When breastfeeding doesn't work out

By Cathy Garbin

Most mothers in Australia want to breastfeed their new baby. Sadly for many this doesn’t happen. Cathy Garbin, Lactation Consultant, looks at when it doesn't go as you planned.

The first 6-8 weeks of breastfeeding can be very challenging. Often once this initial period is over, breastfeeding becomes such an easy, satisfying and enjoyable way to feed your baby.

The challenges in those early days range from the mother not having enough milk to sore nipples and breasts, then sadly the ubiquitous problem of "everyone tells me something totally different, I'm so confused". This barrage of conflicting advice eats away at a mother’s confidence and leaves her doubting her ability to care for her new baby. It's truly a tragedy.

Often the challenges faced can be overcome with adequate support, knowledge and management. Providing the new family with evidenced-based information wherever possible and recognising that each mother and baby are an individual unit are the key to helping them navigate these challenging initial weeks.

However, no matter how hard some women try for some it just doesn't work out. Throughout time there have always been mothers who’s bodies cannot produce enough milk for their baby’s needs or for other reasons breastfeeding has just not worked. When experience has failed to meet expectations the situation can result in a grave personal sense of loss for the new mother. Emotions can include guilt, grief, frustration, sadness, disappointment, anger, resentment, loneliness, isolation and self-recrimination. The loss of a breastfeeding relationship is not well recognised in our society.

So society often fails to provide adequate support in this situation and the new mother is left isolated to grieve this loss all on her own. Family, friends and others around may not realise how devastating, heart wrenching and soul destroying this situation can be. It can help if feelings are expressed so the new mother can be helped to move through the grieving process.

It is important to recognize that sometimes there are cases where breastfeeding difficulties cannot be solved and that they are not the fault of the mother.

As a society we need to support and help these mothers work through their grieving process- acknowledging that for some breastfeeding doesn’t work. Experiencing, expressing and accepting these feelings are an important part of the healing process.

It is reassuring in these cases to recognise that any breastfeeding or any amount of breastmilk, however small it might be, is very valuable for both mother and baby. Helping her with closure on this issue by reflecting that she did everything possible and put in a huge effort is really important. It's love that is the most important thing for a new baby!

Seeking assistance as early as possible from an experienced lactation consultant can help with any breastfeeding problems. Good support from partners, other family members and all health professionals is essential.

When breastfeeding hasn’t gone as you expected it could be very helpful with subsequent pregnancies to seek the help of a lactation consultant. Together you can discuss the issues of the past and then develop a plan to help avoid previous pitfalls and feel supported and guided.

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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