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Looking at the emotions involved when a mother physically can not breastfeed

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the huge emotion attached when talking about a mother’s ability to breastfeed and I’d like to share my thoughts. Our breasts, like every part of our body are designed to perform a role. Our breasts are made to produce the milk our baby requires from the day they are born.


This isn’t an emotional statement, it is physiological fact and is no different to me stating that our heart is made to pump blood around our body, our lungs are made to oxygenate our blood, our eyes are made to see, our ears are made to hear, our legs are made to walk, our stomach is made to digest food …

Our breasts, like every part of our incredibly intricate human form, are there to perform a role.

Just like every other part of our body, for the majority of us, they will (with the correct information and support) work just as they should but also like every other part of our body, for some, they will not.

If you have issues with your heart, you will be referred to a cardiologist, if you have problems with your eyes, you will be referred to an optometrist and so on and so forth. A problem with a specific part of your body is always best handled by a professional who specialises in that area.

For our lactating breasts … the specialist is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. And yet, for some reason, when it comes to mothers who are facing challenges with their breasts while breastfeeding, the necessity of referring to a specialist is often overlooked in favour of a midwife, paediatrician, GP or Child Health Nurse sharing their no where near specialised opinion on the situation and all too often leading a mother further from finding out the root of her problem and almost always on to the path of formula.

Any discussion of formula is always filled with emotion.  
I think I am a getting a better grip on why.  
It’s not about having the choice, it’s not about breasts is best, fed is best, formula shaming or judging.  
It comes back to a mother and her feelings about her breasts and the way they perform the role they were made for.

Unlike when your heart isn’t working the way it should or maybe you have trouble hearing or walking, when your breasts are not working it affects someone other than you and that someone is the person you love more than life itself.

You can deal with your eye sight being poor or needing an operation to fix a dodgy part of bowel or seeing a neurologist to find out about migraines. You don’t fill up with guilt and shame and emotion over these other parts of your body misfiring. But, maybe this is because they are parts that only you need to rely on directly.

Your breasts and also your uterus are two parts that have everything to do with those you love the most or dream of having one day.  
The thought that they may not perform or are not able to perform the role they are meant to do has consequences outside of you.  
And that’s what I think has created the firestorm of emotion on this topic.  
On top of it all, this occurs in the immediate postpartum period while there is an incredible cocktail of hormones raging along with huge emotions and above all, LOVE. Complete and utter devotion.

How can a mother who so desperately wanted to breastfeed her baby ever come to happy terms with the fact that her body has a problem preventing her from doing so?

This is an enormous piece of this heartbreaking pie.

For some mothers, it is simply a fact that they will not be able to produce the milk their baby needs from their breasts. Whether that means they can produce none at all or whether they can not produce enough is another thing.

These mothers, are however the minority. Being the minority does not diminish their experience just as the minority of the population who require open heart surgery are no less human or of value than the majority who have not.

I fear though, that while everyone in this heavily emotional conversation is trying to be heard, the thing that ends up losing out is the truth.

Breastfeeding is the biological normal way for a human to be fed.  
A human infant is meant to be fed human milk.  
The majority of mothers who receive timely up to date information and support can breastfeed.  
Mothers who are experiencing difficulty breastfeeding should have access to a specialist breastfeeding professional- an IBCLC.  
We need an understanding also that not all problems stem from the mother’s ability to produce enough milk. A baby having difficulty removing milk effectively may well be the issue but as time goes on, the very nature of how a mother’s body knows how much milk to produce-supply and demand will mean that though the problem is actually the baby having difficulty, it will end up appearing to also be a supply issue.

Supplementing with a wet nurse, donor milk or formula or even completely feeding with a wet nurse, donor milk or formula are absolutely necessary for some mothers and babies for part or all of their breastfeeding journey.

Knowing exactly what has caused her breasts to have problems should be something every mother who has had difficulty has the right to find out.  
Understanding the physiological barrier is so important so that mother can fully understand HER truth, her experience and her feelings and emotions around it.  
This will enable more mothers to be able to come to this discussion being able to place themselves in context with the big picture.  
Being able to breastfeed your baby does not determine your worth any more than having perfect 20/20 vision or lungs that breathe at full capacity.  
It is something we are made to do.  
If you can’t, it in no way makes you any less human.  
You are unique and as flawed as every other body in this world.

I’d love to hear more people’s thoughts on this.

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One thought on “Looking at the emotions involved when a mother physically can not breastfeed

  1. I have a problem with my ability to feed my baby. We have to supplement c. 50% of his intake with formula. There are a few factors that may have contributed (e.g. His tongue tie) but ultimately I’ll never know why. I feel totally devastated by it. It’s like I’m not a proper mum or a real woman. I can’t seem to get over it and I fear it’s tainting what is such a special and fleeting time. I know I need to somehow let it go, to stop the crying, to stop feeling like I’ve been stabbed in the heart every time my beautiful son rejects me in favour of the reliably fast flow of a bottle. But I don’t know how.

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