, upper-middle class, white community and I saw that breastfeeding was valued and widely practiced, and that—as far as I could tell—everyone had been successful at it. I wasn’t looking for a reason to be different from everyone else.


But perhaps the most convincing evidence for my decision to breastfeed was the testimony of the nurse who taught the hospital’s breastfeeding class. As I reflect on that class, I can now see how the nurse’s own personal experiences regarding breastfeeding shaped her response to that question about the possibility of not producing enough milk. From her position as a medical professional, she advised, “Feed your baby.” From her position as a lactation consultant, she stated that, “Ninety-five percent of women can breastfeed their babies.” From her position as an experienced breastfeeding mother, she claimed, “If you stick with it, it will get easier.”


She had given me exactly what I wanted to hear—a positive view of breastfeeding, approved by both a medical professional (to meet my husband’s criteria for credibility) and a mother of four (to meet my criteria).


As a new mother, advice based on personal experience was often compelling to me, even if it varied so much from person to person. I simply listened to the voices whose advice matched what I wanted to hear and ignored or discounted the voices that I didn’t. I didn’t want to hear about women who had epidurals, or C-sections, or formula fed their babies. That wasn’t going to be me. They had made bad decisions that had put them in those positions, so I didn’t want to listen to their stories.

This way of viewing the world didn’t pose a problem until I found myself on the other side of the line that I had drawn. Instead of a breastfeeding mother, I was a formula feeding mother. And all those silent judgments that I had once pronounced in my thoughts—never once out loud—were now heaped upon me. I hadn’t even realized how harshly I had judged formula feeding mothers until I had become one. The pressure was more than I could bear. I was forced to mentally confront each stereotype that I had about formula feeding. I was not lazy. I was not selfish. I was not a quitter. I was not stupid or uninformed. I was not pro-corporate America.

It helped to talk with friends about how difficult breastfeeding had been for me and to read stories of women who had traveled this road before me. It took months of reflection to create a mental space where I could be confident in how I fed Felicity.


I remember the day that I realized that I had this confidence. Felicity was six months old and one of Doug’s cousins was visiting. She was a single woman in her mid-twenties. She had never met Felicity before. When I started mixing a bottle of formula, she asked if I had ever breastfed Felicity. It didn’t sound like an accusation. I doubt she realized how emotional that question could be for a new mother.


I said, “I did. For twelve days. And then we had to switch to formula. I wasn’t making enough milk, so that’s what we had to do.” She didn’t push the issue, and finally I didn’t feel compelled to explain myself further.


- Excerpted from Becoming Mother: A Journey of Identity by Sharon Tjaden-Glass (Lucky Frog Press, August 1, 2015). Reprinted with permission from the author. 

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