Breastfeeding: Advice from a Recovered Boob Nazi

I am honored to have been able to write the following post for Angelo at Latest in Paleo.  He, his podcast and site are awesome and inspiring – he is one of the best resources for valid, useful, Paleo information – plus, just an all around super guy. Matt and I really leaned on his podcast when starting Paleo.  Thanks for helping us succeed and to realize we are not broken by default!

Breastfeeding Background

To establish credibility, let me first give you my bulletized breastfeeding resume:

  • I have successfully breastfed 3 children, until they self weaned at varying ages, but all over 1 year (youngest is still a nursling at 13 months)
  • I exclusively provided breastmilk as the sole nutrient for my children until they began solids (never used formula)
  • I have been actively involved in LLLi for nearly 6 years; I’ve been asked to be a Leader but have declined and instead served as the Librarian, Welcoming Committee and helped maintain the online group while I continue to be able to tell my personal stories and recommendations as one of the group’s long-standing “gurus”

Does this make me better than you?  No.  Does this mean you’re a failure if you don’t have your own breastfeeding bullets?  No.  Years ago I would’ve answered yes to those questions; I was obsessed with my superiority as a mother for the accomplishment.  But with some years and maturation under my belt, I realized it wasn’t a fair mind set.

What I’ve learned over the nearly 6 years I’ve breastfed our boys is that every breastfeeding relationship is unique and rarely does one not present its own challenges.  I was fortunate enough to be born a stubborn, persistent, control-freak who insists on doing things the way she wants.  Ultimately, that led to my success with breastfeeding our boys.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t fight physical, emotional and social stress.  What it does mean is that I was able to find a support system, a “village”, that helped propel my successes and avoid typical pitfalls common to today’s nursing mother.

I wrote about the importance of finding a support system and giving a breastfeeding a go in our Baby-Led Weaning Series,  but when Angelo Coppola asked for guest bloggers I knew I needed to write on the topic in more detail – in support of the UK’s “missing” National Breastfeeding Awareness Week June 19-26, 2011.*  Since an entire country can’t find a few quid to scrape together for someone to write up something about the topic, I figured the time was just about right.

There are an infinite number of online resources to discover the wonderful benefits of breastfeeding.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say if you’re reading this blog you’re probably already on the side of the fence that’s able to admit breastfeeding is best; so, I won’t do that whole rigga-ma-roll.  Instead, I’d like to talk about my personal experience (yes, n=1 coming straight at you!) in how breastfeeding and eating Paleo has shaped my children to be what they are today.

Telling the Story Backwards: What a Breastfed Baby Grows Up To Be

Oh wait, I forgot a bullet above.  My kid is an award winning Healthy Eater, as deemed by the entire graduating Kindergarten class!

This is Cole.  Cole will be 6 years old in August.  For lunch he requests a tuna or salmon salad with capers, dill and olive oil over fresh garden lettuce.  A side of beef jerky, roasted seaweed, carrots with guacamole and an apple with almond butter often round out lunch and afternoon snack for him.  In the evenings he scarfs down our offal sauce, all manner of seafood (mussels and hot pot with octopus and clams in particular) and most any vegetables we send his way.

Two years ago we were told that our (hippy dippy co-op learn-through-play) preschool might not be a good fit for Cole and he might need to leave because “his body isn’t under control” and he “isn’t able to listen.”  With a history of behaviorally medicated young boys running in my husband’s family, last year our family removed processed foods and introduced a Paleo lifestyle.  RESULT: Cole’s Kindergarten teacher told us if there were one child in the class she’d want to take home with her and spend time with, it’d be Cole.  “He’s so well-behaved and polite, he’s such a wonderful kid, he’s attentive and always striving to succeed, we just love him!”

Cole has always eaten well, we just had misconcenptions about what “healthy” was before being Paleo (typical story: whole grain, low-fat).  When he was our first, people used to say you’re so lucky Cole’s such a good eater. But now that all 3 boys, including Wesley (our 13 month old), will sit at an Indian restaurant and slam a spicy lamb masala as if it were blueberries, we’re now starting to hear (appreciatively) you guys are doing such a good job with these boys, they’re such good eaters!

