Blaming the milk? Is it the breastmilk or something else?

This post made possible in part by the generous support of Motherlove Herbal Company.

Fairly often on The Leaky B@@b Facebook page we see questions from moms concerned about their milk or explaining that they had to wean because they were told their milk was “bad.”  Moms ask about getting their milk tested, wonder about boosting fat content, and are concerned that their milk is making their baby sick.  Unlike issues with latch, milk supply, infection or, blaming breastmilk is often more ambiguous.  It isn’t uncommon for concerns to be rooted in outside sources; family expressing doubt that the mother’s milk is good enough, health care providers that suggest perhaps formula would be a more accurate, and formula marketing promising improved brain development and “closer to breastmilk than ever” so parents can sleep easier.  Even if their little one is growing well and meeting developmental milestones, there can be overwhelming concern that something is wrong with the milk and if their sweet offspring is anything other than the standard of a smiling, chubby, easy-going, and bright eyed Gerber baby, the milk is often the first thing blamed for a breastfed baby.

 

Why blame the milk?

Other than the reality of living in a culture where breastfeeding is not the accepted normal way to feed a baby but is just one option, why do so many people jump to the idea that there must be something wrong with the mother’s milk if the baby is “too” fussy, gassy, clingy, or any other possible problem?  Very few question if another mammal’s milk is good enough for their young, why are quick to suspect the quality of milk of human mothers?  Ignorance is a significant factor, too many people don’t understand what is normal behavior for a health, breastfed infant but I don’t think that’s the only reason.  Deep down I suspect there are other issues at play.

 

The perfect baby.

The old adage that children are to be seen and not heard is socially accepted as out of date however, our actions and reactions to children reveal otherwise.  If you don’t have a cherubic smiling baby all the time, there must be a reason, a reason that must have an easy fix.  A reason that probably starts with the parents.  And what could be an easier fix than a bottle of prepared, measured, and “scientifically formulated” breastmilk substitute?  With all that formulating, there can’t be anything wrong with it such as what you last ate… or so some are inclined to believe.

 

Out of touch.

With a good portion of a generation or two of mothers having no experience of breastfeeding, many in society are out of touch as to what’s normal in a breastfed baby.  New standards have been established based on a product derived from milk intended to grow an animal that starts out weighing anywhere between 50-100 pounds and can grow to weigh a ton (literally, not figuratively) as an adult.  An animal that has 3 stomachs.  Growth charts have been based on this product and for a long time nobody even thought there should be a different chart for breastfed babies and health care professionals and parents alike accepted the growth patterns of a formula fed infant as the standard.

Be sure your health care provider is using the correct chart with your child, ask if they are using the WHO growth chart for breastfed infants.

 

Obsessed with food.

Our culture is obsessed with food.  Eating it, not eating it, where it comes from, where it doesn’t come from, how much it costs, who is eating it, who isn’t eating it, how much we’re eating, etc.  It’s pretty dang hard to measure breastmilk coming straight from the breast.  If you can’t measure it, can’t see it, how can you obsess about it?

 

Women, your bodies are broken.

From monthly fertility cycles to sexual arousal, from birth to breastfeeding, from feminine hygiene to body shape, society consistently tells women there’s something wrong with their bodies.  A quick glimpse at vintage ads will show that this has been the case for a long time.  Douche it, pinch it, pull it, augment it, decrease it, measure it, plump it, thin it, paint it, perfume it, shave it, cut it, bind it, CHANGE IT!  Above all, hide what connects us with our animal side and don’t trust it.  Breastmilk is suspect because it comes from our body.  There must be something wrong with it.  The overwhelming message is that our bodies are broken.

 

Don’t judge me.

Whatever a mom’s reason to not breastfeed, whether there were physical issues, a lack of support, lack of information, or just not wanting to; nobody wants to be judged.  Finding camaraderie can be reassuring no matter what the reason.  Most moms don’t want other moms to fall short of their goals and they genuinely want to support but that support can also offer comfort to the one extending it if they feel even slightly judged because they didn’t breastfeed.  Blaming the milk for not being good enough or of making the infant sick can bring comfort that it wasn’t anything they did or didn’t do.  It’s not that they are looking for excuses but with the other reasons shared it can be that finding a reason as ambiguous as there being something wrong with the milk a relief that things didn’t work out.

 

Sex, sex, and more sex.

