Guest post: When breast isn’t best


Freda McFadden is the co-author of Baby City, a book detailing the life of a resident working on Labor and Delivery in a busy hospital. Dr. Amy provided her advice on a difficult homebirth scene in this novel, and in her honor, 25% of profits will go to the Fistula Foundation.

That’s right, I said it. Breastmilk isn’t always best.

I always considered myself to have a very healthy attitude about breastfeeding. I set a goal for myself to do it for a year, but was willing to occasionally supplement with formula. And when women tell me they want to breastfeed, I try to offer practical tips, including telling them not to stress if it doesn’t work out.

But when I was breast-feeding my younger daughter, I realized that my attitude about breastfeeding was far from healthy.

Ways you know you have an unhealthy breastmilk obsession:

–You have passed up a chance to do something actually enjoyable in order to pump

–Your baby is 6+ months and you are still pumping

–Even though it means you leave work later and see your baby less

–Your freezer contains more milk than food

–You have fed your baby breastmilk that might have been going stale so it wouldn’t get “wasted”

–You make breastmilk bottles for day care with less milk than you think your baby will drink so none of it will get “wasted”

–You feel sad/angry when the baby doesn’t drink all the milk in a bottle because it is “wasted”

–You have given up sleep to pump

–You have given up sleep to keep your baby from getting a single bottle of formula

–You think formula smells bad

–When your baby does get formula, you feel guilty

–Even though you pretend not to, you secretly judge other women who don’t breastfeed for at least a full year

–You find mold on your pumping equipment, but instead of throwing away your frozen stored breastmilk, you continue to feed your baby potentially moldy milk, even though your infant is 10 months old and you still have plenty of fresh breast milk for her. Just hypothetically speaking…

Women are taught to chant “breast is best” in our sleep. (What sleep, right?) But I’d like to think that we women have brains and are not automatons who must breastfeed no matter what, even if it’s not in our best interest.

That’s why my favorite mantra is not “Breast is best,” but rather, “Happy mama, happy baby.”

A version of this article was originally posted in Mothers in Medicine.