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Avoiding Breastfeeding Guilt

By Molly Thornberg |

avoiding breastfeeding guilt

Don’t Feel Guilty if You Can’t Breastfeed!

Not breastfeeding my first child was not my choice. Nor was it the case with my second or third. As much as I tried, breastfeeding just does NOT work for me.

These boobs don’t make the milk that my babies need to survive. So yes, I have 3 healthy children raised on formula.

With my first child, I was gung-ho on breast is best. The doctors, nurses and friends had brainwashed me into thinking breastfeeding being the only way you fed a child the first year of his or her life. My daughter arrived a wee 6lbs 1 oz. She was tiny. The nurse presented her to me, insisted that I start breastfeeding immediately. Not knowing what I was doing, she grabbed my breast, showed me what was up – and I thought all was peachy.


Fast forward to my daughter’s 2 weeks check-up. She wasn’t up to her birth weight yet, the doctor called in a lactation specialist and I was put on a strict diet with herbs to increase my breast milk. My baby wasn’t gaining weight. I returned at the 1 month check-up to be told, she was failure to thrive if I didn’t change to formula. I instantly felt like a loser. I couldn’t even feed my own child. What type of mother was I to feed my child FORMULA? Hello, breastfeeding GUILT.

After birthing my second child, I explained to the nurses at the hospital my situation with my first and challenges breastfeeding. It was as if she didn’t hear me. A lactation specialist was called in, I was hooked up to a hospital grade pump, and BOO-YA – proven. I wasn’t producing much of anything.

By the third go around, I had relaxed enough to explain that while I was happy to feed my child whatever I had, it wouldn’t be enough. Again, the breastfeeding police charged in and explained how breast is best. It took a stern conversation involving my husband for the nursery to understand my child would need to be supplemented.

After experiencing the misunderstanding of the breastfeeding police, I’ve learned that avoiding breastfeeding guilt is hard to do. While most experience challenges with latching, positioning and sleep – it’s not explained nearly enough that you may just not be able to breastfeed. On top of that, there needs further explanation that if you aren’t able to or choose not to breastfeed - your child WILL survive. You can still raise a healthy child on formula. I have 3 children to prove it.

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If You Didn’t Breastfeed, Did You Feel Guilty?

Babble Asks: Do Moms need more Breastfeeding Support?

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About Molly Thornberg


Molly Thornberg

Molly Thornberg is a wife and mother of four. She worked in web design and social media marketing before quitting to pursue blogging full time. On Digital Mom Blog, Molly shares "geeky" DIY projects, discusses the latest technology news, and talks about her life as a parent. Read bio and latest posts → Read Molly's latest posts →

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16 thoughts on “Avoiding Breastfeeding Guilt

  1. Catherine says:

    Great piece. Thanks for this! I am a 100% confident formula feeding mom, but the belligerent, judgmental “breast is best” folks out there do get under my skin sometimes. Stories like this help, though! Keep them coming! :-)

  2. Ann says:

    come on now….you can admit it, you were paid by Similac to write that! LOL. You are able to make breastmilk, 98 % of ALL women are!!! Your breasts are fine, you just obviously are unwilling to learn how to breastfeed your child. Once you decide your body is inadequet, so be it! Breasts dont make milk for pumps silly, they make them for babies, no one in their right mind would decide if you were making enough milk by what a pump was getting. Who are the Breastfeeding Police? I cant find them anywhere BOO – YA. STRICT HERBAL DIET ?!? what is that and what kind of doc puts a nursing mother on an herbal diet, now there is an herb supplement (fennelgreek, I think) that some take to increase your milk supply. You are confused, uneducated and lashing out at others because of your own inablilities. However I have formula fed baby who is all grown up and absolutely wonderful and I have 3 breastfed babies, also wonderful. I am just so grateful to the women who stuck by me to teach me how to provide for my children, oh I know, maybe they were the police, I didnt see any badges though, just hard working dedicated mothers.

  3. Ann says:

    come on now moderator…

    “Babble is a supportive, diverse community. We encourage a range of opinions,
    but any unduly hostile comments will be removed”

    do not deny my comment because it is contrary.

    Comments are delayed up to 15 minutes, its been 22….tap tap tap…..

