Breastfeeding, Pregnancy

The Pressure to Breastfeed

photo by 2M Photography
photo by 2M Photography

It’s no surprise to anyone in the birthing community that breastfeeding is being more heavily encouraged. More hospitals are obtaining an official “Baby Friendly Hospital” status, which means that baby will be placed skin to skin, encouraged to nurse within the first hour, room in with mom, and breastfeeding encouragement throughout the mom’s stay. She is given a pumping kit to use and take home as she tries to help her milk come in. Sometimes, mom may use a spoon or syringe to feed baby the tiny drops of precious colostrum while they both continue to learn how to latch and nurse. This all sounds wonderful, right? Sometimes, it’s not. Sometimes, breastfeeding is just not going to work. Or maybe it does, but mom feels frustrated or is in pain. There are a laundry list of reasons why breastfeeding may or may not work out. Here is the one thing you need to know, my friends, that ANY amount of breastfeeding is awesome, even if it is only for one day! You did it!! Don’t you let ANYONE discourage you or tell you that you “failed” at breastfeeding.

Below, is a story that a mom shared on a motherhood group I’m apart of on Facebook. This group has nearly 1000 members. Of all the stories and questions I’ve ever seen there, this story struck my heart. Right to the core. I was instantly weeping for this woman. With her permission, I am sharing her story below. As a warning, this may trigger something you’ve experienced. It involves breastfeeding, three-stepping, and post-partum depression. I have talked with Chelsea a few times since she shared her story and she’s an incredible mother!! I feel honored to share her story. I know she is not alone. If you or someone you know has experienced something similar, please share this post.


This is the saddest thing I will ever write…ever. It makes me even sadder that I want to share it because that means that someone else is just as sad and needs to hear this to validate their sadness and hopefully feel understood. I felt completely misunderstood and like a flat our terrorist in my community of Colorado Crunchy Mothers when I “failed” at breastfeeding.
It all started out so well. I am a yoga teacher, fit, fertile, and was READY to have a baby! I got knocked up on my first try after getting my IUD yanked and man was I ready to be a Mommy! My husband and I moved out of the city back to our small town “community” of friends and family and my other family known as my “yoga family.” As the cosmos would have it we all got pregnant within WEEKS of one another. A bunch of us would gather at our studio for our prenatal yoga classes then waddle down the block to gorge on ribs and cake, feeling blissful about being able to indulge during our pregnancies. Ahhh, bliss! We all talked about our plans to chant mantra during our contractions and some of us wanted home births some of us too scared to do so BUT, would totally have a Doula there, no matter what to tell our Doctors (who have a PHD not a Doula Cert) to shove it when we beg for pain meds. Yes, we all had a plan…

Then we all signed up for a “Goddess Breastfeeding Course.” Wowza was this some crazy informational stuff; there was even a PowerPoint presentation! I bought a copy of Ina May’s “Guide to Breastfeeding,” and read it cover to cover. I was ready. Ready for my “as natural” as possible childbirth and my breastfeeding success! I even went as far as being a bit of a snark to new Mom’s in my “Welcome to Motherhood” Facebook group who were “struggling” to nurse. I think I even said something like…”read this book and it will fix all your problems,” or “don’t you know how easy this should be? It is our gift to our babies..blah blah fuck me, blah.” So yeah, I was a psycho preggo bitch who had not a CLUE what the hell I was up against. So that is how it went for my second trimester. Prenatal yoga, ribs, boobs, birth, yadda yadda. I felt good.

Then my crotch started to hurt, like hurt nonstop and I started to not be able to walk as easily then one day I fell. My back went out and I fell on the floor and was stuck there for hours before my husband came home and found me. This was the beginning of the end…the end of all of my prenatal dreams, my mental health, my nursing efforts…my everything. I was diagnosed with SPD, which basically means my vagina was expanding too much. Ouch, huh. So, I was put on pain meds for the remainder of my pregnancy and was also restricted from yoga, exercise and existing in the world altogether. Depression set in, and it got really scary.

My midwife was concerned and wanted to put me on anti-depressants during my 36th week but I refused, worried that it would get passed along to the baby in my milk, because I was still going to nurse damnit! I knew deep down I was headed for a C-Section but I kept it secret and kept up with my crunchy friends and their amazing pregnancies. They all felt sorry for me but told me to hang in there, they will BE THERE FOR ME. Famous last words.

