The pressure to exclusively breastfeed is hurting mothers' mental health

Print Friendly and PDF

[Content warning: This article references maternal suicide.]

Before she gave birth to her daughter, Dr. Stephanie Liu, a Clinical Lecturer with the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Alberta, expected she would breastfeed, but after extolling the benefits of breastfeeding to her patients for years, nursing did not come easily for Liu—but the guilt did.

"I struggled to get her to latch and when she did latch it was very painful. As a result, my milk supply was insufficient. For the first two weeks, I supplemented with formula and was racked with guilt that I was not doing the best for Madi," she writes for The Conversation

FEATURED VIDEO

She is hardly alone in this. A recent commentary in the journal Nursing for Women's Health explains that "[p]sychological pressure to exclusively breastfeed has the potential to contribute to postpartum depression symptoms in new mothers who are unable to achieve their breastfeeding intentions."

Liu points out that a large 2011 study found mothers who had negative breastfeeding experiences were more likely to have symptoms of depression. On a personal level, she understands why.

"Breastfeeding was one of the things I looked forward to most when I was pregnant. In medical school I learned about the bond between mothers and babies when they are breastfeeding. I could not wait to experience this," Liu explains, adding that breastfeeding her daughter Madi turned out to be way more challenging than she had anticipated.

For Liu, this experience changed the way she practices medicine, and she hopes that in sharing it she may change the way other medical professionals counsel their patients.

"As a family doctor, I know that breast milk is the optimal feeding choice for health benefits, but as a mom, I know the extreme pressures that we are placed under as women to produce milk every time our baby needs it," she says.

The extreme pressure to breastfeed

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months of life, but ACOG also officially recognizes that a baby's mother "is uniquely qualified to decide whether exclusive breastfeeding, mixed feeding or formula feeding is optimal for her and her infant."

Unfortunately, many moms don't feel that they have a choice. They just want to do what is "best" for their baby, and when they can't they feel like failures.

Mom Jen Harper was convinced that breastfeeding was the way to go, and felt devastated (and exhausted) when no matter what she tried, it just didn't work for her and her son. "I'd been conditioned to think that since I was a woman, breastfeeding would be the most natural thing I've ever done," Harper writes.

She finally found relief when an ear, nose and throat specialist told her that not every baby is a fit for every breast.

"I had to give up the notion that this was, in fact, a failure, because it wasn't. I had to let go of my notion that everyone around me was judging me for pulling out a bottle and powder instead of delicately unclipping my cute nursing bra," she explains.

Harper came to terms with the fact that supplementing with formula was better for her son than having "a sobbing mommy."

But research shows a lot of moms are sobbing over this issue and don't get the advice Harper did.

"Breast is best" was a super successful public health campaign, but it has created a maternal mental health crisis. A growing number of new moms are dying by suicide, and some of the fathers left to raise babies as single dads are speaking out about the role the extreme pressure to breastfeed can play in fatal cases of postpartum depression.

Vancouver father Kim Chen lost his wife Florence Leung in 2016 shortly after they became parents. Their dreams were coming true, but Leung was under so much pressure and died by suicide.

"I still remember reading a handout upon Flo's discharge from hospital with the line 'Breast Milk Should Be the Exclusive Food For the Baby for the First Six Months.' I also remember posters on the maternity unit 'Breast is Best.' While agreeing to the benefits of breast milk, there NEED[s] to be an understanding that it is okay to supplement with formula, and that formula is a completely viable option," Chen wrote in a Facebook post after his wife's death.

Their son thrived on formula after his mother died. He was in the 90th percentile.

Support is best

According to Suzanne Barston, the author of Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn't, it's time for those who support mothers—physicians like Liu, but also midwives, doulas, and those leading mom and baby support groups—to offer "solid, sensitive, personalized advice" to all mothers.

It's been over a decade since Barston launched her blog, The Fearless Formula Feeder and witnessed the evolution of online discussion of infant feeding go from "breast is breast" to "fed is best", but she says the conversation really needs to be a lot more nuanced than three word catch-phrases.

In 2018 she spoke to Motherly about why moms who use formula often feel unsupported in our society, and noted that while there has been a big shift in the last decade in terms of how people speak to and about moms who choose to supplement with formula, the choice to not breastfeed altogether is still not seen as a legitimate choice.

Moms feel like society doesn't support them overall, but when it comes to infant feeding, moms feel very unsupported. Moms are told they must do everything possible to succeed at breastfeeding, but that's extremely difficult in a society where many parents must go back to work when their infants are mere weeks old.