Breasts are sexual.  There’s no denying it.  But then so are other parts of the body that we use for other purposes… such as the neck holding up our heads and an erotic zone, our lips for kissing and talking, our hands for caressing and working, and so on.  Most of western society has over emphasized the sexual nature of the human female breasts but that doesn’t mean that they are a completely asexual part of the female anatomy.  That over emphasis has created problems though.  Problems that are easy to avoid thinking about if we just don’t use our breasts to feed our babies.  The balance is off between the breasts as a food source for a woman’s young and the sexuality of breasts.  Since women’s body’s are broken, babies should be perfect, we’re obsessed with food, and we don’t want to be judged, blaming breastmilk for any potential issues helps us to keep that overemphasis on the sexual nature of breasts so we don’t have to be confronted with the misogynistic objectification of women quite as overtly if we never have to see a breast being used in another capacity.

 

The reality is that most of the time it’s not going to be the milk to blame for problems with baby.  Once normal behavior, including normal emotional, psychological, attachment, and developmental behaviors are understood and eliminated as the cause of presenting symptoms, there are many other factors to be evaluated before even considering breastmilk.  When breastmilk truly is the problem these babies get sick very fast and in very distinct ways that require quick interventions.  And when there are more mild issues such as sensitivities to foods the mother has eaten, slow weight gain of the infant, or other such concerns, the answer rarely is to stop feeding breastmilk.  With the support of an informed health care provider and an IBCLC, most issues related to breastmilk can be worked through and the milk isn’t actually to blame.  Problems happen and sometimes the actual breastmilk needs to be considered before we rush to blame breastmilk for every physical discomfort or behavior we would rather not see in our babies and let’s truly help moms reach their personal breastfeeding goals, setting babies on the right track for a normal standard of health with the appropriate diet for human babies; breastmilk.

 

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 Have you wondered if your breastmilk was ok?  Do you think we have unrealistic expectations that lead to confusion between what is normal and what are real problems?

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Comments

  1. I nursed my son for almost 5 months. I wanted to nurse him. My mom nursed all 7 of her children, my aunt nursed her three, my sisters nursed their children, I grew up with it. It was the normal thing, the proper way to feed a baby. For most of the time that I nursed my son would get very fussy afterwards. He would vomit more of his food. He slowly began to lose weight instead of gain weight. I was so frustrated with constantly having a cranky baby. I so badly wanted to have a happy baby. I tried changing my diet, I cut out all dairy, when that didn’t help I cut out certain vegetables. It got to the point I was only consuming meat and grain. I knew I couldn’t live on that and neither could my son. I never had supply issues, I had tons of milk in the freezer and could pump 5-6 oz even after feeding. My Lactation consultant said I had enough to feed twins. But I still had a cranky baby after every feeding. I asked my pediatrician about switching to formula to see if that would help. After two days on formula he was a completely different baby. He was happy all the time feedings were not a problem anymore. I felt like such a failure. How then, if my milk is not to blame, would you explain the situation? I was devastated. I am currently pregnant and very hopeful to be able to nurse this baby at least a full year. Have any advice on what happened last time?

    • Did you have support on your elimination diet? Grains are often allergens, especially wheat. Dairy, wheat, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish are the top 8 allergens.

    • I’m in the same boat and hate when ppl say there is nothing wrong with your milk, if that’s the case why do I have such an unsettled baby after 1 hour nog feeds ?

    • Kirstin Contreras says:

      My second baby has had skin problems/eczema that can be traced to my diet, and maybe some mild digestive issues as well. I have exclusively breastfed him through 8 months of trial-and-error with the elimination diet, guided by our pediatricians (I should have/could have figured it out much more quickly than that though). Barbara, dairy and soy are the first culprits in the mother’s diet, but they aren’t the only ones, unfortunately. In our case, I am pretty confident that my baby is sensitive to proteins from dairy, soy, corn, eggs, and gluten, and maybe even certain beans. The only major allergen he hasn’t reacted to in my diet is peanuts and tree nuts. I am not a doctor; I can only relate our story and tell you, it was never the veggies in our case.
      Best of luck to you in your current pregnancy and your mothering journey. I really do think human milk is best, especially since I don’t know what formula I would have fed my little guy when he’s sensitive dairy and soy. Would have been expensive, no doubt.

    • Barbara, I’m so sorry breastfeeding didn’t work out how you had hoped. I know that kind of grief. My 2nd baby was weaned off breastmilk at 4.5 months for similar sounding reasons. Today I suspect that my baby had a slight tongue tie which made it difficult for her to control my over abundance of milk since I had a tendency to oversupply. Eliminating some foods may have been helpful but I never tried it with her. Oversupply can cause those issues you described as well and while that sounds like a problem with the milk it’s less the milk and more the volume. Which can be helped with someone trained and having knowledgable experience.

