"People Who Say 'Just Breastfeed' Don't Understand How Boobs Work": Moms Are Sharing Why Breastfeeding Wasn't Right For Them, And It Needs To Be Normalized

    "One day it hit me — there is an alternative to breast milk in formula, but there's no alternative to a healthy and happy mom."

    With the scary formula shortage that's been happening in the US, some people have been way too quick to chime in with the world's least helpful advice: "Just breastfeed."

    Store shelves with just a few containers of formula on them

    So we asked parents in the BuzzFeed Community who realized breastfeeding wasn't going to work for them to share their stories. Here's what they had to say:

    1. "I had twins, and my milk supply was never enough. From day one in the hospital, I started using formula to supplement. I would breastfeed each baby, one after the other, and then pump as much as I could after. They fed every three hours. It took at least 30 minutes to breastfeed both babies, then another 20 to 30 minutes to pump. By the time I was done with the whole feeding, changing, and rocking back to sleep process, I literally caught maybe one hour of sleep at a time for myself."

    mom with twin babies

    2. "I don’t breastfeed because I have zero desire to. None. I’m fortunate enough to have the resources, the support, and the time to breastfeed if I wanted. I did the research and know the wonderful benefits, but I’ll still pick formula every single time as it’s what’s best for MY family."

    "I’m not sure people understand the female anatomy. My son is 3 months old now and has ALWAYS been exclusively formula-fed. I can’t just grab a breast pump and hope for the best. This well as been dry since about postpartum day 10! We’re not Keurigs!"


    3. "I bought into the lie that if breast is best then moms who breastfeed are better that moms who formula-feed. So I did everything I could to give my child breast milk. Then the shit hit the fan."

    "Within just a few weeks, I got mastitis, we moved from New Hampshire to Virginia, my husband (in the Navy) went on a month-long underway, and I traveled with my 2-month-old from Virginia to Washington. Oh! And I was battling PTSD and postpartum anxiety.

    I was drier than the Sahara. I tried everything — the pulls, smoothies, power pumping — everything. I became obsessed, and it turned me kinda mean.

    Then one day it hit me — there is a completely perfect alternative to breast milk in formula, but there's no alternative to a healthy and happy mom.

    And that's what my daughter needed most, for me to be healthy."


    4. "I don’t breastfeed because critical medication I take would be harmful for my baby to ingest through my milk supply."

    cute little baby drinking from a bottle

    5. "I tried to breastfeed. My son had a terrible lip tie that went undiagnosed. It made eating hard for him and incredibly painful for me. We were both sobbing for hours a day. Since he wasn’t getting enough milk, he was attached for hours at a time."

    "I engaged multiple lactation specialists, a pediatric dentist, our pediatrician, and the deep realms of Google and social media to try to figure it out. The toll it took on both of us was terrible. Every time he cried, my entire body would clench up because I knew I was about to be in physical pain.

    I finally had to let it go. The first day we used formula, he ate so much. He looked so relieved, like he’d been hungry for weeks and was finally full. I was able to just hold him and enjoy being a mom.

    He’s 9 months old, and I don’t know how we would have survived without formula as an option."


    6. "I was diagnosed with breast cancer the week before my wedding at the age of 29. I was advised to freeze my embryos because of the harsh chemotherapy, and I had a bilateral mastectomy after five months of chemo. I'm now 32 and just had my baby boy in January after a successful embryo transfer. Breastfeeding was never an option for me, which broke my heart."


    7. "My milk dried up at three months after trying everything to produce. They said stress played a factor, but I now know it wasn't just stress but underlying issues. My hair fell out with everything I tried to do. But from day one, my daughter was on half formula to help with jaundice. I pumped and mixed according to her doctor's orders."

    baby girl having tummy time

    8. "I found out I was pregnant six months after almost dying of eclampsia (an event that killed my son). I had to stay on blood pressure medicine with my daughter, who wound up having to come early. I’m allergic to the ones you can take while breastfeeding and would probably have had a stroke if I came off of it, so formula it was! First special preemie formula, then special tummy formula. But she’s happy, healthy, and almost a year old!"


    9. "I tried to breastfeed both my boys. Unfortunately, they both had MSPI (milk soy protein intolerance). I had to cut dairy and soy from my diet in order to make them comfortable. That was really tough though, especially with the second when I had a whole family to feed and with the added stress. Eventually, my supply dropped to the point where my giant baby wasn't sustained."

