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Tips for Coping with Breastfeeding Disappointment
Read about barriers to breastfeeding.
For many moms and babies, breastfeeding comes easily. For others, it can be a struggle. In the US, most moms (about 75%) try breastfeeding, but many stop within the first few days or weeks due to pain while nursing, an infant that refuses to latch or is sick, a low milk supply, or other personal reasons.
For some the decision to stop is a relatively easy one, and they can move on to bottle feeding and formula with little feelings of loss or guilt. For other moms who thought they would nurse, the inability to do so, whatever the reason, can be emotionally difficult. In some cases can mimic the mourning process, with feelings of isolation, anger, grief, and hopefully, acceptance.
The following tips are aimed at helping those moms deal with their feelings of loss and disappointment at the inability to nurse.
(1) Talk to your friends. When I had trouble nursing my first child, I was shocked at how many of my friends had had similar troubles. By listening to their stories, I realized I wasn’t alone. Some of them had ultimately succeeded and breastfed normally, which gave me needed hope when I was struggling. Others did not succeed, and helped me come to terms with my decision to stop trying and to switch to formula feeding. Talking to your friends can help you find much needed support through an often difficult and traumatic situation.
(2) Know that you did your best to provide for your child. When I was having trouble nursing my son, I was lucky to have an extremely supportive husband and nearby relatives. I had no other children and did not have to return to work immediately. While it did not seem like it at the time, this afforded me the luxury of spending as much time as I needed focused on trying to breastfeed. No matter how long you tried or what path you took, know that you did what was reasonable for you to do given your situation.
(3) Realize that feeding your child is only one of many ways you can love and nurture them. For those of us whose vision of motherhood is closely tied with nursing a newborn, the disappointment of not being able to breastfeed can feel devastating. But, thinking about what breastfeeding represents to you can help break through some of the disappointment. For many, it is about a special bond and closeness with the child. Mothers, whether or not they nurse, can have special and unique relationships with their infants.
(4) Realize that this is a short time period in the child’s and your life. While at the time it may seem long, the period of time that children nurse is relatively short. Within a few months they start eating solid foods and breastmilk is replaced by other foods and liquids. Before you know it, they’ll be throwing their spaghetti on the floor and you’ll be more concerned about getting them out of diapers than about how you fed them in the early months. You’ll have a lifetime to make special memories with your child and to wonder at each stage of their lives.
(5) Even if “breast is best,” formula is a very good alternative. Formula has been refined in recent years to do an even better job of mimicking many of the positive properties of breastmilk. While many breastfeeding advocates are loathe to admit it, bottle-feeding has its benefits. It is easier to know how much your child is taking in, and it gives mom some freedom. Formula is a lifesaver (literally) for people who can not feed their children for whatever reason, and it is a very healthy alternative to breastmilk.
(6) It’s a good early lesson in parenting. Parenting is tough and teaches us many difficult lessons. One is that things don’t always turn out the way we expected.
(7) If you’re planning on having a second child, you will get a second chance. Very often, breastfeeding is much easier the second time around. Childbirth is easier and less traumatic, milk comes in more easily, and mom is more relaxed. All these factors contribute to an increased chance that nursing will be successful. This happened for me: I nursed my daughter easily from day one until she was 21 months. I have heard countless stories of women who had nursing problems with their first, but little or no problems with subsequent babies.
Breastfeeding difficulties can be emotionally challenging and disappointing for moms who had hoped to nurse their babies. However, understanding that problems are common, that women end the nursing relationship for a wide range of reasons, and that the relationship between mother and child is built on many types of bonding experiences, can help alleviate some of these feelings of loss.