Defining Breastfeeding Success: Where Social Media Gets It Wrong

Lactation educator, Sarah Siebold, dives into the messy microcosm of social media and its impact on our perceptions of successful breastfeeding.

breastfeeding success

I worked with a client recently who, by all accounts, is a breastfeeding whiz. A real expert. She’s breastfeeding her third baby after breastfeeding her first for 13 months and her second for 18 months. Despite a history of breastfeeding success — growing two newborns into spunky toddlers — she’s worried that she doesn’t make enough milk for her newest addition.

I can’t pretend to know where this mom’s fear derives; I’m not a mental health expert. But I do know that social media can play a toxic role in the breastfeeding parent’s journey, and that it did for this mother in particular.


Signs that a baby is healthy


It didn’t take a trained eye to see that my client’s baby was healthy and robust. Rolls were beginning to form around her wrists and ankles. She was alert and wide-eyed. Her diapers were consistently wet and heavy. She was the very definition of a thriving infant.


Why moms stop breastfeeding


The most common reason for women to stop breastfeeding is from perceived, rather than actual low milk supply. As breastfeeders, we’re often under the impression that we need to express upwards of 6 oz. of milk during a pump session to feed our growing babes, that we need to buy deep freezers to stash hundreds of extra ounces of milk that we’ll one day need, and that our breasts are supposed to remain full — even engorged — for months on end if we want to maintain our supply.

None of these assumptions accurately reflect what breastfeeding ought to or often looks like for the average breastfeeder. So where does our reality get distorted, and why are we so afraid?


Power-pumping on social media


I believe in the power of social media to do good in this world: to harness change, increase public awareness, and inform in ways that feel generationally meaningful. There are countless Instagram accounts dedicated to re-normalizing breastfeeding by relaying accurate, evidence-based information, and supporting marginalized populations with lower breastfeeding rates. This is important work.

But what about the accounts that give breastfeeders or breastfeeders-to-be inaccurate portrayals that send them into tailspins, like the ones from those who “power pump” dozens of ounces ‘round the clock and turn pumping into a sport for show? I want to be clear that I fully support those who choose to pump and donate their milk to milk banks around the country for babies who desperately need it. But I don’t endorse posting photos of 10 oz. pumping sessions without providing context or explaining what normal pumping outputs are like. Whether we like it or not, we measure ourselves against the photos we see on our feeds. If we don’t “stack up,” we must be doing it all wrong.


The realities of breastfeeding


So here’s what I propose: a rough blueprint to guide you on your breastfeeding journey. Use these tidbits of information like mantras. Recite or reference them whenever you need a reminder:

Milk production
Only a small percentage of women are physiologically incapable of making enough breastmilk. The vast majority who worry that they don’t make enough milk actually do. The key to making milk is removing milk, and the best way to remove milk is to breastfeed, breastfeed and breastfeed some more.

Average bottle feeds
From two weeks until whenever baby stops drinking breastmilk, average bottle feeds range from 2-3.5 oz. So a 10-month-old in daycare? 2-3.5 oz. bottles every few hours will do the trick. No need to increase the volume to 4 oz. or more for breastfed babies.

Average pumping sessions
The average pumping session produces 1.5-3 oz. of milk, not 5-8 oz. Unless you have twins or triplets, you’ll never need to pump more than one baby takes in.

Milk regulation
By 4-6 weeks, your hard breastfeeding breasts will soften. Your milk supply hasn’t vanished. On the contrary — your body has regulated its milk production to my baby’s needs. Your softened breasts are the new normal.


5 ways to tell your baby’s getting enough milk


When you’re worried that your baby isn’t thriving or that you’re not making enough milk, you can remember that there are five ways to tell that your baby is getting milk and that you am making exactly what you’re supposed to make:

  1. Your baby sucks, swallows, and breathes in a patterned way while breastfeeding.
  2. You hear your baby swallow between bursts of sucking.
  3. Your baby takes a 3-5 second pause between bursts of sucking and self-starts once again.
  4. Your baby has consistently wet diapers and frequent stools.
  5. Your baby is gaining weight.

Social media portrays snippets of reality, but the only reality you need to focus on as a breastfeeding parent is the health of your body and the health of your baby.

For detailed, personalized care, contact a local lactation consultant in your area or reach out to me for support.


See more from Sarah Siebold at IM•MA Lactation.