When Breastfeeding Does Not Go as Planned
“After weeks of crying more than my newborn, I made the choice to switch to formula. I am consumed with guilt! The message that “breast is best” is EVERYWHERE.”
“I feel like I am not a good mother. I wanted to exclusively breastfeed this baby and now I have to supplement with formula.”
“I feel like I have failed as a mom because I couldn’t stand the pain of breastfeeding any longer. I feel guilty and heartbroken. I really wanted to breastfeed.”
Our hearts go out to these mothers.
Sometimes, despite her best efforts, a mother may need to supplement with formula. Others discontinue breastfeeding altogether after weeks of struggling.
How do women who were intent on breastfeeding end up in this situation? It may be due an issue that is beyond a mother’s control.
Mothers may be given incorrect advice from friends, family members or perhaps even from those in the medical community. Women may not always have access to qualified support and information at the time they need it.
Women with certain underlying medical conditions may develop a less than full supply. (You can read more here.)
Babies can also have underlying issues that make it difficult to extract milk from the breast or to stimulate milk supply (e.g., medical conditions, the anatomy of the baby’s mouth, prematurity).
Other women for personal reasons may decide that breastfeeding is not for them.
We recently worked with ‘Nikki’ who, despite weeks of hard work, was unable to exclusively breastfeed her baby. She told us this made her feel guilty, like she was “not a good mother”.
What is the definition of a “good mother”? It absolutely has to be more than how a mother feeds her baby. Did Nikki love her baby? Of course. Was she doing her very best? Of course she was.
Is there a way to prevent Nikki from feeling guilty? There would be no guilt if Nikki did not know why breastfeeding is important. Does this mean that health care professionals should stop educating? Seems illogical.
We believe it is our job to deliver evidence-based health information. The timing of the delivery of this information, however, is very important. Information about the importance of breastfeeding and the risks of formula is meant to be delivered when women are requiring or requesting feeding information. For women like Nikki, reading this information after breastfeeding has not gone as planned may stir up further feelings of disappointment and guilt.
As Lactation Consultants, we want to be there for moms when breastfeeding does not go as planned. We want to say:
“Let’s celebrate the breast milk your baby received.”
“Sometimes things happen that are beyond your control”.
Everyone’s experience is different. No two journeys are the same. If you are struggling with guilt, please know that we respect you and the choices you have made for your family, no matter how you feed your baby!
In the word of other mothers:
“Do what is best for you and your baby. Guilt has no place in parenting… Enjoy your baby and be proud of your ability as a mother.”
“Surround yourself with people who care about you. Take in what is helpful and supportive and ignore the rest.”
“It’s OK to feel sad if you have to give up nursing. Accept that you did your best and get on with the business of parenting.”
About the authors:
Cindy and Jana are Registered Nurses and International Board Certified Lactation Consultants who have assisted over 20,000 families.
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