Breastfeeding, Formula, Stigma and Confusion: What’s A New Mom To Do?
In this era of social media, new moms are clearly overwhelmed by too much information. It’s super difficult to know where to turn for the right information. One of the least helpful things for new moms is when they find a website or a forum dedicated to new moms, and their different views are attacked with little provocation and no reason.
When you consider that every human being on this planet is incredibly different, there is no one way to do anything at all. There is no absolutely correct way for every single person on the planet to eat, no one way to drink, and certainly no one way to raise a newborn!
So whenever new moms tell me that they found this forum or that forum, I am always encouraging (since it is so important for moms to get help with raising their new baby), but I also try to gently warn them of what they may find. You see, in this era of nastiness on every social media group, internet newspaper website, and everywhere else that people can get out their anger without consequence, it is very hard to avoid being outright attacked if your beliefs are different than someone else’s.
Whereas years ago, there was active discouragement of breastfeeding by doctors, the media, and advertising, nowadays, it has become almost a cultish experience. No one understands that some new moms simply cannot breastfeed, for whatever reason, but instead of being understanding, they attack the new mom for daring to not breastfeed.
For example, some new moms are not supported in their efforts, and are not shown by their doctor, nurse, or lactation consultant (if they are provided with one) how to breastfeed, or more importantly, how to produce enough milk. While there are dozens and dozens of books on how to breastfeed and how to produce more milk, not every new mom is able to produce enough. This may be a lack of awareness of the available resources or a lack of time, energy, etc.
Add to this the fact that when a new mom brings her baby to the doctor and is told that he is not gaining weight quickly enough, the doctor will most often recommend that she supplement with formula. While this is in contradiction to the official recommendations by the AAP, AAFP, and the ACOG, there are by far many more doctors who are willing to scrap breastfeeding in favor of formula than there are those who would recommend a lactation consultant, breast massage, herbs, or even one of the aforementioned books. Formula is the easy way out, so that is what they recommend first.
Then imagine the new mom’s surprise when she shares this advice of her doctor on one of the new mother support forums, and they literally attack her choice, attack her as a person, and tell her that the doctor is wrong. It would seem that the stigma has changed sides, but when dealing with humans, their need to attack others has not diminished but has only worsened.
Where many years ago, there was a strong stigma associated with breastfeeding, where women were shamed in public, or shamed at family gatherings for wanting to breastfeed, this has largely reversed due to both a grassroots effort before the official recommendations, followed then by the official recommendations agreeing with what these grassroots activist moms had determined on their own.
So where today, there is a requirement that every corporate office have a dedicated nursing room for moms to use to pump for their baby’s next day feeding requirements, airports have dedicated nursing rooms, and there is every conceivable thing dedicated to supporting breastfeeding mothers, there are still those new moms who cannot breastfeed, or cannot produce enough.
To say that there is a stigma now associated with formula feeding is an understatement. While breastfeeding is best, and is natural, and definitely helps reduce infant mortality rates in developing countries according to many official bodies, in America the formula has also become significantly improved, and is no longer something that will not help a baby to gain weight. If a new mother cannot breastfeed, or cannot do so adequately for her baby, formula is likely to be a necessary evil.
Most new mothers are not aware that in most large cities, there are breast-milk banks where they can go to obtain breast-milk pumped and donated by other mothers, that is sterile and safe for there babies. While this should always be the number two recommendation instead of formula, it is still relatively new and unknown. It is not available in every city, either, although places like New Jersey and New York have them. Most doctors are unaware of their existence, whereas they have known about formula for nearly a hundred years.
Other mothers have founded facebook groups where they meet one another and one mom gives the other her own pumped breast-milk, at no cost. Due to the lack of cost, it is not regulated, and some new moms worry that this can be unsafe. These are also more likely to be found in rural areas than the breast-milk banks previously mentioned. One way or another, though, if your baby is not gaining weight, you must do something.
So when we talk about stigma, the stigma has now reversed to become a stigma in favor of breastfeeding and against formula. Attacks and meanness are so not helpful to a new mom who has never had a baby before, and serve simply to add to her confusion. Researching online the options for breastfeeding mothers, reading books about how to produce more milk, and looking into a breast-milk bank are much better options than being attacked in a forum where formula is the new evil.
