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Claire Holt breastfeeding
First Years Mar 22, 2021
10 Minutes

Breastfeeding: why does no one talk about how hard it is??!

Many of us think of breastfeeding as ‘the most natural thing in the world’. However, that does not mean it comes easily for everyone. In fact, research has shown that as many as 92% of new mothers struggle in the early days. Whilst the health benefits of breastmilk are increasingly well appreciated, the mental health element is less talked about. Particularly the guilt, shame, isolation and self doubt a new mother can feel if it isn’t working as easily as it ‘should’. At what point does that damage outweigh the physical benefits? We talk about this and much more with mother of two, actress and miscarriage awareness advocate: Claire Holt. 

To listen to the full podcast convo click here.

For a few of the key snippets/highlights read on! 

There is so much pressure on women to do ‘the right thing’: 

However, there are many different ways of doing ‘the right thing’: 

Claire: ‘I had always thought I would breastfeed and it would be natural for me. When I had James I really struggled. Cracked nipples, pain, anxiety, allergies, you name it. We also discovered he had a cows milk protein allergy. I cut out all dairy from my diet but still we were having problems. It was miserable.  

I think these struggles were a big contributor to my postpartum anxiety’. 

My struggles with breastfeeding were not because of a lack of support: 

I was really lucky, I had help from a lactation consultant, family and I had help with child care. Some women don’t have any of this. Frankly, I had the resources to succeed with breastfeeding and still I couldn’t make it work for us. 

I let go of what motherhood ‘should’ look like and started to lean in to what motherhood looked like for me: 

At 3 months after an emotional rollercoaster and a case of postpartum anxiety; I decided to stop and to give him formula.

Guess what: he thrived and I thrived. 

I let go of ideas of what motherhood ‘should’ look like and started to lean in to what motherhood looked like for me. It was a big relief. 

That being said, it hasn’t been a straight forward path: my second pregnancy started it all over again…

When I was coming towards end of second pregnancy with baby Elle, I was of the mindset that I’d give breastfeeding a go again but given my experience with James if it didn’t work out then formula was absolutely ok. In fact I felt good about it and didn’t put pressure on myself. So far so good. 

Then the hormones and guilt started…

I became obsessed with breastfeeding again. I so badly wanted to ‘succeed’. Once again I struggled. I struggled with bleeding nipples and engorgement. In fact in the first week I ended up massaging my breasts so much to get milk in/prevent mastitis I caused horrendous inflammation. I couldn’t even express. That first week was absolutely awful.  

I got through that first week but it was a slippery slope from then on: 

She was just not comfortable latching. I then obsessed with the ‘right latch’. but had terrible bleeding nipples. On top of that, I didn’t want to use a shield because I felt it could interfere with breastfeeding developing. Next she started to have similar symptoms to James relating to cows milk protein allergy.. At that point I decided to exclusively pump and take dairy out of my diet. 

High lipase breastmilk…

The problems didn’t end there. In fact it was my son James who first noticed that my milk had started to taste and smell soapy (I was giving him my milk in a smoothie). I realised that when I was expressing milk and putting it into the fridge there was this very strong smell of soap. Turns out, this is a sign of high lipase breastmilk. 

At this point I realised my mental health was in trouble: 

I was worrying about giving her pain given her allergy to cows milk protein. I was worried about the latch. Then there was the worry about her not getting enough milk/not growing enough. On top of this I realised I probably couldn’t express and store milk. I felt awful. 

Despite all of this I still wanted to carry on!

As much as I had said it was ok to stop breastfeeding given the issues I was facing, I still couldn’t make myself do it. Ultimately it was may husband and the close people around me who told me it was ok to stop.

They made me realise I had to take care of myself too: 

It was at this point that I realised that my determination to breastfeed no matter the challenges was no longer healthy for us. So I stopped and guess what? As with James, Elle is thriving, happy, healthy and sleeps through the night. 

I am so pleased I allowed myself to stop myself from doing something that wasn’t working for me and my family. 

Hormones are very powerful: 

I felt almost addicted to breast feeding. In fact, I was obsessed. Obsessed with giving my kids what science deems ‘the best’.

There are very few areas that are as ‘charged’ as breastfeeding: 

It’s funny because when it comes to ‘science’ in most areas people are happy to take a look at the evidence and make decisions about what is best for them and suits their individual picture. However, when it comes to breastfeeding it seems to be ‘unacceptable’ according to science. There is no acceptable substitute. The science around it can feel very hard to go against, even if you’re compromising your mental health. 

It feels hard to admit you’re struggling to breastfeed, it’s hard to say ‘its ok not to do it’: 

Particularly when it’s your first baby. All parents have a fear, anxiety and uncertainty about whether or not your child will be healthy. This makes it harder. Thankfully for me, the second time around was slightly easier because I have a very healthy child who I know had formula. I could at least lean on that. In fact, I knew he had formula and had thrived. 