Yes, breastfeeding rates in America are lower than the World Health Organization would like, but this isn't because moms aren't educated about the benefits of breastfeeding. There are few among us who don't know the benefits of breastfeeding. In many cases, moms would like to breastfeed but can't because they don't have the support system to actually make it work.

"Whether you're feeling physically uncomfortable from your birth or you have to make dinner for your two other kids or you have to go back to work in three weeks, those are all very real issues that women have to deal with and no amount of awareness or education about breastfeeding changes," Barston told Motherly.

How to help mothers

Like Barston, Liu harnessed the power of the internet after her own infant feeding journey, and now supports other mothers in theirs through her blog, her blog Life of Dr. Mom.

It took having her own postpartum experience for Liu to learn that breast isn't always best, and she's changed the way she supports new mothers as a medical practitioner. There's just so much more nuance to this than "breast is best." You can't fit her thoughts as neatly on a poster, but her words are worthy of maternity ward walls and pamphlets and could save the lives.

"I always support the idea to breastfeed if you can, to reach out for support, and if you are struggling, there are other safe and healthy options to ensure your baby is well fed," she explains.

If you are struggling with postpartum depression, here are the resources you need.

If you are feeding your baby formula, breast milk or both, know that we support you and that you are a good mother.

You might also like:

The very best of Motherly — delivered when you need it most.
Subscribe for inspiration, empowering articles and expert tips to rock your best #momlife.

As the saying goes, "failing to prepare is preparing to fail," and that seriously applies to parenting. With no fewer than one dozen items to wrangle before walking out the door on an ordinary errand, mamas have plenty on their mind. That is why one of the very best gifts you can give the mamas in your life this year is to reduce her mental load with some gear she can depend on when she's out and about.

Although it may be impossible to guarantee completely smooth outings with kids in tow, here are the items we rely on for making getting out of the house less of a chore.

1. Bugaboo Bee 5 stroller

This stroller is a dream come true for any mama on the go. (Meaning: All of us!) Lightweight, compact and easy to maneuver with just one hand, this is made for navigating busy sidewalks with ease—or just fitting in the trunk without a major wrestling match. It's designed for little passengers to love just as much, too, with a bassinet option for newborn riders that can be easily swapped with a comfy, reclining seat that can face forward or backward for bigger kids.

$699

2. Bugaboo wheel board

This wheel board will let big brother or sister easily hitch a ride on the stroller if their little legs aren't quite up for a full walk. We love the smart details that went into the design, including a slightly offset position so Mom or Dad can walk without bumping their legs. And because toddlers have strong opinions of their own, it's brilliant that the wheel board allows them to sit or stand.

$125

3. Nuby Keepeez cup strap

If you know a little one gearing up for the major leagues with a killer throwing arm, this is a must-have so parents aren't buying new sippy cups on a weekly basis. Perfect for tethering to high chairs, strollers, car seats and shopping carts, it allows Mama to feel confident she'll return home with everything she left with in the first place.

$6.99

4. Bugaboo footmuff

For those mamas who live anywhere where the temps regularly dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, this ultra-soft, comfortable footmuff is a lifesaver. Made with water-repellant microfleece, it keeps little ones dry and cozy—whether there is melting snow, a good drizzle or simply a spilled sippy cup.

$129.95

5. Bugaboo stroller organizer

Because we know #mombrain is no joke, we are all for products that will help us stay organized—especially when out and about. With multiple zipper pockets, a sleek design and velcro straps that help it easily convert to a handbag when stepping away from the stroller, it helps keep essentials from spare diapers to the car keys within reach.

$39.95

6. Bugaboo Turtle car seat

It may be called a car seat, but we love that this one is specifically designed to securely click into a stroller frame, too. (Meaning there is no need to wake up a sleeping baby for a car-to-stroller transfer!) More reasons to love it are the lightweight design, UPF 50+ sun protection shade and Merino wool inlay, meaning it's baby and mama friendly.

$349

7. Chicco QuickSeat hook-on chair

This hook-on baby chair will almost certainly earn a spot on your most-used list. Perfect for dining out or simply giving your baby a space to sit, it's portable and beyond easy to install. (Plus, it's a great alternative to those questionably clean high chairs at many restaurants!)

$57.99

8. Bugaboo stroller cup holder

Chasing after kids when out and about can work up a thirst, just like neighborhood strolls in the chillier months can get, well, chilly. So we love that this cup holder will help mama keep something for herself to drink close at hand. Designed to accommodate bottles of all sizes and easy to click onto any compatible stroller, it's a perfect stocking stuffer.