      The problem with blaming the milk for these things is that it dismisses that there could be issues that really can be helped and more moms could reach their breastfeeding goals. And there are times when something that is normal behavior (such as a baby on the breast frequently) is thought to be a problem but it is simply misunderstood. We can help more breastfeeding pairs more effectively if blaming the milk were to shift to identifying the real problem. ~Jessica

      • oh my goodness. thank you so much for posting this. i sucessfully bf’d my first 2 without any issues. my third is almost 8 weeks old and i am telling you if he was my first, i would be using formula by now. he will only feed on one side, very fussy, etc. he has a slight (very slight) tongue tie and i am having a huge overabundance issue. maybe this could be our issue.

    • Lindsay Haeg says:

      Barbara, it sounds like you may have had an over-supply issue. It can be as problematic as an under supply. babies end up getting mostly foremilk, which can make them gassy and fussy. They never seem to get the rich, fatty hindmilk. Does your pediatrician or OB have a lactation consultant you could meet with after you have this baby? Or is there a le orchestra league nearby? They could help if you run into problems again! Good luck!

      • Lindsay Haeg says:

        *le leche league.

        • La orchestra league that’s funny lol darn autocorrect 🙂 I had an oversupply issue at times, I would pump first and then nurse if I felt my boobs engorged and had time to do so. That way I wasn’t wasting the milk, but the baby wasn’t ONLY getting foremilk either.

    • Barbara… I really hear what you are saying. I have similar issues with my daughter. She is 13 weeks old. I have done an elimination program and am certain that she is dairy intolerant (she had various symptoms – which have improved since I gave up dairy).
      Besides this she is incredibly fussy during and after feeds. She suffers with terrible wind and sometimes it gets so bad she literally screams in agony – almost as though she was experiencing torture! That’s how it makes me feel anyway. It is so upsetting for both of us! She has terrible tummy pains, is very sick and has explosive poop.
      When she is on the breast she often gulps and coughs, sometimes almost chocking! Recently she has started to suckle differently and I am left in agony too. She has always had a good latch with no pain but now at some feeds it is like she changes her sucking motion. We have maybe 80% of feeds unaffected then she just can’t manage anymore and changes the way she is feeding. So painful for me! I have spent nights with tears in my eyes literally close to weeping in pain! I take her off and re establish her latch again and again.
      After doing lots of reading I am sure that it is my let down and an over abundance of milk! When I read your story I think it sounds like this was possibly the same for you too.
      I did not experience this level of problem with my first baby though! Maybe she coped much more easily with the amount of milk I produced. So maybe your baby when he/she arrives will cope with your milk supply and will not have the same problems. Every pregnancy and every baby is so different. Try to speak to some one like a lactation consultant, or a breastfeeding peer supporter.
      You did great feeding your little one as long as you did – feel proud and good luck with your new baby when she/he arrives x x x

  2. I have never questioned the quality of my milk, I have questioned my supply but when I try to find prof of a lack by pumping I have always found its just in my head! With in the group of mothers I know (all from different background, at least 20 odd women )I have slowly seen a very wide range of reasons for stopping breastfeeding, right from medical malpractice, to I can be bothered, believing in low or “bad” milk production, even I have to go back to work. I’m the only one I know who is still exclusively still breastfeed (daughter is 9mths old). It fills me with such pride every time I look at her just to think MY BODY MADE YOU! I have always been a big girl and never really liked what I look like now even though not much has changed on that front I can’t help but love my big bum, and massive boobs, after all look at what they have done…they might not be “pretty” but they know their job! I have to say I’m going to miss it when we finish 🙁

  3. Antoinette says:

    I’m living in South Africa and here it is normal to see a coloured woman nurse her baby, but the moment a white woman nurses her baby it is frowned upon. I was breastfed for 1 week (from another lady who had more than enough). My mother got incorrect information about ‘preparing’ her nipples (methylated spirits with a brush to ‘toughen’ them up) which caused me to get more blood than milk.
    When my DS was born 2years ago I let my instincts lead me even though I read a lot about nursing while pregnant. My mom was amazed that I just followed DS’s cues but she still questioned the quality of my milk because he was a fussy baby who clusterfed between 4-6pm. It frustrated me endlessly, but luckily I found the facebook page when DS was 6weeks old and many a mom on the site asked the question I wanted answers for.

    Thanks to the Leaky Boob and the south african pages I succesfully nursed for 22months until DS weaned himself.