Mental health vs physical health: 

It is a balance. To be honest even though I am absolutely at peace with my decision I still find myself triggered by conversations around it. It is a reminder for me that I couldn’t do something that I am ‘supposed’ to do for my child. However, rationally when I look at the whole picture I can see that this is absolutely the right way for me and my family. 

However, for some reason I still always feel a degree of guilt:  

This is why I am so passionate about encouraging people not to judge. I know there are women out there who will be triggered around conversations on breastfeeding. Women who may be struggling with their mental health, sleep deprivation, a latch, an allergy etc. I want to say that if you don’t like it you don’t have to do it.

It’s ok if it doesn’t work for you! 

It is not selfish if it isn’t working and causing your mental health to suffer. That’s not good for anyone. I want to make women feel that it is ok if it doesn’t work for you. 

Postpartum anxiety: lessons learnt:  

After struggling with postpartum anxiety the first time around I learnt some lessons for when my daughter was born. I caught everything quicker. I knew the signs and I knew when I was struggling. I asked for help. Some things that helped me: 

Of course I still struggle now and again…

This isn’t to say I am perfect! She’s five months now and even with no breastfeeding I have times where I feel down and anxious. I just do my best to get through it and find solutions that work for me. 

I want to be the best version of myself for my kids: 

These little people are my world and I want to be the best version of myself. I want to be happy and smiley for them. So I try and make it a priority to invest in myself. 

Ways in which I invest in myself: 

Gaining confidence in my convictions: 

Unfortunately we exist within a culture where it is ok to shame women and their choices. However, I am a huge believer in doing what is right for you.

Why do my choices matter to other people? They don’t. 

Gaining confidence in my convictions has been a big step. This has however been a process. When you’re thrust into motherhood you have no idea what you’re doing. It’s trial and error. However I have learnt that when I lean into what was good for me and my family it feels good. When I try something and see that it has a positive impact on our physical/mental health then I have learnt to stick with it. Regardless of what anyone else may say or think. 

I don’t believe you should feel doubt or shame if something is working for you and your family. 

We all want to do ‘the right thing’ because we care so much. I love my babies and that’s why I chose to feed them formula. Because I knew it was the best thing for my family. If we can embrace each other’s decisions and encourage that dialogue then that’s the best we can do. 

Isolation can be really destructive:  

I’m lucky to have lots of support. Our new reality makes it extra challenging. However, I have realised however it can come in many forms. help can come in the form of a message board, online community, an app. It doesn’t just have to be something you pay for.

Asking for and seeking help is the first step:

Just because your mother did not have help, or your friend doesn’t have help or no one you know struggles with breastfeeding (or any other aspect of parenthood) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask if you need help if you need it. Everyone is different.  

Another thing I realised: no formula company doesn’t want your baby to thrive: 

Once I decided to go down the formula route I was obsessed with finding the one closest to breastmilk. However, what I realised during my research is there is no formula out there that is not designed to promote a child to flourish. You can’t go wrong.

Personally I chose to give my kids a European brand: HIPP Organic specifically the hypoallergenic version, but this is just a personal choice. There are a lot of formulas that are comparable. Ultimately they are all designed to optimise your child’s health and development. 

Signs we noticed that hinted towards an allergy:

James was a very unsettled baby. He cried constantly. He always appeared to be in pain but at that point I didn’t know what was ‘normal’. I didn’t know what ‘settled’ baby looked like vs one that was in pain as I had no experience. However, I did notice he had very mucusy diapers. He also had blood in his diaper which I didn’t see but when we went to the paediatrician and did some testing it came back as positive. Initially I took things out of my diet but it still wasn’t fully cleared up. The paediatrician said it could be other allergies (some babies are allergic to proteins in breastmilk even) so at that point (12 weeks). I decided to switch to formula. Similarly Elle started to get very unsettled at 3-4 week mark and she too had very mucusy diapers. I tried formula for 24hrs and she settled more. That’s when I decided finally to stop pumping my milk and switch fully to formula. 

Reintroducing dairy: 

With James at 9 months we started to reintroduce diary into his diet. Initially he got bad eczema. So with help from our paediatrician we gradually started to add it back in month by month. At 13 months he grew out of it. Now he has no issue. 

Two kids, work, a husband and trying to preserve your mental health: how do you fit everything in to your day?!

I am not afraid to admit I have help. I also try and structure my day in time blocks to be very focused and present at whatever I’m doing. So, when I’m with my kids I’m present and when I go and take time out for myself/work I will focus on that. It’s hard. Not everyone gets the balance right and I certainly don’t always get it right. But on the days I don’t I go to bed and wake up next day and try again!

To see more from Claire and her miscarriage story click here. Or, check her out on instagram here. 

For more on breastfeeding – including the science behind how to increase your supply – click here. 


This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.



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