$29.95

9. Bugaboo soft wool blanket

Fair warning with this luxe stroller blanket: It's so cozy that you might want to buy another one for yourself! Made with Merino wool that helps it stand up to any elements parents might encounter during an outing, it will help baby stay warm during the winter and cool enough as the temps start to pick up.

$109.95

10. Munchkin silicone placemats

Made to roll and stow in a diaper bag, these silicone placemats will make dining out a (relatively) less messy experience. With raised edges that will help contain spills and a grippy bottom, they will stay in place on tables so that parents might be able to enjoy their own meals, too.

$8.99

11. Bugaboo Breezy seat liner

Designed to keep baby warm when it's cool and cool when it's warm, this seat liner will minimize fusses during all seasons—which is one of the very best gifts you can give a mama. Because accidents of all types can happen on the go, we also love that this seat liner is reversible! With a number of colors, it's also a fun way to help a stroller to stand out at the playground.

$79.95

12. OXO Tot Handy stroller hook

If you ever catch yourself thinking it would be nice to have another hand, these stroller clips are the next-best solution for when you are out and about. Perfect for lugging a bag or anchoring a cup, you'll want a set for every stroller you own.

$14.99

This article was sponsored by Bugaboo. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

There's nothing Beyoncé can't do, at least as far as we can see. From dropping record-breaking albums to starring in movies to dominating stadium tours, the woman seems almost superhuman. But even Beyoncé can admit that working motherhood is really, really hard. She recently opened up about her struggles—and we never thought we'd say this—but we kind of feel like we can relate to Beyoncé.

The superstar recently opened up about everything from body image to hitting up Target in a brand new interview. But here's what we're taking away form the conversation: Beyoncé's raw, confessional comments about juggling motherhood and career.

FEATURED VIDEO

"I think the most stressful thing for me is balancing work and life," Beyoncé tells Elle when asked what stresses her out. "Making sure I am present for my kids—dropping Blue off at school, taking Rumi and Sir to their activities, making time for date nights with my husband, and being home in time to have dinner with my family—all while running a company can be challenging."

Say it louder, Beyoncé! It's crazy to hear that even the most iconic celebrity of all worries about things like school drop off. Admittedly, we don't know exactly what Bey's juggle looks like. We have no idea what it feels like to be trailed by the paparazzi or sell out stadiums or have access to absolutely everything money can buy. But here's what we do understand: The incredible pressure that comes with trying to fit too many things into too few hours, and the feeling that we wish we could be multiple places at once.

Something else we can relate to? Beyoncé's feelings about her body and its evolution over the years. "If someone told me 15 years ago that my body would go through so many changes and fluctuations, and that I would feel more womanly and secure with my curves, I would not have believed them," she says. "But children and maturity have taught me to value myself beyond my physical appearance and really understand that I am more than enough no matter what stage I'm at in life."

Amen to that, Mama!

And most relatable of all is this answer she provided. When a fan asked, "With all the hats you wear (chairwoman, global entertainer) and all the titles we give you (Queen, Yoncé), which brings you the greatest joy?" via email, here's what Queen B had to say: "Being Blue, Rumi, and Sir's mom."

We feel this so hard. And it's so gratifying to see that even Beyoncé—with all the massive, unprecedented things she's accomplished—knows that when it comes right down to it, nothing compares to being a mama.

News

It's so interesting how the popularity of baby names ebb and flow over time. Think about the most popular names when you were growing up—chances are, you probably don't see too many new babies being given those monikers in 2019. Khaleesi overtook Brittany in terms of popularity, for example.

But if you're noticing that names like Charlotte, Henry and Amelia seem to appear in a lot of your friends' birth announcements, you're onto something: These are three of the most popular names from 2019.

BabyNames.com has released a list of the top baby names of this year, and you may find a few of them (but not necessarily all of them!) a little surprising. 2018's biggest boy name, Atticus, dropped off the top 10 list. Also missing from this list? Sophia, the beautiful female name that has dominated on a global scale in previous years.

FEATURED VIDEO

But some names have held their popularity: Liam, Owen, Olivia and Violet are a few of the names that trended both last year and this year.

RANK

BOYS

GIRLS

1

Liam

Charlotte

2

Oliver

Amelia

3

Theodore

Violet

4

Declan

Aria/Arya

5

Henry

Aurora

6

Owen

Ava

7

Finn

Olivia

8

Caleb

Vivienne

9

Emmett

Hazel

10

Benjamin

Nora

The top name for baby boys probably won't come as a surprise to most. It's Liam, which has been a consistent powerhouse for a few years now. It's easy to see why—Liam is one of those names that everyone just loves. With that being said, if you're hoping to avoid giving your child a very common name, you may want to cross this one off the list, along with Oliver and Theodore (these were the top three boys' names). And if you're expecting a girl, forget about Charlotte, Amelia and Violet, which took the three top spots.

