Let's not waste time placing blame over baby formula shortage. Let's find solutions, now.
There's little conversation about moms who don't breastfeed. They need our help now amid this formula crisis.
Before my first daughter was born I did everything right: I got the right books; had the lactation consultant come to teach me how to hand express the colostrum (the first milk), how to get her to latch on with minimal difficulty, how to eat in order to maximize my milk production. I listened to YouTube meditations and did pregnant-lady yoga to increase my milk supply and have an "easy" birth.
As a pregnant woman, I was also hypervigilant about how other moms (and how many) were breastfeeding their children of varying ages, and all seemingly without difficulty. The stories I heard supported my ideas of what postpartum life was like. My own mother told me she had breastfed me for three months without problems. My aunt said she found breastfeeding so easy that both she and the baby (my cousin) would "fall asleep at the boob." My sisters-in-law argued about who has breastfed longer, and the middle sister-in-law won, with six months of straight "chi-chi."
It absolutely never occurred to me that I might not be able to breastfeed.
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Formula shortage threatens the well-being of moms, too
But that's exactly what happened when my daughter was born. And that's exactly why I feel so much empathy for moms (and dads and other caretakers) feverishly looking for baby formula as the nation faces a supply shortage, with nearly 40% of popular baby formula brands selling out at retailers across the USA during the week starting April 24.
There are some, albeit still stressful, options for finding ways to feed your baby if there's no formula at the grocery store.
While there are articles, ad nauseam, on the internet about the benefits of bodyfeeding, there are few about why it's also OK not to. There are many reasons a woman might not be able to breastfeed; there are even more reasons we don't talk about it.
It's also an issue that disproportionately affects certain communities, including Black women. Those are the women I worry about most right now.
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The fact is, there is a lot of pressure on moms all the time, from before they give birth to long after, to be perfect. I won't get into the science of breastfeeding: That's the subject of articles in medical journals. But it also doesn't matter for purposes of this current crisis. There are moms out there who, for many good reasons, are not nursing. They need our support, too.
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I know women may have multiple reasons that make it difficult or impossible to breastfeed: biological, psychological, or anatomical ones. They may face economic hardship and have to work away from the baby right after birth. The list goes on.
I can only tell you my story: My inability to nurse began with the birth of my daughter. My cesarean section had gone terribly wrong when there was an accidental dural puncture during the administration of my anesthesia. My blood pressure began to plummet, and the last thing I remember as I started to lose consciousness was the horrified look on the very handsome attending resident physician's face as my OB-GYN began barking orders at scurrying nurses, technicians and the handsome resident.
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But that was just the beginning of my problems. The pain after the surgery was terrible, as was the orthostatic headache I was left with for weeks as a result of the incident. Inevitably, a very heavy postpartum depression quickly set in (which is more common for women with traumatic C-sections).
I would quickly learn that depression is suboptimal for breastfeeding. The depression and physical pain from the surgery meant I couldn't produce milk, and not producing milk just made the depression worse.
Solve formula problem for babies and moms
It's not something I like to talk about with other mothers, because it feels like there aren't many other mothers who can relate. At least, they don't want to do so out loud. There's a lot of pressure on women to be good moms. There's a lot of pressure to get everything right and yoga-away the "baby blues," which, for me, has nothing to do with postpartum depression.
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Breastfeeding has been as politicized as many other topics in modern America. If you don't, you're depriving your baby of essential nutrients that will make them less sickly and have a distinct biological disadvantage. At least that's how the debate has always seemed to me.
I'm not sure whom to blame for the baby formula shortage, or whether there is any one person or company in particular to blame. But we need to find solutions, quickly. The most vulnerable members of our society – babies and moms – really need our support right now.
Carli Pierson, a New York licensed attorney, is an opinion writer with USA TODAY, and a member of the USA TODAY Editorial Board. Follow her on Twitter: @CarliPiersonEsq