After 3 months of misery I went in for a prenatal visit to find out that we needed to go ahead and get baby out. My fluid was low and I was in so much pain it wasn’t really worth the wait anymore…we were a bit scared. I went in the next morning with all of my loving family by my side, my amazing husband who had put up with my craziness (crazy was just starting by the way, he had no idea what was yet to come) and checked into the hospital, ready to go. Within 45 minutes my son was out, squealing and totally folded in half, frank breech and 7lb 8oz. I was so happy to have him OUT! I was reunited with him in recovery very fast and we started nursing right away. It didn’t even hurt and I got this insane drunk love feeling that rocked my world…I was hooked.
That first day would be the only day that I felt this way…

In Colorado, we had the flood of the century the day my son was born in September. It was national news and my doctors were running around like chickens with their heads cut off treating patients from surround hospitals that were not accessible. We began to fall through the cracks. I had amazing nurses, amazing! They all helped with the latch which was not going well and were all sympathetic to my fatigue and even showed me how to use my breast pump which we were seeing some colostrum come out of. However my son was not amazing, he was miserable. He screamed nonstop for the first 3 days of his life, only stopping out of sheer exhaustion and what I can only imagine defeat from not being fed. He began to turn yellow and look thin but I was in such a haze I didn’t really notice. Then the nurses started to raise their eyebrow at my mental condition. My midwife stopped my husband in the hall and said “watch her, I am worried…” I was a mess…my mother came to my side and begged me to rest but no, I had to get this nursing down, I had to it was vital. Everything else had been ripped from me; I had to get this right.

A new nurse came in the last day I was in the hospital. She was pregnant and so sweet. She took one look at my situation and suggested we “supplement.” I had been warned of this phrase, RED ALERT! NO! My husband was beginning to get angry and he is cool by nature. He made the call, he gave my son his first bottle of formula. My son sighed and cooed and drank it up like his life depended on it, which it may have. Meanwhile, I had not gotten a weight on my son since his birth, and we were about to be discharged. I asked the nurses to weigh him and I heard gasps from all of them. “That cannot be right, weigh him again.” Silence. “Oh, my, god.” The lactation consultant came over and said he had dropped 20% of his body weight to 6.4lbs and we had to alert the pediatrician right away. The pediatrician who had signed our discharge papers, the one who SAID we could go home. My poor baby, he had morphed from a healthy glowing bundle to a yellow, eyes clenched shut, stiff, stressed infant that was not happy…I decided to give in. We gave him formula the rest of the day and they let us go home, and we had a follow up the next day. I snapped a picture of him at the hospital on our way out in his going home outfit, and to this day it haunts me. He looks terrifyingly unhealthy and I save it as a reminder of how far we have come.

At the follow up they gave me what is called a 3 step plan. This plan means you nurse, supplement and pump…EVERY single time you feed. Around the clock. So, I had my hospital grade pump rented from the pharmacy and that is what I did for 3 weeks. I was delirious, I was so drained I couldn’t even muster up the energy to leave the house, eat or shower. I sat on the couch with my boppy, baby, pump and tiny bottle of formula. The rare times my son was satiated from nursing only gave me small triumphs that kept me going. Meanwhile, my Crunchy Mom Friends were all having their babies and their boobs were turning into Pam Anderson boobies and flowing milk and oxytocin bliss all over the place. Mine were not. Mine were pitifully producing hardly anything and that blissful feeling of drunk love was lingering and then soon gone.

This went on for another 3 weeks…It was then I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. My midwife took one look at me and said here is a prescription and you need to go buy formula, lots of it and use it. This has to stop. You cannot sustain this. I had just come to terms with this on the long ride home when my family arrived to see the baby. I heard a knock at the door and my neighbor bum rushed me and grabbed my son and looked dead into my eyes and said, “How is nursing going?” I quietly replied that I was trying but was having a tough time. “Awe, well don’t give up, it is the best thing you know. You have a good looking husband, a beautiful son why are you so sad?…blah blah blah,” I tuned out after that. My sister in law braced me and I excused myself into my bathroom where I wept for the millionth time, cursed god and grew even further from my son emotionally.

