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Defining my Breastfeeding Experience: Inclusive Breastfeeding

Written by Aran Tavakoli

It has been nine months and I just put away my pump. Getting it ready for storage was bitter sweet. How many hours have I spent with that machine in the past 9 months? Its usefulness outweighed the annoyance.  Once again, at this point in time, I am redefining my breastfeeding relationship with my baby. 



Breastfeeding has been an extraordinary journey. I have experienced and learned so much. I keep searching for a word that captures and defines my experience, but I can’t find one. I believe the breastfeeding community is actually missing a term for mamas that fall into their own camp. There is the exclusively breastfeed group and the formula group. Research often distinctly divides mamas and babies into these two groups. But, there is an ever-growing group of mamas that breastfeed and give formula to support their breastfeeding relationship with their baby. The current words used to describe this group include combo feeding or more commonly, low supply needing supplementation. 

From the true definition, I do not "exclusively" breastfeed my baby. However, I do exclusively give my baby all the breast milk that I have.  But he needs more to be happy and healthy, so he also receives formula and when he was really little, he received donor milk. Honestly, I am so tired of the “low supply” conversation, I wish there was a different word for how I feed my baby. A word that matches the pride of the mamas who do exclusively breastfeed their little ones all that they produce.  


Per Merriam-Webster, ‘exclusive’ is defined as, “not shared: available to only one person or group.” ‘Inclusive’ is defined as, “covering or including everything: open to everyone: not limited to certain people.” 

Thinking about it, I have never been an exclusive type of person, so the opposite of exclusive is inclusive. I have inclusively breastfed my baby for 9 months (way longer than I would have thought in the beginning!). This is the word that I am using to define my breastfeeding experience. 

In the inclusive camp, mamas know the best and worst of both worlds. The best of breastfeeding includes that joys of nourishing your baby with your body and making personalized milk. Then there is the best of formula: the intervention that provides life saving nutrition to support healthy growth and development. The worst of breastfeeding includes the sometime difficulties: mastitis, plugged ducts, yeast, blebs and so on! On top of breastfeeding, there might also be pumping, all the equipment and time that is required. For formula, besides the cost, the worst includes the bottles to be cleaned, sterilized and cleaned again. 

In the inclusive camp, the mamas are incredible as they work so hard to maintain their milk supply for their little ones, while also accepting help in the form of formula or donor milk. It is not one way or the other, it is all the ways: the breastfeeding, the pumping, the supplementing, the love, the dedication, the tears and the sweat (especially on hot days)! The inclusiveness of the experience. 




I don’t want to use a breastfeeding definition that makes mamas feel bad that their milk supplies are low (I worked through that one) or that they feel badly for needing to use formula (I worked though that one, too). Saying that, 'I inclusively breastfeed" is so much more positive and empowering than saying, "I have low supply and need to supplement." My lactation consultant, Ashley, always said to me, “He is getting your milk.” That has become my motto. He’s getting my milk, the amount doesn’t matter, and he is getting my milk.

So...Mamas who Inclusively Breastfeed, shall we adopt a new term? 



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Reader Comments (17)

Terrific post! Thank you so much for sharing Aran! I am one of those moms who nursed (and pumped when I went back to work) to the best of my ability and gave my son as much milk as I had. I worked my butt off to increase my supply and maintain it, with fenugreek and blessed thistle daily, as well as power pumping sessions or pumping in the middle of the night. This work helped to keep my supply up, but I still needed to supplement with one or two bottles of formula a day for the first year. Sometimes I felt ashamed that I couldn't "exclusively" give my little one *just* breastmilk, or thought I should be working harder--eating more oatmeal, pumping more, changing my diet...I finally got to a point where I realized that I could not work any harder, and that I WAS (like you say) exclusively breastfeeding my baby with every drop I had! What a weight off my shoulders. No one should feel guilty for trying as hard as they can to do what they think is best for their baby! Today, K is 15 months old, and we no longer use formula, but we still nurse. I treasure and love our nursing relationship and what it has evolved into, and am glad that there were enough formula choices available that I could pick one that felt right for our family. THANKS AGAIN FOR SHARING and I love that last photo!

