As moms, we know “breast is best.” But there are many reasons a mom can’t or shouldn’t breastfeed. You don’t know why they are bottle-feeding their baby, but you can still celebrate her for being a great mom and doing her best.
When I became a mom, I felt guilty at first when I had to supplement with formula. Is this based on a stigma or something women internalize?1 I discovered very quickly that every mom has a different breastfeeding journey, and whether our babies are being fed from the breast or the bottle, the mom is doing a great job, and the baby will be just fine.
Plans Sometimes Change
As a publicist for baby product brands, I learned much about breastfeeding before becoming pregnant. I went into my pregnancy intending to breastfeed my baby, especially after being informed about it. But my plans didn’t work out.
When my son was born at 7.1 pounds, we immediately did skin-to-skin. I tried placing him on my chest to breastfeed, but he never latched. When I got into my recovery suite and rested, my breasts were full, and my nipples were cracked and sore, but I tried breastfeeding again. Of course, I still attempted to breastfeed, but it seemed like my baby could never get a good latch.
When my baby lost a pound the next day and cried at night, I knew he was hungry. Even through the excruciating discomfort, I kept trying to breastfeed, but it became too painful because my breasts were still full, and my nipples were cracked.
Thank Goodness for Formula
So we requested infant formula. The hospital personnel were reluctant and asked me to breastfeed again, and I tried. Finally, it was 2 a.m., and my baby was still crying; I firmly said, “Please bring some formula so my baby can eat. I will continue breastfeeding and pumping, but my baby is hungry and losing weight.”
The nurse brought me a paper to sign and provided me with a tiny dropper and a few small bottles of formula. As soon as we fed my son, he stopped crying and slept all night.
The hospital brought me a breast pump so I could help my milk “let down.” I was able to pump out the colostrum and begin bottle-feeding my baby. Also, I used ice packs to help alleviate my breast engorgement.
Breastfeeding didn’t turn out quite how I envisioned it. But I adjusted to the situation. Pumping and breastmilk via bottle during the day and formula at night. That guilt I felt in the beginning years of motherhood is now non-existent. I’m proud of how we managed a difficult situation and came up with a solution.
Today, the vast advocacy movement for breastfeeding is genuinely remarkable. Breastfeeding Awareness Month in August has played a significant role in educating expecting moms. Thousands of certified lactation consultants across the U.S. are available to coach moms through the breastfeeding process. More moms are empowered and realize there’s no way to be a perfect mom. But there are a million ways to be a good mom.
What I Plan on Doing for Baby #2
I’m now pregnant with my second child, and, based on my previous experience, I’m planning to pump right away after I give birth and focus on bottle-feeding my baby. This will help avoid engorgement and cracked nipples. I will try to see if my baby will latch because every baby is different. I’ll also bring formula with me in my labor bag as a backup: Earth’s Best Sensitivity, which I prefer over the hospital formula.
My story of why I’m bottle-feeding my baby is just one of many breastfeeding experiences of moms. There are many reasons why moms can’t or shouldn’t breastfeed.
Causes of a Low Milk Supply
Having a low milk supply is a very common reason moms don’t exclusively breastfeed or decide not to breastfeed.2 For me, I make sure to have a breast pump ready in my recovery room after giving birth in case of latching issues. This way, I can pump to help my milk let down.
So, what causes a low breast milk supply?2,3
- Insufficient glandular tissue (hypoplastic breasts)
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Previous breast surgery, such as mastectomy or a breast reduction surgery
- Prior radiation treatment for breast cancer
Other causes of low breast milk supply include:
Mom could be on an unsafe medication for the baby; thus, mom cannot breastfeed.4 These might include chemotherapy and epilepsy drugs and products with aspirin or that contain decongestants.4
If a mom is sick with a severe infection, she may be unable to breastfeed. Some serious diseases when moms should not breastfeed include HIV, hepatitis B and C, cancer, or if they have a heart illness, or severe anemia.5
Baby is Allergic
A baby could be allergic to something in mama’s milk, so she may stop breastfeeding to help her baby’s symptoms or discomfort.
Mom Chooses Not To
Choosing not to breastfeed is 100% acceptable. It doesn’t matter why; if a mom decides not to, this is her choice. As long as the mom is feeding her baby, whether through breast or bottle, she’s doing a great job, and the baby is getting the nutrients they need. It’s helpful to prepare for your breastfeeding journey by researching or working with a lactation consultant ahead of time. The hospital usually has a lactation consultant on staff to help guide you as well.
I’ve learned a couple of things as a mom. First, no matter how prepared you are, your breastfeeding journey doesn’t always turn out how you plan, and that’s okay. Second, don’t be so quick to judge a mother for her choices. You don’t know why I’m bottle-feeding my baby, but it’s my decision, and I have my reasons.