With research supporting breastfeeding, it’s easy to feel guilty if you can’t or decide not to. If you feel guilty for not breastfeeding, don’t. Here’s why:
Many moms wanted to breastfeed their babies. They may have even breastfed their older kids, but this time around seems much harder. They have more kids to contend with. Their supply is low. They may have health issues. They’re stressed.
They’ve tried pumping, but that has brought on more hassles, from waking up at odd hours to the extra time to pump. Or maybe they’re not able to breastfeed as long as they did with their older kids, or as long as they expected to.
Nothing seems to work, and they feel guilty for not breastfeeding. Especially when their older kids got the benefit of breast milk.
But you’re not at fault for circumstances that have thwarted your original plans. And while it’s normal and even expected to feel guilty, it’s not healthy to do so.
Why you shouldn’t feel guilty for not breastfeeding
Despite a difficult first month, I managed to breastfeed my eldest for a year—just as I had planned.
With the twins, plans didn’t work out as I hoped. They were born prematurely, and my priorities lay in helping them gain weight. From the first day, one of my twins got formula, with his brother following suit a few days later.
And that had been the pattern for four months, where I breastfed with the occasional formula.
Then I got hit with thrush. My supply tanked, and I was miserable and in pain. My body was making enough milk for one, not two. So from then until they turned a year old, I was giving half breastmilk with half formula.
Not what I did with their older brother, but I didn’t let guilt fester in my mind. And here’s why:
You’re not a bad mom. Or a martyr.
We have the Ideal Mom planted in our heads. And if we don’t meet her expectations, we feel guilty for not breastfeeding and falling short. Except Ideal Mom doesn’t exist.
Your breastfeeding capabilities, desires and circumstances speak nothing of the mom you are. You’re not a terrible mom because you don’t breastfeed—whether it’s your choice or not.
You’re also not a better mom because you breastfed. Or a martyr because you did despite putting yourself through miserable circumstances.
Bottom line: You didn’t fail because your plans didn’t work out as hoped for.
You’re adding unnecessary stress.
Surviving the newborn stage isn’t exactly the most peaceful time in a parent’s life. Imagine piling on extra stress and guilt because you aren’t able to breastfeed.
Accept what is, including your choice not to continue breastfeeding. The initial discomfort of breastfeeding should be just that: uncomfortable. Not agonizing. If you’re spent and in pain trying to breastfeed, you may just be causing yourself more harm than good. And when mom isn’t happy, neither is baby.
Breastmilk is… overrated?
In 2009, an article came out suggesting that breast milk isn’t all it’s hyped up to be. It describes how the perceived benefits of breastfeeding have been exaggerated. That the benefits are related to the type of parent who breastfeed, than the breast milk itself. And that the benefit to breastfeeding isn’t the looming gap we all assume.
It argues a formula-fed baby will likely grow up just as healthy and fine as a breastfed baby. Especially growing up with the same parents.
I still believe breastfeeding provides many health and financial benefits. That was a main motivator for me to keep going. But if you’re miserable, in pain, and in extra stress, those benefits may not be worth it.
Enjoy the time you do have with your baby.
After unsuccessfully trying to latch on, many moms turn to exclusively pumping breast milk. The problem? Pumping is time consuming.
First, pumping isn’t as efficient as a baby. You don’t collect the same amount of milk as a baby given the same time. Then once you’ve pumped for 20 minutes, you (or someone else) have to feed the baby. It’s no wonder few women enjoy pumping.
If you decide to stop pumping or breastfeeding, don’t let that guilt fester in. Instead of feeling guilty for not breastfeeding, enjoy your new found time with the baby. Rest. Focus on the gains, not the guilt.
Feeling guilty about what could’ve been negates the time you could be spending in a positive way. Your baby needs you to feel positive and happy, not miserable or guilty.
You tried and did your best.
I’m not one for quitting. Growing up, I wish my parents didn’t let me quit so many of my activities: ballet, piano, art. I felt like I had quit too early.
And if you’re like me, you sometimes compensate by trying, for a long time. But it can come at the expense of not knowing when the returns negatively outweigh the effort. When it’s just not working.
Do your best. Make a list of the ways to continue breastfeeding, or the remedies to help the issue. Some turn to lactation consultants for guidance, or to herbal remedies for supply. Some find better pumps, and others research nursing pillows to keep them comfortable.
Many of these work, but many also don’t. And when you can tell yourself you’ve tried, then stop, knowing you did your best. Guilt can’t poison your mind when you did all you can given the circumstances and knowledge you had.
So, in the words of Frozen… Let it go. And be at peace with it.
What’s your end goal?
What’s your end goal with breastfeeding? Yes, you want the health benefits. You want to save money. You want to bond with your child.
But taken as a bigger picture, your end goal probably looks something like this: To raise my baby in the best way I know how.
The end goal isn’t to increase your child’s IQ scores, or to lower her chances of developing asthma. It’s to raise your child, and to love her.
Should you feel guilty for not breastfeeding? Absolutely not. Breastfeeding isn’t the only way to love your child and provide your best.
Remember that when the guilt starts creeping in. When you feel bad for not breastfeeding. Or for cutting it shorter than you planned, or because you breastfed your other kids but not this one.
Don’t feel guilty about not breastfeeding. You love your baby, no matter what. Breastfed or not.
Get more tips:
- Mom Guilt: 5 Reasons Moms Shouldn’t Blame Themselves for Everything
- Parenting Tip: Be More Carefree
- How I Failed as a Mom… and Why It Wasn’t as Bad as I Thought
- Why Motherhood Is Hard for You
- How to Wean from Breastfeeding
Your turn: Have you felt guilty for not breastfeeding your kids? How much did you follow your “plan” to breastfeed and how much did it go the other way? Share in the comments!
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