  4. Louise says:

    Thank you for this post! So happy to read from another perspective other than “breastfeeding is the way, the truth and the light.”

  5. sarah says:

    Thank you, Ann, for illustrating what this post is talking about as far as the mean, baseless, judgy comments and guilt trips the author has probably received from people who don’t know the whole story and don’t care to.
    Another possible reaction to this would be: Wow! You tried to breastfeed not once, but 3 times, and when you realized that for whatever reason it wasn’t working each time, you switched to formula so your babies could be fed and grow up to be happy and healthy! You’re a great example of a good mom who adapted as needed to make sure her babies were provided for, and thank you for sharing your story.

  6. AnnieM says:

    Although I breastfed 3 children, I do fully support any mom’s INFORMED decision to feed their baby artificial baby milk, aka “formula”. I find it very hard to believe, as a nurse in a hospital, that anyone would not respect your decision to do that. I can tell you without a doubt that we don’t have ANYONE acting like ‘breastfeeding police’ on our OB unit. We support mom’s in any decision whether breast or bottle; and the lactation consultants are only called in to a mom’s room [by request] who are BREASTFEEDING.
    If any hospital staff acted the way you describe, I would be immediately asking to speak to the nurse manager, which I would highly recommend one do if that ever happens to you.

  7. Laura says:

    Honestly, I’m a breastfeeding mother and I’m getting tired of the hardline crowd. Just like vegetarianism is great, but hardline vegans are intolerable, so many people are taking something good and healthy and turning it into guilt-tripping perfectionism.

    Your kids are alive and healthy. That’s what counts. Thank whoever you want that you had the option of formula. Even this “Ann” admits 2% of women can’t produce enough milk to support an infant, and that doesn’t make you a bad mother.

    Boob is best, but formula is fine.

  8. Polly Kocher says:

    I “think” I am a card carrying member of the breastfeeding police….having said that, I DO love breastfeeding and believe in it wholeheartedly. The worst situation I can encounter is a case when a mom cannot produce milk. THE WORST! I suggest that your writer feel regret, not guilt. You wanted to breastfeed–you tried to breastfeed–you sought help. If ytour breasts functioned as expected, you would have breastfed.
    Look at it this way…. if you meet a person whose kidneys don’t work, you may feel regret that they have to artificially filter thier blood. But, I doubt that the dialysis person feels guilty that they cannot ‘do it’ the natural way.
    I encourage this type of venting though, so I can say my piece about the regret vs. guilt thing. Am I on the right track?
    Polly–BS in Maternal Child Health and Board Certified Lactaiton Consultant.

  9. LK says:

    Man. I am sooo sick of the breastfeeding police and the judgmental commenters on Babble, especially surrounding this issue. Who F-ing Cares!! Seriously. Feed your babies in the way that works best for you and your family, love them, care for them, realize that not everyone else lives the same life as you do, stop making assumptions, and respect others’ decisions. Live and let live. It’s none of your business. Stop feeling “badly” for women who can’t breastfeed, and just try to support those around you in the decisions that they make. The guilt-tripping and sanctimonious BS that gets flung around this issue is just insane. Here is a textbook example from the lovely Ann, who is so amazingly perceptive and clearly knows exactly what this author was going through:
    “Your breasts are fine, you just obviously are unwilling to learn how to breastfeed your child. Once you decide your body is inadequet, so be it! Breasts dont make milk for pumps silly, they make them for babies, no one in their right mind would decide if you were making enough milk by what a pump was getting.”
    Yes, silly, you’re an idiot and even though you’ve had three children, you obviously have no idea what you’re doing. Ugh. It seriously makes me want to stop visiting these blogs. Maybe it’s time to cut myself off.
    But, as for the post itself, I completely understand where you’re coming from, but I guess I feel like everyone should maybe stop all the explaining and justifying around this issue. It seems like it never fails to bring out the nastiness in so many people. I’ve come to the belief that this really should be a non-issue from the standpoint of this website and bloggers. The only place it should be an issue is in the public policy realm, by advocating for governments to adopt policies that educate, facilitate, and encourage women to breastfeed – particularly for low income and minority women where the rates are especially low. Each individual woman’s personal decision should just be entirely left alone and not put up for examination or debate.