I would also like to mention that formula has changed a great deal in just the last few years. Several years ago, the mainstream brands, such as Enfamil and Similac, were full of chemicals that were completely unrelated to the nutritional needs of the baby. There were foaming agents and preservatives, as well as chemicals that could be pointed to as a likely cause of spitting up or colic. Today, however, both of these mainstream brands, along with many others, have completely changed their formula in response to consumer demand. When they noticed that consumers were using their competitor’s organic, non-GMO, chemical and additive-free brands, they changed their formulas too.
This was smart, and is likely to ensure that they will continue to be able to compete in a market where consumer knowledge is increasing. So both of these brands, and others, no longer have foaming agents, chemical preservatives, fractionated non-natural oils, or anything else that might cause colic in an infant. While they are themselves not organic, there are also many organic formulas available for those who wish to raise their baby free of chemicals and pesticide residues.
Even still, however, there are many new moms that I speak to whose infants still get sick from the store bought formula. Even though it is free of certain obvious ingredients, some babies are simply sensitive to cow’s milk, or soy milk, or perhaps the oils that are necessary to make the formula suitable for babies.
Since breast-milk provides a lot of fat, every formula must provide this as well, and it can be difficult to digest in contrast to their own mother’s milk. These moms are usually first time mothers, and are not able to produce sufficient amounts of milk for their baby. In these instances, I share with them several things they can do, which I will now share with you. These tips may help you if you find yourself unable to produce enough milk.
The first thing is the rule of “the more you take, the more you make.” What this means is, if your infant has been fed, but your breast is not empty, you would pump the breast until it is empty. Then you pump the other breast as well, because you want them to produce evenly. Taking more milk makes your body produce the hormones that cause you to produce more milk tomorrow.
In addition, you should never bottle feed for the middle of the night feeding. This feeding is extra special, because there is a very special hormonal cue hidden in it. Direct breastfeeding, or pumping, at the midnight to four am feeding, is super critical to tell your body how much milk to produce the next day. While this is not the greatest news for new moms who want to be asleep at that time, it is still critical.
The second advice I would offer is to obtain a supplement, or a bar (such as the Happy Family New Mother bar) that contains herbs that help produce milk. Going to a Whole Foods, a health food store, or a Vitamin Shoppe, and asking where the breastfeeding support supplements are will quickly lead you to shelves full of supplements to choose from. Then you need to take them every day, sometimes multiple times a day. Doing so may help you to eliminate the need to supplement with formula or with another mom’s breast-milk from the breast-milk bank.
Third, and perhaps one of the least well-known ways to encourage milk production, is getting post-natal massage sessions. Post-natal massage, and massage in general, encourages the production of oxytocin, which causes the body to produce more milk. For a nursing mother, massage also may encourage an increase in the amount of circulating prolactin, which is the milk producing hormone. Massage reduces the presence of noradrenalin in the body, and this relaxation in itself helps her body to produce more milk as well. If a new mom has any blockages in her milk ducts, a knowledgeable massage therapist can help her to remedy this, thus further helping with milk production naturally.
And, most importantly, if despite making these efforts you feel that formula supplementation is the best choice for you and your baby, it is most important to make sure the baby is gaining weight and getting adequate nutrition. If you cannot, for whatever reason, produce enough milk, make sure to obtain their nutrition from elsewhere. While your own breast-milk is best, someone else’s is also great, and of course formula can work as well.
Do not let other moms tell you how to raise your baby, and do not let anyone manipulate you into doing what you do not think is best, or what doesn’t feel right to you. This is your baby, your body, and your life. No one else can live it for you, and no one else has to accept the consequences for your choices. Only you have to do this. And if you find a support group that is not supportive, find a different support group that is.
There is a free resource from Happy Family where IBCLC’s answer questions in a forum type of setting, with no judgment and no attacks. You can also find a La Leche League in every single city of every state, and the cost of joining is a one time fee that is very low. Try to stay away from those whose answer to another person’s different choice is to make them feel bad about it. You are looking for help, and that is not help.