Our Paleo Baby Breastfeeding Success Story

Although both my older boys transitioned to Paleo well and are now better behaved, more physically fit and overall healthier, Wesley has by far been a much different experience.  As I’m sure you’ve heard from Everyday Paleo and Growing Up Paleo, there are endless stories of babies succeeding straight from the breast to a Paleo diet and Wesley is no exception.

This is Wesley.  Welsey is my “Paleo baby.”  He’s been fortunate enough to have had my Paleo-breastmilk from birth and Paleo foods since he started solids.  Here are the differences that our family have witnessed between BOTH of our older children (who were entirely breastfed, but not Paleo) and Wesley:

  • Wesley began sleeping through the night 4-6 hour stretches at mere weeks old
  • Wesley never had gas
  • Wesley never spit up
  • Wesley never had diaper rash
  • Wesley never had facial rashes after messy meals (sensitive skin was common with our older boys in general)

He’s also not riding the tip of the “90th percentile” weight curve on doctor’s charts.  I used to feel so good about the older boys being so “high” on the charts. I felt like they were getting an “A” at each doctor’s visit. Then, my babies became preschoolers who were asked to go on (essentially) a diet by their doctor, and I realized the 90th percentile line quickly becomes the obese line.

How Breastfeeding is More Than Food

All of the boys love eating our Paleo meals.  They love taking hikes in the woods, jumping on the trampoline (well, Wes wants to – but not yet), and catching bugs and toads until they’re forced inside for books, bath and bed.  They are happy, healthy, active children.  They eat what’s put in front of them and clap if offered fruit after dinner.

Their pallet was molded by the flavors in my breastmilk.  Curries, steaks, eggs, bacon, spinach, avocado and mussels are foods they like eating now because 1) it’s what they’ve always eaten and 2) it provides the opportunity to learn to eat on demand.  Not only does breastmilk offer the most nutrient as well as intellect and immunilogical benefits; but breastfed babies eat when hungry, stop when satiated and follow their own body’s hunger cues to eat again later.

Research indicates that breastfed babies are smarter with a stronger immune system, but they also are less likely to have diabeties, allergies or to be obese.  Just like with nutrition in our real food diet, the real food available in the breast for babies is often offering new research in plentiful ways on how breastfed babies are offered more opportunity to succeed.

How Formula is Just Like Chicken Nuggets

Feeding a baby a bottle of formula is like offering a full plate of McNuggets.  It’s flavorless, too large, addictive and offering inferior nutrition.  Would I give my child McNuggets if they would otherwise die from malnutrition? Absolutely.  Would I give my children McNuggets if I had an uncooked chicken breast in my freezer that I had to thaw, cook and cut up (took more effort)? No.  If I only ever gave my children McNuggest for 6 months straight, could I expect him to then love the idea of spinach and eggs for breakfast the next day?

If you are able to find a way to make breastfeeding work, you’ll end up with a sweet baby whose life you are able to soley sustain, grow and flourish off of your own natural resource.  When those eyes open and lock with yours (like Finian’s did here), as hormones of joy and relaxation spread through your body, as the caloric sharing (you get to lose weight!) of your healthy milk fills the belly of the baby who was moments ago in your own belly – you’ll know.  Breastfeeding isn’t just best, it should be your first and only option until a life is in danger.  Because formula is medicine.  It’s a band-aid, not a solution.

Build a Village, Find Support

If you’re having trouble breastfeeding you’re likely receiving terrible advice from people around you, who themselves did not successfully breastfeed.  It’s hard to think critically when you’re nervous,scared and frantic because the most precious and valuable thing in your life is crying and hungry in front of you.  When nurses offer to take your baby so you can sleep, when strangers tell you how breastfeeding always hurts, or your sister tells you she just tried and tried but couldn’t make it work and you likely have the same nipples – have a plan.  Remember someone you know who faced every adversary known to man (like Amy and Lucy) but continued to breastfeed.  Prepare yourself for how you’d like to solve difficulties you may encounter, your chances of success are as likely as your determination to do so.  The best thing you can do for yourself is to find and build a support system, of resources of whatever kind you need, to help you succeed.

It’s so worth it!

