On Sunday, Chrissy Teigen got candid about her breastfeeding journey. In a Twitter thread that took aim at the pressure that's often put on new parents who struggle with breastfeeding, she wrote: “Ok I'm gonna say something and you all are definitely gonna make it a thing but here goes: normalize formula.”
The mother of two went on to write, “Normalize breastfeeding is such a huge, wonderful thing. But I absolutely felt way more shame having to use formula because of lack of milk from depression and whatnot." She added, "People have surrogates, people have trouble breastfeeding, and all you hear as a new, anxious mom is how ‘breast is best’... 'Normalize breastfeeding' is great. 'Normalize formula' is great, too!”
Breastfeeding has proven benefits, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life, if possible. But as Teigen points out, not all parents are able or willing to breastfeed for that long, or at all — and breastfeeding advocacy can cross the line into shaming or stigmatizing parents who choose to use formula to feed their baby.
There are many reasons a parent may not be able to breastfeed, from issues with milk supply to being on a medication that's incompatible with breastfeeding. As Teigen points out, depression may complicate breastfeeding, too.
Experts still can't say for sure whether depression itself interferes with a person's ability to breastfeed, or whether the breastfeeding difficulties come first and contribute to depression, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Heather Bartos, MD, IBCLC, the founder of The ME Spot Movement says it's possible that the same hormone imbalances that contribute to postpartum depression interfere with breastmilk supply. "Following birth, a mom’s estrogen, progesterone, prolactin, thyroid, and cortisol shift dramatically as her body readjusts from pregnancy to postpartum," she explains. "These hormones have a direct impact on both the brain chemicals that are responsible for emotional wellness, but also milk production."
Caring for a newborn is incredibly hard, and new parents often find themselves sleep-deprived, dehydrated, and stressed out. High levels of stress can lead to high levels of the hormone cortisol, which may also interfere with milk production, Dr. Bartos adds. And pressure to breastfeed can exacerbate the pressures of new parenthood.
ok I'm gonna say something and you all are definitely gonna make it a thing but here goes: normalize formula.— chrissy teigen (@chrissyteigen) November 29, 2020
In her thread, Teigen recalls the toll breastfeeding anxiety took on her. “I remember pumping my ASS OFF, highest mode, so often, because I didn't trust milk was going into their mouths if I breastfed,” she wrote. “It drove me mad to the point I could only get an ounce. An ounce!”
She describes feeling tense and discouraged. “The stress of it, combined with the guilt that you cannot do nature's most natural thing for your own baby is too much,” she added. “I dunno why this is my crusade now. I just remember the sadness I felt and want you to know you are doing it right if your baby is fed, mama.”
The Cravings author has been candid before about motherhood and postpartum depression. Last month shared a personal essay in which she shared heartbreaking details about the loss of her pregnancy with her third child, Jack.
Responses to Teigen's recent tweets further illustrate just how harmful the pressure to breastfeed can be. One Twitter user responded to Teigen’s thread: “Wish I’d read this a year ago. I drove myself into a deep depression bc I couldn’t breastfeed my baby,” they wrote.
the stress of it, combined with the guilt that you cannot do nature's most natural thing for your own baby is too much. I dunno why this is my crusade now. I just remember the sadness I felt and want you to know you are doing it right if your baby is fed, mama.— chrissy teigen (@chrissyteigen) November 29, 2020
Another user shared, “At this very moment I’m going through this. This morning at 4am i was strapped to the pump for 30 minutes and got a collective of 1 ounce.”
The "breast is best" mantra has been "pushed to the point where a woman feels like a failure if she doesn’t want to breastfeed, which is her choice," Dr. Bartos says. "We know breastfeeding is good for babies’ immune systems and it’s also cost effective — but the pressure on women to breastfeed can cause additional stress and anxiety that further curbs the supply," Dr. Bartos adds. "And the pressure to do so for an entire year? Or more? That’s a lot for women who return to careers and have to carve out time to pump throughout their day. Feeding your baby a particular way should not be a badge of honor or a way to look down on other moms."
At the end of the day, what's most important is for a baby to be loved and to be fed — however that happens.