  4. I doubted the quality / quantity of my milk when my son was around 3 months old. Luckily I had a copy of The Nursing Mother’s Companion which soothed my anxiety. My son’s stomach / eating habits were changing and it was unsettling for a bit. I feel so fortunate that I had a supportive partner who told me I’d managed to exclusively breastfeed our son for 3 months and he trusted that my body could continue. I’m glad I listened to him and trusted the information I read in The Nursing Mother’s Companion (seriously – that book has saved me from fretting so many times in my breastfeeding journey.)

  5. It’s amazing how some people can jump to concusions, especially when they are already un-educated. When my DS2 was born, i made a promise to him, and to myself that i would breastfeed. I was young and un-educated with my first born, and ended up FF him. When my DS2 became colicy, we tried to figure it out by elimination, turns out he was having a reaction to the cows protein in the dairy i was consuming. My mother in law jumped right away and asumed there was something wrong with me, I have a long list of medical issues, as does most of my side of the family, either way it still hurt to have someone say right to your face that theres something wrong with me/my milk that is causing my babe pain…in the end, he will be 7 months old on the 27th of this month and we are still EBF!! woohoo go us!! i feel so empowered for not listening to her and listening to my mommy gut. The one thing i would like to say to other moms in this situation or on similar, is this, Go to a professional, seek out the right help, help from someone who specializes in breastfeeding, its worth it 🙂

  6. This article is so timely! I am bfing my 6 wk old and really struggling with it. At his 2wk check up his weight gain wasn’t enough for our md even tho he was back to birth weight (she suggested formula). It’s been a wild ride since then with lactation consultants and bfing groups and several books and online resources to help. Seems that what we have (and perhaps the issue with the other post that switched to formula and now has a happy baby) is a latch issue. My son was likely a hand sucker in uterine and got used to shallow sucking and now is having a very hard time opening big enough to latch deeply and get milk effectively. It’s a struggle each feeding. Through it all I’ve blamed my milk often. In my research I’ve seen this all over the place- women who do radical dietary shifts because it must be the milk. I really wish it was that easy. My beautiful son is fussy and gassy and hardly sleeps. My husband is frustrated by ds desire to nurse (and pacify at the breast) so often. I am exhausted and struggling to trust that my milk is the best option right now. I agree with all the issues you raised. It’s hard to manage the righteousness of the la leche league ( womanly art of bfing implies that if your baby didn’t crawl to your nipple and drink perfectly from birth it must be b/c you had drugs in labor- I didn’t) and really be committed to bfing but also want what’s best for my son and my family. Thanks for the article.

  7. Jessica Fiumara says:

    I’ve had my own fears about the quality of my milk because Sofia is so slow to gain weight, but none of her health care providers has ever even mentioned it. She was in the NICU for two months, so we DID discover that I produce too much lipase, which causes the milk to taste sour or soapy after it’s been frozen. She started eating much better after I started scalding the milk before freezing it, and now that she’s home and can have it fresh, she’s an eating champ. Still very small, but there’s no reason that a baby in the first percentile can’t be just as healthy as a baby in the 99th percentile.

  8. Melony Neal says:

    Great article!!
    I was breastfeeding while I read it 🙂

  9. My daughter is tiny and has lingered around the 3rd percentile for weight since around six months old. She’s 2 now. But at one point, her nurse practitioner told me that maybe I wasn’t producing enough milk and should supplement her with formula after nursing her. She was wrong, of course, and this is terrible advice for a breast feeding mom. And talk about making me feel guilty….she was insinuating that I was essentially starving my baby and making her underweight!! Never mind the fact that MAYBE she is just tiny!! Which she is, still, and totally and completely healthy.

  10. I posted my breastfeeding story on my blog: http://jackiemrussell.com/2012/10/25/breastfeeding-2/

    It’s a long one but my son’s Doctor definitely made me feel like I was inadequate. I wished he had just refereed me to a lactation consultant before assuming anything. What if there was a serious problem but he just ignored it because he believed my breast milk was the cause? I just don’t get how in labor and delivery they push breast is best and then the moment there is a problem the first thing to go is breast feeding.

  11. I thought for a long time that there was something wrong with my milk.
    My son had trouble latching, and we went to great lengths to work on it.
    Even when he latched properly he was still fussy in the late afternoon/evenings, nursing almost constantly. And he was low on the weight curve.

    I had been pumping before he latched, so I went back to pumping and bottle feeding him breastmilk. He was instantly a much happier baby, and started to gain weight at a healthy pace.

    It wasn’t my milk that was the problem. And we have found a solution that works for us.
    He will be 10 months tomorrow.