Meanwhile my friends were also giving me the same guilt trip but not a ONE came over to check on me or ask me how I was doing emotionally. I was falling apart. I even received an email from a friend (a man friend) saying I was a child abuser for using formula and that I was setting my son up for failure…this person has a Master’s Degree…and is an asshole.
This was it, I shut down I lost it. I was still 3 stepping my nursing and it was becoming exhausting. The only time I actually saw my son was to nurse him. Other than that my husband would take care of him or me…which was exhausting for him. I would send him to buy formula because I was too ashamed to do it myself. I would hide in my car and mix bottles of formula and hope people would think it was pumped breast milk I was giving to my baby. I started seeing a therapist at this point and taking medication.

I had become a total stranger in my body. I didn’t even recognize myself. I also gained more weight than I had during pregnancy because I was eating all the crap my friends suggested, taking supplements that made me sick and was NOT sleeping or taking care of myself. I was a train wreck for the first 3 months. On the day my son turned 3 months old I sat in bed and looked my husband in the eye and said, “I need you to tell me to stop, I need you to say Chelsea, stop this and it will all be ok.” So he did and I cried and died a little inside.

Later my friends and family would say things like, “you tried harder than anyone I have ever seen! You did your best.” The only people who told me I was a success was my husband my mother and my new friends who were not crunchy. “You did it for 3 months! You did it! You succeeded, not failed!” I still didn’t buy it until around 6 months postpartum. The fog started to lift a bit and I was dried up so my son wasn’t screaming every time I held him and I started to make bottles like it was second nature. They no longer felt like hot torches of failure in my hands, they felt comforting! I thought how amazingly lucky I am…to be able to have access to formula for my son. I am thankful to have the means to afford formula for my son. How thankful and blessed I am for that.
I changed myself forever during this process. I purged the judgmental, know it all person and turned into a humble, kind, grateful person who wants more than anything to advocate for new mothers struggling with mental illness and breastfeeding challenges. That shit is no joke. I was on the verge of being put into an institution and my doctors thankfully decided I was sane enough to go home and safely take care of my baby after they saw me at my 3-month postnatal checkup.

I have made new friends who feel for me and can appreciate my struggle and not judge me for how I feed my child. They judge my character, my authenticity as a person, as a mother and for the love I show when I feed my baby and when I do all the things Mommies do for their babies. I am a mother, I may not be perfect but I fought someone else’s war. I fought a war not meant for me. I fought out of fear, the fear of not fitting into everyone’s ideals of motherhood. That is my only regret. I do not regret switching to formula, I do not regret ditching those crunchy nut job friends and I do not regret the negativity I got from others…I regret the fear and letting that rule my first few months of motherhood.

That is the saddest thing that has ever happened to me. I’ve written it now, and I hope that someone out there reads this and I hope you are not as sad as I was. Know that you are loved, so loving and amazing. You create your reality with your baby; do not let fear create a chaotic, judging environment. I am happy to say that today my son is awesome, in every way possible! He is 18lbs 4 oz and is almost 9 months old and is the light of my life. I am hoping by sharing this story I can shed the last of my pain, let it go…air it out. My son said “ma ma” today and looked at me. I cried and knew it was time to share this.
Now go mix up that bottle Mama, and love that baby.



16 thoughts on “The Pressure to Breastfeed”

  1. How brave you are to share your story! I am often faced with this scenerio when helping new moms and feel so helpless to adequately support them. Thank you,and if it’s ok I would like to make copies of your story for comfort to these amazing moms who give their all… Laurie Everett IBCLC

  2. As a neonatologist, I truly empathize with this sad story. We have, collectively, taken something good and natural and wholesome, and have elevated it to talismanic status. That is a very real problem. Sometimes breast feeding doesn’t work, and to not adapt is foolish, cruel and evil. I get my share of breast obsessed moms, whose obsession puts their infants life in danger. I have had parents request continuing IV nutrition to avoid exposure to formula. This is idiotic. And worse, this kind of idiocy comes not from poor underclass mothers, but well to do college educated professionals. A failure of our educational system ? I do not think there is any person with an IQ over 75 who foes not know that breast feeding is better. Further propaganda just makes this into a religion. Which is sad and bad.