    "We are so lucky we had access to dairy- and soy-free formula. It was occasionally tough to find it during lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic, and I found it stressful. I can't even imagine what it's like for parents now! It breaks my heart."


    10. "My daughter was born eight weeks early. My milk came in after her birth, and I pumped while she was in the NICU and then tried to continue breastfeeding once we got home. We made it three months. She had terrible reflux and an undiagnosed lip tie. I had an anxiety attack during letdown every single time."

    mom visiting her baby in the NICU

    11. "We used a gestational carrier (aka surrogate) so I didn't breastfeed. I could have taken a whole host of hormones to be able to; however, hormonal changes trigger my seizures. We’ve relied on formula and donor milk."


    12. "My son was born at 30 weeks. We spent 76 days in the NICU. He needed a heart surgery and was on oxygen for eight months. He never could latch. I pumped for 18 months. So many people had opinions: strangers, acquaintances, and family. I will never understand how TF so many people with no skin in the game can have formed opinions with, like, sub-opinions and footnotes about how I should feed my child and tell me all about them while I’m minding my damn business."

    "He is strong and healthy now. 

    PS: Pumping on an airplane is fine; just look the other way if it fills you with righteous indignation, and be grateful for what you have. We all have different paths to walk."


    13. "My nephew was adopted, and breastfeeding was never an option. People seem to forget that adoption exists, and families look all sorts of ways with people all across the gender spectrum who are biologically unable for whatever reason to produce milk, even with hormones. It is 0% anyone's business. I'm currently pregnant with my first, and plan to breastfeed if possible, but only for economic reasons. I'm really scared of it."

    14. "I tried to breastfeed my baby. I put her to the breast for about a week, but most days ended in tears on my part. I was overwhelmed, and my husband felt helpless because he couldn't help feed her. I lost so much sleep, was exhausted, and just didn't feel that 'beautiful bond' people describe."

    "After that, I pumped and supplemented with formula for six weeks. That helped a little bit, but I was still supposed to be pumping every two to three hours. Pretty soon into my pumping journey, I realized I had DMERS (dysphoric milk ejection reflex syndrome), which is essentially where I would get this deep sinking anxious feeling in my stomach every time I pumped. It was horrible. I thought something was wrong with me. 

    After six weeks, I quit pumping and fully formula fed, and my mental health drastically improved. Our baby is fed and happy, and that's all that matters at the end of the day."


    15. "I did the research and simply didn't want to take chances on breastfeeding. I liked how with formula I knew exactly how much milk and nutrients my baby was getting. It turned out I couldn't breastfeed even if I wanted to because I didn't produce enough milk. I'm glad I chose formula from day one. I've gotten a lot of hate for it, but I don't care. I feel so bad for parents going through this formula shortage."


    16. "I chose not to for multiple reasons, the biggest: I simply didn’t want to. I knew that my mental health would take a decline with the constant worry, pumping, repeat. We went through fertility treatment to get our son, and I wanted to be able to enjoy my little time at home with him with a clear head."

    woman holding her baby

    17. "People who say, 'Just breast feed,' don't understand how boobs work. I was all about it, my work even had a pump room, but my daughter was not gaining any weight. I was not producing enough milk. She had to have formula just to grow. We did weekly weigh-ins with her pediatrician because with just breast milk, she stayed at 5 pounds. It was formula or malnourish my kid."


    18. "My breasts were different shapes and sizes. The plastic surgery I had at 18 finished any ducts I had. But I had had one too many Stephen King's Carrie-like experiences of being publicly humiliated while in a changing room or at a party and treated like a circus freak."

    "When I had my babies, I bought milk from the milk bank and used formula. I do sometimes tease my now-adult child and teen child about their multitude of mothers. They are, in every way, worth every expensive can that I cried over, sleeplessly losing count over the scoops of powder. Finally throwing budget to the wind and buying liquid, cutting my fingers with sharp pull tabs.

    My children, fed on the milk of many, nourished on a product from a can, are perfect. Thank you, milk donors and formula producers."


    19. "My baby had the most horrendous reflux and couldn't keep anything down apart from the special anti-reflux milk. So I decided on not breastfeeding as I didn't want my baby to starve."

    baby bottle feeding

    20. "I started out breastfeeding, but I wasn’t producing enough. I started pumping as well, but even pumping every three hours 24 hours a day I wasn’t producing enough. My job as a teacher does not offer any paid maternity leave, and I have to go back or lose my health insurance and mess up my pension."

