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I am a planner, so when I was pregnant, I tried to plan for all aspects of becoming a mom. I was the woman who read ahead. I took the hypnobirthing classes and practiced every night. I prepared a detailed maternity leave plan, talked with my husband about the kind of parents we wanted to be, ate only whole organic foods, and even preemptively childproofed our home. I prepared my body, my life, every part of myself.

The one thing I did not adequately prepare for was breastfeeding. The message I'd received during pregnancy was that breastfeeding was something my body would just know how to do. I didn't need to overthink it or stress. When the time came, I'd be Mother Earth—or so I'd been told.

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But breastfeeding didn't come easily for me and my daughter, and I was overwhelmed by the pressure to try to make it work. I felt so much guilt about not being able to get it right, that I was failing at what was I was told was the biggest part of new motherhood. It affected my relationship; it affected my ability to bond with my baby; and it affected my ability to heal. It was the first place in my life (though not the last) where I felt mom guilt. My struggle with breastfeeding stole much joy from the first months of motherhood.

After spending hundreds of dollars on lactation consultants and trips to the ENT to explore my daughter's possible tongue tie, I eventually turned to formula. In desperation, I chose the brand my pediatrician recommended without question.

Months later, when the fog of new motherhood finally started to lift, I learned that it—and so many other infant formulas on the market—was loaded with corn syrup solids. What?!?!? How is this possible? I remember asking myself.

My experience made me wonder: Why are women, including my generation of the most educated women ever, being guilted (without support) to breastfeed for a year? And when we can't, or choose not to breastfeed, why are there so few healthy alternatives for our babies?

While mothers are under an incredible amount of pressure to breastfeed, we lack the access to information, cultural support, and healthy options that we need to successfully feed our babies.

Less judgmental, didactic education about feeding infants

When I started to dig into why I felt so misled about the realities of breastfeeding I learned that the World Health Organization, the organization that established recommendations around breastfeeding, as well as guidelines for marketing breast milk alternatives (all of which trickle down to lactation consultants), has an enormous influence on hospitals.

To earn a Baby-Friendly designation from UNICEF and the World Health Organization, hospitals must adopt clinical practices intended to promote successful breastfeeding. One of these practices is, "Do not provide breastfed newborns any food or fluids other than breast milk, unless medically indicated." In practice, this essentially means hospitals are encouraging moms to do whatever it takes to make breastfeeding happen.

And, the influence of the WHO's International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes extends well beyond hospitals. This code, though not legally enforced in the U.S., discourages the marketing of not just formula, but also bottles and nipples. Ironically, this ignores the fact that many moms rely on nipples and bottles to feed their babies breast milk.

It also encourages health professionals who support breastfeeding, such as lactation consultants, to take a firm stand against collaborating with companies who violate the Code. That means that if a media company takes advertising money from a bottle company, they jeopardize their ability to draw upon a lactation consultant's expertise in the future, thus potentially limiting moms' access to information.

This isn't to make the WHO out to be the bad guy. There are plenty of benefits to breastfeeding for both mom and baby — especially in countries where clean water is scarce and formula feeding poses serious health risks. The Code, too was developed with the best intentions: to prevent misleading marketing claims and reduce corporate influence on feeding practices. And for many moms, certified lactation consultants are a force for good and a source of support.

But forcing a binary choice between breast and bottle-feeding — without giving moms all of the information they need — doesn't support mothers. Instead, moms deserve access to information about all their options, including formula supplementation.

Better leave and pumping policies

Even if breastfeeding does come easily, our culture is not set up to support women exclusively breastfeeding for the WHO-recommended length of time.

While we're told that we should exclusively breastfeed for six months and continue to breastfeed for at least a year, the median length of (paid or unpaid) maternity leave in the U.S. is 11 weeks, and only 14% of American workers have access to paid leave.

This is especially frustrating when research indicates that leave is a key part of the breastfeeding puzzle. Returning to work before three months may reduce a mother's ability to meet her breastfeeding goals. Studies show that working women who receive 12 or more weeks of paid maternity leave are more likely to start breastfeeding and continue breastfeeding for six months than women without paid leave. In another study, researchers found that a one-month increase in maternity leave led to a 2.2 month increase in breastfeeding duration. If we want moms to breastfeed — and to sustain breastfeeding — we need to provide better paid parental leave.