*World Breastfeeding Week will be held August 1-7, 2011

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  • Janet

    Stacy- What a great article! As a lactation consultant and paleo person I love it an so many levels. My only objection is to the word nazi. Please call us lactivists, boob pusher, breastaholic, I’ve heard it all. But a nazi is something evil and using it in this context both lessens the horror of what the nazi’s did and at the same time puts all of us who are passionate about breastfeeding in the same group.

    Here is a link to someone that puts all of this more eloquently than I can: http://www.phdinparenting.com/2009/05/07/breastfeeding-nazis/

    Keep up the good work. Your boys are gorgeous!


    • Janet, thanks so much for your comment and compliment.

      I disagree on the use of the word nazi; Dictionary.com actually offers a definition of the term as “a person who is fanatically dedicated to or seeks to control a specified activity, practice, etc”  (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/nazi)

      I use the word in regular conversation with friends in reference to being an extremist.  It might not be loved and accepted by all, but it does convey a very clear picture of the type of reference I intended to make.  To that end, I was a boob nazi.  I sought to control how other mothers fed and cared for their children, because I felt my own choices and lifestyle superior.  That attitude is, as you say, nearly evil – judging others doesn’t procreate a spirit of positivity.  Being a lactivist is not that. 

      I am now a lactivist, I seek to help, to educate, support and refrain my judgement as much as I’m able.  It’s for that reason I separate and use the term when speaking of the fanatics seeking to control other mothers and babies.

  • Mamameredith

    I agree, formula is medicine, one I had to give my boy =(
    I have a serious post-partum hemmorage and lost about 33% of my blood, it was bad. Result was milk insuffinency syndrome, it took 8 months of guilt and feelings of failure before a lactation consult admitted it even existed, and I was a classic example. Still I fought hard from the first bottle (at 4 days old) and managed to produce maybe half of what my baby needed. Now he’s 10 months old and still breastfeeding, but the bottle is still needed =( I was a serious lactivist before having my son (my first baby) as an RN and a breastfeeding educator, and even I failed.
    I’m hoping we can ditch the formula and cows milk after his birthday, he’s a champion paleo eater (pot roast, and chicken curry are his favorites!) and keep up what breastfeeding we can.
    There needs to be more information and support for breastfeeding, even for those of us who can’t do it perfectly and exclusivly, and an admission that sometimes boobies do fail, I had to give my baby “mcnuggets” and it sucks.
    I’m on the paleo path now, hopefully the next time i’ll be stronger and healthier and not lose so much blood and be able to breastfeed properly.

    • I hope I was able to make the point that this is exactly what I’m talking about.  There’s not nearly enough education for most women on how to succeed; and even some of us who really want to and have an education to do so can face obstacles and then struggle and supplement. 

      Ultimately, babies become humans and and we all turn out all right.  I can look back and regret my birth story or I can look at my boys and be thankful they got out of my body and are here, alive, happy and healthy to love.  I hope we all get to a point where we can really educate and help women who want it and struggle (rather than give ill advice) and not judge and condemn making different choices than us.

      • Mamameredith

        It’s not always a choice, that’s what I’m saying. I went to a couple of LLL meetings pregnant, I was really looking forward to being a part of a nursing mons group! But after I had my son and was forced to do mixed feedings I was no longer welcome at LLL. Over and over I got the message I just wasn’t trying hard enough or wasn’t committed enough, and I couldn’t get any help or advice on how to manage mixed feedings while maximizing breastmilk that just never came (never came in, never “full” never leaking, pre and post weights showing 2grams, within the margin of error on the scale!). Didn’t matter how much I had done, or even the month of domperidome I took, nope, if I was “really trying” I’d be exculusivly breastfeeding. So I left. I’ve been on my own to muddle through, and since I can’t exclusively bf, I’m not welcome with the other natural parenting babywearing people like me, and since I co-sleep, cloth diaper and babywear, the “stroller strides” types and I don’t have a lot in common.
        I just wish moms and LLL would be welcoming and supportive of ANY breastfeeding, I know my baby is healthy, smart and strong because of the “immunological supplement” I’m able to give him at the breast, and it’s a bonding time for us. Instead we are shut out of the community because I’d rather give my baby formula then see him starve. It’s not fair. It’s not either/or, even some breastmilk is important for babies.
        I’m glad you’ve come to be a lactivist from a boob Nazi, it’s the boob Nazis that made me feel horrible and stuck in the middle of TX without a supportive parenting community.

