Breastfeeding and Supplementation

“Breast is best”. Breastfeeding is usually the best option and if you are a new mother, you have likely heard that phrase often when considering feeding options for your baby. While it is absolutely true that breast milk is unequivocally the best form of nutrition for your baby, some mothers find it extremely difficult, have trouble producing enough milk to keep the baby healthy and growing, or find feeding very painful.

Although there are very few instances where breastfeeding is contraindicated, it is sometimes necessary to supplement with a best baby formula or exclusively formula feed for the well being of your baby and your own mental and physical health.

happy baby

Most professionals will tell you that nursing is only painful if you aren’t doing it right. Either the baby isn’t latching on correctly, your hand placement needs to be changed or your positioning is off. Many will say cracked, bleeding or painful nipples are always an indication of improper feeding technique and never normal or expected, and breastfeeding should never be uncomfortable. They also say if you and your baby are both healthy and you are eating and drinking adequately, you will produce as much milk as your baby needs.

Until I had my baby, I was one of those professionals. Naturally when I got pregnant I planned on exclusively breastfeeding. As a dietitian I was well aware of the benefits breastfeeding would give my baby and I, and of course I would instinctively know what I was doing so it wouldn’t work, and me and the baby would work in sync so I could provide exactly what he needed.

I had told plenty of mothers who had complained about how much it hurt they must be doing something wrong and had referred many to lactation consultants. To moms who said they weren’t producing enough I patiently explained they must not be eating or drinking enough, because nature knows exactly what it’s doing and as long as those things were in place chances were they would be making enough milk. Occasionally I would recommend a supplement to increase milk production, but for the most part I told them to drink more fluids and they would be fine. In other words, I thought they were being a little dramatic and told them to do what the textbooks say they should do.

Now that I’m on the other side of things, my opinions have changed. Unfortunately breastfeeding was not the bonding, beautiful experience the books make it out to be. The truth is I found breastfeeding extremely painful for the first 2 months of my son’s life. In that time I saw 3 lactation consultants and had changed feeding positions constantly. It didn’t matter, it still hurt. I also wasn’t producing enough milk.

At his 1 month doctor appointment the pediatrician suggested I start supplementing with the best baby formula available because my little guy was rapidly falling off the growth chart. The more real people I spoke to, the more I found it was not an unusual problem. In fact most of the moms I’ve talked to said nursing was painful in the beginning, and many had a problem with under production, while others had issues with over production.

The moral of the story: you need to do what’s best for you and your baby. While it did get much easier for me at the 2 month mark, things were tough for those 2 months. I still don’t produce enough milk and find my son is much happier when he has his 1 bottle a day then if I don’t give it. He is now growing well, and although I know some would say I should have tried harder, by pumping after feeding to build up a milk supply or make him feed for a longer time on each side, but the truth is sometimes you need to do what’s best for you. I did the best I could, making sure I ate and drank enough and fed him as much as possible, but for me it didn’t work.

As a new mom I was completely overwhelmed with my new life and the best thing the pediatrician could do for me was give me permission to supplement.

So that is what I would like to do for you. If you truly feel you are doing the best you can and it’s just not enough, it is not the end of the world to supplement. I understand your feelings of guilt and inadequacy, with healthcare professionals saying you must be doing something wrong. The truth is you know your child and his needs. Health professionals recommend what they learn about in textbooks and don’t always realize they are talking to real people in real situations.

As both a health professional and a mom, I believe you know what you can do. If your child isn’t gaining weight despite your best efforts, supplementation may be necessary. It doesn’t make you a bad mom, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it.

If you are having issues nursing your baby, this site is very helpful in identifying and solving breastfeeding problems. Written by a mom, it describes many common problems associated with breastfeeding and what to do about them.