    1. No hon, we didn’t “elevate (breastfeeding) to talismanic status”. Feminists of the Earth Mother school did. And don’t disparage religion. Christians invented the hospital and modern empirical science. They invented the university too, which were good things until the post-modern secular materialists took over most of them and produced those “college educated professionals” who practice “idiocy”. Chelsea’s problem was, in part, her paucity of religion. Her god was yoga.

    2. Actually breastfeeding is *not* better in first world countries, at least not at the pedestal level everyone puts it at. If you actually read the full studies done on breastfeeding, the results are negligible at best and a lot of studies contradict each other. I did a paper on the topic for a modern anthropology class where I read over 100 infant feeding studies and what people base the “breast is best” mantra on is something that may decrease chances of something by less than half of one percent. That is not worth pushing women to breastfeed so violently.

  3. This was a sad tale to be sure, but such a happy ending. Take heart, these things run in cycles. I was formula fed-it was the seventies and my mother worked. Her doctor said to formula feed me -that it was better. Six years later, with my new baby sister, the same doctor said to breast feed-it was better. We’re both fine.

    We all did it-we all judged until it was our turn-then most of us grew up and realized all that we didn’t know. I’m thankful that things turned out well for you!

  4. Sounds to me like you have associated yourself with a bunch of officious “friends.” Yes, breastfeeding has many advantages and is better than formula for those who can do it. Women should be encouraged to breastfeed if they can. But to shame someone who has attempted and failed at it is simply rude and ignorant.

  5. My concern is that breastfeeding will be mandated for Obamacare moms and newborns.

    I am a mom who breastfed all 4 of my kids. Two were born overseas, (“If those 4’10” 98 lb women hauling bricks on their heads can do it, I can.”), one was born a very small premie and was hospitalized a couple months a couple hours from home. I know all the advantages. (I could write a book.)

    But as in anything else … when it become an “idol” – The Only Way – it becomes a tool which harms. And sometimes is deadly. I am thankful that many women are recognizing the value of breastfeeding. I am thankful that we live in a time where we have access to formula for when we cannot nurse them for whatever reason.

    I wish moms today would lighten up, myself. You haven’t invented the wheel and don’t l have to (That’s for the ones who need to do it Perfectly. Don’t sweat.) And kids are resilient. So we also must be. :- )

  6. I can relate. My daughter was born three weeks early and had problems nursing. At nearly daily well-baby visits she consistently lost weight and at three weeks (what would have been her full term) I realized I had a serious problem. A nursing consultant referred to me by the hospital where I gave birth had been helpful, but my baby only seemed to nurse properly when the consultant was there to tell me exactly step by step what to do. Even that bit of “success” might have been illusory, who knows? At $50 a session those were some very expensive meals. A pediatrician recommended by the nursing consultant told me to supplement, which I did. It was laborious and exhausting and pretty much ruined the mom and baby time. But my daughter was healthy, and I continued pumping milk until 4 months with supplementing. I remember when that day arrived because it was a bitter-sweet liberation day. I’d given my kid the benefit of my immunological boost for 4 months, but finally I was free to have a life again — one that was not about a plastic breast pump and constant dish-washing.

    I found that as soon as my milk dried up my mood improved considerably. Some of the change was no doubt related to having a more relaxed schedule. But some of the change was probably hormonal. Though I never suffered from postpartum depression as such, I was never really relaxed and happy until after I stopped lactating.

    Everyone is different and a woman really needs to listen to her own body. It turned out that my daughter’s arrival three weeks early had somehow interfered with her instinct to latch. Without a bottle, she wouldn’t have gotten any nourishment. Even my milk only got into her after I had started putting it into the bottles. Thus the breastfeeding trend, while laudable in principle, does become crazy when it interferes with mothers making individual choices on behalf of their own infants. Thank goodness I never faced the pressure the writer did. I did feel a deep regret, however, about not being able to nurse and in retrospect I think that regret was composed wall-to-wall of hormones. Once the hormones were gone, so was the regret. My hormones made me feel sad and milk production was keeping that sad chemistry going. Once I shut down my diary I began enjoying my baby more and more. Enjoying and loving the baby is supposed to be the point.

    The baby doesn’t even remember whether it was nursed or not. And getting the infant fed is the main objective. So whatever choice the mom makes that works best for her and her baby is THE choice that matters.

