My formula for successful breastfeeding

Well hello again! I’ve been quite busy lately, with life and work and my two little kids – guess my blog got a little neglected. If only I could post the blogs I’ve been writing in my head! There has been so much going on in the news lately, a bunch of things I’ve wanted to blog about, but somehow hadn’t found the time. Sometimes it was just easier to tweet (follow me @elanaRD), but I’m back to blogging. Nice to see you!

One major news item that caught my eye recently was the announcement by Kaiser Permanente and its commitment to breastfeeding support. Among the action steps all KP hospitals will take is that no longer will formula be given to new moms upon discharge.

Now, I’m a huge proponent of breastfeeding. I gave breastmilk to my daughter from birth to 13 months, including the last 6 or 7 months of exclusive pumping. My son is nearly 7 months old now and still breastfeeding. I haven’t decided how long we’ll go – maybe a year, maybe longer – we’ll see.

But I’d be lying if I told you that neither of my kids ever had formula. With my daughter, she was about 6 months old before I finally broke down and fed her some Similac. My milk supply was scant, thanks to an out-of-whack thyroid, stress related to a cross-country move, a new job, and general new-mom anxiety. I felt defeated when I popped the vacuum seal on the can and shook a 4-oz bottle. But she gobbled it up and happily went back to breastmilk once my supply rebounded.

With my son, introducing formula happened earlier and occurs more often. I still hate it, but try as I might I simply can’t pump enough to keep him satisfied while he’s at daycare. As if my working mom angst needed additional guilt – “First you pawn off your child to daycare and now you can’t even FEED him?” (no, no one actually said that to me, but working/nursing moms know how I feel!)

Now did I give my son formula earlier because I was given 2-oz premixed bottles of Similac as a parting gift from my hospital stay? Doubt it. Even though my daughter was born at a Kaiser Permanente Baby-Friendly-Designated hospital in Colorado (my son was born in Virginia, at a hospital without the baby-friendly designation), the formula companies still sent me free canisters and unsolicied coupons for formula (probably got my mailing address from my baby registry).

Let’s face it, formula isn’t hard to get, whether it comes home from the hospital with you or is a quick trip to the drugstore down the street. Even the most well-meaning grandparents and husbands (and breastfeeding moms!) may purchase a can or bottle “just in case.”

The difference between a baby-friendly hospital and one without that designation is not just about whether you get the “gift” of formula or not. The Baby-Friendly Hospital Inititative has at least 10 criteria that BFHI hospitals must comply with in order to be labeled as such. Not one works in isolation to ensure breastfeeding success. I can tell you what worked for me:

  • Breastfeeding support groups: By far I felt these groups offered me the greatest support for my decision to initiate – and continue – to breastfeed. In Boulder where I lived, most of the hospitals with birthing centers offered weekly breastfeeding support groups in which moms and their babies could come in, nurse their babies, weigh them, talk to a lactation consultant (or several of them) hosting the group. But perhaps most importantly, it gave me a reason to get out of my house, maybe put on some makeup if I really had energy, and meet some other moms. Those early infant-caring days are wonderful but can also be lonely…especially for moms battling with post-partum baby blues or worse. My daughter was a little peanut, and I always worried that I wasn’t producing enough milk for her. Going to these groups, doing a pre-feeding weight and a post-feeding weight to find out how much milk she drank, helped keep my confidence up. I actually went to two different hospitals each week. OK, I was a little obsessed about my daughter’s weight.
  • Access to lactation consultants (LC) 7 days/week: At the Boulder hospital where I delivered my daughter, the lactation consultant came to my room no less than twice during my stay (I was there for only 36 hours – my choice). I was also given the number for the LC support line, available 7 days/week (except holidays) during normal business hours. Just leave a message and the LC on staff called me back within 2 hours (often much quicker than that!). There was no charge for the service, and the LCs were always more than happy to answer my questions. And I asked a LOT of questions!
  • In-home post-partum well-check: KP isn’t just a medical center, it’s an insurance plan. I don’t know if this was a service of the hospital or of my insurance, but a few days after my baby and I came home, a nurse came to MY house to do the mom and baby wellness checkup. She weighed my daughter, observed my breastfeeding, checked my uterus and answered all our questions. Those of you with kids know that the first few days of having a newborn at home are a blur: days and nights are mixed up, hormones are a mess… Keeping track of time, bundling a newborn baby and all the accoutrements said baby needs (my husband declared that the size of the baby is inversely proportional to the amount of stuff you need!) – getting out of the house can be exhausting! Also, something as private and sensitive as nursing I think is better dealt with in the privacy of one’s home than in a clinical setting.

I’m glad I had the experience I did with my daughter first, as nourishing her for a full 13 months gave me the confidence I needed to get me through nursing my second child. I can easily see how a new mom’s confidence would be shot if she had difficulty nursing and had to navigate a complicated system to help her get answers. The pressure to breastfeed – and particularly to continue breastfeeding – can be tough, and it’s of little wonder why most moms choose to wean well before the recommended 1 year mark. I strongly believe that keeping formula in the house isn’t what derails most people – it’s the lack of support.

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Elana Natker, MS, RD

I'm a dietitian, communications professional, wife, mother - just your typical modern-day woman trying to juggle it all.

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