Negative Breastfeeding Campaigns: How They Impact Mental Health

I am thrilled to post my interview with Steph, who is a blogger withIMG_0054 Grounded Parents.  Steph talks more about how negative breastfeeding campaigns impacted her mental health.  Steph has really good ideas about how to implement positive infant feeding campaigns.

Q: As a new mom who was struggling to breastfeed your baby, did negative breastfeeding campaigns impact your emotional health? 

A: With my first baby, I was so intent on exclusively breastfeeding. Everything that I had seen on the subject from posters and newscasts to books and brochures told me that breast was best and EBF was necessary for a healthy baby.

I remember seeing a poster of common “booby traps” (I hate that phrase) in my CNM’s office. The first one was “just one bottle.” I actually remember sharing that information with two friends who had babies before me. I thought I knew it all. I was a lactivist, and I was going to EBF my baby come hell or high water. When she lost more than 20% of her body weight in the first week and became jaundiced, a local LLL told me – “Don’t supplement, whatever you do. Your baby is not starving. It sometimes takes time for your milk to come in. It’s probably breastfeeding jaundice. Just take a nursing vacation.” I was so shocked when the hospital LC (a nurse and IBCLC) told me to supplement. She had a poster up in her office that recommended EBFing for 2 years. How could I EBF if I supplemented with formula? I did it because I had to. She was sick. She needed to eat, but the next three months I battled deep depression trying to reduce the amount I was supplementing (with an SNS), so that I could produce more. Little did I know that I COULDN’T produce more.

Q: How did you manage your feelings of shame on a daily basis when you learned you had lactation failure?

A: With my daughter, I was never diagnosed with lactation failure. I thought that I had ruined my supply by supplementing (even though I did it at the breast, pumped after every feeding with a hospital grade pump, took a ton of supplements and ate every food that was supposed to increase supply). I even thought the Benadryl I took for an allergic reaction caused my supply issues. I had a hard time coping. I hardly left the house and every time I had to feed her I hid. I didn’t want anyone to know. When I switched to formula, I was ashamed, but I also felt extreme relief. I could finally start bonding with my baby. With my son, my diagnosis of insufficient glandular tissue made me feel both insufficient and relieved at the same time. I suffered from PPD, but I got help from my midwife. I worked with an amazing physician and IBCLC at an organization called Milkworks. I became an advocate for the idea that just one bottle (or months of bottles) saved my breastfeeding relationship with my son. I became an advocate for the idea that lactation failure does not equal failure as a mother. Like any other medical condition, I managed it the best I could, while feeding my son and watching him thrive.

Q: Did you ever become depressed?  If so, how did you manage it?

A: I did become depressed. With my daughter, I didn’t manage it well. My maternity leave was a blur of sadness and frustration, coupled with tremendous shame. With my son, I got help from my midwife. For me, a combination of progesterone shots, Zoloft and exercise lifted me out of that depression. Plus, the knowledge that I could combo feed (something I had never heard of before) was very freeing.

Q: How much money did you spend trying to breastfeed? 

A: Between my two children I estimate that I spent over $2,000 trying to breastfeed. That estimate included lactation consultant fees, herbal supplements, prescriptions, hospital grade pump rentals, pump purchases, supplemental nursing systems, bras, pumping supplies and nursing supplies. Not to mention all of the time I lost, which is impossible to measure.  

Q: Did you ever consider using shared breast milk for your baby?

A: For me to consider shared breast milk, I would have had to get it from a close friend or family member. Formula was the right choice for me because I knew that it was nutritionally sound, highly regulated and safe.

Q: Tell us more about what it felt like when you found expert lactation services so that you could feed your baby without shame?

A: Working with Dr. Leeper at Milkworks deeply impacted my life. Learning about IGT in a supportive environment, having assistance with combo feeding without judgment and with support to do what was right for my baby. Having permission to supplement with formula from a breastfeeding professional was huge. Hearing the words “good job” and “way to go!” about feeding my baby when I wasn’t EBF was huge. Having support to define my own success was so important. Never did I hear that I was failing. I was feeding my baby. That was success.

Q: Has your infant feeding journey affected your emotional health long term?  If so, please explain.

A: Over the long term, my infant feeding journey has given me confidence and motivated me to help other moms feel less shame. 

Q: With your experiences, how would you redefine feeding our babies that would include all mothers and their babies to minimize the impact of shaming new moms who have lactation failure?

A: While I believe breastfeeding is awesome, I also know that it is not right for all women and all families and not possible for many women. I think breastfeeding promotion needs to be done in a supportive, nonjudgmental way. We need to stop throwing this information out into the media, social media, doctor’s and WIC offices and postpartum units in the form of posters and brochures and black and white messages, misleading statistics and scare tactics. Even if only 1% of women experience lactation failure, that’s still 1 out of 100 and that doesn’t count moms who have other issues that might make breastfeeding challenging or impossible. Possible messages might include: Breastfeeding – Try Your Best, We’re Here to Help or Support Moms, Support Babies or Feed Your Baby Without Shame, Combo feeding – it’s an option and it works!      


Steph is a full time working mom to the two best kids on the planet. They live a happy secular life in a small city in the Midwest. When she’s not busy running a nonprofit, Steph enjoys snuggling, making pies, gardening and fitness. Steph considers herself a semi-crunchy parent (of the breastfeeding, cloth diapering, cosleeping, gardening variety), but trusts science, evidence and common sense to lead the way. She has been actively involved with the reproductive rights and women’s health movements for nearly 20 years. 

Check out her original post here:

4 thoughts on “Negative Breastfeeding Campaigns: How They Impact Mental Health

  1. I loved this interview… very affirming. I struggled with breastfeeding and so have some of my friends. And we struggle with it not because we don’t think that breastfeeding is valuable…. but because we DO think its valuable and are encountering obstacles. I think a lot of times the medical mentality is that if you have enough willpower you’ll be able to overcome all these obstacles. It’s just not true. Before formula, there were wet nurses. Its a myth to think that women in the past were able to effortlessly feed their own babies. Breastfeeding struggles are as old as breastfeeding itself. I truly hope all the moms out there can come to a place where they are happy and comfortable with the choices they’ve made regarding the feeding of their children.


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