  10. Ann says:

    When a mom tells the staff after delivering her baby that she wants to very much breastfeed, that she has had trouble before with low milk supply that means ” RALLY THE WAGONS LADIES, LETS GET THIS MILK SUPPLY UP!” So, the ob nurse may say, feed frequently, hourly if you can tolerate it, it encourages your milk supply, the lactation specialist will bring a breast pump to use before, after and in between feeding to encourage supply. Someone may suggest an herbal supplement, shields will be offered all kinds of nifty devices, everyone will encourage the mom to keep at it that she can do it. If all else fails and supply stays low you can supplement for babys optimal health. Baby Doc will hopefully come up with a care plan on how to feed with both the breast and the bottle and not overfeed, with careful watching of output and weight.
    When mom tells staff after delivering, I don’t want to breastfeed. It is not for me. Guess what, everyone leaves you alone. No one will bring a pump or offer a shield, you made yourself clear.
    I am truly sorry you feel guilt. There is really no reason for it, your children are beautiful beyond compare and Im pretty sure you’re an attentive and caring mother. What I really disagree with is that this article promotes the responsibility for your guilt onto the women doing their jobs. They are not the breastfeeding police that seek you out to dump their issues on you. They are not bad or cruel or mean or evil. They were being supportive and attentive. When you told them your body was not functioning properly they were doing everything they were trained to do to make it better. Instead of embracing it and going with the flow (pun intended) you sent your husband to set them straight. You internalized and put a negative twist to everything that was done to help you, instead of feeling guilt for not breastfeeding your baby, which is not justified, I think there should be regret on your part for placing blame on those who don’t deserve it.

  11. sara mcgrath, seattle breastfeeding examiner says:

    I do truly wish that no one felt guilty when circumstances result in not breastfeeding. Nothing good comes from guilt. However, I also wish that lactation consultants and breastfeeding advocates were left out of this type of discussion. Guilt arises from within when the mother doesn’t meet her own hopes or expectations. She may feel even more guilty in the presence of these others, but they’re not to blame and don’t deserve the negativity.

  12. Nicole says:

    Is it too late to comment? It’s interesting to me that Ann still has to put her own twist on the author’s words… I too had many difficulties breast feeding 4 different babies. I thank god there was something available to me to supplement and eventually feed my kids. I held off for weeks on using formula: enduring mastitis multiple times, blisters on my nipples, a yeast infection giving my daughter thrush, and feeling like a huge failure check up after check up as my daughter lost weight and truly believing she didn’t like me. The whole time I chastised myself in my head– my mother had done it, my stupid sister in law did it, what was wrong with me? It wasn’t until my husband talked to his brother and he revealed how much better their lives were once his wife had weaned their daughter, that I allowed myself to even consider formula. I am now pregnant with my 5th baby, when I think back to all my difficulties with my daughter and subsequent sons I say to myself “There are so many more challenges to parenting, especially those first few months, why add another?” I have raised 4 kids all in the 75th percentile (or higher) on formula, I can no longer entertain anyone else’s baggage about breast feeding. For kid number 5 I have no problem saying “We’re formula feeding this one.” Kudos to the author for giving a different point of view, some women (such as myself) could use an article like this when things seem really dark and you are dealing with the baby blues.

