Breastfeeding Grief

August 1999
Dear Mothering,

Something I would like to see addressed in your magazine is the issue of women who have breastfeeding supply issues. Your stance on discouraging formula feeding and not allowing advertising of breastmilk substitutes, while admirable, does not address the needs of those mothers like myself who have been forced out of medical necessity to give their babies formula, and need information.

I've been going to La Leche meetings before my daughter was born. I really believe in breastfeeding, and couldn't imagine feeding my baby any other way, or why anyone would need to. I had a wonderful home birth, and Ivy caught on to breastfeeding pretty quickly. But I never really got engorged, nor ever felt any letdown. She nursed constantly and fussed much of the time. I worked with a lactation consultant, pumped, took various lactation-promoting herbs, had my thyroid checked, all to no avail. By the time she was four months, she was only a pound and a half over her birthweight, I was desperate, and my pediatrician put her foot down. I had to start supplementing.

I had always felt that formula was evil - it had no place in a baby's life. It was the easy way, the seductive promise that we as mothers could have children, continue working and doing it all. Give my baby formula? No! I had resisted people telling me to "just give her a bottle". I knew that doctors often tell mothers that they "don't have enough" because they don't know enough about breastfeeding. I wished there was a magic switch that a doctor could find in me and turn it on so I could be normal. I felt that by giving her formula, I was betraying my baby.

But do you know what? She THRIVED. It was hard for me to see it. I wanted her to be thriving on MY milk! Why did she have to do so well on formula? I wanted her to hate it, to spit it out. But she calmed down, gained weight, and turned into a really happy baby. It pained me to realize that she'd cried and fussed so much because she'd been hungry all of the time. We still nurse, but mostly at night (she sleeps with us).

I've since met a couple of other women in LLL who've had the same experience I had. One woman was the same way with her first baby, but with her second she was gushing with milk. It really gave me hope.

I would like to see resources on alternatives for mothers like me. In order to avoid giving my daughter cow's milk, we use a soy based formula. Until I read the label, I had no idea that it was 50% corn syrup, 6% sucrose, and only 14% soy protein! It's also full of coconut oil. Sugar and coconut oil are not my idea of nutrition. But my research into alternatives only came up with a 1970's Adele Davis recipe. There's got to be something that takes advantage of all the research that's been done since then. What alternatives are there to the big formula companies? Homemade formula recipes or small independent companies making wholesome soy formula? How can we supplement our babies with formula but still keep them nursing? I would really like to see Mothering address these issues, and I'd be happy to talk with other mothers who've had the same struggles I've had.

Emma Antunes