Kelly Stafford says it 'hurts to watch' moms feel pressure to breastfeed: 'The conversation around formula needs to change'

Mom of four Kelly Stafford is sharing her struggles with breastfeeding in a new Bobbie campaign. (Photo: Courtesy of Bobbie)
Mom of four Kelly Stafford is sharing her struggles with breastfeeding in a new Bobbie campaign. (Photo: Courtesy of Bobbie)

August marks National Breastfeeding Month, and with it comes a reminder that for every Coco Austin — who recently confirmed that she's still nursing her 5-year-old daughter, Chanel — there's a parent who struggles to nurse their child.

In the case of new dad Tan France, who just welcomed a son via surrogate, it's because he and his husband Rob are both men. For Bachelor alum Lesley Anne Murphy, a preventative double mastectomy left her unable to breastfeed daughter Nora. And for Kelly Stafford — who stars alongside France, Murphy and new mom Hannah Bronfman in a new campaign aiming to shake the stigma facing parents who give their infants formula — the problem is more mental than physical; as a mother of four girls, including twins, she found breastfeeding to be an emotionally draining experience that left her "miserable."

Stafford, wife of Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, is speaking out about her personal frustrations with breastfeeding in the first national ad for the Bobbie organic infant formula brand. With its new "How is feeding going?" platform (as opposed to "how is breastfeeding going?"), the brand is hoping to "evolve the conversation around how we feed our babies."

For Stafford, 32, that's meant going into her fourth pregnancy — youngest daughter Tyler, now 1, was born last summer — knowing that she would no longer attempt breastfeeding. She tells Yahoo Life that she'd nursed her three older daughters, but struggled throughout the process.

"I would try and nurse them at the same time, which was somewhat of a disaster," she says of nursing twins Chandler and Sawyer, now 5. "I just remember sweating consistently, and for how often newborns feed that's a lot of sweating."

She switched to exclusive pumping when the girls were 3 or 4 weeks old, and kept it up for about eight months.

"I kind of just said, 'You know what, I can't do this,'" she says. "It just didn't work for me, and it wasn't working for them either. They were latching, but only for soothing. And I always worried about whether they were getting enough milk, because if they don't get enough milk, they won't sleep and then they're off schedule and it's a whole disaster."

But pumping came with its own set of issues. Expressing up to 96 ounces a day, she felt like she needed "an extra hand" to manage the pump while caring for two infants. When third daughter Hunter arrived in 2018, she reasoned that the process might be easier with just one mouth to feed. That wasn't the case.

"There was a little bit — I wouldn't say pressure, but you know, my family is a little old-school and my mom was like, 'Well, you should just try it. It's only one this time, it'll be easier.' I tried it and I think that lasted like a week and I moved again straight to pumping," Stafford recalls, adding that this time she pumped for about two and a half months. "At that point, my twins were 17 months old and I just couldn't manage it, so I moved to formula at 3 months with Hunter."

In between her third and fourth babies, Stafford was faced with a health crisis, announcing in April 2019 that she'd been diagnosed with a benign brain tumor known as an acoustic neuroma; she underwent surgery to remove the tumor that same month. While she tells Yahoo Life that she and her NFL star husband had already decided by then that, should they have another child, "it would be straight to formula," her health scare reinforced her desire to "be present" for her family rather than be overwhelmed by the demands of nursing.

"It was the fear of not being with my children," she explains. "I just felt like I couldn't do it all. I couldn't breastfeed and be the mom I wanted to be for my other three. So that's where I kind of drew the line and said, 'OK, I feel like my family is going to be better off if I choose formula over breastmilk.'"

As Stafford revealed in an Instagram post fetching more than 58,000 likes last year, fourth baby Hunter has been on formula from the start. She credits that decision with helping her having a "happier" postpartum experience.

"Obviously postpartum is very different for everybody, but for me not having the anxiety and the pressure to pump or breastfeed really, really helped me and my recovery," she says. "I feel like I bounced back as a mom a lot quicker than [had I been] sitting there on a pump all day. [In terms of her] mental health, I just feel like it really helped me recover and start the next chapter with all four of my kids in a better mindset... Just knowing that there was no pressure on me to not only be a mom to three [older kids], but also breastfeed and pump for another, I think it really helped. And just being a happier person right after I did deliver that fourth [baby]."

The Bobbie campaign — in which her kids also appear — resonated with her because of its message of not pressuring new moms (or in France's case, dads) to fixate solely on breastmilk. She still bristles when she recalls feeling "judged" after making it clear to the lactation consultants who visited her in the hospital after Tyler's birth that she was neither nursing nor pumping.

"I have a lot of friends who are becoming first-time moms and you can see the pressure they put on themselves," she adds. "It hurts to watch. You're already going through so much as a first-time parent... "

She says that "the conversation around formula needs to change" in order to "loosen the pressure a little bit on all these parents." Emphasizing that "fed is best" — whether that means supplementing with formula if necessary or being gentle with yourself if breastfeeding just isn't working out. (While both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend breastfeeding for nutrition and obesity prevention, they each offer guidelines for safe infant formula feeding, with the latter's site noting that "when needed, infant formulas can provide excellent nutrition for your baby.")

Since the campaign started airing last Sunday, Stafford says she's been inundated with messages from fans thanking her for sharing her story and speaking out against the formula stigma. That support — and her current mindset — makes it easier to work through her own feelings about her breastfeeding experience.

"I think I still feel guilty to this day a little bit," she admits. "I don't know if that's the stigma that's surrounds us, [the idea] that I'm not giving my child the best because I am [physically] able to produce... For my overall, stability, it was the right decision for me.

"There is a little guilt that goes into that, but I think what happened in my family's life after I stopped just outweighs the guilt that might come from that... It just made a huge difference when I stopped."