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When Breastfeeding doesn't work out – Beating the Guilt

Updated: Aug 10

It’s natural, they said. It’s best for your baby, they said. It will be the most wonderful bonding experience, they said.

So why do you feel an emotional wreck, exhausted and with damaged and really painful nipples? You’d take labour pain again over this. You’re feeding all day and all night without so much as a break long enough to empty your bladder. You’re worried you don’t have enough milk. Your baby fusses and pulls away from your breast every time you try to breastfeed and you’re starting to feel like he doesn’t like you. Or perhaps you feel that you really don’t enjoy the sensations of breastfeeding but feel ashamed to be feeling this way. You want to feel differently but it just doesn’t feel right for you. You’ve asked multiple people for help but nothing seems to really help.

You’re exhausted. Beaten.

You are not a failure

Parenting is one of the toughest jobs. Ever. You’re making multiple judgement calls with a new baby – every hour of every day. When to feed, when to change, how to settle him and where he will sleep, what to have for dinner yourself, appointments to fit in, time to rest (ha!), keeping the house in some kind of liveable order and this is just in one day! It’s a constant juggling act that requires superhuman powers at the best of times!

You need to make the choices that feel right for you and your baby. But when feeding choices turn out to be very different to what you had anticipated, that’s when guilt, frustration, disappointment and even envy for others starts to set in. Yes, breastfeeding is the most natural way to feed your baby but sometimes, for some mums, their breastfeeding experience is one challenge followed by another.

Whether your breasts are physically unable to make enough milk for your baby or your baby has significant difficulty in latching, feeling unable to satisfy your baby with each breastfeed is a demoralising challenge that becomes all consuming and may necessitate your decision to supplement with formula. This does not make you a failure. It makes you a mum who’s brave enough to make some tough calls when you really didn’t want to.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing

When you’ve done everything you possibly can, dedicating yourself to feeding and pumping, pumping and feeding, but your breasts still don’t seem to make enough milk it can feel you’ve come to the end of the road – physically and emotionally. It doesn’t seem fair. But it doesn’t have to mean you should give up on breastfeeding altogether.

Any amount of breastmilk you can provide for your baby is a precious gift of health and wellbeing. Many mums think they don’t have enough milk when in fact they do. Your low milk supply may be circumstantial due to poor attachment, stress and tiredness, conflicting information across multiple health practitioners and loss of confidence. A session with a lactation consultant may help you to understand the cause of your feeding concerns and help you make a plan to restore your milk supply.

If your breasts aren’t making enough milk to satisfy your baby at every feed you can still be very proud of the milk you can give your baby. Breastfeeding is so much more than providing milk. It provides comfort when your baby is tired, immunity protection when your baby is unwell, and a sense of security when your baby is unsettled. Breastfeeding also helps shape baby’s palate for good speech development, teeth spacing, jaw development and so much more!

Even if there is just one breastfeed in the day that feels enjoyable for you, try to embrace this feed as your special time with your baby. Your breasts are usually fullest first thing in the morning and this is the feed that is often the most calm and satisfying for both mum and baby. Breastfeeding with a low milk supply will look so different to what you had hoped for yet needing to give your baby Expressed Breast Milk (EBM) and / or formula with many or all feeds does not automatically write off your ability to breastfeed at all. EBM and formula can be given at the breast via a supplemental nursing system (SNS) or supply line – a slightly fiddly option but it means you get to enjoy the connection that breastfeeding brings whilst enabling your baby a satisfying feed at the breast. Perhaps bottle feeding is a better choice for you? Giving bottle feeds doesn’t have to mean that your baby can no longer have breast contact. Consider alternating from your breast to the bottle throughout each feed.

Expressing your milk takes much time and energy both physically and emotionally and if you’re unable to express enough milk for your baby’s needs this can exacerbate your feelings of inadequacy. Consider asking a friend or donor to donate some EBM for a short time whilst you work out your baby’s feeding needs. The feelings of guilt surrounding giving your baby formula