Feeling Guilty for Not Breastfeeding

By Krista Gray, IBCLC. Last updated July 28, 2017.

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Mother Bottle Feeding a BabyOccasionally I receive notes from mothers who were unable to breastfeed for one reason or another and they read the material about breastfeeding on Nursing Nurture and feel hurt, sad, or battered…as if they have failed in parenting.  They wonder why I would post so many documented benefits to breastfeeding and harms to alternatives since many moms have had a difficult journey and this research and information only makes them feel worse.

It is absolutely not my intention to make a mom feel less of a mom, as if she has failed, or beaten up by reading the pages of Nursing Nurture.  There are many aspects to parenting, and feeding babies is just one.  How a mom feeds her baby does not have to impact the love she has for this new life she is blessed with, the bond she is able to forge, or the completeness she feels as a mother.

At the same time, while feeding babies is only one aspect of parenting, it is important.  And there is a lot of misinformation as well as lack of information in our culture.  Most medical professionals, who should know and encourage what is best, are not trained in breastfeeding while much of their education has received funding from formula companies.  And while there truly are some women who simply cannot produce enough milk to feed their babies, this number is quite low (1-5% of the population).  The vast majority can breastfeed, with proper support!!

Breast milk and formula are not two nearly-the-same choices to feed a baby. In fact, the World Health Organization lists options for feeding babies in this order:

  1. Breastfeeding at breast
  2. Mother’s expressed milk in cup, bottle, etc.
  3. Donor breast milk
  4. Formula

Most parents want to do what is best for their baby, or as close to it as possible.  In fact, I have never met a parent that wants their child to have the fourth best option in anything – whether it’s food, sports, clothing, friendships, or something else.  Yet, everyday, moms are having to settle for fourth best when it comes to feeding their babies.  There is a systemic problem:  many medical professionals either don’t support breastfeeding or don’t know how to give good support; IBCLC Lactation Consultants are not always available in a mother’s community; our culture tells moms it is more acceptable to pay 20-fold (or more) in formula feeding costs rather than seeing a lactation consultant and making breastfeeding work; and, there is not nearly enough donated human milk when a mother truly can’t breastfeed.

It seems to me that most mothers have gotten the message that “breast is best.”  Most mothers initiate breastfeeding.  But, by 6 months when babies should still be exclusively breastfed, the vast majority (78% in America) 1 have introduced formula. What has happened?  There’s a lack of support and help for breastfeeding mothers.  Our society doesn’t value qualified lactation help enough to cover it on most insurance policies either.  And our maternity leave laws barely allow time for mom and baby to establish a breastfeeding relationship, before mom is expected to return to work full-time. So moms are left to do what is natural and normal – but not always easy – all alone. And when they fail, and feel guilty, it seems easiest to hate the messenger.

It is not my intention to hurt any mom’s feelings or make her feel defeated.  On the contrary, I value motherhood and babies so much I have a passion to share breastfeeding research and help women become informed and supported.  Mothers have a right to feel sad, hurt, or mad when they learn the true uniqueness of breast milk and just how important it is.  Women should be outraged by a system that has failed them.  They should not beat themselves up and feel guilty. . . it is not their fault they didn’t succeed at breastfeeding.  It was a failure of the system to share information to make an informed choice as well as support her with breastfeeding problems and challenges.  Who is even responsible – in our current system – to provide breastfeeding support?  The obstetricians claim it is the pediatrician’s responsibility and the pediatrician sees babies – not mothers…and especially not mothers’ nipples.  Those women lucky enough to have a midwife will at least have someone who is usually supportive of breastfeeding, though not necessarily more knowledgeable than any other breastfeeding mother.

It is my hope that if you were not able to breastfeed your child, you wouldn’t feel guilty or as less of a mom because you have read this site.  Rather, that you would feel  empowered so that if there is a “next time” you can nurse your child with success and share this information with others so they may succeed as well. Not only that, it is my hope that we as a society would value breastfeeding so much that any baby who couldn’t receive his own mother’s milk would have plenty of donor milk to drink.

Show 1 footnote

  1. CDC Breastfeeding Report Card 2013.http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/pdf/2016breastfeedingreportcard.pdf