        • It’s unfortunate your LLL made you feel that way; I’ve heard about those kinds of groups but all the ones I’ve ever been to have been really supportive and welcoming of all kinds of mothers and situations – especially those trying their hardest to do what they can.

          Glad you found a situation that worked for you and allowed to continue to offer your baby breastmilk – it’s really what matters!

        • K

          Oh my gosh please get over it all ready. You need to go find some different people to befriend and stop the “it’s not fair” whining. Don’t fit in with the stroller strides? What the heck is a “stroller stride” parent? I wasn’t aware we had to declare a style of parenting upon birth. Nothing in common? You all have children don’t you? That’s something in common. Who gives a crap how you choose to sleep with or carry your child. I cloth diaper, use disposables at night, only breastfed (exclusive pumping to be exact) for 12 weeks, made much of my own baby food, and use the stroller almost every night. I’m a mix of all kinds of “baby choices”. I didn’t choose the “natural” people or the “stroller” people. I just settled on choices that made sense for my kid. Like the fact that I absolutely CANNOT sleep in the same bed or even the same room as a baby and he thinks it’s play time the minute I even try to put him in bed with me. I made a lot of my own food because it was slightly cheaper. I cloth diaper for the same reason. I use the stroller because it’s hot as hell in South Georgia and baby wearing would have been, and was the few times I did it, INSANE! None of this will make a bit of difference when your kid is 18. All he/she will remember is if they had a loving childhood where their needs were met. Just keep the junk food to a minimum and you’ll be fine. You don’t need a supportive parenting community. You don’t have cancer or have just lost your home to a fire. You have a baby. Call your mom or your sister. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. BTW, an entire generation of people (the baby boomers) was raised on a “formula” of canned evaporated cow’s milk, water, and CORN SYRUP! And you think our baby formula is bad. Give me a break. Are those people walking around with their limbs falling off or are continually sick? Not any more than anyone else from any other generation. Quit letting the boob Nazis get to you. They’re half the reason women don’t even want to breastfeed because they think they are so superior and put others down. Don’t let them control how you feel.

        • CricketBug

          I applaud your efforts, to be honest. I was the exact opposite of you. I produced so much milk with my second that I was actually able to donate my milk to an organization that helped mothers like you, who couldn’t breastfeed for medical reasons. I totally understand how the breastfeeding Nazis made you feel inadequate for something that wasn’t your fault. When I was donating milk, I hoped that, even though I could only donate about 10 ounces of breast milk a day, it would still help someone else’s baby benefit from the advantages of at least *some* breast milk and maybe help assuage a bit of the mother’s concern.

          I look at it this way. I was a formula fed baby, and I grew up okay. Maybe formula isn’t optimal, but you do what you have to do. And I applaud you for putting your baby’s needs before the ideology that you’re only a good mommy if you breastfeed. That’s a dangerous ideology.

  • Great post! I’ve breastfed 3 children also- my youngest is only 3 months. I know what you mean about feeling superior in the beginning. I thought I was with my first child but now I realize that is a really unfair attitude and I know nothing about another’s situation. However exclusively breastfeeding 3 children is something to be proud of!

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  • Anon

    Look, this is all good information and I appreciate it, but I am SO tired of hearing the word “Nazi” thrown about. Millions of people died. I know, people throw around terms like that all the time. I don’t care. It doesn’t make it right.

    • I guess it comes down to perspective, my response to a similar comment to Janet is below.  Thanks for your comment…

  • Shemonemo

    Your observation that “if you’re having trouble breastfeeding you’re likely receiving terrible advice from people around you” is right on target. Amen.

    A few weeks before giving birth to my daughter, I contemplated taking a breastfeeding class. Both my mother and  husband (the latter of whom had a background in pediatrics) reassured me – you don’t need a class! It comes naturally!

    As I struggled with pain and nausea after a C-section (in addition to sleep deprivation), I repeatedly asked the hospital to send a lactation consultant my way so I could get started breastfeeding – I was already having problems getting her to latch. Turned out that the hospital lactation was out for a few days.