June 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAlanna Aiko Moore

I loved this so much. Using formula at times is what got me to successfully BF. We are at 15 months now b/c I did both. Hats off to you!

June 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSamm

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU. I have two children and "suffered" from low supply issues with both. Baby #1 breastfed for a short time due to an undiagnosed tongue tie I ended up exclusively pumping until I had nothing left to pump around 6 months. Baby #2 is still nursing at 14 months but has had formula supplementation since 6 months. There *IS* such a thing as an actual low supply. Sometimes no amount of "more milk plus" or pumping, or water intake, or putting baby to breast, is going to increase your supply. I've felt the inner turmoil, had the sweat and tears over many things in my breastfeeding journey- the endless pumping, the nursing, the supplements, the lactation visits, the torn up nipples, vasospasms, the whole nine yards. It's discouraging to see some EBF moms turn their noses up at you because "your baby is getting enough, just put them to breast" when your child is dropping weight and failing to thrive. Moms should support other moms.. not make them feel guilty for doing the best they can for their babies. So thank you, again, for shedding light on the lives of so many of us stuck in that "inclusive" area.

Hooray! This is the term for me. It makes me feel less bad for supplementing. Brava!

June 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCassandra

I really needed this I sit here feeling defeated and frustrated feeding my LO a bottle if formula because my "supply is low". It's the only way I know to keep my baby happy, yet I feel so bad. Thank you for the encouraging words to help mamas like me know that I'm doing the best I can. Thank you!

June 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLorraine

When I was first struggling with breastfeeding, a friend told me that you will breastfeed in the way that works for you and your baby....your experience sounds just like mind. Thanks for the reminder that I'm doing what works for me and my baby and that I get to define my experience, not be defined by others.

June 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterElla Hereth

Yes! Thank you for this post.

I had a very rough start at breastfeeding with my little one. He was literally starving when I was being discharged from the hospital, and my lactation consultant caught it at the last minute and made us stay for an extra five hours to correct the issue. My son had latch issues from tongue tie, that lead to supply issues for me, then he was diagnosed with severe GERD, and then I dealt with oversupply and OALD, was never-ended. At least...I thought it was. I just hit my eight month mark with my son, and we are going strong. I still supplement, and I'm perfectly fine with that!

The point I am trying to make is, I had to "resort" to supplementing with formula to not only keep my son healthy, but for my own health as well. I was so terribly distraught about my breastfeeding experience that it took weeks for my lactation consultant to finally say to me, "Stephanie, it doesn't matter HOW your baby is fed, what matters is that he is healthy and happy." Only then could I let go of the fact that I wasn't exclusively breastfeeding.

Sadly, though, other exclusively breastfeeding moms don't treat it the same way. When I went to my first LLL meeting, they made me feel guilty for giving my son rice cereal formula three times a day for his GERD. I never went back to another meeting after that. That is not to say that LLL isn't helpful, just that particular group was not.

I would love for the term "exclusively breastfed" to be redefined so that it doesn't make us "inclusively breastfeeding" mamas feel like we've failed somehow.

June 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

This is absolutely wonderful. It encompasses a lot of what I feel, some of what I hope to feel (being okay with my supply, and with formula feeding), and some wonderful things to think about.

It's funny, I guess that I didn't know other people felt the way that I do. People in my local breastfeeding group on Facebook proudly announce when they've EBF for 6 months or a year. I've been almost dreading my announcement. Where I will announce that I SBF (supplemented breastfeeding) for a period of time. We are currently at 6 months. We've dealt with supply issues, and eventually needing to exclusively pump, further dips due to illness and the beginning of my period, pumping like crazy to get my supply back up. What's to be ashamed of in that?

Thank you again for your words.

