Breastfeeding is a different experience for everyone. Some people have (seemingly) few challenges, while others run up against more than their fair share. Last month, Khloé Kardashian revealed that she was experiencing a low milk supply and needed to supplement her breast milk with formula. But now, the new mom, who gave birth in April, said she had to give up breastfeeding her daughter True altogether.
“I had to stop breast feeding,” she wrote on Twitter. “It was really hard for me to stop (emotionally) but it wasn’t working for my body. Sadly.”
Kardashian also said on Twitter that she “had a lactation specialist and everything” and had tried “every trick in the book,” like drinking more water, eating specialty cookies, “power pumping,” and massage—but nothing helped. Kardashian also talked about how it was hard for her to compare her experience to that of her sister Kourtney. “It was so frustrating because for Kourt it was sooooooo easy for her to breastfeed," she wrote.
Although making the decision to stop was difficult, Kardashian said she’s also relieved to not have to “stress and worry” about nursing anymore.
While there are some things you can do increase your chances of breastfeeding effectively, some aspects of it are just out of your control.
That's why it can be a good idea to rope in a lactation consultant before you actually give birth, Joanne Goldbort, Ph.D., R.N., a breastfeeding researcher and assistant professor in the College of Nursing at Michigan State University, tells SELF. That way, if any issues do pop up, you have someone you can call that you already have an established relationship with, she explains. If you bring someone in after you develop problems or go through a rotating cast of lactation consultants it “gets to be a chaotic mess,” Goldbort says, which may just leave you stressed out and exhausted.
In the event that you do experience breastfeeding issues, the main thing to focus on is stimulating your breasts, Diane L. Spatz, Ph.D., a professor of perinatal nursing at the University of Pennsylvania and nurse researcher at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, tells SELF.
That means nursing or pumping every two to three hours to make sure your milk comes in full volume (this is especially crucial in the first four days after your baby is born), Spatz says. “If the breasts are not effectively stimulated and emptied in the first two weeks, moms may struggle with milk supply the rest of their time,” she adds.
And, if your baby just doesn’t seem to be getting the hang of nursing, or your nipples hurt like hell, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor or lactation consultant to make sure your baby’s latch is OK, Goldbort says. Remember that nursing is something you and your baby have to learn how to do, and it can take time. “The only thing natural about breastfeeding is that your body can produce milk,” she says. “Everything else is learned.”
If none of that works, supplementing with formula like Kardashian did is definitely a good option, Dr. Goldbort says.
Supplementing with formula—which could mean supplementing your breastfeeding with formula or supplementing your formula with breast milk via pumping—is especially important if your milk production becomes such an issue that your baby is not thriving, Julie Lamppa, A.P.R.N., C.N.M., a certified nurse midwife at Mayo Clinic, tells SELF.
Even if you decide formula is a better fit for your family, it’s worth considering whether or not you’re up for nursing as much as you can at the same time, Lamppa says. “Any amount of breastmilk is beneficial to an infant’s health,” she says. But if you add formula to the mix early on and aren’t pumping on the side, your milk supply will likely go down, Dr. Spatz points out.
If you do decide to stop, it's a good idea to do a slow, gradual wean instead of going cold turkey, international board-certified lactation consultant Joan Younger Meek, M.D., R.D., chairwoman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Breastfeeding and associate dean for Graduate Medical Education at Florida State University College of Medicine, tells SELF. "It is more comfortable for the mother, reduces the risk of developing engorgement or mastitis, and allows the baby to gradually adjust to the change in feeding pattern," she explains.
But the stress and pressure of trying to breastfeed, at a certain point, might not be great for your mental health, so stopping altogether might be necessary, and that's OK. It can even contribute to postpartum depression, Gina Posner, M.D., a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif., tells SELF. “You never want to get to that level.”
If you can't or choose not to breastfeed, that doesn't mean you're missing out on all the benefits we usually associate with breastfeeding.
For instance, there are plenty of other things you can do to foster a bond with your baby, like doing skin-to-skin while they have a bottle, cradling your baby, and spending plenty of quality time cuddling with and talking to your baby, Dr. Posner says.
Whatever you decide to do, it’s 100-percent up to you—and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, Dr. Goldbort says. “We’ve got to stop the nonsense of making women feel guilty about their choices,” she says. “Twenty years from now, that child is not going to know if you breastfed or bottle-fed them unless you tell them.”