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‘There’s so much pressure’: Moms react to new guidelines that support breastfeeding toddlers

The American Academy of Pediatrics released updated guidelines on breastfeeding and some are calling them "out of touch" with the parenting experience.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (APP) released updated guidelines supporting breastfeeding for two years or longer, and some parents have thoughts.

On Monday, the AAP updated its guidance on nursing to include a full-throated support for breastfeeding two years or longer, stating "long-term breastfeeding is associated with protections against diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancers of the breast and ovaries."

The AAP recommends lactating parents exclusively breastfeed for 6 months, stating "there is no need to introduce infant formula or other sources of nutrition for most infants." After 6 months, the Academy recommends continuing to nurse while introducing "nutritious complementary foods."

Related: Is breastfeeding ‘free’? Baby formula shortage spotlights myths about feeding babies

The guidance also recommends an increase in support and protections for breastfeeding parents, including "universal paid family leave, the right of a woman to breastfeed in public, insurance coverage for lactation support and breast pumps, on-site day care" and more.

TODAY Parents spoke to four moms willing to share their reactions to the new AAP breastfeeding recommendations. Their comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Amy Kugler, 40, Washington

Kugler is a writer and founder of a communications and content strategy company. She has a 5-year-old and is preparing to give birth to a baby girl in September.

"I agree that there needs to be less stigma and more acceptance around breastfeeding, specifically in our society and community settings. But I have a few issues with the guidelines.

"First off, it raises an issue that is already emotionally fraught within parenting circles and excludes or isolates parents who can’t breastfeed their own children for a myriad of reasons. While the (guidelines) state the need for paid parental leave, workplace protections to provide that opportunity, and insurance resources for necessary equipment, those are not guaranteed in today’s society. We can’t even guarantee paid family leave federally, and the support for childbearing families is abysmal compared to other nations. 

"It also adds yet another layer of emotional labor to a caregiver that isn’t totally necessary. To say that it’s best to breastfeed a child for two years, the onus falls mostly on the lactating parent — often mothers — and research shows how much of a burden those parents already shoulder.

"As a mom who is also the birthing person in our family, one of the biggest fears I always had was wondering whether our son was eating well or had enough sustenance. The number of hours I spent pumping or feeding him was astronomical and solitary in so many ways. 

"As I approach breastfeeding with our baby on the way, I’m going to try to go as long as I can but also recognize when it’s more stressful or detrimental to my mental health. I’m trying not to place any expectations, and I don’t think these new guidelines will influence my decisions in any way."

Erin Bagwell, 35, New York

Bagwell is a documentary filmmaker, writer, and stay-at-home mom to two girls, ages 3 and 6 months.

“I felt a lot of pressure to breastfeed (my daughter) for an entire year. I made it about eight months, but I wish I would have stopped sooner. I was experiencing debilitating postpartum depression and I was up three to five times every night, feeding my daughter who wouldn’t sleep. It put a lot of strain on my marriage to have to be the one to do all the feeding, and my daughter who got used to the comforts of breastfeeding, wouldn’t take a bottle for six months.

“When I stopped breastfeeding not only was I able to rely more on my husband’s support with the baby but it allowed me to get more sleep, and be able to leave the house alone. Alongside therapy, I believe stopping breastfeeding was a huge factor in alleviating my postpartum depression. 

“For my second daughter I breastfed for three months, and I’m really proud of my decision to stop breastfeeding. This time around I put my mental health first and it’s been a wonderful experience to bottle-feed, even with the stress of the formula shortage.

“I think the new breastfeeding guidelines are insane. When I read them, I was genuinely shocked and then I got angry. Without access to lactation consultants, postpartum emotional support, paid parental leave, access to affordable childcare and clean pumping places at work, it just seems like another outlandish expectation and burden we are putting on the shoulders of parents — many of whom already feel like they are drowning after being completely ignored by the government during the global pandemic.

“There is so much pressure to breastfeed, I think this news is really overwhelming and out of touch with the reality and the decisions so many parents have to face when feeding their children.”

Kelsey Searles, 37, California

Searles is the co-founder and CEO of an infant and baby product company. She has two kids, ages 5 and 2.

"This feels like it’s adding extra pressure for so many parents, at a time when things are already exhausting and emotionally challenging.

"I know so many parents who were unable to breastfeed. These women had the help of numerous lactation consultants, and long maternity leave and work from home policies and helpful spouses. And it still didn’t work for them. But in order to give the best for their babies, based on what the AAP recommends, they exclusively pumped to still get that ‘liquid gold’. And that is exhausting work.

"I’m a person of means, with access to lots of lactation consultants, work from home flexibility, knowledge about the importance of breastfeeding, places I can do it at work and a paid family leave policy from the state of California... and I still struggled.

"I know their hearts are in the right place — we all want the best for our babies. And I applaud them for calling out the need for better services to support these parents in their breastfeeding and parenting journeys. But telling someone they need to make it two years off the bat when these services are not available is a bit chicken before the egg, isn’t it? It makes the AAP feel out of touch with the parenting experience, and for those that struggle it’s just a slap in the face." 

Leah Rocketto, 32, Connecticut

Rocketto is a writer, editor and new mom to her 4-month-old daughter.

"I find the new breastfeeding guidelines extremely frustrating. They emphasize the idea that 'breast is best' and only further shame parents who, for whatever reason, have chosen not to exclusively breastfeed their child. I was particularly bothered by the statement, 'there is no need to introduce infant formula or other sources of nutrition for most infants.'

"At my daughter’s first doctor’s appointment, we were told she had lost about 13% of her birth weight. The solution was to feed her every 1.5 to 2 hours instead of 2 to 2.5 hours.

"The window between feedings became a Sophie’s Choice of 'self care.' The exhaustion, plus the worry over her health, plus the failure I felt triggered my postpartum anxiety and depression. At the next weigh in, where we were once again told her weight wasn’t where the doctor wanted it to be, I broke down. With tears streaming down my face, I told the pediatrician to take my daughter back to the hospital because, in my mind, I clearly wasn’t capable of caring for her. 

"That’s when she finally mentioned formula, suggesting I breastfeed for 20 minutes on each side and then have my husband feed her formula so I could be free to eat, or sleep, or both.

"The only semi-redeeming part of these guidelines is the call for medical support, and government or workplace policies to support breastfeeding moms. But even that is frustrating, because we need policies that support all moms, especially now that the lack of access to safe abortions will force many people who don’t have support to become mothers."