Shifting the Language from “Exclusive Breastfeeding” to “Breastfeed as Much as You Can (or Want)”

There are many inquiries that we spend our days fielding here at the Formula Feeding Helpline. And some are much more common than others. However, by and far, the most common issue that we assist with is what to do when breastfeeding doesn’t work out.

In short, the current climate of breastfeeding promotion has made me a very busy person.  The stories are almost always the same. That’s not to say that each one is not valuable and deeply personal, but as a formula feeding consultant I have come to pick up on some pretty clear themes.  Breastfeeding today does not exist on a continuum and it’s doing women (and families) a huge disservice. You are either in or you are out; exclusive or bust. Because so much of the popular breastfeeding literature, health pamphlets and online mommy sites proselytize this word “exclusive,” women defer to it as a logical and attainable goal, with little thought for any variation.

Most will buy into the notion that it may be really hard at first, but that with education, support and perseverance it will all be OK. It isn’t until they are confronted – most times completely unexpectedly – with the harsh reality that exclusive is not attainable (for them) that their perception of infant feeding is forced to expand.

I joke that despite encouraging and assisting with formula feeding, I keep more women breastfeeding than Le Leche League. (Of course this is not literally true, as they predate me by decades and have a massive worldwide reach.) What I mean is that I often catch the women for whom “The Plan” doesn’t work out. Exclusivity is just not in the cards for them. And after taking the advice to endure painful and exhausting power pumping sessions, triple feeding plans, nursecations, enough supplements to choke a horse, cookies, oatmeal, special diets, and physical, psychological and emotional breakdown – I am the soft middle ground on which they land.

I do not encourage these women to stop breastfeeding – no. I listen to them and let them tell me how they would like to move forward. Some will stop altogether, which is fine and I gladly assist. But many are looking for help in constructing “The Next Plan/The ‘Plan B’ I Didn’t Think I Needed”. And that’s where my expertise comes into play.

You see – much like human fertility (where 1 in 10 women will have extreme difficulty or be completely unable to become pregnant) and conception (where 1 in 5 pregnancies will not result in a live birth), human lactation has a natural failure rate of roughly 15%, and many more in addition to the 15% will struggle considerably.

If you have certain risk factors such as advanced maternal age at first birth, polycystic ovarian syndrome, flat or inverted nipples, maternal obesity, or insufficient glandular tissue in your breasts – you may be more likely to struggle to exclusively breastfeed. Babies can also struggle to properly transfer milk due to prematurity, physiology, weak suckle, or mouth and jaw construction. And moms can sometimes require medications, treatments or have their own health diagnoses that are incompatible with breastfeeding.

But current breastfeeding promotion does not account for any of these very real-life scenarios in its messages. Rather, inability to sufficiently lactate is marketed as “rare” and can always be overcome with proper “support,” which I assure you from the business I’m in, is completely FALSE.

So what do I do?

In response to the current all-or-nothing approach to breastfeeding education, which fails so many women, I have learned to sidestep it. I successfully teach and guide hundreds (thousands?) of women in the art of combination feeding, or feeding some formula and some breast milk. In fact, it’s one of the things I’m best at. And combination feeding can take a thousand different shapes. How a particular family institutes it is unique, and I’m here to help.

A breast milk supply does not have to be flawless to engage in breastfeeding. Together we can work around whatever your biology (or circumstances) has you working with. There are tips and tricks that do not involve torture which can have you and your baby happily dabbling in both worlds. It may not be what you always envisioned, but it can be wonderful just the same.

You see, simply shifting the language from “exclusive breastfeeding” to “breastfeed as much as you can (or want)” sets a totally different tone and supports a goal that is much more realistic and attainable.
Babies benefit. Moms benefit. And the world moves on.

If you are struggling with exclusive breastfeeding and want to learn about how to integrate formula in a way that best supports your feeding goals, please contact us now.

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