The Guilt of Not Being Able to Breastfeed

May 2, 2018

There are guidelines women are supposed to follow starting from the very minute they find out they’re pregnant. But following these guidelines implies making a slew of very difficult decisions. There is so much that women have to think about when they become mothers; it’s a new and exciting world.  One of those big decisions: whether to breastfeed or not.

Each woman has her own reasons for choosing breastfeeding or formula. On one side are women who are for breastfeeding, and on the other side are women who can’t or don’t want to do it.

We aren’t trying to start a debate about breast milk vs. formula. Instead, the goal of this article is to talk about the guilt that new mothers feel when they aren’t able to breastfeed, for whatever reason. We’re talking about mothers who were committed to breastfeeding, but aren’t able.

guilt about whether to breastfeed.

Feeling guilty about not being able to breastfeed

There are various medical reasons that support the decision not to breastfeed. For example, if a woman has certain illnesses, low milk production, and painful mastitis, among others. These situations have important psychological effects because two powerful ideas come into conflict. Those are:

  • the innate need of a mother to feed her baby
  • the impossibility of doing so naturally

If you translate this into real life, you see situations of absolute frustration. There is the baby crying out of hunger, and the desperate mother trying everything to feed her baby. This is a case of breastfeeding that just isn’t working, for whatever reason.

One day a mother told me that she was scared every time she had to breastfeed her son. She produced plenty of milk, but she had superficial injuries that prevented good suction. The baby had a hard time getting a good latch, and she also had trouble using a breast pump.

Her suffering and pain was so bad that she asked herself once, “but why do I have to feed you?” Her nipples were cracked, bleeding, and burned constantly. Even her shirt brushing against them was painful. In spite of these difficulties, many mothers feel attacked if they don’t want to continue. A midwife even told her, “Well, if you’ve already gotten tired of it…”

Breast pain.

When is it time to give up on breastfeeding?

Really, is it truly necessary? In my opinion, no. The stress and frustration that a mother in this situation is transmitting to her child is worse than depriving it of any benefits inherent to breast milk.

In the first months of a baby’s life, feeding time is bonding time. It’s a moment of connection that has emotional benefits for both the mother and the baby. But if there’s pain, it can have the opposite effect.

If a mother ends up here and decides to quit breastfeeding, the next decision is to choose the best milk possible. Formula is completely safe, and doesn’t carry any kind of risk for the baby. A pediatrician is the best person to give parents advice in this situation.

bottle feeding

Breastfeeding is an option, not an obligation

It’s true that breastfeeding encourages emotional bonding between a mother and her baby. However, research shows that not doing so won’t prevent the bond from forming.

You know something is wrong in a society where a woman feels judged as a failure for not being able to breastfeed. And even worse, that others make her feel that way. The message they should be getting is: “you’re doing just fine, the important thing is that you be happy so you can spread your peace to your baby.”

In any case, no one should attack any woman for her decision, as long as the baby is safe. Mothers should support each other regardless of their decisions about breastfeeding. Each woman is in her own unique situation.

To those women I don’t know, you truly shouldn’t feel bad for choosing to bottle feed your baby. I promise you that your experience as a mother isn’t going to be inferior. You won’t be less of a mother. You are going to give your baby everything they need, and you will be able to offer all of the emotional support your baby needs when it’s time to eat.