By Erica Jeung, Certified Sports Nutritionist and Principal at BumpVitamins.com
CHOOSING TO BREASTFEED was a personal decision for me that feels weird to write about. I assume that would probably be the case for most women. It gets particularly sensitive for women who may feel like a failure when they are not able to breastfeed or simply don’t want to. It can be confusing and different for every woman and feelings can even change from one childbirth to the next.
Feelings of Failure
I speak from experience on the subject. With my first baby, I breastfeed her until I got pregnant again and my hormones changed and I wasn’t producing enough milk. She was cut off from the boob at 6 months. That was my original goal, to breastfeed for 6 months, so I was happy I accomplished it, however, I was sad that I wasn’t able to continue providing the nutrition my baby needed. We were lucky that she took to eating formula without any issues and she remained healthy and happy. With my second baby, I was only able to breastfeed for 2 months. And I felt (still feel) like a failure. He wasn’t good at latching to anything let alone my boob. He did great for the first few days and then it was like wrestling an alligator to get him to latch onto me. I wasn’t producing enough milk and he was hungry.
Breast isn’t Always Best
Despite what I heard over and over from other mothers, the Internet, and nurses in the hospital… breast wasn’t best for me and my baby. Being fed was best. I started pumping and we started supplementing with formula. He still had trouble latching to the bottle sometimes and ended up with more milk on his shirt than in his mouth, but he was eating, happy, and growing. He would take a bottle during the day and then breastfeed at night and all was well again for a few weeks. Then he stopped wanting to breastfeed at all because he was too impatient for the letdown to occur and the milk to start flowing. So, I started giving him bottles at night too.
I was exclusively pumping and was feeling ok about it. At least he was still getting my milk and I was confident in the nutrition he was being supplied because I was eating healthy and being very picky about what I was putting in my body. Then it happened…my milk supply started declining. I was eating everything I could to increase my milk supply. I increased my protein intake, ate more oatmeal and garlic, and was consuming 80-100 ounces of water a day to ensure I was hydrated. Still, my milk declined, and I was forced into giving him more formula than breastmilk.
It was stressing me out, to say the least. Not only did I feel like my entire existence was feeding, burping, pumping, washing bottles, and washing pump parts, but I was stressed because I wasn’t able to spend time with my other baby. I wasn’t able to help cook or clean or take naps! I was so overwhelmed that I’m sure it impacted my already depleted milk supply even further.
I had to make a decision. I knew I didn’t want to be stressed anymore and something had to change. Either I start power pumping and try to get my milk supply back up, or I call it quits. I thought long and hard about it and while I wanted to provide nutritious milk to my son, I also needed to be less stressed for the well-being of my family and my own sanity
Formula for One
My son went to eating only formula around 2 months old, and now at 3 months old he doesn’t even like the taste of breastmilk. My supplies went away pretty quickly, but I am less stressed and I am confident my baby is getting the nutrition he needs. He is growing, happy, and healthy.
There has been a long and hard discussion about breastfeeding vs. formula, and in recent years shaming women who choose not to breastfeed their children. Model/actress Chrissy Tiegan recently posted on November 29, 2020, on her Twitter account to “normalize formula.” Chrissy had trouble breastfeeding due to depression that often follows pregnancy and was tired of the shaming she and other moms experienced because they choose to feed their children formula.
With all of that said, yes, I fully acknowledge that breastmilk is perfectly designed for a growing baby and if you are able to breastfeed then do it! If you do choose to breastfeed, make sure you continue taking a multivitamin designed for postnatal needs and have a healthy diet.
Milk does the body good (but not always)
Women’s bodies, being incredible as they are, are able to create breast milk with all the nutritional needs a baby requires even certain nutrients are not being consumed. If your diet is deficient in any key nutrients your baby needs, like calcium or vitamin D for example, your body will take what it needs from stores within the mother’s body and supply it to the baby via breastmilk.
Unfortunately, this can create vitamin and mineral deficiencies for the mother. That is why it is important for breastfeeding mothers to consume a healthy diet rich in good fats, high-quality protein, and a variety of fruits and vegetables to resupply those stores.
Breastmilk and Diet
It is important to know that not all nutrient deficiencies can be supplemented from the mother’s body stores. Breast milk’s fatty acid profiles, like EPA and DHA, as well as the availability of some vitamins and trace minerals, can be impacted by a poor diet. Fat is super important to producing high-quality breastmilk for your growing baby, but you don’t want to consume trans fats or a lot of fat from fried foods or red meat. Go for the good fats found in avocados, almonds, olive oil, flax seeds, chia seeds, and fish like salmon and tuna. Your protein sources should be from lean meats, grains, beans, and vegetables. Think chicken, turkey, fish, quinoa, black beans, and peas. Fruits and vegetables are important for all of us to consume, postnatal or not. They are high in vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Also, the more variety you eat while breastfeeding the more variety your baby will taste in your milk. This gives your baby a taste of foods that they will be consuming when they are able to eat solids.
Another important thing to point out is obvious. Do not smoke, drink, or consume certain medications while breastfeeding. If you enjoy an alcoholic beverage you must wait anywhere from 2-4 hours to breastfeed depending on your weight and alcohol metabolism. Always check with your doctor about medications including herbs and supplements. And be cautious of how much caffeine you consume. Caffeine not only stimulates your body it also passes through breast milk and can stimulate your baby, making colic worse.
Eat Right and Do what’s Right for You
Regardless of your breastfeeding decision, eating healthy is a key component to overall health and wellness. Remember to take your vitamins and eat your fruits and veggies every day for optimal health. Always feel confident in doing what feels best for you, your baby, and the rest of your family. There’s no reason to feel shame (or to shame others) for doing things differently to achieve the same goal of a happy and healthy baby, mom, and family!