To the Mother who wanted to Breastfeed but Couldn’t
Over the years I have encountered four main types of mothers when it come to feeding. There are some that choose to breastfeed and do so successfully; there are some who would prefer to breastfeed but are okay if it doesn’t work out; there are others who have simply chosen not to breastfeed; and then there are those who desperately wanted to but it just didn’t happen. I wanted to take a moment to speak to this last group of people—the ones that wanted to but couldn’t—because I really feel for you right now.
As you are probably aware, this is world breastfeeding week. No doubt you’re seeing lots of breastfeeding related posts on social media celebrating the wonder of breastfeeding and cheering on those who are doing it. It’s a wonderful week and a fantastic thing to celebrate, but for you that are struggling, it is painful. You probably just want to tune out of it altogether. The reasons are obvious: you are aware of all the wonderful benefits to breastfeeding; you have resourced yourself with the knowledge and sought the right counsel; you gave it everything you had and probably fought really hard; but after all that effort, it just didn’t happen for you.
Firstly, I am so sorry. Becoming a Mother is hard enough. But then you add extra pressure to get this part right and it doesn’t work out the way you thought. More than that, you watch others do what you desperately want to do but can’t. We can say again and again, ‘Fed is Best’. But to someone who is aware of all that breastfeeding offers, sometimes these words just aren’t enough. The guilt and self-condemnation can be crippling. If this is you, can I offer some words of encouragement? First as a mother then as a midwife.
As a mother:
Almost every mother I have met who desperately wanted to but struggled with breastfeed, eventually made the decision to stop trying for reasons that were Selfless. I bet this is you too!
They were putting their baby’s needs before their own. That is, they wanted it to work so badly, but it wasn’t working for the baby, so they eventually stopped trying. The reasons for this struggle are numerous: the baby wasn’t putting on the weight it needed; it was extremely unsettled for unknown reasons; the stress of depleted milk supply was affecting the mother’s mental health and therefore her ability to bond with baby; constant mastitis meant she was too unwell to parent; or nipple damage was causing fear or even resentment of breastfeeding. Or maybe you were following the lead of your baby and they wanted to stop sooner than you did.
In every case, the mother had to compromise on something she really wanted for her and her baby’s wellbeing, and that is a painful decision. If this is you, can I say: You didn’t fail. You did what felt right, and no doubt it probably was exactly the right decision. Yes, breastfeeding is one of the most wonderful ways to promote a bond between mother and baby; but if it is actually obstructing that bond, how can stopping be wrong?
I realise this won’t lift the guilt and disappoint completely off you, but I hope you can feel encouraged in your pursuit of what was right for your family. Both your babies health and your own mental health. That takes courage.
As a midwife:
A successful breastfeeding journey can be affected by so many things. The very nature of your pregnancy or birth can create various interruptions to establishing a good milk supply. Different interventions, different medications, even I.V. fluids can create obstacles. A good debrief of your birth and post-partum experience may be very helpful in identifying problems encountered along the way. This can be difficult, however, because accessing that kind of post-birth support is not easy in a busy postnatal ward. More than that, there can be conflicting advice—I work there, I know. Every midwife I’ve worked with wishes they had more time to support you.
Again, you may have had a wonderful birth and baby latched on straight away, but the milk supply never got there. Alternatively, the attachment was never comfortable. There are SO many reasons for these issues. It doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t. And it’s not your fault that so many things got in the way.
If this has been your experience and you plan to have more children, can I encourage you to engage the services of a qualified lactation consultant (L.C). My qualifications as a midwife give me a level of understanding about this. I’ve lost count of the number mothers who’ve talked to me about not being able to breastfeed. Then when I’ve heard their birth and postpartum experience, I’ve identified several issues that have hindered breastfeeding. I can do this in part, but there comes a point where you need the expertise of an L.C. They can help debrief your previous experience and highlight things that may have been obstacles. With that knowledge, you can be better prepared for next time. Just knowing there was cause that you can fix next time can be liberating—it wasn’t your fault, you didn’t fail!
You can engage an L.C. privately, through your hospital, or through your child and family health nurse. Whichever way you do it, the point is there are resources and services available to you (some links below)
Don’t lose hope.
After all this, however, it still may not work out for you. It hurts, but you need to know that youare enough and continue to be enough, whether you breastfed or not. We will never do all the things we want or should do as parents. But I truly believe that an active and intentional desire to create a healthy, happy home gives you an intuition you should trust. How that looks is as unique as you are. But trust that you are enough. Well done, Mumma!!!
Services and Resources:
Breastfeeding Hotline 1800 mum2mum (1800 686268)
Child and Family Health-47510100 (request breastfeeding support)