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Tips for Coping with Breastfeeding Disappointment

Updated on April 26, 2012

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.


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    • LauraGT profile image

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Annsalo: Thanks for reading and commenting. I'm glad you found my hub relevant, and very glad that you had good breastfeeding experiences down the road. :)

    • Annsalo profile image

      Annsalo 5 years ago from Somewhere

      Such a great hub! I had problems nursing my first. I gave up after 2 months of part time nursing, feeling like a failure. Thankfuly I did have a second and third chance where I got it right! My first child turned out just fine. It's amazing when we look back and see how far we've come and how much we learn!

    • LauraGT profile image

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Hi Danette. Thanks for sharing. It is so hard to know whose advice to follow, and even the most well-meaning advice can just be wrong (or wrong for certain situations). I definitely think your advice about trusting your own judgement is good, and to be willing to question those giving you advice, even if it's someone in a position of authority.

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 5 years ago from Illinois

      My older son was an infant, maybe just a few weeks old. The dr was concerned b/c he didn't seem to be gaining wt as fast as he thought he should be. (My son was born 3 wks early and was kind of small). I happened to call LLL and the woman told me I should be waking up my son during the night to nurse him. Like an idiot, I followed her advice. For years after, my son didn't sleep through the night. I blame it on her, LOL. My sister later told me to never wake up a sleeping baby to feed him, he'll wake up on his own when he's hungry enough...duh!!

      Seriously, though, looking back, it was not good advice. But when you are a brand new mom, of course you not only don't know what you are doing but want the best for your child and will look to others for advice.

      The best advice I tell new moms now is "trust your own judgement. You know your child better than a dr." I think too often parents believe doctors are automatically the expert b/c of their title, schooling, letters following their names, etc. When really they don't have all the answers. And if you feel that something is wrong but your dr. blows you off, find another dr.

    • LauraGT profile image

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Hi Danette. Thanks for reading and commenting. What was your experience like with La Leche League? I've heard so many woman who have had great experiences with them (despite their sometimes negative reputation). I think they are very localized, so it probably depends a bit upon the chapter.

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 5 years ago from Illinois

      I nursed my 2 kids and had some minor problems with both. Fortunately, my sister was a big help. Frankly, I can't say the same about La Leche League where we were living at the time when I had my older son and didn't even bother trying to contact them when I had my younger one.

    • LauraGT profile image

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      WorkAtHomeMums: Thanks for sharing. It's amazing how the pressure can go both ways, and either way, pressure just doesn't help. I had midwives too, but they were great, amazingly supportive! And, I'm really glad it worked out the second time for you as well. Thanks!

    • WorkAtHomeMums profile image

      WorkAtHomeMums 5 years ago from Australia

      When my daughter was born 3 yrs ago I was almost forced to breastfeed. Every midwife that came within a foot of me told me to feed this way or that way. With a screaming hungry newborn and diff info I stressed and ultimately never breastfed her. I did express my milk for 11 months which was a tough job. When pregnant with my son I planned to express again as that's all I knew. They say second time around you are calmer with things and I believe it. As soon as he was born he latched on and 6 months later I am still feeding. I can't quite believe it myself. So I have been through the stress the disappointment and the elation. I think that options should be given and never enforced. Great hub.

    • LauraGT profile image

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Thanks for your comments. Jacqui2011: it's nice to hear another perspective. I'm glad women have choices these days!

    • jacqui2011 profile image

      jacqui2011 5 years ago from Norfolk, UK

      I can only imagine how tough it must be when there are problems nursing your baby. I have two daughters and knew from the moment I was pregnant that I did not want to breast feed. I bottle fed both of them on formula feed and they both thrived and did very well. They are now 17 and 11 years old. This hub is full of useful information and valuable tips. Voted up - useful/interesting.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 5 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Voted up and very very helpful! I remember that breast feeding was not easy at first! Great Hub!