    "And they don’t have to guarantee my position will be available in the fall even though I’m tenured. I 'thankfully' got eight weeks of unpaid leave because I had a C-section. Otherwise, I’d be forced to go back after six unpaid weeks."


    21. "I just didn’t want to. Plain and simple. I knew from a very early age I wasn’t going to do it and no one was going to change my mind. It sounds selfish, and I don’t care. Both my girls were formula fed, and they did, and are doing, just fine. After nine months of sharing my body with a growing human (which I loved and will gladly do again), I wanted it back. I didn’t want to be tied down to the fact that I’d have someone latched to me constantly."


    22. "I have never felt so anxious or depressed as I did when I was breastfeeding. My mood was so dark, and it was never anything but painful for me. I didn’t feel like I could even leave the house because of the anxiety surrounding planning the next feed. I felt so incredibly guilty for quitting, but I knew I couldn’t continue. Both of my kids are thriving, and I do not regret formula feeding for my mental health."

    23. "I was 20 when my first was born and just really didn't have the desire to breastfeed. I had a weird relationship with my chest growing up and survived multiple sexual traumas starting when I was 9. On top of the trauma, I knew there was something wrong with my breasts."

    "They were always small and didn't look like anyone else's. They never got above a tiny A cup even when I was pregnant or gained substantial weight.

    Ten years later, I had my second child, and I had this thought that I needed to try breastfeeding even though it was uncomfortable and I didn't develop a real milk supply. A lactation nurse at the hospital called when I was home to let me know my milk would come in fully and not to worry. It never did.

    Cut to six years later and I'm in my second plastic surgery consult. When it comes time to show her what I'm working with, she lets me know that I have tubular breasts. Basically, my breasts never developed correctly or fully. My case is severe, and to correct it my surgeon will need to cut through the tissue on the bottom of my breast because it is super restricted. She was the first doctor to ever tell me I had a breast deformation, and after all these years I finally understand that I have a physical condition to go with the psychological aversion to breastfeeding."


    24. "It destroyed my mental health but because society said it was better, I breastfed while I suffered daily. But then my baby died unexpectedly. My life changed forever. I couldn’t imagine nursing again. The thought alone makes me anxious. But I am expecting again now."

    "The worst time to be pregnant and want to formula feed is now. Thankfully I am stocking up as I am able and still have five months left. I even have a friend who shames me for not planning to nurse this time around, but I need my daily medications to be my best self. I don’t need anyone to understand that. But I’m thankful my current care team is informed about my trauma, and they respect my decision."


    25. "When I got pregnant with my first child, I really had my heart set on my son's birth and the first couple months going exactly the way I wanted. But first of all, he was a breech birth so my planned natural birth was not an option. For some reason, I was really counting on breastfeeding. No one was pressuring me or anything; I just had the expectation that, since nothing else was going right, I'd at least get to breastfeed. Nope!"

    Woman feeding her baby with a bottle

    26. "Prior to getting pregnant, I was diagnosed with PCOS, which made it difficult to get pregnant. When we finally did get pregnant, I had this feeling I was going to have difficulty with breastfeeding. When my daughter was born, I tried so hard. I met with lactation consultants, and they tried. It wasn’t until my daughter lost more then 12% of her body weight in two days that we did a weighted feed that showed she wasn’t getting enough milk from me."

    "We had to supplement with formula while we waited to see if I would produce. I ended up only making 1 ounce a day. Turns out my hormones from PCOS took away the ability for me to breastfeed. As much as I was hard on myself, I realized that what was the most important for her was that she was fed and healthy."


    27. "I developed carpal tunnel syndrome pretty bad while pregnant. My boy wasn’t huge, but I never could hold him properly while breastfeeding, and it hurt like hell. And we never could get a nice latch. Pumping felt awful, and I was so emotional anytime it was feeding time. Oh, and he was jaundiced so they said to supplement with some formula. Breastfeeding lasted for three weeks, and I was done. I couldn’t handle it, and I wanted to be better for my son."


    28. And finally, "I had my first baby at 26. I was short of breath giving birth and was put on oxygen, but a few days later the problem persisted. They sent me in to get a scan done to check out my lungs and make sure there wasn’t a blood clot. While I was in the waiting room, they told me I would need to have a contrast injection and wouldn’t be able to breastfeed after it. The hospital had pushed the 'breast is best' plan so heavily that I PANICKED and left immediately."

    MRI scan of someone's lungs

    Can you relate to these parents' stories? Share your experiences in the comments.

    Note: Responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.