"It seems there is definitely a royal influence to baby names this year," says BabyNames.com founder and CEO, Jennifer Moss. "Both Liam and Charlotte are linked directly to the British Royal Family. Liam is a shorter version of the name William, like the Duke of Cambridge, and Charlotte is the name of his daughter."

Classic names that have always been incredibly popular are expected to become less common as well. "For 2020 and beyond we see some traditional Biblical names like David, Michael, and Luke dropping off the top 100. This is almost unprecedented," says Moss. "Those are being replaced with more unique Biblical names like Josiah, Gabriel, and Elijah."

Expect lots of nods to nature and flowers to become more popular in common years, with names like Violet, Iris, Juniper, Rose, Daisy and Dahlia gaining speed. Want to see how your child's name stacks up? Check out the full list of 2019's top baby names at BabyNames.com.

News

We are officially into the first week of the last month of 2020, and the busiest season of the year is upon us. Temperatures have reached "I-just-want-to-stay-inside-and-watch-Netflix" levels, your shopping list is a mile long, and now you're trudging you through the week after Thanksgiving with your food coma still intact.

But make sure that between being Santa and doing all the emotional labor that holiday planning demands you pour yourself a mug of cocoa, mama, chill out for a moment and catch up on the biggest news in parenthood from this week.

Here are the headlines making us smile this week:

This mama gave birth on a flight and gave her baby the most fitting name

Most mamas plan to give birth at the hospital, a birth center or at home...few of us would ever plan to give birth on a plan, but travel plans and birth plans can change in an instant.

American Airlines passenger Nereida Araujo recently gave birth onboard Flight 868 just after the plane landed in Charlotte, North Carolina. As People reports, Araujo named her daughter Lizyana Sky Taylor.

"Baby Sky decided to enter the world on a plane," Araujo wrote in a Facebook post. "Mommi handled it well thanks to everybody who assisted us with love & care."

The Florida mom was traveling with her husband and two older kids, The Washington Post reports. According to the American Airlines website, "if your due date is within 4 weeks of your flight, you must provide a doctor's certificate stating that you've been recently examined and you're fit to fly."

It's not clear when Baby Sky's due date was, but it's clear she is very much loved and that her mama will never forget Flight 868.

​This viral video of new grandparents is melting our hearts

Couple weep for joy at the news they’re becoming grandparents

www.today.com

One of the most exciting parts of learning you're pregnant is thinking about how you'll break the news to your loved ones...and how they'll react. Well, one expectant couple received an emotional, heartwarming reaction from a set of soon-to-be grandparents when they revealed their exciting news at a restaurant.

The sweet scene was captured on video and shared by TODAY. It shows a couple seated a restaurant—someone (who is not pictured) hands over a box, which the expectant grandfather gingerly opens. When he sees the card inside, he reacts immediately, his jaw dropping. The expectant grandmother is in disbelief, asking "Really?" as her partner begins weeping over the news.

We've seen plenty of incredible reactions from expectant parents, but it's so emotional to watch a couple learn they're going to become grandparents. TODAY hosts selected this as their "Morning Boost" feature this week and we can easily see why. This scene truly touches our hearts.

Dwayne Wade goes viral, defending his son + family photo

This cute family photo turned into an internet controversy this week and reminded us that Dwayne Wade is total #dadgoals because he is 100% supportive of his kids.

When Gabrielle Union shared a Thanksgiving family photo featuring herself, husband Dwayne Wade, and Dwayne's son, Zion posing with baby Kaavia some commenters freaked out.

In the photo, Zion can be seen wearing nail polish and a crop top. In terms of teenage clothing choices it's really not that out there, but some internet commenters were highly critical.

"So sad these boys turning into girls😏😏💯💯💯it hurts my heart an he's young," one commenter commented on Union's photo. Sadly, that was one of the nicer criticisms of the look. People got nasty in the comments and Zion's dad is not here for it.

The father turned to Twitter to voice his frustrations. "I've seen some post-thanksgiving hate on social about my family photo," he tweeted. "Stupidity is apart of this world we live in—so I get it. But here's the thing—I've been chosen to lead my family not y'all. So we will continue to be us and support each other with pride, love & a smile!"

The good news? Some positive support came from the whole situation. Take this fan comment, for example: "Idk if @DwyaneWade & @itsgabrielleu know how POWERFUL & MOVING it is that they're embracing their son's individuality. (Damnit I'm crying) In our community, being given autonomy over your body, beliefs, image, & statements as a child isn't a thing. That child is free & happy," the user wrote.

