Jewel Pfaffroth could barely move while she pumped. She had struggled since her son was born in April to produce breast milk—he was underweight at his first doctor’s appointment, and she immediately had to supplement with formula. Her doctor had recommended she sit at specific angles while she pumped—“to let gravity do its thing”—but those positions caused her such intense backaches that she couldn’t do basic things like carrying her baby. Yet despite the debilitating pain, she was pumping twice a day to create less than one-tenth of what her son ate. It was crucial to her that he have some breast milk in his diet.
Pressure on women to breastfeed isn’t new. The “breast is best” movement has long touted the health benefits of breastfeeding but also created anxiety for new mothers who struggle physically, mentally or emotionally with the sometimes painful and always time-consuming task of breastfeeding. As TIME explained in a 2017 cover story, the image of a mother who happily sacrifices her well-being and time spent on her career to breastfeed is part of the “goddess myth” of motherhood that places unrealistic expectations on new mothers and causes feelings of inadequacy among parents. (Many doctors have adopted a “fed is best” philosophy as a counter to that pressure.)