There was a poster on the wall of my midwife's exam room titled “Booby Traps.“ It outlined a list of things every new mom should avoid if she wants to breastfeed. I ended up memorizing that list, and when I wasn’t able to breastfeed my daughter successfully I obsessed over it. I blamed myself for ruining breastfeeding. Then, when my son was born, I learned otherwise. There are a ton of things that professionals, other moms, the internet, and the voices in your head say will screw up your chances of breastfeeding that, really and truly, won’t.
If you Google "screw up breastfeeding" you will find hundreds of sites listing "booby traps," all similar to the poster I committed to memory. In addition to finding the title "booby traps" to be misogynistic and condescending, I discovered many of the points listed weren't really traps at all. We, as a society, have created a parenting culture where the pressure to breastfeed is intense, and so many new moms torture themselves trying to do everything "perfectly" by avoiding things like getting an epidural, supplementing with formula before their breast milk comes in, using a pacifier with a fussy baby, and even going back to work. These decisions aren't always made with the mother and her unique child in mind, but because moms truly believe the aforementioned things will hurt their chances of breastfeeding. They won't. In fact, so many of those things may actually help you get through new motherhood with your sanity intact. It turns out that you don’t have to martyr yourself to be a good mother, and you don't have to always sacrifice the things that make the most sense for you, your body, and your baby, in order to nurse for as long as you'd like.
If you are expecting a baby and want to breastfeed, I encourage you to ditch the bad advice, bookmark this post, and let science guide your breastfeeding journey. You can do this, mama, and you don't have to kill yourself trying.
Getting An Epidural
When I had trouble breastfeeding, I agonized over the childbirth decisions I made that I thought ruined my chances. As a result, I blamed myself for getting an epidural after almost 16 hours of excruciating back labor. After all, it was right there on the "Booby Traps" poster.
Turns out, a recent study found there's no effect of getting an epidural on breastfeeding at six weeks postpartum. It's so messed up that we keep telling moms-to-be that they do.
Supplementing With Formula
All of my friends said that formula would ruin my baby, ruin our "breastfeeding relationship," ruin my supply, ruin her tiny tummy, and ruin her health. Regardless of those messages, though, I had to supplement to nourish her.
I thought those few bottles of formula she got at the hospital caused my undersupply. As it turns out, research from from University of California, San Francisco showed that babies who receive supplemental formula in the hospital are often breastfed longer. And when my son was born, I discovered that supplementing with formula gave him the strength to breastfeed, and helped his body recover from jaundice.
Using A Bottle
When I needed to supplement, the nurses and lactation consultants, at the "baby-friendly" hospital where I delivered, made me use a syringe, spoon, or supplemental nursing system, rather than a bottle to avoid my baby developing "nipple confusion." It was exhausting, time-consuming, and messy.
I later learned that there's not really any good evidence to support restricting bottles. According to Dr. Chad Hayes, research shows nipple confusion isn't a thing, and using a bottle to supplement is just fine.
Using A Pacifier
So many people told me that using a pacifier would ruin my chances of breastfeeding. Unfortunately, I discovered that the alternative was having my baby use me as a pacifier every hour of every day. Come to find out, as TODAY notes, research shows that not only is "nipple confusion" not a thing, but pacifiers can actually help babies breastfeed.
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents use pacifiers to calm their babies and reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Yay, pacifiers!
Letting Your Partner Feed The Baby Once In A While
I still remember my friends gossiping about a mom who let her husband give their baby a bottle so she could rest. They called her selfish, but now I know she was smart. Sleep deprivation is dangerous, being a new mom is hard, and letting your body have a break once in a while is fine. If you plan on returning to work, or letting someone else feed the baby, lactation consultant Susan Burger tells Parenting you should actually introduce a bottle early to avoid bottle refusal.
I'm not going to lie, pumping is not my favorite thing to do. Still, it won't ruin your chances of breastfeeding. People tell new moms that they have to wait to pump until some magical time when their "breastfeeding is established." It's simply not true.
I started pumping and bottle-feeding my son days after he was born, and we switched between breast and bottle effortlessly. In a world where one in four working mothers have to go back to work two weeks after their babies are born, pumping or combo-feeding is necessary if you want to continue breastfeeding your baby at home. Besides, many moms exclusively pump breast milk for their babies from birth, which is a completely awesome way to feed your baby if they can't latch, you have pain, or for whatever reason, you don't want to breastfeed.
Not Having A "Golden Hour"
When my son had to go to the NICU after birth to be monitored, I was sure that missing the "golden hour" would impact our breastfeeding relationship. He apparently missed that memo and went on the breastfeed just fine. New moms face a ton of pressure to "room in" with their babies at the hospital until they take them home; a practice that can be exhausting and even dangerous, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics.
The good news: while rooming in may help breastfeeding in the first couple of days, a Cochrane Review showed no difference in breastfeeding rates at six months between babies who roomed in and those who spent their first few days in the nursery. So, if your baby needs the NICU, or you need a break, you can literally rest easy.
Your Baby Having A Lip Tie
So many people told me that the reason I had a low supply was that my daughter had a lip tie, or an anatomical condition where her labial frenulum — the membrane that connects her upper lip to her gums — is tight. This condition is often sited on internet breastfeeding pages and in mommy groups as the cause of breastfeeding problems, leading parents to self-diagnose their babies and ask their doctors or dentists to "correct" it by cutting that membrane.
However, a study published in the journal Breastfeeding Medicine showed that lip ties do not cause breastfeeding difficulties. My heart hurts when I think that I considered subjecting my baby to an unnecessary and ineffective procedure, which wouldn't have made a damn difference. I am so glad I didn't listen to the hype.
Going Back To Work
Pumping at work sucks. It really does, but it's doable and it's totally possible to continue breastfeeding after you return to work. You might find that you need to supplement with formula or find ways to increase your supply, like l did, but we live in a reality where so many moms need (and want) to work outside the home. It's time we stop telling them that they will ruin their chances of breastfeeding by going back to work, and that they should stay home if they don't want to. Yuck.
I didn't know combo-feeding — breastfeeding and formula-feeding simultaneously — was a thing that people did. Everyone said even one bottle of formula would ruin my chances of breastfeeding. So, I was pretty surprised when I was able to combo-feed my son for eight months. And I am not alone. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), by the time their babies are 6 months old, almost 80 percent of breastfeeding moms also feed their babies formula. So, why aren't we talking about this and offering new moms advice and support on how to combo-feed, instead of telling them they are ruining breastfeeding?
Many new moms, like me, suffer from postpartum depression and other mental health conditions. There is so much stigma about taking medications to treat these conditions and so many people, including medical professionals, refuse to prescribe life-saving medications for nursing moms. It's so messed up, because there are so many anti-depressants that are totally OK to take while nursing. I really wish this myth would die in a fire, and people would start recognizing that moms mental health matters. Women are literally dying due to the pressure to breastfeed, and it has to stop.
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