Amen to that!

Honest viral op-ed highlights imposter syndrome in motherhood 

There's really no way to prepare for motherhood—no matter how many books you read or classes you take, the enormous life shift that takes place when you welcome your first child throws all of us for a loop. There are times you'll find yourself wondering if you're even qualified to do this whole mom thing.

Comedian Casey Wilson recently opened up about feeling Imposter syndrome in a new op-ed. Casey described how she blamed herself when she started observing some puzzling symptoms in her son (she later discovered they were connected to his celiac disease).

"I beat myself up mercilessly, a stream of cruelty in my head," Casey wrote for the New York Times. "If you hadn't been so focused on your career, you would have learned to cook beyond rudimentary fish sticks and buttered pasta! You didn't breastfeed long enough! You got an epidural at ZERO centimeters dilated (a Cedars-Sinai Hospital first)!"

Casey described her own feelings of inadequacy...and she mentioned that while she beat herself up over her son's symptoms, her husband did nothing of the sort. And isn't that something we can all relate to all too well? As moms, we have such a tendency to blame ourselves, and it's something we can all work on improving. Because at the end of the day, we're all just doing our best.

Casey eventually came to that realization. "I am doing my best, and have always been doing my best under challenging and painful circumstances," she wrote in the op-ed. "And I'm comforted by the fact that following my instincts got us here. Can my instincts often be wrong? Sure...But in the case of my son, I kept asking why and searching for the answer. I'm proud of that. And I'm proud of all moms, who attempt this debilitatingly difficult-slash-searingly magical journey called parenthood. We're all doing our best. Even if we have to suck our thumbs to get through it."

5-year-old's whole Kindergarten class came to court for his adoption ❤️

Kindergarten is such a special time for kids. They learn so many social skills and discover the magic of friendship. And one little boy in Michigan has a whole class full of amazing friends who are so supportive of him.

5-year-old Micheal was officially adopted by his former foster parents this week in a courthouse in Grand Rapids, Michigan...and he was far from the only 5-year-old in the courtroom.

His whole class came to the big event, holding up construction paper hearts.

Micheal has lived with his new family for just over a year. His parents were married for 9 years before welcoming him into their home last Thanksgiving. They hadn't lived with kids before, so things got busy really quickly, but they fell in love with their new son and were so happy to make it official, CNN reports.

Micheal's mom and dad aren't the only ones who have fallen in love with the charismatic Kindergartener. His dad told CNN his favourite part of the adoption was when the judge asked everyone in the courtroom to talk about what Michael means to them. His classmates, holding up their paper hearts, offered sweet reasons like "I love Michael" or "Michael's my best friend."

Clearly, this 5-year-old has a ton of friends and a super supportive new family.

Congratulations to Micheal and his parents!

News

"Where do babies come from?" is a question that can strike dread in the minds of parents everywhere. No matter how you slice it, telling your kids the story of their conceptions can be tricky...and when you conceived via assisted reproductive technology? Well, that can add a whole new layer of complexity.

But author Tess Kossow has found a way to tell the story behind her son's in vitro fertilization conception—and the best part? She's letting other parents who turned to this technology use her words.

Kossow knows all too well how intricate the IVF process really is. The mother sought out fertility treatments after a year of trying to conceive. She and her husband began the process with two viable embryos—and while the first embryo implanted she later suffered a miscarriage. The second embryo became Kossow's son, Ferris, who was born in April of 2018.

FEATURED VIDEO

It's so important to normalize the IVF process, and Kossow is doing just that—she's showing parents who have opted for IVF treatments and their children that their stories are worth telling. Kossow has written the IVF story in the form of a children's book called I'm Very Ferris.

"I wanted to go with something that would resonate [with little children] and get across the point of IVF," Kossow tells People. "It's a rhyming book. The pictures speak a thousand words. I thought I would do this through a child telling the story, instead of having the mom or dad tell the story."

But giving children a better understanding of the IVF process isn't the only goal that motivates Kossow's work. She's also committed to sending an important message about miscarriages to the women who have suffered them.

"It's not your fault. There's nothing you could have done," she says, according to People. "I've come to realize from firsthand experience just how in depth pregnancy is. And how much it truly can be a miracle to carry a baby and to deliver a baby, and have a healthy baby."

This is so important—because families come together in a variety of ways, and all of those ways are viable and worth understanding. Giving families who have come together thanks to IVF this kind of representation is so necessary. And we applaud this mama for taking this step. You can buy I'm Very Ferris here.

News
Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.