    Anyway, that daughter is grown now, a healthy and wonderful young woman. Getting her safely into adulthood was the objective. Raise a child, don’t obsess over the first months of feedings.

  7. A healthy and happy mom with a bottle is way better than a sick and stressed mom breastfeeding. I breast fed both my children for a year. My 3 sisters did not breast feed their children because they returned to work and thought pumping was too brutal. I think every did very well, but my children did seem to have more ear infections. I think the bottle sucking would have helps their ears.

    There are so many reasons a mom can’t breast feed, and it is crazy anyone would guilt her. There are also personal reasons that need to be acknowledged. A stressed out mom doesn’t make good milk. I think the bottle helps both parents bond with the baby,while the husband is left out of the breast feeding. Many moms are on medications and they are protecting their baby by not giving them milk. I have many friends who have adopted children and they used formula for obvious reasons and the children have thrived.

    You know what is in formula. You don’t always know what is in breast milk.

  8. In the 60s and 70s we all (my friends and I) looked down our noses at Babbitry and admired non-conformists (one flew over the cuckoo’s nest). Now we have met the enemy and they are us: in this and many other ways the modern well educated upper-middle-class liberal insists on conformity.

  9. I went to Hell and back trying to BF #1, with NO support. It’s all very well and good getting BF friendly status but the ONLY way to support a BF mother is to be there for her and support her. Our modern world has seen the breakdown of traditional family units and community, breastfeeding can take a while to get established with #1 and needs that family and community support. Not a hospital midwife spending 2 mins with you or the Health Visitor turning up randomly for 5 mins. With #2 my Mum was brilliant – we lived closer and she was able to help. And it made SUCH a difference. I then went on to BF twins for 16 months. It was a breeze after that trauma with my first. BF is possible for almost everyone, but rarely alone or without proper support . It should be considered the norm, but remembered that it’s the traditional norm where traditional birth support should coexist.

  10. Thank you for sharing this experience, both Chelsea and Sarah. There are so many expectations around what birth ‘should’ be and what is most ‘natural.’ I agree that the upper middle class has lost its wits, since the 60s I suppose.
    I was volunteering at my yoga studio when expecting #1, and hearing a lot about birth plans, water birth, doulas, home birthing. I didn’t do any of that – just not my thing and I like to keep low expectations and stay flexible. One of my fellow volunteers revealed to me that she had home birthed 3 out of 3, but with her third something went very wrong and the baby died. She was spending time volunteering in an effort to address her terrible grief. Horrible to live through and to live with. It is by far not all rainbows and starshine.
    We almost seem to forget how serious it is to bring life into the world and keep that little life alive. Be proud of yourself Chelsea – you brought a little life into the world and have proven you will do whatever it takes to nurture your little one! That is the essence of being a Mom. You have been initiated and it was definitely a trial by fire. Hugs.

  11. I went through a very similar situation. It turned out my baby had a rare dissorder and ended up needing tube feeds for three years. I too felt awful that nursing did not work out. The punping and nursing and then bottle feeding 24 hours a day i think fueled my depression and I ended up in a treatment center for depression. My third child was a nicu baby. Again I tried nursing. This was my third c-section so i could not drive. My husband had to work and I could only get to the hospital once a day. After a month of pumping I started to go dry. When she came home they told me to nurse then give high calorie formula so she would get enough nourisent. I decided that that it was more important for her to get the high cal than my breast milk. At this point I had almost gone dry. Then I had a fourth c-section to a healthy baby who had latching issues. he cried non stop. He would sleep after 5 min of nursing. I was leaking left and right and he was having such difficulty. I kept saying hes not getting what he needs and having nurses say sure he is. Don’t wory. Day four they tell me he can’t go home because hes lost to much weight. They said I could stay in a border room. My response. That is not going to happen. I am the mom of four. My other kids need me too. I was right about my baby not getting enough nutrition. Now you give him a bottle every two hours and let me sleep one night. We can do his wieght in the morn. I will be taking my baby home. Guess what he gained. I took him home and he continued to gain well. All those moms who judge. I had one baby who has to be tube fed for years. The hospital tried to convince me to starve my baby so he could have only breastmilk. I would walk through fire for my kids and I am not breastfeeding this one because “breast is not always best” thanks chelsea Im glad to know I was not the only one to have c-section, ppd, and a baby who could not breastfeed.

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