And once women do return to work, we need to provide them the time and space to pump. Despite the Break Time for Nursing Mothers Law, women still face barriers at work that prevent them from expressing milk. Research suggests that 60% of women do not have the time and space they need to pump at work, but women who did have the time and accommodations were 2.3 times more likely to be breastfeeding exclusively at six months.

An alternative to sugar-laden formulas

Unfortunately there are barriers for formula-feeding mothers too. In the United States, we're lacking in not just education about formula, but also healthy options that we feel good about feeding to our children.

While formula is highly regulated, there aren't yet restrictions on the sugar content in baby formula. Formula needs to contain a certain number of carbohydrates in order to meet a baby's nutritional needs. In breast milk, the primary carbohydrate is lactose. But in formula, that carb is often corn syrup or sugar. In some formulas, babies are getting up to 10 grams of corn syrup per 5-ounce serving. That means over the course of a day, they're guzzling more sugar than you'll find in a bottle of Coke!

Recently, many parents have begun to seek out better options by purchasing formulas from the European Union. The E.U. has stricter rules about pesticides and limits the amount of corn syrup in formula (there, corn syrup can only make up 50% or less of carbohydrates, while in the U.S. all carbs can come from corn syrup). Unfortunately, European formulas pose risks too.

The bottom line: To be successful, moms and families need support without judgement. We need education that acknowledges the real challenges of breastfeeding at the same time it teaches the benefits. We need information about all of our options. We also need policies that help working moms meet their breastfeeding goals. And for the mamas who rely on alternatives to breastfeeding, we need formulas with ingredients lists we can understand and feel good about using to nourish the next generation.

This story originally appeared on Apparently.

Motherhood is a practice in learning, growing and loving more than you ever thought possible. Even as a "veteran" mama of four young sons and one newly adopted teenager, Jalyssa Richardson enthusiastically adapts to whatever any given day has in store—a skill she says she's refined through the years.

Here's what just one day in her life looks like:


Jalyssa says she learned to embrace agility throughout her motherhood journey. Here's more from this incredible mama of five boys.

What is the most challenging part of your day as a mom of five?

Time management! I want to meet each of the boys' individual needs—plus show up for myself—but I often feel like someone gets overlooked.

What's the best part of being a mom of five?

The little moments of love. The hugs, the kisses, the cuddles, the smiles... they all serve as little reminders that I am blessed and I'm doing okay.

Are there misconceptions about raising boys?

There are so many misconceptions about raising boys. I think the biggest one is that boys don't have many emotions and they're just so active all the time. My boys display many emotions and they also love to be sweet and cuddly a lot of the time.

What do you think would surprise people the most about being a mom of five?

How much I enjoy it. I never knew I wanted to be a mom until I was pregnant with my first. My desire only grew and the numbers did! I am surprised with every single baby as my capacity to love and nurture grows. It's incredible.

How do you create balance and make time for yourself?

Balance for me looks like intentional planning and scheduling because I never want my boys to feel like they aren't my first priority, but it is extremely difficult. What I try to do is not fit it all into one day. I have work days because motherhood is my first priority. I fit in segments of self-care after the kids' bedtime so I don't grow weary.

What's the biggest lesson you have learned from motherhood?

I have learned that sacrifice is actually beautiful. I was terrified of the selflessness motherhood would require, but I've grown so much through the sacrifice. There is nothing better than living for something bigger than myself.

When did you first feel like a mom? How has your motherhood evolved?

I first felt like a mom when I was pregnant with my first son and I intentionally chose to change my eating habits so my body could be strong and healthy for him. I didn't have to think twice—I just did what I thought would be best for him. That decision being so effortless made me realize I was made for motherhood.

My perspective has changed with each baby as I've realized motherhood doesn't have to be one-size-fits-all. With my first son, I was a by-the-book mama and it was so stressful. With each baby, I have felt more freedom and it has made motherhood so much more beautiful. I have evolved into the mother that they need, I am perfect for these boys.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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