"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." -Winston Churchill

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Guest Post: "What NOT to Say..."

by Brittany Sears

When I was pregnant, I saw lots of information on how to be sensitive to people who are struggling with infertility: don't ask couples when they're planning on starting a family, don't lament your 2 "oops" pregnancies to someone who can't get pregnant, etc. I've been thinking that for those of us who struggle with breastfeeding -- especially when we discover that despite our diligent research and best efforts, we will probably never make enough milk for our baby to eat -- similar information is needed for family and friends. This is a heartbreaking ordeal.

Here's a list of things I've compiled from my (online) groups. They sound like casual conversation to most people, but are actually emotional landmines for moms who thought they'd be exclusively breastfeeding for the next year. If you'd like to be sensitive to new moms whose background you don't know, or someone like me who you know to have low supply, please take heart! Please share widely if you're inspired to do so, and leave this line, which gives credit to me, Brittany Sears, for writing it.

"Are you breastfeeding?" Here is the stream of thoughts you've just inspired: Am I? Is this really breastfeeding, even though my baby would starve if I didn't add a bottle at every feeding, too? How can I really be a mom if I have to add a bottle? It's not really any of your business, whatever your intentions were when you asked.

"Oh, she's so tiny!" Such an accident, but this is a huge barb for many of us. Yes, she's smaller than your cousin's friend's 15 lb 3-week-old, but she's gained 3 lbs since the day the doctor was talking about hospitalization for failure to thrive. We really don't want to revisit the pain of that conversation.

"Breast is best..." or any other breastfeeding propaganda when you've JUST learned that we can't make enough. Formula is poison? What do you propose I do, let my baby starve?

"Everyone can breastfeed if they try hard enough." Oh REALLY? So visits to two doctors for surgery to fix Lucy's tongue tie, 11 hours with 4 lactation consultants, every supplement known to man, and innumerable books, websites, and support groups isn't trying hard enough?

Reassurance that "Formula is fine!" Yes, it is. But many moms get to CHOOSE formula. We only got to choose it in that we could choose to use formula or have a starved baby.

"How long are you going to torture yourself [by breastfeeding what little you can and adding an onerous pumping routine to your day]?" As long as I can give my baby the best I can, that's how long! Something is better than nothing until *I* decide otherwise.

"Have you tried... ?" Yes. I am forgiving about this one because people are genuinely trying to be helpful, but here's what I personally have tried with no effect. Galactogogue foods: oats, flax, brewers yeast, beer, you name it! Herbal supplements: fenugreek, blessed thistle, red raspberry leaf, goat's rue, alfalfa, chlorella... Gatorade, Emergen-C, too! And even a prescription drug, which has helped marginally. And for the love of Pete, yes, I drink enough water!

"I know it's hard." NO, you probably don't.

"Only 1% of women truly suffer from low supply." Awesome! I guess you should go buy a lottery ticket today, now that you've met me! Maybe you'll see a leprechaun later, too.

"Is that all you pumped?" or "She's still hungry!" THANKS CAPTAIN OBVIOUS.

Anything about your oversupply. You cannot imagine what any of us would give to make TOO much milk. (Personally, I don't mind hearing about it from the lovely women who are giving Lucy milk from their freezer stash!)

I know this list makes it sound like there's nothing you CAN say that isn't an emotional firestorm. And maybe that's true, and it's probably true of any new mom. So what is a good thing to say? Just stick to the positive! "Your baby is beautiful," "You're doing a wonderful job," and "What do you like most about being a mom?" are all much better options than asking a stranger if she's breastfeeding.

About Brittany:

I’m 29 years old and I just finished my PhD in Biology at the University of South Florida here in Tampa, FL. In fact, I held my 11-day-old daughter throughout the graduation ceremony! Lucy was born just a smidge early, at 36w6d, au natural and 7.0 lbs. After losing a pound in the first 5 days after birth, she did not regain ANY weight in the next two weeks. Our pediatrician then found a tongue tie, which we had corrected. Fast forward 5 weeks of still-poor latches, a second opinion from a wonderful pediatric dentist revealed that she was still tongue-tied, which we had corrected again. Whether due to missing a narrower-than-usual hormonal window, her continued poor latch, or some degree of IGT, I make 6-7 oz per day, including what my daughter gets on the breast. I am only now, at 12 weeks postpartum, settling into a routine and beginning to accept what is our normal. I credit my wonderful husband and family for support, the Freemies pump (so I can pump and hold my baby), and the IGT group for bringing me to terms with everything.


  1. This is truly beautiful, and thank you for sharing. I needed these words (especially the ones about formula) with my first. I had a lower-than-average supply with my second baby too (though better than with my first). It took a good deal of coaching (including a prenatal consult with a very respected LC who gave me the PTSD counseling I really needed), and discovering the wonder of donor milk to get me through, but I want you to know I am still nursing my 22 month old, and that you ARE a breastfeeding mom, WITH a breastfed baby, and your breastfeeding "success" may look different than your next door neighbor's (then again your academic success probably looks different than your next door neighbor's too-- do you know how few 29 year old women have their PhD's in hard sciences??? You GO GIRL!), but it's still YOUR success. The road of parenting is long and hard, and you're doing a great a job. Hang in there.