    To make a long story short, I did not learn –  until it was too late – that I needed to continuously pump or breastfeed in order for my milk to come in. When I finally did learn this (after pouring through breastfeeding books/manuals), it was too late. In desperation I sought out the advice of the lactation consultant who worked with my pediatricians and she told me point blank to give it up and stop trying. It just wasn’t going to happen.  (I still feel extremely strong resentment toward this woman when I think about that encounter).

    Thinking back to that time makes me feel so sad. In addition to feeling vulnerable and helpless, I felt abandoned by those I thought would help.

    Fortunately, despite the fact that my daughter was mostly formula fed, she is exceptionally tall for her age, and everyone, family members and friends alike, were in awe of how early she started talking. (I attribute this in part to my paleo approach to eating during my pregnancy).

    I am contemplating another pregnancy now, and my painful experience has taught me all too well, as you note, that I will need to have a PLAN!

    • This is so hard for me to hear, and I can’t imagine how much harder for you to know now looking back. But, there are tons of things I would and did change my 2nd and 3rd time around – so just do the best you can, learn as you go and focus on the things you were able to do and succeed with. Thanks for writing!

  • Dabsfam

    Just found your blog and I am really interested in starting Paleo! My nursling is 12 1/2 months, but I guess my biggest concern with the diet change is detoxing and it going into breastmilk. Any advice or pointers for a  Paleo newbie nursing mama???

    •  I don’t think there’s any toxin that would pass to the baby. I wouldn’t worry about it. For advice, I’d just recommend you follow your instincts, keep your calories up and relax!

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  • Valdambach

    Would you be interested in writing a post about the end of breast feeding and then what?  Our son is 1 year and I am uncertain about what to feed him or how to feed him after BF is done.  We are 100% paleo and our son has been since conception 🙂  I’ve heard goats milk, coconut milk, almond milk, but what was your experience with your lil one?

    •  Yep, just search breastfeeding on the site or google paleo parents breastfeeding and you’ll find tons of info – including a 3 part series on exactly what you’re looking for 🙂

  • Deb

    Re-reading this now that I have an 8 week old who is exclusively breasted by me, her exclusively paleo mom (since before pregnancy). Although I’m unwaveringly committed to paleo AND breast feeding, I have to note my daughter does not yet sleep thru the night, is extremely fussy, does have gas and does spit up, though not a lot. I wish my diet and hers could have given me your experience, but I’ll happily accept that I’m a healthy mom with a healthy baby.

    • Denise

      My child didn’t sleep through the night until he was a year old. And he was exclusively breastfed that entire time. Breastfeeding doesn’t fix what we think it should. It isn’t magical. It’s just food.

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  • KB

    Hello, I know this post is a couple years old. I am hoping you will still see my comment/question! I have exclusively breastfed/pumped my now 10 month old. I returned to work after 15 weeks so it has not been easy to keep this up. Now that he is eating solids in addition to taking breast milk, my supply has really dwindled. I am not sure what to supplement with (at 10 months). I really do not want to give him formula but not sure what else to do. Any suggestions? Thank you!

    • My supply naturally dwindled too. We just gave more nutrient dense foods (liver, egg yolk) and added in water to his diet. A tablespoon of good quality juice will naturally sweeten the water and they’ll get the fluids they need, and nutrients from food. You could also add full fat coconut milk smoothies to make sure they’re getting plenty of fat. We did a lot of fatty braised meats when they were young since it’s soft and helps with the Omega 3 they neeed (grass-fed beef roasts, briskets, etc) as well as fatty cold water fish 🙂

  • Stacey

    I definitely wish I had known about Paleo when my older two were infants. I feel we wouldn’t be struggling with SPD now and severe food aversions. My 3 yr old has been Paleo pretty much since age 18 months when I discovered it. My question of you is tips on weaning. She turned 3 in May and can only go to sleep nursing. She nurses for comfort at other times like the morning. I do love the snuggles but it really effects my quality of sleep and that of my husband since she co sleeps. It seems like she will never wean herself! Any thoughts?