June 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTiffany

I love this! Thank you for creating a wonderfully positive new term! I pumped for 6 months while my baby was sick in the NICU. She got my milk through a feeding tube and I filled a few freezers and donated the excess. Amazingly, she came home breastfeeding (hallelujah!) , but soon I dipped in supply for various reasons and she needed more calories, so we started to supplement. I keep pumping as well (although it's tough with two kids and a partner who works out of town a lot!) The point is, I do my best. She is 10 months now, and I am trying to make it to a year of breastfeeding, at least. I tell myself the same thing...she's getting my milk. My milk combined with everything she needs to help her stay healthy. I am thankful every day to be so lucky to have the bonding that comes with breastfeeding after being separated for so long. There are so many ways to make breastfeeding work. It's a great thing to be inclusive of all the possibilities and to celebrate the moms who try so hard to give everything they can!

June 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

Thank you so much for your voice - for being our voice - for redefining beautifully a relationship that is so often and easily devalued by definitions. Inclusively. Best EVER. ❤️

June 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVicki

I inclusively feed my baby also! I love it! I feel more empowered to say that versus explaining to everyone that I have low supply and have to supplement! Thank you for writing this. I love having a new view on this.

June 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAngel Vielhauer

Thank you for this post. I love the term 'inclusive' and will be using it with my second!!

June 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJW

Thanks for this. I'm in a similar situation. I don't actually have a low supply but my baby is a sleepy feeder and wasn't getting enough out of me to gain weight. I have been pumping and topping up since birth (bub is now 7 weeks) and recently had to replace 2 EBM top-ups with formula because she still wasn't putting on much weight. Now she's finally putting on enough but she's still below the lowest percentile. It's very time-consuming (breastfeed, bottle-feed, pump, try to find time to eat & nap) but it's worth it to keep breastfeeding. I'm lucky to have teenage children to cook, clean, hang out washing and help with bub, and my FIL to do the school run. If it wasn't for them I could not continue. How long did you have to give formula? Until bub started solids, or sooner or later? I can't imagine keeping this up for 9 months.

June 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTina

Totally agree with you. I have been in your same boat and inclusively breastfed my don for a little bit over 12 months. I gave him all my milk but he needed more, so like you I had to have a bottle ready all the time until he was nicely on solids. At that point he refused the bottle and only took the boob and the solids. It's been amazing and so sad the second night he pushed the boob away without even taking a sip. But I knew I had given him all I could and that it had been his decision to stop. Loved every minute of it xxx. Thanks for this article and for thinking of a better word!

June 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGiulia Clifford

You got it exactly right! This is a wonderful explanation of those who fall into a gray area, a middle ground. Having gone through this with my my kids, who are now happy and healthy toddlers, I always knew there had to be more mamas who experienced the difficulties I did. Thanks so much for this wonderful definition!

June 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

I had the same experience and I always thought people were glaring at me when I had to take out a bottle at breastfeeding support group, or when I would nurse in public, but 20mins later be bottle feeding anyway. Don't judge me, you don't know what I'm trying to do here, or what Ive had to do to get my body to make the milk it does. I'll start using "inclusively breastfeeding" from now on, I hope it catches on.

June 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBeth

Pumping (after each nursing, power pumping, cluster pumping - now pumping at work)
Blessed Thistle
Goats Rue
Lactation Cookies
Brewers Yeast
Nutritional Yeast

All things I have done but still never EBF. At six months I just recently cut down from 3 pumping sessions at work to two and I am still only getting two ounces each session (that is two total - one ounce from each breast). My body is just maxed out! That's ok. I come home with one bottle instead of one and half bottles but I am the happier for it. He is mostly formula fed now and supplemented with breastmilk and boob. He's healthy and happy and I am not burning both ends of the candle trying to do more than my body is capable of. I return my hospital grade pump this weekend and will just use the personal pump. I'm weaning MYSELF off breastmilk it seems.

We still nurse but it is just not nutritional, or at least not his primary source.

June 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJacqueline

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