  13. Roma says:

    Wow Ann, you are bitter about something! I have 6 kids that’s I nursed from 9-18 months, each weaned themselves (except the baby, I had to put a stop to it a) I was having surgery and couldn’t continue and b) she was 18 months and the last baby and I was just letting her do it because “spoiled last baby” gets away with everything). Anyway, I never had a problem, but my son and DIL just had our first grandbaby. He was in the NICU for 6 days for breathing problems. On top of all that, my DIL was having trouble nursing, partly new mom, partly breathing, parting exhaustion, partly overwhelmed, partly THEY WOULDN’T LEAVE HER ALONE!!! The BF Police hovered over her in the NICU like they were the ones with the boob hanging out. I was totally appalled by the behavior. My poor DIL was worked up and nervous, they had my son standing over her with a little sugar squeeze packet putting on her nipple as baby attached. It was horrible! When I or her mother was there we would kindly but firmly tell everyone that everything was fine and that if the new parents had questions that we couldn’t answer we would come get someone. That did not sit well with most. They poked their heads behind the drape every couple of minutes. They also had her pumping every 2 hours and then feeding him every 3. But if she had just finished pumping, they would attach a small tube to the bottle/syringe and just squeeze the milk into his mouth. Zero work for baby, why would he want to put any effort into the nursing when if he didn’t nurse, he would get the food just dribbled into his mouth. I was confused and concerned as the grandma. I NEVER had any problems like this but if I had, I may have just given up. Baby never did get the hang of nursing in the hospital, but when they were able to take him home, he became a nursing machine. My DIL was able to get comfortable and figure it out. BUT, BUT, BUT. . . If she had not had the grandmas telling her that everything would be okay, she was ready to give up. AND, AND, AND. . . She was producing milk. I can’t imagine having this situation and be the author, where the milk supply was simply not there. Those nurses, lactation specialists, doctors, busybodies were actually CAUSING more problems than they were helping. Ann, you were not there, you are not the one with the problem. If I had not seen my DIL troubles first hand, I may be more like you, EXCEPT that I believe that MY CHOICES ARE MY CHOICE and YOUR CHOICES ARE YOUR CHOICES!!! What works for me may or may not work for you. I bite my tongue A LOT with my new grandbaby, but I am the GRANDparent, not the mommy or daddy. I also see friends and neighbors doing things that I would never do, and I’m sure they think the same of me. We live in a free country, we are able to make our own decisions, and must allow everyone to do the same. I for one am thankful that there are formulas on the market, my grandma was the author many, many years ago. She couldn’t breastfeed and had to make her own with canned milk. In closing, since this turned out to be a novel (sorry), mothers have enough problems, we can’t fight with each other about personal choices. Have respect for our friends, family, neighbors, coworkers. Support and encourage each other. Life is hard enough without making up problems!

  14. Lacy says:

    Thank you do much for this. I had a sweet 10+ pound baby 2 years ago who in spite of all the well meaning support just could not get the hang of BFing. She needed steak and I was giving her lettuce! I felt so guilty for a very long time. I couldn’t find any support for moms who wanted to breast feed but couldn’t. I see now that she could not be healthier and what I did in switching to formula after 5 weeks of trying was just fine! Thanks again for sharing!

  15. RN says:

    Wow! Your comment is absolutely insulting to the hardworking nurses, LCs and other “busybodies” in the NICU who were caring for your sick grandbaby. You should be ashamed of yourself. The baby’s health and well being was their primary concern and you try to make them sound like bad people. I am a nurse and I can tell you that we promote breast feeding and will work hard to help a new mom become successful. If she does not want to breastfeed we don’t push it.
    There are no “police”.
    Nurses are not a**holes who try to make you feel guilty, we are there to help you do what’s best for your baby. If its breast, great! If its formula, also great! As long as parents are feeding their baby SOMETHING I’m happy!

  16. Chelsea says:

    Well, here’s my input, lol. I have 5 month twins. I wanted to exclusively nurse. It didn’t work out for me because I wasn’t producing enough to feed both of them. If I would have only had one baby, it wouldn’t have been a problem, but I could only produce about 2 ounces every 3-4 hours and the babies both drank 2.5 ever 2-3 hours, so I had to supplement. Now, pumping I didn’t produce as much, which meant more supplementing, which meant even more work on me. It was so stressful trying to nurse one while the other was crying (I wasn’t strong enough to tandem by myself) and then having the other one cry while I was nursing the second and then having to go make bottles for both and try to bond while not holding either one! After 5 weeks of that, I was such a bundle of exhausted nerves, I decided to just formula feed. At their last check-up they both weighed over 10 lbs (they were 4.13 and 4.12 at birth) and they are completely healthy and thriving and show no developmental deficiencies at all even though they were preemies! If my next pregnancy turns out to be a singleton I will def nurse, but I can’t feel guilty about not being able to nurse the twins for longer because I just don’t think I could have mentally or physically survived it. I still believe that breast is best and wish things could have been different, but they weren’t. And I think that is what the author is trying to say, as well. Also, don’t push a mother into nursing if she can’t or doesn’t want to, it’s her choice!

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