  • Erika

    Wanted to toss this out there as well. I have 4 children(18, 16, 13, 10 now). #1 was formula fed after 1 month because after many visits from a lactation consultant we determined that even with a football hold we could not get the nipple beyond her extremely high arch. #2 had the same high arch issue and had breastmilk exclusively pumped for him for 4 months until an ignorant pediatrician told me I couldn’t pump for a year because I would dry up(luckily I had frozen milk in storage for another 2 months of milk for him). #3 same darned arch issue, but I pumped for him exclusively for 15 months. #4 had no arch issue and was a nursing a nursing champ for 3 years. Over the years, I sought lactation consultant after lactation consultant and went to many LLL meetings(No one ever had any issue with me showing up with breastmilk in a bottle as I sought advice) . Everyone truly did their best to help. I now understand that at the time myself and my kids had an undiagnosed genetic disorder called EDS that unfortunately gave us all extremely high, arched palates and expensive orthodontic issues. #4 didn’t inherit my lovely genetic gift. For years I felt like a failure because I wasn’t able to breastfeed, until I had number 4. And now years later, I know there was a medical reason breastfeeding didn’t work for the first three and I feel better about the decisions I made along the way. YES, breastfeeding is the absolute best, but there can be issues that can prevent breastfeeding from occurring. Pumping exclusively is something that is rarely discussed, but is something that really needs to be tossed out there for women who really want to breastfeed but for one reason or another can’t. I was a Dairy Queen(could pump a good 50-60oz a day) and was even able to provide breastmilk to a milk bank. I’m so proud of the time that I spent pumping for my children and would do it again in a heartbeat if it was the only way to give breastmilk to my babies. I’m proud that my overproduction of milk was able to help others. Breastfeeding or formula feeding are NOT the only options a woman has. Exclusively pumping is an option as well.

    • CricketBug

      I had a severe problem with my first child’s latch. She wasn’t latching correctly, and was removing a layer of skin every time she nursed. I, too, pumped exclusively with her for about 6 months. I probably would have pumped until she stopped taking breast milk but for the day my husband took off with my only pumped bottle of milk. It was in the car. Without my bottle, I took the chance that she would latch correctly, and she did, so I got to put the breast pump away!

      I totally understand why a parent in your situation might have given up on breast milk for her babies, and I think it’s awesome that you were so committed to it that you kept trying. I think that your experiences highlight the need for MORE EDUCATION on breast feeding, Exclusive Pumping (EP) is a wonderful option if your body can produce enough milk to keep up with your child’s needs.

  • CricketBug

    Very good article, and I’m glad you noted that, if breatfeeding were impossible for you, formula is still an option. It’s definitely not the best option, but there are reasons it’s necessary sometimes. One of my friends adopted her three children, and with each of them, there was, maybe, a couple weeks notice that a newborn would be coming home with them soon. Formula was her (and her husband’s) only option. Another two friends’ bodies would not produce enough milk to keep up with the needs of their children (twins), and they chose to supplement, rather than starve their babies.

    It’s still hard for me to not get angry that some people, when they actually have a choice, think breastfeeding is inconvenient, so they won’t bother. What’s more inconvenient: 1) Your baby cries in the middle of the night, because she’s hungry. You go to her and hold her while you pull a pre-mixed bottle out of the fridge, heat it, then sit with her in a char while she eats. OR 2) Your baby cries in the middle of the night, because she’s hungry. You go to her, bring her back to bed with you (for my baby’s safety, we didn’t co-sleep; I am a very deep, restless sleeper), snuggle up all warm and cozy, let her eat in a warm, comfortable place, until she is satisfied and falls asleep again.

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  • Nykee A. Gates

    You didnt say what to do. ALL that boasting… just meant to eat paleo while breastfeeding?

    • The entire last section of the post talks about creating a support system, and I listed a number of resources that people could utilize depending on what they need. Those are my two big pieces of advice for breastfeeding moms – diet and a support system since there are so many highs and lows to the various stages of breastfeeding a growing human.

  • Serena

    My 15 mo recently went Paleo per our doctor’s instructions, and she also moved into our room temporarily, and now she wakes up once a night to nurse. (Previously she was sleeping through the night) I’m eating a Paleo diet as well. I get really hungry at night, and she seems hungry when she wakes. Any suggestions on what to feed her before bed? (I miss my sleep)