Disadvantages of Breastfeeding: Why Breast Isn't Always Best
As a Lactation Consultant and mama of five, I will be the first to say that Breastfeeding Isn’t Always Best.
There - I said it.
So can we challenge the stigma and end the shame and guilt that countless of mothers experience who choose NOT to breastfeed?
Yes - there are numerous benefits for breastfeeding your baby; I am not here to argue that. But on the same note, it’s important to take an honest look at some of the potential disadvantages of breastfeeding.
There is so much more involved in a mother’s decision to breastfeed her baby, aside from doing it based on the idea that this is what women are supposed to do. There is a wrong assumption that women are obligated to breastfeed no matter what because this is the only best way to care for babies.
I am here to challenge this rhetoric and say that this could NOT be further from the truth.
The problem with this belief is that it creates an enormous sense of guilt and shame for mothers who either can’t or decide not to breastfeed their babies. The truth is that breastfeeding is not what makes you a good mother, and choosing not to breastfeed doesn’t make you a bad mother.
Can we just acknowledge that we are all doing the best we can to care for our babies? This motherhood gig is hard enough as it is without the added pressure, guilt and shame that comes with every decision we make, including how we feed our babies.
When Breastfeeding Isn’t Always Best
As a Lactation Consultant, there have definitely been times where I have recommended that a new mama does NOT breastfeed. After all, a woman is more than how she feeds her baby, and it is important to take all aspects of her life and well-being into consideration when it comes to an individual infant feeding plan. There are a myriad of social, physical, familial and psychological factors that go into a breastfeeding relationship that must be considered.
Does breastfeeding promote and align with supporting the mother-baby dyad in all of these aspects?
Because in many situations, this may not be the case. In fact, some women can find that breastfeeding triggers or further contributes to stress, or even more severe maternal mental health issues, such as postpartum anxiety and/or depression.
Other situations where breastfeeding could be more challenging for a new mother might include:
Chronic physical/medical illness
Long-term use of certain medications
Experience of birth trauma during labor and delivery
History of sexual trauma or abuse
Prolonged separation from baby
History of or existing mental illness, such as postpartum depression or anxiety
Breastfeeding and Postpartum Depression
In other situations, breastfeeding may not be conducive to mental health or is something that is realistically doable for a mother who is already struggling with mental health issues. Sometimes a mother who’s encountering various challenges in her attempt to breastfeed may feel like her and her baby are better off when feeding doesn’t feel like such a struggle.
In fact, research has found that women who planned to breastfeed their babies but didn’t were twice as likely to suffer from postpartum depression as mothers who decide in advance to use formula.
What does this tell us? There are very real consequences when women have unrealistic expectations about breastfeeding. Mothers especially, may feel devastated and overwhelmed with guilt when unable to meet the arbitrary standards our society has created that don’t take individual needs into account.
There are many situations I can think of where breastfeeding wasn’t always the best choice for both the mother and baby, and it is important that we begin to challenge this belief in support of mamas everywhere.
It is also critical that women who do want to breastfeed can access the resources and support they need; but also, that compassionate support is provided for women who had intended to breastfeed, but who find themselves unable to, whatever the reason.
You Are a Good Mom
If you are a mama who has made the decision not to breastfeed or couldn’t breastfeed your baby, guess what? You are still a good mom. You are a good enough mom exactly as you are, and you need to make choices that support your family as a whole - you included.
How you feed your baby is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and it is important to take the unique and individual needs of you and your baby into account to decide what is right for you both.
Whether this means supplementing with formula, combination feeding, occasionally offering a bottle, fully formula feeding or anything in between - you should never feel ashamed or guilty for how you feed and care for your baby.
The bottom line is that you do care.
You love your child, and that is what makes you an amazing mom, regardless of how you feed your baby. Don’t ever let anyone convince you otherwise.
*Disclaimer: While I am an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) in the United States, the information shared on this topic should not be construed as medical advice. In order to best identify an individualized breastfeeding care plan for you and your baby, please contact a local IBCLC. In addition, any medical and health concerns about you or your baby should be discussed with your health care providers. Information online should not replace in person assistance from your own IBCLC and health care professionals.