“Detroit Mom” Founder Candid About Breastfeeding Challenges

The struggle – and pressure – is real when it comes to breastfeeding.

Elizabeth Lewis hears it from the women who visit her Detroit Mom website and she’s lived through her own challenges. The stories vary – frustration and confusion over not producing enough milk, being shamed for breastfeeding in public spaces, feeling guilty over supplementing with formula, etc., etc. – but one thing holds true throughout: moms feel immense pressure when it comes to how they feed their babies.

“This is a common story that we hear,” Lewis said.

Elizabeth Lewis and her family
Elizabeth Lewis, pregnant with Maryn, posing with her family.

For Lewis, every breastfeeding experience with her four children, ages 18, 7, 3 and 9-months, has been different, but none quite so challenging as Maryn, born October 12, 2018.

She loves seeing those glowing images of moms enraptured with their infants that show up in her social media feed, but acknowledges that just isn’t always the day-to-day reality. A more realistic picture might show a frazzled, sleep-deprived woman who feels her infant is constantly attached to her body. “You feel like you’re walking around with your top off all day,” Lewis quipped.

Maryn entered the world after a year in which Lewis lost both of her parents and saw her business explode. The stress and grief, intermingled with the hormonal flux of pregnancy and childbirth, led to symptoms of post-partum depression when Maryn was about two months old. Lewis sought help and was diagnosed with PPD. She says medication has helped and she’s learned coping mechanisms through once-a-week therapy sessions.

Throughout it all, Lewis was trying to exclusively breastfeed and finding it challenging to produce enough milk.

“I tried every supplement under the sun,” she said. “Every recommendation, I was power pumping and still getting very little milk.” She even paid $400 to ship in breast milk from her sister, who was producing more than she needed.

Maryn wanted to nurse frequently, which meant Lewis wasn’t getting much sleep. The long nights left her feeling zombie-like and exhausted. She reached a point where she felt she couldn’t physically do it anymore and was worried about her mental health. She felt like a failure.

“Society really puts a lot of pressure on us,” Lewis said.

Elizabeth with Maryn
Elizabeth and Maryn.

Finally, she and her husband decided to give Maryn a bottle of formula at night. It was a breakthrough for the family.

“I needed her to sleep and I needed to sleep,” she said. When she looks back, she wishes they would have started nighttime formula feedings earlier. “It could have been so much easier. I would have enjoyed her infancy instead of being so stressed out about what I wasn’t producing. I was so miserable.”

Lewis said part of her reluctance to use formula came from the overwhelming message to new moms that “breast is best”, often delivered by other well-meaning women on social media.

“Women are just so judgmental when it comes to that because they think they know what’s best for your baby, but really, you know what’s best for your baby,” she said. “Women are so shamed for choosing to formula feed. Me making the decision to give this baby formula did not make me a bad mom.”

Lewis still nurses Maryn during the day, but nighttime formula feeds have helped her reclaim her life. Now that she’s sleeping better, she has energy to focus on her own needs, which helps her be a happier parent to Maryn and her other children.

Through Detroit Mom, Lewis provides a platform for women to share their own personal journeys through breastfeeding, formula feeding and many other parenting topics. She said everyone is welcome to share their truth in a judgment-free community of like-minded parents. Her own experiences have led Lewis and her team to even consider the idea of starting support groups for moms working through different issues.

“There is such a need for this,” she said. “Women need support and they’re not getting it.”

Whether women exclusively breastfeed, rely on formula at every feeding or find a combination of the two that works for them, Lewis and the staff and contributors at Detroit Mom want everyone to know that there is very likely someone out there who can relate. Lewis encourages moms to trust their instincts and enjoy their babies, regardless of how they’re fed.

Learn more about Detroit Mom at their website. Find out more about Lewis’ journey as a mom in this episode of A Healthier Michigan’s Table Talks.

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Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Lewis

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